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Mission - a word
rich in meaning

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Mission – a word rich in meaning

by Dr Julianne Stewart | ABM Africa Programs Co-ordinator, Compliance Officer, and Project Marketing

Parishes I’ve been part of have often had a special budget allocation and collections for what is termed ‘Mission’. This practice comes originally from that adopted in the early church to ‘send relief to the believers living in Judea’ (Acts 11:29). But is fundraising all there is to mission?

You may have noticed that there are very few mentions of ‘mission’ in scripture. In fact, my English translation (NRSV) has only six references in the Hebrew scriptures (mostly missions of a ‘diplomatic’ nature, or missions involving subsequent warfare - for example, Samuel was sent on a mission to ‘utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites’ in 1 Samuel 15:18).

There are no references to ‘mission’ as such in the New Testament. This is partly because our word, ‘mission’ comes from a Latin and not a Greek root, as the English word came down to us via the Roman church. The concept of mission is, instead, embedded in the concept of apostleship, and the New Testament is, of course, full of references to this apostolic work.

Where ‘mission’ is found in the New Testament, it is as part of the word, ‘commission’. In the letter to the Colossians (1:25-27), the writer says:

I became …[the] servant [of Christ’s body, the church] according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

In this use of ‘commission’, the meaning of ‘mission’ rings truest for me. I see the purpose of mission as a commission to the church, Christ’s body, to begin to grapple with ‘how great…are the riches and glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’

Our mission is to seek to know more fully the mystery of Christ in us. How do we do this? I’m sure one way is to live out this mystery of all-embracing and sacrificial love by giving as much as we can afford to mission causes, causes which express outwardly the love we receive ‘in Christ Jesus’ and which seek to embrace God’s justice. But this is not all.

We need to spend time contemplating the mystery of God’s love, Christ, in ourselves as members of his body. When we do this, we realise the importance of relationship. So this contemplation of mystery and relationship leads to action, to a desire to ‘reach out’ to others, to our neighbours near and far and to do something about the injustices in the world.

The Diocese of Perth has grasped the importance of relationship and partnership in its approach to learning about and working with the Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya, and engaging with them as they work to address injustices at a local level. In my work with ABM I have been humbled to learn more about this aspect of mission from clergy and lay people in Perth.

My parish is currently committed to supporting, among other mission activities, the running costs of Wontulp Bi Buya College in Cairns. This ecumenical Christian college supports ‘the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander church and community leaders through study programs leading to awards in theology, suicide prevention, addictions management and community development’ (ABM Project Book 2021, p7).

How can parish support of such an activity be enlarged from the (admittedly important) task of fundraising and giving money, into something that helps us know more fully ‘how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’?

One way might be to learn more about the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the issues facing them which necessitate courses in suicide preventions and addictions management, and to contemplate what God’s notion of justice might mean for Indigenous people in Australia today. ABM has many resources, both paper and online, which can assist any Christian interested in learning more about the ‘mystery of Christ in us’ in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. By learning more about people who have been marginalised by Christians and others in this country, by truly desiring to understand where they are coming from and how they may want our country to change, we may enlarge our understanding of this wonderful mystery of Christ, in which we live, and which lives in us.

I hope and pray that you, too, may have an opportunity to contemplate what ‘mission’ may mean to you, and to put that contemplation into action.

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