Known as “The Great Commission” Jesus tells the Disciples to “Go” spread the Word, baptizing and teaching, (Matthew 28:16-20) which has been cited as the foundation for evangelizing missions across the world for centuries. Christian missionaries followed on the heels of early explorers into new frontiers from the Americas, to the Pacific islands, to the continents of Asia, Africa, and Australia, a leading edge of displacement, disease, and disruption of indigenous culture and religion. The colonial conquering approach often imposed itself upon indigenous peoples with little regard for the ancient wisdom alive in these communities.
A critical element of true Mission is the “Co,” respect for and partnership with the people and culture in which the missionaries hope to serve. Co-Mission engages with the wisdom and traditions of the community to understand their way of life to support constructive change as defined by the community. Co-Mission respects the intelligence and autonomy of the community while working to serve. Co-Mission empties itself of pre-conceived judgments and agendas and opens to learning as much as teaching, to receiving as much as giving, to being converted as much as evangelizing.
I was blessed with the opportunity to work over several years in Tanzania with a small non-profit I co-founded which we named the Tanzania Health and Education Mission (THE Mission http://www.tzmission.org). Our work began with a visit to the country hosted by a Tanzanian priest from a nearby Bay Area parish. I traveled with three other women, two of them nurses. We were excited and open with no idea of what the journey might bring. We visited villages and schools, clinics and orphanages. We were welcomed into homes including rectories, convents and Massai huts, always with open-hearted hospitality which is a core ethic of Tanzanians. We attended Masses with Spirit overflowing in humble dirt-floor churches to large modern church buildings, filled with the brilliant colors of Tanzanian fabrics and the prayerful voices of all ages. My Catholic roots were renewed by the faith, hope and love alive in these communities.
After having met people, visited their homes and churches, laughed and worshiped together, we decided that we could make a contribution by gathering resources in our California communities to support the work of our hosts, Tanzanian priests and nuns, in their parishes, clinics and schools. We partnered with our hosts, taking their guidance and counsel about how we might best place our resources of time and money to support the health and wellbeing of their communities. For ten years, a contingent of our original foursome traveled to Tanzania each year to visit the schools and clinics we were supporting, to purchase medications and medical supplies, deliver scholarships and meet with students. We always returned renewed in our faith and inspired by our friendships.
Modern Missionaries often speak of the amazing gifts they have received from the people whom they set out to serve. At tis best, Co-Mission will seed and bring to fruition profound changes in both the host community and the visitors in a mutual sharing of needs and resources toward renewed health and wholeness for both.