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Why long-term mission?  : Checkpoint Autumn 2021

CMS Regional Mission Director Elizabeth Richards served in the Democratic Republic of Congo, together with Malcolm, for many years. Here she explains why it’s worth being committed to long-term mission. 

‘Long-term’ is not a new concept for our great God. We believe that God’s love for humankind, and his plan for salvation for this fallen world are long-term, since before creation. 

There is both an urgency and a long-term aspect in taking the gospel to the nations. We may be longing for Christ’s return and we may be longing for more people to turn to Christ, but we accept that the timing of God’s kingdom belongs with God alone. As Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) 

CMS is committed to this long-term approach to mission. It takes time and commitment for workers to learn how to connect and communicate across cultures and sometimes it takes generations to see the gospel message take root. 

A personal example 

CMS has had a direct, long-term connection with the Anglican church in DR Congo for nearly 40 years. My connection began when Peter Tasker (former General Secretary of CMS NSW & ACT) came to our home in Canberra for a ‘first enquirers’ interview. He told us of the plan to send a team from CMS to work in Zaire (now DR Congo).  

Thirty-five years later, I have spent 12 years living in DR Congo, made numerous trips there, and stayed in touch with church leaders, friends and colleagues. 

CMS has prayed for churches in DR Congo over those many years and continued to send missionaries. I now have a role caring pastorally for CMS missionaries living there, as well as maintaining CMS partnership with DR Congo church leaders. 

When CMS sent people to make that first exploratory trip to Zaire, no-one had any idea what would happen—whether people would answer the call to serve, or what ministry and connection over decades would look like.  

What ‘long-term commitment’ means 

The longterm nature of our commitment to mission is expressed in different ways including: 

  • The time missionaries have spent individually in a location 
  • The time missionaries have collectively worked in a location 
  • The length of time that a particular partnership has been in place 
  • The length of time that we have been praying for the ministry and our partners on location 
  • The time CMS has been supporting education and training of future leaders (for example through scholarships or ministry project grants from our Mission Support Fund)  

We send people who will persevere while accepting the urgency of the Great Commission. We are also aware that there are often factors that can force missionaries to leave unexpectedly. So, both CMS missionaries, and CMS as a whole, serve with the knowledge that an opportunity to preach, teach and share the gospel may, in some cases, be short-lived.  

We celebrate with joy that our commitment to serve long-term can be seen around the world: East Asia (including Japan, Taiwan and Singapore), France, Spain, Tanzania, Chile, Namibia, North Australia and the Pacific region—the list continues. 

We are united in the gospel with each of our CMS mission partners (over 100 partners—both organisations and individuals—around the world). We share aims and beliefs. We share lives and history. Such partnership works both ways: during the Australian bushfires in 2019/20 we received many assurances from our partners to say they were praying for us and grieving over our losses.  

Our longterm partners have been recipients of our CMS fellowshippraying, caring, giving and going. For their part, they have prayed for CMS and our workers, cared for our workers on location, and received our workers as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

“Being committed long-term means taking the perspective of the Kingdom of God.” 

Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity”. We can share God’s delight in the unity we have with Christians around the world, expressed in long-term partnerships.  

Further reasons for sending missionaries long-term 

CMS sends people to work towards our vision of a world that knows Jesus. The apostle Paul presents a model for ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2. “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 

In order to share our lives with people in another cultural context, language and cultural learning is essential. 

Language learning is lifelong. However competent one may feel, there is always more to learn. After being my neighbour for four years, one woman in DR Congo explained to me that a particular word I used was one I brought from another part of the country and not one they used there. I wondered why she waited four years to tell me! It also made me realise that learning to communicate well takes ongoing effort. When one is semi-confident it is easy to get used to understanding 70%- 80% and taking a guess at filling in the gaps.  

Understanding culture is at least as complex as learning a language. There is not usually a book explaining a culture’s assumptions, and it takes time to know the right questions to ask. Why, if someone is struck by lightning, is it assumed they are a thief? Why is a bowl of rice and some eggs placed on a grave? Why is it impolite to talk about personal faith? Why is it rude to ask someone how many cows they own? What are the right clothes for church?  

It was only after we had lived some years in Zaire (DRC) and had sufficient language that people were comfortable to ask us ‘What are you really here for? What are you taking out of this country? Is it gold or diamonds?’ It was inconceivable to them that someone would willingly come with the sole aim of sharing the gospel. People needed to understand who we were and what motivated us, in order to be able to hear the message.  

Many missionaries report the delight expressed when they return to location after Home Assignment. It is a sign of commitment to go away and choose to return. Relationships grow and new opportunities open as CMS workers demonstrate their willingness to share their lives with the people they live among. Staying on location through times of trouble is another expression of this commitment.  

Understanding language and culture enables us to understand the obstacles—materialism, syncretism, colonial history, oppression—that may affect a person’s ability to embrace the gospel and allow it to transform their life.  

Modelling the Christian walk is an essential part of discipling.“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11) 

CMS wants missionaries to become competent in their host culture. This may mean knowing how a bus network operates, how to navigate the school system, how to remove parasitic fleas (or better, who to go to when this is needed!), or how to boil and filter drinking water. It also means, over the longterm, understanding how authority operates, showing respect, and being humble and willing to learn. The ability to persevere despite misunderstandings, illness and setbacks is hard, but necessary for building relationships.  

God’s mission continues 

It is an immense privilege to have a glimpse into God’s world mission over decades. God is at work despite our stumbling. Our amazing missionaries do make mistakes and face numerous struggles. But we see ministry taking off after small and costly beginnings and we see kingdom growth!  

Being committed long-term means taking the perspective of the Kingdom of God. We are joint labourers in the kingdom as we wait for Jesus’ return. 

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) 

PRAY 

Ask God to raise up CMS missionaries who will be able to share the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ on location for many years.