Colorado Springs – conference report (16th Jan. 2009)

More Debate

More Debate

Ongoing debate

Ongoing debate

Jim Harries presenting

Dr. Jim Harries presenting

Dr. Stan Nussbaum presenting

Dr. Stan Nussbaum presenting

100_16861 Craig, Jay and Howard in engaged conversation

Those Present:colsprwthnames

Howard Foltz was until recently the missions preofessor at Regent’s University, and heads up AIMS (Accelerating International Mission Strategies) president.

Marv Bowers, one time MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) pilot. Missions and technology enthusiast.

Richard Beckham is the executive assistant to the president of GEM (Greater Europe Mission). Has done church-planting work in Yugoslavia.

Stan Nussbaum was once a missionary to Lesotho, and now is the staff missiologist for GMI (Global Mapping International).

Bruce McCluggage is a teacher who encourages Christians to consider philosophy in relation to their faith.

Mike O’Rear is the president of GMI (Global Mapping International) – an organisation that specialises in carrying out research and mapping for mission bodies around the world.

Mr. Suderman is a professional anaesthetist who is also very enthused about global Christian mission.

Joni Zepp is a licensed therapist who specialises in providing counselling therapy for returned Christian missionaries.


The following is the outline that was used by the keynote speaker

Dr. Stan Nussbaum for his presentation:

Positioning the “Vulnerable Mission” Strategy in Mission Thinking and Practice

Stan Nussbaum

Keynote speech for AVM Conference, Colorado Springs, Jan. 16, 2009

Main questions to be addressed

  • How does Vulnerable Mission (VM) fit into the big picture of mission today?
  • How does it compare and contrast with what people have been saying for a long time, especially in the areas of contextualization and dependence?
  • Why is this the right time for a new articulation of the principles?


VM principles are mission strategy principles, and all strategies are evaluated according to how well they serve a given goal. In AVM we are not saying much yet about the goal of mission since we think we agree with the mainstream on that. However, we also think VM principles are a much better route to the goal than the standard alternatives are, which makes us wonder if the mainstream really believes in the mission goal they talk about.

Four paradigms of mission from the West in the past century

1. Classic, top-down mission–Resources and control from the West to the rest; converts become Western. Well-known problems of dependence, weak leadership, and little vision for mission.

2. Contextualization in mission—What is brought from the West is adapted to the local context (usually by the outsiders).

3. Partnership in mission—Insiders make the decisions about mission goals and methods; outsiders assist with human and financial resources (combines the best of # 1 and 2? Reverts in practice to # 1?)

4. Vulnerable mission—Outsiders use VM principles in order to create space for genuine contextualization of themselves and their strategies as well as genuine partnerships at a deep level (best of # 2 and 3).

Premise 1:

The dominant practice of mission by Westerners is widely divorced from the theoretical study of it. Strategic principles that are routinely accepted in academic circles and among mission executives are routinely ignored at the congregational, individual, and field levels where many decisions are made and carried out.

Examples: The Swaziland fiasco. The cultural default settings of North Americans in Latin America.

Corollary 1A: AVM is an Alliance which wants to see changes in practice, not just refinements in theory.

Corollary 1B: We will be particularly interested in getting the VM message out to the people who spend millions of dollars with good mission intentions but who never read academic studies of mission, and also in assisting the mission executives who are already trying to get their field workers up to speed with VM or similar principles.

Premise 2:

The gap between theory and practice is particularly acute at the two points which are the focus of AVM—language and money.

Examples: My mission board resolution on language learning. Many short-term mission trips. P.E.A.C.E. plan for Rwanda?

Corollary 2A: The opposites of “vulnerable” mission are “insulated” mission (language is the major insulator) and “controlling” mission (money is the major mechanism).

Premise 3:

When VM principles are presented, the short-term difficulties of VM principles are much more obvious to most people than the long-term disasters they would prevent.

Example: melt-down of the Bible college industry in Central Asia.

Corollary 3A: The literature on the issue of dependence is basically an attempt to help people deal with the long-term disasters once they are recognized. That overlaps with the AVM agenda but we focus more on preventing problems in new relationships than in undoing problems in old ones.

Premise 4:

The emphasis on partnership in mission can fit with VM principles but it is more commonly seen as a method of bypassing the need for them.

Example: The COSIM (Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries) network

Corollary 4A: Instead of de-emphasizing money, many on both the sending and the receiving end regard the transfer of money as a key essential element of the partnership, perhaps even the reason for it. Their questions are all about how to channel the money, not whether the local people might do their mission better without it.

Premise 5:

Social and physical accessibility may be a third key aspect of vulnerability, though we aren’t yet sure whether ranking “accessibility” as a third key component with language and money clarifies or confuses the overall picture of VM. (This is vulnerability of the person as opposed to vulnerability of the strategy.)

Corollary 5A: The busier a mission worker feels, the less accessible and vulnerable he/she will be considered by the local people.

Corollary 5B: Much of what Bonk about the “righteous rich” relates to their accessibility as people. They do not wall themselves and their resources off from the poor.

Premise 6:

There are some huge success stories with VM principles but they have two common traits which are not emphases of VM as we are talking about it so far: 1) the VM principles are used out of necessity by people from poor countries not voluntarily by people from wealthy countries, and 2) signs and wonders are involved.

Examples: Indigenous churches in China and Africa. Embassy of God in Ukraine.

Corollary 6A: Many of the people we present VM to will assume that it is an inappropriate strategy for people from wealthy countries because they have biblical obligations to share their wealth with the poor.

Corollary 6B: Besides developing our theories of what ought to work, we need to keep studying and reporting what is actually working around the world for people who do VM by necessity.

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.

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.