by Margaret S. Larom
Biblical and theological reflection are essential to mission, both on a personal and communal level, declared two very different mission practitioners at the opening plenary of the Anglican Mission Organisations Conference in Cyprus.
The Rt Revd Simon Chiwanga, the bishop from Mpwapwa, Tanzania, whose term as chair of the Anglican Consultative Council concluded with the Hong Kong meeting in 2002, delivered a lengthy, reasoned paper on the conference aim of "renewing our vision for mission through biblical and theological reflection, worship and prayer."
"What is the 'fire' that ignites us to share the good news of our faith with others?" he asked. "It is a search for wholeness, the wholeness glimpsed in the central crucified and victorious figure of Christ. This quest also drives us to seek to continually renew our vision for mission, to make sure that our passion for mission is not driven simply by human motives, however humanitarian they might be. This quest can be the fire that drives us to participate in the Mission of God in God's world, which is reconciliation and restoration of all people and the world to himself."
Edwina Thomas, a lay woman from the United States who is the full-time director of Sharing Our Ministries Abroad (SOMA-USA), responded to his presentation with a personal testimony, describing her own conversion to mission as a call to love people "who are not like me," and acknowledging her absolute dependency on Biblical reflection and intimacy with Jesus Christ for strength to carry out the work.
The message from both was clear: Don't be so busy doing mission that you fail to take time for reflection! "Mission is a cycle," said Ms Thomas. "You can't engage in mission without reflection because it drives us back to God continually. My challenge daily is to seek God. I firmly believe mission is about relationships and my first relationship is with Jesus." Using the word 'intimacy,' she said, "We must press in to Jesus, so we understand our call today. We must sit and hear his voice. If we're not taking time to rest in Him and find His heart, we'll begin to work out of our own energy, and share our own vision. We must seek His heart first, then look outward to our neighbour."
Bishop Chiwanga shared his conviction that our Communion's rootedness in worship and prayer has enabled us to come through our conflicts in Biblical and theological understandings "a more vital, more relevant, and more influential Church."
"Not that we have solved those conflicts in interpretation of Scriptures and our theological convictions, declaring a victor and a vanquished, and dividing the spoils of that war. Rather, I see us Anglicans as engaging together in mission without needing first to 'solve' hot button issues as such. As a church we emerge from these conflicts stronger than we were before, because different views grow out of all of our efforts to find the best way to do mission. They grow out of an intense discernment of God's mission for us in our respective contexts.
"Mission today is about solidarities in action," Bishop Chiwanga concluded. "Solidarities across borders of language, experience, culture, wealth, liturgical expressions; in action, discerning and doing God's mission on the ground in a particular context. More and more of us are realizing that we don't need to agree on human sexuality in order to advocate for persecuted Christians; we don't need to have the same churchmanship to combat poverty; we don't need to agree on our theology before working for peace and safety in Sudan.
"Our hope and future as an ecclesial community is our united witness and participation in God's mission. If we do this we will be effective signs and instruments of transformation and tradition."