Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Mission Fest 2013--Bringing in the Sheaves
I won't try to speak for others, but when I heard that missionaries in the Christian Reformed Church are now responsible, on their own, for 90 percent of their salaries, I thought the change gave new meaning to "bringing in the sheaves." It seemed to me that one of the real benefits of denominational ministries was that centralized organization meant they didn't have to run around in sandwich boards and just plain beg.
Sure, they had to stay in touch with sponsoring churches; sure, they had tell people back home what was going on. But at least they didn't have to beat the bushes like some non-denominational free-lancers to keep bread on their families' tables. After all, their mission is missions, not fund-raising.
I'll admit it. The move seemed like the last gasp of dying institution, the denomination itself. And it just may be.
On the other hand, the new salary system reflects what's already happening. When denominational missions were begun in the American southwest and China and Nigeria, the CRC was smaller and closer, so close, in fact, that people thought of Johanna Veenstra, the woman who almost single-handedly began a mission program in Nigeria, as our Johanna Veenstra; or Andrew Vander Wagen, a pioneer missionary in New Mexico, as our Brother Andrew.
Today, for reasons that are complex and far-reaching, congregations might feel that a son or daughter--someone who begins an urban ministry in Dallas or Baltimore, let's say--as our missionary because his or her mom worships with us each Sunday. We're more circumspect with the word our. We bestow it only on those whose blood lines originate locally and we've burned the wooden shoes.
And that means that the denomination has less money to work with, even though people from the denomination I'm a part of are vastly more affluent than our great-grandparents, circa 1900. Just exactly who we define as we is much different than it was. A congregation's mission outreach these days is far more defined by blood than by denomination.
Conservatives like to think all of this happened because the CRC has veered off to the left and gone liberal. I think a far more important reason is that the change is occurring because it's occurring to everyone else too. Denominations are having a hard time these days, all of them, not just the CRC or the RCA.
But we're the ones driving. Individual congregations determine how their mission bucks are spent, whether we give it to so-and-so's son or daughter, who's going off to Italy or Belize with this or that mission program, or whether we give it to card-carrying CRC missionaries, who can hardly be called that if they earn only a tenth of their salaries through the CRC.
Simply stated, the change reflects what's already happening. Right here in northwest Iowa, I'm sure, denominational shares and quotas are not always being met, even though this long-term recession the nation is suffering through is, locally at least, an apparition at best. Row crops are gold, farmers don't know what to do with their wealth, and things are booming. But rural folks are an independent lot, and if there's a cause that my brother's kid is working on, she'll get our bucks before some stuffed shirt in Grand Rapids.
That's the way we live.
But it likely means the end of long-term, significant mission programs like that the CRC created in New Mexico and the RCA began in the Middle East. What denominational programs do is sustain a witness in ways that individual efforts generally cannot. Witness this--the Crystal Cathedral is now a Roman Catholic cathedral. My vision, most often, has less to sustain it finally, that ours. Reservations across North America are littered with failed mission efforts. Even though we often did it wrong, we've stuck it out, emphasis on we.
Ministries begun by individual visions, no matter how glorious, are bright and shiny and exciting; but only by sustained efforts, efforts that suffer hard times and persevere through generations of mission aid, can believers create a real ministry of presence. What the RCA has, by God's own hand, established since 1900 in areas of the Middle East, and what the CRC has done, by God's own hand, in Nigeria and New Mexico has been accomplished only because the vision was ours, not his or hers, only because even when some failed, others got us back on our feet and stayed with fledgling communities of faith.
Okay, call me a conservative, but I believe that denominational ministries have a far better chance of building communities than free-lance efforts, no matter how spectacular and well-meant.
And that too is a good reason to celebrate. And this too is a commercial. Stay with me a minute while I pull on the sandwich board.
On Saturday, November 2, come celebrate 125 years of missions in the Christian Reformed Church, be a part of the discussion, meet old friends, lunch on sumptuous Laotian foods, have a great time. It begins at 9:00 and ends at 3:00.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:17 AM