ONE OF THE resolutions of the Lambeth Conference in 1988 was to declare a Decade of Evangelism. Ten years later, critics claim that evangelicals have surged ahead, particularly in Africa and Asia, while more liberal mainline churches in North America are declining.
Part of this phenomenon is attributed to the more traditional sense of mission among conservative Christians, including Anglicans.
Much more research is needed to verify exactly what is happening in Africa and Asia (for example, the population in general is exploding in parts of Africa) and few answers have been offered to the question that if a return to former ways is such a good idea, how is it we got to the (bad) position we’re in now if the old ways were so good?
One can’t just leap back 40 years or 400 years. As the current phrase goes: been there, done that.
None of this is to say that more traditional concepts of mission don’t have their place. And certainly there is a Gospel imperative to “baptize the nations.” But there is also a Gospel imperative for a different kind of mission. Much of Jesus’ recorded life was spent simply taking care of people in emotional, spiritual and physical need. One interpretation of this aspect of the Gospel is the social justice response of the church beginning in the 1960s. Some of that response has been tried and found wanting. Other aspects have survived in a less ideological and more practical way.
One such program is the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. Begun in the late ’50s, initially in response to the Springhill mine disaster, the Primate’s Fund continues to try to help people in need help themselves, teaching them useful skills and providing opportunities for them to live better lives. It is a way for those of us who have much, to share with those who have little or nothing. One of the important jobs in the fund is to travel to poor and remote places to see who needs what sort of help. It requires skill in analysis, diplomacy in foreign cultures and languages and stamina to reach some parts of the Earth where arriving is difficult and dangerous and no hot shower or soft bed awaits weary limbs.
John Vandenberg was one of the people who did this kind of work on behalf of Canadian Anglicans. He travelled widely in the Asia-Pacific region bringing help to many. Tragically, he died not in dangerous mountains in Nepal but bicycling near Lake Ontario in Toronto. Mr. Vandenberg’s untimely death brought immediate sad reaction from around the world, especially from the Philippines and the Indian sub-continent where he had worked the past several years bringing relief aid from Canada to some of the world’s poorest people.
His work, however, was surely mission, imitating Jesus in bringing God’s love to people, making grace abound. The importance of such work is revealed in one of the visions of heaven Jesus portrays, where it is grounds for separating the sheep from the goats.
Another kind of mission witnessed by millions took place closer to home.
When Swissair 111 crashed last month at the mouth of St. Margaret’s Bay, N.S., fishermen, including some Anglicans, immediately got into their boats and headed out into foggy darkness to look for survivors. For those unfamiliar with the area, the seas off Peggy’s Cove are unprotected and being on the 20- to 40-foot Cape Island fishing boats with all their gear is no Mediterranean cruise. Clergy too played an important role, perhaps none more than Rev. Rick Walsh, rector of the parish of Indian Harbour, which includes St. John’s Peggy’s Cove. The Anglican church is the only one in the famous community of about 60 people. Along with several other Anglicans and clergy from other denominations and other faiths, Fr. Walsh helped to bring a sense of God’s comfort to the suddenly bereaved families.
Such an example of extending God’s love is surely mission in the highest sense.