Latin America brought ‘liberation theology’ to world notice - an ‘option for the poor’, an approach that puts the poor first, which is exactly what Jesus did. In a similar way the Ecuadorian theologian Rene Padilla (former International Director of TearFund) has brought the term Integral Mission to the notice of the wider world. Padilla’s book ('THE LOCAL CHURCH - agent of transformation' by T Yamamori & Rene Padilla, Kairos, Buenos Aires 2004) seeks to waken in us an awareness of what real mission has to be and this is what he calls Integral Mission.
He makes a number of clear points: (a) ‘Christ is to be found in community - and in no other way. Union with Christ is a corporate reality’. (b) ‘The church does not withdraw from sinful humanity, but rather lives in solidarity with it. If a church is to serve the poor, members have to move to (or deeply appreciate) where the poor live and 'put down roots' among them'. (c) ‘Develop a holistic perspective that seeks to bring the power of the gospel to bear on all aspects of life in the community’. (d) Padilla is convinced that integral mission is founded on the mission of the triune God, that is, as people of God, the body of Christ and the community of the Spirit.
[The notes below further summarise Padilla’s thinking and are quotations from his book]
(i) The People of God: 'The Church is a witnessing people'. (ii) The Body of Christ: ‘The image of the body stresses the organic nature of the relationship between Christ and the church among the church's own members. The body is the means of communicating with the world around. To reveal the will of God on the earth, Christ took on a body (Heb 10:5-9). To say that we are the body of Christ implies that the church is the place where the will of God is revealed, where the life of Christ is manifested in words and actions’. (iii) The Community of the Spirit: ‘The Church is the "alternative community," an alternative to race, gender, class, and religious hatred, because it is called to live the freedom with which Christ has freed it (Gal 3:28). The Church is the community where both the stranger and the foreigner are welcomed, where power is exercised in the service of others rather than the service of self, and where life in the Spirit means self-giving for the common good, not ascendancy or the accumulation of wealth’.
Padilla continues to inspire...... ‘Churches are becoming homes to the uprooted, families for those who have no family, especially in an urban society hungry for fellowship and belonging arising from family disintegration, and secularization’. (Padilla continues) - ‘my own pastoral experience has taught me that many come to the church in search of community, and when they are received with [unconditional] acceptance, understanding and warmth they stay’.
‘It is my pastoral experience and observation that aid programs [and mission activities can be included here] are only possible where there are disciples of Christ ready to dedicate their talents and their caring spirit to the disinterested service of others’.
‘So the first contact that thousands have with Christ is the glass of water, the plate of food, the blankets, the education, or the urgently needed medicines offered in Christ's name’.
Summary Padilla’s Integral Mission is a serving of the poor by first of all living amongst them and secondly by listening to them to find/discern their needs, both physical and mental and spiritual. Then thirdly it involves a working with the people for the people’s benefit, a giving of oneself to their good, an affirmation to them that they are of worth. The source of the mission worker’s strength and commitment and vision doesn’t at first need to be declared, but eventually people may ask. And even if they don’t ask, we are still called to follow His example of service. Whether or not people then come to see that Jesus is for them is a separate matter and one which we hand over to God.
Read an article on Integral Mission by Rene Padilla here. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________