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Dark clouds and silver linings: mission among Buddhists

Posted: 19/06/13

India was the birthplace of Buddhism some fifteen hundred years ago, and it was appropriately in India that a small but strategic meeting about mission among Buddhists took place last month.

Several hundred mission leaders from about a hundred countries gathered in India last month at the invitation of the Lausanne Movement to think and pray about current issues in global mission and to forge new partnerships.Of this meeting, just half a dozen people convened to reflect on Christian mission among Buddhists. What’s more, half of the group(myself included) brought little more than ignorant enthusiasm to the table. It was not an auspicious beginning.

More sobering, however, was the group’s analysis of Christian mission among Buddhists. Two storm clouds hung over our conversation. First, while many have become Christians in countries we regard as Buddhist, the gospel’s impact has been minimal among those populations that represent the heartlands of Buddhism and number approximately a billion people. Second, very little missiological research has been done from an evangelical perspective on the major theological and cultural blocs of the Buddhist world or the lack of gospel impact on them. I went to the table to learn, and what I learnt left me heavy-hearted.

Against that gloomy backdrop, there were also some bright encouragements. The first was the gracious convener of our group, Dr Tan Kang San, a respected Asian mission leader. Kang San was Head of Mission Studies at Redcliffe College, UK and Director for Mission Research with OMF International. He currently serves as Executive Director of AsiaCMS based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Kang San has opened a training centre to equip people for cross-cultural ministry. Coming from a Buddhist background himself, he has a special interest in training missionaries to work among Buddhists.

A second encouragement was the initiative that arose from our discussion group. The plan is to start a Lausanne working group under Kang San’s leadership to form a global network, commission significant writing projects and subsequently conduct what we believe will be the first major evangelical consultation to deal missiologically with the various blocs of the Buddhist world.

A third encouragement was the partnership that CMS Australia is developing with Kang San. The new CMS vision articulates a commitment to our near neighbours, including the Buddhist heartlands of South, East and Southeast Asia. With Kang San’s help, CMS aims to develop its understanding of mission among Buddhists. The sobering realities discussed in India last month highlight the strategic value of this initiative. I hope that Ridley can both contribute to and benefit from this expression of global gospel partnership.

Would you join me in praying for Kang San’s leadership and asking that God might use both Ridley and CMS to raise up workers for his harvest field?

And of course, if you’re looking for a worthwhile doctorate in missiology or a lifetime of pioneer missionary work, the Buddhist world is brimming with opportunities!

We respectfully acknowledge the Wurundjeri People, who are the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Ridley College campus is built. Ridley College is an affiliated college with the Australian College of Theology, CRICOS Provider Code 02650E. © 2020 Copyright. All Rights Reserved.