Hello. I am Bob Shuster of the Billy Graham Center Archives and it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you hear today to this consultation on nondenominational mission archives. This meeting is a part of the Currents in World Christianity project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust under the direction of Dr. Wilbert Shenk of Fuller Theological Seminary.
It was not planned this way, but is highly appropriate -- and perhaps Providential -- that we should meet today, on All Saints Day, the day traditionally set aside by the Church to remember specifically the heroes of the Faith, and in general, all the brothers and sisters in the Faith who were redeemed by Christ. These obscure and famous lives have woven together the Christian tradition of which we are the temporary custodians until we hand it on to our successors. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls those who have gone before us the great cloud of witnesses that surround us. I hope our work over the next few days will be a fitting and useful commemoration of them.
We are looking at a particular segment of the records of the Christian faith and practice, that segment that concerns the Protestant nondenominational missions of the United States. I do not, I know, have to belabor to this group the particular importance of these records. The strengths and weaknesses of the American Evangelical tradition has come from it great emphasis on the individual and the casting off of institutional restraints so as to get on with the work of testifying to the Gospel and leading people to Christ. Faith missions, independent missions, nondenominational missions are only one expression of this great current in the American church which is such an important element in its history.
We are looking at a particular segment of the records of the Christian Faith and practice--the segment concerning the Protestant nondenominational missions of the United States. I don't need to tell this group of the special importance of these records. The strengths and weaknesses of the American Evangelical Tradition have come from its emphasis on the individual and the casting off of institutional restraints in order to get on with the work of testifying to the Gospel and leading people to Christ. Faith missions, independent missions, nondenominational missions are one expression of this great current in the American church which is such an important element in its history.
Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette called the twentieth century the great century of Christian advance and American independent missions have been one of the prominent engines of that advance. And continue so today. The 2001/2003 Mission Handbook for US and Canadian Ministries Overseas starts with in a survey of Protestant mission agencies of all types. The total number of US workers involved in overseas ministries listed in the handbook is 42,022. Of these a little over 23,000 or about 55% are with some form of nondenominational mission. There are eighteen agencies with more than 500 worker. Altogether, these have 21, 938 missionaries in the field and 38% of these are with nondenominational agencies. This means that 73% of the workers at missions with less than 500 workers are with nondenominational agencies. Their numbers alone suggest the importance of their contribution, the predominance of the parachurch mission among the smaller agencies, and the large number of small agencies making that contribution. And of those hundreds of agencies, hardly a one has an archives.
These missions are almost always independent of an ecclesiastical structure that could preserve their archives as part of the larger archives of a denomination or university. So a special effort must be made on their behalf to -- as the "1992 Archives for Missions in the 21st Century" statement of the International Association of Mission Studies put it, "remind churches, organizations and individuals of the importance of ongoing documentation of life and faith through the collection, preservation, and distribution of oral, written and media records relating to the history and praxis of mission in the churches of every culture." For the American church -- and many churches around the world in whose founding nondenominational missionaries played a part and in which they continue to serve -- the records of these parachurch agencies are necessary and important pieces to the puzzle of the past.
Of course archives are not the only ways and means that knowledge of the past is saved. Besides memory and oral tradition, the quirks and blundering of circumstance always ensure that something from previous epochs makes into the present and future. But we of the current generation have the privilege of expressing our fellowship with our current brethren and those who have gone before by laboring to see that their story is told from the most relevant and reliable records, not whatever flotsam and jetsam happens to be left.
I am reminded of a science fiction story about the future of the human race. An ice age wipes out all peoples and destroys almost all monuments of human culture. When alien visitors came to Earth eons later, they must recreate human history from what's left as best they can. And what is their prime, remaining source of information, the sole surviving channel of knowledge of the past for them? A single Donald Duck cartoon.
We have a responsibly to ensure that the Church's story is not based on whatever excitable and incoherent Donald Ducks might be left behind, but to keep for ourselves and following generations the records that tell its true story. For in this sense, preservation is also a commitment to truth, which is also part of our stewardship in an age of deconstruction and relativity. It is a commitment to truth in its simplest, and often most difficult form -- telling what did happen, not what we wished had happened or what our personal dogmas and ideologies say should have happened. We cannot, as Bacon said, "offer the Author of Truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie."
Steve Peterson, writing 12 ago in one of the handouts you received, spoke of the archives of mission agencies in general as "a black hole." That image still applies today, and most of all, perhaps, to the archives of the nondenominational mission agencies. How these records should be preserved isn't simply a matter for archivists, like the best "ph level" of paper or the best kind of digital envelope to document. It concerns the Evangelical community as well as the larger Christian church as a whole.
How and where in the community can the documents of these missions, or at least a significant portion of them, be kept and made available? What resources can be given for that purpose? These are not questions archivists can discuss alone. The conversation needs to include missionaries and mission executives; users of archives including, but not limited to Missiologists; representatives of schools that train mission workers, and those who can allocate resources for library and archival preservation. At this conference, we bring together at least some of these Groups, so that the conversation can begin.
The conference has been planned so that we will have time to listen, time to interact and time to plan. As you know, three papers have been specially prepared that examine the questions of archives from various viewpoints. Numerous other handouts have been sent out to all of you already with information about existing archival programs and the benefits of and obstacles to archival programs. I hope these are helpful to you all and will provide common reference points for our discussions
We will also have reports from various archives that gather and make available mission records - an in-house archives, a denominational archives, and special purpose archives housed at some educational institutions.
There are several plenary sessions at which there will be opportunities to ask questions of the speakers, to debate, make comments and discuss any ideas that we have for dealing with mission archives.
We will be breaking up into five work groups several times. These will be opportunities for discussion in a small group setting on a series of more-narrowly focused topics that are part of the larger subject of nondenominational mission archives. The comments, critiques and questions of these groups will be put together in an "idea list" which will be one of the resources coming out of this conference. It will be something that missions, schools or other institutions considering starting an archives of mission materials can use for ideas
On Friday morning, Paul Ericksen, associate director of the BGC Archives, will present a set of practical guidelines useful to any mission agency intending to start an in-house archives. You all received a copy in the October 2 mailing. In a plenary session following that, and in the work groups, there will be a chance to revise those guidelines, as needed, for their intended purpose. The last session of the work groups will discuss ideas for actions that can be undertaken by individual organizations, or in cooperation with others, to assist in preservation.
On Friday morning, the facilitator for each group will report on his or her group's discussions and the ideas generated, followed by a few minutes of dialog about them. The last plenary session will talk further about the suggestions for actions and perhaps develop additional ones
The purpose of this conference is to bring people together and see what happens. So the end result is a question mark. We are casting our bread upon the waters. Some results we do know. After the consultation is over, each facilitator will write a report of his or her group's discussions. These reports, each group's idea list, and the revised guidelines will be available on the Internet at the consultation's web site.
Equally important-though less tangible or documentable - will be our contacts with each other, our conversations and the stimuli we receive from one another. These will, I hope, I hope produce new ways and new participants to grapple with the problems and benefits of mission archives.
Every generation of the Church since the beginning has made an effort, to preserve not only doctrine but also the documents of the history of the Church and the evangelization of the world. Sometimes, as we saw in Frederick Mukungu's paper, the service is done in the face of great frustrations, difficulties and personal costs. The archival portion of this service is a service to the whole community and indeed, human culture. And within the body of Christ, archives serve as memory, not just for utilitarian reasons but also as part of the bonds of love and respect that bind us with our brothers and sisters who went before us and will come after. To quote from the 1997 circular letter by the Roman Catholic Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, "In the [mind] of the Church, archives are places of memory of the Christian community and storehouses of culture for the new evangelization. Thus they themselves are a cultural good of primary importance whose special merit lies in recording the path followed by the Church through the centuries in the various contexts, which constitute her very structure. As
places of memory archives must systematically gather all the data making up the articulated history of the Church community so that what has been done, the results obtained, including omissions and errors, may be properly evaluated." The same letter further says, "Those responsible must make sure that the use of church archives be facilitated further, that it is not only to those interested who have the right to access but also a larger range of researchers, without prejudice towards their religious or ideological backgrounds, following the best of Church tradition yet while respecting the appropriate norms of protection.... Such an attitude of disinterested openness, kind welcome, and competent service must be taken into careful consideration so that the historical memory of the Church may be offered to the entire society."
The letter talks about "those responsible." I believe that for nondenominational mission archives, "them" is us -- the missionaries, the archivists, the users. And I pray that our time together over the three days will a fruitful contribution to that task. Thank you.