NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — As a girl, Mennonite Mission Network writer Lynda Hollinger-Janzen dreamed of becoming a missionary. She grew wary of this desire, however, when she learned how colonialist practices in some mission efforts had harmed people in other cultures.
By the end of her first overseas service in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), in 1981, her wariness morphed into an embrace of mission that seeks the wholistic good of persons through mutual partnerships in communities. She described this transformation in the first episode of a Mission Network-produced podcast, "MissionWary?" available now.
In a recent interview, Hollinger-Janzen described that, upon preparing to leave, she realized the immense hospitality she had been shown, from her hosts sharing their religious perspective, their best food, the best bed.
"I wondered how I could ever repay this generosity? I realized I had failed to share the most precious thing in my life … — the belief in Jesus, who held power over death, and in God, whose perfect love casts out all fear. It was like a Damascus Road experience, there on that little forest path, where I asked God for another chance to do this again."
God answered that prayer. After marrying Rod Hollinger-Janzen, the Hollinger-Janzens served with Mission Network in Benin, West Africa, from 1987 to 2000, after which Lynda Hollinger-Janzen became a writer at the agency. "For my entire adult working life, I have been privileged to be part of a mission agency like Mission Network that seeks to form mutual partnerships with others in lifegiving ways," she said.
The podcast is part of Mission Network's articulation of how it seeks to accompany global partners through mutual support, rather than impose top-down strategies from the outside, said Travis Duerksen, writer and multimedia content producer at Mission Network. He directs the podcast with Lynda Hollinger-Janzen, as co-host. They hope to nuance people's perspectives on mission, no matter where they fall on the spectrum of endorsement or wariness regarding missions.
"We've created this podcast to be multifaceted enough that no matter what point of view a person has, they can learn from it," Duerksen said. "We are not seeking to change people's opinions as much as we want to give more dimension to how mission is treated in their lives and in the wider church."
For many staff members, the focus of the podcast lies at the heartbeat of their life's work. One such staff member is Jason Boone, Mennonite Mission's minister of peace and justice and leader of the Peace and Justice Support Network. He helped to cast the vision that led to the creation of the podcast, along with others such as Mauricio Chenlo, denominational minister for Mission Network and leader of the Sent Network.
Boone wrote in a recent email, "The word 'mission' can be polarizing. I know some people who are repelled by it, others who are energized by it. And both have good reason. Terrible things have been done in the name of mission. Beautiful things, as well. It has a complex history that deserves to be examined.
"I hope anyone who has written off mission previously would be willing to reexamine it in a new light. And for those who have championed mission but felt they had to do so quietly will feel empowered to share their passion and celebrate the growth 'mission' has undergone."
Hollinger-Janzen said that new generations of mission workers, who are growing in their understanding of what it means to share the gospel in other contexts, stand on the shoulders of former missionaries, who were imperfect but wholehearted in their passion and commitment.
"I have the highest regard for my predecessors in mission," Hollinger-Janzen said. "When starting out in missions, they packed their belongings in a coffin. They were following God's call until death. They laid a true foundation for us, despite the real harm that was done."
'MissionWary?' is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts.