Ten Gifts of Global Missions
The Rev. Dr. Grace Burton-Edwards is a GEMN board member from the Diocese of Atlanta.
“When I was a child, overseas missionaries were my spiritual heroes. The church in which I was raised placed a high value on global missions and supported several missionaries financially. These missionaries came home to visit every three or four years. They told stories of teaching in schools, caring for the sick in hospitals, and preaching in communities and congregations. Part of me hoped someday to follow their example and Go into all the world, as Jesus sent the apostles.
Fast forward several decades. I never became an overseas missionary. I eventually found a calling as an Episcopal parish priest. I’ve been part of a few overseas mission experiences. I’ve travelled to different parts of the world for study and for leisure. I’ve worked with global mission committees at the diocesan level, and I attend the GEMN conference as often as I can. But overall the focus of my work has been local, not global.
Still, my few experiences with global mission greatly enhance my work as a local priest and my life as a Christian in the US. I participate in the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) because this global mission network strengthens my local mission efforts.
Here are ten gifts I receive from global missions:
- The world grows smaller – Global missions relationships help us see how much we have in common with people all over the world. Visiting with teenagers in Brazil was much like visiting with the teens in my congregation. A mother from South Sudan and I shared very similar concerns for our children. In conversation with a priest from Tanzania, we realized we face similar challenges in our work.
- The church grows wider – Hearing a Catholic priest in rural Mexico chant the Mass in a language I did not know but with tones I recognize, or visiting with a Church of South India bishop and staying in touch via Facebook, or reading the Prayer Book in another language and recognizing some of the words, I saw that my congregation and I are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. The connections we share in the Body of Christ all over the world become more tangible.
- News of the world grows closer – I do not like to admit this, but I am not sure I would have paid attention to the crisis in South Sudan had I not gotten to know people from South Sudan. I began to give far more attention to international news after meeting brothers and sisters in Christ from different places. Global mission relationships deepen compassion and understanding and lead us to work for peace.
- Our prayers go deeper – We know we are supposed to pray for the world, but it is sometimes hard to know how. Global mission relationships make our prayers more specific and more fervent. In turn, it is a gift to know that friends in many places also pray for us.
- Giving becomes more generous – American Christians sometimes find it hard to part with our money. But everyone I know who has experienced the hospitality and generosity of Christians away from home, myself included, has returned home more eager to become a cheerful giver.
- Entering different cultures becomes more natural – A few years ago I moved from one region of the US to another. I felt a bit disoriented at first – accents were different, the pace of life was slower, the landscape unfamiliar. One day it hit me – I had moved not just to a different state but to a different culture. I realized I needed to approach my new home as if it were a global mission appointment – with curiosity and expectation of finding God in this new place. Global missions experience prepared me to enter a new community.
- Attention turns outward – We want the church to make a difference in the world around us, but we sometimes embrace a false dichotomy about how to do that. People will say, “Why invest in mission work overseas when there is so much to do at home?” My experience is that local and global mission work together as partners to turn the focus of the congregation outward. Supporting school children in Haiti leads to greater concern for school children at home. Learning about hunger overseas calls us to examine issues of hunger and food security in our own communities.
- We develop partners in the struggle – We wrestle in our own communities with how to respond to structural racism, economic injustice, xenophobia, the ecological crisis, and many evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. The church throughout the world wrestles against these same powers and has wisdom and experience to share. For example, at the 2017 GEMN Conference, Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first Anglican Indigenous bishop, shared powerful reflections from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process. This work sought to address the horrors inflicted on native children who were taken from their families and forced to live in often abusive residential schools. The church in Canada has something to teach the church in the US about repentance and reconciliation. Hearing the witness of the global church inspires hope and strengthens action.
- Theology comes alive – From the Garden of Eden onward, God has had a mission to bless and heal the world. Global mission experiences and stories illuminate this missional character of God. I attend the GEMN conference as often as I can in part because it is three days of nonstop sermon illustrations!
- We see Jesus more clearly – Mission experiences are like the house where the disciples stopped on the Road to Emmaus. When they paused to break bread together, they realized Jesus had been walking with them the whole time. Breaking bread with disciples of Jesus who walk the same journey of faith but on different roads opens our eyes to see Jesus with us everywhere we go.
There are more – everyone with some experience of global mission could add to this list. Whether you are a clergy or lay leader in the church, I encourage you to embrace the gifts of global mission. GEMN is a helpful partner in this work. I hope you will join us at the 2018 Global Missions Conference April 11-13 at Virginia Theological Seminary.”