Missions = Hospitality

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I am at Duke for the Episcopal Leadership Forum.  Yesterday (Monday) we heard from three outstanding presenters – Dr. Dana Robert, Dr. Gil Rendle and Mr. Gary Shorb.  Each was insightful and challenging.             Dr. Robert is on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology.  She is a leading historian of missions and the author (among many writings) of the current United Methodist Women’s study, Joy to the World: Mission in the Age of Global Christianity.  She presented the concept of the Bishop as chief missionary of the church.  In noting a list of great missionary bishops through the history of Christianity, she included Francis Asbury.  (Others on the list were people like Gregory the Great, Boniface, St. Patrick, St. Francis.)  Each was a “deliberate boundary crosser” taking the gospel to indigenous people.              I was especially intrigued by the implications of globalization in today’s missions.  Dr. Robert noted that 1) Every local church can be its own mission agency, 2) we are going through an explosion in short-term missionaries, and 3) Currently 10-12% of people in America (legally) were not born here. People from the U.S. are going out while others are coming in.  Missions are now a networking enterprise and no longer a simple partnership.          This revolution in missions has a great upside but it also brings some special problems.  Short term missionaries often come back seeing themselves as experts but don’t speak the language and don’t really have in-depth cross-cultural understanding and relationships.  Deeper training, understanding and reflection are needed.             An intriguing image of mission work is to use the model of breathing.  Missions begin at home with hospitality and welcome to those coming in (with implications for our reception of immigrants).  It goes out (like our breath) as we go out sharing the gospel by word and deed (Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20, among many other passages).              The connection of the practice of hospitality to missions is dramatic.  Radical hospitality in both segments of the breath metaphor is foundational.  Being in mission is intrinsic to being Christian!