Witness Within The Mainstream
The late Dennis Lennon, OMF missionary to Thailand, talked about ‘the strategic importance of establishing witness within the main stream of education.’ 1
I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of witness. Sitting on my bookshelf is the copy of John Stott’s Issues Facing Christians Today that one of my secondary school teachers gave me. Let no one underestimate the missional significance of a Christian teacher, especially in the state school system, who over the long haul exercises a godly influence in the classroom and local community.
The intersection of education with mission is a long established one. According to the Dutch missiologist J. Verkuyl, ‘Education ranks as the oldest form of diaconia [service] in the modern history of missions.’ 2 Missionaries have often been at the forefront of initiating many forms of education, especially among those whose opportunities to access education were non-existent. William Carey’s Serampore mission team is a good example. The “Serempore Compact” of 1805 stated: ‘The establishment of native free schools is also an object highly important to the future conquests of the gospel.’3 Within five months of Carey’s arrival in India, boarding schools for European and Anglo-Indian children were opened. The first school for Bengali boys was opened in June 1800. By 1817 there were forty-five schools. A society educating native girls was formed in 1818 and by 1824 six girls’ schools were up and running.
The commitment to providing education to local communities has often been a form of disinterested service (no intent to profit or ulterior motive) – something rarely seen in other faiths. Vinoth Ramachandra writes how, in the Indian context, ‘[t]he ideal of disinterested service which missionaries and indigenous Christians provided was unique. It is easy to understand charity for the sake of achieving religious merit or as an inducement to religious conversion. But that charity and social betterment should have no other motive than love itself – this was an alien notion.’ 4
Agents For The Kingdom
From a theological perspective, the meeting of educational need is part of our demonstration that God cares for the whole person and that ‘there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!”’ 5 The Christian teacher understands his daily work to be part of his active witness to God’s sovereign rule over all things. The Christian lecturer recognises her university to be the place where God has called her to be an agent of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
It was this kind of vision that led Hudson Southwell of the Borneo Evangelical Mission, to initiate discussions with the education department in Sarawak for the establishment of a programme of technical education. He wanted to see Christian men and women educated so as to exercise their civic responsibilities under a commitment to the Lordship of Christ. In 1955, following his discussions with the government officials he wrote to his friends in Australia:
The indigenous church in Borneo now consists of thousands of believers among the various tribes, but apart from those few being trained as pastors, almost none of these Christians are being trained for civil responsibilities. In many parts of inland Borneo the picture is not that of a few called out believers in a vast pagan community, but rather of many believers in communities which have become largely Christian – though still awaiting the education and training which should accompany such a change. I have a feeling that we have a responsibility to meet the need for such training… 6
There are all sorts of ways to be an agent of the Kingdom involved in education. It may mean remaining in your present school with a renewed sense of calling to Kingdom service. It could mean taking a position in an international school somewhere in the world where Christian presence is minimal among faculty, students and wider society.
OMF is looking for skilled educators with a passion for mission. For instance, we need people who are prepared to serve in cross-cultural environments in order to teach the children of missionaries. In creative access nations there are openings to work in universities and to impact the lives of students. Whether in formal or informal settings, educators across East Asia have unique opportunities for the transforming power of the gospel to be seen and heard from their lives. If this is a direction you’d like to pursue, we’d love to hear from you.
- Dennis Lennon, Young World (Sevenoaks: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1979), 23.
- J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 212.
- William Carey, Compact Curriculum Supplement, Candle in the Dark, published by Christian History Institute.
- Howard Peskett & Vinoth Ramachandra, The Message of Mission (Leicester: IVP, 2003), 238.
- Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.
- C. Hudson Southwell, Uncharted Waters (Calgary: Astana, 1999), 327.