Mission with Mystery

Editorial by Gabriel Hingley

UNOH Noble Park, Melbourne, Australia

The crackling of a fire fills the misty silence of the Blue Mountains. A man stoops over the flames, depositing gum leaves. As the leaves burn and shrivel, pungent smoke fills the air. It forms whorls around our small gathering. The man, an aboriginal elder, invites each of us to circle the fire, and teaches us to scoop the smoke into our hands and inhale deeply, as an act of cleansing and purifying ourselves. As I breathe in the pungent smoke, I think of how God breathes His Spirit into us.

Months later, the UNOH Melbourne teams gathered for a day of prayer and reflection in Melbourne’s beautifuI Royal Botanical Gardens. I was walking along in solitude when a sign attracted my attention. On it was written some of the history of the Yarra River, which runs through the city. The local word for this river is Birrarung, which means “River of Mists”. Before British settlement, this river would meander in various directions, and would frequently flood during heavy rain into the area where the Gardens lie today. This was too unpredictable and impractical for the colonists, and so a large section of the Yarra was made straight. That way floods could be avoided, buildings could be built and progress made to create the vast CBD we know today.

As I looked around at the formal gardens, I wondered: “How much has been lost in the process of straightening the river?” The signs talk about the place once being abundant with fish and eels – an ideal hunting ground for the local people. Rather than learning from their culture and way of life in this land, my ancestors claimed their ways to be superior to the indigenous people, and plowed on with their own ideas, creating an artificial landscape devoid of connection with the land and its natural rhythms. Sure, technical progress has been made and we have the skyscrapers and trams and bridges to prove it. But did we miss something, even lose it, in the process of progress – perhaps the very thing that ultimately keeps us alive – our connection with the rest of God’s abundant, diverse Creation?

This “something” was made alive for the UNOH team as Uncle Greg spoke to us around the campfire earlier this year, and the pungent gum leaf smoke swirled around us. He told us stories about the various birds in the area, and how each one tells us about our own human nature and our place in this vast universe.

Later this year, UNOH Teams had the privilege of hearing from Maori elders in NZ. Again, we heard stories that connected people to their land and to one another. We were confronted with a worldview so different from Western rationalism. In Maori culture, people are viewed holistically. When I asked Matt Honiara, one of the Maori elders, why Maori use the three part greeting “Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa”, he explained to us that it means “Welcome body, welcome mind, welcome spirit.”

I wonder if in the West, just as we have rationalised our physical environment, redirecting whole rivers in the name of progress, we have also rationalised our Christian faith. What have we lost in the process? We have separated our minds from our bodies, but also, fundamentally, from our spirit. We have lost the mystery of the Spirit. Jesus says “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Later he says, “Out of the believers heart will flow rivers of living water” (7:38). Much time is wasted trying to make predictable what cannot be predicted. How are we re-directing and potentially damming up the rivers of God’s Spirit?

I have come to learn that mission work is not something we can completely plan, use formulas for, or know with certainty what the outcomes will be. Mission begins with prayer. It involves waiting. Sometimes it means retreating before advancing. It includes not being in control. Being a mission worker is not like walking along a straight man-made canal in one direction. It is more akin to stretching out our hands into a misty landscape, along a meandering river, only seeing as far as our own feet on an unknown path. This path, the way of the Cross, inevitably ends in emptying oneself. These are not simply activities of the mind, but the working of God’s Spirit, as He seeps into our being like mist or smoke.

In these new electronic editions of Finding Life, we invite you as the reader to engage the material with your body, mind and spirit. Your body, in the sense that we hope you will step out of reading feeling inspired by the call to do mission in your own neighbourhood. Your mind, in terms of engaging intelligently with what is presented and talking to others and Jesus about it. Your spirit, in the sense of the intangible, unpredictable, intuitive part of you that cries out “Abba! Father!”, who is willing to step into the mist and the smoke, the mystery that we call mission.

Welcome body.

Welcome mind.

Welcome Spirit.