23 August 2013

A bundle of future economic activity?

The archetypal missionary left everything back home (usually in the West) and moved the family half-way around the world where they lived in huts, bringing the Gospel (usually wrapped in Western culture meaning you had to accept the culture to accept the Gospel) to pagan, dark lands (assuming that God was too small and powerless to be active somewhere without the presence of a missionary).  The good missionary would invest significant time to learn the language and culture of the places they were sent in order to communicate in the heart-language of the locals.

Thanks to those who have invested reflective thought into the practices of economic development, a lot of missionaries and missions organizations now operate with a recognition of ABCD - Asset Based Community Development.  In brief, the goal is to assess what resources/assets are available locally and to leverage those assets to transform the local community.  Rooted and bathed in economic meaning, the concepts of ABCD can also have a profound impact on the spiritual life of a community by impacting them based on already present assets.  I recall from studying accounting in college a lifetime ago that an asset represents "a bundle of future economic activity."

Missionally, as we study language and culture, one of the best practices for missionaries to learn is to discover what God has already been doing among the people. That last part is key: what God has already been doing among the people.  Because the greatest local asset of a community does not represent primarily economic potential but spiritual potential.  The Gift of God is already present and active . . . everywhere!  It is the ABCD of church starting/faith sharing mission work to discern how to fan into flames the spiritual assets or gifts already present in a community, igniting a bundle of future spiritual activity.  Chapter 9 in Sherwood Lingenfelter's Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership describes a situation where a missionary learns to recognize the activity of God in and through local believers resulting in renewed spiritual growth.

Now we see a new archetype for the missionary - one I was reminded of on our plane trip back to Europe earlier this week when I asked a row-mate about the mission book she was reading.  She said, "It's filled with all the secret information they don't want us to know but that you missionaries all get training for."  Though I was more curious about who "they" were and why "they" were offering covert training to missionaries, I probed a bit further and understood that the most impactful lesson this saintly lady had learned was that of learning to read a community by paying close attention to all the people who are present and how they fit together in order to accomplish great ministry.  It appears that the "secret information" "they" don't want you to know about missions is as easy as ABCD.