Peter C. Phan
(The Warren-Blanding Professor of Religion and Culture Department of Religion and Religious Education The Catholic University of America)
Crossing the Borders
A spirituality for Mission in Our Times from an Asian Perspective1



One of the most enduring images of the missionary in popular imagination is that of someone leaving his or her country for a foreign land to convert the heathens. Of course, today the concept of what constitutes a heathen has changed dramatically, just as that of conversion as the goal of mission. Even the borders which used to separate Christians from unbelievers and followers of other faiths have become so porous that they have ceased to be clear and helpful identity markers. Today there is no lack of Christians and non-Christians who claim double or triple religious belongings, and the tribes of religiously hyphenated people, both inside and outside of Christianity, are on a steady increase.
While the concepts of paganism, conversion, and religious identity have undergone drastic changes in recent years, one aspect has nevertheless remained constant in the job description of the missionary, and that is, crossing or going over borders. Not only has this act of crossing retained its necessity, it has also become extremely complex, since the borders between the missionary’s native country and the foreign lands have grown both porous and multiple. In times past when borders were mainly geographical, crossing might be hazardous and even deadly. Voyages from Lisbon, for instance, from which missionaries under the Portuguese padroado had to depart for distant parts of the globe took years, and not a few missionaries perished during the journey. But at least, the borders were visible, and one could be certain of having crossed them. Today, by contrast, crossing geographical boundaries has been made quick, easy and even comfortable thanks to air travel. But new boundaries have emerged which are invisible and porous, and as a result, one may not even be aware that there are boundaries at all and can easily make the mistake of assuming that everything is the same everywhere! Furthermore, borders have become so numerous and diverse that crossing them successfully requires a good deal of skills and efforts on the part of the missionary.
This predicament brings new challenges to Christian mission and calls for an appropriate spirituality. Coincidentally, there has been in recent years a strong interest among missionaries in spirituality. Summarizing the presentations and discussions at the mission congress organized by SEDOS in 2000, Robert Schreiter notes: “As missionaries move into the third millennium, it is clear that the issue of spirituality has a high priority.” This interest, he suggests, is rooted in the new awareness that Christian mission is primarily missio Dei.
In this contribution to a border-crossing mission spirituality I first describe the new borders that missionaries must cross today. Next, I delineate some of the dispositions and virtues that would help missionaries accomplish and maintain such crossing-over. Lastly, I will attempt to ground such border-crossing spirituality theologically in the mystery of the Incarnation itself.

New arenas of mission and new borders

Perhaps one helpful way to discern the new borders for contemporary mission is to begin with John Paul II’s description of the three “situations”, each with a corresponding activity of the church. The first situation consists of Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures, a fervent Christian life, and a commitment to mission. Here the church’s activity is “pastoral care”. The second situation consists of Christian communities, both ancient and young, in which the members have lost a living sense of faith, do not even consider themselves Christian, and live lives contrary to the Gospel. Here the church’s activity is “new evangelization” or “re-evangelization”. The third situation is made of peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known or in which there are no Christians mature enough to proclaim their faith to others. Here the church’s activity is “mission ad gentes” or “missionary activity proper”.
The Pope is aware that “the boundaries between pastoral care of the faithful, new evangelization, and specific missionary activity are not clearly definable” and that there is a “real and growing interdependence” among these three activities. Nevertheless, he maintains these distinctions in order to highlight the continuing necessity and even urgency of the mission ad gentes which has been on the wane and whose validity and relevance have been questioned.
What is of interest to us here is not the usefulness or lack of it of the pope’s distinction of the three situations with corresponding church’s activities and the validity of his exclusive reservation of the terms “missionary activity proper” and “mission ad gentes” to the third situation. Rather it is the fact that having re-affirmed the necessity of the mission to non-Christians John Paul II goes on to describe the various arenas in which these non-Christians are encountered today and in which a threefold activity of this mission ad gentes is carried out, namely, “the work of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel, building up the local Church, and promoting the values of the kingdom”. The Pope specifies that these non-Christian arenas include three distinct categories, and hence three possible kinds of border and border-crossing, namely, “peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts”.
First, “peoples” here may be taken to refer to the followers of other religions as well as persons of no religious affiliation (atheists and agnostics). In the recent past most of these peoples used to live in the so-called mission territories, and John Paul II, who still upholds the criterion of geography, regards certain parts of the world, in particular Asia, urgently calling for the church’s mission ad gentes. Today, however, due to frequent and extensive migrations from East to West, a growing number of non-Christians are settling in the Christianized West, especially in urban centers, where temples, pagodas, and mosques dot the landscape cheek-by-jowl with churches and synagogues. Even though the population of non-Christians in the West is still relatively small, their active and at times vocal presence makes religious pluralism, to which we will return below, a live and attractive option for many Christians. As a result, religious affiliations, which used to function as identity markers, have been blurred beyond recognition and the need for missionaries to be able to maintain religious identities and at the same time to negotiate conflicting religious claims has increased dramatically.
In terms of John Paul II’s distinction of the three situations of the church’s mission, it is increasingly a fact - uncomfortable to many Christians - that the presence of non-Christians even in the midst of both Christian communities with solid ecclesial structures and vibrant faith, and in communities which have lost their ancient Christian roots, poses serious challenges to the mission ad gentes, much more complex and numerous, than in countries where Christians still form a minority. To cross over to these non-Christians in the West requires a great deal of skills and efforts on the part of the missionary, since they are much more cognizant of the problems and even scandals in the Catholic Church (e.g., the recent clergy sex abuse and the bishops’ misuse of funds and power) than their fellow believers in their native countries and are therefore less likely to “convert” to Christianity than if they had an idealistic picture of the church.
Secondly, as far as groups are concerned, John Paul II refers to “new worlds and new social phenomena” which are said to widen immeasurably the circle of concerns for mission ad gentes. Among groups that deserve the special attention of missionaries, the pope singles out four categories, namely, dwellers of megalopolises, youth, immigrants and refugees, and the poor, each of whom requires specialized forms of ministry. Urbanization creates big cities where a new humanity is emerging and where new models of development are taking shape, and poses a different set of challenges for missionaries, who used to carry out their work in isolated and underdeveloped regions. Youth, who in many countries make up more than half of the population, require associations, institutions, centers, and cultural and social activities that go far beyond ordinary means of evangelization and demand highly specialized skills not possessed by average missionaries. Immigrants and refugees, as has been pointed out above, not only raise the awareness of religious pluralism to an unprecedented level, but also create fresh opportunities for cultural and religious exchanges among them and Christian missionaries. Finally, the poor and the marginalized demand new forms of evangelization that restore them human dignity and freedom. Needless to say, these four groups create new and pluriform borders, not simply geographical but also social, economic, ethnic, and psychological, which missionaries have to be fully conscious of and marshal requisite skills to cross over.
Thirdly, with regard to socio-cultural contexts, John Paul II mentions “the modern equivalents of the Areopagus”, namely, the worlds of communications and mass media, justice and peace, scientific research, international organizations, and religious revival. Needless to say, most if not all of these “worlds” were totally unknown to missionaries ad gentes of just a few decades past the great majority of whom labored in underdeveloped countries and for whom these worlds represented the exclusive concerns of the technologically advanced West. Even today, despite valiant efforts to adapt to a postindustrial society, to our Age of Information with a heavy emphasis on service economy and intellectual technology, many missionaries still find themselves incapable of crossing over into these unfamiliar worlds, physical or virtual, whose borders seem to extend everywhere and yet remain so elusive and forbidding.
Still, there is no escape from these worlds if one wants to carry out the mission ad gentes effectively, even when one retreats to the remotest corners of the globe. This is so because of two other widespread contemporary phenomena, namely, globalization and what has been called “post-modernity” both of which represent the most salient features of our times. Thanks to easy transportation and communication technologies, not only our world has become a “global village” or better “global city” but there is also a heightened awareness of our interconnections and interdependencies in all areas of life. As a result of globalization which extends the effects of modernization to all parts of the globe and at the same time compresses both space and time, there emerges everywhere a popular, homogenizing, deterritorialized “global culture”. Of course, local cultures do not passively absorb globalization and its popular culture line, hook and sinker but react to it by rejecting it altogether, or by asserting their ethnic differences, or by returning to their pre-modern roots. Nevertheless, the overwhelming effect of globalization is the removal of boundaries and distinctions with a continuous flow of information, technologies, ideas, tastes, and values throughout the world. As a result, culture is no longer seen as a normative pattern of living characterized by boundedness, distinctiveness, coherence, and stability but much more as a fluid and unbounded social reality marked by openness, variability, inconsistency, and conflict. At the same time, because of globalization, today the symbols, ideas, rituals, institutions, artistic representations, and religious traditions of one culture are in constant contact and exchange with those of another resulting in greater “shared space” than before. In other words, while old borders have disappeared, new and numerous boundaries are constantly being drawn but are much less visible and identifiable than the old ones and thus make missionary crossing-over much more complicated.
The other phenomenon, more elusive but no less extensive and influential than globalization, goes under the slippery label of post-modernity. There have been extensive discussions of the historical parameters and nature of post-modernity, especially with reference to modernity and the Enlightenment, and it is not necessary to enter into such a debate here. Suffice it to note, along with Lawrence Cahoone,that according to some commentators, there are in contemporary social and cultural patterns a number of features pervasive, distinctive, and important enough to warrant the judgment that a new period of history has emerged, markedly different from modernity, and for lack of a better term, may be labeled postmodernity. Epistemologically, post-modernity is characterized by a deep skepticism about our ability to know objective truth, rejection of “universal and unchanging essences” and of fixed meanings in human artifacts and language, incredulity toward “metanarratives”, preference for local and particular stories, and celebration of diversity and multiplicity. From a theological standpoint, while postmodernism’s relativism and skepticism must be rejected, its critique of modernity and the Enlightenment is to be taken seriously, and consequently, some theologians have subjected fundamental concepts such as God, the self, truth, and verification to a new scrutiny and reformulation.
From the missiological perspective, the challenges posed by post-modernity are immense. One of the offsprings of postmodernism is religious pluralism, according to which the diversity of religions is not merely a fact but a normative stance which allows no particular religion to make claims to universality and absolute validity. Needless to say, understood in this way, religious pluralism strikes at the heart of Christology and soteriology, and calls into question the very legitimacy of Christian mission as understood and practiced in the past. The question is therefore whether missionaries ad gentes can still proclaim the Christian faith effectively and faithfully amidst the pluralistic view, widespread in popular culture and in academia, that the Christian faith is but one among many equally legitimate paths to God. How, in other words, can the borders among religions that religious pluralism have erased be rebuilt without being exclusivistic?
In sum, today the many borders missionaries ad gentes of old had to cross have disappeared but new ones have emerged, more numerous, porous, and even invisible, partly because of the new situations in which the church has to carry out its mission, partly because of new economic, social, cultural, and religious trends such as globalization, postmodernism, and religious pluralism. New peoples, new groups, and new contexts are addressees of evangelization. This fact was brought home by the participants of the SEDOS 2000 congress on the future of mission who mentioned five new contexts for mission today: globalization, religion-related violence, secularization, the mounting strength of Islam, and ecological destruction. Different are the borders and boundaries that missionaries now have to cross, but still there remains the act of crossing, which is more subtle, complex, and multiple. Is there a Christian way of living, a frame of mind, and a set of moral dispositions and virtues, in a word, a spirituality that facilitates and nurtures such crossing-over?

Border-crossing: a missionary way of life

My purpose here is not to speak of missionary spirituality in general which has been treated at length in recent times by a number of missiologists. John Paul II himself devotes the last chapter of his encyclical Redemptoris Missio to missionary spirituality and describes it as marked by three basic features: complete docility to the Holy Spirit, intimate communion with Christ the Evangelizer, and apostolic charity for the evangelized and for the church. Emphasizing the priority of spirituality for mission the pope says: “The renewed impulse to the mission ad gentes demands holy missionaries. It is not enough to update pastoral techniques, organize and coordinate ecclesial resources, or delve more deeply into the biblical and theological foundations of faith. What is needed is the encouragement of a new ‘ardor for holiness’ among missionaries and throughout the Christian community, especially among those who work most closely with missionaries”.
Assuming the three features enumerated by the pope as undisputed givens of a missionary spirituality, I would like to single out for reflection some attitudes and practices that appear most appropriate for missionaries in a globalized, postmodern, and religiously plural context, with multiple borders and unfamiliar situations. Robert Schreiter, in his assessment of the SEDOS congress on the future of mission referred to above, suggests that missionary spirituality in the future will have to develop along four trajectories: spirituality of presence, kenotic spirituality, reconciliation, and holistic anthropology. Taking my cue from the realities of Asia and from the various statements of the Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences and their institutes as well as from the Asian Synod and John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia. I will elaborate on how these four features form part of a missionary spirituality envisaged as border-crossing spirituality.
Borders or boundaries seem to perform three distinct functions: as markers for one’s individual and communal identity, as barriers to fence out other people different from oneself, and as frontiers from which to venture out into new horizons to expand one’s knowledge and one’s circle of relationships. Corresponding to this triple role of borders, a border-crossing spirituality must first of all help the missionary respect and promote the distinctive identity and “otherness” of those to be evangelized. On the one hand, these differences must not erased under the pretext of a common human nature; on the other, they should not be absolutized in an ideology of ethnocentrism and nationalism. Such a border-crossing spirituality must also impel the missionary to dismantle the unjust fences that powerful interest groups put up to protect their privileges and to keep the marginalized out, denying them even a decent human life. Finally, it must assist the missionary in transcending differences of all kinds and opening up new frontiers in order to build a “civilization of love” which is not merely a confirmation of old identities but a forging of a new, common identity in which the worst of each group are overcome and the best are combined together to produce truly intercultural human beings, in the image of the Triune God.

Spirituality of Presence

To live in Asia is to constantly cross borders separating a dizzying variety of languages, races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. In addition to these traditional boundaries, there are contemporary ones created by the process of globalization such as the growing gap between the rich and the poor, religious fundamentalism, political and military conflicts among nations, and communal violence. In Asia, perhaps more than anywhere else on earth, missionaries are called to be present to these multiple realities and to be keenly aware of the borders which are necessary for self-identity but also create many forms of exclusion.
This presence of course goes beyond physical accessibility. It demands acceptance of pluralism not as a curse but as a blessing and an opportunity for mutual collaboration and enrichment. Furthermore, it requires an affective and effective solidarity with people on both sides of the borders, especially those who are marginalized and oppressed. To achieve affective solidarity with them, the FABC’s Institute for Social Action recommends the method of “exposure” and “immersion”, part of the four-stage “pastoral cycle”, namely, exposure-immersion, social analysis, contemplation, and planning: “Exposure brought us closer to to the stark reality of poverty, but immersion sought to experience reality from the perspective of the poor themselves. Exposure is like a doctor’s visit for diagnosis; immersion is like the visit of a genuine friend entering into a dialogue-of-life”.
Thus, a spirituality of presence includes genuine friendship with those living on the other side of the border and a dialogue-of-life with them. Indeed, this sharing of life is part of a new way of being church in Asia that involves a fourfold presence: “a. The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations. b. The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people. c. The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values. d. The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute”.
In Asia, this fourfold dialogue, by which the missionary is truly present to the people who are evangelized, must be carried out, according to the FABC, in three areas: with the Asians themselves, especially the poor and the indigenous peoples (integral development and liberation), with their religions (interreligious dialogue), and with their cultures (inculturation).
This spirituality of presence is all the more necessary and the mission work performed through it all the more effective in those parts of the world, especially in Asia, where an explicit proclamation of Jesus is forbidden and religious freedom is restricted or denied. This presence in the form of “the silent witness of life” is perhaps not always congenial to Western missionaries in whose training there has been a strong emphasis on a verbal and explicit proclamation of Jesus as the only and universal savior and for whom anything falling short of this would be a failure in mission. Nevertheless, when this silent witness of life, rooted in the experience of God, is accompanied by a lifestyle characterized by “renunciation, detachment, humility, simplicity and silence” and by “the work of justice, charity and compassion”, it is perhaps most appropriate for Asia and forms the core of the spirituality of presence which is mission as “contemplative action and active contemplation”.
Since the spirituality of presence is essentially dialogue, it demands all the virtues that make dialogue successful. For this to occur, according to the FABC’s Institute of Interreligious Affairs, nothing less than a “spirituality of dialogue” is required, especially in situations of conflict and animosity: “In a situation of prejudice brought about by fundamentalism and religious revivalism, dialogue means an abiding and genuine search for goodness, beauty, and truth following the beckoning of the Spirit who leads us into all truth.... In an atmosphere of animosity brought about by the injustice and violation of human rights, dialogue means powerlessness and vulnerability. From a position of power, one can only negotiate about terms. From a position of weakness, one can truly communicate his or her trust in the other. Trust is most real when there looms the possibility of betrayal. To dialogue then means to open one’s heart and to speak one’s mind with courage and respect. But, as our experiences have shown, the Spirit has often used powerlessness and vulnerability to effect mutual forgiveness and reconciliation among individuals, families, and communities”. This spirituality of presence from the missionary’s position of powerlessness and vulnerability brings us to the next dimension of border-crossing spirituality, namely, kenotic spirituality.

Kenotic Spirituality

What is meant by kenotic spirituality is well explained by the same Institute of Interreligious Affairs: “To risk being wounded in the act of loving, to seek to understanding in a climate of misunderstanding - these are no burdens to bear. Dialogue demands a deep spirituality which enables man, as did Jesus Christ, to hang on to his faith in God’s love, even when everything seems to fall apart. Dialogue, finally, demands a total Christ-like self-emptying so that, led by the Spirit, we may be more effective instruments in building God’s kingdom”.
As is well known, much of Asia is suffering from the legacy of colonialism, widespread poverty, crushing foreign debts, lack of basic health care and adequate educational facilities, and ecological destruction. The missionary who comes from the First World and especially from the United States of America, which is now the sole superpower wielding absolute military power and enormous wealth, and the Catholic Church itself, a powerful and rich institution both in the West and in Asia, are often perceived by Asians as having at their disposition unlimited resources to alleviate their pains and sufferings. Furthermore, from the religious point of view, the Catholic Church is often presented as possessing the fullness of truth and all the means of sanctification and as charged with the mission of sharing these divine gifts with others. As a consequence, the missionary is vested with unrealistic expectations, and is tempted to think that part of his or her mission is to meet them.
It is here that kenotic spirituality will play a key role. As Antonio M. Perna, the Filipino Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word, echoing the voice of the FABC, puts it: “Much of Asia, as we know, is characterized by the historical experience of colonization, a socio-economic condition of poverty, and a religious situation where Christianity is a minority. So, the Asian missionary cannot, or ought not, evangelize from a position of power or superiority. He or she must approach mission from a position of powerlessness and humility”. This means that the Good News is not something owned by the missionary but only given to his or her stewardship: “Thus, the Asian missionary will not, or ought not, share the faith as if he or she owned it, dictating thereby the terms by which it must be understood, lived and celebrated. His or her approach to mission will be to share the faith as a gift received from God through others, conscious of himself or herself as merely its steward or servant and never its owner or master”.
The necessity of this kenotic spirituality is even more pressing in the case of Asians going as missionaries to the First World, as happens frequently these days, when the First World imports Asian priests and religious to remedy its shortage of clergy. As Leo Kleden, an Indonesian member of the SVD, has shrewdly observed, these missionaries cannot expect to do what missionaries from the First World have done in Asia in terms of health care, education, and social development. Asian missionaries, originating mostly from their pre-modern culture and moving into the modern and post-modern cultures of the West, come literally “empty-handed”. But this situation need not be simply weakness but also strength, says Kleden: “This kind of weakness can and should be the strength of the new missionaries. Here is a golden opportunity to follow the example of the first disciples of Jesus who were sent empty handed but who were inspired by the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Lord. The empty handed approach is therefore possible if their heart is full of faith, with the willingness to serve others as the Lord Jesus. Through the Spirit of the Lord human weakness (in the socio-political sense) is transformed into evangelical kenosis”.
In terms of evangelization, with kenotic spirituality missionaries cross over borders less with the attitude of givers than of receivers. They do not go into the mission lands with an advanced technology to modernize the underdeveloped, with a superior culture to civilize the barbarians, with a true religion to wipe out superstitions, with a set of revealed truths to teach the unenlightened. As Anthony Gittins has pointed out, they come primarily as strangers and as guests. As strangers, they will be perceived by the hosts as “foreign”, “abnormal”, “alien”, “odd”, “strange”. As guests, they must depend on the generosity and kindness of the hosts, respect and follow the rules and customs of the new environment, and may change the ways of life of the place only if asked or allowed. Furthermore, in many cases missionaries are not invited guests, they just invite themselves or even force their way into the hosts’ countries. This makes their condition of stranger and guest even more pronounced and precarious.
In light of these two existential predicaments of the missionary, Gittins suggests that part of the kenotic spirituality is for the missionary to “accept our marginal and ambiguous status. We are no longer - if we ever truly were - primary movers, but collaborators and assistants, servants”. He goes on to say: “To allow oneself to be a stranger is to allow oneself to be placed at the disposition of the God who calls. To embrace the status of a stranger is to empower other people and to dare to infuse some trust into a world where self-interest and suspicion seem to walk unimpeded. To choose to be a stranger is, it might be argued, to be a willing disciple of Jesus”. Kenotic spirituality also requires that as guest the missionary learn to be a gracious and grateful receiver, not only in matters of room and board, but above all in the areas of culture, moral behavior, and religious insights and practices. In this respect, perhaps the virtues that were extolled in the past as requisites of a successful missionary such as independence, self-reliance, risk-taking, and creativity might no longer be appropriate, at least during the phase of incorporation into the local community, and must be replaced by willingness to give up self-control, vulnerability, interdependence, deference, and conformity. Of course, as etiquette demands, the missionary as guest must also bring some gifts of his or her own, not to “repay” the host but to “return” the host’s graciousness. Consequently, the missionary must bear witness to Jesus Christ and present God’s gift of faith. But gifts are offered in gratitude and humility; they should never be imposed on the host.

Spirituality of Reconciliation and Harmony

It is a fact of life that borders do not serve simply to define and affirm identity. Good fence do not always good neighbors make. It all depends on who puts up the fence and where and what for. It may happen that the neighbor, if he or she is the more powerful one, puts up the fence as a barrier to keep others out, places it beyond his or her properties, thus encroaching upon other people’ lands, or builds it up to protect the ill-gained wealth and unjust privileges she or he is enjoying. It is also the fact of life that not always are the guest and the host in friendly relations with each other, and hospitality turns into hostility. Then there arises the need for restoring harmony and peace-making.
Given the increase of violence not only among nations but also within nations, not only in secular society but also in the church since the end of communism in Eastern European countries in 1989, the need for reconciliation has grown more acute. Among contemporary missiologists Robert Schreiter has devoted a lot of attention to reconciliation. Schreiter warns that reconciliation must not be undertaken as “a hasty peace” by suppressing the memory of past violence, as an “alternative to liberation,” which is a pre-condition for reconciliation, and as a “managed process” to be conducted with technical rationality. Rather reconciliation must be seen as part of Christian mission (2 Cor. 5:18-19) based on the Christian redeeming narrative of violence (sin), death, cross, and blood in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Following José Comblin, Schreiter suggests that this reconciliation, which is initiated and brought about by God, is accomplished on three levels: “a christological level, in which Christ is the mediator through whom God reconciles the world to God’s self; an ecclesiological level, in which Christ reconciles Jew and Gentile; and a cosmic level, in which Christ reconciles all the powers in heaven and on earth”. To fulfill this ministry of reconciliation, missionaries, according to Schreiter, must develop a “spirituality of reconciliation”. This spirituality consists in cultivating an attitude of “listening and waiting”, of “attention and compassion”, and of “post-exilic existence”. By listening and waiting, one learns to retrieve the memory of suffering and violence and to wait patiently for God’s gift of peace and forgiveness; by attention and compassion, one enters into solidarity with those who suffer violence; and by post-exilic existence one begins to construct a new society with chastened optimism and hope.
Reconciliation as restoration of harmony is also a pervasive theme in Asian theologies as embodied in the FABC’s documents. There is no doubt that harmony is central to Asian cultures and religions. It is said to constitute “the intellectual and affective, religious and artistic, personal and social soul of both persons and institutions in Asia”. After expounding the concept of harmony as espoused by Asian philosophies, primal religions, and religious traditions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam), the FABC’s Theological Advisory Committee concludes: “It is clear there is an Asian approach to reality, an Asian understanding of reality that is profoundly organic, i.e., a world-view wherein the whole, the unity, is the sum-total of the web of relations, and interaction of the various parts with each other”.
Thus, harmony is not simply “the absence of strife” but lies in “acceptance of diversity and richness”. Nor is it merely a pragmatic strategy for successful living amidst differences. Fundamentally, it is an Asian spirituality involving all the four dimensions of human existence: the individual self, and his or her relationships with other human beings, the material universe, and God. This is clear from the teachings of various Asian religious traditions. The Hindu way is marked by a quest for a harmonious integration of the whole and the parts at all levels: individual, social, and cosmic. The cosmos is sustained by a harmonious order; society is held together by the order of dharma (law); and the individual achieves harmony by observing the cosmic order and society’s moral and religious code.
In Buddhism, harmony in the individual, which leads to liberation from suffering, is achieved by following the so-called Eightfold Path: right speech, action, and livelihood (morality), right effort, mindfulness and concentration (concentration), and right understanding and thought (wisdom). According to Zen Buddhism, harmony in the individual is the unity of body and mind in all the person’s activities and produces enlightenment and a deep sense of peace. Because of the unity between body and soul, physical practices such as proper sitting position, regulating the breath, and composing the mind are necessary conduits to spiritual enlightenment.
Harmony in the individual leads to harmony with other human beings, which, according to Confucius, include the family, the nation, and the world. According to the Chinese Sage, one cannot pacify the world without governing one’s nation well; one cannot govern one’s nation well without ordering one’s family rightly; and one cannot order one’s family rightly without achieving mastery over oneself. And self-mastery is achieved by living out five relationships correctly: between ruler and subject, between husband and wife, between parent and child, between elder sibling and younger sibling, and between friend and friend. Each of these five relationships implies a set of obligations and duties, and if one fulfills them rightly, one lives in harmony with oneself and with others.
Furthermore, because the human person is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, she or he must also be in harmony with nature or the cosmos. This harmony is particularly emphasized in Taoism. Chuang Tzu, the greatest Taoist after Lao Tzu, declares: “The cosmos and I were born together; all things and I are one”. In practical terms, cosmic harmony demands that humans maintain a healthy and sustainable ecosystem, avoid the pollution of the environment, reduce the consumption of energy resources, and in general develop an attitude of reverence for, a contemplative posture toward, and a sense of oneness with the Earth and non-human creation.
Finally, harmony in oneself, harmony with one’s fellow human beings, and harmony with the cosmos are rooted in and strengthened by harmony with God. This harmony with the Divine is the fundamental teaching of Islam, an Arabic term meaning ‘surrender.’ To be in harmony with God, we must in all things submit to God’s holy will in mind, heart, and action. We must, to use a Confucian expression, learn to know and fulfill the mandate of Heaven.
When this view of harmony of Asian non-Christian religions is integrated with the Christian understanding of God’s reconciliation of the world to himself in Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, what emerges, in the view of the Theological Advisory Commission, is a new spirituality of harmony as a web of peaceful relationships, a new theology of harmony as communion, and a deeper commitment to harmony as reconciliation. The spirituality of harmony will shape human life as an unfolding of right relationships: “Starting from consciousness of the God-given harmony within oneself, one moves into harmonious relationship with one’s fellow humans; then one spreads out to be in harmony with nature and the wider universe. This unfolding and realization of right relationship within oneself, with the neighbors and the cosmos leads to the summit experience of harmony with God”. On the basis of this spirituality, a theology of harmony is developed, not as conclusions deduced from Christian texts but as a contextual reflection on the realities of conflict in Asia, in dialogue and collaboration with followers of other religions, and in solidarity with the victims of discrimination and violence. In this theology of harmony, there is an emphasis on ethics as “the ethic and aesthetic of right relationships in the original harmony”, on Christ as “the sacrament of the new harmony”, and on the church as “the sacrament of unity”. Finally, this new spirituality and theology of harmony call for an active commitment to peacemaking and reconciliation as individuals, as church, and in collaboration with others.
For the missionaries, this spirituality of reconciliation and harmony implies that in their border-crossing they be aware that borders as markers can be made to function as barriers, especially by those who have vested economic and political interests to maintain and protect. Here the role of prophecy is indispensable. The missionaries will be in solidarity with those who are marginalized and discriminated against by these borders/barriers and with courage denounce the injustices committed against them. Harmony, says the Theological Advisory Commission, “is neither a compromising with conflictual realities, nor a complacency about the existing order. Harmony demands a transformative attitude and action, to bring about a change in contemporary society. This can be provided only by a prophetic spirituality which exercises charitable but courageous criticism of the situation”.
Another aspect of mission to which the spirituality of harmony applies is interreligious dialogue and the religious boundaries that have often been manipulated to pit one religious group against another. Religions, when seen as mutually complementary, should not be barriers separating people but must be seen as different paths leading to God. As Michael Amaladoss has pointed out, a new approach to religions is needed, in which all religions are seen as players and collaborators in humanity’s movement toward God’s kingdom: “In promoting the kingdom, then, our enemies are Satan and Mammon, not other religions”. This spirit of complementarity and harmony is strongly insisted upon by the Asian bishops at the Asian Synod when speaking of the Asian cultural and religious values as forming the basis of the Asianness of the church: “All of this indicates an innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul, and it is the core around which a growing sense of ‘being Asian’ is built. This ‘being Asian’ is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony. In this framework of complementarity and harmony, the Church can communicate the Gospel in a way which is faithful to her own Tradition and to the Asian soul”.

Holistic Spirituality

The last dimension of border-crossing spirituality, intimately connected with the spirituality of harmony and reconciliation, is holistic spirituality. Central to this spirituality is a holistic anthropology, which is already intimated above when harmony is said to embrace four dimensions: the self, fellow human beings, the cosmos, and God. Arguing for “a more cosmic and holistic anthropology” María Carmelita de Freitas suggests that it will make possible “a more integrated and open religious life, one with wider horizons, more in harmony with what is beautiful, simple, human, joyful, cheerful, with nature, and with everything”. Only in this way, de Freitas believes, can the evils of globalization with its “neo-liberal creed” of monetary and economic stability, its “ethics of efficiency,” its “Gospel of competition”, and its “logic of exclusion” be counteracted.
From our reflections on harmony above it is obvious that holistic spirituality is a central concern of not only various Asian religious traditions but also the FABC. The Fifth Plenary Assembly in 1990 insisted that a spirituality for the new millennium must “integrate every aspect of Christian life: liturgy, prayer, community living, solidarity with all and especially the poor, evangelization, catechesis, dialogue, social commitment, etc. There has to be no dichotomy between faith and life, or between love and action ...”.
In holistic spirituality as part of border-crossing, boundaries cease to be barriers and become frontiers from which the missionary venture forth with people on both sides of the borders to create new realities out of their common assets. Among Hispanic/Latino theologians, Virgilio P. Elizondo has developed the concept of mestizaje, that is, a blending of two or more races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions into a “new race”, as the early Christians were called. In this new race, as Elizondo points out, “borders will not disappear, differences will not fade away, but they need not divide and keep peoples apart.... Rather than seeing them as the ultimate dividing line between you and me, between us and them, we can see borders as the privileged meeting places where different persons and peoples will come together to form a new and most inclusive humanity”.
The spirituality of missionary border-crossing which we have elaborated in terms of presence, kenosis, harmony, and holistic integration is well expressed by Anthony Bellagamba in his description of the identity of the missionaries as “persons of the present” and “persons of the beyond”. As “persons of the present”, missionaries must live in contact with the realities of the people they seek to evangelize: “The struggle of the people, their hopes and concerns, their vision of life, their experience of death, their cosmological theories, their methods of being community, their understanding of authority, their use of authority, their sexual drives, and their whole system of values are, or should be, of great interest to cross-cultural personnel”. As “persons of the beyond”, they must go beyond their own cultures, histories, values, mother tongues, native symbols, even their religions, not in the sense of rejecting them, but in the sense of “emptying” themselves of them in order to be guests and strangers among the people they evangelize and to receive and adopt as far as possible their hosts’ cultures and ways of life.

Jesus, the border-crosser

Border-crossing spirituality, a necessity for missionaries in a culture with multiple and porous boundaries created by globalization, post-modernity, and religious pluralism, is not simply a practical strategy for successful evangelization but is a theological imperative of Christian life as imitatio Christi. Christian evangelization in any period of history and in any culture worthy of the name must be modeled after the way Jesus proclaimed God’s kingdom to the people of his time. There are of course many different ways to represent Jesus’ life and ministry. For example, it is possible to explain the significance of Jesus by way of the various titles the New Testament and Christian Tradition have attributed to him. Needless to say, no one title can ever exhaust the significance of Jesus’ words and deeds and the multifaceted method of his ministry. For our present purposes it would be useful to explore Jesus’ life and ministry in terms of border-crossing. In this way, the missionary spirituality that has been proposed here will seen to be rooted in the mystery of Christ the Border-Crosser himself. For reasons of space, I will limit our consideration to the Incarnation, some aspects of Jesus’ ministry, and his death and resurrection.

The Incarnation as Border-Crossing

The mystery of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus can certainly be viewed as an act of border-crossing. Essentially, it is the culmination of that primordial border-crossing by which the Triune God steps out of himself and eternity and crosses into the other, namely, the world of space and time, which God brings into existence by this very act of crossing. In the Incarnation, the border that was crossed is not only that which separates the eternal and the temporal, the invisible and the visible, spirit and matter, but more specifically, the divine and the human, with the latter’s reality of soul and body.
In this divine crossing over to the human, the border between the divine nature and the human nature of Jesus functions as the marker constituting the distinct identity of each. One is not transmuted into the other, nor is confused with it; rather, the two natures are to be acknowledged “without confusion, without change”. As the Council of Chalcedon teaches: “The distinction between the natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis”.
On the other hand, the same border is no longer a barrier preventing God and the human from joining together. Indeed, by crossing the divine-human border, the Logos transforms the barrier into a frontier and creates a new reality, Jesus of Nazareth, whose humanity the Logos assumes and makes it his own, so that, as the Council of Chalcedon teaches, his two natures - divine and human - are united with each other “without division, without separation”. In this humanity the Logos now exists in a new way, not available to him before the Incarnation, and this historical mode of existence, in time and space, and above all, as we will see, in suffering and death, now belongs to God’s eternal and trinitarian life itself.
Thus, in the Incarnation as border-crossing, the boundaries are preserved as identity markers but at the same time they are overcome as barriers and transformed into frontiers from which a totally new reality, a mestizaje, emerges: the divine and human reconciled and harmonized with each other into one single reality. Like Jesus, missionaries are constantly challenged to cross all kinds of borders, and out of the best of each group of people these borders divide and separate, to create a new human family characterized by harmony and reconciliation.

Jesus’ Ministry as Dwelling at the Margins

A border-crosser at the very roots of his being, Jesus performed his ministry of announcing and ushering in the kingdom of God always at the places where borders meet and hence at the margins of the two worlds separated by their borders. He was a “marginal Jew”, to use the title of John Meier’s multi-volume work on the historical Jesus. He crossed these borders back and forth repeatedly and freely, be they geographical, racial, sexual, social, economic, political, cultural, and religious. What is new about his message about the Kingdom of God, which is good news to some and scandal to others, is that for him it removes all borders, both natural and man-made, as barriers and is absolutely all-inclusive. Jews and non-Jews, men and women, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the healthy and the sick, the clean and the impure, the righteous and the sinners, and any other imaginable categories of peoples and groups, Jesus invited them all to enter into the house of his merciful and forgiving Father. Even in his “preferential option for the poor” Jesus did not abandon and exclude the rich and the powerful. These too are called to conversion and to live a just, all-inclusive life.
Standing between the two worlds, excluding neither but embracing both, Jesus was able to be fully inclusive of both. But this also means that he is the marginal person par excellence. People at the center of any society or group as a rule possess wealth, power, and influence. As the threefold temptation shows, Jesus, the border-crosser and the dweller at the margins, renounced precisely these three things. Because he was at the margins, in his teaching and miracle-working, Jesus creates a new and different center, the center constituted by the meeting of the borders of the many and diverse worlds, often in conflict with one another, each with its own center which relegates the “other” to the margins. It is at this margin-center that marginal people meet one another. In Jesus, the margin where he lived became the center of a new society without borders and barriers, reconciling all peoples, “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (Ga 3:28). Strangers and guests as they are, missionaries are invited to become marginal people, to dwell at the margins of societies with marginal(ized) people, like Jesus, so as to be able to create with them new all-inclusive centers of reconciliation and harmony.

Dying “outside the city gate and outside the camp” (Heb 13:12-13)

Jesus’ violent death on the cross was a direct result of his border-crossing and ministry at the margins which posed a serious threat to the interests of those occupying the economic, political, and religious center. Even the form of his death, that is, by crucifixion, indicates that Jesus was an outcast, and he died, as the Letter to Hebrews says, “outside the city gate and out side the camp”. Symbolically, however, hung between heaven and earth, at the margins of both worlds, Jesus acted as the mediator and intercessor between God and humanity.
But even in death Jesus did not remain within the boundaries of what death means: failure, defeat, destruction. By his resurrection he crossed the borders of death into a new life, thus bringing hope where there was despair, victory where there was vanquishment, freedom where there was slavery, and life where there was death. In this way, the borders of death become frontiers to life in abundance. Like Jesus, missionaries have to live out the dynamics of death and resurrection, or to use the words of Philippians 2:6-11, of self-emptying and exaltation.
Samuel Escobar’s beautiful rendering of this Christological hymn, which portrays Jesus as the border-crosser par excellence and summarizes well the missionary border-crossing spirituality, serves as a fitting conclusion to our reflections:

Let there be in us the same feeling and mind that was
also in Christ Jesus,
Who in order to reach us crossed the border between
heaven and earth.
He crossed the border of poverty to be born in a stable
and live without knowing where he was going to
rest his head at night.
He crossed the border of marginalization to befriend
women and embrace publicans and Samaritans.
He crossed the border of spiritual power to free those
afflicted by legions of devils.
He crossed the border of social protest to sing truths to
the Pharisees, scribes, and traffickers of the temple.
He crossed the border of the cross and death to help us
all pass over to the other side.
Risen Lord, who therefore awaits us there, at every
border that we have to cross with his Gospel.