Heading into the last day of the conference, we have been asked a couple of times to think about conclusions, highlights and commitments to action. Slightly weary looks have been exchanged at such requests as there has been a lot to process. While the information is good, well presented and engaging it has been a lot to digest. Malcolm, my International Director who is also here, has aptly said it’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose.
This morning’s session began with Ramez and Rebecca Atallah (Egypt) reflecting on Ephesians 6. It was noted that we often have narrow eyes. We are not to wrestle with one another but spiritual forces. Our narrow eyes can cause us to focus on one another and think that the problems lay between us rather than looking at the bigger picture and seeing things through spiritual eyes. Looking at the armor of God, Ramez said there are essential values (peace and truth), essential beliefs (faith and salvation), and essential resources (the word and prayer). Lastly, he drew attention to Paul’s prayer request. He commented that even though Paul was in prison his request was for boldness. He did not ask for comfort or better service.
David Ruiz (Guatemala) spoke on partnership and the changing paradigm in missions. He spoke very fast and was difficult to follow. He was the first of the speakers that I had a hard time understanding. He said that the era of the “West to the rest” is finished. He talked about living in an unbalanced world and the need for the church to address global inequality. He said that if we are all really ready to partner it will require humility and the need for us to consider ourselves as nothing. He has a three part dream. 1) That we all recognize that we are members of the same body. 2) That we need to get over our utopian ideas about resources and live more by faith recognizing that the same Lord that sent the apostles will provide for his missionaries that are sent out. 3) That the colonialism of ideas in the name of partnership should stop. That exported programs with prepackaged ideas and logos being forced on local partners should stop. He announced that the world we once knew no longer exists. The church that once enjoyed the golden era of missions is now in the minority.
While I found a lot of what David had to say helpful and true, I didn’t find the reference to colonialism necessary. We are no longer in colonial time or postcolonial times, we are in the age of globalization and the conversation needs to be reframed within this context. The motives of those functioning with a globalized world view will be different than those functioning with a colonial worldview. Those under the age of fifty are not likely to even know much about a colonial worldview let alone function in one.
Patrick Feng (Singapore) also spoke on partnership. He began by saying that partnership is not about us but God’s mission. Partnering is not about balancing power but working together by the Spirit of God on God’s mission. He spoke of partnerships sharing God’s resources both ways. We need to bring what we have to the table and not be bitter about what we don’t have. Financial resources are not the only resources – years of experience are a type of resource that can be contributed to a partnership. He mentioned that many have suggested that the 21st century will be the century of Chinese missions. He feels this is misfortunate and supports the idea that the gospel will always move from the powerful to the less fortunate and should not be agreed with. “No one group should claim that they will finish the Great Commission, we need to do it together.” He finished talking about partnership with a story of the Chinese church that once was thanking missionaries for their work. They thanked them for assisting the poor, for the hospitals that were built and the lives that were given. They said, “We have one more thing to ask; we want your friendship.” Partnership is easier when friendship is present.
From my perspective there have been five issues that I see emerging. I expect there will be lots of other perspectives on the important issues. With 4,500 people at a meeting we all move in different circles of relationships and the conversations in the hallways can have as much significance as the sessions. With a bit of repeat from a couple of days ago and in no particular order:
1. Discipleship – There is a need for the church to do a much better job at discipleship. This issue was not highlighted in the main sessions but came out at various points.
2. Urban centers – The urban centers are growing and will continue into the future. The cities lead culture and thinking and are often locations of great human suffering. Mission has been focused on the rural “ends of the earth.” Some of the “ends of the earth” have moved into the city. We need to be engaging with the cities.
3. Islam – There is a need to continue to reach out to Muslims, to find new ways to engage and to wrestle with the many complex issues surrounding this work.
4. Suffering of the church – There are many places around the globe where the church is suffering. Many Christians live with constant threat and it is taken as part and parcel of being a follower of Christ. The early Christian church suffered tremendously. Are we, particularly the western church, ready to embrace suffering as a part of the faith or have we bought into a gospel of comfort?
5. The church in China is really serious – This is more of a personal take away. I have heard a lot about the church in China in recent years and its emphasis on mission. Part of me has wondered if the things I have been hearing are true or truth mixed with some sort of Christian urban legend. I am now convinced that the Chinese church will be a serious mission force to be reckoned with in the future.
I have to admit that I came to this meeting with some apprehension. I was concerned about competing agendas. At the last two Lausanne meetings that I attended it seemed that the agenda was so diverse that everyone came away with their own idea of what was central and what actions steps needed to be taken. While that will always be the case in any meeting involving such a diverse community and so many issues to wrestle with, I feel this meeting had an overall emphasis on the gospel. It remained central in the discussions. It did not get lost in the plurality of issues.
The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.