LONDON – Missionaries of the colonial era may have made their mistakes, but it would be wrong to forget the heroism, love and faith with which they ultimately brought the Gospel to new people groups, the Bishop of Lichfield has said.
The Rt. Rev. Jonathan Gledhill said Sunday night that it was "not fashionable" to talk about missionaries, as he referenced "The Poisonwood Bible" and its caricature of a western missionary who makes numerous cultural mistakes, including telling locals that "Jesus Christ is poison wood" instead of what he really wanted to say, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
"Although we have to go on apologizing for our colonial mistakes we mustn't get so apologetic that we forget the heroism, the love, the faith of the missionaries," the Anglican leader said.
"The first time I went to a long house in Borneo they showed me all the human skulls in the rafters, of people their forbears had eaten. The bishop turned to me and said: 'You keep apologizing for the colonial missionaries; and it is true that they made some mistakes. But at least we don't eat people any more!'"
Bishop Gledhill made the comments in a homily to welcome the diocese's new director of world mission, the Rev. Philip Swan.
He said the Good News of a loving Creator and salvation through Jesus Christ would never have reached others if it had not been for Christians who had a world vision and risked their lives repeatedly to obey the Lord's command to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.
"Every Christian and every congregation is called to take its part in God's plan for the whole world," he said.
"I hope that all of us ask the Lord from time to time: 'Lord, where do you want me to go next?'"
The bishop spoke of celebrations he recently attended to mark the 100th anniversary of the Diocese of Singapore, during which diocesan representatives thanked the Anglican delegation from the United Kingdom for sending missionaries who set up churches, clinics and schools.
He said the Archbishop of South East Asia was still asking for young people from the United Kingdom to spend their gap year in Singapore with the St. Chad's Trust, and for mature people to spend a few years teaching English and helping new congregations within the diocese.
One of Swan's tasks will be to send clergy and lay leaders from the Diocese of Lichfield to Singapore to renew their vision.
"Being involved in God's mission is like being Dr Who, only it's real, not imaginary!" said Gledhill. "We live in a fast changing world but the world mission perspective must not shrink."