Presbyterian Missions—Blincoe’s Personal Observations, (6th of 6) Forty Years On
What “Lighthouse and Flint” Means to Me
Thank you, dear reader, for taking an interest in this blog series on Presbyterian Missions. Here are my five personal observations:
- In 1986 I applied to become a missionary with the Presbyterian Church. I received no reply. After waiting four months I called the mission office. I was told my application was sitting on a desk, untouched, like a ham at a bar mitzvah.
- The psychologist I was seeing, Dr. Ed Setchko, was right when he said, “You don’t only want to be a missionary; you also want to challenge the structures of the Presbyterian church to make a better future for applicants who want to go as missionaries.”
- In May 1989 the Presbyterian Church mission office graciously invited Jan and me and William K. to a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. The chair of the mission board, Byron Haines, made clear that a church in the Middle East need invite us to come as fraternal workers. That seemed an unlikely eventuality. So we “went ahead as far as we could see,” arriving in Amman in January 1990 and beginning our Arabic language studies.
- Suddenly, the US Government established a humanitarian mission—Operation Provide Comfort—on behalf of the Iraqi Kurds fleeing Saddam Hussein. This “Open Sesame” event allowed us to move to Iraq in April 1991.
- A local priest, Father Butros, became a close friend and wrote a letter on my behalf to the Presbyterian Church mission headquarters. The director of missions replied to me privately that he must hear from a bishop and could not answer Father Butros’ letter.
I have paired two “kinds of fire,” Lighthouse and “sparks in the dark” when flint strikes steel:
- 1. The Church is a lighthouse, stable and enduring. A lighthouse guides many to safety. A lighthouse in America is also expensive, high maintenance, and staffed by full time paid employees.
- 2. A missionary band is mobile; it goes to the dark places, to the unreached peoples. The lighthouse cannot say to the flint, “I have no need of you.” Yet this happens. If the lighthouse were the only kind of light, as Luther and Calvin asserted, a catastrophic mission ice age would descend upon the church.
Here are three things I believe.
- The Holy Spirit sends missionaries to “the people who walk in darkness” in the Regions Beyond. This is not to say that “we Christians” are better than “those non-Christians.” Far from it. Daniel T. Niles said, “Christianity is one beggar telling another where to find bread.” This I believe.
- If churches are not sending missionaries to “the people who walk in darkness” church administrators must ask, “Are we suppressing the Holy Spirit?” This is the sin against the Holy Spirit. For these churches the end is near. This I believe.
- The Holy Spirit will send ten times the number of missionaries to the Regions Beyond if church administrators and mission agencies establish a working relationship. This is the “desired symbiosis” which Ralph D. Winter spoke of. This I believe.
For forty years I have tried to restore the fortunes of the Presbyterian Church mission efforts in the Regions Beyond. I feel the weight of failure, for I have nothing to show for all that. Most of the local Presbyterian churches that supported our mission renewal effort have left the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination or the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). For the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) all was lost in a single generation for three reasons:
- The Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) feels guilty for its long history of mission efforts in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Lamin Sanneh has written an insightful article on this topic, “Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex.” To compensate for assumed past mistakes, Presbyterian mission administrators stopped sending missionaries altogether. From the 1960s on, all overseas staff were “fraternal workers,” serving national churches that previous generations of missionaries had established.
- The Presbyterian Church (USA) suppressed mission initiatives that would have enabled its members to carry the flint to the Regions Beyond.
- The Presbyterian Church (USA) said to the missionary bands, “we have no need of you.” The end came quickly. Glenn Reed said, “We lost the initiative; the independents took over what we discarded.”
But we humans can begin again. Nothing is lost forever if we can learn from our mistakes. I believe the Holy Spirit will send ten times as many missionaries to the Regions Beyond when, with love and respect, church administrators and mission agencies partner with one another to complete Jesus Christ’s Great Commission. Our Lord said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. They too must hear my voice. And there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Presbyterian Missions–Blincoe’s Personal Observations. This is the 6th blog post in a series of 6.