Conference on World Mission and Evangelism Challenge: “Learn from those with no titles, no money, and no stature”
By Amy Valdez Baker*
Arusha, Tanzania, March 10, 2018—The spotlight in the second plenary at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism here was on the wisdom that comes from the spirituality practiced by indigenous communities, influenced and transformed by the Christian story.
The session theme was “Mission from the Margins” and the keynote speaker, Ms. Adi Mariana Waqa, a member of an indigenous tribe in Fiji, took the 1000 conference participants to the margins, challenging them to listen and learn from those with “no titles, no money, no stature in society.” She reminded the Christian leaders from around the world to reconsider how mission in the future will be lived and practiced at and from the margins.
The Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held approximately every 10 years by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Delegates to this meeting came from the more than 300 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox member and affiliated denominations, plus representatives of Roman Catholic and other communions that are not official WCC members. The United Methodist Church is a full member and had eight official delegates to the event on March 8–13 in Arusha.
United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (retired) a top WCC leader, moderated the plenary on “Mission from the Margins,” which recognized the rise of Christianity in the global South and the decline in the North. Thomas Kemper, chief executive of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, was among those responding to Ms. Waqa.
Indigenous churches said the Fiji native, through “God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to transform Christian understanding of God’s love and preference for the poor.” She reminded the conference that Jesus was from the margins and died as a marginalized preacher rejected by the powers of that time.
Ms. Waqa posed a basic question for the churches to collectively consider in the context of “mission from the margins.”
Is our notion of discipleship inclusive of those who exist in the marginal spaces of our times and world? If so, then it follows that the church must view those in the margins with the same agency, dignity, and grace which Christ affords them in the Gospels! Remembering that God gives power and strength to the weak, the outcast, and those who go without.
The search for an answer to this question is, in a sense, the work of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism today.
Mr. Kemper in his response reflected on his own experience as a missionary in Brazil, learning from the people in São Paulo where he was called to serve. He described the spiritual satisfaction of joining with Catholic nuns in a ministry with street people, and how volunteers and street residents worked together as equals in supplying the ingredients and preparing a pot of soup each Wednesday. He contrasted that experience with his current reality of leading a 200-year old mission agency trying to take account of mission from the margins while dealing with human relations and governance issues. He concluded:
How do you send, train, and support missionaries within the concept of “mission from the margins?” This is very hard. I long for more days when we all can create soup together, each contributing to the soup of life in equal ways and sharing in God’s blessing, as God turns our offering into the bread of life for all people.
United Methodism in Tanzania
Conference participants spent Sunday visiting local churches throughout the community. Bishop Mande Muyombo, a conference delegate and the resident bishop of Tanzania Annual Conference, invited the United Methodist delegates to attend a joint service for the Arusha United Methodist community, which was formed just this past December. The church community was worshiping under a temporary shelter constructed of metal and tent tarps. Already, the infant faith community is drawing together more than 50 people in worship each Sunday.
The Tanzania Annual Conference has nine districts and 351 congregations across the country. Nine Global Ministries missionaries serve within the conference as church planters, educators, and administrators. Bishop Muyombo convened all the district superintendents and missionaries together for a three-day evangelism seminar, equipping them to go and train the pastors within their districts on how to plant churches in both the rural and urban areas of Tanzania.
The United Methodist gathering Sunday morning, brought approximately 200 participants together for music, worship, and communion. The Rev. Dr. Roar Fotland, a Norwegian pastor and professor, also a conference delegate, greeted the congregation with the reminder, “We are blessed to be a blessing connection with one another.”
*Amy Valdez Baker is executive director of Global Missions Connections of the General Board of Global Ministries