My pilgrimage in mission
A long chapter of my life and work in God’s overseas Kingdom came to an end a few months ago. The length of that chapter was 35 years-equal to my age at the time when He called me out of engineering in Vancouver. From the beginning, I looked at God’s call and my response as being irrevocable. God did not put a time limit on the call. Nor did I.
It was for life as far as I was concerned, and, upon this understanding, I continued in mission after the age of 65. But now, at the age of 72, I must stay home in Abbotsford, B.C. to be the primary caregiver to my dear wife Helen, who is diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease.
For all these years, she was a full partner with me in mission. I owe her much tender loving care for the rest of my days on earth. The Lord has prepared me for this responsibility, and I take it up willingly, without regret. He will glorify Himself in us and through us as before.
Our first assignment under MBMS International (then called Board of Missions and Services) was to join the missionary team at Jadcherla, India. Besides their individual duties, the team members were working hard at training leaders for the India MB Conference and its institutions.
Seven MB high schools and three full-fledged hospitals were about to be passed from MBMS International to the India MB Conference. My specific task was to put a reliable accounting system in place and look after the transfer of MBMSI properties to the national Conference. I struggled with these assignments, but, by God’s grace and the fervent prayer of His people, I got through it all. When the preparations neared completion, a liaison committee was struck, made up of three national Conference leaders and three missionaries, of whom I was one.
For three years, I served on that committee in the run-up to the official handover from the mission agency to the national church in May 1972. Immediately after the handover, all eight of the remaining missionaries went home to Canada.
The baton was in the nationals’ hands, and they courageously ran with it. The track was rough in places and there may have been some missteps, but they ran quite well.
Ten years later, I had the privilege of returning to India for leadership training, specifically to teach cross-cultural communication of the gospel at MB Bible Institute/College in Shamshabad.
This time, the shoe was on the other foot. Now the India MB Conference was showing me a place of ministry. That was not hard for me to accept because our ministry in the interim had been under MBMS International in Indonesia in a joint venture in evangelism with the Muria Mennonites. There, I was very much working as a junior partner. Besides, my missionary orientation was precisely that the nationals should be in the driver’s seat.
To further obliterate any colonial image, we vacated the missionary bungalow in the mission station at Shamshabad and rented a house in Hyderabad instead.
Our aim was to identify ourselves with the Muslim population, so we chose a house in Malakpet, a Muslim enclave.
We also got rid of our jeep and used a small motorcycle to get around town. Public transportation was used for intercity travel.
That is how we served out our three-year term, which was cut short due to illness, by the permissive will of God.
At home in Abbotsford, the Bakerview MB Church put me to work as their own missionary to the 15,000 Indo-Canadian people and other immigrant groups in the Central Fraser Valley. That was a good fit. Helen and I served in that capacity for eight years, up to retirement at age 65.
After that, I was free to do my own thing. Yes, but … the Holy Spirit prompted me to wonder if the Lord of the Harvest might have some more work for me to do. I sought His will through daily prayer. “Lord, is there something more for me to do? Have I fulfilled Your call to missions? When You first called me, did You have a definite time period in mind?
“What about my own commitment to serve You in mission? I don’t want to renege on my promise to serve You to the end. Is this the end? Give me a sign of confirmation or else show me a new work.”
Thus I prayed for three months.
My heart was restless.
The answer came when Church Partnership Evangelism (now Church Partnership Evangelism and Discipleship), decided to expand and place its ministry under a board. I was called to be secretary.
In this volunteer-oriented mission, it was required of each board member to actively participate in the door-to-door ministry from time to time, and also to be willing to be a team leader when called upon. India was my natural territory.
The Lord allowed me to participate in all of the CPED campaigns conducted in India up to March 2001. At the rate of two campaigns per year, it took six years to complete one cycle of the 12 “Field Associations” of the India MB Conference.
At one time, it was said that all the former mission stations should be obliterated.
They were, supposedly, negative monuments of the colonial missions era. They were white elephants. The national church could never keep them up. What would they ever do with them? I shared that view.
But now I see the wisdom of God in the former missionaries’ thinking.
They, too, were led by the Spirit when they set up the mission stations. Each team needed a centre of operations. They needed buildings. They needed some property demarcation, often in the form of a compound wall, to prevent encroachment.
The full complement of each mission station included a church building, a clinic, a day school, a Bible school and a large house to accommodate the entire missionary team.
Now the best buildings still stand. Their most common use is for schools.
The India MB Church fits over 250 students into one former missionary dwelling with its wide and shady verandas. The Field Associations use the buildings for their meetings as well, and the former mission stations continue to be the centres of operations for the 21-40 local churches within each Field Association.
When Church Partnership Evangelism and Discipleship teams come calling, the former mission stations become the centres of operations for them too.
Each missionary team, centred in such a mission station, was given responsibility for a certain geographic area covering around 100 villages, bordered by a river, railway track, hill or major road. This “field” then became their mandate under God.
No other team would cross over the boundary of responsibility of their neighbour. This principle is now observed by the national MB Field Associations. They cannot escape their duty to evangelize since no other Field Association will do their work for them. Their mandate is very clear. This approach worked in the missionary era, and it works now in the national church era. Therein can one facet of the wisdom of God be seen.
Church Partnership Evangelism and Discipleship is taking this structure of the 70,000-member India MB Conference as a gift from God. CPED has worked with one Field Association at a time, conducting 12 campaigns in a six-year period, concluding in February 2001 . One round is over. A second round began in November 2001. I will not be directly involved in the second round. I am finally retired at the age of 72.
My pilgrimage in mission is dotted with God’s abundant blessings. As the Psalmist sang, the “lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6). Let me identify some of them:
- I got my missionary training at a time when colonial missions were expiring and the new concept was “partnership”. This satisfied my own missions thinking – a pleasant place to be on God’s time line.
- I was blessed with close contact with practically every budding prospect for leadership in the India MB Conference and its many That is why I can relate to the present leadership core on a first name basis. The bond is beautiful.
- For two years (1972–1973), Helen and I concentrated on revival/reconciliation preaching in the churches, usually ending the final night with footwashing. Even today those meetings have not been Such is the impact of John 13.
- Launching out into Muslim evangelism in India in 1983 – after serving in Muslim Indonesia during their wonderful revival – gave me hope that some hot coals would transfer to India and start a revival fire there. That Muslim ministry has continued after we left, and our son Gordon and his wife Gwen are picking it up and running with it now. A more pleasant place I could not wish for.
- The CPED ministry in India has also been blessed. All those years of seed-sowing ministry have culminated in a chance to reap the harvest. CPED has a narrow focus-proclaiming Christ and showing people how to be saved, compacted into a half-hour visit. This time of reaping is my frosting on the cake. Through it, God has been pleased to let Helen and me lead more people to the foot of the cross of Christ in a single three-week campaign than in all of our missionary years put together.
Dan and Helen Nickel are members of Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford, B.C.
MBMS International is the official missions agency of the Canadian and US Mennonite Brethren Conferences.
Church Partnership Evangelism and Discipleship (CPED) is a Mennonite Brethren-related ministry that sends teams of volunteers to other parts of the world to share their testimonies door-to-door in partnership with local believers.