Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of our newest priests to arrive in the archdiocese, Father Joseph Kureh.
Father Joseph comes from Burma (also known as Myanmar) in southern Asia. After serving the Church there for 20 years in remote jungle terrain, he has been called thousands of miles away to enter the mission field of the East Side of St. Paul.
He is ministering to the growing population of refugees and newcomers from Burma’s Karenni and Karen ethnic groups who are making St. Bernard’s and Blessed Sacrament parishes their spiritual home.
He told me it is so different here compared to his homeland. Besides experiencing snow and icy cold for the first time, he is trying to understand our customs and learning how to “speak Minnesotan” compared to the British English he knows.
New map for missionaries
Jesus said, “I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). We may think of the “mission fields” as only those foreign and exotic places on the other side of the world, and missionaries as being a special breed of people. While there are still people making a lifelong commitment to leave home and travel to foreign lands for many years, we may be less aware of how the geography of mission has changed over the last 50 years and continues to change.
The Second Vatican Council declared that mission is the birthright of every Christian when it said, “The Church is missionary by her nature” (“Ad Gentes,” 2). This means that each of us is called to witness
to the good news of Christ with our life.
Pope John Paul reflected further to say, “There is a new awareness that missionary activity is a matter for all Christians, for all dioceses and parishes” (“Redemptoris Missio,” 2).
The call of mission is not restricted to certain peoples or geographical areas (“mission lands” or “missions”); it includes people of all races, nations and generations. Mission is not just “out there,” but also “in here.” It is about exploring the geography of faith in the human heart.
Giving and receiving
And so, what are the mission fields today?
First, there are the fields of those who have never heard or seen the Gospel message. They have never witnessed the love of Christ and his Church.
Second, there are the pastoral fields of mission which St. Paul describes as “equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This is the fellowship and ministry we offer one another within the Church. It is a field as local as our family, neighborhood, parish and diocese. It is as universal as our solidarity with brothers and sisters around the world whom we have never met.
Third, there are the mission fields of the new evangelization, which reaches out to those who have been separated, disengaged or have simply faded away from Church life. This mission tries to help people re-discover their faith and life in the Church.
Finally, there are the mission fields of transforming the world. The Church exists for the world. The Church has something to say to the pressing questions of our day and how to bring about a world that reflects God’s design and plan. The Church can add to civil discourse, the marketplace, the issues of conflict and human dignity, working toward greater justice and peace for all people.
The mission fields today are around the world and next door. We each have something to receive and something to give to God’s mission of drawing all people to the reign of God and the fullness of God’s life in Christ.
Deacon Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.