Looking Back to Move Forward: Some Lessons and Challenges from Mission History

Author: Mark Laing, formerly Interserve and Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.

Abstract:

Introduction
When my children attended primary school in India they dreaded the exam period – which seemed to recur rather frequently. They would have to endure a couple of weeks of written exams. For several nights before a particular test they would memorise, verbatim, the answers for particular questions in preparation for regurgitating this in the exam. One time my son came unstuck in a geography exam, his methodology failed him. After the exam he reported, “I knew all the answers, but I forgot which answer belonged to which question!”
When I taught missiology in India I sometimes encountered students who did not want to think about missiological questions, but, like school children, wanted set answers to standard questions. I kept saying to them: “there are no easy answers. In the particular situation you will find yourself in, you need to know: what are the key questions to ask?” Only when you know what are the right questions can you then develop appropriate answers. I say this by way of introduction – and perhaps excuse – because I come to you more with questions than with answers.
In this paper I want to consider some factors which affect the future of mission organisations and thus need to be considered for determining mission policy. For each factor I will do this by moving from historical examples to then examine what questions arise for us today. In turn, I would like to consider the role of finance in determining mission policy. I do that through the example of the correspondence between Lesslie Newbigin, as a newly arrived Church of Scotland missionary to India, and the General Secretary of the organisation, based in Edinburgh.
How does the big picture of socio-political events impact upon mission? I contrast the example of the growth of Christianity in Korea versus Japan, and then explore another Indian example. How did the changing political scene at the time of Indian Independence affect the “mass movements”?

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