After a very busy ten day meeting in Cyprus, I looked for a very quiet corner in the transit hall at Larnaca International Airport in order to reflect on the insights gained at the meeting. As I read through our communiqué, a fellow traveller stood behind me without my noticing.
INTER ANGLICAN STANDING COMMISSION ON MISSION AND EVANGELISM drew his attention,
and he said to me, ”So you are a bishop on church business, and where
do you come from?” I said, “Yes, I am a bishop from Zimbabwe
in Africa”. I did put more emphasis on Africa because Zimbabwe
is such a small country and whenever I mention Zimbabwe in the North, I
very often end up giving a geography lesson. So when I said Zimbabwe –Africa
he seemed to be satisfied with my identity.
It was his turn to introduce himself and what work he was doing. He said that he worked for a shipping company in Europe but he went on to mention that he was a Christian and a lay reader in his church. One thing he did not disclose to me was his denomination and I did not think it proper to ask for that extra bit of information. In the course of a very brief discussion my fellow traveller made it very clear to me that the church had no mission anymore because there are more Christians in the South than in the North. I was quick to inform him that my commission covered both South and North because the Anglican Communion is a worldwide family. My reply concluded the short discussion. I resumed my reading of the IASCOME communiqué but the view of my fellow traveller that the church has no mission anymore raised a lot of questions in my mind as to how much the ordinary person in the pew understands the work of the church and its worldwide mission. In so far as my friend was concerned, the church was in the North and that church had the responsibility to engage in mission out there. The thought that kept coming to my mind was, if a lay reader still has such an antiquated idea of mission, then no better understanding could be expected from ordinary church goers.
The primary task of IASCOME is to find ways to remind all members of the Communion that the church’s understanding of mission today has shifted from mere expansion to individual conversion regardless of geographical location. As members of the Commission we constantly reminded ourselves about the local as well as worldwide context challenging the mission and evangelism of the church.
Mission and evangelism are two sides of the same coin. There is no mission without evangelism. The respective context determines the expression of mission and evangelism.
Living as members of the Anglican Communion in a global village we need to find new ways for the church to participate meaningfully in God’s Mission.
The Communion therefore has to deal with the questions raised by current realities such as:
HIV and AIDS
Conflicts and wars
Unfair distribution of resources
Misuse of power and authority
Challenges in the context of human sexuality
Human rights and gender equality
to mention but a few.
The mission and evangelism of the church therefore has to be kenotic and self-sacrificing (Phil.2) and has to be understood by the local community through its involvement in social activities where the unreached encounter Jesus (Mt.25 cf. spiritual motif in Luke 4).
During the Commission’s meetings in different locations, we reminded ourselves again and again that the purpose of mission and evangelism is to bear witness to a ravaged humanity in a broken world as well as to offer healing and reconciliation. Thus we shared stories from our various contexts in the Communion. We also listened and witnessed to the ways in which the host church was engaged in mission. We were encouraged to discover that there is an increased interest and zeal for mission in the Communion.
We also acknowledged the need for the Communion to come up with an effective language to evangelise the unreached and to re-evangelise those who live in a so-called Christian culture but who have become strangers to the Christian faith.
We hope that this report with all the issues raised in it will inspire new ways of doing mission in our time and context where the challenges are formidable and demand constant evaluation of our work in mission and evangelism.
As chair of the Commission, I would like to express my appreciation to the members whose individual contributions made a difference to the work reflected in this report. I pray that the successor to IASCOME will develop ways of dealing with the emerging new challenges to mission and evangelism in our ever-changing world.
The Rt Revd Dr Sebastian Bakare, Bishop of the Diocese of Manicaland
Chair of IASCOME