Not Holier than They

It used to be said that the people of God had a mission in the world, said Rev. Tom Lank, referring to the old style Christian missions. Lank spoke yesterday at a fundraising event for the Princeton United Methodist Church’s trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to support the United Front Against Riverblindness. Pictured here are some of the travelers, from left: Nancy Beatty, Gretchen Boger, Jon Victor, Lank, Michelle Tuck-Ponder, Lynn Sloan, and Daniel Shungu, the founder of UFAR.

The next three events are a May Day 5k to Combat Riverblindness, a solo handbell concert on Saturday, May 15, and an African soiree on Saturday, May 22.

Lank’s discerning explanation can help those of us who cringe at the “holier than thou, smarter than thou, better than thou” aspects of colonialism. That concept, he said, drove much of the foreign missions activity in the 19th and 20th centuries. “But time and experience and reflection have forced us to revise that statement. It is more accurate to say that the God of mission has a people in the world. God is already active in all times and places. It is incumbent upon us to stop long enough to see where and how God is working, and then become a part of God’s renewal of creation.”

It also used to be said that missions were about bringing Christ to the nations. “That, too, is inaccurate, because Christ is already among the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden. Christ always precedes us there. Our job is to follow Christ to those places and to see the face of Christ in those we serve. We must seek not so much to transform others with the Gospel, but to be transformed ourselves.”

This same attitude — that the learners have much to teach the teachers, that the teachers don’t just bring their subject to the “great unwashed” — was expressed by a Westminster Choir College professor in Sunday’s Times of Trenton. Wendy Plump profiled Frank Abrahams, teacher of classical pedagogy, who was quoted as follows:

“The teacher teaches the students but the students also teach,” he explains. “In this kind of learning, you put yourself in the position of, OK, the kid’s got something to offer here. Let’s start from the point that they already know something worthy. What can I take from that and then add value? How can I enhance their musical experience, their understanding of music based on what they already know?”

“God has a mission of renewal and reconciliation in the world around us,” says Lank, “and God offers us ways to participate in that mission. It’s up to us to notice those unique opportunities that God presents to each of us.”

Photo by Patricia Hatton

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