Mission World - March/April 2024

The contexts of mission  -  how do we view the present?

In my last article, I took up the challenge of how to view World Mission today. We began by adopting the historical perspective, which helps us learn from the past to understand how missionaries interpreted the Bible as texts that speak to the present in carrying out the work of mission in today’s world.

Let us move on to another way of viewing World Mission. It is called the contextualisation perspective. Approaches that adopt this perspective relate the role of mission to the socio-political contexts of the modern world. In adopting this perspective, missionaries conduct analyses of the ancient worlds behind the biblical texts and the processes by which those texts have been appropriated by Christians living within the modern world.

Although I distinguish between “cultural” and “contextual” approaches to mission, there is considerable overlap and cross-fertilisation. In their defining book Contextualization: Meanings, Methods and Models (1989), David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen claimed that the above initial analysis opens avenues for transposing biblical texts onto the peoples of the recipient culture.

While it recognises that there must be some initial preparation for mission, the liberation perspective also claims that mission begins with the experience of living with and listening to the victims of social injustice. Such experience usually arouses a sense of outrage, prompting expressions of protest at the causes of injustice, leading to an analysis of society from the perspective of social outcasts. Paulo Friere provides the best summary of this type of analysis: “I consider the fundamental theme of our epoch to be that of domination. This implies that the object to be achieved is liberation” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1972). In Gustavo Gutierrez’s ground-breaking contribution to this approach to theology, A Theology of Liberation (1973/1988, p. xviii), Gutierrez recalls “that the name and reality of ‘liberation theology’ came into existence at Chombote, Peru, in July 1968, only a few months before Medellin”.

As in any human enterprise, but especially for mission, there is always a starting point. At a personal level, mission begins with one’s own cultural and religious background, followed by a formation period when one decides to take up cross-cultural mission.

Unlike those contextualisation approaches that supply a ready-made message to apply to whatever mission context one may enter, liberation approaches imply that the foreign missionary is attempting to study the socio-political life of the mission context in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Such analysis should also help expose the biases of one’s own background.

Only then, in dialogue with people who are struggling against the structures of socio-political domination, can the missionary discover how their knowledge of the Scriptures can contribute to an action-reflection process that is liberating to both the poor who refuse to submit to the power of domination and the missionary who discovers anew the power of faith, as expressed through reading the Bible in the context of that struggle.

Columban Fr Tom Rouse lives and works in New Zealand

Mission Intentions

March -  For new martyrs: Let us pray that those who risk their lives for the Gospel in various parts of the world might imbue the Church with their courage and missionary drive..

April - For the roles of women: Let us pray that the dignity and worth of women be recognised in every culture, and for an end to the discrimination they face in various parts of the world.

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