Welcome to the discussion!

As the articles below indicate, for a number of years I have being trying to understand the changing concept and practice of mission.

My search has moved progressively from ‘Is there still a need for mission?’ to ‘What should the new focus for mission be?’ and finally to ‘Where can we find examples for this new direction?’

Some progress has been made but the effort to get this far has brought up a wider question. Why are so few people doing the practical reflection and research that is necessary to bring mission out of its present decline?

Theologians produce books on the academic aspects of mission but those actively engaged in cross-cultural mission are not writing about the real-life issues that face them. In this age of dramatic changes most businesses and NGOs are plowing resources into research for their next step so why are Christian missionaries, especially Catholics, not doing so?

I’m sure there are many answers to this complex question but by naming them, one by one, we may get a better idea of where the problem lies and what can de done about it.

Have you any ideas to share on this topic?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

What it Means to be a Missionary

Recently a Korean Sister wrote about the small town in the south of Korea in which her congregation started a school in 1960, not long after the end of the Korean War. She said that in those days what the people wanted from the Sisters’ school were “scientific skills, pianos, folk dances and a knowledge of English”! She wondered what they needed from people like herself today, now that their basic needs are already being met.
            I immediately recognised the small town she mentioned as the one in which I had been for a short time in those post-war years and the place where I was first forced to ask myself, “What have I to offer the people here as a missionary?”
The questioning was sparked by the arrival at the church of two American Air Force sergeants looking for directions to the foreign Sisters’ convent. I had come to the country just nine months earlier and was taking care of the parish temporarily. After listening to my instructions on how to get to the Sisters one of the sergeants looked at me standing in my western clerical garb in the empty yard and asked, “What do you do here anyhow in this isolated place?”
            I was stuck for an answer that might make sense to them and as they drove away in their dusty jeep I decided it was time for me to clarify what I was about. If I could not explain it to others – even in English --it was probably because I was not too clear about it myself. Finding a satisfactory answer was to take me a lot longer than I expected.
            First I began to ask the local people what their old beliefs meant in their lives. They replied that traditional religious practices were a help when a relative died or there was some emergency. They prayed at the local shrines or offered up money in the hope it would improve their health, protect them for evil spirits and bring good luck. The old religions also gave them some guidance on being truly human and on what was good or bad.   
            However, already some of these people were turning to the Catholic church for a more satisfactory means of meeting their religious needs – it seemed more modern and credible, had a formal liturgy that suited their Confucian background and reinforced their basic belief that there is one universal creator God. Its doctrines were sometimes hard to follow but accepting them seemed part of becoming a Catholic.
            As Korean society developed the younger generation showed that belief in a distant God meant less to them, they felt that liturgy should be lively and something in which they could participate actively and the church should be a witness to human rights in the world. They were moving away from traditional ways, and even from the congenial church that their parents knew, and were looking for a community where personal understanding and responsibility were important.
It was at that stage that I began to realise what I had to offer them as a Christian and a missionary. If I met those American sergeants today I would say, “The only way we can avoid more wars and human disasters is to be genuinely aware of how closely we are related to the rest of the human race and to the earth in which we live. The source of that bond is God and the story of what that means is in the Bible. Bringing this bond alive in people who have not already heard the story of Christ is what I try to do.”
Probably the two soldiers would not immediately grasp what I was trying to say but at least it would be a sign that I was getting closer to expressing what it means to be a missionary.       Hugh MacMahon  3/31/10

1 comment:

  1. Kevin Walters.

    I have read many of your articles over the last four weeks and I believe this short poem goes to the heart of the problem.

    Unity of Purpose.

    Hope spring’s eternal or so the saying goes’
    Doe’s the church present a weed?
    When it should present a rose
    A light set on a hill
    All men shall know and see
    God’s Holy Will
    No word need be spoken all mankind shall see
    God’s lovers as they bend their knee
    Justice and Love reflected from above
    The missionary shall call
    We would have this for one and all
    A crystal (Rome) on a hill
    Manifesting our Fathers holy Will.

    In Christ