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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.