by Michael N. Jagessar
I was invited to give the guest lecture at the Council meeting of the Council for World Mission (CWM), held at the Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow, Scotland) from June 17-19, 2013. The lecture was given on June the 18th in the Govan Mbeki Building. On behalf of the United Reformed Church, we must thank the national Synod of Scotland for making all the arrangements to receive and host our partners and members of the CWM family. Well done!
As I arrived very early for my 4.15pm presentation, I was warmly welcomed and invited to join the afternoon session of the day’s programme. It was good to see a few familiar faces (colleagues I have not seen for years) and to meet many new ones from across the CWM partnership. It was fascinating to enter a significant mission body and find that it was overwhelmingly represented by members from the majority world. I wondered: what would David Livingstone have made of this successor body of the London Missionary Society? Even Professor Brian Stanley, who responded to my lecture, said to me as we gathered in the lecture hall: “It is refreshing to be at an international mission gathering where Europeans are in a minority!”
The afternoon session I sat in was a presentation by CWM missioner, Rebecca Lalbiaksangi Ralte from the Presbyterian Church in India and now working with partner churches in Penrhys (Wales) and specifically within an eight denominational local ecumenical partnership. Rebecca told of her journey from Mizoram to Madagascar to Penrhys underscoring a clear and deep sense of call from God. She was delighted to be in Wales as it was through Welsh missionaries that she and others were fortunate to have received an education and she wanted to return something to the Welsh people. She spoke passionately of the challenges of learning a new language (in both Madagascar and Wales), of displacement and of finding a home among strangers who welcomed her and the assurance of the abiding presence of God. While there is much deprivation in Penrhys and consequent social ills, Rebecca spoke of the warmth, generosity, and community mindedness of the whole community, and the variety of activities she and her family are involved in.
In my lecture, “Hope as a Missional Impulse: Beyond the Legacy of David Livingstone”, I explored connections and impressions from the life and work of Livingstone locating these in the context of the shape of a missional vocation for today, grounded on the expansive generosity of God in Christ. This was framed around two overarching questions: to what extent have we adequately assessed and responded to the tragic collusion of Christian mission and empire as we experience and practice mission today? Has the content of our ‘missional score’ really changed or are we simply offering catchy tunes with fancy lyrics masking the shifting (not displacing) of power and the re-inscribing of habits we are so critical of? Given that hagiography is not my inclination, I ‘played’ with the overused three C’s associated with Livingstone to draw out the implications of commitment, crossing borders, and conscience (prophetic). Employing aspects of postcolonial theorising, I tried to push the conversation to beyond, as that which signifies spatial distance, marks progress, and promises the future, mindful that the very act of going beyond takes us into the unknowable and offers possibilities to transcend shortcomings – without a return to the ‘present’. Even more enjoyable, though, were the lively conversations through questions and comments, that followed the lecture!
A report of the lecture as well as a brilliant response from Professor Brian Stanley can be found on the CWM webpage. For the more curious and interested I provide a link to my full lecture, which will give a larger picture than that of a necessarily brief report.