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A mission heart from home

In early 2020, Mark Peterson took up the role of Executive Director of CMS SANT. He shares why his family is not on location in France.

Each year as CMS Summer Conference approaches, my wife Allie and I sit down for another strategy meeting. It really all boils down to one goal, and we’re trying to keep it simple:

Attend the whole conference.

Both of us. Or at least both of us attend the daytime sessions, and maybe we take turns for the evening sessions. For CMS SANT, it’s only two-and-a-bit days. It should be achievable.

We’re repeatedly thankful for the mammoth effort of the kids’ ministry organisers to help us. They probably haven’t been aware of our silent hope to attend the whole conference together at least once. But (sigh!) we’re still yet to meet our goal. Or get anywhere near it, for family reasons.

At a recent summer conference, during a session on ministry possibilities in France or the French-speaking world, my wife and I happened to be sitting together, enjoying hearing the challenge from the platform. My mind started ticking over again about mission possibilities for our family. I studied French at uni, I have family in France, and have visited multiple times.

I leaned over and whispered to Allie, “I wonder if we should think again about France?”

She replied with words of wisdom that have stuck in my head, “Maybe we should get through an entire missions conference before we start thinking about actual mission?”

Challenges on the way

We have a child with a significant intellectual disability. As an aside, I would love to see CMS continue to explore how to enable more people with the appropriate gifting and readiness to head overseas, regardless of disabilities. But for our family (and probably for others), this has been one of the gifts from above that has led us to stay in Australia. We have wanted to see our nine–year-old with Down Syndrome flourish under God, and whilst we never want to say ‘never’ about what he can achieve or where he can achieve it, we’ve come to the point of embracing our South Australian home as the safe and stable platform for his growth (and that of his siblings).

This has been hard to come to terms with, in some ways. Especially when it comes to France.

France needs the gospel

If there was one place in the world we would like to be to celebrate our next big anniversary, it would be Paris. Is the food not delectable? And the fruit of the vine? And the romance of the city? The architecture and the art? It’s a culture of beauty and richness, the expression of so many human aspirations, and surely the best place in the world to do mission!

It still surprises many people to hear that France is a gospel-poor nation. “But what about all the cathedrals and churches? What about the history?”

“Maybe we should get through an entire missions conference before we start thinking about actual mission?”

Reasons to go…or not

But as I say this, the mirror is once again held up against my own heart. There isn’t necessarily something wrong with loving the culture of the place you go to do mission. But the second big flaw in my plan to be a missionary in France is my own motivations. Mission in France involves telling one’s French neighbours that life and love are not fulfilled in the beauty of French culture, language, history and way of life. Instead, they are found in the God who walked the dirty roads of Israel in the primitive first century, who was beaten up and murdered by his own people. I could go to the other side of the world to serve the Lord in a culture whose beauty captivates me, but I am conscious that the very culture that draws me there is the idol that has chased the gospel away. We are not dismantlers of culture, rather we are called to speak of Christ from within the culture. And yet we must always be vigilant about our own hearts and the things we love most. In a conversation with a friend a couple of years ago, he defined idolatry as ‘things we think are better than God’. I am sure God has been kind to me in allowing me to see both my own limitations and my own faulty loves. One way or another, it seems I am not heading to France for mission, and yet I am deeply thankful for those who are.

Finding other ways to contribute

I have been delighted to get involved in global mission via another route. I now have the privilege of contributing to mission as the Director of the South Australia Northern Territory branch of CMS. And perhaps even more fundamentally, I can pray, I can care, and I can give. I don’t see these as second-best options. This is how the church does mission. Not everyone goes, but we all have a significant part to play. Do you agree with me that it is a joy to know that God is sovereign in all of this? I am personally greatly relieved that HE is the one ultimately resourcing and enabling his mission.

GIVE

CMS loves to see followers of Christ get involved in mission by going. But there are other ways to be partners in that mission. Will you give to support the work of CMS missionaries?