John Flett at the IAMS Conference, South Korea

The International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) holds a major international gathering every four years. This year we were hosted at a place where I had previously taught: “Presbyterian University and Theological College” in South Korea. 300+ people listened to 150 papers over five days, dealing with the theme of “conversation and transformation.” Plenary sessions featured strong paper presenters diverse in both academic discipline and global location. Other papers were divided into a number of sub-groups, covering areas such as: “biblical studies and mission,” “children, youth and mission,” “gender in mission,” “healing/pneumatology,” “interreligious studies and mission,” and the “theology of mission.”

The remarkable element with IAMS is its sheer diversity: I roomed with a young Mormon, ate with a Romanian Orthodox priest, argued with a Roman Catholic doyen of mission studies, had coffee with a Dutch Reformed South African writing on missional theology. The feeling is always of being a small part of a much much wider discussion but even in that smallness, a contributing and necessary part. It is an edifying theological lesson.


For the Sunday outing, most delegates headed up to the DMZ but I went with a small Catholic group to Jeoldusan Martyrs’ Shrine. This is a site where about 8000 Catholics were executed, their bodies thrown into the Han river to purify it (Jeoldusan literally means head-chop-hill). The bodies of 27 Martyrs are under the altar, including the first ever ordained Korean priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, who was killed at the age of 26, 13 months after his ordination. Such places set the context of so much of the discussion, demonstrating how complex life and the questions of conversion and social harmony continue to be. It was also a privilege to celebrate mass with my Catholic colleagues.

Of course, conferences are not always work. I took the opportunity to introduce some friends to Jjimjilbang (Korean spa). With such a long pause between conferences, it was wonderful to see old friends and colleagues. But it was also good to see so many people from Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, the “Oceania” group offered that the next IAMS conference in 2020 be held in Sydney. We wait to hear the Executive Committee’s decision but I hope to be able to see a strong VIC contingent in four years!