At the time I was exchanging my study hours for working with poor inner-city first nation aboriginal children. Many of them had not heard and knew nothing of the God I had grown to know and love. I even remember taking them camping and was stunned to find out they had never seen stars fill the night sky. No one had ever taken them out of the city before.
I knew Canadians who had never seen a starry night sky, and who had never heard and definitely did not know about Jesus. My assumption is that this visiting speaker believed that since 'the Gospel' had reached Canadian soil, Canadians were a 'reached people group'. In his point of view we needed to focus on other nations who had never had this privilege. But what does it mean to be 'reached'?
After graduation this led to working full-time for another Christian mission in Toronto where we were often referred to as a 'missionaries.' Missionaries in Canada. What made me a missionary? Was it because I worked for an organization of Christian faith? Was it because I had to raise money to get paid?
Perhaps in my mind it was because a few years prior I had a powerful commissioning experience of the Holy Spirit when I had gone for prayer at a church who called up those who thought they may be called to be missionaries. What made me different from the other Christian's in Canada? Were they called to love God and love the people around them any less?
Like many Christian terms used in the modern era. Mission is a loaded and unfortunately controversial term that needs refining.
Often when people think of missions they think of long or short-term over-seas work project to help the poor and at worst the exploitation of vulnerable people and their cultures. Missions is often associated with 'ministry' and can take on all sorts of forms and functions. 'Mission' is also a term used by other faiths and religions.
Though we do not find the term expressed in English Christian Scripture, the word 'mission' originates from 1589 when the Jesuits sent members abroad and derived it from the Latin word 'missionem', meaning 'act of sending' or 'sent ones'. This word is included when Christ sends out the disciples to preach in His Name and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28 verses 19-20), also known as the 'Great Commission'.
They found themselves filled with the Holy Spirit (what Paul would later describe as the gifts of the Holy Spirit), shared their testimony of Jesus the Christ, and found more outpourings of the Holy Spirit when people were cut to the heart, spoke in tongues, and became believers (added to their numbers daily). The Holy Spirit continued to lead them into the unknown, discovering that Jesus came for the uncircumsized (Gentiles) as well. The diaspora led them further out and many were killed for this new 'Way'. Evangelism, caring for the poor, teaching, preaching, healings, deliverance, hospitality (etc.) naturally became a part of what it meant to be disciples, Christ followers.
Mistrust in use of power
Post Modernism brings along with it an (often justified) mistrust of the use of power. And though Jesus told us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for our brothers, the crusades, colonialism, stealing of land and children, residential schools, the demonization of aboriginal culture and languages have become a later part of the Christian story and left many people weary and confused about what really is 'Christian mission' and whether they want to be associated with it.
We are in a special time in history. How will Christians respond to their sense of shame and fear of not knowing how to do things differently. Many do not want to belong to the camp of the Western Christian pride who think their ways are better than others.
How do we share the Gospel without imposing these? (but these are not new discussions for missiologists). And are we not all 'sent ones' anyways?... into various areas within society? What will being co-missioned as 'sent ones' look like for us in the coming years, and centuries? How is the Holy Spirit continuing His Story? And 'making all things new'?
Though Jesus is our great example, lets take a quick look at some in whom we can learn from:
Peter the Apostle, a fisherman by trade, asked by Jesus to follow Him, spent 3 years as a disciple, saw miracles, walked on water, declared his loyalty but denied Jesus 3 times, was visited by Jesus and questioned about his love for Him three times, and commissioned by Jesus to 'feed His sheep'. Peter who was filled by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost preached and saw many become believers. He played an important role in sharing the news of Christ with Gentiles, and as a leader of the beginning church, and when martyred he apparently in reverence of Christ, was crucified upside down.
St Patrick (350 ish AD – 450 AD), considered a Romeo-British Christian Missionary, also the 'Apostle of Ireland', was captured at the age of 16 and forced into slavery and taken to Ireland where he worked as a Shepherd and spent time in prayer and converted to Christianity. After six years he was led by a Voice in a miraculous escape, upon returning home he studied Christianity and then returned as a missionary to Ireland after having a vision where he was called back. Apparently he baptized thousands of people and ordained priests to lead new Christian communities, transforming Ireland.
Lastly I would like to mention the Moravian Missionaries. In the 18tth Century, Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, with a commitment to help the poor and needy, led a community of protestant refugees in Germany in Herrnhut and "learned to love one another" after an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1727 led 24/7 worship and prayer for over a hundred years. In 1732 John Leonard Dober and David Nitschman became the community's first missionaries who sold themselves into slavery to reach 3000 slaves on an Island in the West Indies. As they left their wives in children they shouted out, 'May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering".
I think of Paul who described Christians as having this 'treasure in jars of clay'. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 he says, "….we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary …. we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."
I love hearing the stories of how American Aboriginals had dreams of men who would come with a special book for them. Or how Jesus visits Jewish and Muslim people in their dreams. Once in Malawi Africa I found myself at this Christian gathering and this Muslim women came up to me asking me to interpret a dream she had. She explained that a man in bright white clothing came up to her and gave her a piece of dazzling white clothing saying 'I have clothes for you that will never get dirty'. No one could keep their whites white in southern Malawi as it was having a terrible drought and the dirt and dust was something fierce.
I was given the opportunity to share who Jesus in this context. I was that cracked jar of clay, and on my way I found myself sharing who Jesus was. I guess in the most minute way I was discipling a nation. What was so amazing about that experience was how the Lord led it all.
"Go" in the Great Commission, actually means 'as you go' or 'on your way'. So as we go on our way, in all the places we will go, with love in our jars of clay, we get to see that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Andrea Earl is a Canadian resident of NZ. Her first Diploma was through NZ's Capernwray Bible School, followed by a BA at Providence College whilst working with Winnipeg's marginalized poor. After she moved to Toronto to work with Street Youth (featuring the arts), she furthered her education through St Stephen's Master's of Min. After working in Mozambique with Iris Ministries, she returned to NZ and enjoys surf, food, community, and discovering God.
Andrea Earl's previous articles may be viewed www.pressserviceinternational.org/andrea-earl.html