February 26, 2024

Every year the Evangelical Missiological Society publishes a monograph containing papers from the previous year’s annual meeting. This year’s title is Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises, edited by Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven. Yet before we assume the book is talking about COVID-19, we need to remember that when these papers were presented, no one knew a pandemic was coming. Jerry Ireland notes:

Practicing Hope

In September 2019 almost 300 missionaries, missiologists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, and students gathered near Dallas for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. The theme was “Missions Amid Global Crises.” I do not think that any of us would have dreamed that eight months later the world would be engulfed in a global pandemic because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).1Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven, eds. Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises. Evangelical Missiological Society, 2020, xiii.

Overview of book

Though none of the twelve chapters address the current pandemic crisis, these papers give us much to learn and apply. The chapter titles are:

  1.  “Singing About Suffering: A Vernacular Theology of the Cross in Nigeria’s Middle Belt”
  2.  “The Church as a Refuge and Christ’s Healing Work in the Middle East”
  3.  “From Classroom to Disaster: Developing DREM Missionaries”
  4.  “Straddling the (Razor-wired Topped) Wall: How Women’s Prison Informs Mission to Tijuana in a Time of Crisis”
  5.  “Mission Amid the Crisis of Persecution: Challenges and Guidelines for Research and Training”
  6.  “A Firebird Rises: Ukrainian Christian Unity Forged from a Modern Crisis”
  7.  “Dying to Witness: Early Franciscan Missions to the Muslim World”
  8.  “Contextual African Concepts for Peacebuilding in Contexts of Violence: A Panoramic Overview”
  9.  “Mission Amid Sixth-Century Crises: Reflections on Gregory the Great, the Mission to England, and Thoughts for Today”
  10.  “Grace, Suffering, and the City in the Theology of a Chinese House Church Movement”
  11.  “Contextualization of the Gospel for North Korean Ideology: Engaging North Korean Refugees”
  12.  “Terror Management Theory: Missiological Application in Times of Crisis”

From this list, we see a variety of examples for practicing hope in the midst of crises. They span not only the globe, but also mission history. So, some will be more relevant to a reader’s context than others. But we can learn from all of them.

Training for mission in times of crises

Professional training

Chapters 3 and 5 deal with training and preparation of missionaries. Firstly, the book looks at an academic program. In chapter 3, Michelle Raven describes the Disaster Relief and Emergency Management (DREM) training program at Columbia International University. Disaster relief is the immediate response to suffering and loss of life caused by a major natural or man-made event. The purpose of this help is to reduce the suffering and save lives before the work of recovery can start. Emergency management, on the other hand, seeks to help communities reduce their level of vulnerability to future disasters. This chapter is an excellent model for developing any academic training program. More specifically, the chapter shows that training followers of Christ to serve as DREM professionals opens opportunities to share the gospel.

The challenge of persecution

In chapter 5 J. D. Payne talks about the challenge of preparing workers to serve in places where the church is persecuted. His focus is particularly on helping the church in the west.

This chapter is an attempt to call attention to the present crisis [persecution], challenge the missiological community to more and better research in the area of persecution, and invite churches, educational institutions, and mission agencies to evaluate how well they are preparing missionaries – not raised in a context of violence – for fields of great persecution. 2Ireland and Raven, p 60.

The reader comes away from this chapter with more challenges than solutions. However, the author does provide some guidelines for a way forward. These include defining persecution as a spectrum of experiences. Additionally, he points out the need to understand the source of persecution in each context. Also, he calls for developing a theology of persecution on biblical foundations that equips the church for reality, not romance.

Contextualizing mission in times of crises

Two of the chapters deal with contextualization. One of these is chapter 8, which gives an overview of African concepts of making peace in places of much violence. Specifically, it calls for integrating African values into any peacebuilding process. The chapter provides an overview of African models for building peace, and encourages us to consider applying them to other contexts as well.

Another chapter dealing with contextualization is chapter 11. It applies the “restorer” role (one of six roles listed in Scott Moreau, Contextualization in World Mission) for contextualizing the gospel to North Korean defectors. Though brief, the chapter provides a concise explanation of the ideology of North Korea. Additionally, it identifies three connecting points for sharing the gospel in that context. These are Jesus as one’s advocate when accused, Jesus as Saviour, and God as Father.

Practicing hope in midst of crisis

I’ve only highlighted four of the twelve chapters to give you a sampling of the book. As with any collection of conference papers, some will resonate more with your context. However, this collection is worth reading all the way through. It points us to how we can hope in the midst of any crisis. Further, it reminds us that as we share in the suffering of Christ, we will share in his glory when he returns (1 Peter 4:12-19).

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