Consultation at Wheaton Lends History A Helping Hand
WHEATON, IL—Thirty-nine archivists, scholars, mission agency administrators, and representatives from schools across the country that train people for Christian ministry, met earlier this month (November 1-3, 2001) at Wheaton College with a set of common concerns—how to develop, preserve, and make available valuable historic records of Protestant non- denominational missions.
The three-day event at Wheaton's Billy Graham Center was the final activity of the Currents in World Christianity Project, a project for which Dr. Wilbert Shenk of Fuller Theological Seminary served as the North American director. He was the initiator of this consultation which received funding from the Pew Charitable Trust. It was held at the College's Billy Graham Center, under the direction of the staff of the Billy Graham Center Archives, headed by Archives director Bob Shuster.
A group headed by Paul Ericksen, associate director of the Archives, prepared a set of guidelines for missions that was distributed to participants before the conference began to provide common reference points for discussion. As participants listened to each other and shared ideas, a set of improved guidelines emerged. This revised set will soon be made available free through the Billy Graham Center Archives to any interested party.
Nondenominational mission agencies have been a dominant force in the American mission movement for decades, yet because of their strong focus on the present, their historical records have received little attention. It is urgent that their documents be assembled, organized and preserved. Few records documenting their histories have been kept either by the missions themselves or by outside agencies, such as seminaries, or Bible schools or Christian colleges.
In his keynote address David Howard, one of the most influential leaders of American missions and noted author of numerous books and articles on mission related subjects, emphasized the importance of historical perspectives. "It is vitally important that the leadership of any mission should understand fully their heritage," he said. "In writing the history of World Evangelical Fellowship (the organization Howard took over in 1982), the use of the archives in the Billy Graham Center and other resources, proved to be an absolutely invaluable Exercise." Dr. Howard observed that it enabled him "to give leadership based on a firm foundation of who we were and where we had come from."
Howard's experience, and that of many others in attendance, all seeking to be responsible keepers of mission history, was summarized in a quote shared by Shuster on opening day. "Within the body of Christ," he said, "archives serve as memory, not just for utilitarian reasons but 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."
For further information about the consultation and its
proceedings, please contact the Billy Graham Center Archives.
The website of the Consultation on Nondenominational Mission Archives may be found on-line at
Statements from mission leaders attending the Consultation:
"I was completely taken by surprise, while attending the Consultation on Mission Archives held by the Billy Graham Center Archives on November 1-3, 2001, by how little I understood relating to the proper care for a mission agencies archives.... I reflected back on my years of administrative services in missions organizations and how I had a blind spot concerning the proper storage and arrangement of papers, that reflected the organizations heritage, and their preservation. Yes, the saying that "old dogs can learn new tricks" is true and I am now a strong advocate for the importance of mission agencies setting board policies for the preservation of records in an organized archives, in order to protect the vital history of missions."
John E. Kyle - Senior Vice President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies (EFMA)
"In his 1969 presidential address to the American Historical Association, the distinguished Harvard Sinologist John King Fairbank challenged his colleagues. He asserted that the missionary is the "invisible man" of history. Yet, said Fairbank, the missionary movement is the single-most important intercultural experiment in history. Although Fairbank was no apologist for Christian missions, he saw their significance in cultural history and told historians they ought to pay attention to the rich documentation to be found in mission archives.... The outstanding mission leaders of the past 200 years - Rufus Anderson, Henry Venn, Gustav Warneck, Robert E. Speer and Max Warren - all lead by cultivating a strong sense of tradition. They saw the present and future of missions drawing continuously on the strength and values of the past of their agencies. They kept that past alive by reflection on it and drawing on those enduring values that defined their agencies over the years. Archival records were indispensable to their extraordinary leadership. From the reporting we have heard, it is apparent that one ‘strategic alliance that ought to be encouraged is for educational institutions - Bible colleges, colleges, universities, seminaries - to become repositories where missionary agencies place their archives. The educational potential of these collections is considerable. The institution can provide expert supervision in a proper environment; but the missionary agency thus makes available an important resource for research scholars and students."
"Anniversary celebrations are wake-up calls to the value of historic documents, photos, and artifacts. I saw these materials come to life when we celebrated CAM [Central American Mission] International's centennial. In subsequent centennial celebrations in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries, CAM's archives emerged as priceless treasures. Archives not only review the past; they give guidance in the present and impart vision for the future. Neglect of mission archives is a malady that must be cured. Preserving records of what God has done is high priority. It is His story for His glory.
Ron Blue, President Emeritus, CAM International
"I thank you and all who worked with you to provide the Consultation on Nondenominational Mission Archives. I appreciate the unique opportunity to have been a participant. I'm grateful for the people (archivists, historians, representatives of missions and institutions) who attended.
I'm even more grateful for the expertise that God has given to you who are archivists, historians, etc. and for your willingness to share that expertise and to preserve the wonderful heritage that God has allowed to be ours as Christians.... May the Lord increase your number and may I be faithful as a mission leader to do my part to challenge, encourage and preserve the story of God's work in our midst for the encouragement and benefit of others."
Carl McMindes, Gospel Missionary Union
"On stepping aside as president of the Latin America Mission, I chose to get involved in the archives of the Mission.... What compelled me to become immersed in the minutia and myriad of details in sorting out bits of info and organizing dusty files? Basically, I took up the task because I wanted to assure the continued full and faithful recording of our Mission's history -- under which I served for ultimately 40 years. In a word, we want to be true to our rich inheritance. I am extremely grateful for the recent 'Consultation on Nondenominational Mission Archives' held at the Billy Graham Center and the opportunity to be a part of it. I came away with valuable technical help, with new enthusiasm for our task, and the desire to convince other institutions of the vital importance of initiating and maintaining a well-thought through system of archives."
Clayton L. (Mike) Berg
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Last Revised: 11/12/01
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