Jim's Journal - March 2009
Alliance for Vulnerable Mission - Conferences Outcome
How Were the Conferences?
Where to take your difficult questions . . . PEARL
What Vulnerable Mission is to Enable
New Email Address
Jim Harries' Movements in the UK
VM - Vulnerable Mission or Vulnerable Missionary
DM - Default Mission ('normal' mission practice)
The AVM believes there should be some missionaries from the West whose ministries are conducted in the language of the people without use of outside financial subsidy.
Back in 1992/3 I tried to share some of the insights on mission in African that I believe the Lord gave me. Unfortunately I was moving against the trend of the time. The missionary training college I was at was not in favour of the kind of missionary vulnerability I was advocating. Western missionaries (and Westerners in general), after all, were known to hold the key for the future of Africa in their hands. Mission was a matter of being bold enough to travel to obscure parts of the world to spread superior Western knowledge.
While the mission-establishment was not ready to hear a message of 'vulnerability', God continued to call me, and a door opened to Kenya. I had to implement VM (vulnerable mission)1 'alone'.
I have been doing this ever since (although not always without some compromise). Over the years, the need for vulnerability in mission has become more and more apparent to me. That is; more and more urgent. More desperate! Thank you for those of my friends and supporters who have been ready to listen, to try to understand, and especially those who have encouraged me in pursuing VM over many years.
Thankfully the success of the recent conferences demonstrates that more people are now turning their ears in this direction!
Help us to pray and think on 'where to go from here'. Some people have advised me to leave the field and work from the West. But that would mean my abandoning the very style of ministry that I am advocating! Both the nature of my calling and my involvement in ongoing ministry in Luoland and KIST as well as the children whom I have informally adopted - draw me to further involvement on the field. I believe that God wants me to stay on the field.
There are already many many (it seems) people in the West working on the world's problems! Many of them have minimal experience of a Third-world setting, and often a very limited grasp of Third-world languages. Those who have such experience and contextual knowledge of non-western languages can find themselves subject to enormous peer pressure to conform to the views of their colleagues. That is why we need more VMs on the field!
This does leave us in the AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission) with an important need for administrator(s), based in the West. We need people who can plan and administer the 'next step' in the promotion of Biblical vulnerable mission whatever that next step may be. We need people who are self driven and motivated, who can take initiatives and push forward in promoting VM. Ideally such people will be experienced, already familiar with the mission scene in the West, well qualified, and convinced of the importance of what VM is doing. (Anyone interested but not 'perfectly' qualified - please get in touch with us nevertheless!)
Fantastic! To be honest, I had early on hoped that there would be a lot more interested people; that we might see 60 or so people attend every conference. The only location that has got near that number was Andover, at 40.
In terms of quality though, many conferences exceeded my expectations and hopes. We managed to find groups of people who are genuinely appreciative of what we are doing and why we are doing it in the AVM.
The toughest question that VM probably faces is that of how one can be compassionate and loving when one appears to be denying poor-people access to health-care, food, or help. This concern came up at many conferences. The answer of course is that we are not denying people anything. Rather we are offering something - and that something is a vulnerable missionary, who has a message of good news for eternity (the Gospel)!
A related frequent question regarded language. Are we trying to deny people access to English? No we are not. We are encouraging some western missionaries to use a non-western language in ministry - and that is quite different. Others have thought that we are denying the (plain) value of English as an international language. We are not. But we are probably agreeing with many linguists, that it is most helpful for the foundation of people's education and life to be laid using their home language, and then for English to be a taught language - perhaps learned in school. The language of instruction, most linguists recommend, really needs to be the home language.
A problem some people have expressed with VM, arises because they have invested in something that is not VM! Some of those who attended the conferences faced the embarrassment of being under pressure to concede error in their prior mission and ministry. Such is very understandable, and so is people avoiding VM to absolve themselves from embarrassment! Some had the maturity to accept 'prior error'. We recognised a complementary role between vulnerable mission and other DM (default mission) practices. In other words - VM can function in a context dominated by DM, and DM can continue at the same time as VM takes off.
Stan Nussbaum's paper added scholarly depth to our discussions. The AVM's goals in mission are not unique, Stan explained to the conferences that he attended. The AVM is happy to accept the goals set by many other mission agencies and movements. But the AVM says that it is offering a better way of fulfilling such objectives and goals! This is because:
- 1. People who claim to do their mission using the principles of partnership where the West offers the money usually end up dictating to and/or being deceived by the recipients.
- 2. AVM informs those who are 'contextualising' the Gospel that the most effective contextualisation occurs when the missionary works through the language of the people being reached, and does not acquire a special privileged position in ministry using foreign finance.
Where to take your difficult questions . . . 'PEARL'
One fantastic outcome already of the conferences - is an opportunity for people to ask difficult questions by email, and for those questions to be sent to a large group of people, any of whom can then answer to push discussion into different directions. If you are on email, then you can join the 'pearl' discussion to get pearls of wisdom on VM (vulnerable mission) by going to the PEARL discussion. Participation in this discussion group is free.
Thanks to all coordinators who have worked hard to make the conferences a success. The Oklahoma conference did not work out on this occasion. The other coordinators are as follows: Colorado Springs - Dr. Jay Gary. Boise - Rev. Don Armstrong. Seattle - Matt Collins. Indianapolis - Rev. Andrew Gale. Lancaster - Glenn Schwartz. Andover - Gail Kinross. Stuttgart - Rev. Hans Schultheiss. Derbyshire - Rev. Dr. Steve Skuce.
Mission (and therefore the church in Africa) has in recent years been dominated by the West. This has resulted in a dearth in indigenous theological and Christian expression. It has also resulted in a decline in mission by the West as Westerners have become tired of always trying to be the boss, and African people (and other non-westerners) have resisted foreign domination. Instead of African Christians and churches growing in their faith and applying their faith to their lives, all too often there has been 'application of' the West rather than the Gospel, and a searching for money rather than for God. The wide spread of VM by Western missionaries could be the beginning of a contribution by the West towards enabling indigenous initiative and growth, that cannot happen in Western languages and following seduction by Western money.
In addition to continuing to work on VM principles; the other challenge that I face on returning to Kenya is to continue to grow closer to the people I am serving. Yala and Siaya Theological Centres, visits to indigenous churches, many close personal relationships, and KIST provide a framework with which to do this. I am challenged to engage in this more and more seriously. My hope is that as more missionaries engage in VM, this will not be such a lonely task.
Here are a few of the elements of the task I am facing 'on the ground', including the kind of questions to which I am seeking to respond:
- 1. God's Spirit is in western Kenya associated with 'ancestral spirits'. The latter can be said to be the 'spirit of good witchcraft'. How to teach God's word in the light of this?
- 2. Widows in western Kenya are often under intense pressure to be cleansed and then inherited following pre-Christian rituals. How should Christians respond to this?
- 3. The African belief that misfortune is invariably caused by someone's 'bad feeling', resentment, jealousy etc. means that African people often have a strong orientation to 'peace'. Such peace is defined more by the absence of bad than by the presence of God. How to respond to this?
- 4. However great or not the success of our VM conferences there continues to be a regular flow of well meaning Westerners to 'poor' Africa who want to acquire legitimacy in Christian ministry using Western resources and money, and do it using English. How are we to respond to such people in Africa?
- 5. The same moral decline as in the West often results in fatal outcomes and enormous suffering in Africa. How to address moral decline for which the West is often considered responsible?
- 6. The value of Christianity is in Africa often seen as being in acquiring power to drive out 'demons' that Westerners say do not even exist. How to understand this practice in the African church?
. . . and more . . .
With immediate effect, I am no longer using email@example.com, but instead am using firstname.lastname@example.org as my email address. (Emails sent to the africaonline address will still reach me until the end of April 2009.)
I have heard very little from home in Kenya, except to say that 'all is well' at home. One or two teachers at Kima International Theology have had to resign due to a shortage of money to pay salaries. One primary reason money is short, is that student enrollment has shrunk in recent years. I have received no news at all of how things are going at Yala Theological Centre or Siaya Theological Centre.
The last vulnerable mission conference is to be held in Derbyshire on March 10th. Places are still available! Please come and join us at Cliff College, starting 8.30am. For details
6th March to 8th March - Andover Baptist Church.
10th March. Cliff college conference.
14th to 20th March at Wantage Baptist Church.
20th to 25th March at New Farm Chapel.
26th to 27th March - Andover Baptist Church.
28th March to 6th April at Norwich Central Baptist Church.
7th and 8th April. Birmingham.
10th to 14th April - Acomb Baptist Church.
18th April - Africa Evening at Andover Baptist Church
Departure: late April
A colleague is offering top-quality on-field education for field missionaries. For details.