The 2019 annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology (ASM) recently concluded. Over 240 professors, executives, and practitioners of mission met to explore the theme, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Faithful,” essentially asking ourselves the question, “How should the fact of the gap between the rich and the poor impact the way we live and practice mission around the world?”
I had the honor of serving ASM as its president this past year. By that honor, I had the privilege of organizing the meeting, which included choosing the theme, securing speakers, and generally bossing highly efficient people around. Huge thanks to the ASM board—especially conference coordinator Alison Fitchett—as well as my associates of the International Fellowship for Mission as Transformation (INFEMIT)—especially operations director Tori Greaves—who all made the meeting run quite smoothly.
Issues surrounding wealth and poverty have always been central in my mission thinking. The God whom we encounter in the Scriptures, yes, loves all, but the lost, vulnerable, have-nots, marginalized, and oppressed get God’s special attention. How should that fact—God’s special concern for the poor—define both our personal lifestyles and the church’s mission around the world?
Our speakers “brung it!” as we say on the street. Renowned theologian Ronald J. Sider started us off Friday night (June 14th) by sharing his own personal journey through six editions of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. On Saturday morning (June 15th), Father Benigno Beltran, a Catholic priest-scholar who served the people of Smokey Mountain in Manila for 30 years, brilliantly made the connection between serving the poor and serving the earth. That evening, I confronted classism and proposed ways to overcome it personally and corporately. And then on Sunday morning (June 16th), Debra Mumford, a homiletics professor at Louisville Theological Seminary who has done extensive research on the prosperity gospel, gave an informative lecture-sermon on the logic, but ultimately the dangers of prosperity thinking.
I also invited storytellers, that is, people who reminded us that ministry among the poor needs concrete expressions. Maria Surat Schommer described the local ministry of the Catholic Worker. Viv Grigg shared about an innovative master’s program in urban missiology for, with, and among the poor. And Ruth Padilla DeBorst described the vision and life of Casa Adobe, an intentional Christian community in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Sandra Maria Van Opstal, author of The Next Worship, and Hallel, a duo made up of Aracely Hernandez Bock and Adri Arango from the Jesus People USA community in Chicago, led us in song. This LatinX, all-girl band had us swaying and clapping to songs in several languages, reminding us that worship entails our whole bodies as we serve the God of all nations.
We gave out several awards. Colin Yuckman received the Graduate Student Paper Award; Brian Stanley earned the Book of the Year award; and J. Samuel Escobar received the Lifetime Achievement Award. I was especially gratified that Dr. Escobar, past president of ASM, received this award during my presidency. He has been a mentor and friend to me and to countless others throughout his remarkable career, which spans over five decades.
This summary barely communicates my extreme gratitude for allowing me the privilege of contributing to the life of the American Society of Missiology. My ultimate hope, of course, is that the issues with which we wrestled at the conference will translate into lifestyle changes, paradigm shifts, and powerful mission partnerships between the rich and the poor as God’s people strive in the Spirit do on earth as it is in heaven.