Monsoon Rain and Dry Ditches
In grappling with various issues related to mission I have discovered that keywords are important in helping me to understand the way God uses his people in the world he has called us to engage. Two such words that are used in the discipline of missiology are: ‘futurum’ and ‘adventus’. ‘Futurum’ is God working out his purposes in and through the everyday events of life, by that his work and reign is extended. It is mission that progresses through the means of the ordinary and the routine acts of mission personnel, local church members and organisational structures. ‘Adventus’ involves those times when God intervenes in history directly and dramatically (Ex. 3, is.6 and Acts 2). It is mission that progresses through the extraordinary and unforeseen interventions of God. Ideally, mission should include, these aspects, God’s extraordinary work and the everyday instrumentality of human beings and their organisations.
Having observed mission organisations over the past forty years, I have discovered that they tend to be orientated to one or the other of these two different ways of doing mission. On the one hand, there are those organisations that are orientated to ‘futurum’ mission. Such missions are incredibly good at the routine things like faithfully ministering, caring for mission personnel, developing short and long-term plans, and financial accountability. However, they seem to get so caught up in the everyday running of mission activities that they sometimes lose that sense of expectation that God can and may intervene at any moment.
Then there are other mission organisations that are all ‘adventus’ and thus extremely disorganised. They continually fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, never mind developing a five-year plan. However, God seems to keep on turning up at the last moment rescuing and using them time and time again. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to leave a trail of damage behind them and many of their missionaries eventually crash or burnout.
Stephen Neill, the historian of mission, illustrated the importance of ‘futurum’ and ‘adventus’ mission in a lecture given shortly before he died in 1984. In seeking to illustrate the importance of the interrelationship between Majority-World churches and First-World missions he referred to the monsoon rains and the dry ditches of India. He suggests that when the monsoon rain comes, it comes with such power and force that it carries all before it, topsoil and all. Unfortunately, much of the life giving water that the monsoon brings is lost because the water is neither channelled nor contained. Likewise, the Majority-World churches have much power, energy and enthusiasm in their missionary activity. However, much of this power and energy is dissipated and defused because they do not possess the structures and organisation to hold and retain those impacted by their ministry.
Neill went on to say that India is crisscrossed with thousands of dry ditches. These ditches lay latent during the dry season. You can walk in them and kick up the dust. However, each year before the monsoon rains come these dry ditches need to be cleaned and repaired. If the communities responsible for their sections of the ditches are lazy and fail to do this work then the life giving water that the monsoon rains bring will be dissipated and lost. The topsoil will be washed away and the land will become increasingly unfruitful and arid. But if the ditches are regularly, repaired then when the monsoon rains come the water is channelled, retained and used to bring life to the land and the surrounding community.
First-World missions are like the dry ditches at times they appear lifeless because they are over-concerned with structures and organisational procedures. However, when the dry ditches of the First-World humbly serve and facilitate the monsoon rains of the Third-World, then the power, energy and enthusiasm of their missionary activity will no longer be dissipated and lost. Rather it is used to bring life and sustenance to communities in need of the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In our mission activities may we learn to faithfully serve God in the ordinary and routine activities that he has called us to do. Let us also be those who long for and anticipate the unexpected in-breaking activity of God who turns dry ditches into life giving channels.