By Gayla Congdon
It was about four years into our work in Mexico that we decided to start building homes in the Tijuana dump. We recognized that most of the children living at the Tijuana Christian Mission were from families squatting there in makeshift houses. We designed a house that could easily be built and dismantled, so in case the families were ever kicked off the land, they could take the materials with them.
That became Amor’s framework for mission as more than 17,000 homes have been built these past 29 years. Over the years our vision has expanded to include houses built in South Africa and on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Even though the frame of the house has changed, its foundation has not—and I’m not talking about the cement foundation!
What I’m talking about is Amor’s passion for serving alongside the local church and through indigenous pastors. Since 1980 Amor has existed to do what the late Ted Engstrom, former head of Youth for Christ and World Vision International, told us to do.
Ted told my husband, Scott, and me to be laser focused on making the centerpiece of our framework—Amor’s mission and purpose—to grow God’s church in all we do. That is why, beyond constructing houses, we have also been instrumental in planting and building more than 100 churches in the locations we serve.
Just as the frame for the Amor house has changed over the years, a framework for missions also has had to change so we can remain dynamic versus static in our desire to make followers of Christ. The Lausanne Movement’s 2004 Forum concluded, in part, “The dramatic change in the political and economic landscape in recent years has raised new challenges in evangelization for the church. The polarization between east and west makes it imperative that the church seek God’s direction for the appropriate responses to the present challenges.”
That statement became reality for Amor in 2009, as we were hit with what we describe as a “perfect storm.” The escalating presence of a drug cartel, the swine flu, and a spiraling economy negatively affected us on all sides.
We were forced into developing a new framework for mission.
Developing Our Framework
First, we did an honest assessment of our ministry. There were many takeaways, but the biggest was this: over time our ministry had grown more focused on building projects than on relationships. That part of the framework needed to change. When that “perfect storm” hit, we were forced to recreate a ministry that already had a strong foundation but needed its framework tweaked.
Many of us need to consider a new framework for mission that employs our creativity in the specific and unique locations we serve. In order to do that, we must have the audacity to write a new chapter in global church history. Here are some things we must consider:
• Courage and boldness in our methodologies with a willingness to adapt. The good news is the strategies missionaries employed in the early years have changed. There has been a move away from trying to Americanize the cultures we go into. That said, we must be sure our new framework correlates with the DNA of the culture we are entering. We still tend to take methods that worked in one culture and try to use them somewhere else. I’m not saying a certain methodology won’t work in more than one country, but let’s make sure we don’t live and die with specific methods, and in doing so perhaps compromise relationships and undermine the spread of the gospel. Collaboration involving nationals and those outside our movement is integral as we create new strategies in this globalized world.
A holistic mission includes three components: evangelism, community development, and education. To this foundation add relationship building, community assessment, and implementation. It expresses a commitment to bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Jesus Christ. In the process, methods must always be evaluated: are they working in this ever-changing world?
An American missions pastor recently told me indigenous Latin America pastors weren’t buying into the methodology his group was trying to introduce. That team from the U.S. had decided to plow ahead with no involvement of the local church nationals, and no discussion on how to adapt methods or collaborate on new ones. At about the same time, a former Amor intern told me about a similar situation in Asia, but there his team collaborated with the indigenous pastors and adapted methods with astonishing results. Which team will be more effective in the long run?
• Sustainability and appropriate technology must be a part of the new framework. We need to be intentional in our strategy to work alongside community members as we develop this technology so the community learns to leverage local resources for their betterment. This new framework for mission will rely less on outside resources. It will require a commitment not to do something for the nationals they can do for themselves.
An example of this is at a soup kitchen in Tijuana, Mexico, where two-thirds of the resources needed to feed the 700 people each day come from the local homegrown food bank. That is real progress, especially along the border where, in the past, the soup kitchen would have been 100 percent funded from outside.
• Social media. It is here to stay and so we better use it in our new framework for mission. As my son, a millennial, told his baby boomer mom: if we don’t use social media, then the enemy will.
A June 25 article in the Christian Post talks about how the Mormon church is using more social media in its proselytizing and relying less on door-to-door
“The world has changed,” Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry was quoted as saying. “The nature of missionary work must change if the Lord will accomplish his work.” Perry said people are increasingly “less willing to let strangers into their homes. Their main points of contact with others is often via the Internet.”1
If we use social media effectively, then followers of Christ and his church can drive global conversations on issues like human and sex trafficking. We have something to offer those being trafficked (as well as the urban poor and unreached people groups), and that’s a life with hope when following Jesus.
Social media also provides missionaries a less expensive way to raise funds by virtually eliminating the cost of a standard mailing. Two years ago Amor was forced to rely on the Internet for an appeal, and we raised more funds than in any single appeal in our history. Network for Good (www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com) has proven to be a great resource. We know we will need new revenue streams to support missions, and social media gives us another option for engaging donors.
• This new framework should also include a plan of succession, because the mission field is in desperate need of replenishing itself. Amor has such a plan. (You can read an article I wrote on the subject in Outcomes magazine a couple of years ago; here’s the link: ym.christianleadershipalliance.org/?page=BiblicalPlannin.)
All of this and more is why we are creating Cienega, the University of Amor. We are building this leadership/discipleship training center and school for sustainability to prepare future missionaries for holistic mission. We are developing 12 acres in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula where people who are committed to global evangelism can collaborate on fulfilling the Great Commission. Eradicating spiritual and physical poverty is attainable if we are intentional about raising up a new generation of missionaries.
Gayla Congdon is founder and chief spiritual officer for Amor Ministries, San Diego, California. Her book, Disrupted: Cultivating a Mission Focused Life, is available from Standard Publishing.
Interested in Short-term Missions?
Learn how to implement an effective short-term mission trip with Gayla Congdon’s recently published book, Disrupted: Cultivating a Mission Focused Life (Standard Publishing, 2013; www.standardpub.com).
A Special Invitation
Calling all 18- to 25-year-olds AND juniors or seniors in high school! Come the Global Gathering at Cienega, for young people from all over the world January 3-10, 2015. The gathering is being sponsored by Amor, ICOM (the International Conference on Missions), and others in the Yucatan.
Attendees will serve in context on a building/outreach team. Speakers and leaders from all over the world will challenge them in their small groups to process what they are doing and learning, and to ask themselves, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
For more information go to www.amor.org.