On a mission: but is it the right one?

Integral mission and theologyWorking through the local church

As Tearfund embarks on an exciting vision to upscale its involvement in Church and Community Transformation, Sas Conradie reflects on a rocky start to a 35-year journey of developing vision for integral mission.  

Villagers gather to pray at a faith inspired agricultural project run in Manzvire Village in Chipinge South, Zimbabwe, by Foundations for Farming and Trumpet Call!

It was a few months after I decided to give my whole life to Christ during my first year studying theology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. As a passionate Afrikaner nationalist the big barrier to following Christ was my devotion to my country and not to God. Perhaps I should have expected God’s test to show that I love Him more than my country. But that was the last thing on my mind on that evening in May 1982 when I went to church in the centre of Pretoria for a mission focused service led by a minister working among Hindus in South Africa. 

I was quite touched by the message about making disciples of all nations, but I thought it was for others, not for me. Later that night, however, after I went to bed, I felt a very strong call to end my theological studies immediately, go to Zimbabwe and join a specific mission agency. 

As I battled with this call through tears I asked God for a sign. In the darkness of my room I put my hand onto my bedside table and picked up a book. As I opened the book I could not believe the words on the first page: “Sas, Jesus says ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21). Dad, mom and the other 5”. I couldn’t have received a clearer sign! What I did not know was that my dad had left the book earlier in the evening when I was at the service. 

Sas, third from left, in Burkina Faso, alongside leaders of theological institutions who worked on the Integral Mission Curriculum for Francophone Africa.

I spent the next few days in turmoil, trying to make sense of what was happening. The minister of our church felt that God wanted to test me but he did not believe God wanted me to end my studies – my Greek and Hebrew marks were just too good! In the end I never went to Zimbabwe as a full-time missionary. I actually studied for 15 years. 

Was I disobedient to the call to go to Zimbabwe? I don’t think so. I completed my practical theological studies in Harare and visited the country three times. In September I will return to Zimbabwe to join Tearfund’s Thinking Theologically gathering. But the message in the book was a turning point in my life. It was the catalyst for a journey that led me to mobilise South African students for mission, to work with poor communities and reconciliation in countries around the world and finally to Tearfund as Theology and Networking Manager for Africa. To a certain extent, the work I am doing now is the confirmation of that message from God 35 years ago. The difference is that Zimbabwe is one of the countries I am involved with but not the only one. 

Key lessons: 

1) Mission envisioning is both corporate and individual. It is an invitation to the local church as well as to people in the church. 

2) Mission envisioning is about discovering a way of living, not necessarily about one specific project. 

3) Mission envisioning is about joining God on a journey and not just a response at a particular point in time. 

Read more about running workshops on integral mission. 

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Sas Conradie
Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa: sas.conradie@tearfund.org