Mission: We still have a lot of work to doBy Alan Stucky
Reading old newspapers can be an exciting experience. Especially in small town newspapers, many editors were quite blunt and to the point. Sometimes this makes for rather humorous descriptions of the rough and tumble life of early white frontier settlers. Other times their bluntness cuts straight to the heart of an issue, convicting not only the readers of old but those who still gaze upon the articles today. Recently I found such an article.
On May 18, 1888, the Harper Daily Sentinel in Harper, Kan., published an op-ed piece about one of the Asian workmen who had left Harper to go back home. While the wording grates on modern sensibilities, especially in the final sentence, the point comes across loud and clear:
Gone to the Flowery Kingdom: John Chinaman, who resided for sometime among the Milican men of this city, has folded his tent and his ironing board, and at this moment is silently floating away toward the flower shores of his native land. There is something peculiarly interesting to us in these silent, meek-eyed Mongolians. They come from a land that is full of wonder for all the civilized world.
They never learn to talk our language readily, but to those who treat them kindly, they are affable, tender and true. As workmen they excel in the art of imitation, and accomplish wonders by patience and perseverance alone. The Chinaman above-mentioned has been in the United States for nearly ten years, yet he went back a heathen, and probably with a very bad opinion of American manners and religion.
We often wonder if during his stay in this city any of our numerous missionary societies ever took John by the hand and attempted to lead him out from the dark recesses of idol-worship, and to save that heathen soul, which would have been thought so valuable, had it been on the other shore of the ocean ten thousand miles away. It is romantic to go to China and dwell among the heathen, but it is not thought respectable to associate with them in the land of the free.”
Incidentally 1888 was also the year that our congregation, Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, was formed. Mennonites have had some significant positive impact on our community. Still, this article is just as applicable to our community as it was 125 years ago. While the ethnic group in question has changed overtime, the core response of Christians those in our community who are “different” than we are seems to have changed very little.
For that matter it seems as though this article could also be written about all of Mennonite Church USA. Yes, there is a sweeping change in our understanding of what mission work is and where it happens, but that change has yet to permeate every person in our pews.
Perhaps the bright spot is that things really are shifting. With the help of people like Alan and Eleanor Kreider we are rethinking mission in a post-Christendom world. We are changing the question from “how do we take Jesus to ‘those’ people over there,” to “where is God at work in this world, and how can we get involved with that?”
I will continue to hold on to hope that things are changing. In the meantime, however, articles like the one from our local newspaper in 1888 continue to convict me that things have not changed enough, and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Alan Stucky is pastor of Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church in Harper, Kan.
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