In April 1855, Hudson Taylor and his friend John Burdon sailed up the Yangtse River on an evangelistic journey that took them to the city of Tongzhau. Along the way, they heard cries of “black devils”—not because of their skin or hair color but because of their foreign clothes. Foreign clothes, foreign speech, and foreign ways were found to be an unnecessary distraction to the gospel. Though Taylor had previously donned Chinese garb while preaching, not long after this trip he determined to adopt the local fashion permanently.
Hudson Taylor became well known for identifying with the people to whom he brought the gospel. The same is true for the members of the China Inland Mission that he would found a decade later. Learning language and culture is an essential part of becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22, all quotations from ESV). But as the cover photo of this issue illustrates, clothes don’t necessarily make the man. Fashions change. Cultures evolve. Religious practices transform. The status of foreigners in a country fluctuates. For all these reasons, missionaries find themselves continually assessing and reassessing their personal identity.
This issue of Mission Round Table begins with articles that set identity in the context of relationship, particularly our all-important relationship with Christ. Peter Rowan’s examination of “Mission as Bearing Witness to an Identity Given by Christ,” fleshes out this concept and applies it to the church in Asia. Steve Z’s article reflects on positive and negative aspects of the relationships that form us and considers Paul’s missionary identity as a model for us to follow. Recognizing that we all have multiple identities, Richard S looks to Jesus as a model of one who knew when to use which identity.
Next, Nora Hughes’ paper considers some tensions faced by those whose identity combines missions and business. Andersius Namsi considers some biblical concepts that should influence our thoughts about identity and explains both positive and negative elements of identity as developed in Asian cultures. There are two personal reflections on identity from a worker in a creative access nation (CAN) and a recent retiree. The final paper looks back nearly twenty-five years to recall David Pickard’s take on “Professional Service Ministry”, the term then used to cover what is now often known as Creative Access Ministry.
Mission as Bearing Witness to an Identity given by Christ – Peter Rowan
A Christian’s Identity in Christ: How should we Understand our Identity as Missionaries? – S.Z.
Identity with Integrity: An Issue Jesus Faced – Richard S.
Identity within a Missional Business – Nora Hughes
Batman and the Quest for Holistic Identity – James R.
My Identity as an Asian Christian Serving within the Mission of God – Andersius Namsi
Who am I? Mary Jeanne Buttrey
So that’s what they call it now! Getting Water to the Thirsty – David Pickard