Mission And Spirituality In Christian Faith
In 1932, Karl Barth presented a report at the Brandenburg Mission, maintained that mission was God’s engagement. David Bosch argues that this ‘the Mission of God’ (Misso Dei) discourse advocates mission is God’s love to save the world he created. Mission comes from God’s love to send Jesus to save things He created; and, Jesus sent Holy Spirit to inspire church to be in mission while church is sent by Jesus to continue his mission (Goheen, 2016).
Ann Morisy argues that not all church-run community programs demonstrate the character of community ministry. She defines ‘community ministry’ as a missional strategy that must enable Christians to act like Christians, feed people with gospel, and transform the society (Morisy, 1997). Church is then a vehicle serving triune God’s mission.
The role of church mission is like a bridge helping the faith seeker to bridge the gap between them and God and giving the broken heart a chance to be hosted by Holy Spirit. Therefore, both spirituality and mission are for the Triune God. Spirituality is to respond to God’s inspiration to enjoy the fellowship with God; mission is to follow God’s sentiment and to witness for God. The purpose of spirituality in mission is then to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus done in his mission (Phil. 2:5).
As the great commission is to make disciples (Matthew 28: 19-20), the purpose of the mission is to “have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). If missionary lacks abundant life, mission would be worked like a blind man (Pentecost, 1982). If missionary lacks spirituality, he will fall into the crisis of disqualifying himself (1 Cor 9:27). In Church History, the development of mission is often closely related to profound spiritual practice and prayer revival as we learned from Richard Baxter, Jonathan, and John Wesley (Shaw, 1997).
While our mission is transforming from church-centered to God-centered, we could contextualize our mission on the basis of Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm promoted by Bosch (2011). As contextualization emphasizes the commitment of Christian to get into the world, Church has to be proactive in taking good care of the suffering of the marginalized and the poor. One of the approaches is being with them. When Church is called upon to participate in God’s mission, we can help to make a holistic understanding of the context in which the needed lives and practically participate in their life. A case study of mission to the marginalized is described below followed by flections on spirituality.
Case Study: Mission and Spirituality for the Marginalized
With the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Taiwan, poverty alleviation has become an important issue, especially for the most marginalized. My home church, the Paniel Church at Muzha, Taipei, established by American missionaries has devoted herself to community ministry for a long time. However, the emergence of poverty alleviation project is due to a government intervention in early 2017 – removal of the Longshan Temple homeless. With the vision to proclaim Christ’s love in world and to address the need of pro-poor to be reconciled with God, we began to form the program of the “Transforming the Pro-Poor Homeless” project (hereinafter referred to as ‘project’).
As driven by both the resources of my church has and the needs of our targeted group, we have goal of “growing disciples, building community, and transforming lives” to equip them living a healthy and productive life. We mobilize missionaries to make disciples of Jesus Christ by engaging communities where He is least known in time and in vulnerability, particularly homeless. We provides foods, daily live needs, clothing, groceries, job matching, and physical check-ups to the homeless. The key activities are listed below.
- Meal and outreach program. Provides foods and daily needs at nights of every Tuesday and Thursday;
- Prayer and praise meeting. After the meal and outreach activities a prayer and praise meeting is held to pray for the homeless community;
- Two-to-one life gospel course. A daily life course before the meal and outreach program or after dawn, a two-to-one gospel light education program based on the book “Purpose Driven Life” at Taiwanese or Mandarin is given.
To equip ourselves, except for the training workshop for teaching the Purposed Driven Life course and preaching the gospel, we cooperated with social welfare agencies to have the knowledge and professional skills taking care of homeless.
Missionaries and helpers visited homeless from 8 pm to 12 pm every night. They prepared meals for the homeless, raised fund and distributed clothes and groceries, and prayed for them. We also provide assistance for the physical and emotional need in daily life (such as to help them applying for job and drug addicts to detoxify, etc.). Since then, the operation has been on board for more than 600 days.
In ‘project,’ the service and mission actions are working as an extension of the Christian faith. This kind of church-based God-centered mission is important to ourselves as believers to clearly understand that the essence of Christian faith is to serve and a fellowship inside the church is not the ultimate goal of Christian life (Chan, 2011).
Based on what Bosch says “… mission is quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of community, for the sake of the world,” from the beginning, this project put ourselves in the shoes of the homeless rather than a superior giver. In the time of formulating the project, taskforce did not sit in the church’s office to figure out how the resources can get into the project but went to the place where the homeless were driven away and prepared for the details of ‘project.’
Since then, some missionary team members and brothers have been sleeping there once a week to experience the life of the homeless. We maintain that this sleeping experience is very important, because one can experience the plight of the homeless and understand their needs. As one missionary recalled:
I remember someone asked me what do the homeless need. I said, it is easily to know once you sleep there for a few nights. You don’t need to teach as long as you are in. As our central faith is ‘incarnation,’ we must act; that is, to get into their community and experience their lives. That is all!
The experience of sleeping with the homeless not only enriches missionary team’s understanding of the homeless, it also enhances the recognition and acceptance from the homeless. After living in Longshan Temple Area for a while, missionary team established friendship and gradually identified each homeless, specifically the difficult situation in their lives, and listened to their joys and sufferings. The relationship between missionary and the homeless is not a one-way give and take, but a friendship of mutual sharing and support.
In addition to the missional practices of missionary, we also promote church members to experience the life of homeless together. Among the participants, several junior brothers followed the missionary and live with homeless for one or two days per week. These junior brothers act like missionaries and build up vivid relationships with the homeless. Two of them received calls for help from the homeless late at nights, saying that they were not very well and needed help to be admitted to the hospital. ‘They trust us to ask for help!’
Although only some of these homeless baptized and couple of them shows up at church’s Sunday service, there are a number of twenty plus routinely attend the prayer and praise meetings. They are members of the church! Those who led them into the church are the missionary and helpers willing to enter the homeless community and participate in the pro-poor prayer meeting, teaching them the purpose driven life, and delivering them the message inside the passage. Sleeping and living with the homeless is the most contextualized way to evangelize the gospel and get them into the kingdom of God.
The prayer meeting at the end of every Tuesday and Thursday at Huajiang Bridge’s under bridge open-air-shelter is now a backbone of the project. The themes of the prayer meeting, in addition to the needs and difficulties of the homeless, includes issues that are positively confronted by church and the society, such as the need to pray for the sick, the victims of the typhoons and earthquakes, and the nation. The prayer meeting is not simply a caring for the homeless, but a part of the church gathering. Based on the concept of Bosch, church gatherings can be seen as ‘a sacrament – sign, and instrument of community with God and unity among people.” (Bosch, p. 467). It is a reflection of church-with-others.
Taking the prayer meeting as the core of project is really a very powerful missional practice. By prayer, this project would not be degraded as charity activities and missionaries are not superior giver. In the prayer meeting, each participant no matter the homeless or missionaries is a benefactor who opens his/her life to the Lord. No one is superior to another.
There was a homeless with deep drug addiction asking for help for hoping to enter the drug rehabilitation center again. The testimony is not on the weakness of the addict’s repeated defeats, but on the reflection of his own life that engages us to understand the reality of sin and praise the value of salvation. A prayer meeting wonderfully links missionary to a drug addict. Life experiences of the two are quite different but the church as a credible sacrament reflects the commonality of humanity and allows us to embrace each other’s lives with reflection on our own shortcomings and relying on the grace of God (Sittser, 2007). When churches risk themselves at such a mission sacrament of salvation, they are not holding up themselves as a model to be emulated. Church members are then not proclaiming, “Come to us!” but “Let us follow Him!”’ (Bosch, p. 471)
This mission not only attracted the homeless to start to know the gospel, but also gathered a group of Christians and non-Christians to come to take care for the homeless. This life-threatening and spiritual costly church-with-others mission is a reflection of the beauty of Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm. In Lev. 19:18 we learned that we should love our neighbor as ourselves and in Mat. 20:27-28 it maintains that we not come to be served, but to serve. Both verses emphasize that the capable should serve the weak and Jesus sacrifices himself to serve the world. That is the best practice serving in God’s mission.
Though in this mission project, spiritual warfare and demonic activity are common but that is what spirituality needed to be dealt with. Facing the diverse socio-economic and micro cultural challenges, the spiritual growth of missionaries and/or co-workers has become the focus of churches. There are four aspects for the spiritual growth need to be addressed.
Handling Interpersonal Relationships
Some of the missionary and co-workers left the project after couple services. One of the main reasons they leave is the issue of interpersonal relationships. It was not until they had more experience with the marginalization they understood that doing mission in thise context was not easy. When you have your own opinions with what the marginalization should be delivered, challenges from physical, emotional, motional, spiritual dimensions transformed the way to learn from each other’s perspective and the way of submission. When conflicts evoked, no matter with co-workers or the marginalization, it needs to encourage missionaries and co-workers to learn self-denying. When we invite the unreached to accept Christ, we first become a witnesses to live a cross of self-denying and forgiveness.
Learning the Mutual Growth of Spirituality
In the past, the concept of mission was easy to use the expression ‘I am going to evangelize.’ This argument makes it easy for evangelists to set themselves emotionally high; the one who enters this life of gospel preaching generally adopted one-way communication so that the audience can only stay in a receiving position. However, the mission project above encourages us to emphasize the partnership with the unreached at an equality and mutual benefit. This reflection focuses us on the simultaneous openness of the evangelist and the unreached to Jesus Christ (Chan, 2011).
The true message of gospel would enter the life of both mutually and experience life transformation at both sides. Therefore, missionaries and co-workers are not the saviors but more aware of the truth of Jesus Christ as the true redeemer, and the mission object is to experience and reveals the salvation and incarnation in us.
Giving Personal Reflection Space
The 600 plus days is full of external challenges and occasionally makes missionaries worried about; busy ministry (especially for the project holding whole night) and immediate needs are easily occupied our inner space. External requirements and internal pressures exhaust our spiritual and physical strength. If we don’t know how to let go of conflicts, we will be filled with full nervousness and subjected us to the emotional control which would lead us to insomnia, cause spiritual unhealthy, and finally affect the quality of mission life (Sittser, 2007). Therefore, missionaries and co-workers should know how to adjust their life having enough time and space to listen to God’s reminder and guidance; and, in light of the Holy Spirit, to observe and deal with the negative emotions of depression (especially the frustration and disappointment caused by conflicts).
Equipping with New Contextualization Skills
Due to the changing secular world the homeless encounters, missionaries also face new spiritual warfare daily. In addition to equipping theology and biblical knowledge, we should also transform working methodologies by the renewing of our mind, so that we may know what is good, acceptable and perfect. In order to better serve God and respond to the needs of the unreached, contextualized and customized ministry skills should also be part of the spiritual cultivation. It is worthy of formulating missionary care to support the development of spirituality.
The case project not only extended Christian faith to the marginalization and under-resourced, it also evoked missionaries and co-workers to internalize inside-of-church live transformation. Actually, this mission is a cross-cultural process with God-centered mindset looking into the world different from us and inspires us to transform from the engaging experience with whom we are not familiar with. This contextualizes our ministry and denies ourselves. Having faith in God and help from Holy Spirit, we do God’s work at his way and he shall supply. Not only life of the unreached changed, our changed, too.
Missionary should first to recognize that is God behind the mission. Operating in this way, church would know how to, according to the gift given to us, join and hold together every supporting ligament. When missionary experience the beauty of God, it could lift up the spiritual life of church and bring enthusiasm and celebration of our daily worship life. As for spirituality warfare, we are grateful to him who has strengthened us, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered us trustworthy in appointing us to the ministry (1 Tim 1: 12).
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