An Orthodox Journal of Cross-Cultural Theology, Dialogue and Mission

Mission in a Wounded World

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Orthodox mission scholars and practitioners meet during the International Association for Mission Studies’ conference in Sydney, Australia, July 7 th – 11 th , 2022

 

By Dr Alison Kolosova

The 15th General Assembly of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS) took
place in Sydney, Australia from July 7th -11th 2022. The Assembly had originally been planned for
2022 but was postponed owing to the COVID pandemic and so finally met in hybrid format with
some in-person participation and many mission scholars and practitioners joining in online from
around the world. The theme of the Assembly ‘Powers, Inequalities, and Vulnerabilities: Mission
in a Wounded World’ felt particularly apt after two years of a pandemic which has caused so
much loss of life and challenged the very fabric of global society, and amidst the war in Ukraine
which has brought in its wake both physical and mental wounds and a new wave of refugees in
all directions out of the war zone.
The overall aim of the Assembly was to explore the perception that missionary activity has
always been undertaken in a world torn by wounds in many forms. The conference theme was
chosen as powers – spiritual, material, political, economic, individual or collective – are the
inescapable context in which Christian mission is pursued. Historical processes such as colonial
and imperial domination have led to economic exploitation, unequal access to material resources,
health care, education and security and inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, physical or
other disability in which missionaries have been complicit or to which they have responded. At
times mission has exploited and increased the vulnerabilities of people, while other missionary
practitioners have sought to mitigate the vulnerabilities that render so many human lives
precarious.
There were four keynote addresses. IAMS President, Fr Paul Kollman CSC, reflected on the
need for urgent missiological discernment in a wounded world and proposed rampant religious
disaffiliation among onetime Christians, as well as intra-Christian polarization and division as
particularly urgent issues for contemporary mission studies. Jooseop Keum, former director of
the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME),
found resources for putting justice, equality and liberation at the heart of Christian mission in the
biblical concept of shalom and the Korean concept of sangsaeng (mutual life-giving). Emmanuel
Katongole, a Catholic priest from Kampala, Uganda, inspired us all with the story of the Bethany
Land Institute, an educational and ecological farming and reafforestation project building upon
the challenges of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si`. He proposed ‘integral ecology’ as a lens
for missiological reflection and practice in an era marked by global ecological crisis. Rosalee
Velloso Ewell, a Brazilian theologian and executive director of the Theological Commission of
the World Evangelical Alliance, challenged the Assembly with her reflections on discipleship as
a way of life that challenges the powers of this world and nationalistic understandings of identity
and entails bearing the wounds of a broken world as a testimony to the work of Christ.
Alongside the keynote addresses, a vast range of themes and issues were discussed at study
sessions where scholars and practitioners could present their research and reflect on questions of
common concern. IAMS’ permanent Study Groups, such as ‘Theology and Mission’, ‘Children,
Youth, and Mission’ and ‘Christian Communities and Mission’ held their own panels and were
supplemented by a variety of thematic panels. These covered topics such as Chinese Missiology,
Christian Mission in a Rapidly Changing India, Baptism and Migration Dynamics, and the
Wounded World of Work and Employment.
For the first time in IAMS’ 50-year history, a panel of Orthodox missiologists and missionary
practitioners from Romania, Kenya and Russia met in the context of the conference and
presented papers around the theme of ‘Powers, Inequalities and Vulnerabilities in historical and
contemporary Orthodox missionary contexts’. At the first sessions there were four papers: Fr
Paul Siladi of Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, presented a profound reflection
on the notion of vulnerability from the perspective of Orthodox spirituality, Christ’s model of
power and vulnerability, and the connection between vulnerability and mission. Fr Cristian
Sonea, also from Cluj, reflected on the situation of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and how to
overcome the ‘vulnerabilities’ of being the church of the majority: nationalism and ethno-
religion, attachment to rites of passage, and the forms that secularization is taking in Romania.
Vladimir Yakuntsev of St Philaret’s Institute in Moscow discussed patristic foundations for the
in-depth catechization of new believers, while Maria Dikareva, also of St Philaret’s, argued for
the importance of preparing baptismal sponsors and the experience of their community in this
field.
In Session Two, Fr John Cosmas Njoroge Ngige of Kenya Methodist University discussed the
call of Orthodox missions to respond to power, inequalities and vulnerabilities in modern Africa,
while Fr Evangelos Thiani of the Archbishop Makarios Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi described
in detail the background and impact on the Orthodox Church in Africa of the recent decision by
many African priests and parishes to switch their allegiance from the Patriarchate of Alexandria
to the Patriarchate of Moscow. Alison Kolosova of Tartu University, Estonia discussed power
and vulnerability in relations between mission and state in the context of the Russian Orthodox
missions inspired by Nikolai Ilminskii in Russia’s Volga region in the late 19 th and early 20 th
centuries. Although Session Two appeared to be about very different topics from Africa and
Russia, the common theme of mission and empire and its legacy in the present, bound the papers
together and produced a lively discussion.
The Orthodox panel first met via Zoom on June 6 th 2022 to record their papers so that they could
then be uploaded to the conference website where other conference participants could watch
them. They then met again during the Sydney conference itself, presented short summaries of
their topics which were followed by questions and discussion. Everyone agreed that the
conference was an extremely helpful experience for developing relationships within the group,
particularly as Orthodox scholars from different countries and jurisdictions have little
opportunity to meet up and discuss their research and topics of common concern. There was a
desire to continue meeting after the summer, perhaps once a month, or once a semester,
hopefully drawing in other interested scholars. The hope was also expressed to see each other
more in-person, for example at the IOTA conference in Volos, Greece in January 2023 and at the
IAMS 2023 Europe conference.
During the Sydney conference, the members of the new IAMS Global Executive Committee
were announced, following elections in the different regions of the world. Fr Cristian Sonea, an
Orthodox priest in Cluj-Napoca, Romania and Associate Professor of Missiology in the
Orthodox Theological Faculty, University of Babes-Bolyai, was elected to represent Europe on
the new Committee and we wish him well in this important task. The next IAMS Global
Assembly will take place in 2026. The location and theme are currently under discussion. As
mentioned above, the IAMS Europe conference will take place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania from 8-
12 September 2023 with the title ‘Missions towards Human Dignity: Challenges from within and
beyond the Black Sea region’. More details about the conference and the Call for Papers will be
available soon. Keep an eye on the IAMS 2023 conference website.Dr. Alison Kolosovav

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2 Responses

  1. The IAMS’ thematic panel “Powers, inequalities and vulnerabilities in historical and contemporary Orthodox missionary contexts” was one of few other IAMS’ thematic panels that specifically dealt with the mission of the Church from the perspective of a concrete Christian tradition, and the panel managed to send a meaningful and strong message to the IAMS’ Assembly by pointing to important historical but also contemporary issues within Orthodoxy in its missionary endeavors both on local and global levels. The seven presenters of papers made a great contribution to the overall IAMS’ research efforts which is a sure warrant that the “Orthodox” panel has successfully “embedded” itself within the IAMS’ missionary family.

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