Above the exit of a church a sign reads: “You are now entering the mission field”.
It is meant to remind congregation members that when they leave the building they are to go out and lead a Christian life.
A life that is in the example of Christ and perhaps an example others would like to follow.
The word mission means different things to different people. To the army, the mission could be the job that they are supposed to carry out. Corporations have mission statements. Missionaries were part of colonialism.
In taking land from indigenous people, colonists would also convert them to western religion.
How can we carry out mission in a post-colonial, and often post-Christian, world?
The Commission for Mission has a number of agencies or organisations that help with this work.
Uniting Journeys, which promotes and carries out responsible travel, is part of this new way of doing church.
Rather than staying within a church or inviting people to join the congregation, which remains important, Uniting Journeys works to bring people from different faith – and no faith – communities together on a ‘pilgrimage of life’.
This experience enables travellers to interact with other people in the world on a deeper level.
Barbara Jackson is a 65-year-old former community development worker. Although she is no longer ‘working’, she is anything but retired.
These days, Ms Jackson can be found teaching classes and travelling as a conversation partner with Uniting Journeys.
Having spent many years in Cambodia and Vietnam, Ms Jackson said she developed many strong friendships. She feels Uniting Journeys is offering people experiences that can’t be found on a conventional tour.
The team behind Uniting Journeys believe that living together in a world which is increasingly shrinking, and sharing experiences – not only with our fellow travellers but those who we meet along the way – is simply another way of doing church.
“I worked for six years in Vietnam on two aid projects. When I was in Vietnam I lost a big sense of being individualistic and private,” Ms Jackson said.
One of her strongest connections came when she was working in Cambodia in the 1990s and made friends with Saman Buth, a Cambodian woman who had survived the Pol Pot genocide.
“She is an amazing woman who lost a brother during that time. She is very charismatic and tried so hard to get a handle on what we were doing with community development. She actually took to it like a duck to water – she was so good at liaising with people in the villages.
“We became very good friends and we stayed in contact. Then in 1999 I got a job in Vietnam and I was there for six years.
“I was able then to rekindle our connection. At the same time she started her own NGO working with street children,” Ms Jackson said.
With Barbara’s help, people in Australia began supporting the NGO and a connection was maintained.
It’s these relationships with people that have motivated Ms Jackson to work with Uniting Journeys.
Last month she led a trip of six people on a journey to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The trip examined the lost history of the Mekong Delta and connected with people along the way.
“Uniting Journeys sits very comfortably with what I want to share with others. I think it has so much potential on so many levels,” she said.
Next year Uniting Journeys has a number of trips underway including: Fiji Village Life Project August 2015, Unadulterated Palestine (and the Holy Land) March/April 2015 and Hiroshima 70th Anniversary Tour August 2015.
To learn more visit: www.responsibletravel.org.au
By CHIP HENRISS