Dialogical conversations or theological debates have their value. In the accounts that follow, however, entering into authentic human relationships across boundaries of geography, culture, religion, and language is seen as foundational for sharing the good news of Jesus. The encounters are shaped by the particularities of each context. The stories are different. Yet all have in common a commitment to non-coercive human engagement that values the other. Robert Wuthnow observes that
Engagement with the world beyond requires movement and anticipates transformation. Jesus himself was constantly on the move. Along the way, he crossed many boundaries and engaged the people of the borderlands. It is no accident that Jesus envisions his disciples crossing borders to "Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
A lack of engagement beyond ourselves and our communities presumes stasis. Stasis ultimately leads to death. Entering into relationship presumes movement. Robert Wuthnow in Sharing the Journey2 alludes to the dual sociology in flourishing congregations of "joining" and "belonging." Joining is predicated on the porosity of boundaries. It stimulates passion, energy, vision, creativity and movement. Belonging, on the other hand, engenders clarity, roots, and connectedness.
Boundaries are important. They help us to know who we are and where we come from. For missional communities, however, crossing borders is essential. A church with a missional consciousness understands that boundaries are not exclusive. Differences are important but enrich community. This is the good news according to the gospel: God is creating a new humanity.
But it is not a generic humanity. This new peoplehood is constituted by people from different ethnicities, languages, cultures. This is the mystery now made known: In the church, comprised of many cultures and ethnicities, Gods purposes are being revealed (Eph. 3:3-6). For the people of God, borders are identifiers of communities incorporated in Gods design with whom we are to be engaged for Gods sake. Our differences are important not as tools for exclusion but as the measure of our diversity and completion. Openness to diversity enables a greater appreciation of the richness our differences make possible.
A tragic mistake in mission has been objectifying people through a "results" orientation that turns converts into data for showcasing our efficient methods or sincere dedication. In this mindset, relationships were instrumental; stereotypes, if not encouraged, were left intact. The focus was on teaching rather than on learning. As the stories of interfaith-bridge-building reported in this text show, engagements built on developing authentic relationships can be subversive. They force us to question and ultimately invalidate stereotypes. An Anabaptist commitment to a non-coercive posture vis-à-vis others gives us the freedom to be authentic. We can share our story freely in a way that is respectful and preserves the dignity of others rather than making them targets or data in an outcomes-based strategy.
Not always blatantly stated in the accounts but often implied is a response to the question, Why should we cross borders and build bridges? Andrew Walls, commenting on Gods purpose in gathering "a numberless multitude drawn from every tribe, tongue, people and nation" (Rev. 7:9), observes that this is not simply a fulfillment Gods design but a necessary expression of our completion. We are inadequate until people from across every border are welcomed into Gods family. Walls says,
The accounts in this book encourage a new way of thinking about how we witness to the good news. As we share our story in the context of authentic relationships, we are liberated from a savior syndrome. We are freed to enter into new relationships with people everywhere supported by the conviction that we have come to learn, to be enriched, indeed to be completed.
In that space of engagement, we must still fully share our own narrative. For Anabaptists that narrative includes the Bible, centered on Jesus, the gift of God for the salvation of the world and the One in whom all things hold together (Eph. 1:17-23). The story also includes the centuries of commitment to reconciliation and peacemaking. If such sharing attracts others to incorporate this story as part of their narrative, then we must celebrate this as the work of God who effects conversion by the Holy Spirit. As Anabaptists it would be disingenuous and antithetical to the core of our identity to deny this possibility.
Whether through the vissicitudes of
history or intentional theological choice, Anabaptists
have embraced a pilgrim identity. For pilgrim people,
borders and building bridges are part of the fabric of
life. This books stories and reflections inspire us
to be pilgrims with a purpose: Gods.
© 2007 by Cascadia Publishing House