Friday, November 01, 2013
Mission Fest 2013--what is the mission?
Truth be told, I couldn't get through The Poisonwood Bible. I know to some, that admission its own kind of sacrilege, but the portrait of that madman missionary and woebegone family just struck me as playing to the most misshapen stereotypes of evangelical missionaries one can imagine. I'm too much a traditionalist, too much a conservative to believe that some a war-dinged monomaniac named Nathan Price would actually drag his family into another world, an African world, against their wills only to satisfy his mad pursuit of religious meaning and minister, insanely, to the heathens. I wouldn't buy it. Do such people exist? I'm sure they do. But I don't care to glory in their insane excesses.
I owe Barbara Kingsolver another read, I'm sure, and I have no idea what eventually happens in that famous novel of hers, but I pushed three-quarters of the way through and just quit, exhausted from simply rolling my eyes, the same way (but for different reasons) my wife and I got tired of Tony Soprano after a half-dozen seasons. Enough.
As this blog will admit, I loved--absolutely loved--The Good Earth, the Pearl S. Buck classic which doesn't feature missionary work, but was written by a missionary's daughter who almost single-handedly led to a split in the Presbyterian church for her work as a novelist, for stories like The Good Earth.
And I loved--absolutely loved--Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, despite the fact that white missionaries seem to destroy a functioning culture in Africa with their God-talk and cultural chauvinism. It's the kind of book that, once read, simply won't depart your worldview.
I loved--absolutely loved--Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light, a marvelous novel about missionaries who are anything but the caricature James Michener carved into the American psyche with his block-buster Hawaii. City of Tranquil Light a beautiful book about beautiful people, something few of us care to read, I guess.
I've read three novels by a missionary named Casey Kuipers and even read them several times (Deep Snow, Chant of the Night, and Roaring Waters). They're not great literature, but I loved them because they reveal a man who came to understand that a missionary had to be a servant, that a teacher had to be a student of the kids he served, that an white guy had to change, had to learn about silence and reverence from the Native people he himself had come to bring to glory. I've read those novels more than once because I'd like to try to understand what made Kuipers, born and reared right down the road, become the man, the servant, he came to be.
I've read memoirs by early 19th century missionaries to the Dakota in Minnesota--John Williamson, Stephen R. Riggs, and Bishop Henry Whipple--in an effort to understand what pushed them into mission work and what they thought about the horrors that surrounded what became known as the 1862 Dakota War, the opening round of the Great Sioux Wars. Each played a central role.
Protestant mission for the last two centuries is itself a great story, so telling about faith and the way we believers play it out, a story that features the agony and ecstasy of what we continually redefine as ministry.
An old Zuni missionary, a woman came to love the people she served, told me that her first years as a teacher in the Zuni school made her deeply disallusioned because once upon a time she had fully expected that all she'd have to do is say the word Jesus, and the heathens around us would drop to their knees.
The mandate is obvious: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel."
There's the rub.
And that question underlines the presentations and the discussions at tomorrow's Mission Fest 2013, Orange City, Iowa, Unity Christian High, a celebration of 125 years of CRC missions and an exploration of where we might go and how we might do what we've tried so hard to do just down the road.
It begins at 9, ends at 3. We think the day will both educate and inspire.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:48 AM