Our Mission takes a closer look at what we’re doing
When a mission has been in existence for over 60 years, like NCEM has, we admit that our tendency could be to just “keep on keeping on” in ministries, methods and structures passed down to us.
More recently our leadership has spent extra effort asking “why” we’re doing the things we do. God’s Word remains our authority and guide — that’s not up for discussion — but can we be more relevant? Are we missing something?
There’s no doubt that the initiatives of our early missionaries took place among First Nations in a world very different than today. We may know why NCEM was begun, but we also need to ask: why does NCEM exist today?
As a result we’ve adjusted our Mandate & Vision statements to acknowledge, among other things, the development of the Native Church. We recognize that our Mission’s purpose is not just “winning more souls,” because the Church will always have the job of evangelism. Neither should our sole purpose be social involvement, for life and society will always be under attack.
We’ve clarified our task in missions: to establish a viable growing church movement among First Nations in Canada, where no one else is doing it. We believe that our role in the Great Commission is not finished. Until individuals in every Native community have a faith in Christ that is their own (rather than feeling like a faith that is “imported”), there is work to do. In some communities there have been several generations of Native believers, yet in many others Christianity is still thought of as a “white man’s religion.”
To assist our leadership, last year an NCEM team was formed called “InFocus.” In short, its goal is to research and develop the implementation of our Vision.
So what has InFocus done so far? For starters, they’ve interviewed all NCEM workers.
And they’ve been collecting feedback from Native believers from across Canada. That is important for several reasons. Knowing what attracted them to Christ, and what has kept them following Him, can help us evaluate our ministries. It’s also a step in recognizing and valuing First Nations leadership and input. (If you know of Aboriginal believers who have not yet had opportunity to respond, please contact us.)
InFocus will soon be collecting feedback from Native youth (who make up a large part of Aboriginal population), and they’ve begun polling Christian youth (from any background) to see how our Mission can better involve them.
Included with the InFocus initiative has been the launch of “worldview” training for our missionaries. Understanding people’s view of reality and thought processes is important in any cross-cultural work, but especially for spreading the Gospel and establishing churches. We’ve needed to ask ourselves: have we been too easily assuming that our Gospel presentations have been understood?
For example, when we encourage people to accept Christ, do they think of doing so in terms of adding Him to a list of spiritual resources, or of Him replacing all others? And have our attempts to disciple and organize fellowships been culturally relevant?
Using the services of Worldview Resource Group (www.wrg3.org), a Colorado-based ministry, our InFocus team began with a week of training in the US a year ago. By the time you read this, three more WRG courses will have been held in SK and AB, attended by a good portion of NCEM’s missionaries.
Led by the InFocus team, our workers have been discussing more specific ways of evaluating our church planting and support ministries. We’re talking in more concrete terms about what the Lord wants us to be accomplishing … about “exit strategies” (how long should a missionary stay?), … what does a healthy Indigenous church look like? (local leadership development) … and more.
Affirmed & Challenged
This process we’ve begun isn’t the most comfortable. But we’ve already been affirmed in things we’re doing. And we’re being challenged with other areas.
We’ve appreciated very much the feedback from First Nations believers. Along with other questions, they were asked to describe their worst and their best experience with a missionary. Allan Jolly of Moose Factory, ON, answered in part this way (and we share this with his permission):
“The best experience (ironic as it may sound) was with a missionary I never met. At the time of leaving our community (after 10 years of missionary work here), he did something that has made a lasting impact on my personal life to this day. When he left, he insisted on turning the work over to the local leadership and fellowship. He would have it no other way! Not even believers who had come to know the Lord through his missionary work could persuade him to change his mind and stay longer in the community.
“Today (40 years later) I, as well as several others like me, are by-products of what this missionary decided to do back then. We have taken on reluctantly at first, but as the years have gone we are now at the stage where we are somewhat at peace with the idea of having and taking ownership and responsibility for the local ministry.”
So What’s New, Really?
None of these are really new ideas, we know. They’re as old as the New Testament. And, except for the WRG Worldview training, it’s not new for NCEMers to be planting indigenous churches — as indicated by Allan Jolly’s response.
We just want to be as effective as possible. So we’re taking these fresh steps in seeking how the Lord may want to better use us. Please pray for our Mission leadership, and our InFocus team: Gary Winger, Denise Hodgman, George Hertwig, Esther & Allan Giesbrecht.
Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #509). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.