Changing Mission: Discovering and Empowering the Next Generation of Mission Activists
by Jeff Ritchie
A few weeks ago I watched my 6 year-old grandson, Alex, work on a machine he had made with his new science kit. He connected different-sized metal pieces to each other on a board, hooked them to a battery, and the result was sound and light. The “thing” worked! Not content with simply following the instructions to assemble his machine correctly, Alex then proceeded to experiment on his contraption. He moved pieces around to see if the sounds and lights still came on. He attached wires to different terminals to see if the connection was still there. Sometimes his changes worked; sometimes they didn’t. I could tell his mind was racing by the rapidity with which his fingers worked.
As I looked at my grandson and his venturous spirit, I thought, how creative our children and young people can be in God’s mission if we give them a chance. They need a little education through exposure to the needs of the world – in our own country and globally. They need to be inspired through our teaching and our personal participation in God’s mission. But then we need to let them dream and give them opportunities to turn those dreams into realities.
A good example of what young, enterprising Christian disciples can accomplish comes from China. When one of my nephews got married a few years ago, I met a friend of him and his wife. This young man had already spent a year in China as an English teacher, and he was feeling called to return. He had seen the great need in Chinese society regarding the care of seniors. Not only do the adult children of these seniors not live in proximity to their parents; but with the one-child policy having been the law of the land in China for so long, they also have the burden of caring for their parents without help from siblings. Senior citizens homes are present, sometimes started by churches. But the need is greater than the current efforts are able to meet. Out of his Christian commitment this young man formed a for-profit company to care for elderly Chinese in their homes. He and his Chinese co-workers saw a need and devised a plan to meet it. They are making a difference in Chinese society.
Last March in Ethiopia I met another creative approach to mission. Meet Vincent and Jesse, twins from the Netherlands. They are twenty-two years old and recent university graduates.
In the Netherlands, college graduates often take six months to a year traveling around the world. Jesse and Vincent, who grew up in a home that had a spirit of altruism, thought to themselves “Let’s travel, but let’s also make a difference through our travels.”
They did some research in the areas they wanted to travel in Africa and found fifteen small non-government organizations they would like to support in some way. To fulfill their vision of “travel with a purpose,” they founded STICHTING IN2AFRIKA, which is Dutch for “Foundation into Africa.” They began raising partners who would donate to the foundation and thus provide funds to help each of the fifteen organizations they would visit. But these partners also became participants in the six-month trip through Africa following Jesse and Vincent on social media, interactively communicating with them from Egypt to South Africa.
When I met this enterprising team of brothers, they had already been to Egypt and Sudan. Now in Ethiopia, their mission partner was an organization helping refugees from South Sudan. They explained to me that in some cases their help was to connect the local NGO with organizations who had ideas, principles, and practices which would build the capacity of the NGO. In other cases they provided the NGO with small grants that would make a difference in a non-dependent way.
I was impressed with the thoughtful planning that went into this venture in mission and with their understanding that helping others was best when it built capacity for the organization and fostered sustainability. The way they involved their partners back home was truly 21st century, as they used Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Finally, I was also impressed with the altruism which set them off from the ordinary college graduate of their culture. Although they told me that they did not consider themselves Christians, they certainly understood Jesus’ words as relayed by the apostle Paul: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Mission friends! What are we doing to turn our children and young adults loose in mission across the street and around the world? I long for my grandsons to grow up with a spirit of living to bless others, of becoming disciples and living into Christ’s commission, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
A couple of weeks ago at the “Connecting Mission Leaders” Conference sponsored by The Outreach Foundation, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, and The Antioch Partners, one of the breakout sessions focused on the question, “What does it take to nurture a culture of making disciples?” During the conference the question of discipleship, that is, following Jesus, was always linked with mission, that is, following Jesus into the world. The presenter of the breakout, Don Dawson, Executive Director of the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Seminary and the Executive Director of the New Wilmington Mission Conference, testified that he was “discipled” to a culture of mission involvement through his home, especially through his mother, and through his church. He then led us in a brainstorming session of how we in our homes and churches can nurture the sense of mission to which God is calling us.
In the hundreds of thousands of churches around the world and in the millions of Christian homes represented in those churches we have incredible resources in the children and youth of the Christian movement. Let us be about the work of connecting them with the needs of the world and empower them to dream dreams and see visions of how God will use them right now to make a difference, to see God’s kingdom come and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.
Please consider The Outreach Foundation as a place to “deposit” your ideas and best practices. Send photos and ideas to us on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. We also read emails! We will share them as widely as you wish! (My email is firstname.lastname@example.org .) To stimulate your thinking, below is an article from our Outreach Foundation’s 2007 fall newsletter. It’s a story about how a Sunday School class of three boys in a church in Wrangell, Alaska learned about a need in Madagascar and put their inspiration into action.
Last fall, a Sunday school class consisting of three boys from First Presbyterian Church in Wrangell, Alaska, were inspired to learn more about the work of the Turk family in Madagascar, especially the work with children in need.
After receiving more information, they found in the list of needs a $5,000 item for the work with children involving food, clothing and schooling – all of which were readily available to this class. The three boys decided they wanted to raise the $5,000 for those children in Africa, and church members said ‘Well, we will back you up but don’t know if you can do it.’ Their teacher, Janelle Privett, did not discourage them, and it became a major focus for the year.
The boys, Matthew Covalt, Curtis Wimberley and Tarren Privett, started thinking of ways to raise money to help the children in need. They picked up coins off of the street, had a silent auction of art items they made, held a spaghetti feed after church, handed out mission money jars, gave presentations to the congregation about why they were collecting money and showed pictures of the children, had an insert for the bulletin, presented their project to the Synod, which met in Wrangell this spring, and held a giant rummage sale.
These boys, ages 8-11, have been a part of the church since birth. They understand that they are fortunate, and they share a concern for people, especially children who are less fortunate.
The Outreach Foundation received a check in August (2007) from the boys for the amount of $5,033.98. Not only did they exceed their goal, but they did so as a result of their faithful leadership which has inspired a lot of people. Maybe their example will inspire you to reach out to others in a new way!
May God bless you as you lean into extending God’s mission from generation to generation.
Associate Director for Mission