Are projects like OM’s Global South Initiative (GSI; see www.omgsi.org) set up to deal with a problem? Perhaps the problem is that the Church in the Global South is weak and needy (‘Global South’ being a polite term for countries sometimes referred to as ‘Third World’) and not able to do mission the preferred First World way, i.e. fully supported or going with an esteemed First World identity of being highly-skilled or expert.
GSI promotes business-as-mission and vocation as new models of mission for Global South missionaries. I wonder whether deep down we feel that these are weak models compared to the fully-supported sending model. When we do business-as-mission, we are dependent: We need local customers and suppliers, and the goodwill and acceptance of the local community. With a vocation or job, we need to prove our worth to an employer who pays our salary. With business or vocation, we don’t have an independent safety net; our fortunes rise and fall with our host community’s.
I recently read Kenneth Bailey on Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (2008) and was reminded that we should not see the dependence or vulnerability of our businesses or vocations as problems. Rather, they are the privilege of doing mission as Jesus did, from a position of humility and vulnerability, not of power and strength. Here’s what Bailey has to say about the ‘surprise of intentional self-emptying’ in the context of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a drink in John 4 (pg. 203–205):
“Contained in this dramatic action is a profound theology of mission. Jesus so totally humbles himself that he needs her services. Jesus does not establish his initial relationship with her by explaining how she needs him and his message. That will come later. Rather, his opening line means, ‘I am weak and need help! Can you help me?’”
“Daniel T. Niles, the great Sri Lankan theologian, has written of Jesus:
He was a true servant because He was at the mercy of those whom He came to serve…This weakness of Jesus, we His disciples must share. To serve from a position of power is not true service but beneficence.’
“The first ‘mission trip’ in Christian history was the sending out of the twelve disciples recorded in Mark 6.7–13. The disciples were commanded to, ‘take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics’ (Mark 6.8-9).
“A babe in a manger is an ultimate example of one who comes in need of those to whom he or she comes. The incarnation affirms this profound theology. Even so here with the woman, as an adult engaged in ministry, Jesus lives out this same theology. His request is genuine. He is thirsty and has no leather bucket.
“In our day, a style of mission appears to continue to flow from the developed nations to the developing world that affirms the strength of the giver and the weakness of the receiver. We in the West go with our technology, which often is the point of our greatest strength and often reflects the developing world’s greatest weakness. This tends to stimulate pride in the giver and humiliation in the receiver.”
Do we sometimes feel uneasy that our business-as-mission and vocation models are so dependent on the very people that we are trying to reach? Does this make us feel powerless and needy? Rejoice! We are walking in Jesus’ footsteps!
Seang Pin is Singaporean and serves with the Global South Initiative of OM. She joined GSI because she was captured by the vision of seeing Global South Christians participate in mission in full strength and numbers, thriving, contributing and changing the world