Mind the Gap

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If you have traveled by rail, especially in the United Kingdom, you’ve probably heard the message warning passengers to “mind the gap” as they step from the train car to the station platform.  Two places, with a gap in between.

I’d like to suggest that the proposal to merge Home Missions and World Missions into one global evangelistic effort is an appropriate way of minding the gap—in fact, the proposal seeks to eliminate it.

The current mission structure of the Christian Reformed Church was built around the reality of two solitudes: one focused on those who are nearby, with no language or cultural gaps, no great distances to travel, no visas or passports needed; the other reaching out to those who are far away, with boundaries of language, culture, time and economics.

Today, we’re realizing more and more that having two agencies with two foci produces a gap or, at least, discontinuities. Many times, in our own back yards, we have to travel in just a city block or two to cross boundaries of culture and language. 

When I lived in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Arabic would have been a handy language to master, since my life intersected with those of Islamic faith.  I needed to learn so much, and while our denominational expertise for dealing with other languages and cultures has been lodged in World Missions, my locale was part of Home Missions.

The same is true in many other instances.  My mind travels to North American university campuses. Vibrant campus ministries abound and we have situated our efforts in Home Missions.  But many of those ministries are organized around people groups: Chinese students, Indonesian students, Kenyan students, and the like. 

Likewise, in the United States the fastest growing group is those of Hispanic heritage and language.  Missiologists suggest we need to understand the Catholic background of many of these families, the importance of extended family, and the socio-economic journey many are on.  Their geographic location – the U.S. – would suggest that this is a task for Home Missions, but the dimensions of language and culture might fit better with World Missions. 

In Canada, patterns of immigration have created a complex and diverse society. How do we roll out the welcome mat to first- and second-generation newcomers?  Do we invite them into our congregations? Or do we invite them to worship in our buildings, creating new worshipping communities?  And who has the better answer, Home Missions or World Missions?

It’s time to close the gap that our structure has unintentionally produced.  The world is both far away and nearby—all at the same time.  As international airlines such as American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, LAN, Qatar and others have signaled with the name of their alliance: it is Oneworld.

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 I understand the theology and practicality of being a good neighbor. I understand the dispensational/semi-Pelagian theology of missions but disagree with it. I do not understand the Reformed theology of missions. I have no problem with the doctrine of election as long as it not used to define a sub-set of the general population that God can not regenerate.

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The fact that the world is coming to North America does not for that reason warrant joining World and Home Missions. I suggest keeping the mission separate so we can focus on the need of new comers (immigrants, refugees etc.). The focus on new comers needs to be organized by local congregations and supported by a Home Missions organization that understands all the legal nuances of new arrivals. Just look at what is happening in Europe with the surge in "boat people". That does not require a foreign missions approach but a whole new way of integrating people in their new country.

That also has nothing to do with sending missionaries and working with Christian partners overseas. The skill sets and needs are totally different. One benefit I can see, in the long haul, is that the pool of potential missionaries TO foreign countries will expand significantly.

I come from an immigrant background (in fact I came twice to Canada, once as a child and immigrated on my own as an adult). We needed a community to join, support of those who could teach us English and assistance to adapt to the new land. Nothing has changed except that it is much more difficult to integrate the much greater diversity.

I respectfully disagree with Dr. Timmermans that the integration of WM and HM is needed. The sheer size of the joint organization would make it unresponsive to the local congregations in North America and would lose total touch with our missionaries and partners overseas.

Our product (mission) is spreading the Gospel. The means to do that locally and internationally need to be organized separately.