Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hockey as Missions: A Canadian Perspective, eh!

(With apologies to the 3.7% of the Canadian population that are not hockey fans.)

One of the trends in the world of missions has perked my thinking. “Business as Mission” (a.k.a. BAM) describes the tentmaker’s strategy of using professional skills to reach to the difficult corners of the world with a visible, vibrant witness. Could a uniquely Canadian version of this movement be called Hockey as Mission?

It is hard to imagine the Apostle Paul skating down on a breakaway or standing at the face-off circle at centre ice, but allow me some creative leeway. Let’s think about our faith and sharing it with others through Canadian cultural expressions from the rink. It’s one of those things that you can do on a cold, winter night, after the final highlight reel has been shown and the reruns of the Leafs loosing another game come on for those who make this their late-night antidote for insomnia. Hockey as Mission (a.k.a. HAM) could be a Canadian expression that helps us to understand our role in the global church.

Hockey as Mission would help the average pew sitter to understand that the world of spiritual and physical hunger is much like living in Winnipeg or Hamilton. There is only one thing that will satisfy the hungry souls of those NHL-starved fans; a franchise that is their own. But how long will it take for the league to actually consent to sending a team and unthawing the relationship between head office and their cities? How long will it take the church to understand that Christ’s commandment is for his followers to bring a relevant expression of his body to every corner of the earth?

Canadians have a rich history in sending both their hockey players and missionaries into the arena of global impact. Jonathan Goforth’s ministry in China was marked by Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered evangelism; he was a leader with the determination and heart of Gretzky. A.B. Simpson’s world-wide movement began with a small band of German and Italian immigrants; their passion to reach the world birthed the Christian and Missionary Alliance and left a legacy that rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Robert Jaffray had the skill and grace of Bobby Orr as he stick-handled his way around various political encounters, using his upbringing as the son of the owner of the Toronto Globe and Mail to influence governments and open the countries of Vietnam and Indonesia to missionary activity. Like “Sid the Kid,” Don Richardson spent hours honing his skills as a teenager talking to Portuguese sailors on the wharfs of Victoria’s harbour; here he developed his ability to listen to the stories of others and began to form the concept of redemptive analogies as a vehicle to share the Gospel. Canadian missionaries and hockey players share a determination and sense of destiny that drives them to become world leaders.

And what would Don Cherry have to say? He’d be wearing an odd-coloured sports coat with a tie that blazed a stylized fish circling the words of the fruit of the Spirit. He’d rip into the worship leader for including an anthem that breaks from the traditional HNIC hymn. He’s point out that the ushers in church are the real heroes, mucking it up in the corners and always ready to pass off to the superstars. He’d pull out a long-forgotten story of when he was a coach and the heroic ways that he led his group of ordinary boys into an impossible battle; a tale of victory that deserves a volume in Canadian history. His analysis of how Canadians are doing in the task of the Great Commission would be controversial, yet to the point.

Canadians have something to offer the world that goes beyond hockey. Our rich history in missions and the faith of our fathers needs to be celebrated. Our multi-ethnic make-up provides tools and skills for a new generation of young Christians to listen, understand, and share Christ with an increasingly global community. We as Canadian Christians have something unique and special to offer.

When God called Moses he asked him to use what he had in his hand; a rod or a stick. When God calls Canadians, it just might be that we can learn from one of the tools we have in our hand. We need to be in the game and bring what we have to offer to a world that needs to know Christ. We need to be participants – not just observers – of the Great Commission. In the words of Red Green, a man who is known more for his comedy than his theology, we need to “keep our stick on the ice.”

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