"Traditional Methods for Mission and Evangelism"
TRADITIONAL METHODS FOR MISSION AND EVANGELISM
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
An International Conference on Mission and Evangelism – Brookline, 1995
"Let Your Light Shine Before Others" (Mt 5:16)
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat. But the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought of themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decoration, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!
Here we see a powerful analogy of what happens within our Church when we remain enclosed in buildings, forgetting our evangelistic privilege and responsibility. A great danger exists to our own being as Christians, and to the identity of the Church, when we forget our call to go forth to ALL nations and share in the gospel of salvation with all peoples. Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has appropriated stated, "As unthinkable as it is to have a church without liturgical life, it would be even more unthinkable to have a church without missionary life" (Yannoulatos 1990:53).
In line with this thought, I would like to turn to our Orthodox tradition and talk today about different methods or principles of mission and evangelism which have been a part of our Church throughout all her history. I will not give a list of so called steps of evangelism, however; do this and you will be effective. No, instead I want to meditate on how our great missionary forbearers proclaimed the gospel - what did the Apostle Paul, or Saints Nina of Georgia, Gregory the Enlightener of Armenia, Cyril and Methodios, Stephen of Perm, Makarios Gloukharev, Kosmas Aitolos, Herman and Innocent of Alaska, and Nicholas of Japan do. We need to study their examples, and find models which we can imitate. In addition to their examples, I would like to tie in some practical experiences that I have witnessed in today's missionary effort in Albania.
From this presentation, I hope to raise questions or provoking thoughts which can challenge the Orthodox Church to honestly analyze her world-wide mission program. We need to begin taking the next step forward in our modern mission effort. Through such an evaluation, I think we will also see principles which apply not only in cross-cultural situations, but at home as well.
Overall, we will look at four general areas in our tradition: the character of the missionary, the missionary team that goes forth, the preaching of the message itself, and the actual training of leaders within the young indigenous community. All four areas integrally relate to the overall method of how to evangelize in a traditional Orthodox way. I will conclude by sharing a vision to reflect upon for the training and preparation of future missionaries.
1. Spiritual Character of the Missionary: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20)
As we reflect upon the illustrious missionaries of the past, the most distinctive and obvious feature for all these missionaries was their exemplary life. Before any message could be preached, something had to be shown. The crucial aspect of a mission is not what one proclaims, but what one lives, who one is. Orthodox theology and history teach us that the transformed life preaches in a way that no words can match. One holy man said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" (Francis of Assisi). Thus, the first and foremost principle of any "method" of mission is the development of the spiritual character of missionaries -- their struggle for holiness, their capacity to carry God's grace, their humble, servant attitude, and their identification with the people.
a. Struggle for Holiness
Missionaries ought to exemplify holiness and direct people to grow in a faith that leads toward holiness. As Fr. Lev Gillet wrote, "Faith is nothing unless it transforms our lives, unless it bears fruit, and leads to holiness" (A Monk of the Eastern Church, 1992:222). For this reason many great missionaries of the past took a period of time to cultivate their spiritual life "in the desert" before their active mission began. We have the examples of the Apostle Paul going into the desert of Arabia for three years, Cyril and Methodius spending considerable time in a monastery, Stephen of Perm living more than a decade in a monastery, Kosmas Aitolos abiding for 19 years on Mount Athos, and of course Herman of Alaska, who was considered one of the pious monks of the monastery of Valaam before departing for Alaska.
The saying of Saint Seraphim of Sarov encompasses this whole message, "Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will be saved." Of course, the journey toward deep inner peace is life-long, but it should begin before we entering into the mission field. Unfortunately, too many missionaries lack this peace. They think to be fruitful simply implies busying themselves with numerous activities -- programs, schedules, meetings; they forget or ignore the most basic responsibility, their own inner peace and spiritual growth toward holiness. "The transformed life of the entire being in Christ is the true characteristic of a missionary" (Yannoulatos, 1964:147).
In Albania, I hold a frequent dialogue with a group of young medical doctors and students who are open to discussing matters of life and faith. The majority of these men come from Orthodox families, but most profess to be either atheist or agnostic. With one of the most outspoken doctors, I asked the question, "What is your purpose in life?" He proceeded to answer that his goal was to do good for humanity, to do more good than bad. This was a nice answer, and many people seemed satisfied with such a response. But from the Church's perspective, this answer falls short of our calling. God doesn't want us to simply do some good, He calls us to become holy, to be different, to be united with Christ in his holiness, to be “aghios,” not of this world. Our goal is to honestly repeat the words of Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me” (Gal 2:20).
When missionaries begin to live a holy life in a pagan society, they have begun to offer the first and most basic lesson to the people they go to serve. Without this desire to become holy themselves, and then to lead people toward holiness, missionaries will be no different than humanitarian workers.
New believers must realize that holiness is something natural to all Christians, attainable both for the missionary and for new believers who commit their lives to Jesus Christ and His Church. Holiness does not mean achieving extraordinary ascetic feats, or being perfect in all we do. It is giving up one's own interest and putting on Christ, opening oneself up to the power of the Holy Spirit and allowing Christ to shine through one's life. It is doing small things with great love all for the glory of Jesus Christ.
b. Become Carriers of God's Grace
In this journey toward holiness, missionaries begin to understand and teach that they act simply as carriers of God's grace, instruments in the hands of God. Mother Teresa of Calcutta often uses an appropriate analogy. She says about her work "I am a little pencil in the hands of God. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything -- and it's really hard -- sometimes I'm a broken pencil. He has to sharpen it a little more. But be an instrument in his hands so that He can use you any time, anywhere" (Hunt 1987:243) Missionaries should ask themselves daily, "Am I a carrier of God's grace? Do I realize my primary responsibility lies here."
Simeon Yanovsky, a contemporary of St. Herman, and a skeptic and agnostic before meeting the holy elder, spoke in this way of the humble missionary, "To my great surprise, the simple uneducated monk Fr. Herman . . . had a great natural intellect, much common sense, he was well read in the writings of the holy fathers, but above all he had the grace of God" (Oleksa 1987:49).
The purpose of mission is precisely this, to reflect the holiness, the goodness, the hope that comes through experiencing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; to act as vessels carrying God's grace to all people.
c. Maintain an Humble Attitude and Identify With the People
Another essential aspect of the missionary's character is his or her humble, loving, patient, servant attitude. Opposite behavior tempts some missionaries. These foreigners often hold a position of authority, especially when going from first to third world countries, simply because they control the money or administration of the sending agencies. Some of these people may subconsciously become missionaries for this exact reason, to be given an authority and an air of importance which they could not find staying at home.
The example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples remains the prime model for missionaries. They are to serve the people they go to help and to identify with them in their struggles and needs. The 19th century missionary Makarios Gloukharev offers a vivid example. During the beginning stages of his ministry in the Altai mountains of Siberia, Makarios met much resistance and indifference from the people. This initial attitude tempted him to contemplate abandoning his mission because these people, he thought, were not ready for Christianity. After re-evaluating his mission strategy, however, he concluded that he could proclaim the gospel more effectively through his example, not his words. He began to imitate the humility of Christ by doing menial chores for the local people as a symbolic proclamation of the Gospel. He believed that to enter homes and sweep the floors as a humble servant was to identify himself with Christ, to bear witness to Him in a more authentic way than sermons. Through his subservient attitude he slowly began to reach the people.
Other missionaries behaved in a similar manner. Saint Herman fervently defended the rights of the Alaskan natives against cruel Russian traders and officials. He became one with the people so much so that each persecution against them was a persecution against him. He pleaded in a letter to the leader of the Russian-American Company, "I, the most humble servant of the local peoples and their nursemaid, stand before you with bloody tears and write my request: be a father and protector to us . . . wipe away the tears of our defenseless orphans, soothe the sorrows of aching hearts, let us know what joy is like" (Oleksa 1987:310). So we see identification with the people is imperative for any missionary.
Thus, the first and most basic method of mission is the spiritual development of missionaries - their struggle for holiness, their capacity to carry God's grace, their humble, servant attitude, and their identification with the people. The heart of any method lies with this beginning.
2. Mission Teams: "Jesus sent them out two by two" (Mk 6:7)
a. Example of Christian Community
A second fundamental principle is to approach the missionary task understanding that we are only a part of a team. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and in like manner we need to go forth, working together for the glory of God.
The importance of a team has much more to do than with the fact of offering companionship to one another. A group of missionaries can proclaim the gospel loudly through the example they establish. They teach their first lesson in Christian community through the love, care, respect, and compassion shown within their missionary fellowship. A positive example is the ministry of Makarios Gloukharev. He departed for the Altai mountains with two other companions. From the beginning, the three imitated the Apostolic Church by sharing everything with one another as a symbol of their unity and love. They hoped that this witness would touch the hearts of the indigenous peoples.
As a part of a team, the missionary also realizes that he or she is not the lone “savior,” but that he or she is working with others for the glory of God. As St. Paul emphasized, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God caused the growth… for we are God’s servants working together” (1 Cor 3:16,19).
Unfortunately, the opposite behavior sometimes exists in mission work. Jealousy, competition, misunderstanding, and insistence on one's own way are sometimes traits among missionaries. Such behavior damages the very foundation of the Christian message we try to preach.
b. Diversity of Team
Another benefit of a team is diversity. Many parts encompass the body of Christ, and the more parts exposed to non-believers, the more likely they will find their bridge into the Church. Remember the openness of Saint Paul in his work in Corinth, "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone… As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ" (I Cor 12:4-6,12).
The missionary saints of our tradition were not all monks or even men. In addition with the bishops, priests (celibate and married), and monks, there were, "princesses, diplomats, officers, soldiers, merchants, mariners, emigrants, travelers, and captives" (Yannoulatos 1989:66) The greater the variety, the more numerous examples people have to understanding the faith.
Our mission in Albania offers a positive example. Although our mission team is small, we presently have 12 long-term missionaries, it is quite diverse. Among the twelve we have two monks, three nuns, two married priests with their presbyteras (one with two children), two lay women and a lay man. Their professions include an architect, an accountant, a nurse, elementary and secondary teachers, and a communications specialist. I have witnessed the impact this diversity can have. Some people are attracted immediately to the monastics. Others have certain biases and seem more comfortable with a married person, or even a non-theologian lay man or woman. The diversity reflects the diverse people we try to reach, and thus offers different avenues for people to hear the Gospel. In this area I admire our Protestant brothers and sisters. In Albania, long-term Protestant missionaries number more than 400, and include a wide range of people -- from pastors and theologians, to doctors, lawyers, businessmen, a retired policemen, engineers, teachers, old and young. "One waters, another plants, but God gives the growth."
c. Prayer Team
A missionary team also comprises not only the active workers in the field, but also people back at home who support them with their prayers. This may not seem to be a "method" of evangelism, but in fact it is one of the most essential ingredients to a fruitful mission. If we look at the example of Saint Paul, we see a strong belief in prayer as the foundation for all his ministry and work. In every letter to his neophyte churches, Paul continually asked for their prayers on his behalf and on behalf of the gospel. His work was in vain without constant prayer for protection, strength, guidance, and boldness for himself, his co-workers, and his infant believers.
So we see how the mission team plays an integral role as a method of mission. Through the support it offers, together with setting an example of Christian community and diversity, the mission team itself proclaims the gospel.
3. Proclaiming the Gospel Message: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some" (I Cor 9:22)
a. Patience, Flexibility, and Creativity
The third method of mission involves proclaiming the spoken gospel in relevant and meaningful ways. In this area, the first attitudes missionaries must cultivate are patience, flexibility, and creativity. Serving as a priest in Albania over the past year and a half has given me some memorable and educational experiences. For example, there was the first time I celebrated the Divine Liturgy in a village. This village, typical of most places in Albania, had not participated in the Divine Liturgy during the last 25 years of communist rule. Even over the past four years of freedom, a priest had come into the village to offer the Eucharist only a few times. During my first service, the Church was like an outdoor bazaar, with a continual hum of noise. When I turned around to say, "Paqe me të gjithë - Peace be with you", I saw some people smoking their cigarettes in the middle of the Church. Part of me wanted to yell at them, "This is a house of God. Why are you acting as if it is an outdoor bazaar?" And yet, another part of me said to myself, "They are like sheep without a shepherd. This is just another sign of the need to educate and cultivate the Orthodox ethos here."
I experienced another unique situation during the Resurrection Service this past Paschal season. In the middle of the night, the noise in the church reached such a high level that when I began the Divine Liturgy with, "Blessed is the kingdom..." the chanter, who was only 15 feet away from me, literally couldn't hear my voice. I had to ask the people (for the fifth time) to please be quiet and show some respect inside the house of God. I told those who wanted to receive communion to come forward in front of the Royal Gates (and about 70 people approached thinking that they would receive at that very moment). I then proceeded to ask those who wanted to talk to please leave the Church and continue their discussions outside. We began the Divine Liturgy again with the chanter standing beside the royal gate, one foot away from me. Silence prevailed for 10 seconds and then noise erupted again. We proceeded to celebrate a beautiful and moving liturgy for the next hour and a half in the midst of total chaos and unbelievable noise. This is the reality of many places in Albania.
I offer these stories as examples which show how mission work demands creative approaches to ministry. Obviously, we don't handle situations the same way we would in a parish in America. Thus, we must challenge ourselves with questions, "Is it appropriate to offer a three hour Matins and Divine Liturgy in villages that have not had any services for 30 years? Is there another way we can begin in our teaching of worship? Can we be creative, staying within our Orthodox tradition, and develop something practical and unique for our present situation?"
Saint Innocent's ministry offers some creative ideas to difficult problems. For example, as bishop, he allowed 'pious and informed' laymen to administer the sacrament of baptism due to a shortage of priests (a priest would complete the baptismal prayer and chrismate the newly initiated at a later time). He also established men AND WOMEN to act as "readers," people who led weekly worship services in the absence of a priest. Celebrating such "reader" services on a regular basis would better prepare the people for the Divine Liturgy, when a priest actually comes into the village.
Saints Cyril and Methodios offer another insightful example. They translated the Mass of St. Peter in Slavonic, instead of one of the Byzantine liturgies, and used this western rite service in their ministry among the people of Moravia. They were sensitive to the fact that Frankish missionaries had been using this liturgy in Latin for the previous 50 years, and thus wanted to use this as a bridge to connect with the people. Here, we see the greatest Byzantine missionaries not afraid to use a Roman service to meet their particular needs and situation. Our modern efforts require such patience, flexibility, creativity, and vision.
b. Appropriate Catechism
Another area of preaching the Gospel involves the catechism itself. In situations like Albania, where many people call themselves Orthodox but know little if anything about the true Orthodox faith, missionaries ought to emphasize the importance of learning and practicing the faith. We cannot be satisfied with people who call themselves Orthodox simply because their grandparents were Orthodox. Sometimes we deceive ourselves by baptising people without any teaching, simply so that the Church can say we have "so many" Orthodox Christians. Can we be satisfied with less quantity but better quality? Makarios Gloukharev worked 14 years in the mountains of Siberia, during which time he baptised only 675 adults out of 44,000 inhabitants. Obviously, he believed in intense catechism to prepare people for their Christian journey. His careful catechism, however, prepared a foundation upon which later missionaries would see the fruit. Forty years after Makarios’ departure from the Altai mountains, more than 25,000 inhabitants had entered into the Church.
In our preparatory teaching for baptism, we should take care not to teach simply rules and doctrine. Some priests seem satisfied with people who profess an ideology based on external rules and commandments, without ever challenging believers to discover the ultimate, intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. Our faith does not strive to teach a high truth, or fine morality. We seek to open the path for the Holy Spirit to move and live within the person. The goal of our teaching ought to be for new believers to become "new creations." Sometimes, I stop and wonder how many of the people I have baptized feel they have become a new creation? How many have truly died to their old self and become new? We have the responsibility to challenge each newly baptized person to be satisfied with nothing less than holiness in their lives. We can remind them of the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian, "Don't you know that the only way to be a son of God is to become a saint."
One positive example I remember occurred with Ana, a girl from a Muslim family, who decided to become Orthodox with a group of her University friends. On the day of her baptism, she expressed to me with tears of joy the excitement she felt putting behind her old life, with all its sins, and beginning a new and exciting life in Christ. In this person, I clearly witnessed a radical discovery and the start of a transformation. Becoming a new creation is the purpose of our baptism.
A final principle of preaching the spoken gospel is the idea of "becoming all things for all people so that by all means [we] may save some" (I Cor 9:23). From Saint Paul we see how he preached to the Jews as a Jew, but presented the gospel in a different way among the Gentiles. For example, among the philosophical and idolatrous Athenians, Saint Paul mentioned nothing about the Jewish background and fulfilled prophecies of the Messiah Jesus. Instead, he dealt with the Greeks at their level. He didn't condemn them for their gross idolatry, but instead chose to find good in their worship: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To the Unknown God. Therefore, the one who you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22,23).
From this introduction, he proceeded to talk about topics relevant to the Greek mind. He even quoted Greek philosophers and pagan poets to support his apology of the faith. In this way, Saint Paul contextualized the gospel and minimized the chances of his Gentile audience rejecting his message simply because of a cultural or religious bias.
So our sensitivity of proclaiming the Gospel with creativity, flexibility, boldness, contextualization, and truth, creating an intimate, transforming relationship between the hearer and God, are essential characteristics of a proper method for mission.
4. Training of Indigenous Leaders: "Entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well" (2 Tim 2:2)
The fourth method of mission work is the training of indigenous leadership. From the beginning of one's ministry, the missionary has to seek out interested believers who will take the reigns of leadership as soon as possible. Saint Paul's words to his disciple Timothy offer wisdom to the missionary, "What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well" (2 Tim 2:2). Too often, this task proves very difficult for missionaries. The foreigners frequently foster an unhealthy paternal love which hinders their children from growing up.
a. Time Frame for Missionary
From the beginning of their ministry, missionaries have to think about the end of their ministry. Missionaries should keep in mind the fact that they are working themselves out of a job. They ought to live and work among the people as if no foreign worker, but a local person, will succeed them.
The life of Saint Paul reveals a deep understanding to this principle. The divine apostle traveled throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece for a period of 8-12 years, rarely staying in one city or town for longer than several months and never for more than 2-3 years. Yet, by the end of one decade, he could write that there existed "no further place for me in these regions" (Rom 15:23). How many missionaries go into the field thinking that their work can be completed in 10 years time? How many missionaries are willing to pass on the baton of ministry at the right moment, instead of overstaying their calling?
A critical look at our own modern missionary efforts raise questions. There have been Orthodox missionaries in East Africa for 30 years, but why do we still consider the church an infant, needing overbearing care by her missionary parents? The 25 year modern Orthodox mission in Korea could be another interesting and enlightening study. For our situation in Albania, as we work to revive a once dead church, we must daily ask ourselves if we are ready to pass over leadership after the necessary number of years? Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has given us the directive that whenever any of us leave our mission work, we have succeeded only in as much as we have trained and prepared Albanian leaders to fill our places.
b. Responsibility and Trust
Missionaries need to align their goals and work with such a time perspective. Their ministry is not to baptize or even to preach to all the people in one area. Their goal needs to be the training of select leaders who themselves have the zeal, desire, inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit to fulfill this work. If the missionaries train their spiritual children correctly from the beginning, if they open their eyes to the gift and power of the Holy Spirit and teach them to trust in the Spirit in their lives, the leaders have fulfilled a major task of their work.
We should trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the young believers; we should trust that Christ will dwell in them. We ought to have faith in the transforming power of the gospel in their lives. Sometime missionaries' reliance upon methods, systems, programs, organizations and overbearing, paternal patronage seem to minimize our and their faith as new believers.
When missionaries don't trust their new believers and leaders to do something because they are too young and immature in the faith, or because they do not have enough formal training and theological education, missionaries come close to the danger of minimizing the power of the Holy Spirit.
c. Personal Mentorship
In this training of individual leaders, missionaries need to spend quality time on personal relationships, mentoring, and spiritual guidance. To build up leaders takes time, not just through spoken lessons on the faith, but especially through allowing them to stay close to us and learn from our daily life. The examples we give through our lives offer the greatest lesson from which they can learn
Sometimes this aspect of personal mentorship is difficult, especially for Americans. We have been taught to focus on numbers, the bigger the better. If we spend the majority of our time with only a handful of people, instead of the masses, then some of us think we err. And yet, how much more effective our ministry can be if we focus our time on a limited number of leaders, and allow them to reach out to the masses. Remember the words of Saint Paul. "What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well" (2 Tim 2:2). Timothy, Silas, Luke, Mark, Sosthenes, Titus -- these were the young men who always traveled with Paul and learned first-hand from him. Paul directed other leaders in each city or town in which he established a church. Look at the last chapter of Romans, and we get an enlightening glimpse of the many disciples and co-workers, men and women, who Paul trained and influenced. Because of such "leadership" ministry he could confidently leave the eastern region of the Roman Empire after one decade of work.
Of course, within the overall ministry of a missionary, there will be need for programs, buildings, and projects, but the most important issue, the heart and soul of our work, is the people themselves. As we build up programs, are we building up the leaders who can run the programs? As we build many churches, do we have the faithful leaders who will transform these concrete buildings into houses of God on fire for the Gospel? The goal of Orthodox mission is not to build physical buildings, but to create living Eucharistic communities which act as evangelistic centers for the entire surrounding area. The indigenous people are the ones who know the language, customs, and life of their own people much better than any foreigner, thus they can more effectively serve as leaders and preachers.
d. Opportunities for Service
Combined with this focus on a select number of leaders, missionaries need to find practical opportunities for these young leaders to develop their talents. Train the new converts from the beginning to be "missionaries" among their own people. There exists a great danger to subtly lead new converts into a passivity. If the missionaries teach their first converts to constantly rely on the missionary, to wait upon his work and efforts, and not to challenge the Holy Spirit within themselves, they may become dependant and passive. Their faith remains contained. Growth and development lie dormant.
From the beginning we should teach new believers that their source of strength comes not from the missionary, but from the Holy Spirit working through the Church. The Holy Spirit abiding in the Church is above any one bishop, priest, or missionary. The foundation is our loving Father who created us, our Lord Jesus Christ who saved us, the Holy Spirit who abides in us, and the Church which protects us. If we teach new believers to place their trust here, and challenge them to share whatever little knowledge they have, then we begin to build a strong foundation.
Too often missionaries want to do everything, because they feel they can do it better than the new believer. And yet, how does one learn if they don't practice. As missionaries, our responsibility is to give freedom, and then to guide and counsel. We constantly should ask ourselves, if we leave today, if we get kicked out of the country unexpectedly, will the Church survive? Are there enough leaders to direct and lead?
So, let us heed the words of Saint Paul, "What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well."
Vision for the Orthodox Mission
I would like to conclude my talk with a vision I have for our Orthodox mission. The modern Orthodox missionary renewal began over 35 years ago with the establishment of the Porefthentes movement in Greece. Over these past three decades, our own mission program in America grew from a tiny office in the Greek Archdiocese, to today's Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, FL. We now send scores of short-term missionaries each summer, and support a growing number of long-term missionaries. We are even on the verge of beginning a chair of missiology at Holy Cross. But what next? Where do we go from here? The future continually brings new challenges. Which of us could have ever guessed the new opportunities that have arisen in the past decade? We have a thriving indigenous Orthodox Church in Indonesia. Albania, the bastion of atheism, is now open to all, with a resurrected Orthodox Church. And the fall of the iron curtain has opened new doors for help and service.
How can we respond to such opportunities? The vision I have tries to deal with this. It entails the establishment of a mission school and center, in the form of a quasi-monastic community. A place of learning missionary and cultural principles, all revolving around a life of spiritual formation -- prayer, solitude, and study of Scripture and the Church Fathers, especially our great missionary fathers and mothers. A place preparing and forming missionaries.
One of the most important principles I have learned during my limited missionary experience, is the idea that good intentions are not always good enough. Too many people enter the mission field ill-equipped, causing more damage than good despite their sincere intentions. People thinking about missionary work should take time to reflect and wrestle with the daunting task that awaits them. They should address such questions as to which methods they will use in their work. Do they realize that their own spiritual formation and struggle for holiness are the foundation of their work? Do they have a proper attitude of humility, ready to learn even more than they may offer? Have they thought about going out as a team (of course, all married couples should look at their spouses as team members), and what impact their team behavior will have? What about the actual message they will proclaim, and the means of conveying that message in a contextualized, meaningful way? And finally, have they thought about the importance of the training of indigenous leaders from the beginning, and what such training entails?
This summary of some traditional methods of Orthodox mission acts as a foundation to the vision. Such a mission school and center would serve as a preparation ground for missionaries to learn these methods. It would offer the training needed to prepare new missionaries for their upcoming task, while acting as a place for rest and renewal for veteran missionaries. It could also be a necessary center which continually sends forth a challenge to all our Orthodox faithful to be responsible in their faith and fulfill God's calling to the Great Commission. I won't expand more on this vision, because I only offer it as a means of conclusion, and as a thought-provoking idea with which the leaders of our missionary movement can wrestle.
As we in the Orthodox Church recover our historical understanding and commitment to missionary responsibility, and as we recommit ourselves to the traditional methods of mission and evangelism mentioned today, then our Church can save herself from becoming a social club (as described in the opening story), and can help her recover her status as a "life-saving station" in the midst of the world's troubled waters.
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