‘To look beyond to foster within’ – interview with James Fox Robinson

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This month I caught up with James Fox Robinson, a 2nd year MA student here in Oxford

HH: James, can you tell me something about your upbringing? I’m especially interested to hear about Papua New Guinea!

JFR: From the age of five I grew up at the UK base of Wycliffe Bible Translators in Buckinghamshire. I enjoyed the international community and learning about other cultures. When I was 10 we spent 18 months in Papua New Guinea. Carrying a machete to school and eating crocodile isn’t everyone’s childhood experience and it made me aware of the need to be culturally understanding.

HH: Wow, that sounds exciting! You’ve also told me your interest in mission was inspired by a trip to visit churches in Ukraine?

JFR: During my A-Level years I was part of a team that went to support youth camps in Ukraine. I was excited to come alongside a local leadership team rather than doing hit and run mission that so many of the short-term mission trips seemed to be at the time. Other than the language barrier I felt at home within the very different setting of the Eastern European church and these trips ignited my interest in the broad nature of Christian spirituality. I took the opportunity in the following decade to visit churches and mission projects in Ghana, Togo, Guatemala and Tanzania as well as other European countries.

HH: I am a big fan of the work of [former] CMS mission partners Andy and Susie Hart at Neema Crafts in Tanzania, so I was delighted to hear that you and your wife, Kate, spent a month with them and took groups of young people to Kilimatinde. Can you say more about that, please?

JFR: In 2006, my fiancee and I spent a month with CMS partners Andy and Susie Hart at Neema Crafts in Iringa, Tanzania. Working alongside the disabled artists was a turning point in my faith but also in my understanding of contextually authentic mission that starts with a local need. In the summers of 2010 and 2011, we took groups of young people to visit Neema Crafts and also Kilimatinde hospital which is next door to a school where current CMS partners [Festo and Grace Kanungha] work.

HH: That all sounds amazing. I still remember the visit of the Neema Craft dancers to CMS many years ago. So with all this overseas experience, where is your current role?

JFR: I currently work as the Prayer and Spirituality Enabler for the Diocese of Bath and Wells. This is an odd role for a pioneer as I spend much of my time supporting and encouraging inherited forms of church. That said, the experience of cross-cultural mission has given me a way to articulate some of the issues the church faces when engaging in missional activities in contemporary culture. I often speak to church leaders (clergy and lay) about the need to experience the breadth of Christian spirituality, ‘to look beyond to foster within’ – to work out what is unique about our faith by exploring other faiths and traditions.

HH: Beautifully put, James. I hear you are about to launch a diocesan monasticism hub?

JFR: As part of my diocesan role I have many conversations about the rise in engagement with monastic practices. There seems to be a real hunger for a deeper connection with God and people are finding that through ancient spiritual practices developed by St Benedict, St Francis and St Ignatius among others. As a diocese we are developing a monasticism hub to gather a group of interested people together to share learning and inspire one another. As I enter my third year of the MA, I intend to focus my dissertation on how churches can engage with the monastic practices of poverty, chastity and obedience to increase missional capacity.

HH: I wish you well with this new venture. So lastly, James, what does the future hold and how can we pray for you?

JFR: I would value prayer as we explore contextual mission in the city of Wells. We are seeking to invite families to join with ours as we explore who God is and how to be community together.

I blog (intermittently) on prayer, spirituality and creativity at www.anewloom.org

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