For much of the history of missionary activity the focus and perspective has paralleled the colonising activities of government and national expansion. This can be seen in the dominant church denominational identity being directly related to the colonising government identity. For example, in North Sulawesi in Indonesia, older Christians prefer to pray in Dutch – reflecting the colonising impact of both the Dutch government and the Dutch Reformed Church. Many good things came about as a result of these mission initiatives. However, the cultural outcome was to make the other like us. In this process, the experience and culture of local communities is ignored or devalued.
The understanding of cross cultural mission (both Indigenous and internationally) is changing. There is a much greater appreciation of, and respect for, the local cultural understanding, meaning and insight. This means that there is an increasing sensitivity to local cultures. One outcome of this shift is a much greater commitment to learning and valuing local insights. There is still much to learn in this regard.
When we engage in healthy mission we begin to realise that despite all our enthusiasm and confidence we are actually dependent on the other. This realisation is only possible when we accept our vulnerability, and our need of the other. This is only possible as we release our need to be in control and our desire to be the experts.
Accepting our vulnerability and letting go of our need to be in control creates a special place in which relationships grow and mutual learning can occur. Mission becomes a mutual process that we enter into.
The whole Christian journey and our relationship with God are founded on our vulnerability. We accept that we have a need, and that we have ‘fallen short’. Accepting God’s grace and love shown in Jesus then provides the foundation we need for life. Accepting that our personal spirituality is based on receiving the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness is a rich foundation for mission.
The mission partnerships that Churches of Christ enter into are based on an appreciation that before God we are all equal and that we need each other as part of God’s kingdom. An immediate outcome of this is that the pathway into positive mission is based on mutual learning and recognising that we are invited to be students of culture and experience. This means that as we learn at least two things happen – we realise how naïve our assumptions about the other are, and how much more we still need to learn.