Mission Theology. Prof. Feldmanis’ understanding of the external mission work and motivating for the mission work
Prof. Feldmanis’ understanding of the external mission work and motivating for the mission work
When on July 30, 2000 the Lutheran congregation of Christ in Riga congratulated their pastor Roberts Feldmanis on his 90-th birthday, the pastor gave a speech on the topic of the external mission work. At the end of his speech he made a short remark:
„This is a very casual and incomplete reflection of the external mission matters.”
However, the record of this speech is one of the very few sources, which indicates how exactly Prof. Feldmanis defined the external mission, how he understood and explained what the external mission work meant for the Church, and how he motivated people for this work. There are very few other sources, reflecting similar information, but they are sufficient to acquire an understanding of how Prof. Feldmanis defined the external mission work not only for the Church of Latvia, but also for the entire Christendom.
In his autobiography Prof. Feldmanis writes, that he understands the external mission as proclaiming the Gospel to people of the world, according to the commissioned of Our Lord: „Nowhere else we can get so directly and so closely to our Saviour, than in bringing the good news of Christ to those, who are still in darkness, by following His irresistible commission of going to all the corners of the world and proclaiming the Good News to all the nations. This makes us first and foremost to remain with Him in constant prayers and supplications. This indeed is the main and the most immediate basis for the mission work. „As and you shall be given!” Prayers and supplications for the victory of Christ in non-Christian nations and individuals, as well in apostates, prayers in solitude, and also in a community of believers, during the worship services.
Prof. Feldmanis believed the external mission work to be part and parcel of any Church. In his understanding the external mission for the Church also meant educating of its own members and reminding them about uniqueness and absolute necessity of the Christian mission. In trying to identify the motivation for involvement in the external mission work, Prof. Feldmanis found it in the spiritual unity of the Church and in commitment to the commission, that it has received from the Lord.
In 1937 Report of the External Mission Board of the Lutheran Church of Latvia Feldmanis wrote: „The mission work is always an unmistakable measure of any Church’s spiritual life and alertness. Whether or not a Church has an external mission determines its true value and survival capacity. To work in a mission field means to be closely linked not only to the commission of Christ, but also to His holy body - His Church on Earth and in heaven. For our Church the mission work is a matter of spiritual life. The value of Christian Churches is not determined by their size, location, wealth, development of thought, scale of traditions or attempts at fundamental reforms, but rather by whether or not they belong to His Holy Body, i.e. whether or not they share in the communion of the Church and partake in sufferings and joys of Christ’s body. This unity is available in the mission work. Indeed, one can hardly speak of Latvian, American or Indian church per se – there is only one Christ’s body and only one common work – building of Christ’s Kingdom for the whole world, in which we have to participate. Limiting oneself to the local interests inevitably leads to severing of links with the common source of life of the Jesus’ vine and further - to the spiritual stagnation and death. In this sense a striking example is by the Asian national churches – Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, Chaldean, Nestorian and Abyssinian. By forgetting the task of mission and turning to their own narrow national interests, they now resemble dead branches at the tree of Christ’s Church. The mission work is a confessing work of our Church. Confessing our faith from the altar will never heat up our souls to the true flame of fame, if it remains without confessing works, which is a characteristic of the mission. The overall assessment of our work makes us be more resolute in our mission endeavors.”
While working as the Secretary of the External Mission Board of the Lutheran Church of Latvia, Prof. Feldmanis was publishing articles about external mission in the supplement to the Church’s monthly „Jaunatnes ceļš” (The Way of Youth) called „Ārmisija” (External Mission). These serve as the most representative source of his works about the external mission. From February 1937 Prof. Feldmanis was appointed the chief editor of the supplement „Ārmisija”. This marked a considerable change in contents and objectives of the published articles. From then on articles not only bore informative character, but also motivated for the external mission by indicating ways and means of possible involvement in missionary activities of the Latvian Lutheran Church. The last page of „Ārmisija” paper was usually dedicated to the exposition of a pericope according to the Church year, as well as regular supplications: for Christians in India, for the Church of Latvia and new missioners from Latvia.
While being aware of how vast is the area of the external mission, where the Church of Latvia had just begun to operate, Prof. Feldmanis at the same time always emphasized and pointed out, that what had already been accomplished was to be regarded as an important contribution to the global mission work of the Church universal. In November 1939 issue of „Ārmisija” journal Prof. Feldmanis referred to the national Independence Day (18 November) and wrote:
„There are but few other nations, among which the wonderful ways of Our Lord, the richness of His blessings and the wisdom of His council shine as mightily, as in Latvians. For centuries being oppressed by foreign powers, tormented by innumerable sufferings, humiliated and devastated in pain, driven out of their land, it had been directed by the holy council of God and through His miraculous ways called together again, given new strength and put in the sun. …Therefore, when celebrating the high day of honor for our independent, renewed and blessed by God state, every pious Latvian with gratitude and joy remembers mighty works of God and joins in the testimony of His Word: „This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” But great privileges also invariably evoke important tasks. Our nation is called to multiply spiritual values and to perform tasks that will not fade away with fleeting years and passing generations. Our strength lies neither in our numbers, nor mighty fortresses and heavy weaponry. Our strength must come from fear of God and from the labor that follows His mind. While wishing the best for our nation, while serving its honor and prosperity, we also have other important tasks and higher aims. To reach them we must seriously concentrate on our Christian lives and tasks. … It is with gratitude to our God, that today we mark 15 years since a daughter of our nation has been commissioned by the Evangelical Church to become the first missioner of the independent Republic of Latvia, serving in the South of India. It has now been almost seven years, since gifts of love and supplications from Latvian Lutheran congregations helped to erect a small village of Karunagarapuri in the south of India, where paganism is at its highest. A village, which is lovingly and significantly called by locals “the Latvian village”, since it is here that the Good News of Jesus is being proclaimed to the non-Christians of India on behalf of the Latvian nation, calling them to rejoice in the light, which has so mightily rejoiced and warmed our nation in its hardest days, and has provided it with the spiritual strength to accomplish such great tasks and to remain steadfast in temptations. In this task too God has bestowed upon us such a blessing, which cannot be measured by ordinary means. In a relatively short period of time the new Christian congregation has summoned 15 hundred souls, with more and more steadily coming.
But maybe this task is too insignificant or even redundant for our nation? Can we benefit anything fro it? Naturally, neither the successes of the mission work nor this work as such can be measured by conventional yardsticks. Indeed, it does not add to our stock of gold or grain, rather even demanding certain sacrifices. Yet, it does bring with it benefits that we must not be indifferent to. Reputation and honor of our state and nation in front of other nations of the world is one of them. Our artists and sports organizations with their achievements and proposals have made a valuable input in this. We are pleased and satisfied, when foreign nations praise our beautiful national costumes and wonderful songs, or physical fitness of our youth. But we must not feel lesser pride, when other nations start praising our Christian spirit, the joy of self-sacrificing and seriousness of our ministry. In this sense the small village of Karunagarapuri and Gospel of Christ proclaimed there in the name of Latvia has already ensured a good name for our Fatherland in the distant India, and not only among Indians, but also English, Swedes, Danes, Americans and other nations, whose Christian ministers have traveled great lengths to behold in respect and admiration the work accomplished there.”
Those words bear evidence, that Prof. Feldmanis viewed the external mission work in a broader context, as not only pertaining to the Church. The successes and failures of this work, to his mind, affected not only the Church, but also the entire nation, making it proud or ashamed of its performance. In another passage Prof. Feldmanis writes: „Nations involved in the missionary work enter the records of world’s history, their names are lovingly recorded and preserved there with a much greater respect than those of powerful rulers or skilled warriors. It is precisely in this sense that many a small nation with their ministerial activities have earned undisputed love and respect for their ministerial activities.”
Another priceless benefit for every nation involved in missionary activities, including the Latvians, is something that otherwise would not be offered, i.e. supplications. Regarding this Prof. Feldmanis wrote the following: „Missionary work, like other genuinely Christian ministries, is the most secure bond of peace and love that unites nations and states. Karunagarapuri congregation, assembling for their daily prayers and devotions, has included Latvia and Latvians in their sincere intercessions and praises to the Lord. This is a source of blessing for our nation, for we know and have experienced the value and power of sincere and faithful intercessions. Being gratefully aware of this, let us strengthen ourselves in serving to those brothers in Christ, and by doing so, let us keep bring honor to our nation, which is beyond any riches of this world!”
Prof. Feldmanis remained true to the missionary work even to his death. He considered this work to be his vocation. On his 90-th birthday, when the Lutheran Congregation of Christ in Riga presented him with an Indian sign of love and respect – a garland of flowers, Prof. Feldmanis said: „An external mission is a genuine awakening to the true faith and not a mere call for charity. Where the external mission work had awoken, the congregations were also flourishing. … It is because the external mission is broader than just a set of activities, as it is being presented now. Today they say, metaphorically speaking, that sawing of trees provides more opportunities, than chopping of logs. It is not about opportunities or activities that are more pleasant than others, but rather about that special mindset that external mission requires. This is a mindset, which confesses that the Gospel of Christ is a gracious gift of God and that we, His Christian communion, live from the holy Word of God and His truth. We do! And this is where our treasures lie, and if there is something truly good that we can do for others, it is to provide them with an opportunity of participating, of being present where this work is taking place. External mission is calling for this burning of heart, for this urgency. Being able to share immense riches of the Gospel, its grace and blessings, we cannot tolerate, that there are others, who are not aware of it. This is a sacred impatience, a holy unrest, an urgency, which makes people to cross seas and mountains in order to bring the Gospel to the black, the brown, the yellow or any other people. They cannot tolerate the thought that there are some, who do not possess it.” These words uttered and written by Prof. Feldmanis clearly illustrate, that he did not separate the mission from the overall work of Church, moreover – the mission in his opinion is the work, which is qualifying for the Church, its task and expressions in any part of the world. Prof. Feldmanis was convinced that this work and task of the Church needs to be restored also in the Lutheran Church of Latvia. He was deeply dissatisfied, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has failed to restore the Board of External Missions and repeatedly criticized the lack of will to revive the work, which had been started before the Second World War.
Although Prof. Feldmanis himself never became a missionary in a direct sense of this word (as somebody who ministers for another nation), he is one of the most outstanding promoters of the external mission work in the history of the Latvian Lutheran Church. His activities in this area of ministry lasted for 10 years. During this time he carefully studied history and development of the external mission. His views and attitudes shaped and fuelled the external mission work of the Latvian Lutherans. His vision was that one day the Lutheran Church of Latvia would become a permanent actor on the missionary scene.