What Does Evangelism Look Like Where You’re From?

How do we appraise what “innovative evangelism” looks like in a cultural context that is not our own? This is a question with which we wrestle regularly on the Grants Committee of the EES Board. After all, even the most diverse and thoughtful committee with the most wide-ranging experiences could not possibly have insight into all cultures, all contexts. The conundrum becomes even more vivid as we review proposals from international applicants. As we gain more clarity about how we understand evangelism in the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement,” does that limit or enhance our ability to appreciate how the Good News is shared and heard in other limbs of the Anglican family tree?

A good starting point for exploring this issue, of course, is listening deeply for a richer understanding of applicants’ ministry context and vision. With the above questions in mind, our Board recently had the opportunity to spend an evening with several recent grantees and associates from Malawi and Burundi. The context was our semi-annual meeting of the Board at the School of Theology in Sewanee, TN. The setting was an intimate dinner and conversation (see below for participants). We asked about their ministry contexts: What pressing challenges do you face? What does hope look like? How can we best partner with you?

The answers we received gave me new ears to hear, new eyes to see. Whereas I have always been and remain deeply cautious about, even uncomfortable with, the framing of evangelism as competition with other denominations and faith traditions, I came away from our evening together with a fresh appreciation for the serious soul business of confronting the gospel of prosperity. It can be a lonely matter to share a Good News of hope, healing and reconciliation amid of sea of promises for quick riches and incoming material rewards. What is at stake, we heard, is the very grave risk that the Gospel itself becomes “rubbished,” such that as followers of charlatan preachers become disillusioned and fall away from prosperity-gospel churches, they no longer entrust their faith to any church or spiritual path. And so evangelism, in this context, is about ensuring that people have a chance to taste and experience something real, something lasting, something true.  

Another moment from the evening that stands out to me is a description of how, at least in Burundi, every service includes ample time for testimonies. People share, freely and as a matter of course, their stories of God’s loving presence in their lives. This made me smile, as it stands in such contrast to the norms in many Episcopal Churches, where EES grantees are helping people to unearth, hone, and share their own such stories. I would venture a guess that there would be no need for such a grant in the churches of Burundi!   

Our deliberation as a Grants Committee will be enhanced by this evening of asking, listening, and telling stories about evangelism in different contexts. And we look forward to continuing to expand our understanding of innovative evangelism through your unique proposals!   

Editor’s note: we are grateful to recent EES grantees the Rev. Jean Mweningoma, the Rev. Julius Chunga and the Rev. Chanju Banda for sharing their thoughts with us. The Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga and the Rev. Deborah Jackson, both of the School of Theology, were also gracious to join us.

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