“Mission,” and its cognate “missionaries,” conjure various pictures in the Episcopal mind—many of them negative. Colonialism. Smallpox. Cultural imperialism. And when it’s not negative images coming to mind, it’s romantic visions of exotic locales, exciting experiences and pioneering work. Both trends distort the essential partnership inherent in true mission.
In constant search of partnership—with implementing communities and donors alike—Episcopal Relief & Development works to embody God’s reconciliation and healing as established in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As a Church, we affirm in our baptismal vows a commitment to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Working in over 40 different countries, Episcopal Relief & Development seeks to do just that as it works to alleviate human suffering.
The methodology of Episcopal Relief & Development is calculated to accentuate the dignity and agency of each person with whom it partners. The economist Amartya Sen speaks of “unfreedoms” that prevent people from reaching their potential. By removing sources of unfreedom such as extreme poverty and hunger, poor economic opportunities and disease, Episcopal Relief & Development empowers individuals and communities to seek the abundant life that Jesus promised.
Eschewing a charity-based methodology that merely serves as a band-aid to larger systemic problems, our mission is human empowerment, something in which the Church is deeply invested. This mission is an extension of Christ’s own ministry. Consider this passage from Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:18-19).
Both this Scripture and the nature of international development underscore a foundational point: In mission, God is the missional agent. It is tempting to take on mission as a human responsibility; however, as we have discovered, this only serves to reduce the mission work of the Church into a mere program.
We are not called upon to enact the mission, but only to create a space for the Spirit to act. Today it is clear that as a missional agency, the Church has the role of serving as a place for people to truly flourish. True mission invites the Spirit of God to act and move through us.
Spirit of God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev. Luke Fodor is Episcopal Relief & Development’s Network Coordinator.
Image: Courtesy of Chuck Hoffman and Peg Carlson-Hoffman and Episcopal Church Visual Arts