Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Getting to Know CEVAA

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Getting to Know CEVAA

Article excerpt

WILLIAM J. NOTTINGHAM (*)

Early in 1972, I translated an article entitled "Towards A New Missionary Consciousness" by Jean-Paul Gabus, which appeared in the French Protestant weekly Reforme and announced the creation of CEVAA, the Communaute Evangelique d' Action Apostolique. In a board meeting on 30 October 1971, the Paris Missionary Society had restructured itself into "the Evangelical Community of Apostolic Action". Like the London Missionary Society, which became the Council for World Mission (CWM) four years later in 1975, CEVAA was to include the churches of the former mission fields, most of them French-speaking, as full members of the mission body. Today, there are 47 member churches from 21 countries. The secretariat moved recently from Paris to Montpellier in the south of France.

For over 150 years, the Paris Missionary Society had sent missionaries from Europe to places like Tahiti, New Caledonia, the Cameroons, the Ivory Coast, Congo-Brazzaville, Madagascar, etc. Francois Coillard had been the French equivalent of David Livingstone in southern Africa early in the 19th century. Albert Schweitzer, an Alsatian, had been the best known French missionary, largely independent because of his fame, in what is now Gabon.

The article said, "From now on, the young churches will be seated as full partners in the decision-making bodies, and this will permit missionary action to be decided not by those who hold the money and therefore the power, but by a body which is truly multiracial and ecumenical". It added that this should result in a new missionary awareness in all the churches and a theology of mission founded not on abstract patterns but on the power of the gospel.

To understand the development of CEVAA and CWM makes it clear why more and more church mission organizations include representatives of partner churches on their decision-making bodies. The United Protestant Mission (VEM), headquartered in Wuppertal, Germany, has recently restructured itself to be more inclusive. As an example in North America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada, and the United Church of Christ formed their Common Global Ministries Board in 1996, which contains six voting members from partner churches around the world. It represents the spirit in which ecumenical mission is undertaken by our churches today.

The theological importance of this development of CEVAA was described in 1971 as:

1. Freeing the mission of the churches from a Western model;

2. Being churches in mission in their own as well as other cultures;

3. Defining mission as life lived for Christ in every place where one is Christian;

4. Conversion not as ideological in nature but living out the gospel;

5. Every culture to provide the context for expressing the gospel;

6. Human relations basic to meeting the other great religions, the secular and technological world, and those suffering injustice and oppression;

7. Priorities requiring continued faithful stewardship and financial support.

More than a quarter of a century later, in 1999, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the council of CEVAA in New Caledonia in the South Pacific. From that meeting came the following press release:

Cevaa: restructure for an ongoing mission

Two dates: 30 October 1971 - 30 October 1999! One saw the birth of CEVAA, the Evangelical Community of Apostolic Action, in Paris. The other saw its rebirth in New Caledonia, twenty-eight years later as Cevaa: Community of Churches in Mission. Is this a coincidence or the changing role of history?

In deciding to come together as a Community, the member churches inaugurated in 1971 a missionary dynamic taking into consideration discussions that had gone on for a long time in the international ecumenical milieu. Churches and Mission were trying to find each other! The point was that mission should be an integral part of the life of each Church in its local context. …

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