Sins of Mission | Sojourners

Sins of Mission

Tom Montgomery-Fate’s Beyond the White Noise is about border-crossing. By presenting a theology of listening, the book interrogates the premises and assumptions of mission.

Remarkably, the author accomplishes such profound examinations through narrative. He tells the story of his work with the people of the Philippines with such honesty and poignancy that missionary practice is laid bare and the ministry of the Filipino is revealed.

Tom Montgomery-Fate presents to the reader the moral lesson he has learned from Filipinos—the efficacy of listening. Such attentiveness is a political act that positions the privileged missionary as learner, as one who encounters the world of the people and their humility. In this encounter, Westerners must unpack the baggage of their knowledge and theology. Emptied, they meet the Word of God, which Annie Dillard calls wordless.

"Listening," says Montgomery-Fate, "creates an opening for God." As example, Montgomery-Fate tells the story of his meeting with Mila, a cigar-smoking market woman who, though she does not "speak" (Tom knows little Ilokano, Mila no English), offers the lost, befuddled, 6-foot-2-inch foreigner the hospitality of her house. "For me," says Montgomery-Fate, "the language of the heart which Mila ‘spoke’ exemplifies the idea of the ‘Word of God.’"

Montgomery-Fate’s relationship to the people of the Ilocos region of Northern Luzon could be described as a partnership, what he calls co-mission. "Co-mission requires that we attempt to create silence in order to discern both the ‘voice’ of the new culture and the ‘voice’ of God...patiently, quietly attempting to become radically permeable in relation to both the new culture and to God."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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