Alliance for Vulnerable Mission

March 6th, 2018

Here is a brief account of our recent conference, held at All Nations Christian College, UK:

UK Conference report – ANCC (All Nations Christian College), Ware, Hertfordshire, 31st May to 2nd June 2018. Conference title: Vulnerable Mission: what it is, and why we need it.

Short summary of conference-content by Jim Harries, prepared on 3rd June 2018.
After a get-to-know-you session, the 12 or so delegates to the conference (that number went up whenever college staff and students attended) discussed the nature and purpose of vulnerable mission: doing mission using local languages and resources in a way that leaves the missionary injurable. Every morning began with a time of worship and sharing of the word, led by ANCC student Andy Connolly.
Frank Paul launched our conference with a graphic and heart-felt description of the course of events from the 1950s into the 21st Century mission by a Mennonite team reaching Toba Indians in northern Argentina. Frank gently presented a very persuasive case for missionaries to hand-over formal institutions, then to stay-around with the people they are reaching. The missionary role becomes one of accompanying indigenous Christians, being an encouragement but not always a guide, so as to allow indigenous people to direct the development of their own new churches.
‘Ignoring advice’ was the main title of the second paper by Jim Harries. Jim pointed out that, aside from the Bible, a missionary wanting to be vulnerable to the people they are reaching unfortunately must reject a lot of well-meaning advice! First, this is because advice given from the West tends to be oriented to empowering and strengthening a missionary to render them robust in the face of cross-cultural challenges. On the field, local people may well advise their missionary to be strong (particularly as a means of trying to maximise donor generosity). They will rarely if ever advise a foreigner to be vulnerable. It is the prerogative of the missionary concerned to aim to be consistently vulnerable, a kind of self-inflicted-weakness. Such vulnerability can result in the greatest long-term resilience.
While Frank (above) referred to a South American context, and Jim to Africa, Jens Bernhard told us about mission in India and Thailand. Jens, from Germany, pointed to the presence of unhelpful mission narratives. These unhelpful narratives, ways of engaging Asia that have become conventional, serve to put missionaries’ message at loggerheads with Buddhists’ and others’ family and community relationships. As a result; becoming a Christian requires leaving one’s tradition. Yet, Jens pointed out, early Christians were not told to leave Judaism. Jens advocated that we see Buddha as a kind of Isaiah figure who foretold the coming of Christ, and New Testament revelation as a fulfilment of Buddhist ideals. For Buddhists, Jens told us, Jesus overcame karma, to enable entry into nirvana.
ANCC staff members Richard and Louisa Evans looked at ways in which vulnerable mission principles could be applied to UK contexts of receiving reverse missionaries. The latter are people from previously missionized-nations who are nowadays coming back to the West, specifically Europe, to encourage Western people to become disciples of Jesus. The Evans’ gave many examples, particularly from central London, of ways in which UK churches were receiving, encouraging, and enabling reverse missionaries. Often, they found, non-Western people who had come to Christ structured their lives in the UK by gathering together to serve God, thus building community.
Marcus Grohman spoke to us by video-link from South Africa. One and a half years into a PhD programme looking at reconciliation in South Africa, Marcus articulated immediate personal experience of the understanding he was gleaning of the post-apartheid-related tensions between Blacks, Whites, and others in South Africa. Marcus showed us ways in which, were some South African Whites adopt them, vulnerable mission could potentially provide fruitful avenues of reconciliation. Even should ‘vulnerable mission’ be unattractive to many, a few practitioners could provide role-models that could later inspire and guide others to real and deep practices of reconciliation.
Deborah Bernhard, together with her husband Jens, expanded on Jens’ previous paper with deep and specific insights into missionary life amongst the Shan people of Thailand. This paper described how vulnerable mission could be used to side-step kinds of superior paternalism that characterises much Western contemporary missionary activity. Instead of insisting that Thai people leave their traditions in order to follow Jesus, Deborah pointed to ways in which they could remain ‘Buddhists’ (not a religion, but a tradition) while getting to know Jesus. Then Buddhism could be transformed from the inside. The term ‘missionary’ should be avoided. The foreigner is there to encourage the emergence of insider-movements.
Two seminars run in parallel, were led by Frank Paul and Jim Harries:
– Frank looked at myriad ways in which helping people can be hurting them. Frank demonstrated that ‘helping’ is not a simple thing bound to work just because intentions are good. Instead, how to help needed careful thought as well as reference to Biblical guidelines.
– Jim succeeded in provoking a lively debate on a radical topic. The nowadays largely hegemonic notion that ‘racism is always bad’ was turned on its head in this debate. Colour-blind behaviour can conceal racial supremacism, that is doing much damage to non-Western countries, this group discovered. Efforts at countering racism in the West have (unwittingly?) become a screen that conceals ways in which non-Western cultural realities are being ignored. This severely hampers the freedom of majority world people to think independently. As a result African and other people are forced to blindly follow the lead of the West, even when such renders their own communities incompetent.
Delegates ended the conference with a time of discussion on the way-forward, and prayer.

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Books available on vulnerable mission (en-esp-de)   

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See AVM Bulletins; produced every month

Alliance for Vulnerable Mission Purpose Statement

Vulnerable mission aims to encourage cross-cultural workers to follow the humble example of Jesus, who demonstrated His vulnerability in part by living like the Jews of His time and place. Examples of humble vulnerability include but are not limited to carrying out ministry in culturally appropriate ways, refusing a high-status position, learning a local language, and avoiding the use of imported resources in favor of local ones.

Introduction to AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission)

The AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission) seeks to encourage wider use of mission and development strategies that depend on locally available resources and local languages. These strategies are “vulnerable” in the sense that they do not have fringe benefits built into them, deliberately or otherwise. They will therefore fail unless or until there is strong local confidence in their spiritual or developmental value. The missionary or development worker will allow them to fail rather than prop them up with outside money.

“Vulnerable mission” may be seen as part of the movement toward contextualization of the Gospel of Jesus, which we regard as the theory of many and the practice of few. We would like to see more people take the risks of contextualization and vulnerability in order to reap the rewards that only come to those who value local resources and invest in local languages. If local tools seem slow or weak by comparison with foreign money and English (Spanish etc. – European language), then we say with a wise missionary of long ago, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) While vulnerable mission may not be the only biblical approach to mission, it deserves much more attention than it has been getting. Let’s talk.

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… that there should be some missionaries from the West whose ministries are conducted in the language of the people being reached, without use of outside financial subsidy.

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Contact: jim@vulnerablemission.org

To participate in a list-serve discussion of vulnerable mission issues by email click here (if this link does not work for you, write to jim@vulnerablemission.org): PEARL To receive the monthly AVM bulletin, send an email to: jim@vulnerablemission.org For back copies of the Bulletin go to http://www.jim-mission.org.uk/avm-bulletins/index.html For a video presentation of vulnerable mission click here A series of conferences were arranged to be held in the USA and Europe in 2012 to further these aims. The conferences have now been completed. The rationale for the advocating of these policies is given in many papers collected especially at the following locations:

 Articles by various authors  

 Articles from 2017 conference  

Articles by Jim Harries, chairman of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (in academia.edu) 

Prior editions of the monthly AVM Bulletin

 

Some of the above articles are already published in Journals including: Missiology: an international review, Exchange: Journal of Missiological and Ecumenical Research, Evangelical Review of Theology and Lausanne World Pulse. More articles are sought for publishing on the web and/or presenting at the conferences.

In brief, vulnerable mission is a means of over-coming widespread problems in mission (and development activities) in the two-thirds world, such as the creation of unhealthy dependency, neo-colonialism, the prosperity gospel, mission as secularisation, corruption and chronic under-development. These issues are avoided because by confining themselves to the use of local languages and resources missionaries ensure that their activities are appropriately contextualised. The use of local languages in ministry combined with ‘missionary poverty’ (the two key principles of AVM) enforces humility and operation on a ‘level playing field’ with local people. Once these two conditions have been given as foundation, then ‘Vulnerable Mission’ can be extremely wide in its expression and can certainly include: provision of care for the sick, faith healing, theological and other education, church planting, literacy, water projects and so on.

AVM already has partners in many churches, missions and schools including SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics), SIM (Serving in Mission), Church of God (Anderson), WEA (World Evangelical Alliance), WCIU (William Carey International University), WMA (World Mission Associates), GMI (Global Mapping International), TWR, and many more. More partnerships and affiliations are sought. Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches, groups and individuals are welcomed.

The AVM is led by a small executive board made up of Tim Reeves, (Norwich Central Baptist Church, UK), Dr. Chris Flanders, (Abilene Christian University) and Dr. Jim Harries (Chair, Missionary in Western Kenya). This is supported by an Advisory Board that includes: Alex Araujo (Partners International) and others (see below). Readers are encouraged to peruse the above websites. For a few discussions already engaged in and recorded by Jim Harries with people over vulnerable mission see:

Discussions  

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Board Members

Dr. Jim Harries, Chairman of AVM, missionary in East Africa.

Dr. Stan Nussbaum

Dr. Stan Nussbaum. Advisory board member. Staff missiologist for SYNC.

Frank Paul. Advisory board member. Until recently a missionary in the Chaco in Argentina, now with the community of 'Young Christians on the Offensive' in Germany.

Frank Paul. Advisory board member. For 18 years living in Argentina – mostly with an international team of fraternal workers who are accompanying real independent indigenous churches in the Chaco area in northern Argentina. Ute and Frank Paul now belong to OJC, an intentional interdenominational community in Germany – sharing life, daily work, resources (see: www.ojc.de > english , > castellano).

Dr. Stan Nussbaum

Dr. Chris Flanders. Assistant Professor of Missions in the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. Also Director of the Halbert Institute for Missions at ACU (www.acu.edu/missions). Former missionary to Thailand for 11 years. Advisory Board Member.

Frank Paul. Until recently a missionary in the Chaco in Argentina, now with the community of 'Young Christians on the Offensive' in Germany.

Dr. Jay Gary. Advisory board Member. Peakfutures consulting, and lecturer at Regent University


 Timothy V Reeves, member of the Advisory Board, is also a member of Norwich Central Baptist Church one of Jim Harries’ supporting fellowships in England. When Tim saw Harries’ formula: Meaning = Text + Context, he knew he had to get involved; this was different.

Timothy V Reeves, member of the executive board, is also a member of Norwich Central Baptist Church one of Jim Harries’ supporting fellowships in England. When Jim saw Harries’ formula: Meaning = Text + Context, he knew he had to get involved; this was different.

Stan Chu Ilo is a catholic priest and Research fellow at the Center for World Catholicism and Inter-Cultural Theology at DePaul University, Chicago.

Jean Johnson, member of the advisory board, serves as an international consultant with World Mission Associates (JeanJohnson@wmausa.org), helping bring awareness and change to unhealthy dependency as a result of global mission efforts. Jean spent 16 years as a missionary in Cambodia.

 

Fred Lewis, executive board member, grew up in one of the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA, received a M.Div. at Denver Seminary in Colorado and then served as an associate pastor at a church in farming country near Tulsa, OK. In rural Uganda he lived and served among the Bakonjo, ministering in Swahili; in Ukraine and Russia he lived in large cities, ministering in Russian. In Pasadena, CA he was Vice President of Academic Affairs at WCIU, a ministry of the US Center for World Mission. His current ministry at WorldView in Portland, OR is occupied with teaching present and future cross-cultural workers how to learn another culture.

(The Rev. Canon Dr.) John A. Macdonald, executive board member, is the Director of the Stanway Institute for World Mission and Evangelism and Associate Professor of Mission and Evangelism and at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge. He is also an ordained minister in the Anglican Church in North America.

(The Rev. Canon Dr.) John A. Macdonald, executive board member, is the Director of the Stanway Institute for World Mission and Evangelism and Associate Professor of Mission and Evangelism and at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge. He is also an ordained minister in the Anglican Church in North America.

 

Jonathan Winter, member of the advisory board, based in Belfast N. Ireland currently serves as a mobiliser and cross-cultural missions trainer with Logos Ministries International, UK, Jonathan received an MA in Intercultural Studies at the Philippines Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio City, and currently is pursing, an MA in Contemporary Missiology at Redcliffe College in Gloucestershire. Jonathan spent 13 years as a missionary in the Philippines working and still continues to be involved in teaching and training Asian missionaries for cross-cultural missions in Asia as well as working among Filipino migrant churches in the UK and across Europe.

Jonathan Winter, member of the advisory board, based in Belfast N. Ireland currently serves as a mobiliser and works for a UK based mission organisation. Jonathan received an MA in Intercultural Studies at the Philippines Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio City, and currently is pursing, an MA in Contemporary Missiology at Redcliffe College in Gloucestershire. Jonathan spent 13 years as a missionary in the Philippines working and still continues to be involved in teaching and training Asian missionaries for cross-cultural missions in Asia as well as working among Filipino migrant churches in the UK and across Europe.

 

Video recordings of Day workshop on vulnerable mission, How to do Partnerships Better, Pasadena, California, 24th September 2013 (watching these four videos would be an excellent way to give a group a dynamic introduction to vulnerable mission, and to how to do partnerships better …)

1. Stan Nussbaum’s presentation. Vulnerable Missions – Dependency

2. Jean Johnson’s presentation. Avoiding being Source of Resources.

3. Jim Harries’s presentation. The Bugbear of International Languages.

4. Panel Discussion