Meeting Jesus in Others is Highlighted at the 2018 GEMN Global Mission Conference

Conference 2018

“We go into mission to meet the other, where God is present. Not because there are needy people, or to plant a church, or to teach. But we go to meet Jesus there. Thinking we are missionaries, we become disciples. We go to meet God, who is already present in the other.”

So declared Monica Vega, a missionary in the mountains of northwest Argentina, in keynoting the 2018 Global Mission Conference held April 11-13 at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. Sponsored by St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, Vega serves with Heidi Schmidt, and the two laywomen have taken private vows for mission service that over the past 30 years have taken them to Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.

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“How much courage do we have to talk about how much healing happened for us as we went in mission for the other?” Vega asked as she told the story of a “Type A” lawyer who wept as an 11-year-old orphan boy he met on a mission trip helped him identify with his own experience of being abandoned. “We have these broken pieces, and God uses a glue we did not expect to put us back together.”

Schmidt highlighted how she and Vega introduce children and teenagers to silence and contemplative prayer as a “divine therapy” in Argentina, where they are in the process of establishing a hermitage as a resource for local people. She helped a man struggling with alcoholism discover centering prayer, and he came back later to say, “You changed my life!”

Building on the conference theme, “Mission Connects Us: God, World, Church,” Schmidt had each attendee weave three strands of yarn, representing God, world and themselves. “None of the three is at the center all the time,” she noted, “but God is in the midst of all three, holding them together.”

“Mission begins with God . . . and reconciliation is the heart of God’s mission,” said keynoter Robert Heaney, director of Virginia Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS), which is celebrating its 20th year as it co-sponsored the conference with the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).

“Without a theology of mission we perish,” Heaney said in basing his presentation on the cosmic vision of God’s mission in Christ in Ephesians 1:5-10. Heaney decried “cultural subjugation” in the history of Euro-American mission in Africa, Asia and Latin America and called for a genuinely inter-cultural theology of mission.

“Without partnership in mission we perish,” was the theme of keynoter John Kafwanka, a Zambian priest who is director for mission for the Anglican Communion, working out of St. Andrew’s House in London. “Partnership in Mission” has been a model for Anglican mission since its promotion by the Anglican Consultative Council in the 1970s. Noting that partnership as a paradigm has more recently been criticized as emphasizing money and projects, Kafwanka called for salvaging partnership on the model of the apostle Paul’s relationship with the Christians at Philippi.

Kafwanka said mission partnership is a collaboration characterized by shared vision, diversity and interdependence, mutual accountability and respect, shared receiving and giving, and mutual listening and learning. He reminded the 90 attendees of the enduring importance of the theme of the 1963 Anglican Congress in Toronto: “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.”

In seeking to intensify GEMN’s role in connecting mission activists with one another, one conference session featured a large circle in which attendees introduced themselves and their mission work to the entire group – in one minute or less, a limit followed so closely that there was time to spare. Discussion tables were grouped first by geographical areas and then by mission modes such as short-term, longterm, pastoral, educational or medical work.

In workshops, Dean Pierre Gabaud of Le Seminaire Theologie d’Eglise Episcopal du Haiti discussed parameters for development work in Haiti; VTS students shared experiences of cross-cultural pilgrimage; Sue von Rautenkranz of the Diocese of Washington presented on transformational mission; and Ted Gaiser, a former missionary in Colombia and former president of GEMN, discussed the challenges faced by missionaries when they return home.

Healthy short-term mission patterns were the subject of a workshop presented by Bill Kunkle, executive director of the Dominican Development Group, a companionship among a number of US mainland dioceses and the Diocese of the Dominican Republic. Elizabeth Boe, Buck Blanchard and Jenny Grant outlined the work of the Global Partnerships Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) at the Episcopal Church Center.

Health Tanzania, a medical foundation supporting a hospital, AIDS ministry and public health initiatives in Dar es Salaam, was introduced by Henry and Priscilla Ziegler, former DFMS missionaries in Tanzania. Dale Stanton-Hoyle and Lucy Chaves of Five Talents presented about building sustainable communities among the world’s poor. Former missionary Fran Early offered a workshop based on her book Doing Good Says Who? presenting five principles for getting beyond good intentions in mission.

“Mission as Mutual Transformation” was the theme of an after-dinner plenary talk by David Copley, director of Global Partnerships and Mission Personnel at the Episcopal Church Center. “We engage in mission because God created humanity in God’s image,” he said. “We engage globally because we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We engage globally because we are called to love God and neighbor.

“For mutually transformative mission,” Copley said, “we must engage in critical thinking, learn about our partners and their history, share our stories and hear the stories of our distant family. God has been there before us and will be with us in all our journeys.”

GEMN’s two-year Mission Formation Program was held on the day preceding the conference with seven participants. Sally Thompson of the Diocese of Southwest Florida graduated with the program’s Certificate as a Global Mission Agent after presenting a study she conducted of mission work in the Dominican Republic through the Dominican Development Group.

At GEMN’s Annual Meeting, Jaime Briceño of Bexley Seabury Seminary was elected to the 12-member Board of Directors. The new Board elected its officers: president, Titus Presler of the Diocese Vermont and Bridges to Pakistan; vice president, Grace Burton-Edwards of the Diocese of Atlanta; secretary, Suzanne Peterson of the Diocese of Ohio; and treasurer, David Kendall-Sperry of the Diocese of Ohio.

Established in 1995, GEMN is the Episcopal Church’s freestanding network of global mission activist dioceses, individuals, organizations and seminaries. Cosponsoring the 2018 conference, in addition to CACS, were the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Ohio, and St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Continuing its pattern of meeting outside the continental USA once every three years, the 2019 Global Mission Conference will be held in the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, April 3-5, with the Formation Program held on April 2. To join this network of mission activists as an individual, parish, institutional, or diocesan member visit gemn.org .