Presbyterian Missions–Personal Observations (3rd of 6)

Which is it, “Go” or “No Go?”

In 1987 William K and I pledged to go as Presbyterian missionaries to “the regions beyond” in the Middle East. Our friends Cody Watson, Harold Kurtz, Mort Taylor, Barbara Lewis, Fred and Margie Stock, Woody Busse, Dudley Woodberry, Kenneth Bailey and Ralph D. Winter—all Presbyterian missionaries—supported us and encouraged us. They too wanted to make the changes needed in the Presbyterian Church mission office that would restart our denomination’s mission effort among unreached peoples. Glenn Reed, former Presbyterian missionary, said to Ken Bailey, “We lost our initiative and the independents took up what we discarded.”[1] [Blincoe: Download Ken Bailey’s article “A Tale of Three Cities” here.]

In May 1989 the Presbyterian Church mission office graciously invited Jan and me and William K. to a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky (where the PCUSA Headquarters had moved months earlier) to present our plan. What was our plan? To go ahead as far as we could see. Dawson Trotman said, “If you cannot see very far ahead, go ahead as far as you can see.” We planned to move to the Middle East and bring the message of the gospel to Muslims.

We met with Byron Haines, director of the Middle East office of the Presbyterian Church, and with Mort Taylor. I will always be grateful to Byron Haines for the opportunity to present our proposal.

Our Proposal.

1. The Holy Spirit is sending missionaries to complete the Great Commission.

2. Some peoples are reached (they have churches in their languages and cultures). Other peoples have no church in their language or culture. These are the Unreached Peoples.

3. “We have received grace and apostleship in order to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations” (Romans 1:5). “Christ has redeemed us so that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the nations” (Galatians 3:14). “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him” (Psalm 22:27). “With your blood you purchased a people from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

4. Perhaps God had given us a way to renew the mission of the Presbyterian Church, to love Kurds into the kingdom, and to go as a team to the Middle East for the love of God and the Great Ends of the Church: “The Proclamation of the Gospel for the Salvation of all Humankind.”

Gabriel Habib

Byron Haines expressed considerable concern that we were proposing to take initiative in the Middle East without gaining permission from our national church partners. It would be necessary, Haines said, to ask the director of the Middle East Council of Churches, Gabriel Habib, to approve our plan. Mort Taylor reacted by visibly rising from his chair, “Come on, Byron, you know that the Middle East Council of Churches cannot give approval to this proposal.” The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is an association of historical churches in the Middle East, whose leaders have never been Muslim and who would in all probability prefer that no Muslims ever ask for church membership. Byron Haines said he would ask the MECC to approve a mission intended to convert Muslims to Christian faith. That request, we all knew, would be dead on arrival. My wife left the room in tears. (She and I reminisced today about that Louisville meeting and she reminded me that it was not for herself that she cried.) Two months later, the Louisville office informed me that the Middle East Council of Churches had not approved our request to study Arabic in the Middle East. Their answer was “No.”

Then, in July 1989, at the Lausanne II meeting in Manila, Dr. Ralph Winter happened to meet Reverend David Goodenough, an Anglican missionary who was assigned to the Middle East Council of Churches. Goodenough was the secretary for Gabriel Habib’s English language correspondence. Ralph Winter mentioned to Goodenough that Gabriel Habib had disapproved of our proposal to move to the Middle East to study Arabic. Goodenough replied, “That is very strange; I know nothing about this issue.” As Ralph Winter and Goodenough talked, it became clear to Goodenough that a secret deal had been agreed to between the Louisville office and Gabriel Habib, with as few people as possible being made aware of our proposal.

I was able to invite David Goodenough to my home in Pasadena when the Manila meetings ended. He was very frank that Gabriel Habib made a private decision against our proposal without consulting the other members of the Middle East Council of Churches. In this way there was no paper trail.

Dr. Ralph Winter encouraged us, saying, “You think this is a no? This is your ‘Go!’ This is your green light. Make appointments with the Presbyterian Churches along the West Coast and tell what has happened. Tell them that the Presbyterian Church no longer sends missionaries to Muslim countries. You are going to change that for the next generation.”

So I made appointments with Presbyterian church mission committees in the State of Washington and in California. I drove our little Nissan Sentra to churches and met with mission committees. Mission committees everywhere decided to support us. Frankly, Presbyterian pastors and mission committees expressed shock upon hearing that our denomination no longer sends missionaries to bring God’s love to Muslims. I asked $1000 from each of 25 Presbyterian congregations, and we raised our financial support in just two months. By January 1990 our team had moved to the Middle East to study Arabic. Mort Taylor, said to me in a phone call, “God bless you.”

Presbyterian Missions–Blincoe’s Personal Observations. This is my 3th blog post in a series of 6.

1. In 1986 I applied to be a Presbyterian Missionary. I Received No Reply.

2. Meeting New Friends Who Were “All For One and One For All”

3. Which is it, “Go?” or “No Go?”

4. An “Open Sesame” Event of Considerable Interest Occurs in Iraq

5. An Iraqi Priest Writes to Louisville on my Behalf.

6. Forty Years On, What “Lighthouse and Flint” Means to Me.

[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, A Tale of Three Cities: An Analysis of Presbyterian Mission Policies (Pasadena: Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies, 1989).