Please bring some wisdom home

Dear Sarah,

You called on a Wednesday to ask if I could give you the names for a story you were doing for Sunday’s Sun Herald on how missionaries have changed over thirty years. You wanted to speak with some who had returned thirty years ago and some most recently engaged in the Palms program. I agreed I would seek out those interested with a caution that many recently involved may not refer to themselves as missionaries.

You wanted to know why. I suggested the term had picked up baggage over the years, citing the compliance of Christian missions with Australian governments in the separation of children from their parents. I further suggested some might not want to be identified with missionaries of old who believed they were introducing God and spirituality to heathens. With the benefit of hindsight many have come to see such a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit as the cultural arrogance of European missionaries travelling with, and sometimes sponsored by, profiteering colonialists.

As our conversation progressed I gained the impression your article would provide an opportunity for going into some depth about the developing concept of mission. After finding the half-page buried on page 83 I suppose it was my arrogance that allowed me to believe your readers would want a detailed discussion. I wonder though if some might better appreciate and be further inspired by Palms’ Global Mission if they have the opportunity to read more of our conversation.

I mean, they might have been interested to know how mission for Palms’ volunteers was never really about evangelisation in placement because we have generally been in places where Christian faith is more comprehensively observed than in Australia. I talked of mission as dialogue, where different ways of living lives of faith can intersect and encourage all to grow. Perhaps I could have shared a phrase our chaplain uses ‘becoming human together’ to put this model of mission in context.

As I mentioned, most who are recruited by Palms are motivated to reduce poverty through sharing their skills and knowledge because their faith has taught them the value of building human dignity so that all may have life and have it to the full. And yes we have also had an atheist or two willing to work with us because of a belief in similar values. Pope John Paul II encouraged such in Sollicitudo rei Socialis and in Centesimus Annus: “…there is a reasonable hope that the many people who profess no religion will also contribute to providing the social question with the necessary ethical foundation.” and “…cooperation is required of all people of good will.”

Had I not allowed myself to be bound by the parameters of your questions on evangelisation as being what we do ‘over there’ I would have talked about how the experience of Palms’ volunteers in moving across cultures can be utilised for what may be a more necessary evangelisation; that of the Australian community. We have greater legitimacy promoting solidarity when we assist Australians to love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly together with fellow global citizens. Palms CommUnity Partnerships Program can create the links that promote these values and I was hoping your article might promote this program as your contribution to a just, interdependent and peaceful world.

Despite feeling somewhat frustrated Sarah, I’ll think of you kindly for at least providing the opportunity to share the Good News. Time constraints, deadlines and keeping it simple were not within your immediate control but are afflictions of our post-modern western culture. It’s not that everything is better somewhere else. However, if Palms’ volunteers are equipped to evangelise it is with what they bring home from the cultures where space still exists to encourage life as a reflective human being rather than always as a human doing.

You might have heard of Fr. Bob Maguire who recently put it like this: “All missionaries have that dilemma – Am I going to the Solomon Islands to bring in the Good News? Or am I going to the Solomon Islands to let the Good News out? In which case it will affect the Solomon Islands, but it will also affect me. I can then go back as a European to a European lifestyle and try to bring some Solomon Island wisdom with me. That’s the general kind of mix that should be going on around the world. Not taking bloody democracy to Iraq, you see, but going to Iraq as their humble servants and asking what can we do… to discover a modus operandi, a way of living together?”

I think this underscores some urgency. As Fr. Terry Bell correctly notes in your article, “Globalisation is exposing those worse off to all the luxuries the first world enjoys and makes (their) poverty … all the more stark.” If we cannot stop and reflect and change what must appear as resource gluttony by our 20% of the world’s population we will probably not understand the resentment that sprouts an even more widespread terrorism, that can never be controlled. Sarah, could I interest you in reflecting on such questions by joining a Palms CommUnity Partnership group?

Kind Regards

Roger O’Halloran
Executive Director