This is the first in a series of stories on new ministry approaches emerging out of the recent Glocal Mission Summit.
Pastors, mission leaders, and missionaries serving with Resonate Global Mission across the world met last week in Los Angeles, Calif., to reflect on nearly two years of ministry as a new mission agency and to talk about how “new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”
Called the Glocal Mission Summit 2019, the event was hosted by Ttkomsa Mission Church as part of its celebration of 15 years in ministry. The first Glocal summit was held in 2014, also at Ttkomsa.
This year, the summit gathered a wide range of leaders, including Korean, Hispanic, Chinese, Southeast Asian, black and Native American leaders, to reflect on their work and to discuss how they — and Resonate — are moving into the future.
“We became a new mission agency of the Christian Reformed Church on July 1, 2017 — and we are here to celebrate what God is doing around the world and in local churches,” said Zachary King, director of Resonate, as he welcomed participants to the event and reflected on the union of Christian Reformed Home Missions and Christian Reformed World Missions two years ago.
“You bring stories about the work you are doing that demonstrate amazing diversity and the wonderful advance of God’s kingdom,” said King. “Through a lot of reflection and prayer and intentional effort, we have made considerable progress in serving the CRC in global and local settings.”
The three days of the summit included worship, plenary speakers, and many stories about God at work in hard and challenging places — all of it offering a glimpse of the fresh spirit Resonate is bringing to the mission of the CRC.
During the opening session, Resonate-supported missionary Gil Suh spoke briefly about his work in Cambodia; Daniel Bud, a pastor at Hillside Community Church in West Michigan, talked about his church’s international night events; and Brian Tebben, pastor of Life in Christ CRC in Salt Lake City, Utah, sketched the work he and his church have done among former Mormons.
This provided a glimpse of the wide range of ministry that would be discussed over the next few days.
But before delving into those discussions, said Moses Chung, they needed to dwell in the Word of God. Chung is director of mission innovation for Resonate and leads the Mission Innovation Team, a group of mission leaders from around the world who meet to dream about and discuss methods and practices that are bringing renewal to churches in North America and around the world.
“Dwelling in the Word is so important in our time together,” said Chung. “We are living in a time in which there are so many tectonic shifts in culture and in so many other areas, including the church.
“We want to be asking ‘What is God up to, and what is God’s mission for the world in the places where God has placed us?’ We hope over the next three days that God will give us discernment to answer this question.”
To help in the process of discernment, Chung suggested “dwelling in Luke 5:31-39.” He asked people at the tables spread around the church sanctuary to read, discuss, and prayerfully listen as each person offered thoughts on these Scripture verses.
In this passage, Jesus challenges the Pharisees to consider a new way of practicing their faith. Christ is pushing people to think beyond their current ways of doing things and to consider other approaches. For Resonate workers in North America and abroad this is especially applicable because they are caught up in the swirl of social changes, often in places of abject poverty and political turmoil, and seeking to apply God’s message to their circumstances.
Among other things in this passage, Jesus says, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”
After spending 30 or so minutes in table dialogue, people shared with the larger group what they discovered while discussing this passage. One university chaplain said they wondered at their table, “What are the things we hold on to as we move on? We shouldn’t discard something just for discarding’s sake.”
A pastor from Ontario said, “There is tension between the old and the new in ministry and church life today. How do we move forward, realizing that new programs don’t always fix old problems?”
A pastor from West Michigan said, “There is much good about the old traditions of the Reformed faith. But we’re in a time in which change is happening, and the CRC is at a crossroads. We are in a place of decision in which we embrace the new ways or not. Decisions we make now will determine if we have a denomination in the future.”
Looking at the Old and the New
The first keynote speaker for the Glocal Mission Summit was Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a theologian, educator, and a member of the Mission Innovation Team.
Padilla DeBorst lives in Costa Rica with her husband, James, as part of Casa Adobe, a community rooted in Santa Rosa, a few miles outside San Jose, the country’s capital. At Casa Adobe, members seek to live out the gospel together in a range of ways.
She started her presentation by touching on how the people of the early church lived out their faith. “There was a strong, counter-cultural nature to this community. . . . They were people who gave themselves to one another and to their neighborhoods. They were willing to die for their faith.”
Early Christianity, following in the footsteps of Jesus, wanted to reorder the social structure and create a society “in which everyone was welcome at the table,” she said.
But the influence of this movement didn't last as the church became institutionalized and developed into a hierarchical power structure for many centuries.
Needed today for the church and its people, she said, is a willingness to consider the new wine, to break down the barriers between the haves and the have nots. “We need to rewrite belonging, asking ‘What new ways of being are required so we can step into the story of God’s expansive embrace?”
Another plenary speaker, Anne Zaki, a seminary professor in Cairo, Egypt, said it can be hard trying to figure out whether the old wine mentioned in Christ’s parable is better. After all, at the end of his story, which seems to be clearly promoting the new, Jesus seems to turn the tables when he says, “New wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
Essentially, Jesus seems to be switching the script and challenging us to look at the story in all of its complexity. He offers no easy interpretation.
“Perhaps Jesus is saying that which is old must be used differently,” said Zaki.
“You don’t want the old wineskins to be damaged but put to use in new circumstances. . . . There is tension between the old and the new . . . because new wineskins are able to stretch into new places and are able to accomodate the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”
Reggie Smith, director of the Office of Social Justice and Race Relations, said the people at his table, in considering the wineskin parable, thought it wasn’t necessarily a matter of the old or the new wine being better. Rather, there may be a third way — a way that Resonate was charting with the help of the summit.
“Maybe we don’t know what things will look like. For one thing, we find a totally new way of doing things very scary. We do know, though, that the Lord is up to something, and we need to learn as we go. We need to be willing to do things differently.”
Following God into the Hard Places
Several stories that were shared helped to reflect a third way of doing things differently. One of those was the story of how two pastors, one white and one black, have established a new church in Oakland, Calif. Then there was a story about a ministry in Seattle that serves people living on the streets. There was also a story of a growing church in Vancouver, B.C., that is attracting an increasingly diverse membership. (See CRC News on April 17 to read some of these stories.)
Above all, the summit was about people living beyond the traditional boundaries of the church and bringing the gospel message, as much in deed as in words, to the world.
Don Chang, an elder at Ttokamsa Church and the founder of the clothing-store chain Forever 21, was the final plenary speaker. He spoke of the power of God to switch one’s priorities and point you to places where others may not go.
A humble man with a soft smile, Chang kept his audience spellbound with his story of emigrating with his wife in the early 1980s from South Korea to California, where he worked for several years at menial jobs until he began a store that turned into the successful clothing chain Forever 21.
Though he had been raised as a Christian, he had fallen away while building his career. He saw religion as very legalistic, he said, and he had told himself he might return to the faith when he was older. But then an experience involving his daughter led to an unexpected turnaround.
His daughter developed a tendency to sleepwalk; they would find her in different places at night. “We thought at first that her sleepwalking would get better,” said Chang through an interpreter. “But she didn’t get better, so I started to pray and go to church again.”
As things got worse for his daughter, he said he cried out in prayer, asking God to heal his daughter. A miracle happened, he said, and God answered his prayer within a few hours. “The sleepwalking never happened again. I believed that God is real, and I needed to follow him.”
Following God has meant helping to support and participate in short-term mission trips around the world with members of Ttokamsa church. Sometimes, he said, he has had the chance to be with children, to dance and celebrate with them. Other times he has been in harsh places, under harsh conditions, bringing much-needed food and supplies to people in need.
“I’ve learned that mission is about being with people, not just doing something for them,” said Chang. “I want to love Jesus and meet him and always think where would he be.”
Among the trips he has taken were some to the Korean peninsula, where a few years ago he saw the devastating results of famine and floods in North Korea. This was especially devastating for him, he said. His relatives had come from North Korea, and his great grandfather was one of the early Christians in Korea.
As part of his presentation, Chang asked his listeners to open themselves to the need to follow Jesus into the hard places of the world — and there are many. Often it is only the persevering love of God’s people that can make a difference for people facing terrible challenges, he said.
“We have to remember that God is using the church and that somehow we are all connected. . . . Claim the love of God and go to different places,” he said. “May God use all of us to be agents of God’s love.”
A Glocal Communion
The summit closed on Wednesday, April 1, with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But before people came to the table, Colin Watson, Sr., the CRC’s director of ministries and administration, offered a short reflection on what the past three days had been about.
“God has been here with us,” he said. “We have talked about unity, and we have seen great unity among us. And we are called to unity, not so we’ll feel comfortable but so the world will know we are one.
“Many of you work in hard places, and that won’t change — but we serve a powerful Savior,” said Watson. “You must keep pushing in the direction in which you see God working. And as we sense where the Holy Spirit is leading, we need to make sure the structures around us honor that to help us go there.”
Then, Ken Choe, pastor at Ttokamsa, presented the communion elements, and everyone had a chance to come forward to share in the Lord’s Supper, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ.
The people coming forward represented many ethnic and cultural groups, showing the growing diversity in the CRC. They had come from Southeast Asia and China, from the Middle East and Africa, from Colorado and Texas and Vancouver. Though they had come from many separate places, as Watson said, they share the same faith and worship the same God — and together in that sanctuary they depicted a great panorama of people who are convinced that “God is who he says he is.”