A missionary’s farewell
Paul Hiebert, a renowned missiologist, anthropologist, and missionary to India was my missions professor during my seminary years. I learned so much from this man about missions. He was invited to deliver a commencement speech for the seminary’s graduation services but he passed away to be with the Lord only a day before the actual date. His words below are truly penetrating. There is much much Godly wisdom in this short speech:
Paul Hiebert’s Commencement Speech 2007
We, your families, churches and colleagues, gather to celebrate your completion of this major step in your lives. There have been steps before, and will be more, but today we want to rejoice that God has given you the strength and wisdom to complete your degrees and is sending many of you out in your life ministries.
Take a minute as you gather and celebrate, and look at your fellow graduates. Yes, you see a joyful crowd of new graduates. Look deeper and more carefully, and you see the leaders in the global church in the 21st century. But, you say, we are such ordinary people. God needs extraordinary people for extraordinary times. But down through the centuries God has chosen ordinary people like you to accomplish his extraordinary ministries around the world, because God’s mission and ministry is ultimately God’s work. So stop and look, really look around at your colleagues. You are God’s leaders and coworkers for the coming years.
A Rapidly Changing World
The world in which you minister is radically different from the one Frances and I entered in 1960. Then it took us three months by ship to reach India; three weeks for mail to go and return, and three days to book an underseas cable to phone the U.S. People returned once every seven years on furlough. Today transcultural flights and instant communication have become routine.
Every few centuries, we seem to pass through an “Alice in Wonderland’s mirror” and enter a world radically different from the one we left. In the past we adjusted old theories and methods of ministry to a changing world. Today we do not need old theories and methods. We need new kinds of ministers and missionaries who learn to think in new ways, to exegete their social and cultural contexts as well as others, and faithfully communicate the Gospel to our new world. Most of us leave seminary with a deep understanding of the Gospel, but with few ways to exegete humans. The message we preach often touches the surface of people’s lives but does not transform them deeply. We must develop more effective methods of understanding and go deeper to understand the central questions people are facing. We need to show them that the Gospel provides definitive answers to their felt needs and their deep theological needs. In other words, we need theologians and missionaries who do both theological and anthropological reflections on the human scene more deeply and who learn how to incarnate faithfully the Gospel in contemporary human contexts.
Our Unchanging Lord
In our fractured, changing world, the great news is that Jesus Christ, the Lord of all history, and the commander in world mission is the same today as he was with Adam, Moses and David. He is the Lord who took on human flesh to bring us salvation, and a new creation.
We who have walked before, commend you into God’s hand. We have lived in changing worlds, and have experienced our Lord’s faithfulness and constancy throughout our lives. If you asked us: if we had the chance would we live differently, I know most of us would say no, not at the deepest levels of our lives. As we grow old, we can look back at the story, “the plot” of our lives, and see that God has been writing a drama in our years of living. When we were young we sometimes saw our life stories as detective stories, as mysteries, as tragedies, possibly as comedies, but in looking back we realize that these are great Love Stories. He who created us is coming back to bring us home as his bride.
Our Challenge to You
We who have gone before today charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus: be ready to minister in season and out of season; reproving, rebuking and exhorting with complete patience and teaching. Like Paul we encourage you to share the Gospel you have heard among us. YOU are already the leaders of the world church in the 21st century. Remember, central to your task is to train leaders who will, in turn, train leaders—not followers. Remember that God is writing a story in your lives as you minister in his kingdom, but your story takes on meaning because it is part of an eternal story. Paul received that Gospel and passed it on to Timothy, who passed it on to those who followed . That Gospel has come down through the centuries through our spiritual genealogy, and we must pass it on to those who follow us. When Christ returns, he will continue establishing his eternal reign of peace, justice and love over the universe.