Missional movement in a post-colonial, post-Christendom age
Lambeth call on Mission and Evangelism: ‘The people of God are chosen, set apart, equipped, and sent into God’s world ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ 1 Peter 2:9’
As a society rooted in one of the great missionary eras, CMS Ireland is working hard to reconcile the challenges of the current cultural climate with the belief that there is a still a place for people sending in missionary circles.
While grappling with the many complexities of historic and contemporary missionary practices, the World Evangelical Alliance’s Global Witness Department director Jay Mātenga offers an inspiring summary of what good missionary work looks like:
“I believe we need to start reframing our transboundary ministries as opportunities for co-learning. To see missions as an opportunity for us to share the message we have authority in Christ to share, but then explore the meaning of that message together as the recipient grapples with what it means for them in their context, and let it challenge what we assumed it meant from our context”.
This model frames much of our thinking and indeed is helping us look at our own history as well.
CMS Ireland arose from The Great Awakening, a movement of the spirit in the western church. In London in 1799 a group of social reformers, inspired by their Christian faith, prayed together and worked to abolish the slave trade and to fight for the rights of oppressed people in their communities through advocacy and protest. Motivated by an understanding that God’s desire for justice and redemption is for all humanity, they also sought ways to share their faith in Jesus with people across the world, calling for Christians to offer themselves in missionary service. And so people set sail to far off lands, trekking across vast landscapes, encountering disperate cultures and languages, struggling to communicate their faith and establish churches.
To celebrate the centenary of CMS in 1899, this coin was minted. The image of a missionary, Bible in hand, preaching to people of many different cultures is undoubtedly dated and, with hindsight, we can see many errors where missionary endeavour became entangled with cultural values, economic enterprise and expansionism. Colonial history has complicated international relationships. Ever increasing differentials in power and resources were problematic and continue to be so. Despite the complexities, however, people did come to faith, churches were established and Christianity is now thriving in many parts of the world today. Methodologies should be questioned and adapted but as Christians our call has not changed. We are still commanded to ‘declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light’. Our identity remains as children of God, our task is mission.
Thanks to faithful witnesses through 2000 years, church is present in many places around the world. Where church is present, the lead in missional activity should be taken by the local church. This means that when someone is called to cross-cultural mission it is imperative that they identify themselves with the local body of believers, becoming part of the local congregation because, in reality, they are ‘members together’ of one family. God has blessed the local church with leaders and so the newcomer joins under the authority of the church leadership, being guided and nurtured, sharing in worship and life. Respecting church already in existance in a locality enables cooperation in the work of the kingdom of God. This ensures that any relationships formed are mutually enriching – through the sharing of knowledge, resources, giftings and communication, opportunities for learning can be established across the global church.
This mutual enriching – real partnership as reciprocal flourishing – is something to be pursued and celebrated. This summer a group from Ireland visited some of our partners in Uganda. Billy Abwa, their team leader, had this to say:
“The ongoing interchange of compassion and acceptance paints a picture of hope that is as radiant as it is humbling. It embodies the essence of the global church community that Jesus envisioned: an all-embracing family of nations, bound by love and understanding”.
Billy’s words help us see Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians in a fresh way – ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it’ 1 Cor 12:27
While this image of the body of Christ is applicable at parish level, it is at its fullest when experienced in the global church and we are all impoverished if we do not recognise this.
A key part of the work of CMS Ireland is still sending and receiving people in mission. We need to do this. We must remain acutely aware of the complexities of our histories, cognisant of global inequalities that can skew relationships, but in full confidence that as followers of Christ we are all called to be actively engaged in mission. People exchanges across the global church are deeply enriching enabling discipleship, resourcing the Church and seeing communities transformed through the love of God.
Gillian Maganda, CMS Ireland’s Personnel Manager writes:
“People are our most valuable resource. Mission Partners play a key role in developing dynamic and fruitful partnerships in mission and so we are absolutely delighted that Andrew and Joanne Quill have been re-selected as CMSI Mission Partners. Joanne and Andrew served in Kenya and Uganda from 1995 – 2006 when they returned to parish ministry in Ireland. Following seventeen years serving in Kinawley Group of Parishes, and Holy Trinity, Dromore in Omagh, they will once again become CMS Ireland mission partners.”
As part of their application and discernment journey, Andrew shared this with us:
“During ‘Kingdom Voices’ in August 2022, Joanne and I felt the Lord prompting us to put ourselves forward to serve once more through CMS Ireland. Although it is difficult to leave parishioners and colleagues behind after almost seven years of walking with the Lord together, it is made a little easier by the strength of the calling. We know that the Lord will help us, as we step out in this new chapter of our lives, so we can have his peace that he will help those who remain. Thank you to all who have expressed their love and prayers for us and our family (whom we are leaving behind) and to all those who have partnered in the Gospel in Dromore and in Clogher Diocese. We will remain as ‘partners in the Gospel’ as we pray for you, and you pray for us.”
Following a period of preparation and training, Andrew and Joanne will travel to South Sudan in February 2024 to serve in the Diocese of Ibba under the leadership of Bishop Wilson Kamani and his diocesan staff team for an initial 2-year period. Bishop Wilson is a leader of extraordinary vision and has worked courageously towards building opportunities for reconciliation and peacebuilding conversations with local communities and political leaders. Young people in Ibba are vulnerable to recruitment by fighting factions. The Bishop has a passion to bring better opportunities for these youth and help them build up the nation. There is much that Andrew and Joanne will be able to observe and learn from, much they will be able to share with the church in Ireland.
Andrew and Joanne will need time to settle and discover where they can best fit in with the life and work of the diocese but opportunities exist to support holistic discipleship training as well as peace and reconciliation work in the community. With programmes run by the Mothers’ Union and the training of lay readers and ordinands in Bishop Levi Bible College, Andrew and Joanne will have many avenues to explore when they move to South Sudan, serving, walking and working amongst the body of Christ in Ibba.
Fr Anthony J. Gittins, Professor Emeritus of Theology and Culture at CTU, Chicago, reflects:
“There is no dominant culture for a Christian. There is no marginalised other, and everyone has to work together with differences rather than in spite of the differences.”
Church is not starting from a blank slate. Our entangled histories have complicated our understanding of what it means to be a Christian, to live for Christ in our different contexts. The Kingdom of God is established when our values and ethics, our behaviours and world views are transformed through being renewed by the Holy Spirit. Missionary enterprise has often been packaged in cultural wrapping rather than planted in the soil and allowed to grow in relation to the cultural environment.
As Charles Taber, speaking from an African perspective, surmises:
“What is needed now is…to start afresh, beginning with the direct interaction of their cultures with the Scriptures rather than tagging along at the tail end of the long history of Western embroidery, and to restate the Christian faith in answer to…African questions, with…African methodologies and terminologies.”
In CMS Ireland we are looking forward to the riches and insights that Andrew and Joanne will be able to share with us, here in Ireland, as they live and minister alongside the church in Ibba. If you would like to be part of their story, supporting them in prayer and giving, please visit the CMS Ireland website www.cmsireland.org and sign up for regular news updates by contacting Gillian Maganda on firstname.lastname@example.org
By Emma Lutton and Jenny Smyth
First published in Church of Ireland’s Gazette Magazine, September 2023
also available on VOX magazine's website: https://www.vox.ie/001/2023/11/1/missional-movement-in-a-post-colonial-age