Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

What happened to the communion of the saints?

Yesterday was once again, a very busy day. Tomorrow the OM team will be leaving Swaziland and they had asked me if I could show them a few interesting places in Swaziland before they leave. The team had arrived by bus, but the bus driver had to return to South Africa and as they were in need of someone licensed and with the necessary permits to drive the bus, I spent the entire day with them, escorting them through Swaziland. One of the team members joined me in the front of the bus and I spent many hours hearing her story. She is from Orlando, Florida. We spent a lot of time speaking about missions (her boyfriend organises short-term outreaches from their church in Orlando) as well as her experiences in Swaziland.
Eventually the discussion turned to churches’ reluctance in general to get involved in missions. (If your church is different, it would be great to hear about it, but my experience is not very positive about this.) And then she mentioned something about her experience in the States compared to her experience in Swaziland. She said that, at home, she could remain in her home for days on end without needing to communicate with other people. When she needs water, she opens a tap. If she needs food, she can order a pizza by phone or even groceries via the internet. As she was speaking, I realised that I had read something the previous night in Rowell’s book that I am busy with at the moment. He had mentioned exactly the same thing. Electric gates and electric garage doors virtually isolate one from one’s neighbours. Exercising which was typically done in the open, is now done in the privacy of the home on a treadmill or at most, the person may drive in a car to a park to run a few rounds, get back into the car and drive back home.
This girl added something which she had experiences at home and which I (fortunately) have not yet experienced myself: even churches have now started implement electronic telephone answering systems where you have to keep on pushing buttons until you have reached the person you are looking for, without ever speaking to an actual person! In other words, even churches give the impression that they are not really interested in people!
Compare this with our experience in Swaziland: If the mother of the house realises that she needs water, she puts a bucket on her head and walks down to the stream or fountain where a number of other women will also be waiting to fill their buckets. There they catch up with the latest news. If she needs food, she will have to walk to a store, meeting others along the footpath or get on a bus packed with people to ride to the closest town. Otherwise she will have to go to the garden and probably meet her neighbour working in her own garden. If they hear of someone sick or deceased, then the whole community will go to the home and spend time with the patient or the family, day after day until the person is better or buried. The girl mentioned that their two weeks in Swaziland probably had the greatest impact on her life in this regard. She learnt what it meant to really interact with people – something which she missed at home.
And the question which she raised was: What has happened to the feeling of community within the church – or, as I put it above, the communion of saints which we all profess to believe in? It is not only the non-believers who live in the way she described. Believers do the same. How far will this have to go before we realise that we have made a huge mistake? Can we really have a productive Christian life if we do not make a specific effort to have true communion with other people – both believers and non-believers?


Wednesday, September 5, 2007 - Posted by | Building relations, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland


  1. Here, where I live, there is a big push in some churches to push the idea of community, but the pastors are running up against a cultural brick wall. People like the idea of community, but it doesn’t come naturally to them. Some Christians are actually choosing to live in what is termed “intentional community”. This is achieved by having several families and individuals all move into the same apartment building or they purchase a home together and all live in the same home. Even so, that’s as far as it goes because everyone is still so isolated.

    Between everyone being hooked up to their iPod, or riding in cars everywhere or being too busy with their own lives to slow down to speak with those around them, Christians and non-Christians alike are in the same boat when it comes to a lack of community.

    It’s sad that it doesn’t come naturally. We have to work at it in order to see even a smidgen of it around us.

    Comment by Maya | Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Reply

  2. I never thought about “intentional community” – I have been at places like that in South Africa as well – not apartments or homes, but usually something like a farm. But would this not lead to a “closed” community, where I decide who should belong to this community and all others are excluded, including non-believers?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Reply

  3. I was just talking to someone yesterday about how isolated we are. I remember as a young child visiting with our neighbors almost daily. We knew almost everyone on our street.

    However, since high school, I have lived in about4 different neighborhoods and 4 different apartment complexes. It’s sad to say, but I didn’t know ONE neighbor in any of those homes. I might have introduced myself at one point or said hi when I OCCASIONALLY saw them, but overall everyone stayed to themselves.

    The churches in our area have started to have small groups (or home teams, or life teams) where Sunday night and Wednesday night church services used to be. The intention is to harness a family/community atmosphere where long-lasting, accountable relationships are formed. I have grown to love and need that time with our small group, but very rarely do we meet outside of that setting.

    It seems that people have become so “busy” (quotes because they are “busy” only because they choose to be) and private that we have neglected a basic human need: relationships.

    Comment by lmparks | Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Reply

  4. When my wife and I got married in 1982 (I was a final year theology student in Pretoria) we moved into an apartment where we lived for nine months. Our last night in the apartment, while we were busy packing our stuff for the move the next day, a small dog ran into our apartment and shortly after a man came looking for the dog. He was our next-door neighbour! For the first time we spoke to each other and when he found out that I had just completed my theological studies, he asked if I could come to his apartment, because he needed to speak to someone about his spiritual life! I felt so ashamed of myself, because I often wondered what would have happened if we had been able to build a relationship before that last night. Obviously I did go and speak to him and his wife, but one can’t do much in thirty minutes. I was also too “busy” at that time.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, September 6, 2007 | Reply

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