Rev. Gary Bekker and Rev. Moses Chung believe the time has come to unify Christian Reformed World Missions and Christian Reformed Home Missions. They are the authors of a proposal to build one global mission agency. The boards of their agencies agreed in principle and asked them to come with a more detailed plan in April.
“Christian Reformed missions can be done better by a unified agency than by two agencies divided by geography,” wrote Chung and Bekker. They are the directors of those agencies. “‘The nations’ now live in our home cities, towns, and rural areas. Moreover, our congregations and their members have an increasing number of world experiences and relationships.”
Connecting ministry with people in ethnic churches in North America with ministries among people in their countries of origin, building the kingdom internationally by focusing on international students in North America, and many other opportunities become new ways to do missions when we can think about the global and local contexts and their connections rather than "here" vs. "there," they wrote.
Chung, director of Home Missions, said the structure of two separate mission agencies was something they inherited. It was created a long time ago when the world was different. “Because of urbanization and globalization, geographic boundaries have been rendered almost meaningless today,” he said.
Chung pointed to ministry to Chinese people as just one example. “[Home Missions] does campus ministry in North America on campuses where there are thousands upon thousands of Chinese students. World Missions has a long history of missions in China. What if we had a strategy to work together with these students who have connections and relationships back home? They are right here. We can disciple them and they will go back home to be leaders in all sectors of their society. For us, it just makes sense.”
They anticipate increased effectiveness and growth in ministry through efficiencies in ministry operations and in the administrative services needed to support them. But they say finances did not drive this discussion. In fact, Bekker said they don’t think it will save a lot of money right away. He believes the CRC will get more ministry for the same dollars. Chung noted that as directors they are certainly aware of the decline in ministry shares giving. “But this conversation has been driven by the strategic, abundant, extraordinary opportunities for missions in North America and around the globe.”
New Impetus for an Old Idea
Bekker said that a unified agency is not a new idea. Conversations about building a single agency have been happening for several years. In 2008, the presidents, officers, and directors of the agencies met to discuss increased collaboration. They met again in 2009 and 2010. The Board of Trustees and synod (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) have also encouraged collaboration between the two agencies.
Now several factors have changed that gave new impetus to the discussion. “We have a new director at Home Missions. We have a new executive director. And both organizations have highly experienced people and also a bunch of younger people who are experienced, committed, smart,” Bekker said.
This specific proposal came together quite suddenly. “The timing is a bit of a surprise to [us],” said Chung. “We started a conversation at the end of last year, conversations that started with ‘what if?’ and ‘just imagine.’” He said that when they came back in January, they all were sensing that perhaps the time is now. They went to executive director Steven Timmermans to make sure there was openness, and there was. “That led to writing the actual proposal, and by the end of that week, we judged this is what God is leading us to do,” Chung said. Now they want the church to engage in the discussion and discern with them if this is where God is leading.
How Would It Work?
In terms of how a transition like this would play out, Bekker said the answer to many questions is, “We don’t know yet.” Bekker and Chung want to engage the church through proper channels to see if it is on board with the “what” and the “why” before answering the “how” questions.
The first step was going to their boards with the proposal. A more detailed plan answering some of the “how” questions will be presented in April. The “how” questions are many, including issues around incorporation and charitable status, Church Order implications, the core values and administrative structure of the two agencies, deployment of personnel, and a timeline for implementation.
If the agency boards approve that more detailed proposal, it would go to the CRC’s Board of Trustees in May. If the board endorses it, the next stop would be Synod 2015.
The stakes are high for Chung and Bekker personally. A new agency would likely have only one director, which could be one of them—or neither. “We are putting our jobs on the line,” Chung said. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we trust that if this is where God is leading, then that’s where we want to go.”
Neither is interested in pushing ahead if the church is not on board. “We invite hard questions,” Bekker said.
Chung concurred. “We invite the church to talk with us, pray with us, discern with us,” he said. “If we can find a way to do that together, we have a future we can’t even imagine.”
What Was Old May Be New Again
The CRC has carried out mission work since its earliest years, and it wasn’t always tidily divided between domestic and foreign mission fields. In 1889, the denomination sent out its first missionary to work among the Lakota people in South Dakota under the auspices of what would eventually become known as Christian Reformed World Missions. That work was later expanded to include the Navajo and Zuni people. World Missions did not open its first overseas mission until 1920.
Home Missions traces its beginnings back even earlier, to 1879, when it sent an itinerant minister to what is now called Vogel Center, Mich. In 1947, its first director was appointed, and in 1963, the work of the Native American ministry was transferred from World (Foreign) Missions to what had become known as Home Missions.