Missionary travel and people of peace

posted in: The Church on Mission


*In her regular newsletter, Anne Thiessen reflected on the ICOMB consultation and the context of her work in Mexico. Her revised meditation appears here.

MB Mission photo
Anne Thiessen (l) translated as Ada De Mencia (r) of Paraguay presented a Bible study on Ephesians 5. PHOTO: MB Mission

Missionaries waste time and money on trips.

There’s probably some truth some of the time in that accusation. But I think moving into new spaces is part of the missionary task, especially today as white missionaries are taking more backseat roles in support of national missionary work.

A few weeks ago, my husband Robert and I attended the ICOMB consultation in Thailand. The topic was mission, and so missionaries like us attended, but we only made up around a fifth of the couple hundred people from 35 countries.
I’ve never been to anything like this before.

Listening to the testimonies of people from around the world was like housekeeping for the brain. It cleared my thoughts of dust and cobwebs and put fresh idea flowers on the table.

After the two-day consultation on training, and five days of rubbing elbows with people ministering in refugee camps and war zones and remote villages and great cities and jungles and restricted access countries, my brain was cramped with ideas. They poured out into my laptop at 2 in the morning when I couldn’t sleep because of the time change.

Back in our ministry location in Mexico, I have been implementing some of them this week.

I write this in Chiapas (after an 11-hour, overnight bus ride), training eight Mexican missionary candidates who are headed to unreached Mexican Indians and other unreached groups in the world.

We are in a Tzotzil village. We use a common latrine, take bucket baths every other day, and eat sparsely. The students fast. Stomachs growl.

Instead of meat, we digest the dramas of Acts, acting them out chapter-by-chapter on a floor papered with place names – Cyprus, Malta, Cappadocia, Perga, Pamphylia – to glean missionary principles we can apply.

I am amazed how quickly these missionary candidates see the need to use simple, reproducible, non-formal training to disciple pastors who could raise up other pastors who could raise up other pastors – right in their home towns. We are calling these leaders “men (people) of peace,” “Corneliuses” or “Berean elders.”

Even as I train with these potential missionaries, Robert is on a trip to the indigenous area where we first worked, about 10 hours to the east. He is travelling with three North American men from our team, interacting with leaders in the church there –“people of peace.”

As Robert and the others set out, they received word that one of these “Berean elders,” a Mexican missionary named Alfonso also working in Guerrero, had just died. In his late 50s, he had battled diabetes, complicated by undiagnosed tuberculosis, then a severe case of dengue. Phil, one of the four men, was especially grieved. Alfonso was Phil’s mentor when he first came to Alfonso’s Mixtec town. We owe Alfonso so much.

How do I move on from this? How do I pass on all this: the ideas, the hope, but also the pain?

On top of the last months of travel in Mexico and beyond, we have another week away. Robert and I are giving five-day course to another group of Mexican missionary candidates, with whom we work with more consistently. That some of these will one day work among the Mixtecs of Guerrero is a special reward.

Back to the travel accusation: is it wasteful, ineffective?

I reflect on two things. First, my own growth as a Christ-follower from being exposed to what God is doing in people different than my own culture. This enables me to be a better evangelist and teacher, and in some ways, gives Robert and I insight to speak prophetically.

Second, I consider the Phils who have been trained by the Alfonsos many times over. This could only have happened through our making the effort (prayerfully and financially supported by many North American churches and individuals) to travel to many different parts of Mexico, North America, and beyond.

So we keep going in a spirit of peace, finding people of peace, speaking of the Prince of Peace.

—Anne Thiessen is an MB Mission worker who lives among the Mixtec people in southern Mexico.