Allen Gardiner day 2023
A special anniversary leads Paul Tester to reflect on mission at the edges
6 September is Allen Gardiner day. As we mark this special anniversary, let us pray that God will raise up a new movement of pioneering mission.
by Paul Tester, CMS Manager in Latin America
For those who don’t know, Allen Gardiner died on 6 September 1851 in his attempt to share the good news of Jesus with the Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego at the very southern tip of Argentina.
Whilst he saw no fruits of his mission work, his death and that of his crew who perished with him, inspired a pioneering movement of mission to share Jesus with the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America.
That movement of mission became known as the South American Mission Society (SAMS) which in Britain is now the Latin America region of CMS and as a result of this movement thousands upon thousands of people across the region have come to know Jesus and become his disciples.
It is a privilege to be part of that story and on 6 September to celebrate the good of that legacy.
“Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.”John 12:24–26
What struck me this year was the pioneering nature of that first generation of missionaries sent out by SAMS.
We have previously posted about Waite Stirling, “God’s lonely sentinel” who saw the first fruits of new disciples at this very distant edge (to use some modern CMS terminology!)
Theirs really was a lonely existence as these missionaries were learning to live far from home in a world and culture so different to their own.
One fascinating example of that generation who chose to venture out into new places was a family whose name I only got to know this year.
Harry and Nellie Burleigh met in the UK and discovered their shared call to mission in Tierra del Fuego.
They travelled separately to the Falkland Islands and were married there. After years studying the Yaghan language, in 1888 they were finally allowed to set up what was the southernmost Christian mission on the islands near Cape Horn (having attempted to quit because they hadn’t up until that point been given permission by SAMS).
There were many hardships in life on the exposed islands with inhospitable weather and inevitably mistakes were made along the way. (A light-hearted example was giving their second son, born on the islands, the second name of “Tekenika”, named after a bay on another island. It only emerged a long time later that when an indigenous person had been asked what the bay was called and had replied “Tekenika”, with that word that he had actually meant “I don’t understand”!)
Despite all of this and more seriously the tragic death of Harry in a sailing accident at just 47 years old, they left many disciples of Jesus in one of the most inhospitable areas of the world. They provided a home for those who were orphaned and formed a worshipping community in that context.
When new ways are pioneered it is risky and both mistakes and sacrifices are made. But when God leads the pioneering, new disciples are also made and our world is transformed.
The unknown near and far
I was also inspired yesterday by my eldest daughter, born and raised in Peru and freshly arrived back into the UK into a world she isn’t yet fully part of. She made the brave lone walk into her first day of secondary school barely knowing a single soul on the other side of that school gate.
Going off into the unknown can happen both near and far way. We are well aware that Pioneering mission occurs in the UK and CMS is a leader in training and equipping Pioneers here.
A long way from the UK, in Latin America we have some incredible examples of people in mission engaging in pioneering mission and at Adelante this year we will be seeking to highlight some of those examples as we meet under the theme “Mission on the Urban Edge: Pioneering mission in Latin American urban spaces”.
There are exciting things that people are doing in places across the region of Latin America and beyond and we are joining together with others with the same heart in discerning how together we can see a new mission movement built. Please do join me in praying for this at this exciting time.
This Allen Gardiner day I hope that in places near and far we may all be encouraged by God’s faithfulness to the first pioneering missionaries in Latin America and the fruit seen over many years.
May we be inspired to take the right risks and make the right sacrifices as we follow God’s call to pioneer new ways of sharing Jesus in our own contexts and beyond. And as we follow the Spirit’s lead may we go with Jesus and with each other to the edges!