Mission Immersion: What it is & What it taught me
Here in our home city of Accra, Reetu and I recently had the opportunity to help host a special event entitled: Mission Immersion.
This training is focused on training and evaluating young adults as they seek out God's calling in their lives - and determine if God is calling them into ministry as missionaries. From across West Africa (and beyond), 17 young people joined us here in Ghana for workshops, team building activities (like an Amazing Race across the city), worship, and service projects as these leaders clarified what God is calling them to as disciples of Jesus.
Reetu and I led workshops on the calling of God, conflict management, and urban ministry - but the real value from the week came from what these Mission Immersion participants taught me during our 10 days together.
Here's a few of the things that I learned during our Mission Immersion - West Africa:
The present - not just the future - of the Church depends on our young leaders. From pastors and business leaders to university students and musicians, this group of 17 young adults serves as a vivid example of how the Church is at her best when she makes room for amazing leaders who are from younger generations. The challenges and opportunities of today need to be addressed by all generations, but young leaders (i.e. under 35 years old) need to be active members around the table of discussion and decision-making. To quote a recent article about youth throughout Africa: "With nearly 60 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion population under the age of 35, today’s youth face an unprecedented challenge to create and sustain meaningful change in their communities, countries, and across the globe." While it may be an unprecedented challenge, I have no doubts that our young leaders (which I am a part of as a 27 year old) are more than up to the challenge. We just need (not to be the sole leaders but...) to be a part of the team.
Education is one of the main barriers for urban ministry. My favorite part of Mission Immersion was the 90 minute discussion I was able to lead on the topic of urban ministry - specifically in a West African context. The ideas and questions that came out of this workshop were both challenging and exciting. One of the biggest points of conversation was the issue of education with church leaders in urban areas. Let's consider this evolution of Christian ministry together: for the early Church the leaders were those who had spent time with Jesus and His apostles and who thus understood best the way of Jesus, by the time of formalized religion (Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) the leaders were those knew best based off of literacy with the languages of the contemporary Bibles, and after the democratization of Bible translations (by revolutionaries such as as Luther and Wycliffe) the leaders were those who knew best based off of having the most academic training. But then the Internet happened. And with the world of information "becoming flat", the specialized information of the pastors and clergy became "Google-able". In urban areas, with their high education levels and easy Internet access, churches are faced with the reality of church attenders being more educated and more tech-savvy than their church leaders - so why should they listen to them? The heart of this problem is in part with education. Because education is important. But perhaps the greater challenge to urban ministry is with the how we have historically "marketed" church. If church is where you can access specialized information to be a better Christian, well then the internet has made the church obsolete. But the Church is (and should) be about more than secret religious information to get to heaven. The Church is about being the living embodiment of a better future that is not yet here fully - through community, love, and Jesus-centered justice. Where we are faithful to this calling, the Church is making the most difference in urban centers.
The legacy of colonialism and formal religion. During one of our sessions, the question was posed about the difference between folk religions and formal religions. (Simply put: folk religion is a belief system that exists without official religious writings, and formal religions do have official religious writings.) One of the comments of the participants made me both shrink into my seat while also striking me as tragic. This person's response? "Folk religions are the religions of our ancestors. Formal religions are the religions of colonialism." As a devout follower of Christ, this person's comments can best be understood as one of the ripple effects of the centuries-old, toxic marriage between Church and State. When the Church is married to anyone other than Jesus, we very quickly lose our way. This comment and subsequent conversation about religion served as a stark reminder for me of the lasting impact of colonialism on the Church's witness to humanity.
We need better questions, not just more answers. As we walked through Mission Immersion workshops together, our conversations as a group often led us to more questions than answers. And that is a beautiful thing. I am constantly being reminded that very often what we need is better questions. Asking the same questions will get us the answers we have always gotten. But when we ask better questions, we can move into a new and better future together. An example of this was in our conversations on the calling of God. God's calling in our lives is a very mysterious thing to understand and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for identifying His leading in our lives. But what if we asked better questions? Rather than focusing on what God's will is for ME, what if we focused on who GOD IS. When we understand God and God's identity better, we can then begin to our understand our identity in God better. And perhaps that can lead us to better understandings of God's will in and for our lives. An interesting thought right?
There is something special and divine when we come together. When people from various countries, ethnicities, cultures, and languages voluntarily choose to live life together, God shows up in some amazing ways. Our time together as a group has led to some great new friendships, difficult yet important conversations, and wonderful memories together. One of the best ways to learn is to spend intentional time with people different than you. (And one of the best ways to understand the world better is to frequently spend time with people different than you in order to allow news' stories and statistics to become real people and friends in our lives.)
What did I learn from helping lead Mission Immersion?
I have so much more to learn.
And now, I have 17 more teachers to learn from.