Conversion was the theme for about 180 scholars of Christian mission from around the world as they gathered in Seoul, South Korea, for the 14th Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), August 11-17.

It was the first time that the association had focused on the theme, the full title of the conference being ‘Conversions and Transformations: Missiological Approaches to Religious Change.’  This was striking, given that it was through conversion that Christianity grew to be the world’s most populous religion, a development catalyzed by mission initiatives from the Jesus movement’s earliest days to the present.

In introducing the conference theme, IAMS President Mika Vahakangas of Lund University in Sweden declared that the call to conversion is inherent in Christian mission, that conversion is both individual and social, and that spiritual, social and political conversion and transformation go hand in hand.

Plenary presentations addressed conversion from diverse standpoints.  Christine Lienemann-Perrin, retired from the University of Basel in Switzerland, offered a historical review in her address, ‘Configurations and Prefigurations of Conversion in the History of World Christianity.’  She noted the permutations of conversion in the Christian movement’s parting from Judaism, the medieval church’s encounter with Islam, the rise of denominationalism in Western Christianity, and the interplay of change and continuity in the reception of Christianity in China and Africa.

On the basis of his fieldwork among a remote group in Papua New Guinea that converted to Christianity without any external stimulus of colonialism or modernity, anthropologist Joel Robbins of Cambridge University suggested that the answer his title question, ‘Can there be conversion without cultural change?’ is both that conversion inevitably prompts cultural change and that changes often reflect significant continuities as well.  ‘People experience their Christian life as requiring a dialogue with culture,’ Robbins said.

Hyung Keun Paul Choi of Seoul Theological University discussed the decline of Christianity after explosive growth in South Korea and the strengths and weaknesses of Korea’s megachurches, which include the largest churches in the world, such as Yoida Full Gospel Church, which claims a membership of 800,000.  He suggested that Lesslie Newbigen’s classic question, ‘Can the West be converted?’ should be applied to Korea as well.  He called for an end to a mentality of Christendom in Korea and for the replacement of an ethos of ‘leaderdom’ with an ethos of servanthood.

Read More…

The phenomenon of religiously motivated violence is much on the minds of religious people around the world, whether in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, or the USA, where it has become a major theme in an unusually vitriolic presidential campaign.  Non-religious people have also been considering it, often concluding that religion itself is the problem.

One fruit of my reflection is the essay, ‘Terrorism and religion: A link we must acknowledge, not deny,’ that Episcopal News Service published on its blog today.  I take on two denial reflexes that many people have, especially if they are religious and want to detach religion from the violence committed in its name.

Bottom line: The link between religion and violence is real, and we in the religions need to wrestle with it.

‘The Key’ exhibition is the latest offering from Caravan Arts, a remarkable ministry initiative in interfaith understanding and reconciliation led by Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest and missionary.

Here’s an excerpt from the latest newsletter from Caravan Arts:

During this time of increasing discord, misunderstanding and apprehension between peoples and cultures in our world, especially between the Middle East and the West, and also during the recent unease caused by the UK’s Brexit vote, Caravan has the privilege of focusing on the critical need of harmony through The Key exhibition in the heart of London at the historic St. James’s Piccadilly, a beautiful Sir Christopher Wren building near the Royal Academy of Arts.

The Key exhibition, following its March premiere in Cairo, Egypt, opened on June 15 in London. Running through August 15, the exhibition showcases the work of 40 premier and emerging Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Western artists and uses the world’s most ancient symbol of harmony and pluralism, the Egyptian Ankh, the hieroglyph that reads “life” (often known as the “Key of Life”), as a message of hope toward seeing a world that embraces religious and cultural diversity.

The Key will open at Riverside Church in New York City on Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace, so stateside people will have opportunity to view it soon.

The work of Caravan Arts is unusual in addressing current religious and cultural discords through art, and it’s probably unique in offering its art exhibitions on a traveling basis intercontinentally.  Caravan Arts is vitally important, and I salute Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler for their vision and dedication to this avenue of reconciliation in our riven world.

While The Key exhibition may seem a bit esoteric in focusing on an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, Caravan’s other offerings are more accessible in highlighting contemporary artists from multiple religious traditions who seek understanding and reconciliation between cultures and religions.

‘The Bridge’ exhibition is a good example as it now concludes, in the USAmerican Northwest, an 18-month international tour.

Paul-Gordon Chandler and his wife Lynne have been missionaries of the Episcopal Church.  I participated in their orientation to Episcopal Church missionary work in the early 2000s, and in 2007 was able to visit them during their ministry at St. John the Baptist Church in Maadi, Cairo.  Earlier in their ministry Paul was rector of St. George’s Church in Tunis, so the work of Caravan Arts arises out of long and intense life and work in the Muslim world.

You can subscribe to the Caravan Arts newsletter here.  Read and be encouraged in a time of discord and discouragement in inter-religious relations around the world.  Better yet, go to an exhibition if one is near or your travels take you near one.

 

 

 

A Muslim immigrant from Pakistan on the national stage! – I was delighted to see that last night at the Democratic National Convention.

As has been widely noted, one of the convention’s high points was Khizr Khan’s talk about his son, Humayun Khan, a captain in the United States Army who was killed in 2004 after heroically stepping forward to question a suspicious-looking vehicle in Iraq, upon which those inside blew him up with their suicide vests.

Khizr Khan delivered his remarks with intensity and dignity.  Their major import was to highlight the contribution and loyalty of Muslim Americans in the face of skepticism and hostility, especially as voiced by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Tonight we are honored to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims – with undivided loyalty to our country,” he said, with his wife standing sorrowfully beside him.  His scolding of Donald Trump was well deserved, but I was especially glad about his self-presentation as a USAmerican Muslim.

As soon as Khan began speaking I was certain the family was originally from Pakistan, despite commentators’ comments, true, that they had immigrated from the United Arab Emirates.  And, sure enough, it turns out that they are originally from Pakistan, and it seems they must have arrived in the USA in about 1979.  Many Pakistanis do move to the UAE, sometimes for long periods of time, sometimes briefly as they prepare for a permanent move elsewhere.  The Khans, obviously, followed the latter pattern.

Khizr Khan presented himself very well as a Muslim USAmerican citizen, and he spoke movingly about the patriotism of his son Humayun.  His witness was a powerful antidote to the anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked by many.

Pakistan frequently comes in for similar suspicion and hostility, partly for the extremist violence with which some in Pakistan express their Islam.  Khizr Khan’s words were a good antidote to that hostility as well.

I was glad for the Muslim testimony.  I was proud that it came from a Pakistani.

Posted by: Titus Presler | July 26, 2016

Us changes its name again – back to USPG. A good move.

Welcome news: Us, the second-oldest British Anglican mission society, dating from 1701, announced on July 21 that it is returning to the acronym of its earlier name – USPG.

This sounds like a small thing, scarcely worth noting, but it is a significant event.  It heralds the return of the word ‘gospel’ in the name of the society, and restores a sense of historical continuity between the organization as it is today and as it has been for over 300 years.

As the earlier acronym is restored, it comes with one change.  Earlier, USPG stood for United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and now it will stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.

In announcing the name change, Chief Executive Janette O’Neill acknowledged that many continued to express sadness that mention of the gospel was no longer in the mission society’s name and explained the substitution of ‘partners’ for ‘propagation’ by way of a focus on working in partnership with the world church.

It was clear that ‘Us’ as a name was not working.  Over the past four years the society’s website and all its emails continued to bear the moniker-introduction, ‘Us.  The new name for USPG.’  Introduced in 2012, how could ‘Us’ still be the new name?  So it just didn’t take.  ‘Us’ as a name posed many missiological problems, as I explained at the time, and the 2012  ‘rebranding’ was theologically shallow as well as stylistically faddish.

I commend the society for returning to the more theologically robust and historically grounded name.  I also commend them for being willing to acknowledge a mistake – not explicitly, of course, but certainly between the lines.  As we would say in Shona, Makorokoto! or in Arabic and Urdu, Mashallah! – Congratulations!

Here is the announcement:

Announcing the return of USPG.
It is nearly four years since we changed our name from USPG to Us – and launched ourselves into a new era with a reinvigorated desire to participate in God’s global mission.

During 2015, we undertook some research to discover how our new brand had been received. We learned that, while our partners in Britain and Ireland and around the world greatly appreciated the energy, values and practical work embodied in the Us brand, many remained saddened that we were no longer referring to the gospel in our name.

In response, we have decided to move forward with our original name USPG, albeit it in a modernised form; the acronym USPG will now stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel.

As well as reintroducing ‘gospel’ into our name, the new meaning of USPG emphasises our focus on working in partnership with the world church, while also encouraging the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland to participate more deeply in that partnership.

The official change to USPG will happen at the end of August to coincide with the Greenbelt festival, where we have a significant presence (please come along and visit our marquee if you are planning to attend). This event, and all future communications, will feature a new USPG logo and a style that will look a little different.

Be assured, in all our communications, we will be maintaining our focus on the important and inspiring work of our global partners. This remains an integral part of who we are and how we communicate as an organisation.

We have been so grateful for your support and encouragement throughout this process. Thank you for sharing your views and concerns with us, and helping us to continue developing our engagement with mission.

We hope you are as excited as we are about this change to USPG, and about this next step in our journey of moving towards an approach to overseas mission that is truly inclusive and empowering.

Janette O’Neill
Chief Executive, Us

Our evolving name

1701: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) is created by Royal Charter

1965: SPG and the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) merge to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG).

2012: We change our name to The United Society, to be known as Us

2016: We become USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel)

Here’s the explanation the organization offered at the time of the 2012 rebranding:

Why we changed our name to Us.

November 2012 was a milestone in our history because we changed our name from USPG to United Society, to be known as Us.

The name USPG – United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – was derived from a name coined in 1701.

But it became clear that this eighteenth-century name was not connecting with people in the twenty-first century. So it was time for a change.

Our new name is rooted in the gospel. It is a reminder that God’s love is for all of us – Jesus’ promise of a full life is for every person in every community (see John 10:10).

And we remember that Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).

We are all part of ‘us’, regardless of faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. We are all made in God’s creative image. There is room for us all.

In February 2013 I put up a 4,500-word blog post, ‘USPG’s name change to Us – smart or faddish, wise or facile, inclusive or misleading?’ in which I set forth the historical, theological, missiological, anthropological, economic and political problems  with the change to Us.  A friend commented at the time, ‘Now, Titus, tell us how you really feel about it!’  I won’t recap the problems here, but the post makes interesting reading in light of last week’s announcement of the return to USPG.

A couple of additional comments on the new name:

  • ‘Partners in the Gospel’ rather than ‘Propagation of the Gospel’: Certainly partnership is a good and important theme in contemporary mission and one worth highlighting. Some may nevertheless cavil at the substitution, given that it appears to deliberately background and deemphasize the mandate to tell people about the good news of the reign of God inaugurated in the reconciling life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That point is valid, and it would have been fine, in my view, to retain propagation as the referent of the P in USPG.
  • Biblical Resonance of ‘Partners in the Gospel’: In explaining the move to have P stand for Partners, the mission society stresses the now very common theme of mission partnership or, as O’Neill puts it, ‘working in partnership with the world church.’  Missed is the deep resonance of the phrase in the thought of the apostle Paul. A prime example is Paul’s effusive celebration of his relationship with the Philippians: ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (Philippians 1:3-5).  That’s how the Revised Standard Version and the English Standard Version translate the Greek word koinonia, and the New Revised Standard Version renders it as ‘your sharing in the gospel.’  Partnership and sharing in the gospel has a mystical dimension that is deeper than the pragmatic and instrumental connotations of Partnership in Mission today, which tends to focus on working together to get particular goals accomplished.  Working toward goals is important, but from a Pauline perspective such effort is and must be undergirded by koinonia – community, fellowship, mystical sharing – in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  The phrase chosen by Us/USPG for the current rebranding can and should be grounded in that biblical vision, and we may hope that USPG will in time be able offer a robust theology for its recovered name.

Again, the return to USPG is a good move – late, but better late than never!  Best wishes to USPG in its continuing vital work around the world.

 

‘I’m here with you as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.’  That’s how Presiding Bishop said he introduced himself at a recent meeting of Christians and Muslims in Washington, D.C., convened to address gender-based violence in Liberia.

He went on to recount Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats at the Last Judgment and said in the meeting, which included both Islamic Relief and Episcopal Relief and Development, that when Jesus said, ‘As you did it one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,’ ‘brethren’ means the family of God, which is all of humanity.

Curry told this story in response to the first question posed to him after his April 18 keynote address at the 21st Global Episcopal Mission Conference, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) in Puerto Rico: ‘How do we talk about Jesus without scaring people in our local and global mission work.  Do we have to talk about Jesus, or is it enough to talk about the Christian way of life?’

MichaelCurry@GEMN-1

‘We need a reengagement with Jesus of Nazareth,’ Curry said, noting that even Kahil Gibran, in his 1923 book The Prophet, distinguished between Jesus of Nazareth and the Jesus of Christians, which Curry called a cultural non-specific Jesus.  ‘Jesus in the gospels is not a floating Jesus,’ he said.

For Jesus in the gospels, love is the core and the center of life, Curry said, highlighting the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of Sheep and Goats, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan as key criteria of Jesus’ call to discipleship.  ‘Jesus calls us consistently to a higher way of being,’ he said.  Read More…

Episcopal News Service has just published a good article by Matthew Davies on how Pakistani Christians have responded to persecution, most notably the Easter Sunday suicide attack that targeted Christians celebrating in a park after church in Lahore.  Access the article here.

Especially heartening is the fact that more Episcopalians are not only expressing concern about the situation of Christians in Pakistan, but some are actually engaging with the Church of Pakistan, always a challenge in light of the climate of danger and violence in the country.

Davies highlights the visit to the Diocese of Raiwind by Caroline Carson, a parish music director from the Diocese of Louisiana, and the visit to the Diocese of Peshawar by Canon Patrick Augustine, a Pakistani-American rector in Wisconsin who has long advocated on behalf of Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians.  Also noted is the delegation from the Diocese of Los Angeles that participated in the reconciliation conference in Lahore that was sponsored by the Church of Pakistan in March of this year.

Related items include:

  • A reflection on the Lahore bombing in light of the reconciliation conference in Lahore.
  • A report on the reconciliation conference in Lahore.
  • A reflection on the centrality of reconciliation in mission today.

 

Here’s a significant turning point in the perspective of a missionary at the recent Global Episcopal Mission Conference in Puerto Rico, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network:

Justice was the focus of one of the small-group discussions, this one scheduled after a presentation by Episcopal Migration Ministry staff about Christian and church responses to the current migration crises around the world.  The theme scripture was the familiar verse from the prophet Micah: ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6.8).

A question we addressed in the small group was, ‘Well, how do we do justice in the various mission activities we’re involved in?’  Among us was a missionary at work in Majority World country.  Let’s call him Tad, and I’m not identifying the country where he works.

‘What is it you’re doing in your country?’ Tad was asked.

‘I teach English to adults who have never learned it,’ he replied.

‘How does your mission work relate to justice?’ someone asked Tad.

‘Well, I’m not sure how it relates to justice,’ he replied.  ‘I’ve not usually thought of it in terms of justice.  But now that I think about it more, I realize it may be related.  The country where I work has a strong system of economic classes, with a few wealthy and powerful people and families controlling everything from the top, then a small middle class, and the bulk of people quite poor at the bottom.  One of the ways the powerful have kept the poor down is by depriving them of education, including access to the English language.  So I realize that teaching English actually does have a justice dimension.  I’m providing the poor with access to a tool that provides access to a wider world, where they can leverage English to provide more for themselves and their families.  It also changes power dynamics in the society – not hugely at first, but over time it might make a real difference.’ Read More…

Today’s Episcopalians need to see themselves not primarily as an institution but as a vital  part of the Jesus Movement that began with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in the 1st century and that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can participate in transforming the world today.

That was the central theme of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s keynote address at the Global Episcopal Mission Conference in Puerto Rico on May 18, organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN).  World mission wasn’t central in his talk, nor was mission amid migration, which was the theme of the conference.

Curry’s a revivalist.  He wants the church to be revived.  He wants Christians’ personal relationship with Christ Jesus to be revived.  He wants Episcopalians to be open about their faith and invite others to explore the possibility of such faith for themselves.  He wants the church to on fire with the gospel and God’s work of transforming the world through reconciliation.

With that kind of urgency, he tends to focus on those themes in whatever context he’s asked to address.  And that’s all right.  This is the kind of urgency Episcopalians and their church need.  Especially refreshing is the fact that he did not launch a ‘listening process’ to find out what Episcopalians think they need, nursed by consultants and focus groups, all toward an inevitably ephemeral strategic plan.  Hey, he’s a revivalist!

Curry’s audience in Puerto Rico was a group of world mission activists, people involved in doing, supporting and coordinating Episcopal global mission work – missionaries and parish, diocesan and organizational leaders.  People were thrilled, even though world mission wasn’t his centerpiece.

Yet there were some good world mission takeaways from the talk:

  • Kudos for the missionaries and activists: Curry opened his talk with a commendation: ‘I give thanks for those who serve on behalf of the Episcopal Church in the world community,’ he said. ‘Jesus has something to say to this world to help people live life fully – and that matters! What you do matters!  It matters eternally.’

These were bracing words in an environment where people on the front lines sometimes wonder whether they’re making a difference, whether they have a supportive community behind them, and thus whether their vision and work matter at all.      Read More…

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s address yesterday to the Global Mission Conference organized by Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) in Puerto Rico was vintage Curry in his joyful and passionate call to the church to revision itself as what he calls “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”  He insisted that church institutions must serve the movement and that, if they fail to do so, the movement will leave the institutions behind.

The Episcopal News Service story on the address, also featured by the Anglican Communion News Service, covers a good deal of the talk.  Perhaps a video of the talk will also be forthcoming from ENS.

“Evangelism and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin,” Curry said.  “We wouldn’t be here without evangelism,” he continued, referring to the fact that Christian profession depends on knowledge of the gospel story, which in turn depends on someone telling the story.  “Reconciliation is with God and with each other.”

Fulfilling Curry’s linkage of evangelism and reconciliation, one of his recent major appointments was of Stephanie Spellers as Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism and Reconciliation.  During the afternoon Q&A period, Spellers noted that in a church where many Episcopalians feel at a loss about how to share their faith, the church’s global missionaries can help from their extensive experience of sharing their faith in word and deed around the world.

One of Curry’s main missional reflections centered on the vision of Clarence Jordan and the founding of the Koinonia community in rural Georgia in 1942.  He described Jordan as realizing that his initial emphasis on agricultural techniques to eradicate rural poverty needed a companion effort to address spiritual poverty.  This led to the gathering of a community of Christians to live out the life of Jesus in rural Georgia through three major commitments: equality of all people, rejection of all violence, and ecological stewardship – all of which were especially radical in 1942 in that setting.

 

The urgency and shape of Christian mission amid the world’s mounting crisis of people fleeing difficult or intolerable conditions in their home countries is the theme of this year’s global mission conference organized by the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN), the freestanding network of Episcopal dioceses, congregations, organizations and individuals committed to advocating for God’s mission on a worldwide scale.

This year’s conference, May 18-20, is hosted by the Diocese of Puerto Rico and is being held in Poncé on the south coast of the Caribbean island on the premises of Universidad Interamericana de Poncé.  The theme is “God’s Mission with a World in Continuous Motion” or “La Mision de Dios con un Mundo en Continuo Movimiento.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is tomorrow morning’s keynote speaker to the record registration of about 120, plus many local Episcopalians, other Christians and civic leaders.  Following the keynote, participants will gather in small groups to generate questions that will be posed to Bp. Curry in the afternoon.

On Thursday a plenary address will be offered by the staff of Episcopal Migration Ministries, the longstanding churchwide agency that has been instrumental in resettling thousands of individuals and families in the USA over many years.

The final plenary on Friday will feature a panel discussion moderated by Puerto Rico’s Interim Bishop Wilfrido Ramos and including Bp. Julio Holguin of Dominican Republic, Bp. Francisco Duque of Colombia, Mr. Noah Bullock of Christosol, and a representative of the Diocese of Cuba.

A number of the 14 workshops will focus on mission amid migration:

  • Gifts for Welcome: Discerning how your Congregation can Participate in Refugee Resettlement, by Episcopal Migration Ministries staff.
  • The Jesus Movement in a Time of Migration, by Michael Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry within the Episcopal Church.
  • The Role of the Church in a Refugee’s Life and Reconciliation in the Rwandan Crisis, by Jean-Baptiste and Christine Ntagengwa, who fled Rwanda and now minister in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
  • Refugees of Central America: New Models for Response, by Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Foundation Christosol.
  • Seafarers: Hidden Migrants, Hidden Souls, by Ken Hawkins of the Seattle Seafarers Center and Regional Director of the Mission to Seafarers for the USA.
  • Displaced Persons/Displaced Assets, by Sean McConnell, Director of Engagement for Episcopal Relief and Development.

Refugee and migration issues are complex, whether in the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, or South Asia, where, for instance, refugee issues have roiled relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the 1980s.

It is salutary that GEMN as a network of global mission activists has highlighted the urgencies of the situation and that Bp. Curry, who has electrified the church with his passion for evangelism and mission, has come to Poncé to address migration as a missional issue.

Over the past days there has been considerable attention to the fact that May 1 (in the USA) and May 2 (in Pakistan) mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.

The event was especially startling for me because it was on May 1 that year that I landed in Peshawar to take up my duties as principal of Edwardes College.  When I awoke from my first night’s sleep I checked the New York Times website, as is my habit wherever I am in the world, and there was the gigantic headline announcing bin Laden’s death.

We had a meeting of the Management Team of the college scheduled for about 9am that morning.  Some of my colleagues had not earlier heard the news.  Both those who had heard the news earlier and those who were just then hearing it were astounded that bin Laden had been living, “hidden in plain sight,” in Abbottabad, a well known city several hours from Peshawar.  I myself had visited Abbottabad with Bishop Peters of the Diocese of Peshawar a few months earlier during a visit to Pakistan in which I was discerning whether I was called to be at Edwardes.

It was a vivid way to begin the first day of my new ministry at Edwardes College.  It highlighted the inter-cultural issues and the inter-religious issues that had drawn me to that work in that setting.  It emphasized that I was on a front line.

~ ~ ~

On 2 May 2016, the day of the event in Pakistan, I wrote a blogpost, “A death in the diocese,” in which I discussed not the political dimension of the the event but its religious and ecclesial dimensions:

It was startling to see the news midmorning today – Monday, 2 May – that Osama bin Laden was killed yesterday “deep inside Pakistan,” as President Obama put it.  Abbottabad is indeed deep inside Pakistan, several hours almost due east from Peshawar and the Afghan border and, as news reports have noted, just about 30 miles northeast of the capital of Islamabad.

It was sobering to realize the raid occurred the same day I arrived to begin ministry in Peshawar in this province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Abbottabad likewise is located.  Said daughter Charlotte in a conversation this evening, “The grace of God will keep you where the will of God has called you.”  And that is sufficient.

I went to Abbottabad during my visit to the Diocese of Peshawar in January as I accompanied Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters to a wedding in St. Luke’s Church at which he officiated and I preached.  Abbottabad is an attractive hill town at over 4,000 feet just off the Karakoram Highway – a tourist destination and a military center that one would scarcely imagine to be the hideaway of “the world’s most wanted man.”

Untold millions of people are watching news reports right now of this event, much of it accompanied by penetrating analysis of its geopolitical implications, and I have little to add to the important things being said along those lines.

I offer a few observations about religious dimensions:

• When grave events occur in various parts of the world, the global nature of the Anglican Communion is such that most such events occur in some diocese or other that is Anglican or, as in much of south Asia, a diocese in which Anglicans joined with others to form a united ecumenical church.  In this case, the killing of Osama bin Laden occurred in the Diocese of Peshawar of the united Church of Pakistan, in a city that has a vital congregation of Christian Pakistanis.  As far back as our visit to Peshawar in 2004, it was commonly assumed by Christian leaders that bin Laden was living in the diocese, and I recall one in North Waziristan pointing to the mountains along the Afghan border as his probable location at that time.  This is to say that the Diocese of Peshawar has been living with these realities a long time, as has the general population.

• In addition to the local expression of the Church of Pakistan, it was intriguing to meet other committed Christians in Abbottabad.  They included, for instance, a north European who shares Christianity in many parts of Pakistan through what he calls friendship evangelism, and a British Anglican who pastors an ecumenical intentional community in the area.  I note this by way of emphasizing, again, that while our tendency is to imagine the site of an event like bin Laden’s death on some outer edge of experience, such things usually occur amid living and complex communities where voices of the gospel of Jesus Christ are rarely absent.

• It sounds like a cliché in the west, but President Obama was quite right for the context of Pakistan to stress that the United States is not and has never been at war with Islam, and to note that Muslims as well as others were victims of bin Laden’s violence.  The specter of irreconcilable conflict between the world of Islam and the Christian and/or secular west will continue to be raised by extremists on both sides.  Our call is to move from the typology of a clash of civilizations to a typology for the dialogue and reconciliation of civilizations.

• So far there has not been public negative reaction in Peshawar about the raid in Abbottabad, though there is talk that some religious parties may stage processions and demonstrations on Tuesday.  As should be well known by now, the majority of Pakistan’s Muslim people aspire to peace and, in fact, live in peace.

• Pakistan’s Christians feel vulnerable in the wake of these events.  Please pray for them.  And I am grateful for the many expressions of concern and prayer that I have received in the last days and today.  They sustain Jane and me in a peace that passes all understanding.

Missiology: An International Review has published the article, “Education, Religion, and Risk in Peshawar: A Missional Self-Examination,” in its April 2016 issue.  This article is my considered attempt to examine my work as principal of Edwardes College in Peshawar, Pakistan, from 2011 to 2014.

A link to the PDF of the article appears below.  It expands on a talk I gave in 2014 at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

The article is unusual in undertaking a self-examination of such a venture and subjecting it to missiological critique.  As I note in the abstract and in the article itself, a self-examination cannot claim to be entirely objective, but I have sought to be as fair and as objective as possible.

Missiology: An International Review is one of the two major missiological journals published in the USA, the other being The International Bulletin of Mission Research, in which my article, “A Toll on the Soul: Costs of Persecution among Pakistan’s Christians,” appeared in April 2015.  Both publications  are among the numerous scholarly journals published by Sage Publications.

Here is a link to the article:

Education, religion, and risk in Peshawar: A missional self-examination – 207.full

And here is the abstract:

Religious freedom is at stake as the Church of Pakistan and its Diocese of Peshawar struggle to regain oversight of Edwardes College in Peshawar, an institution the church founded and managed for almost 75 years, and to resist the attempt of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to complete the seizure it began in 1974. As the missionary principal of the college since 2011, I was inevitably affected by the conflict and became a player in it. This study is an effort in missionary self-examination as I interrogate my motives and actions as a mission companion with the church and as a partner in education with the community at large. The inquiry is conducted under six headings: missionary motivation, national identity, change dynamics, religious relations, missionary predecessors, and the church-state conflict. While a self-interrogation cannot claim to be completely objective, the attempt is to be both honest and fair. The issues are important for missionary work and identity generally, but most acutely for mission work in Muslim-majority settings in the increasingly conflicted relations between Muslims and Christians in the 21st century.

‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation – in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists’ – this was the title of the March 12-15 international conference convened by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore.  It was a long title, so long that the hyphen is one I’ve inserted myself in order to make it more understandable.

Lahore is the city where over 70 people were killed and several hundred wounded in a park on Easter Sunday afternoon, March 27.  A breakoff group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said they were targeting Christians, though in light of the demography of Pakistan more Muslims than Christians were killed.

Especially outrageous is the fact that children were especially targeted, the bomb having been set off adjacent to children’s favorite amusement rides.  Such callous disregard for human life, and especially for the next generation of Pakistanis, is hideous.  It is all of a piece with the horror inflicted by terrorists everywhere today, whether in Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe or the USA.

‘In the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  In Christian mission today it is commonplace to talk about fulfilling God’s mission in the company of – or accompanied by or in companionship with – the poor and marginalized.  But ‘in the company of terrorists’ was an arresting and unusual inclusion, as I noted in my address to the conference.

The church was audacious in its vision that reconciliation would be sought in the company of terrorists, the premise being that terrorists, or at least some terrorists, would join Christians in seeking reconciliation in Pakistani society.

The church was equally audacious in its vision that reconciliation could be sought with terrorists – with terrorists who for years now have been victimizing Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.  The Easter bombing in Lahore was only the latest in a long series of outrages, the most horrific being the September 2013 bombs at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, when 128 people were killed and hundreds injured.

The fact that two weeks after the conference at which the church’s vision of reconciliation was highlighted Taliban terrorists attacked Christians – and others – yet again on the major Christian holy day of Easter illustrates just how audacious the church’s vision and hope is.

Church of Pakistan leaders are living out reconciliation during this week after the bombing.  ‘Church of Pakistan consoles nation where “every heart broken,”’ reads the headline on the latest news article from the Anglican Communion News Service.  It details how the church’s bishops are visiting Muslims as well as Christians in hospitals and lamenting how Pakistan as a whole, and not simply the Christian community, is under siege.

Christians are targeted, then Christians console the nation!

It is a remarkable vocation that the Church of Pakistan is living out.  It witnesses to the pivotal role of Christ Jesus in God’s mission in the cosmos.  In its tribulations it lives in solidarity with the suffering of Christ for humanity.  In its faithfulness it lifts up the mission of reconciliation for which Christ lived, died and rose again.  In its outreach to the nation it offers a mustardseed of the reconciliation that is the heart of the gospel, the heart of the Reign of God, the heart of the mission of God in the cosmos.

Lots of questions get asked about Christian witness in Pakistan, and they have certainly been asked of me: What’s the point?  How can there be any hope in a place like that?  Is ministry in Pakistan a worthwhile investment of time, resources, safety?

The short answer is, Yes.

A longer answer is this: There is a major Christian community in Pakistan.  In a nation of 200 million, a conservative estimate of the Christian proportion is 1.6%, which amounts to 3.2 million people, and the true figure is probably higher.  These disciples of Jesus are faithful and courageous.  Worn bright by constant adversity, their leaders are clearer than most Christian leaders about the demands of the gospel and the opportunities of transformation that it offers.  They are living faithfully.  They are witnessing.  They are persevering.

In solidarity with them, how can we do less?

Reconciliation in the context of poverty and terrorism was the theme of an international conference held recently by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab.  The gathering, titled ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists,’ drew about 55 people from Pakistan, Britain, Finland, Norway and the USA.

Convened by Church of Pakistan Moderator Samuel Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind, one of the church’s eight dioceses, the March 12-15 conference was designed to highlight reconciliation as Christians’ urgent mandate from God in a world where peoples and religions are alienated from each other by the massive injustice of destitution and by intensified violence motivated by religion.  The theme was appropriate as well for Lent shortly before Holy Week, which focuses on the culmination of God’s reconciling work in Christ Jesus.

The conference was designed in large part by Church of Pakistan Coordinator Munawar Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, who said that reconciliation has become the overriding passion of his life.  Formed in 1970 to unite Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, the Church of Pakistan is the largest Christian church in Pakistan.

My address to the conference, ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission,’ appears below, but circumstances prevented my delivering the talk in person.  Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, was the other speaker invited to address international issues, but he was likewise unable to attend.

Speakers included the Rev. Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali, founder of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Justice and Christian Community at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Janice Price, World Mission Policy Adviser in the Church of England and co-author, with a body called the World Mission and Anglican Communion Panel, of World-Shaped Mission: Exploring New Frameworks for the Church of England in World Mission (London: Church House Publishing, 2012).

About 25 of the conference participants were from the Church of Pakistan, with three representatives from each diocese.  Mission societies represented included: USPG (currently called Us), represented by Janette O’Neil and Naomi Herbert, CEO and Director of International Programs, respectively; the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM); the Norwegian Mission Society; and Norwegian Church Aid.  A number of clergy and lay members of the Diocese of Los Angeles attended the conference.  The companion mission agencies met with the Pakistani dioceses for several days in Lahore following the conference.

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International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission:  Address by the Rev. Canon Titus Presler, Th.D., D.D. at the Church of Pakistan Conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  Lahore, Pakistan, 12-15 March 2016

Videos of the talk: Part 1 (26 minutes)  Part 2 (21 minutes)

See also World Council of Churches article on the conference, written from the perspective of the mission companionship between Norwegian churches and the Church of Pakistan, and posted on the Anglican Communion News Service website.  Dr. Sarah Safdar, who is cited in the article, is a colleague of mine in Peshawar and a member of the Edwardes College Board of Governors.

It is an honor and privilege to address you in Lahore on the theme of reconciliation from a Christian perspective, my particular topic being ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission.’  I am grateful to Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah for the invitation.  I thank Bishop Mano Rumalshah, who is coordinating the conference, and Bishop Humphrey Peters, with whom I have worked so closely in Peshawar, as they have warmly welcomed the prospect of my presence.  I regret very much that circumstances prevent my being with you in person for the conference, the more so that I like being in Pakistan, enjoy its people of all religions, and love the Christian community that is so faithful in that land.

Part 1: A Reflection on the Conference Theme

You have chosen a striking title for this conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  The phrase ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation’ emphasizes that reconciliation is a process, not a single event.  We all know from our personal lives that particular reconciling events – say, between parent and child, or between siblings, or between spouses, or between colleagues at work – do not generally heal relations fully or immediately.  Rather, they inaugurate a process that may take months or even years, with steps backward as well as forward.  Seeing this process as a pilgrimage takes it beyond psychology and locates it in its proper spiritual and theological home.  A pilgrim is a person who travels in search of a deeper experience of God.  Thus a life pilgrimage toward reconciliation is a pilgrimage into a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper experience of God, a pilgrimage in which reconciliation becomes a lens through which we see the light of God.  Read More…

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