Mutuality as a Call, Covenant and Clothesline
I am fascinated by clotheslines. Wet clothes hanging from them flap in the gentle breeze or slightly stronger winds sprinkle water drops on bystanders, inviting them into the circle of the water-washed and wind-blessed community.
Every year in early summer, my husband and I make sure the two poles in our backyard are strong enough to hold the clothesline when we put our wet clothes out for drying or airing in the summer sun. Though tight at the ends, the clothesline often sags in the middle due to the weight of the rugs, bed covers, clothes and kitchen stuff. It a is reminder of what mutuality is all about.
In the Global South where I come from, clotheslines provide space to talk with neighbors as they, too, put out their washed wet clothes, fold them when dry and take them inside their homes.
Edinburgh World Mission Conference: 1910 and 2010
Witnessing to Christ Today is the theme of a forthcoming World Mission Conference to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, June 2-6. It is an event to celebrate the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference. The goal of the latter was to bring together delegates from various mission organizations and to plan and strategize ecumenically for the evangelization of two-thirds of the world. The focus became cooperation and unity.
Predecessor organizations of United Methodist Women sent delegates to the 1910 Edinburgh World Mission Conference. A couple of them shared their insights on the conference in their respective magazines, predecessors to Response.
Writing in the September 1910 issue of the Woman’s Missionary Advocate, the Rev. W.W. Pinson, a delegate from the Board of Missions, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, called for the need for unity and cooperation at home among different denominations, a key theme of the world conference. He also captured a painful fact that the “problem of the world’s evangelization” was not in far-off lands but in the “home Church.”
Maria Layng Gibson, a delegate from the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, conveyed the global nature of the gathering where she saw people from “many races and creeds united in the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which belong to Christians of every clime.”
In the coverage of the conference in the August 1910 issue of Woman’s Missionary Friend, the writer said, “Until the whole world can come together and interpret Christ, we shall never know him in his fullness.” The writer goes on to say, “The Spirit, not the mission board, is the leader of the Church, at home or abroad.” She further said, “it is the women of the churches who are keeping the work alive. The women are gloriously organized and the men are gloriously disorganized.”
Though the 1910 World Mission Conference did not give a prominent role to women, in the forthcoming World Missionary Conference in June, the opening keynote speaker will be Dana Robert, a United Methodist laywoman and author of this year’s new United Methodist Women mission study, Joy to the World! Mission in the Age of Global Christianity.
Major shifts in mission have been brought by the winds of change that have swept over the Global North and Global South.
Gifts from the margins
Global South is a term used to refer to the so-called developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Global North is a term used for the so-called developed countries in North America and Europe.
A key shift in mission: the Global North is not the sole sender of missionaries. The center of gravity of Christianity itself has shifted to the Global South. Being in mission and doing mission then require mutuality.
The book, 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, is the true story of a gift given to the United States by remote villagers in western Kenya. It is the story of Mr. Naiyomah who came to the United States on an academic scholarship from western Kenya.
It is June 2002, and a U.S. diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Mr. Naiyomah’s native Maasai people. They are bestowing a gift on U.S. men, women and children. The diplomat is there to accept it. The gift is as unsought and unexpected, as it is extraordinary.
Mr. Naiyomah went back to his village after completing his studies in the United States, which happened to be in the aftermath of the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. A child in the village asked him soon after his arrival if he had brought any story from the faraway land where he studied. He nodded his head and said that the story he brought with him was an important and painful story, which “had burned a hole in his heart.”
In his Stanford University windbreaker and running shoes, Mr. Naiyomah narrated the story of the destruction of the twin towers with a fiery crash to the villagers gathered around him. The listeners were stunned. They scarcely fathomed what happened, but they were moved and wanted to help the people of the United States.
So one of the elders asked him, “What can we do for these poor people?” The villagers were Maasai, both warriors and cattle-herders, who measure their lives in part by the number of cattle they own. Mr. Naiyomah said that he would give the only cow he owned to the suffering people in the United States, and asked for the blessings of the elders upon his offering.
The elders were not only pleased with his gift but also decided to add 13 more cows to his. The Maasai people presented their gift of 14 cows to the U.S. diplomat solemnly and graciously because “there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.” Mr. Naiyomah said, “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.”
The U.S. diplomat asked a Maasai elder to look after the cows right where they were. Since, the cows quadrupled in number and someday their proceeds will be sent to the United States.
Mutuality honors marginality
Translated into Christian mission language, there is no Christian community in the world that is so strong and self-sufficient that it can function on its own. There is not a weak, vulnerable isolated faith community that is so small that it cannot further the Gospel.
Christians at the margins share their gifts of generosity with the center, as we see in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7. Out of their “extreme poverty,” the so-called daughter churches in Macedonia give their generous gifts to the church in Jerusalem, the mother church. Paul facilitates this mutuality.
God chose to come to earth as a marginalized person in Jesus Christ. God chose to reveal God’s self through a vulnerable baby born in a cattle stall.
In mutuality there are no weak or strong partners. One may have material resources and the other may have different kinds of resources. They pool their resources together. Mutuality is giving and receiving; going and coming; sending and welcoming without any pre- or post-condition.
Mutuality, as a concept and praxis in mission, accepts one another as they are for a common cause, for a common mission and for a common Savior.
Mutuality is not a business enter- prise. Mutuality in mission honors marginality.
- Mutuality is not for mutual benefits and gains.
- Mutuality is not partnership, which is often project-based.
- Mutuality involves cooperation, but it is not profit-centered.
- Mutuality involves collaboration, but it is not program-oriented and outcome-based.
- Mutuality is relational.
- Mutuality is a value.
- Mutuality submits itself totally to the faithfulness of Christ’s call to mission.
- Mutuality is covenant-based.
Covenant and clothesline
“May the Lord watch over you and me/us” is the environment in which mutuality is created and practiced. Mutuality in mission, then, is like a slack clothesline, tight at the ends and sagging in the middle. Mission partners hold tight to their end of the covenant in order for the middle to be used for the purpose of service.
The middle space is the place of action and a common space for service and get-together. Hence, it is a hallowed and sacred space for fellowship, learning, encouragement, and collective and mutual ministry. It is a crucial space because this happens across boundaries that divided us previously. It is about building relationships of trust and genuine mutuality among people who previously had little of either.
Mutuality, as a missional practice and paradigm, truly embodies what Paul writes to Jesus’ followers in Galatia. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28-29).
Paul uses the imagery of clothing in this context. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” he writes in Galations 3:27.
Those who hold the ends of the clothesline, covenantal partners in mutuality, may vary according to the context:
- Global South being in mission with Global North;
- North with South, South with South, North with North;
- Inner city with suburbs, suburbs with the inner city;
- Rural with urban, urban with rural; or
- Women with women, women with youth, women with children and others.
It is God’s mission, Missio Dei, not ours. The Spirit is blowing where it pleases, shaping pivotal moments, expanding spaces and having influence. Let the Spirit lead us forward. Thanks be to God for allowing us the privilege of being participants in God’s mission.
*Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., is United Methodist Women’s national director of spiritual formation and mission theology.