Friday, February 15, 2013

The Mission Of A Mission

(Warning: The following are just my ramblings and do not include any real story of what I've been doing that past couple weeks here at the hospital. Read at your own discretion. You have been warned)

What is mission? It’s a term that the church uses a lot, and I think it’s a term that we all too often use blindly. But the question of “What is mission?” is one that I find central to what I’m doing here in Lesotho, so I find myself thinking about the answer a lot. I’m not too sure that I’ve come up with a reasonable answer yet! The Episcopal Church considers what I’m doing, and what all other YASCers are doing, as mission work. We are missionaries, but I don’t think of that term in the traditional sense. The YASC group spent a good bit of time discussing this during our training in Toronto back in July. I had a really hard time accepting the term missionary when it was put upon the YASC group because my understanding of a missionary at the time was the one that I think most people think of when they hear the term. I had the vision of a bible-toting, salvation/damnation spewing character whose only goal is to convert people to Christianity. That is a vision of mission work that I will never support or ultimately understand. But that is the stereotypical vision that I feel a lot of people unfortunately and unfairly associate with the idea of a missionary because for far too long, that was what a missionary was. So if I am a missionary, but not that kind of missionary, where does that leave me?

The Anglican Communion recognizes 5 marks of mission that were established by the Anglican Consultative Council in the late 1980’s. The 5 marks are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
When I think about my previous understanding of mission work, I realize my understanding really only accounted for the first 2 marks of mission. While both of those are integrally important to mission work, they are not the whole story. Actually, they leave out a good majority of the story, which is why I think I had such a hard time accepting the title of missionary.  It’s the last 3 marks of mission that I personally believe to be the most important yet understated principles of mission work. Yes, we can proclaim the gospel all we want and we can nurture new believers until the end of time, but what are we nurturing them with? What exactly are we proclaiming? It is the last 3 marks that allow us to fulfill the first 2. It’s through our service to others that we become more like Christ. It’s by standing up against the unjustness of our world that we proclaim the good news and teach others what it means to be a Christian. It’s through protecting God’s creation that we create the world that we want to see. When I think about mission work, and the work that I want to do, those are the things I think about.  But this is not a lesson on the marks of mission. I bring them up simply to demonstrate the complexity of the idea of "mission".

This complexity has me contemplating the idea of “mission” when applied to a hospital. We hear the term “Mission Hospital” all the time, but again I think we use the term blindly. Looking beyond the basic concept of a simple church connection, what exactly does it mean to be a mission hospital? I’ve been meeting with the hospital staff one-on-one to talk about the website’s development and I always ask, “What do you think the mission of St. James is?” The answers that I’ve been getting come to the core of what I think mission work is and should be. Though the answers are all different, they seem to all come back to the same idea that complete healing is not exclusively a physical thing, its spiritual as well. To be healed is to be at peace with mind, body, and soul. Doctors and medicine can bandage people’s physical wounds but what about the spiritual wounds that stem from those physical wounds? How do those wounds heal? The staff at St. James strives to make sure that when a patient leaves, they leave complete. It’s an admirable goal and a hell of a challenge. To me, it's a perfect representation of the last 3 marks of mission. Ok, I’ll stop my ramblings now.

On another note, this past weekend was the discernment weekend for the 2013-2014 YASC group in Florida. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was in that group in Florida learning about the YASC program. Time goes quick. I want to wish all of the YASC applicants good luck! It’s been the experience of a lifetime so far and I’m excited that another group of young adults will get to be a part of this mission as well! Sala hantle! 

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