Global Mission Conference Highlights Meeting Jesus in Others
By Titus Presler
“We go into mission to meet the other, where God is present. Not because there are needy people, or to plant a church, or to teach. But we go to meet Jesus there. Thinking we are missionaries, we become disciples. We go to meet God, who is already present in the other.”
This was a statement that struck me forcefully during the 2018 Global Mission Conference held April 11-13 at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. It was made by Monica Vega, a missionary in the mountains of northwest Argentina as she keynoted the conference with Heidi Schmidt, the two of them being Roman Catholic laywomen who have made private vows for mission service that over the past 30 years have taken them to Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.
Meeting the other in whom God is present was part of my own motivation in going to Pakistan to lead a church college in Peshawar where that vast majority of students, faculty and staff were Muslim – I wanted to experience God together with Muslims. The work my wife Jane Butterfield and I did in Zimbabwe in the 1980s had a similar impetus – to experience what God was doing among African Christians.
We have these broken pieces, and God uses a glue we did not expect to put us back together.
“How much courage do we have to talk about how much healing happened for us as we went in mission for the other?” Vega asked as she told the story of a “Type A” lawyer who wept as an 11-year-old orphan boy he met on a mission trip helped him identify with his own experience of being abandoned. “We have these broken pieces, and God uses a glue we did not expect to put us back together.”
Schmidt highlighted how she and Vega introduce children and teenagers to silence and contemplative prayer as a “divine therapy” in Argentina, where they are in the process of establishing a hermitage as a resource for local people. She helped a man struggling with alcoholism discover centering prayer, and he came back later to say, “You changed my life!”
Schmidt’s emphasis was an important corrective to so much global mission today that fixates on “fixing” infrastructure issues in the Two-Thirds World (so-called because Africa, Asia and Latin America account for two-thirds of the world’s population and land mass). Often the spiritual resources of the gospel are marginalized when mission teams are preoccupied with doing rather than being.
Mission begins with God . . . and reconciliation is the heart of God’s mission.
“Mission begins with God . . . and reconciliation is the heart of God’s mission,” said keynoter Robert Heaney, director of Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS). “Without a theology of mission we perish,” Heaney said in basing his presentation on the cosmic vision of God’s mission in Christ in Ephesians 1:5-10. Heaney decried “cultural subjugation” in the history of Euro-American mission in Africa, Asia and Latin America and called for a genuinely inter-cultural theology of mission.
“Without partnership in mission we perish,” was the theme of keynoter John Kafwanka, a Zambian priest who is director for mission for the Anglican Communion, working out of St. Andrew’s House in London. “Partnership in Mission” has been the model for Anglican mission since its promotion by the Anglican Consultative Council in the 1970s. Noting that partnership as a paradigm has more recently been criticized as emphasizing money and projects, Kafwanka called for salvaging partnership on the model of the apostle Paul’s relationship with the Christians at Philippi.
Kafwanka said mission partnership is a collaboration characterized by shared vision, diversity and interdependence, mutual accountability and respect, shared receiving and giving, and mutual listening and learning. He reminded the 90 attendees of the enduring importance of the theme of the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto: “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.”
As I’ve participated in the wider missiological discussion of partnership, I’ve found the concept of companionship in mission to be a useful alternative, for companionship stresses being before doing, relationship rather than projects. It’s also a concept that has been emphasized over the last two decades by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Lutherans, with the latter using the correlative term of accompaniment.
In seeking to enact GEMN’s role in connecting mission activists with one another, one conference session featured a large circle in which attendees introduced themselves and their mission work to the entire group – in one minute or less, a limit followed so closely that there was time to spare. Discussion tables were grouped first by geographical areas and then by mission modes such as short-term, longterm, pastoral, educational or medical work.
Workshop leaders highlighted the conference themes of mutual connection in mission amid topics such as in development work in Haiti, transformational mission, the challenges faced by missionaries when they return home, healthy short-term mission, the work of the Global Partnerships Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) at the Episcopal Church Center, healthcare mission in Tanzania, building sustainable communities among the world’s poor, and principles for getting beyond good intentions in mission.
We engage in mission because God created humanity in God’s image. We engage globally because we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers…
“Mission as Mutual Transformation” was the theme of an after-dinner plenary talk by David Copley, director of Global Partnerships and Mission Personnel at the Episcopal Church Center. “We engage in mission because God created humanity in God’s image,” he said. “We engage globally because we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We engage globally because we are called to love God and neighbor.
“For mutually transformative mission,” Copley said, “we must engage in critical thinking, learn about our partners and their history, share our stories and hear the stories of our distant family. God has been there before us and will be with us in all our journeys.”
GEMN’s two-year Mission Formation Program was held on the day preceding the conference with seven participants. Sally Thompson of the Diocese of Southwest Florida graduated with the program’s Certificate as a Global Mission Agent after presenting a study she conducted of mission work in the Dominican Republic through the Dominican Development Group.
At GEMN’s Annual Meeting, Jaime Briceño of Bexley Seabury Seminary was elected to the 12-member Board of Directors. The Board elected its officers: president, Titus Presler of the Diocese Vermont and Bridges to Pakistan; vice president, Grace Burton-Edwards of the Diocese of Atlanta; secretary, Suzanne Peterson of the Diocese of Iowa; and treasurer, David Kendall-Sperry of the Diocese of Ohio.
Established in 1995, GEMN is the Episcopal Church’s network of global mission activist dioceses, individuals, organizations and seminaries. The 2019 Global Mission Conference will be held in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, April 3-5, with the Formation Program held on April 2. To learn more about this network of mission activists, contact Titus Presler (firstname.lastname@example.org) and visit http://gemn.org.
Titus Presler represents the Diocese of Vermont at GEMN and is priest-in-partnership at St. Matthew’s Church in Enosburg Falls.
In the photo: Heidi Schmidt and Monica Vega, Episcopal-sponsored Missionaries in Argentina with experience in South Africa and Brazil, were two of the keynote presenters at this year’s GEMN Conference.