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Making the Least of Mission Week

D Lowe, 12/02/19

In a nod to C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, one former CU Mission Secretary attempts a take on campus outreach from the perspective of the powers of darkness. ‘Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.’ I Peter 5:8

Making the Least of Mission Week

My dear Wormwood,

A new Semester begins and the Christian Union’s ‘Mission Week’ will all too soon be upon us. I understand you to be feeling some apprehension at this prospect. Your concern is, in one sense, justified. There is little use in denying that similar offensives have done much to set back our profession and undo years of a tempter’s good work. A number of our patients have been lost to the Enemy indefinitely. Still, do not lose heart. There is much you can do to upset their intentions. A Mission Week assignment will always be an exercise in damage limitation – but limit we will.   

Much of your success will depend upon your ability to nuance your approach. No two cases are the same. As the week grows ever closer, you should employ a wide range of tactics. Some patients will reluctantly accept your suggestion that they mustn’t put too much effort in to the thing – after all, they wouldn’t want to be ‘relying on themselves’, would they? Others you should gladly encourage to busy themselves with little Christian projects, provided their inner lives are compromised by accommodated sin – they will have little impact on the battlefield. 

Your own particular patient I understand to be a Second–Year Computer Science student: male, 5’10”, brown eyes. Have I read the records correctly? A difficult case, you say. But I spy several chinks in the armour. I will leave the particulars of his case to future correspondence. For now, allow me to make some general, big–picture points on how you should go about making the least of the CU’s initiative.

Keep the focus on grand plans and formulas. This tip can be applied to almost any aspect of their endeavour. Fix their minds on the procedure, the strategy, the idea – rather than the reality. Take the problem of prayer, for instance. (You do understand, I trust, the gravity of the prayer problem?) The disaster that sincere prayer would spell for our efforts is almost too great to speak of. As hard as it is for us to fathom, the Enemy actually likes engaging with the little creatures. In fact, He would sooner bless them than they would ask Him to. What a sickening thought! I often shudder when I think of how futile we would find our work to be, were it not for the success of our prayer–prevention measures.

Now, before I divulge my recommendations in this area, I must confess to being alarmed at the naivety of some of your tactics to date. You seem to be focussed on suggesting distracting thoughts to your patient as he prays. This is not the best ploy, far from it. Distraction is short–lived, and when it goes, the patient will re–double his focus. No, Wormwood, I would only advocate distraction when all else has failed. Much better to side–track your man before he ever reaches such a position. Your first plan of attack should be to direct your patient’s energies into thinking about prayer, rather than actually praying. Let him think much about it. Let him think long and hard about it; its importance, its necessity. This is infinitely better than momentarily delaying him from engaging in the real business. If all goes to plan, he will soon feel that he has given plenty of attention to the subject, never registering that somehow he never did get around to getting down on his knees.

Maximise the time he spends with other Christians. This is, I grant, a controversial strategy. Some in our profession view the suggestion as dangerous. But you must not misunderstand me. I am not referring to those sincere, earnest gatherings where the book of the Enemy is opened and minds are exercised to seek His glory – such are high–risk occasions, every one. I am instead speaking of the cavalier attitude to eternal realities that makes your patient think his lunch hour is better spent disappearing off with his fellow believer than it is socialising with his classmates of contrary persuasions. So long as any idle conversation between believers is considered ‘fellowship’, this should be an easy task. (We really are indebted to the Linguistics Department for their good work on this front.) If coffee can be made a priority over classmates – become his personal barista. Anything that minimises the meaningful interaction between the Enemy’s children and our own is to be wholeheartedly encouraged. This is a beautifully simple tactic with a proven track record: separate, separate, separate! Now is the time to apply it with full vigour across the Christian Union. One of our great advantages is the power of this tactic to demobilise larger such groups. Even I have been surprised at its resonance. Convince them subconsciously that the ‘life of the CU’ is of greater importance than the lives of their classmates. If they have few classmates to begin with, well done. 

The key aim of this strategy as it relates to the Mission Week is of course that the speaker will be ‘preaching to the choir’. You will, I trust, employ all the usual techniques to bar the children of Our Father Below from stepping within earshot. If the Christian presence on campus does reach any of our own you must act, and act fast. Don’t sow thoughts about Christians being ‘people with funny ideas’. Much better to trick them into looking on Christians as ‘people with ideas‘, while thinking themselves to be neutral and idea–less. That they have a perspective and worldview of their own is a thought that, ideally, should never cross their minds. More on this in my next letter.        

Should you arrive at the close of the week and find yourself despairing at ground lost, take heart. The excitement of the Christian Union will diminish. The hype will die down. The coursework deadlines will come back into focus. And the Christians will take a well–deserved rest from their labours. They really are gloriously susceptible to back–patting: an affirming “We’ve done our bit” followed by long interludes of idleness.

We will not relax.

We will not relent.

Never forget, we play the long game.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape.