The theologian Emil Brunner said: ‘The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.’
Does this statement ring true for you? At the outset of this course, reflect on what mission means to you. Write down one or two sentences that summarise your current understanding of mission. At the end of the course we will have a chance to revisit this definition and see if there are any changes we’d like to make.
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Just as Jesus was sent by God to be among us, loving us, so we are ‘sent’ to share the good news of life in Jesus with others. We also have the promise that he is with us – and goes ahead of us (Matthew 28:20).
Proclaiming the good news is at the heart of the ministry of the Rt Revd James Min Dein, Bishop of Sittwe, in Myanmar.
Sittwe is the most rural and mountainous of Myanmar’s six dioceses. Several times a year, the bishop gathers together a team that includes priests and health workers – perhaps as many as 15 people – and travels by boat and on foot to visit the diocese’s most remote parishes, travelling from village to village. In the rainy season they must negotiate landslides.
The team sets out at 9 in the morning, arriving at their destination at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. The evening is spent sharing the good news of life in Jesus Christ. The team might show a film, teach through drama, and celebrate with food and dance.
‘Sometimes we are joined by people walking to the next village,’ says Bishop James. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling. I get very tired, but as soon as we arrive and start to worship and pray together my tiredness is lost and I have new energy.’
Bishop James describes mission as a work of the heart.
‘For me, mission is two things: words and deeds. We show our love through practical action, by giving what we can, and through preaching the gospel.’
Sittwe Diocese has a focus on education. It runs five hostels and is helping 200 students from rural communities to obtain a good education. This is part of the diocese’s overall concern to support the poor through mission. Health is also a key focus, with 40 health workers, paid a small allowance, reaching out to communities who struggle to access healthcare.
In recent decades, the government has put tight restrictions on speaking publicly about the gospel. But these restrictions are loosening now that Myanmar is opening its borders to investors, tourists and new ideas. Even so, the church remains cautious. Permits must still be sought before the church can host an event or put up a new building.
Bishop James says: ‘The Church of Myanmar is very small in terms of numbers, but now that our country is changing we have the chance to do more. Therefore we are working hard. The people need a lot of things – education, health, spiritual guidance – so please pray for us.’
Living God, your love flows outwards
In an irresistible stream through your whole Creation.
Help us, with hearts and words and actions,
To proclaim this good news,
And share your work of transformation in the world.