Our friends, Dieter and Angi, have had a passion for bringing the word of God to the people of Africa. Being from South Africa, they are positioned well to move in response to this call. They have, for some time, been fleshing out their vision through the 72° initiative and a method they call freeWord.
Having had conversations both with Dieter and with folks in our home office, I’ve sensed some dissonant understanding of the form and function of 72° and freeWord. I find they are often clumped as one (72°/freeWord) by those with whom I speak here in Minnesota; yet, there is a significant distinction between the two. Allow me to walk you through my understanding of these initiatives.
Sitting on the sidelines, so to speak, I watched as the 72° initiative was re-envisioned, planned, and prodded to fit into place among the Prayer League. At the same time, I would turn and watch, what was then, the Way of the Cross initiative undergo similar testing and maturation. In a way, I considered both of these budding initiatives as frameworks for membership among the Prayer League – filling in gaps between praying membership and full-time missionary service. If the Prayer League were to adopt and advocate for these initiatives, I would envision them somewhat as progressive avenues for involvement. At the core, they aim to put a name to lifestyles that embody the beliefs, values, and purposes of WMPL.
Thus, membership among the Prayer League could take four forms.
- Praying Membership: Individuals who have committed to pray for the advance of the Kingdom through the work of WMPL.
- Way of the Cross: Groups of individuals who have committed to pursue commissioned living as hometown missionaries among their family, church, and community.
- 72°: Groups of individuals who have committed to periodic short-term missionary exercises outside of their primary culture in an effort to broaden their understanding of missionary involvement and affect a change toward mission-mindedness in their congregation’s identity. As 72° was initially taking shape, it happened upon my mind that SHiFT could be another good acronym to describe the initiative (Simple Harvest Field Training). A stepping stone from local missionary involvement into global missionary involvement – bridging the two while working for the integrity of mission experience (i.e. the things we value and profess as a fellowship are realized on the ground in our daily life).
- Missionary Service: Individuals or groups of individuals who have responded to a specific call, committing to engage in full-time service in carrying out the work of God through WMPL.
So, foundationally, 72° is a framework for involvement in God’s mission.
The modus operandi for carrying out mission in the context of 72° (as should be the case for any context into which the Prayer League enters) is found in a number of values (or distinctive emphases). Among these are prayer as mission, displaced living, missional partnership, etc.
I understand freeWord as an additional, even more, the foundational distinctive emphasis upon which the others are founded. Although the WMPL Statement of Faith points to the authority of the Bible among us, nowhere among the values linked above does the Prayer League explicitly state the intent to live in response to a belief that God’s word is living, active, and creative.
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
It is through the word of God (both that revealed to us in Scripture and that to which we ought remain attentive each new day) that God meets us and charts a way forward. It is in this word that we determine the distinctive emphases of our lives. It is with this word, I think, that we can embrace a lifestyle of freeWord – simply God’s living word, unimpeded and active in our lives.
From recent correspondence with Dieter, he says:
- freeWord’s reformational essence is that the bible continues to be the creative word of God – making things and bringing things into existence that were not there before. As Luther says, His promises are performative … reading is not a study but an awareness of being addressed, of a disruptive grace entering in.
- freeWord is thoroughly disenchanted with the current theological recolonization of Africa and other parts of the world by the so-called interpretive super powers of the Christian universe and seeks to foster the genuine bible reading that undergirds the prolific proclamation of the gospel on a saturated and hyper-evangelized Southern Africa.
- freeWord is intentionally sensitive to the necessity for de-colonizing missionary bible reading (i.e., rather than talk of “contextualizing” western Christendom we ought to be thinking about de-colonizing our biblical interpretive praxis, or we need to think more carefully about what I might call the hermeneutical art of over privilege).
So, freeWord is not so much a thing as it is our personal missional engagement.
freeWord then is simply a crucial and inexpendable aspect of SHIFT72, one element of the SHIFT program of missionary exercises shaped by my perspective, reflections, experience and perception of the need for bible reading innovations in contemporary missionary Africa and other parts of the world.
So, to read His creative word in the world is freeWord…… To provide an avenue and opportunity for displacement away from ordinary societal expectations is “way of the cross”…… To provide an avenue for intercultural missionary exercises and discipleship is SHIFT72…… To provide the paradigm and opportunity for full time missionary faithfulness and effectiveness is WMPL….YAY!
May we remain attentive to the Spirit of God at work among us and may we ever stand upon His word – for His word shall stand. May this word indelibly and daily mark our hearts and lives. And, may this word fill us with such fire as can’t be contained.
Why the 72° Name?
While engaging communities along the Zambezi River in Mozambique, Dieter & Angi found that 72°C was the temperature to which water should be heated for some minutes in order to make it potable. Also, when visiting the United States, they found that 72°F is often considered the most ideal temperature for indoor comfort. The 72° initiative is intended to meet people at the edge of their comfort zone and usher them into a testing that may refine them for more effective service in global mission of the Church.