Keith, Gretchen and Dan

Keith, Gretchen and Dan

Dan and David

Dan and David

and Stan

Doug and Stan

Andrew Gale and James Albrecht

Andrew Gale and James Albrecht

The Kingsley's and Doug at the conference

The Kingsley's and Doug at the conference


David Baylor. Missionary candidate with Church of God Outreach Ministries.

Doug Wilson. Avant Ministries.

Keith Kingsley. Menonnite Mission Network worker in Argentina.

Gretchen Kingsley. Menonnite Mission Network worker in Argentina.

Dan Petersen. One time missionary to Burkina Faso, missions pastor in Menonnite church.

Stan Nussbaum. Staff Missiologist with GMI (Global Mapping International). AVM board member.

Andrew Gale. Ministry director for Missions, Church at the Crossing, Indianapolis.

Jim Harries. AVM board member, missionary to East Africa.

Steve Rennick. Senior Pastor, Church at the Crossing, Indianapolis.

Tim Broyles. Missions Pastor, Church at the Crossing, Indianapolis.

James Albrecht. Retired missionary.


Here is the keynote address that was presented by Steve Rennick:

Alliance for Vulnerable

The Church At The Crossing

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

27 January 2009

Karibu … willkommen … bienvenidos … and welcome. Welcome in the name of Jesus. Welcome to The Church at The Crossing.

We are so happy to have you here and to be able to host this conference. We want you to know that you are most highly welcome and as our German brothers & sisters would say, “Herlizch willkommen” – we offer you a hearty greeting & welcome.

I have been asked to deliver the opening or keynote address of this conference. I am humbled to be asked … and … having known Dr. Harries for some 12 years now on a very personal basis … I am surprised to be asked. No doubt part of the reason I have been asked is that we here at The Church at The Crossing have agreed to host this event … and I am the senior pastor! J However, I think that there are at least 2 other and better reasons.

#1. Dr. Harries & the entire Alliance for Vulnerable Mission are open people – open to God, open to culture, open to change, open to new ideas, open to others who think and act and live differently than they have chosen. And the truth is – on a good number of issues and areas – I do think and act and live differently from many of the ways proposed by AVM.

#2. Dr. Harries and AVM are repulsed by triumphalism, that is, the very idea that because group A has more people or more money or more power than group B, then by sheer mass and size and wealth, group A is correct, perhaps entirely so, while group B is incorrect, perhaps entirely so. Indeed, this is the polar opposite of the very idea and ideals of AVM. Thus, it seems as though the basic presuppositions of AVM require hearing those of varied, and even opposite, points-of-view … and that these varied, and perhaps opposite, points-of-view are necessary, needed, and welcome. My friends – I will be able to provide you with plenty of each of these!

And now DISCLAIMER #1 … you should and must know this … Jim Harries is my friend. We met in 1996. We have worked together. We have prayed together. We have traveled together. We have laughed together. We have worshiped together. We have led together. We have shared life together. As different as a man whose middle name is “Osmar” and I may be … we are friends and I love Jim Harries.

DISCLAIMER #2 … I trust Jim Harries. I trust him deeply, implicitly, and for good reason. He held a variety of roles at Kima International School of Theology during my seven years as principal. He was a part-time lecturer, interim academic dean, part-time lecturer, interim principal, part-time lecturer, interim academic dean, and part-time lecturer. I observed him over the course of time both up close and personal as well as from a distance. And this is what I learned: I can trust James Osmar Harries. He will keep his word. He has fidelity first and foremost and always to Jesus Christ. I have always been glad to know, love, and trust Jim … and I do so today.

Now, given that bond, yea, personal bond, one may be tempted to think that the two of us are in agreement … and we are … on many weighty and important issues. We are both traditional (or orthodox) Christians whose theology is within the maelstrom of historic Christian faith. Thus, our message of Christ (for example in Colossians 1:15-20 and Revelation 1:12-18) is in agreement. We also are of similar Christian ethics. We both agree that the Great Commandments of Jesus (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34) to love God and love others is the supreme ethic of all of life. Thus, our manner of Christian living is in agreement. And we both believe in, practice, and support with much of our life’s effort the missionary work of the church (Mark 16:15-18; John 20:30-31). Yet, we have come to practice this Christian missionary work in different ways and, at times, very different ways. Thus, our missiology and method are not in as full agreement as our message of Christ and manner of life in His name.

As I reflect upon ‘vulnerable mission’ I am struck by the non-interventionist approach. I love the emphasis on prayer, bible reading and study, and the incarnational approach of being present with a people as the very ambassadors of Christ. However, AVM’s rejection of anything which smacks of ‘western intervention’ leaves me unable to follow much further along this path. I am a child of the West. I have been steeped in the culture, language, practices, advantages, and disadvantages of a, on-the-world-scale, wealthy and powerful set of cultures. And when I hold in my hands the power to deliver anti-malarial medicine or to assist a child in their education, I feel a compulsion to do so.

Jesus’ words echo in my ears, mind, and conscience. All of Matthew 25 stays with me with both the ten bridesmaids and the three servants entrusted with talents/money. And then comes the sweeping story of the sheep and the goats. I want to be counted among those who feed the hungry, give a cup of cool water in His name, and visit both the sick and the imprisoned.

Certainly many such passages could be sited. Another example with particular pertinence to our discussion is 1 John 3:16-20.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

If anyone has material possessions? If anyone sees a brother or sister in need? If anyone has pity on them? Let us not love in words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

I hope to blur the lines of missiological thinking & praxis beyond the typical “us-not-them” or “there-not-here” categories. To do so I draw upon an experience from here in Indianapolis. Early on Monday morning, the 10th of November, 2008, the Bells Chapel Church of God experienced a devastating fire. Their sanctuary, fellowship hall, and the entire upper floor of their primary building was engulfed in flames. Their campus was rendered unusable. They serve 150 children and their families each weekday through daycare. Now, a church family of 175 people, as well as their through-the-week ministries, are homeless.

  • Are we to pray from a distance? Yes … and …
  • Are we to show up and pray on site? Yes … and …
  • Are we to love them, learn their culture, and be with them? Yes … and …
  • Are we to study the Scriptures with them as we draw close to them relationally? Yes … and

What else might AVM propose? At a radical level, nothing else. Nothing else is necessary. I purport the opposite and equally radical approach. We treat them and love them as if we are they and they are us. The Church at The Crossing is on a track of intertwined relationship, mutual love, and deepened relationship in the name of Christ. It is not only our missiology that is on view, it is our theology at its deepest and most rudimentary levels. I dare think that AVM would also desire such experiences and relationships. However, I do not see how the missiology of AVM would ever get them/us there. Instead, the radical involvement of us-and-them and there-and-here has an opportunity to do so.

And so, yes, I am in agreement and support of the stated goal of AVM, which is, and I quote, “The aim of AVM is to encourage: 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.”

I want those who are called to such a missiology to be able to practice this in full faith. And I also ask the same acceptance, appreciation, and approval of AVM for those of us who have a different, yet equally radical approach, in our missiology and praxis.

We need AVM. We need the radical nature of cultural immersion, language learning and use, and the valuing of people at deep, and often nearly-incommunicable, levels. For once again, if our message and manners are in such agreement, can we not find ways to also value and hold-as-valid varied missiologies with such similar purposes and goals? I hope so because I really do love and trust James Osmar Harries that much. Thank you.

Respectfully submitted,

Rev. Dr. Steve Rennick, BSc, MRE, MDiv, PhD

Senior Pastor, Church at the Crossing.


Short testimony from Dan Peterson – what does ‘barbaric’ mean?

Col. 3:11 (NLTse):

“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.”

Barbaric did not have the meaning for Paul that it has for us today. Today we live under the influence of Social Darwinism, and we associate barbaric tribes with backward, underdeveloped, primitive, poor – or we use barbaric to mean violent/cruel. The latter was the meaning of Scythian (NLT uncivilized); barbaric did not imply fierce/crude.

Nor did barbaric imply backward or underdeveloped – in fact the barbaric peoples in Paul’s day could be living an identical way of life to Paul himself.

So what did barbaric mean? The idea was simple: it referred to anyone who could not speak the dominant global language of Greek.

Today we have the saying “it sounds like Greek to me” – meaning we can’t make any sense of it. But the Greeks said, “It sounds like bar bar to me, I can’t make any sense of it.” From this sound bar bar they coined the word barbaric to describe any foreign language. So Paul is simply saying that people don’t need to understand the language of the Empire, the language of international commerce, the language of high-class education. Christ can be understood, and can change lives, even among people who only speak languages that sound to us like bar bar bar.

This verse came to life for me in Burkina Faso when I began living among the Nanerige Senufo people, whose language was unknown to the outside world. Before settling into a Nanerige village, I first learned a local West African trade language. Surprisingly, that language is still called Barbara or Bambara. The ancient Greek word barbar has been adopted in North Africa to describe the tribal languages of African peoples, so the language I was learning was still called barbar!

But that language was only a stepping stone into the Nanerige language – and I was surprised to discover that Nanerige was, in turn, also described by outsiders as barbar. In other words everyone in still calling each other’s languages barbar today just as they did in the Apostle Paul’s day.

So I always drew comfort and encouragement from Paul’s statement 2,000 years ago, for two reasons:

First, it remains true that Christ is all that matters, and he can live in people and change their lives even if they do not speak the language of the empire but rather speak a language that sounds to everyone else like bar bar bar.

Secondly, it remains true that one person’s language (and we might add: their whole world view) is always bar bar to a speaker of another language, regardless of the socio-economic status of either side. English is only bar bar to the many language groups on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. French is only bar bar to most people in those villages. Even the local African trade language is still Bambara to the Nanerige people who need the Good News of reconciliation with their Creator through the mediator Jesus.

When we settled among the Nanerige and learned their language, we found them to be receptive to our message because we had taken the time—and made the effort—to set aside the bar bar of other languages and to learn their own beautiful and sophisticated Nanerige language.

To be committed to doing mission in the language of the people is not a handicap, not some kind of hurdle to get over, not some kind of unfortunate interruption to the real business of doing mission. Rather, learning a people’s language is the one door through which the Gospel must enter their world. Anything less will remain bar bar to their hearts and minds.


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 (Council on 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.

Jim’s presentation emphasised that to show love to people required staying close to them. His approach to life in Africa has therefore included aiming to achieve proximity to the people, rather than ‘showing love’ from a distance.

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.