Missions During Cultural Earthquakes

This was my 2015 report as NW Indiana's Nazarene Missions International President.

    Earthquakes cause massive change.  Obviously, they cause massive damage to buildings and people. 

But earthquakes can also change the land itself:

  • 1775 Lisbon earthquake split some of the nation’s largest mountains in half.
  • 2010 earthquake in Chile moved the entire city of Concepcion 10 feet to the west.
  • 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, NZ caused “soil liquification” - formerly solid ground turned into quicksand.  Cars literally melted into the streets.
  • 2013 earthquake in Pakistan created a new island 300 feet long and 70 feet high.

All of this leads to massive disorientation.  After severe earthquakes, communities have to develop new maps to make sense of the new land.

    We are in the midst of a great cultural earthquake. 

With the advent of the internet age, globalization, and seismic shifts in science, philosophy, and international politics, our earth is shaking.  The entire cultural landscape is shaking.  Mountains are split.  Entire cities are moving.  New cultural formations are emerging before our eyes, and formerly solid ground is turning into quicksand.  This leads us to a few simple conclusions:

1. We need to tend to the casualties. 

People all around us are hurting and feeling lost in the world, even lost in the church.   Families are broken.  Individuals are broken.  Economic systems are broken.  In this time of crisis, we need to respond to meet immediate pressing needs but also go deeper to meet the heart needs. One of the greatest services we can offer our churches and our communities is to offer a safe place of love and grace where all are loved and accepted without any preconditions for change.

2. We are all wounded.

Conservatives, moderates, and progressives — all of us have taken hits during this earthquake, and we all are carrying the emotional scars of cultural trauma.  Fear is the most natural response in times of crisis.  Conservatives are afraid that the Church is losing her foundations.  Progressives are afraid that we are being left behind and failing to adapt to rapidly changing times.  Moderates are trying to prevent a schism and are taking fire from both sides.  We must acknowledge our fears and open ourselves to God’s grace for healing so that we can move forward together - uniting in the mission of healing our broken world.

3. We need new maps.

Old ways of doing church and mission will not work in this radically altered landscape.  Old ways of doing NMI and church boards will not work.  We must listen to the cultural cartographers and experiment with new routes toward our mission of living as God’s Kingdom people in this place at this time.

4. The Church is in a unique position to rebuild. 

Just as the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries was among first responders after earthquakes in Haiti, Japan, and Chile - and nearly every other earthquake on the face of the earth - we also follow up immediate crisis relief with long-term community rebuilding.  In the same way, we have a unique opportunity to engage in deep cultural rebuilding.  In many ways, this is a post-apocalyptic time, and we have the opportunity to remake the world from the ground up.  While most of the world is still doing deconstruction work, we can begin the work of constructing a new way of being in our new world.

    As we experience the great upheaval of cultural change, our natural response is to retrench, to circle the wagons, to build walls of defense, to hunker down, and to try simply to survive.

    But Church, it is too small a thing for us to survive.  We must not be satisfied with keeping our programs running and our doors open.  We must thrive.  We are a church of missional movement, not fortress building.  We must creatively revision how to be a new kind of church to serve God in a new kind of world.  We must experiment and prune old stuff that isn’t working and grow new missional arms.  We must risk all to develop thriving churches. 

NMI leaders, this is your call to help your church thrive.

    But Church, it is too small a thing to grow a church.  Butts in the seats and dollars in the plates are failed measurements of success.  We must broaden our scope to our communities at large.  We are responsible not only for the people who show up, but for the people so crushed by the earthquake that they can’t or won’t pass through our doors.  Our mission is the healing of our entire city and region, bringing God’s shalom (holistic peace) into reality in our schools, in our families, in our businesses, in our music and arts, and our city parks.  NMI cannot just be a booster club pushing books and raising money for international missions.  We must be local as well as global. 

NMI leaders, this is your call to help your church take specific action to bring healing in your city.

    And Church, remember, it is too small a thing to have some occasional mission activity.  Thank you for collecting alabaster offerings.  I’ve slept in buildings built with alabaster funds.  Thank you for sending work and witness trips.  My family lived for two years in a building built by work and witness teams, and I hope you’ll go with your church or with Robbie to the Western Med.  Thank you for your Faith Promise, Easter, and Thanksgiving offerings.  Many of my mentors and many of our partners in the Western Med are supported through the World Evangelism Fund.  
    But it is too small a thing for us to do some mission things sometimes.  Missions is not something that happens some times in some places.  We need for God’s mission of radical healing to fully integrate everything we do and everything we are.  We need for missional passion to permeate our children’s programing, our youth activities, our Sunday school classes and small groups, and our weekly worship services.  We need for each church to develop a single partnership to engage God’s mission on deeply personal levels.  Partnerships change the way we think about and engage in mission.  In our breakout session, Shawn will tell you how you can form a partnership with a church in the Western Med.
    Churches, I get the struggles to fully support the World Evangelism Fund.  I understand it.  My own church is struggling forward in this area.  But even giving 100% of our W.E.F. allotment is too small a thing for us.  God is calling us to the deep transformation of our world.  Make mission and partnership the burning passion of your church, and then let the money follow your heart.  
    That’s why I’m excited about our Western Med partnership.  Choose one of our four focus partners and go deep with them.  This will change how your church does mission - and even how your church does church.

    NMI leaders, this is your call to integrate God’s mission into every aspect of your church - starting with a deep partnership.

    And, finally, Church, it is too small a thing for us to do new missions things.  We must also rethink how we do church and mission.  We must rethink the very nature of church and mission.  
    Toward that end, this year, we will host a missional think tank.  It is open to anyone on our district who wants to engage in deep thinking about church and mission.  
    This spring, four of us on the NMI council went to Kansas City for an NMI district leaders convention, and one of the main themes of that gathering is that NMI must change or die.  We have become stuck in out dated formalities and ineffective strategies.  
    On our district, we are inviting anyone who wants to think deeply into a deep conversation about how our churches and our missions leaders can adapt to our altered landscape to help our churches more effectively engage God’s mission of healing our world.  Each quarter, we’ll read a book together and then gather for discussion.  If you are interested, talk to me or sign up on the clipboard at the missions table.  Come help us make new maps to help the Church navigate our changed landscape.
    This year, I’ve visited about 10 churches on our district, casting vision and helping churches begin this process of rethinking mission.  The most effective plan seems to be preaching with a workshop after the service to help the church think more deeply about international an local partnerships.  I look forward to joining in with more of you guys this year.  

    NMI leaders, pastors, and everyone interested, this is your call to help us rethink how to do God’s mission better.

    In 2006, after a major earthquake struck Yogyakarta, Indonesia, local Nazarenes immediately responded with relief and rebuilding efforts.  I was privileged to lead a team from Korea to join the rebuilding process.  We partnered with a local church that had identified four families from their community who were most vulnerable and whose homes had been destroyed in the earthquake.  Our team joined with local volunteers to rebuild two homes - one of them for a Muslim widow.  Although many church members had also lost their homes, they decided that they must give attention first to those who most needed help.  The wider Muslim community responded by adding volunteers and by dropping off coconuts and papaya to feed these Christian workers helping to rebuild their community.  

    Now in 2015, on the other side of the world, we can learn from the example of our Indonesian brothers and sisters.  Our world has been shattered.  Families are torn apart, and social institutions have broken down.  We must think beyond the walls of our local church and look for those most vulnerable in our community.  Let’s join together to bring healing to our local communities inside and outside the church. 

Let’s join together in God’s great mission of healing our world - here in Indiana and in the Western Med and around the world.  Anything less is just too small.

    Finally, I want to conclude by offering my appreciation to our NMI council.  We couldn’t make it without our valiant secretary Sharon, who keeps us all in line.  We have a good mixture of new folks with new ideas and people who’ve been on the council for decades.  Thanks to all of you - Betty, Linda, Cyndi, Sharon, Carol, Jane, Hope, Alicia, and Robbie - for helping us remember the past and move forward into the future. Cyndi MacDonald stepped up to be NMI president for one year when Shawn Evans stepped down, and now she has stepped forward again to be the NMI treasurer for a year.  Thank you, Cyndi, for filling the gaps.
    But I want to give a special thanks to Carol King, who has served as treasurer for 20 years.  She has faithfully managed our books and written our checks and helped us be faithful with the resources you’ve entrusted to us. Carol is retiring this year, and I want to invite her forward so that we can all say thank you.