The International Association of Mission Studies and Egypt

Sent On: 
Sun, 2022-07-17
Newsletter Number: 

The International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) is convening its 15th international assembly in Sydney, Australia. I am here as a speaker about Coptic population statistics (see our newsletter nr. 19). In 2016 I attended their 14th international assembly in Seoul where I spoke about the sensitivity of conversions from Islam to Christianity and from Christianity in Egypt. Egypt, as many other countries in the global south, is both community oriented and deeply religious and thus one should take these sensitivities in consideration.  I then made clear that I am not in favor of proselytism.


The IAMS is a highly diverse body. One finds here Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox. One also finds liberal, mean stream and conservative Christians with widely different views of what mission is. For many at the conference mission is an outreach to the poor and vulnerable. The theme this year was “Mission in a wounded world; Powers, Inequalities and Vulnerabilities.”


Participants could choose from four different churches they could visit for Sunday worship. These four churches were chosen by IAMS Australia. I participated in the group that visited the Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney. This church calls itself “progressive.” Others would call it liberal. Their mission focus is on reaching out to the downtrodden in Australian society; refugees in the widest sense of the word, those coming from other countries or people in Australia who no longer feel at home in their own communities, people in need and giving them a spiritual home.


Group visiting Pitt Street Uniting Church with rev. Elizabeth Watson.

This photo was made by a British participant who is working as a missionary in Pakistan and didn’t want to be on the photo our of fear that being in an IAMS conference would not be well received in Pakistan. Countries are different and I don’t have this fear in Egypt.


The IAMS has 20 working groups where all papers of participants were presented. Many reflecting research projects. Besides the working groups the IAMS also invited speakers for the plenary sessions. This included Prof. Emmanuel Katongole from Uganda who is professor of Theology and Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in the USA. He also serves as a full-time faculty of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Prof. Katongole highlighted that we are living in a time of a Kairos moment, that is a unique time in history. Previous Christian countries in Europe, North America and Australia are rapidly becoming more secular and with this Christianity is shifting from these Western countries to the global south: Africa, Latin America and Asia. “It changes how we do mission. We cannot continue with the old ways.” The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the weak points in societies. The West with its economic resources was much better able to respond than the global south. We are also experiencing an ecological crisis of which the effects are much more felt in the global south.


This is, Prof. Katongole said, a unique opportunity to reflect what it means to be Christian in a wounded world. Prof. Katongole founded the Bethany Land Institute in Uganda. The aim is to address deforestation, exhaustion of land, water poverty, migration to the cities where migrants believe they can find jobs but mostly end up in slums. Pope Francis highlighted in 2015 in Laudato Si the need to care for our earth, our common home. The Pope believes that everything in life is interconnected, ecology, the poor, connectedness with God and anything else and thus that we need an integrated approach. “We are hearing the cry of our earth and the poor in our time. This must affect the way we are doing theology,” Prof. Katongole said. The Bethany Land Institute is working on curriculum development, integrating training and spirituality. The Institute teaches what it means to live with the land and the need to change our lifestyle. The western perspective that land can be owned is wrong. Land is a gift to humanity. Stewardship needs to be our focus. Prof. Katongole referred to African spirituality that teaches us that the land owns us humans and not vice versa. If we mistreat the land the land (in the sense of the earth) will punish us. One of the participants asked the professor if his view could also be expressed through African spirituality only. His answer was yes but since he is addressing a Christian audience, he needs to refer to the Christian spiritual experience. Interestingly Prof. Katongole said that he is also working with two Muslims in his project, who, he said, have an equally rich spirituality that needs to be tapped in to, to address the big challenges that he described when he spoke about the Kairos moment.


It is obvious that this view of mission is very different from that of Christian missionaries traveling to distant countries to preach the gospel. Prof. Katongole was not alone in expressing an alternative view of mission but of course also the views of preaching the gospel could be heard at this conference. One participant remarked that with our participants and speakers we have experienced how diverse Christianity is. No doubt the same could be said about Islam.



July 17, 2022


Cornelis Hulsman, Editor-in-Chief Dialogue Across Borders