Thursday, September 7, 2023

Rodney Aist: Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage

Today’s post is by Rev. Rodney Aist. Rev. Aist is a United Methodist clergy in the New Mexico Annual Conference, currently serving as the course director at St George’s College, Jerusalem. It relates to his recently published book, Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2023).

The mission journey is a response to the longings of the world, addressing issues from poverty and health care to natural disasters. People, near and far, lack sufficient food and shelter, safety and security, hope for a better tomorrow. Christian mission is a response to an imperfect world, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was moved to compassion by the needs and potential of others. The mission journey offers a pathway for everyday Christians to embody the love of God, to serve others, and, in doing so, to change the world.

The mission journey changes lives: our own and others, in immediate and long-term ways. Mission travel takes us beyond the scenes and routines of our everyday lives to paradoxical settings: to places in need where we encounter God in the Other, to people of faith who grace us with gifts to transform our lives back home.

Through serving others, we encounter God, and our lives are changed as well. What we discover on a mission journey is that the people who we’re called to serve bless us with the power and grace of God. While the call of short-term mission is to journey faithfully as a servant, guest, and stranger, the lesson of religious travel is that our everyday world is also in need of healing, salvation, and reconciliation. That’s an important, if overlooked, aspect of the mission adventure: the self-awareness that our everyday world isn’t perfect, that our culture doesn’t hold all the answers, the humility to know that we are all incomplete people in need of God and one another.

In my book Mission Bound: Short-Term Mission as Pilgrimage, I offer a transformative approach to short-term mission. Pilgrimage is a comprehensive image of the Christian life that encompasses both personal and social transformation, and Mission Bound reframes short-term mission as pilgrimage as a holistic expression of faith that includes the experience of God, self, and the Other.

On a mission journey, we engage the Other, encounter God, and (re)discover ourselves in transformative ways. Pilgrimage is crossing boundaries, following God in unfamiliar places, both being and befriending the stranger, and walking alongside one another. As the imitation of Christ, pilgrimage embodies humility, service, love, and compassion, as well as our vulnerability with others. Espousing the union of God, self, and the Other as the objective of the Christian life, Mission Bound casts the mission partnership as one of reciprocal relations based on the body of Christ. Being partners in mission is the practice of journeying together. It’s discovering together, through the grace of God, solutions to the worlds in which we live.

Mission Bound develops a pilgrim spirituality for short-term mission, offers the gift of cultural humility, and addresses the challenges of the mission experience. In doing so, it covers the entirety of the mission journey in detailed, practical ways, including preparation and departure, time at the mission site, the return home, and the aftermath of the journey. As a pre-departure study guide, questions for individual and group discussion conclude each chapter.

The core of the book explores short-term mission through the lens of the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell), which follows a threefold pattern: the traveler (1) leaves his or her ordinary world, (2) crosses a threshold into a special world full of ordeals, allies, conflicts, and treasures, and (3) returns home transformed, sharing the rewards of the adventure with others. Heroes consist of ordinary people who are summoned on a journey, face challenges, sacrifice and suffer, and emerge as wiser, more virtuous figures. Through short-term mission pilgrimage, ordinary Christians can be heroes in their faith.

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