Passing the baton
Maurice Sinclair reflects on what was learned at the Adelante conference about the urgent mission needs in Latin America
God’s call for a new generation to take its turn in God’s mission and ministry is vividly illustrated in Scripture with Joshua prepared to follow Moses, and with Timothy chosen to follow Paul. This succession in roles remains essential to the life of the church and has a particular urgency at this present time.
by Maurice Sinclair
Across the world the Covid pandemic has resulted in the death of many mature Christian pastors and teachers.
In the Indigenous Anglican churches of the Chaco in Argentina, for example, the first generation of local ordained and lay leaders has passed away: all outstanding men and women.
A new generation now has to take their place, and, as in all parts of the world, they will be offered new opportunities and face increasingly difficult challenges.
Added to the critical nature of this transfer are the economic problems making traditional methods of training too expensive. What takes their place must take into account the cultural differences between ethnic groups and generations.
The baton must be passed, but how can it be done well?
The CMS plan
Mission director Andy Roberts gave us a summary of the CMS strategy, with its priority of engagement with indigenous people and those on the edges of society. In our partnership with others the context should determine the agenda. I understand this to mean that the situation of those on the edges must be our deep concern and their voices must take precedent. Collaboration is a third element in this strategy, maximising bonds of fellowship and cooperation between churches and mission agencies.
We owed it to Cristobal Ceron, principal of CEP (Chile’s Centre for Pastoral Studies), to tell us that bible colleges cannot make pastors. What he meant was that new Christian leaders come to birth in local congregations and there must be people in these congregations able to give them sustained encouragement and guidance.
How this is happening in practice was demonstrated in the conference in several ways. Online, Daniel Kirk interacted with his apprentices in his missional community in Valparaíso. One former apprentice now has others in his care.
Do those who are already training others need to be guided? Yes, Christopher Wallis and Marcos Humacata shared how the guide–apprentice relationship is a mutual blessing to them. It carries the added advantage of bridging cultural and generational differences. Marcos identifies himself as ‘criollo’ sharing in a training programme with indigenous brothers and sisters. Christopher is English by birth but has long immersed himself in the Wichí community.
Scholarship and service
Christian leaders have a special responsibility to love God with mind as well as heart. Mission associate Christopher Hays described to us a doctoral research programme on refugees in Colombia and now Ukraine: respectively the nations with the greatest number of displaced persons. The intention from the beginning was for the research to lead into engagement in mission relating to those so deeply affected by being uprooted from their homes. This is being done with all the disciplines available: theology, sociology and trauma healing. The principle is that study must lead to personal engagement with God and in his world.
The greatest of these is love
Zaza Lima in her presentation had some questions to ask us: What is this baton that you are reckoning to pass on? Is it a strategy? Is it some expertise in mission or intellectual knowledge? No, it is more personal than that. You are passing on something of yourself, and Jesus is in the passing. How then do you make the pass in this way? It is through the bond of love. Zaza’s insight was born out in the way that the guide–apprentice relationships we had been hearing about in Argentina, Colombia and Chile all ended up in friendships.
According to Zaza, friendship is a vital key to mission as whole: deep friendship, generous hospitality, patient listening, a sharing not only of what we have but what we are, a willingness to be vulnerable. Some of her illustrations were taken from life in refugee camps. There the pain many people carry is too much for them to bear alone. Their plea, spoken or unspoken, is ‘Share my pain. Even weep with me.’ After all our God knows how to weep. He can also turn the weeping into dancing.
Listening across continents
Adelante 2022 was a hybrid with 60 ‘in person’ participants and many on line from different republics in Latin America and one at least from the United States. We worshipped together led by Brazilians. Those of us in Oxford ate together Argentinian food. We prayed together focusing on different nations. We listened to people with a long experience in mission and ministerial training and crucially also to younger ones. And of course on the spot or on Gather there were all the wonderful conversations between old friends and new. It should be added that this hybrid conference was made possible through those who have the technical skill. Our grateful thanks to them.