Cuba: Mission Studies and Missional Formation: Interweavings Number 13, September 2016

Graham Kings

by Graham Kings

Date added: 30/09/2016

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Cuba: Mission Studies and Missional Formation

Interweavings Number 13, September 2016 by Graham Kings


Last month in South Korea: this month in Cuba. One a focus of capitalism and one of communism.

Both are memorable for military strategy and the nuclear threat: the Cuban Missile Crisis was in 1962 and the nuclear threat from North Korea is current.

I greatly enjoyed the International Association for Mission Studies conference -my August Interweavings, ‘Seoul: Conversions and Transformations’ reflected on that - and also this World Council of Churches, Council for World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) consultation in Matanzas in September.

Following the opening of the USA Embassy in Havana in 2014, President Obama visited Cuba in March this year and there is now an openness to the USA, even though American firms cannot invest yet in Cuba and dollars are not in use.

The President of the Cuban Council of Churches, Joel Ortega Dopico, told us that there is a decline of the mainline Protestant Churches and a growth of Pentecostalism, with thousands of ‘prayer houses’ (house churches). Three years ago the President of Cuba asked the churches to help with social welfare. There is an aging population, because many young people emigrate. By 2020 it is estimated that Cuba will be the 9th country in the world in terms of age of population.

It was my first visit to Cuba. I was fascinated by some of the long 1950s American cars, which are still being driven and lovingly cared for. Matanzas is one a half hours drive east of the capital.

In this Interweavings article, we shall be considering the Consultation, the 2012 WCC statement on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life, the new book Ecumencial Missiology, which was launched at the consultation, and looking forwards the next CWME major conference in 2018.

  1. 1.      Consultation

Jooseop Keum is the Director of the CWME in Geneva and editor of the famous International Review of Mission, founded in 1912: he is a Korean Presbyterian. Kyriaki Avtzi, is Programme Executive for Evangelism at the CWME: she is Greek Orthodox. Carlos Ham is the recently appointed Principal of the United Theological Seminary, Matanzas: he is a Cuban Presbyterian and was Kyriaki’s predecessor in the CWME. The college, founded in 1946, has been a renowned beacon of ecumenical formation for 70 years. The Moderator of CWME, Metropolitan Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, sadly was not able to join us.

I was invited, together with about 25 mission theologians from around the world, to the four day consultation. We came from: the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Argentina, Ecuador, Norway, South Africa, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, South Korea, New Zealand, USA, Greece, Hungary, Russia, and the UK. We were from various traditions: Pentecostal, Evangelical, Reformed, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican.

The theme was ‘Missional Formation’ and over the four days, the key note address was given by Professor Nestor Miguez, from Argentina ‘Missional Formation for Transforming Discipleship’ and 20 papers were presented in summary form. Mine was entitled ‘The Use of ‘Together towards Life’ in Mission Studies in the Anglican Communion’. Revisions of these will be published in the International Review of Mission next year. 

Of the papers presented, I was particularly struck by the following four:

Noel Fernandez, a blind Cuban theologian at the Cuban Council of Churches, who is part of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network of the WCC, ‘Walking Together toward Life: Enlightened by the idea of a Church of All and for All’. 

Margarita de la Torre, from Ecuador, ‘Together towards Life from an Indigenous People’s Perspective’.

Petro Vassiliadis, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the University of Thessalonika, ‘A Syllabus for Together towards Life Teaching in Theological Education’.

Xolile Simon, Professor of Missiology at Stellanboch University, South Africa, and on the planning group for the consultation, ‘A Rural Case Study of Congregational Formation in South Africa, 2014-2015’.

The Consultation’s offical press release, and my photos, are all online.

  1. 2.      Together Towards Life Statement

The foundational text of the consultation was the 2012 WCC statement on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life. This 13,000 word statement emanated from the CWME under the direction of Jooseop Keum, and has had considerable impact already. It was published after a period of 7 years of drafting and wide ranging consulting and accepted by the WCC in Busan, South Korea in 2012.

It is certainly worth studying and using as a text for mission studies and missional formation, together with Pope Francis’s encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (2015) and the Cape Town Commitment(2010) of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. There are many fascinating threads which interweave between these three recent missional documents, Ecumenical, Catholic and Evangelical, which respectively focus on the key words of ‘Life’, ‘Joy’ and ‘Love’.

The April 2014 edition of the International Review of Mission was devoted to exploring the themes of Together towards Life and is worth perusing.

I greatly appreciate the whole statement, but mentioned a point of critique and a question at the consultation.

First, the extension of the biblical concept of the ‘image of God’ to refer to the whole of creation. This is seen in the phrase in paragraph 1, ‘God created the whole oikoumene in God’s image’ and is connected with the sentence in paragraph 4, ‘It is vital to recognize God’s mission in a cosmic sense and to affirm all life, the whole oikoumene, as being interconnected in God’s web of life’. Yes, there is indeed this wonderful interconnection, but theologically I would have preferred paragraph 1 to have echoed Psalm 19:1 and to have stated:

God created the whole oikoumene to reflect the glory of God and created all humans beings in the image of God.

Second, the question: how would Together towards Life cope with current reality of ISIS and Boko Haram? These became prevalent after the publication of the statement, but prior developments were already in place.

Positively, the statement is rooted in the Trinity with an emphasis on the vitality of the Holy Spirit. Kirsteen Kim, Professor of Theology and World Christianity at Leeds Trinity University, and Vice Moderator of the CWME 2007-2013, was a key architect of the statement. She has commented on the contrast with its predecessor, Mission and Evangelism: an Ecumenical Statement (1982), which many see as an ecumenical response to both the evangelical Lausanne Covenant (1974) and Roman Catholic Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975):

Comparing TTL with the earlier statement, EA, the most obvious shifts are in the theological themes which run through the documents: from reference to Christology and the Kingdom (or reign) of God to attention to the Holy Spirit and life…

The final section of TTL is the first WCC statement on evangelism. In EA, the emphasis in dialogue was on hearing and receiving from others. Although witness was described as ‘evangelistic’ and EA insisted that ‘There is no evangelism without solidarity’ (#34; cf. TTL #89), it contained no sustained treatment of the second part of CWME’s brief [ie Evangelism]. [i]

These quotations are taken from Kirsteen Kim’s chapter, ‘The Process and Content of Together towards Life’ in the book which was formally launched during the consultation, to which we now turn.

  1. 3.      Ecumenical Missiology Book

The editors of Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission(Oxford: Regnum, 2016) are Kenneth Ross, Jooseop Keum, Kyriaki Avtzi, and Roderick Hewitt. The acknowledged architect of it is Kenneth Ross, from Scotland, who was a key figure in our consultation where he spoke movingly of its conception and birth. It has 634 pages…

Section One, is by Kenneth Ross himself. After an opening chapter on the Edinburgh World Mission Conference of 1910, he provides a very helpful overview of the series of International Missionary Council (IMC) conferences: Jerusalem 1928, Mission and the Kingdom of God; Tambaram 1938, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World; Whitby 1947, Partnership in Obedience; Willingen 1952, Missio Dei; Achimota 1957-8, Church and Mission; Mexico City 1963, Mission in all Six Continents; Bankok 1972-3, Salvation Today; Melbourne 1980, Good News to the Poor; San Antonio 1989, Mission in Christ’s Way; Salvador de Bahia 1996, Gospel and Culture; and Athens 2005, Healing and Reconciliation.

As well as these he has chapters on the integration of the IMC into the WCC at New Delhi in 1961, the Mission and Evangelism: an Ecumenical Affirmation of 1982, the Edinburgh 2010 centenary conference and Together towards Life 2012.

Section Two is by various global authors and is entitled, ‘Core Themes across a Century’ considering: Evangelism; Church, Mission and Unity; Worship; Healing; Culture; Other Faiths; Formation; Discipleship; Partnership and Resource Sharing; Contextualization; Transformation; Justice; Margins; Environment; Gender; and Migration.

Section Three contains the text of Together towards Life and Kirsteen Kim’s chapter, mentioned above. It then has assessments of the statement by theologians from various traditions: Catholic; Orthodox; Ecumenical Protestant; Evangelical; Pentecostal. This is followed by chapters comparing it to the Cape Town Commitment and to Evangelii Gaudium; by chapters rooting it in the Global South and the Global North; and then by chapters from the perspectives of Asian, Pacific, Latin American, African, and contemporary Western theologies before ending with one on the challenge of Missional Formation.

The concluding chapter of the whole book is by Jooseop Keum, ‘The Prospects for Ecumenical Missiology’.

This book acts as an excellent background, commentary and elucidation of Together towards Life. I highly recommend it both for mission studies and for general theological education. A highlight for me was Steve Bevans’s chapter on Together towards Life and Evangelii Gaudium. He gives a final enlightening comment:

TTL’s rather earnest tone could learn from Pope Francis’s breezy, quotable, and sometimes even humorous style, one that embodies the title of his document: The Joy of the Gospel. The Pope has been quoted extensively about his remark that Christians should not seem like women and men who live as though there were only Lent without Easter, that they should not live life as though they had just come back from a funeral, and that they should not live like ‘sourpusses’ (EG #85).[ii]

The book forms an interesting contrast to a previous key textbook Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, which was edited by F.J. Verstraelen, the general editor, A. Camps, L.A. Hoedemaker and M.R. Spindler (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). That previous book, which surprisingly is not mentioned nor included in the bibliography of the latest book, was written by Europeans, but it did use the word ‘Ecumenical’ is its widest use, including Catholics and Protestants (if not Orthodox and Evangelicals at that stage). For me, the title of the 2016 book may  have been more appropriate if it had been, ‘Ecumenical Protestant Missiology’. This raises a fascinating question about the meaning of the word ‘Ecumenical’: does it refer to the WCC or to all the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions?

  1. 4.      CWME World Mission Conference: Arusha, Tanzania March 2018

At the consultation, we also contributed to the planning of the CWME conference in Arusha, Tanzania in March 2018 on the theme: ‘Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship’. Amongst other matters, we suggested that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) should be the biblical focus. Beginning with the joyful, gracious declaration of the beatitudes, Jesus’s words move into the challenging imperative mode as he develops a ‘code of the Kingdom living by faith’, including the disciplines of prayer, giving and fasting, and ends with a parable about living out his words in action: the house built on a rock. Appropriate for Arusha in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro…


We received wonderful hospitality and delighted in the Cuban music and dancing in the college during the evenings. The three context lectures on Cuba, Latin America, and the history of the College were nourishing and challenging.

On Sunday 11 September, I gave greetings at the Episcopal Church in Matanzas, the first Protestant Church in that town, built in the 1880s. The Rector, Tulia Sanchez, with her husband Osmany and two young daughters, Susanna and Sarah, explained the development and growth of that church since she arrived four years ago. I continue to pray for them all.

I was particularly delighted to meet again Prof Daniel Montoya who lectures in mission studies at the college and had studied at Westminster College, Cambridge in 1978 when I was at Ridley Hall and Selywn College.

Thanks be to God for providing new friendships, profound insights and surprising recognitions.


[i] Kirsteen Kim, ‘Responding to the Changed Landscape of the 21st Century: The Process and Content of Together towards Life’ in Kenneth R. Ross, Jooseop Keum, Kyriaki Avtzi and Roderick R. Hewitt (eds) Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission (Oxford: Regnum, 2016), pp. 382 and 395.

[ii] Steven Bevans, ‘Together towards Life and Evangelii Gaudium’ in Kenneth R. Ross, Jooseop Keum, Kyriaki Avtzi and Roderick R. Hewitt (eds) Ecumenical Missiology: Changing Landscapes and New Conceptions of Mission (Oxford: Regnum, 2016), p. 471-472.




Revd Mike McCoy (05/10/2016 at 07:22)
Theological Education by Extension College, South Africa
Thank you, Bishop Graham, for your news of the recent CWME consultation. It was good to learn of the new publication, a copy of which we must get for our library here at the Theological Education by Extension College in Johannesburg. I hope that you will make available to us your reflections on the Anglican use of 'Together Towards Life'. I'm interested that the 2018 CWME conference will focus on formation for discipleship. As you may have heard, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa decided at its Provincial Synod last week to launch a Decade of Intentional Discipleship. I understand that the Anglican Communion is considering something similar. I'll write separately about new qualifications that we're developing here at TEE College; but it seems that the Spirit is moving us more intentionally into discipleship! Good wishes, Mike
Not attributed (05/10/2016 at 09:16)
On the theme of discipleship... I am busy developing a range of new distance-mode qualifications, intended mainly for people in lay ministry, that TEE College will launch next year. The first four courses in each of the new ten-course Higher Certificates lay the foundations of discipleship: following Jesus, knowing the good news, committing to the Church, engaging in mission. Then the remaining six courses in each qualification will focus on the specific ministry area that the student has chosen: leadership
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