Boise conference – 20.01.2009

Boise Conference Participants

Boise Conference Participants


Don Armstrong -conference coordinator, Asia representative for Church of God missions.

Jim Harries- Chairman of Alliance for Vulnerable Mission.

Drew Brown- missionary candidate for Church of God missions.

Ruth Cooke- one-time short-term missionary to Kima International School of Theology

John Simonet – (only attended part of the conference)

Peg Simonet – (only attended a part of the conference)

Jon Cloud – church member with a strong interest in missions.

Keynote address for Vulnerable Mission conference, Boise, Idaho on 20th January 2009

‘The Need for Vulnerable Mission.’

Subject: Jesus; Our Rule of Thumb

By Julia Pring,

I would like to share a few heart-felt convictions based on nine years mission work in rural western Kenya and what the Bible teaches on the subject. After debating and discussion on various issues beyond and above it all we must go to the Word of God as our final authority.
Firstly, I come not from a position of ‘success’, far from it, in many ways I ‘failed’. Being a single woman alone made me perhaps too vulnerable and naivety plunged me into making dreadful mistakes and blunders. So why do I write? Because we walk and live by faith and because of the forgiveness and the grace of God I can still dare to believe that a few seeds were planted into lives. Only eternity will tell. (My main work was with orphaned, malnourished children, which involved setting up an orphanage home in the context of a local Pentecostal church).
In retrospect though, I think the way I reacted to the plight of these children, their orphaned state, physical neglect, malnutrition was in a very western way. I’ve asked myself the question many times, was it right to take them away from their extended families, did I really have the right to take the responsibility of the care of these children from their grandparents? Was my attitude at being offended at their poverty a right one? Could I have helped more by supporting the relatives to care for them in their own environment?
We only qualify because of who God calls; the foolish, base weak (1 Cor1: 26,27). The marvel of it all is that he takes our failures and makes them into something beautiful. Only God could do that!

I believe a key element in engaging in Vulnerable mission is relationships.
We need to be prepared to expose ourselves to have meaningful relationships with the local people; that involves being prepared to be misunderstood, ridiculed, and being constantly watched like an animal in a zoo! Yet it is a chance to show the love of God in a tangible way with an attitude of constant forgiveness with no trace of jealousy or resentment. John in his first Epistle wrote,’ That which we heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled.’ These are the things that will touch hearts in laying down your life for others; your rights, your superiority. Then they will experience true love. You find your self being constantly watched to see how you react, (I never got it right first time, it is much easier said than done!) Nothing but the grace of God and a life surrendered in abandonment to Him will suffice.
The subject of finances must be raised here I have learnt to stay clear of any financial dimension in relationships, as a safe way foreword and as the only way to try and teach the Africans the value of trust and true friendship.
It is my experience that it is possible to have heart to heart fellowship with local believers in the love and fellowship of the Holy Spirit; it was my joy for example, to visit a certain widow whose humility and love for the Lord Jesus was a inspiration and encouragement to me.
But, what do you do when your native co-worker is found out to have lived a ‘double life’ of deceit- keeping it secret that he’s had a second wife for the last two years?
What do you do when a friend blatantly lies to you and steals from you?
What do you do when your local church expects you to financially support ‘their’ project (that you started), but makes all the decisions without your knowledge?
These are some of the challenges I faced and I can’t say I always reacted in the right way, the temptation to resent and be bitter is so great when alone, yet it is in these very situations in which we make ourselves vulnerable that the difference lies. Do we react like the world and give into bitterness and unforgiveness, or do we by the grace of God choose to forgive and go on loving? It calls for sacrificial loving and living.

What is success? I believe it is not the number of converts you can boast of after an evangelistic crusade and then go back to your ‘Little England’ or ‘Little America’ in your walled compound cut off from your community. I believe its planting seeds sown in secret, possibly over years of hard slog, being vulnerable to your neighbours as friends. Living your life before them, partaking of their struggles and way of life, displaying the love of God day by day. For me it meant trudging through mud bare foot with other locals (bare foot because there’s less likelihood of slipping over, much to their amusement!) instead of splashing them with mud as you speed pass in you land rover-(though I have done that!). Queuing up at the communal water tape with your neighbours instead of insisting on a house with running water. Contending with a leaky wall in the rainy season because the mud has not dried out enough in your mud house. Sharing the time of day at the local market with the local women instead of opting for the local supermarket. Choosing to get in the line with the villagers at the local ‘posho’ mill to grind your maize instead of the … supermarket. Waiting in a queue on a hard bench at the local shoe repair to mend your sandals instead of buying a new pair! These are everyday opportunities to come alongside the local people.

As Don Crawford in his fantastic book, ‘Thinking Black’ put it, (on living out the gospel), ‘ the African’s blunt, black challenge to the missionary, ‘well you just sit down here and live your gospel for twenty years or so, then we will believe you.’
In these day-to-day situations we have opportunity to live out the gospel, the impartation of the life of Christ one to another.

Jesus is our rule of Thumb for everything. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are exhorted to have the mind of Christ… be of no reputation, a servant, humble, all very unfashionable, uncomfortable words even in Christian circles these days, yet the very qualities that God is looking for in us that are effective to reach the hearts of men and women, and children. It is these qualities that people are desperately looking for, watching us for and testing us for on the mission field. And, I suggest what we owe them in displaying the true love of God without the ‘perks’ (money, commodities etc).

Jesus’ great statement in John 12:24, ‘ unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much grain.’ This great principle is vitally relevant to the missionary and as mentioned above there is ample opportunity to die to self. In that dying fruit comes, but we also have to be prepared to live by faith and perhaps not see that fruit in our own life time.

Speaking the local language gives people a sense of worth and dignity. I was always met with an appreciative audience or individual when they heard you actually made the effort to learn and speak their language. It makes them feel valuable, gives them a sense of worth, surely that is how Jesus treated people and how we are to do so. I know, however, that I used English far too much in most relationships, and came to realize that Kenyan English has different meanings to ours. “You are part of me” meant, “I’m latching on to you as my donor, come what may”!
Another challenging issue with regard to Vulnerable mission is that of expectations. Local leaders and Pastors as well as even other missionaries expect you to live to a certain standard, maintaining as much of a western life style as possible. Identity with their standard is sometimes seen as an affront, exposing that they despise their own lifestyle, is this one of the effects of the prosperity teaching where western life styles are emulated and African standards and culture taught to be inferior? I was encouraged to keep up Western standards in my house; buy a fridge, etc. A bicycle I purchased (instead of a four wheel drive – though I did acquire that later) was frowned upon.
On taking Christ to people have we first taken His cross and embraced it in our lives? Has the principle of the cross gotten into the very fibre of our being so that humility becomes second nature. Jesus only succeeded because he was willing to give up his will, obey the Father and die! He did not have spectacular results to show to head quarters. In human terms he was a total failure.

What is our perception of success and failure? We have to be willing to meet folk at their level, stoop down, and walk with them. What is easier to do for the poor old widow with nothing to feed her Grandchildren at home, crippled with arthritis? Hand her a hundred shillings from the comfort of your four wheel drive as she passes you in the market, or go to her shamba and dig it and plant the little seed she may have?

Jesus always meets us at our point of need not want. It is the humble discerning missionary prepared to be vulnerable who will stoop down and help meet the needs not wants of the local people, sharing their struggles, being part of them, not superior.
The love of God is never condescending, never with an air of you and us, but oneness and compassion. That is the gospel that will speak to lives.

The Apostle Paul is another great example of the missionary life. He says in 2 Cor12: 15, ‘ I will very gladly spend and be spent for you’, and ‘ the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.’ He knew the joy of laying down his life for others.

As the great Bible teacher Oswald Chambers puts it,’ The real test of the saint is not preaching the gospel, but washing disciples’ feet, that is, doing the things that do not count in the actual estimate of men, but count everything in the estimate of God. Paul delighted to spend himself out for God’s interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. He had no reserve, who was prepared to become broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for others’.

Response to Keynote

This was given by Don Armstrong, but it was not written out as a document in a publishable form.

Outline of Jim Harries’ Illustrated Presentation

Jim Harries began by eating humble pie and asking for the patience of the very experienced people present listening to his sharing of (sometimes unconventional) mission wisdom.

Jim explained his aim, from the beginning of his ministry in Kenya, to show love to the people, and to remain close to the people. He observed that maintaining both of these objectives limited the options of ‘showing love’. “It is very easy” he explained ” to show love in a way that takes a western missionary away from the African people.”

In his illustrated presentation, he gave a case study from the UK of how ignoring race issues can make a mockery of government investigations and decision making in health care. He then reflected on our concern as Christians for our brothers and sisters around the world into which God has put us.

Jim outlined three Bible passages that speak in favour of VM (vulnerable mission) principles. In John 6:15 Jesus walked away from the ‘donor’ role. Acts 2:8 strongly suggests that the Gospel should go be shared with people in their own tongue. He pointed out that Acts 13:10 condemns ‘witchdoctors’ and witchcraft.

Jim went on to share at length about his personal missionary journey. He had started his missionary career as an agriculturalist, but got disillusioned with agricultural and ‘technical’ models of development that seemed not to touch people’s deep and debilitating concerns about witchcraft. Instead, God led him to Biblical and church ministries. His orientation to staying close to the African people he is reaching in a relationship of love has had him adopt the VM principles of: using the local language and not using outside resources in his relationships with people on the field.

Jim showed us where he is located in East Africa; in a ‘typical African village’, where he looks after orphaned children in his home. He then shared something of the ‘African churches’ he works with, who he said frequently relate closely with their ancestors. Other churches in Africa are heavily dependent on outside aid, he emphasised. Jim’s primary work in Kenya is in teaching of the Bible and Theology in two ‘extension’ based schools using African languages, and one American-rooted school that uses English for instruction (Kima International School of Theology).

Jim re-iterated the emphasis of the AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission) as being that some Western missionaries use local languages and resources in their ministry to non-Western people. He explained the importance of this with reference to examples. He told of an instance when an offer of bicycles to an indigenous ministry caused a great deal of time-consuming strife. He explained how difficult it was to ‘help’ widows without causing jealousy and conflict, and how some African people orient themselves to asking for charity with great force (see David Maranz’ book African Friends and Money Matters)! He explained how some Westerners can conclude that African people are ‘evil’, but that this is through misunderstanding how they use language, and he told us of ways in which English is inadequate for use in African contexts.

Jim closed his talk with an appeal; that some Western Christians be on the ‘side of’ the African people. He suggested that at the moment the West is over-occupied in enrolling people into its own arena, rather than (as is appropriate for Christians) being concerned to understand and assist non-Westerners with their lives, issues, and problems.

“Let there be some Western missionaries to the non-West whose ministry is carried out using the language and resources of the people being reached … – is that too much to ask?” was Jim’s closing appeal.

The following was on a handout given to the delegates of the Boise conference:

What is Vulnerable Mission – in brief.

Jim Harries

Chairman, Alliance for Vulnerable Mission, 18th December 2008.

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.


1. This is a Biblical model. With the possible exception of Greek (that really was an indigenous language given the relative absence of globalising forces such as printing press, radio, electronic media etc.), indigenous languages were used in missions’ outreach in the New and Old Testaments. Unless through ‘miraculous provision’ (and not fundraising efforts), Biblical mission and ministry was done using locally-accessible material resources.

2. Working with what is locally available (in terms of language and resources) enables local people to continue ministry after the missionary has left.

3. Working with local resources exposes missionaries to the constraints local people are working under, thus putting them onto a helpful learning curve, and allowing them to adjust their ministry to local conditions.

4. Problems of material dependency and the prosperity gospel that goes with it, are avoided.

5. Because European languages are often used to facilitate contact with and funding from the West, efforts are increasingly being made by non-Western communities and governments to ensure that their use is compatible with that in the West. Because this restricts a language’s adjustment to local conditions it makes it of less and less use to local contexts. (In-so-far as a language adjusts to local contexts, its value or fit internationally declines.)

6. What may initially be ‘outside inputs’ become inculturated in the course of their use in and interpretation to local economic and linguistic contexts.

7. Overall outcome – ministry becomes indigenously rooted and of local relevance. Hence ‘3-selfs’ churches, ministries and communities may arise and non-Western people’s are empowered.

Wider Ramifications

Philosophically, in assuming that effective and helpful change comes from inside a community and from the people’s hearts rather than from outside funding of foreign projects, this is challenging historical materialist philosophies that currently underlie much Western intervention into the Third World.

Linguistically this approach is rooted in a dynamic understanding of language meaning arising primarily from the context (in almost every sense of this word) of words in use, rather than the assumption that meanings are contained semantically in words, sentences, texts etc.

Operation of VM requires a separation between co-called ‘compassionate’ ministry that is dependent on outside funds and operated using Western languages, from outsider’s efforts at bringing sustainable change to non-Western communities.