What I anticipated was going to be just another conference, has been anything but that. Ya, plenty of papers have been read in fine academic style, but what has really stood out
are those that I have met and become reacquainted with from previous ministry and international gatherings. In the words of Steve Bevans – author of Models of Contextual Theology , the papers, while stimulating, provided the background music for authentic dialogue and conversation among Christians from all backgrounds. Walks and meals with priests from India and Vietnam who are committed to seeing the whole gospel impact lives has been refreshing. Conversations with new friends from Myanmar, India, Lebanon, Norway, South Africa, Finland, Brazil, Argentina and beyond, while from different Christian backgrounds than myself, have proven to be an instigating factor in my renewed commitment to innovative models for global mission engagement. The conference theme has been focused on Conversions and Transformations.
I have come to realize that sometimes, even Christians need to be converted. Converted to new realities and experiences. Converted by those we go to as we gain new insights into God’s Word. Transformation can take place again and again as we encounter God in new languages, liturgies and practices. This was best seen as Dr. Elsa Tamez recounted the story from 1985 when an Andean tribe handed back the Bible to Pope John Paul II & suggested that Christians should read the Bible. Sometimes we need to stop and listen before speaking. Perhaps those that we go to have something to teach us. This is not to put aside the truth of Scripture, but rather to acknowledge that distinct cultures have perspectives that give insight, not only to God’s word, but to all of life.
I had the opportunity to visit the DMZ (De-Miliatrized Zone) between South and North Korea with others from the conference. Ironically, it is probably the most militarized zone in the world. It was unforgettable. We were first taken to the Dora watch tower station where we were given a talk on the boundaries and conditions that they were facing in the DMZ. We were able to get up into the open air and view N. Korea from where the lookout was. Due to the rain it was a little hard to make out the towns and guard posts, but some of it was visible. The commander of the local battalion asked that we would pray for peace and unification of the countries. Done!
Afterwards we went to a military chapel where we had a service focused on praying for peace, unification and reconciliation. Prayers and songs were dedicated to this. A 3 star general (and his wife) came and shared his testimony with us. It lasted about 30 minutes. He told us how he came to Christ and how he was discipled by Navigator missionaries. Interestingly, the general described how he believes he was called to the military to serve and to share Christ with others. He views his service as a mission field. Again I was converted.
After hearing from the general we were guided by a company of soldiers along the southern boundary of the DMZ border. I got the sense that this was not a normal tour. Later we found out that they wanted to show world religious leaders the border situation up close. Again they asked that we pray for peace and unification. We stopped at several points to discuss situations they are facing, including a discussion about how the south handles defectors coming from the North.
While there is much more I could write on, the big takeaway was seeing believers from around the world engaged in global mission – with purpose and passion. There was a lot of talk about unification between the two Korean countries while we were there. I hope and pray they achieve that, but despite real issues of differences in doctrine and liturgy, I hope the Church of Christ will take that call seriously as well. Unity is hard when we have differences, but it shouldn’t limit us from joining with brothers and sisters who we have more in common with, than not. I’ve got some work to do.