From Adoniram Judson to Missio Nexus: Celebrating 200 Years of North American Missions
by Bradley A. Coon
Two major events took place on February 6, 2012, at Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts. First, mission leaders, historians, and students gathered to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the commissioning of the first ordained North American missionaries. Second, those in attendance witnessed the unveiling of the name Missio Nexus—the network of North American mission agencies, churches, and mission training schools. The tagline for the event, “Commemorating the Past—Embracing the Future,” captured the appropriateness of bringing the two events under one gathering and wove a powerful theme which carried through the day’s proceedings.
Commemorating the Past…
On the same day in 1812, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) met in the Tabernacle Church and commissioned five men (along with the new wives of three of them) for the task of overseas missions. Adoniram and Ann Judson and Samuel and Harriett Newell left Salem harbor just two weeks later on February 19 to become the first ordained cross-cultural missionaries sent from the United States. Samuel and Roxana Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice followed five days later from Philadelphia.
Those gathered for the bicentennial witnessed the fruits of Judson’s legacy firsthand—local Burmese congregants shared how they traced their spiritual roots back to the efforts of Judson. Mission trainer and educator Paul Borthwick reminded those gathered that the legacy of the Judsons is one of boldness and a willingness to “persevere in the face of suffering.” Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, challenged the audience to remember that although missionaries such as Judson were catalysts, the expansion of the global Church is primarily the legacy of national Christians within each country. Judson’s drive to spend his life translating scripture enabled the ongoing, faithful presence of countless local believers who will likely never have their stories told in history books.
…Embracing the Future
The story of Adoniram and Ann Judson in Burma is iconic for American mission history not only because of the fruits which were borne from their trials, but also because their going inaugurated a great movement of organized, cross-cultural mission-sending from North America. It is appropriate, then, that the second half of the February 2012 celebration was dedicated to the commissioning of a new initiative—the merger of North America’s two largest mission networks: CrossGlobal Link (CGL) and The Mission Exchange (TME).
Marv Newell, senior vice president of Missio Nexus and former executive director of CGL, recounted the historical impetus and impact of both CGL and TME. The Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (later renamed CrossGlobal Link) was formed in 1917 largely to corporately legitimize the efforts of non-denominational faith missions. The Evangelical Fellowship of Missions Agencies (later renamed The Mission Exchange) was created in 1946 as a credentialing organization for denominational missions that were evangelical in character.
Newell recounted that, over time, the two networks grew closer together in their mission, their statements of faith, and even in physical proximity by holding joint conferences and events. “The question began to be raised, ‘Why are there two?’ That question became harder and harder to answer,” said Newell. A meeting at All Nations College in 2009 between Newell and Steve Moore, president/CEO of TME, set into motion the possibility of merger.
Moore, now president of Missio Nexus, recounted the day that he and Newell met to compare independently developed “preferred future” documents and found that they were in strong agreement on two essential changes that would form the basis of the new organization: (1) moving from being member-driven ministry associations toward a structured network and (2) moving from being credentialing bodies toward being a service provider. Newell shared that “it has never been about preserving what is, but it has always been about pursuing together what could be, for the future of North American missions.”
A banner bearing the new name and logo was ceremonially unveiled at the Tabernacle Church and attendees were invited to open cellophane-wrapped Missio Nexus magazines, which included information on both the merger process and the bicentennial event.
Moore noted that the combination of Missio (which calls to mind the often-cited concept of Missio Dei) and Nexus (with its promise of future convergence and collaboration) “captures our sense of appreciation for our rich history together, with a sense of anticipation for the preferred future that we have envisioned together.”
Serving as a Model
Mergers in the evangelical mission community will continue to occur and this one can serve as a good example in at least three ways. First, rather than resulting from the pressures to maintain the organizational status quo, the formation of Missio Nexus demonstrates the brave and bold move of peering beyond institutional survival and asking the question, how can we corporately best serve God’s mission today? Second, Moore and Newell exemplify hearts of humble leadership, with both setting aside personal gain for the sake of the kingdom work in which they are jointly called to serve. Third, the new structure of Missio Nexus recognizes the complexity of the issues facing the global Church today and seeks to actively network and resource North American agencies and individuals to serve that global body.
The ceremonies at Tabernacle Church concluded with five evangelical agency leaders affirming Missio Nexus. Doug Birdsall (Lausanne Movement), Geoff Tunnicliffe (World Evangelical Alliance), Lon Allison (Mission America Coalition), Bruce Clemenger (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada), and Leith Anderson (National Association of Evangelicals) individually pledged their support and encouragement for the new movement and charged the new leaders to walk into the future with the same faithful perseverance as the Judsons did so long ago.
Bradley A. Coon is an MA candidate at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a concentration in global Christianity. He is a research associate at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity and the information designer for the Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh University Press, 2009).
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 362-364. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.