Chris, Alex, Jim, Mike (Dan not on p

Chris, Alex, Jim, Mike, (Dan absent).

Christ Hurst – Bible translator.

Alex Araujo – missions leader; Partners International.

Mike Woods – missions enthusiast.

Daniel Dow – US Center for World Missions regional director for Seattle.


(Subjective) report on the Conference by Chris Hurst:

Alliance for Vulnerable Mission

Conference Report

January 23, 2009


Jim Harries – Member of AVM board

Alex Araujo – missions leader; Partners International.

Mike Woods – missions enthusiast.

Daniel Dow – US Center for World Missions regional director for Seattle.

Christopher Hurst – Wycliffe Bible Translators.

We began with a short time of worship led by Jim, followed by introductions.

Keynote paper by Julia Pring and response by Mike woods

See conference report:

Then we discussed the challenges faced by mission in the changing world, how VM may address these issues and what the Spirit of God might be saying to the church.

Jim Harries laid out the Biblical basis for VM and his personal story as a missionary in Zambia and Kenya. (See Outline of Jim Harries’ Illustrated Presentation)

AVM Key Concepts:

1. Use local resources in ministry (vs. outside funding)

2. Use local language in ministry (vs. major language)

After lunch we discussed these principles. We acknowledged that for some they are already fundamental, yet for others seem an unnecessary hindrance to progress or even unthinkable.

One way of looking at VM’s goal is that it aims to help missionaries arrive at the same place they would be if they ministered at home. i.e. they have no special power or influence because of language or money.

Personal reflections

Due to our small numbers we did not have any really dissenting voices among us. What would they say? [I’ll make some suggestions]

  • Does not God’s Word time and again exhort the rich to give to the poor – with no sustainability strings attached?
  • Surely part of our task in the world is to have a big enough perspective to see how we can redress the balance, to boost those who have no resources through no fault of their own. The world has wealth, but it is unfairly distributed; won’t we find an excuse not to share our riches if we preclude funding local ministry?
  • Does the term “local ministry” include all kinds of good activity, running a home for orphans, helping lepers etc?
  • Since it will take several years for a missionary to learn a language, are we not shutting the door to short-term missionaries?

Since we did not have this side of the discussion, I feel that I have not fully engaged with the debate that AVM raises. I therefore hesitate to form a full opinion on the consequences of this approach. I will attempt to continue thinking and processing these idea.

I was struck by Jim’s openness about how difficult it is for a white man to truly get close to Africans, to become a friend or colleague without the money issue clouding the relationship. In fact, that money is the root of all kinds of problems (1Tim 6.10). Rolland Allen’s book “Missionary Methods, St. Paul’s or ours?” (1912), takes away any surprise that this should still be part of the human condition. I think that the “cultural distance” between a missionary and the people he goes to will result in different possibilities in this area; Jim’s experience may be on one extreme.

I see in Jim a humble reaction to what he first observed in himself and continues to see around him, a tendency to abuse power and resources in order to achieve a goal without realising the negative impact of these actions on those who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. He is calling for a way that does not create dependency and all the other problems that arise from artificially providing funding.

I wonder if in the statement of the VM proposal, whether the use of the word “some” is too weak:

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

Should we not be asking that ALL missionaries think in these terms as much as possible? That only as an emergency measure, a short term compromise or recognising a poor substitute for the better way, should an outside language be imposed and outside funding be injected. This would change the appearance of many ministries, but probably lead to more sustainable results.

I take this as a personal challenge in the field of Bible Translation in which it has been obvious and basic to work in the local language, but so far impossible for me to achieve without funding local translators. I therefore acknowledge that I operate in a less that ideal manner.

Local Language:

After working amongst indigenous people in Mexico for 24 years, I’m convinced of the need to respect people’s mother tongue. They may be able to grasp concepts in another language, but they will gossip those concepts in their first language if they have really internalised them.

I can’t resist the plea to respect the mother tongues of students at Bible teaching institutions. Even though the wealth of resources may be available to them via major languages, they must be able to argue these ideas in their own language, find them in their local language Bibles and communicate them to their neighbours back home – hoping that they are being equipped to serve back home and not just to be “upwardly mobile”.

Local funding:

We said that the principles of VM are not new, they are Biblical and we need to be reminded of them. Thinking of the heroes of missionary history:

Anthony Norris Groves (17951853) [Plymouth Brethren]

The significance of A. N. Groves lies in his desire to simplify the task of churches and missions by returning to the methods of Christ and his apostles described in the New Testament. As a missionary, his goal was to help indigenous converts form their own churches without dependence on foreign training, authorisation or finance.

The AVM appears to be promoting Indigeneity rather than Indigenisation. See:

Jacob A. Loewen quotes Trevor D. Verryn who “challenges the missionary-as-model approach [in which the missionary has all the answers] and points out that if we truly want to follow Jesus’ example in cross-cultural communication, we must step into the victim role. A missionary as victim means total vulnerability – anybody can reject his message with impunity, without fear of sanction.” ( Loewen, p209, Educating Tiger, ISBN 1-877941-08-5)

This was a stimulating day and I thank the organisers for their vision and faith in planning these conferences.

Respectfully submitted,

Christopher L. Hurst


This was the keynote paper for the Seattle conference:

Subject: Jesus; Our Rule of Thumb

By Julia Pring, December 2008.

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’.


Seattle Conference on Vulnerable Mission
Keynote Response – by Mike Woods

I feel very privileged and a little overwhelmed to be here at this conference on Vulnerable Mission. I come very much as a layman in the field of mission, having neither studied the subject academically nor worked on the mission field. That said, I have followed and supported a wide variety of mission work throughout my adult life, and having been a friend of Jim Harries since we were in youth group together I do have long experience in debating the issues that have led him to formulate Vulnerable Mission, many of which are highlighted in the keynote.

In responding to the paper we have just read I want to focus primarily on its theme of “Jesus, our rule of thumb”, and particularly the reference to Philippians 2:5-8. I would like us to consider how we can draw upon Jesus’ example to inform our approach to cross-cultural mission and define success in mission endeavors.

To summarize the passage: in our approach to others we should follow the example of Jesus, who abandoned his rights as the Son of the Father and became nothing (that is, a man), and made himself obedient to death – and that of the most horrible form. From this we can draw out three points regarding Jesus’ mission to mankind:

  1. Unlike that which often is considered humility, Christ’s humbleness was not recognition of his limitations and weaknesses but a conscious abandonment of the strengths and privileges that were properly his.
  2. Jesus submitted himself to suffering death and also (from the letter to the Hebrews) temptation, both of which are alien to him but common to those he came to save.
  3. The means of his death was extreme compared to the norm, highlighting his extravagant love toward us, and so that his sacrifice was greater and deeper than the neediest recipient of his grace.

Now let us attempt to apply these points to cross-cultural mission work.

In the secular press the major missionary activity of the Nineteenth Century is generally seen as an arrogant imposition of western customs, destruction of local culture, and support for imperial ambition. Although this is a caricature and slur on many thousands of Godly and selfless missionaries, we must concede that too often, either consciously or unconsciously, missionaries carried the conviction of cultural superiority that informed (and damaged) their work.

In the widespread move of the late Twentieth Century towards development-driven mission work we often find the same unspoken arrogance manifest in economic and technological superiority. During Jesus’ ministry we know he performed many miracles that bettered the lot of those healed or fed, but when Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness to make miracles his mission Jesus refused. We do well to heed the words of John 2:23-24, “many people saw the miraculous signs … and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he know all men.”

In saying this I would not have the Church abandon the Biblical imperatives to justice and care of the poor. I believe passionately we are called to a prophetic ministry of salt and light in this dark world, but we must consider carefully what this means. If our goal is to make the rest of the world like us, are we so sure that western culture burns any brighter?

If we follow Christ’s example above, the missionary must choose to relinquish the advantages of their culture in order to enter into the culture they have gone to serve. This is by no means a straightforward task. Although it is easy to see how this can be applied in simpler living conditions outside the mission compound, in the keynote the author observes how her response to the orphans drew on her western culture in a way that was alien and probably harmful to the people she served.

In coming to the second point from the passage I want to tread with great care, for it seems to me that it places a call on the missionary that I myself am unwilling to accept; namely that they should suffer hardships “needlessly”. What I mean is, for example, to use the local hospital, even though it is inadequate, or to not fly home at times of civil unrest. I want to stress again that I am not judging anyone on this – I could not make myself and my family that vulnerable. And yet for those who can live there, right on the edge, God uses their willingness to suffer to speak powerfully.

If I find the second point sensitive, I do not feel in a position to apply the third. We are called by Jesus himself to take up our cross to follow him but I leave it for others better placed than me to consider its application to Vulnerable Mission.

If we examine Jesus’ earthly ministry we find that he engaged in three main activities: miracles, teaching and discipling. Of these, the miracles were generally signs to authenticate Christ’s claims regarding himself and yet in the Gospels we find that often they set people against him. Likewise, while his teaching was initially well received many abandoned it as he began to expound the way of salvation more fully. Ultimately, he was condemned by the mob.

Even when we look at Jesus’ choice of disciples we might question his selection criteria. None appear well schooled; many (even within his inner circle) seemed more interested in rivalry and power politics. All would abandon him in his hour of need; his closest companion even denied him publicly; and one stole from him before betraying him to the authorities. And yet, through these same disciples Christ has built a kingdom that has endured and grown and plundered Hell itself.

Of course, Jesus had the advantage of knowing men’s hearts, but the principle still applies to mission work today. Jesus invested his ministry into the lives of men who, though they let him down, would learn and become strong and “do greater things” than he. For the missionary, this cannot be done overnight. (Jesus took three years and he knew exactly what he was doing.) Nor can it be done from a distance. There must be a level of honesty, trust and love that requires the missionary to be vulnerable, as the keynote reminds us. We must assume there will be failures and mistakes – how else can the missionary model grace and forgiveness? And if successful the missionary will quite likely find themselves at odds with their protégés as the Gospel truly takes root and flourishes within the local culture – for the missionary, however much they inculcate themselves within the culture, will always be the foreigner, never fully comprehending, never entirely one.

As I admitted at the beginning, I am just a layman in this field and I hope you will forgive me if I have made over-bold comments. So, as a “man in the pews” let me finish with this thought: however much these points may challenge our approach to cross-cultural mission, they will demand an even greater change within the sending church. The good news is that I have been pleasantly surprised by my discussions with others. I find that many who are close supporters of mission are aware of the problems highlighted in the keynote and are eager to engage on the issues.

Finally, in our discussions on issue, process and method, we must not forget that we serve the living God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, and who delights to work out his purposes through, and sometimes in spite of, his people. Let me close with the words of Paul:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”