"Go into the whole world and teach all people".
Mission in a many-layered world is quite different
from that of many years ago. A consultation among friends.
Six churches look for a common theology – so can one describe the regular theological "Consultations" within the Bremen Mission. African theologians (both male and female) discuss interchangeably current themes in Africa and in Germany. For example the question "What is the meaning of Mission today".
Since 2001, the four North German and the two African Churches in Ghana and Togo have equal rights as partners in the common work of the Bremen Mission. This means that the term Mission must be re-defined. After all, what does the African and the North European understands by mission? Isn’t that old hat and means something only to the Evangelical Christians?
To explain that, delegates from six churches and four mission societies met on the North Sea Island of Langeoog for the so called Theological Consultation on the theme "Common Mission in different Contexts".
They represented the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in Ghana and Togo, the Bremen Evangelical Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oldenburg, the Evangelical Reformed Church in Leer, the United Mission in Wuppertal, the Association of Churches and Mission in South-Western Germany and the Association of Churches in Mission, CEVVA in Montpellier/France.
The differences in fact were very great. Although the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches in Togo and Ghana are ‘very poor’ they support very important establishments aimed at educating and improving the lot of their people. They offer credit facilities to those who want to start small businesses. They also offer support to Health Centers and Clinics in their health delivery, care and advice activities. These Churches also support schools and the youth in their trainings for a secured future existence.
The Church in Togo worked for a very long time under special political difficulties. Because of the strong role they played with regard to education and their position on respect for human rights, they became a thorn in the flesh of the regimes’ dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema who exercised massive pressure over them. Their representatives were often threatened and their members arrested. Even when conditions relaxed somehow after the death of the dictator in 2005, one cannot speak of an open and functioning democracy.
That is the context or environment within which the Church proclaimed the Good News. Seeing how the people have been reduced to poverty or impoverished and oppressed means preaching to them in such a way that they understand Mission as being holistic, that is caring for their souls and bodies.
In Ghana, there is poverty among the majority rural folk, brought about mainly by the global economic conditions. The importation of cheap chicken from Europe for example reduces the income of the local poultry farmer. The bad world market conditions for the cultivation and trade in cocoa, a classical export earner for Ghana, is responsible for families not being able to earn enough to meet their livelihood.
The fight against poverty among the majority of people for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ghana is also mission-proclaiming the Good News, preventing and reducing pain and suffering.
Mission therefore for the four comparatively rich North German Churches means among others, helping their sisters and brothers in Africa – imaginatively and financially.
The guests from Ghana and Togo always say among themselves "You need Mission". By this they mean the poor religious and spiritual life of the German society must be taken up as urgent because it is a society in which matters of faith do not mean much.
Apart from that, a large number of people do not belong to any Church. In East Germany only 25 % and in West Germany only 75 % belong to any Church.
On the other hand, a large number of people erroneously look round for places for all kinds of spirituality – honest/sincere and obscure – sensible or intellectual offers to meet their needs.
Faithful to the motto of the Bremen Mission "The whole Gospel for the whole Human Being", also means Mission in Germany. However, it also means turning our attention to places where people are suffering as a result of poverty, injustice and discrimination. The whole Gospel as God’s Word should be action orientated. It should bring healing to both, the body and soul of the human being.
Another condition for Mission in Germany is the existence of the manifold religions. One tolerates each other or is simply not interested. There is also interesting dialogue and joint actions on special occasions.
Mission carried out in this manner can only convince people in word and action but cannot "convert" them. That in spite of the several differences, the Christian Churches continue to speak about joint Mission is an indication that they all have common grounds.
This observation was made by Klaus Schäfer, a Theological Adviser (Lecturer) at the Association of Protestant Churches and Missions in Germany during the consultation at Langeoog. In his opening lecture, he developed a theory known as "A Variety of Theories of Mission".
It seems at the beginning, as God turning Himself towards mankind and the whole creation with the aim of healing those who are worried and the broken hearted.
The Church is God’s instrument tasked with taking part in the Mission of showing God’s Love to mankind. The Church is the only institution that does not exist for itself, but for those outside the Church. The liberation, the fight for a just and equitable society is a component of Mission as well as the invitation to have faith in Jesus Christ.
Klaus Schäfer made the impressive conclusion that: It is right that man does not live by bread alone, but man needs bread to survive.
Klaus Schäfer named that: "The contextual Dimension of the Mission" which always relates to the question, the search, the requirements and the current situation of the human being which must be addressed.
The missionaries have the conception that they have a Gospel for all people and that it is the same every time. Although this may be true to some extent, one must also take note of the fact that God’s Mission and the Mission of the Church, as a matter of urgency, address to the people in a very concrete way, not forgetting their current living conditions, the precarious situation of mankind and their sinfulness which manifests itself in various ways – alienation from God, lack of faith and love, man’s misery, poverty and injustice gives the message of the Gospel various voices and expressions.
The Gospel is given new ways of expression through the interaction with other cultures and the living conditions of men. "One can’t therefore reduce Mission to conversions and Church memberships only".
The Christian Churches do exist and work in suburban areas, districts and villages. This is where we have local cohesion, where the Gospel is proclaimed. The work of the Churches is also having a worldwide effect. Their union in the form of the WCC (World Council of Churches) gives others the global framework for their work and Mission.
It also provides a local and global context within which the Churches as God’s messengers work and proclaim His Message – with head, heart and hand.
The delegates from the six Churches and the four Mission Societies held consultations for four days on the North Sea Island of Langeoog. At the end of it all, they came out with a Communiqué on the theme "Mission".
In the Communiqué is stated among others that: We are all convinced that we all have a common mission. This Mission would be influenced by our common history and experiences and also through the current solidarity and demands which our times must take into account.
We understand that the partnership of our six Churches is part of our spiritual and historical identity. Based on the Bible, the common source of our faith, our love, and our hope, we solemnly promise to stay in solidarity and work together.
We have decided that our different experiences, concerns, special gifts and joys be shared with each other so that we can learn from each other in order to strengthen our faith and pledge.
We confess that Mission is holistic (wholeness) as formulated by the Eglise Evangelique Presbytérienne du Togo in 1964: "The whole Gospel for the whole Human Being".
- The spiritual requirements as well as the physical basic necessities, overcoming poverty, injustice, and negligence of human dignity.
- Commitment to peace, reconciliation and mutual respect.
We are also aware of the socio-economic conditions under which our Churches live. There are different historical and cultural backgrounds, as well as different requirements and activities.
We have accepted these differences as being natural to enable us remain faithful and fulfill the will of God at these different places.
Our obligation as a Mission is not an arbitrary choice, whereby we try to impose our convictions on others, but part of our belief to obediently carry out the will of God in assisting Churches in their own development tasks, taking into account the situation on the ground, the surroundings and the suitability of the location.
If Mission is accepted as a dimension of the Church, congregations should avoid being introverts, concentrating on their own congregations only, waiting and hoping that others would join them.
A new openness demands that one looks beyond the Church and the congregations. We should listen to the people we live with and go to. Mission should be interested in people instead of waiting for people to show interest in the Church.
We support programmes and projects aimed at fighting ignorance, changing the mentality of the people, making them active to take the responsibility for their own lives and that of society as God wishes. We also support projects that try to reduce the suffering of the oppressed in Togo, the refugees in the neighboring countries of Ghana and Benin.
We have come to the conclusion that the six Churches are members of the Bremen Mission family and exist to offer mutual support. Any co-operation with other Churches or Missionary Societies, NGOs or government authorities to solve specific problems should be encouraged.
Our own Churches can and should strengthen their partnership and co-operation with each other.