The Value of Mission Archives

by Dr. David M. Howard Sr., former chief executive of Latin America Mission and the World Evangelical Fellowship, director of mission for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship-USA, and director of the 1980 Consultation on World Evangelization.

A recent meeting on nondenominational Protestant mission archives challenged me to think through the place of archives in the life of a mission organization. In preparation for the paper that I delivered on the opening day I was amazed to see how influential archives have been in my own ministry. In every phase of my work in missions covering nearly half a century I discovered that archives have played a significant role.

As President of the Latin America Mission, as Missions Director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Director of the Urbana conventions, as International Director of the World Evangelical Fellowship, and in doing some work for my alma mater, Wheaton College, I found myself writing articles, columns and books that related to the heritage of each organization. This required extensive research in archives. This highlighted what an important role archives can play in the life of an organization. Some of the advantages I see are the following:

First, it gives a broader appreciation of our heritage by taking us back to the vision of the founders. To see how God led them into this ministry can help renew our own vision.

Second, it serves to keep us on track. History shows that many an organization has gone astray by failing to renew the purposes for which it came into being. The archives should contain original materials that help us to fulfill God's calling to the organization.

Third, such study can provide a deep spiritual experience in teaching lessons about God's ways with those who preceded us in this ministry. I found myself repeatedly being overwhelmed with thankfulness to God for what He had done in giving the vision and in leading my predecessors in their outreach.

The more I studied and the more I listened to the experts in this field, the more urgently I feel the need for mission leaders today to recognize the indispensable role that archives should play. It is evident that very few missions today have an adequate archival system in place. It is without reservation that I strongly urge the leaders of nondenominational missions to take up this matter seriously and without delay, in order to preserve what God has done in and through them.

"Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands."(Deut. 8:2)

Click here to read the statements of other mission leaders on mission archives.

Click to go to a longer paper by Dr. Howard on mission archives.

Click to go to guidelines for mission agencies interested on starting their own archives.

Click for a website of resources for mission archives.

Return to Main Consultation page.

Last Revised: 12/13/01
Last Revised: 1/5/05
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005