Now this post for once is unashamedly about me and my thoughts on mission. I’m currently at a mission conference in Kenya. One particular mission organisation invited me along and I’m grateful that they did. I’ve become acutely aware that I have been running on something near empty recently. I simply haven’t made the time to take care of myself. Too busy plotting this initiative or that, travelling or running around. The simple solution is be a little wiser and stop more often. Everything I do is birthed in God, I simply need to spend more time with HIm.
BUT, this post is not about that. It is about something much deeper, much more profound. I’ve heard many many stories this week. Most of them quite amazing. To hear of different works that people are doing for the Lord is quite simply wonderful. However, within all of that I feel uncomfortable. Why?
For perhaps 150 years, the basic model of missionary work has not changed. We’ve learnt many lessons. We have learnt not to be proud, we have learnt to not impose our culture. We have taken a step back and appreciated the value of learning from those we are trying to reach. We have learned all of those lessons and yet remain within the confines of a model that makes the people who are sent, the people who go, intrinsically crucial to the process. That important role more often than not is never minimized. There are intentions to, but it never happens. It can be almost as if our approach, our mindset cements us into the process.
That is what I am uncomfortable about. As I listened to the many stories, that is the one point I could not escape from. What happens if the money dries up? What happens if the missionary must leave ‘prematurely’? By taking the lead, what truly are we building? And yet, don’t hear me wrong on this, God is working and using people, I grapple with what I see as another way.
I spoke to a friend, Graham Beggs a few years ago, who is a prophetic kind of chap. He said to me that Africa was ripe for another wave of mission but one that was empowering and sustainable, where servant heartedness and a dying to self were the hallmarks. In the last few years we have moved forward in all of those directions, and yet can we yet go even further?
Last year, I began to plant an initiative that from the very outset is attempting to give the work away. It takes great trust and great belief, not only in God, but in the uneducated, the poor, the ‘lowly’ people. We may catalyse something, but it must be given away immediately, working with those whom God has called and trusting that they are equipped by Him for the task. The currency of the Kingdom of God is people not ‘things’ and that is our focus. That work that we do is called the Life! Initiative. (www.dignityonline.org.uk/life) and I’m grappling with the implications of the course we are taking.
I must admit I feel out of step with the mission establishment sometimes, even though I have a lot to learn and gain an enormous amount from it. I just think we need a more radical model. Our efforts are but a drop in the ocean, but if a work is owned by many and taken forward as their ministry, we can change the lives of many people.
Maybe I’m showing the highest form of naivety. I’m really not oblivious to that possibility. The issues of true sustainability, true belief in the people who are called by God to be missionaries in their own context are not easy to grapple with. So, I am slightly off centre with my thoughts and actions, I freely admit that.
However, I believe that we need to develop new and radical models in the 21st century if Africa is to be radically saved from sin, poverty and dependency that grips the very soul of this continent. If we want to see the rural church in Africa arise, by some paradox, our contribution must be to give life to that church by dying to ourselves and our own contribution. Only that way, will the life of God truly arise in the people. Jesus said that Unless a Seed Falls down to the ground and dies it will not bear much fruit.
Maybe I am being Naive, or maybe somehow, I am being a radical. I don’t pretend to understand everything, but I feel the work of Dignity and the work I feel called to, stands shoulder to shoulder yet a step apart with those who would call themselves missionaries.
The trouble with radical thoughts, is taking people with you….