November 2015

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News from Mark and Diane Vanderkooi

November 16, 2015

Dear family, friends, and supporters;

This news update takes the form of an essay – something which you may recall that  in years gone by was a more regular feature of our missives. We write it at a time when we have felt more overwhelmed than usual in the work before us.

Your fellow servants,   Mark and Diane

In search of a Mission Station

Fashions in missions change about as quickly as they do in Paris: holistic mission, urban mission, the 10-40 window, team ministry, creative access, storying, and now something new and mysterious called 3DM … If you don’t like the current fad, just wait a few years and some budding missiologist in Pasadena or a mission administrator will make it go away. 

About the time we became missionaries, the curtain was being drawn on just such a fad – if a tradition that lasts over a century qualifies as such.  That was when the “mission station” went out of favor. Well we remember a colleague who had transitioned off a mission station exclaiming in a promotional video that “it is so great to live right there among the people” – as if that was a radical new innovation.

A mission station, for the uninitiated, typically consisted of several missionary families living on a large compound which included some combination of a hospital, an elementary school, a school for missionary kids, a Bible school, an orphanage, or a printing facility. The concept offered economies of scale, human networking in an age without telephones (really just “team ministry” in modern parlance), and security in places where there was none. In fact, it was called a “station” because it would have typically been the next stop on a multiday cross-country journey through what was otherwise virgin wilderness. The downside of these stations as they got bigger was that the missionaries could, if they wanted to, spend protracted periods of time in their confines and comforts without ever interacting with the people they came to reach.

So the irony was not lost on us as we realized that here in Chageen, we are, for better or worse, seeking to reinvent the mission station. We find ourselves wishing for expatriate colleagues which, were they to come, would constitute nothing less than a mission station as impressive as anything in their heyday, circa 1955. But what is interesting to us is that were such a thing to materialize, it would be the organic evolution of ministry – not a fad, nor a nostalgic nod to history. Real needs, real ministry opportunities, and carefully thought-out strategies are conspiring to resurrect this icon of mission history. We can’t help but think such ideals motivated our forbearers as well, and perhaps modern missiology (which as a rule finds the notion passé) has not been entirely fair to them.

Consider: We have pleaded for years for a midwife for our clinic. And when it seemed the diagnostic abilities of the clinic staff were beyond hopeless, we dared to ask for a bona-fide doctor. Neither has been forthcoming. Every time we turn on the transmitter of the radio station and hear our tired re-runs, we can’t help but wish for someone to help us with the programming. So far, nobody. Meanwhile, the achilles’ heel of the whole Protestant enterprise among the Kwong is the profound ignorance of many of the pastors, which has compelled us to organize a Bible school. In this case, we have been more fortunate in that for the first year of the school, which will open in June 2017, a former colleague will help us bring the Kwong teaching staff up to speed. Similarly, we have been asking for years for someone to come help us teach our Christian children in a “school of character and literacy.” And as anyone who follows Diane on Facebook knows, we now have all the makings of an orphanage as well. 

It doesn’t take a genius to see that if even half the people we have wished for showed up, we would have a mission station.  But for now, we remain the only missionaries working with the Kwong. While it is undeniable that we are greatly handicapped by our lack of expatriate colleagues, and while it is not unfair to say that we would have finished the translation of the New Testament by now if such helpers were forthcoming, we can also see the hand of Providence in being left to fend for ourselves with our Kwong colleagues. These circumstances have no doubt forced us to force them up to the plate with an urgency which probably would not have otherwise been the case. The price we pay for this arrangement is a fairly high degree of mediocrity – diseases misdiagnosed, maternal death in childbirth, perennially illiterate kids, those tired re-runs, etc. – never mind two very tired missionaries. But to put a brave face on it, maybe 20 years of mediocrity is better than the few years of the perfection expatriate missionaries could give us – followed by nothing at all.


It’s just a building, but the clinic represents the many lives which are saved each year by the dedicated staff – as well as many others which might have been saved by more knowledgeable personnel.


The radio station is just a couple months shy of its tenth anniversary. We would love to see it get a new lease on life – for the honor of Christ.


The Bible school is a work in progress. It offers perhaps the most promise of any of our activities in giving the Kwong church the wherewithal to endure to the generations to come.


At the end of the day, it is not saving lives, nor tickling people’s ears with the radio, nor even pouring knowledge into young pastors’ heads which counts. It is seeing the church (this again the mere building in our front yard) loving Christ, glorifying him, and awaiting his return.


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