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Jessica is away today, and guest blogging for her is Drew Yamamoto. Drew is the supervisor of mission in Asia and the Pacific for the Reformed Church in America (RCA).
I write, informed anew from yet another visit overseas, to the land of my ancestors, Japan. It is a country that I have spent much time in, spending my summers there, and it is a country that I think a lot about, as I am privileged to serve the RCA as the Global Missions Supervisor to Asia and the Pacific, from India to Japan.
Coming back to the States from Japan and to be asked to write a guest blog post by the Rev. Jessica Bratt, it’s gotten me to think. What does it mean to be Reformed and Globally Missional? Some thoughts:
Reformed Christianity began in Christendom Europe, as a response to some of the brokenness in the Roman Catholic Church. This much most people, especially in the West understand, but one question that I’ve been wrestling with recently has been how does this affect the way we understand missions? It was not created directly to address or engage a global Christianity, it was created in the midst of Christendom. In fact, we Reformed were “late to the game”, arguing about doctrine whilst the Roman Catholic Church was out sending missionaries to all of God’s great world. How does the formation of our Reformed faith in the midst of Christendom struggles inform (or not inform) missions into a context where Christianity is not the dominant faith?
Reformed Christianity, especially under the auspices of the Presbyterian church and the Reformed Church in America, sent out many missionaries especially after the Great Awakening. The RCA pioneered mission work in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and the legacy still continues. While we can be proud of our history, how has our work overseas impacted our Reformed understanding of this world? How have we been educated to be better stewards of our Reformed faith?
Reformed Christianity, especially in the USA, is facing the challenges of being in a post-Christendom culture. We are in context where our faith is not shared and in some cases, not respected by those around us. While we may be concerned about these changes, how does our fellowship with other Reformed denominations around the world inform our ministry in the USA and Canada?
In the midst of how we began, how we were, the question we now need to ask, is “Where are we, and where do we go from here?”
We are in the midst of a changing world, which is more and more globalized, and we are in a context that is less and less Christian. This can be seen as a fearful thing, where our ability to send missionaries and our ability to support the work of the global church seems to be in decline. However, we must not forget the seeds that we have scattered over the 150 years plus of global mission work! The churches that we have started all around the world have taken root in their native cultures. We have learned over the last 150 years what God is doing around the world, and we have grown in our understanding of how God is reconciling not only the West, but the rest of the world.
I believe that what this means is that we’re in a place and time where while the United States continues to be the nation sending the most missionaries into the world, we are undergoing a shift in which slowly but surely, missionaries from other countries are and will continue to come into the United States to proclaim the Gospel in a way that we cannot. We need to embrace this, and learn from our sisters and brothers whom we had the privilege to in the past, instruct their parents and grandparents. We have the opportunity not only to learn how to be better proclaimers of the Gospel overseas, but also in our own backyard. We are able to learn how to be salt and light in a context where we are not an authority in the culture, but in a culture that ponders whether or not if the Gospel truly is good news.
The various churches that were started by Reformed denominations in the United States have now grown up, and have much to teach us. In many of their contexts, they continue to be an important but not the most important voice in society. They worship God and love people in a context where their neighbor does not follow the same faith, nor do they have political or societal influence and power. Yet they have been faithful followers of Christ through these centuries.
Could it be time for us to embrace this tension – being faithful followers of Christ in a world that does not understand our love for it, nor our love for Him? Could it be a time for us to affirm our history, but understand and remember the context that shaped our Reformed faith? Could it is a time where we must not only continue to be the country that sends the most missionaries, but also to be open to being the country that receives the most missionaries? People may think that this is a failure of our church and tradition, but perhaps it is a Spirit driven wind, where God is teaching us even more, our dependence not only on each other within our national boundaries, but also beyond them. We must be followers of Christ first and foremost, humble enough to engage in dialogue with our brothers and sisters not only within our context, but from without, with sisters and brothers all around the world that God so loves.