How MB Mission is adapting its approach to pioneer cross-cultural missions
By Randy Friesen
MB Mission recently brought together 20 church planters and mission leaders from North America with 20 church planters from our growing Khmu Mission Conference. We called it a “DNA Exchange Summit,” with the intention of learning from each other what God is teaching us about faith, hope and love. The North American participants slept and ate “Khmu style” at the Changed Life Center in North Thailand.
We were drawn to this summit by the compelling story of a conference of churches that has grown in the past 15 years from several hundred believers to over 40,000. The apostolic role that PK, our MB Mission team leader in this region, has served is one of encourager, counselor and mentor. It is not unusual to hear of whole clans and villages responding to the gospel. Our MB Mission support team is walking alongside PK in leadership training, discipleship and resource support. We continue to ask what we can learn from our Khmu and Thai brothers and sisters and their mission story.
Another pioneering mission story is that of Frank Wiens who sailed for East Asia in 1912 and settled in an unreached city in Fujian province. Frank planted churches and began a pastor training school, clinic and numerous other community development projects. The colonial-style buildings Frank constructed had never been seen in that region before. One of them is still standing. While most of the buildings and institutions Frank established did not survive the challenges of the past 60 years, the disciples he invested in and the principles he lived not only survived but thrived. He was an MB Mission pioneer whose story is still being told.
Pioneer cross-cultural missions today looks different than it did 100 years ago. We are in the midst of a number of shifts that are changing the way we do mission.
1. From addition to multiplication. While some of our work still involves western Christians living in least-reached communities and planting churches one disciple at a time, we are increasingly focused on discipling indigenous missional leaders who in turn disciple others (2 Tim. 2:2) in church planting movements.
Discipleship multiplication is the focus of these church-planting movements. MB Mission trained 1,237 leaders in 2012 through ministries like our Changed Life Center in Thailand. In parallel, during the past eight years we have sent over 100 new long-term workers from North America into cross-cultural mission, deploying many of them into equipping and disciple-making assignments.
We’ve refined a central ministry focus for our entire global mission family of “multiplying healthy disciples and missional leaders.” We believe that living this central ministry focus each day is one of the keys to achieving the vision God has given us of “holistic church planting that transforms communities among the least reached.”
2. From being in charge to equal partnerships. During a recent visit to India, MB Mission staff had the privilege of serving at a number of pastor-focused Bible conferences. We unpacked the themes of faith, hope and love and their practical expression in our lives. During our discussion of love in the way of Jesus, we washed each other’s feet according to Christ’s instruction in John 13. It was a profound moment for all of us. A number of pastors commented afterward that it was their first time to experience foot washing. This simple act symbolized our common humanity as well as Christ’s model of servant leadership.
Power is expressed as sacrificial love when we consider Christ’s example. When sacrificial love is the foundation of our partnerships we will use power to serve rather than control. The International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB) provides a new context for equal partnerships between MB churches from around the world, including new opportunities to serve together in mission.
3. From owning, to “we own nothing and count nothing as ours” in a coalition of the willing. This openhanded approach to vision, projects and people releases us to explore new partnerships, opportunities and approaches without considering who gets the credit or the bill. Vision rather than structure or position leads the way.
Our Abundant Life Home HIV orphanage project in Thailand is one of many projects that have brought together business people, medical professionals, construction trades, mission workers and generous donors to reach at-risk kids with the gospel. MB Mission works with many strategic partners around the world every day to live and proclaim the gospel in culturally relevant ways.
4. From global mission to local, national and global mission DNA reproduction. For the past 25 years we have been training youth and young adults in mission discipleship here in North America alongside local church planting opportunities, believing that both local mission and global mission share a common DNA. When Jesus commands us to go, he includes a strategy of “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.”
The kingdom DNA of sharing and living the good news must be lived out in our own neighborhoods if we are to have an impact on ends of the earth. Similarly, what God is doing in mission in the ends of the earth can strengthen our missional DNA here at home. Our regional and national MB church planting strategies are now working with our global mission strategies in a much more synergistic manner.
Global mission worker internships are occurring in North American church planting settings. North American church planters are learning from church planting movements around the world. Graduate students are learning from church planters in Southeast Asia and North Africa as the world becomes our classroom.
5. From Western mission workers to global mission workers. While mission used to be “from the West to the rest,” it is now “from everywhere to everywhere.” This past year, one-half of the participants in our long-term mission training program were from partner conferences outside of North America. These workers from Latin America, Europe and Asia are joining North American workers in blended teams to plant churches and equip local leaders in least-reached people groups.
Our international partner workers bring spiritual gifts of prayer, contextual sensitivity and perseverance that have blessed our teams. There are significant challenges in bringing different cultures together into ministry teams. However, if we embrace these challenges they will shape and transform us into God’s people.
6. From competition to cooperation. While I still occasionally hear leaders using competition language amongst the various MB ministries on both sides of the border, this “fixed pie” approach to funding and resources is being replaced with a new appreciation for the synergies possible when we work together. The local and global dimensions of mission serve one another if we focus on DNA before strategy.
The formal (degree based), nonformal (seminars and intensives) and informal (mentoring and coaching) expressions of education and training that are available today to leaders are all valuable, especially when they are coordinated and interwoven. Studying, mentoring, coaching, discipling and serving are all essential in preparing and developing missional leaders. Similarly within the global mission arena we are partnering with ministries which specialize in particular areas that we can grow in and benefit from. We desire to serve with open hands, sharing what God has given us.
7. From an emphasis on brand to Christ’s bride. How does MB Mission serve with integrity in our consumer-driven culture of marketing and brand? Jesus calls us to our true identity as disciples of his who are living on a mission together. We are his church, his bride, living for his glory. It is this meta-narrative that trumps our individual stories of mission and institutional distinctiveness.
With every Witness we publish or story that is sent out we ask, does this piece give glory to God or are we focusing on the wrong thing? As we consider the increasing variety of expressions of mission in our churches and partnering opportunities on the frontlines we come back to focus on Christ’s bride and her call rather than our brand. This does not negate the importance of clarifying vision, mission, values and strategy as an MB Mission family. However, knowing who we are and what God has called us to should make us better partners who can celebrate God’s larger mission story and all the pieces which contribute to it.
8. From agency based missions to church/agency synergy. With the increasing interest and engagement in global missions in local churches, in part stimulated by the many exposure opportunities available today, there is a redefinition of the mission agency-church relationship. Some larger churches are hiring mission pastors who have significant budgets at their discretion. This increased ownership in mission vision and strategy on the part of some churches requires that mission agencies function more like consultants than promoters. The challenge lies in avoiding only short-term strategies and outcomes while still encouraging strong local church mission involvement and ownership.
MB Mission has deep roots that provide strength in an era of rapid change. With change comes new opportunities—opportunities to reflect on values, outcomes and God’s invitations to us.
Randy Friesen is MB Mission general director. Friesen wrote this article based on his report to delegates at Conection 2012, the USMB national delegate convention held this past July in Omaha, Neb.