Fly Me to the Moon: Missional Ventures in Outer Space

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When I was a child, I briefly wanted to be an astronaut. I think I was inspired by my Grandpa, who served as a rocket scientist for NASA’s moon landing. That phase passed, however, and I instead followed in the footsteps of my father, who was a pastor. Now, three decades later, I’m wondering if it was necessary to choose.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are charting a course to the stars. Musk wants to colonize outer space in case of an extinction-level event (like an asteroid hitting the earth). Bezos wants to outsource heavy industry to space, to preserve the climate of our planet. They are leading a new space race, that involves Russia, China, the USA, and large corporations. As the Artemis program seeks to return Americans to the moon, a Russian-Chinese joint project is unfolding to touch the lunar surface. The United States intends to setup a lunar base at the moon’s south pole. Russia and China intend to do the same, and both bases will likely materialize in the 2030’s. This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s not. Ready or not, the final frontier is coming. And this rapidly emerging frontier will shape how we think about mission in hard places.

Taking the Gospel to Hard Places

Missionaries are driven to proclaim the gospel to everyone, everywhere. In the history of missions, we have embraced a “whatever it takes” approach to getting missionaries onto the mission field. This requires creativity. Moravian missionaries worked as carpenters on board merchant ships since they couldn’t get a ship to transport them to their mission field in the West Indies. They also expressed a willingness to become slaves to reach the inhabitants of the island of St. Thomas.

Later, as the frontier expanded across the United States, Methodists developed a creative approach to mission: the circuit-riding preacher. This was a preacher who practically lived in the saddle, traversing hundreds of miles to share the gospel in remote destinations. The circuit-riding-preacher braved hunger, weather, and violence to bring the gospel to people in hard places.

In the modern era, Christians continue to push forward to the frontiers. We design strategies so that missionaries can gain creative access to countries that are closed to the gospel. And don’t forget about Antarctica. The chilly continent is home to about 1,000 people, mostly scientists. Surprisingly, there are several churches on ice. Gospel witness in this isolated locale occurs through chaplains (often military chaplains) and bi-vocational workers, who are on the ice to engage in research (or support those who do).

Whether it’s a country that is formally closed to the gospel, or a distant research station in Antarctica, modern missionaries carry on in the creative, pioneering spirit of their missional ancestors. This is what we have always done: take the gospel where the people are.

Ready or not, the final frontier is coming. And this rapidly emerging frontier will shape how we think about mission in hard places.

The Final Frontier of Mission

Now, it is time to turn our minds towards the final frontier of mission: outer space. Imagine the future less than a century from now: there will be orbital resorts, multiple research space stations, and lunar mining colonies. People are going to space, and the gospel must go with them. If this is our future, how do we envision mission on the final frontier? What creative shape must our missional ventures take as we venture beyond the planet to touch the stars?

Before we come up with a plan, we must acknowledge that it will be challenging to get missionaries to the moon. The environment will probably be hostile (both environmentally and ideologically). A lunar colony will likely be a pluralistic city, dominated by secularization. It will be expensive to travel to the moon, and only those who contribute to operations will be allowed to reside on the base (at least in the early days).

Based on these factors, I think our future lunar missionaries will need to consider one of two time-tested strategies: chaplaincy and bi-vocational mission. On the earth, Navy vessels put out to sea for a six-month voyage. During that time, the chaplain on board speaks for God. Government rules do not allow him to proselytize, but he may bear witness to the lordship of Christ within the confines of the chaplaincy model. Since the new Space Force already has chaplains, who have in turn envisioned sending chaplains to the moon, this model does not seem far-fetched.

Chaplains operating on behalf of an organization (likely the military or a large mining corporation) may have opportunities to set up chapels on the lunar surface. They will be able to preach, disciple, but probably not engage in overt evangelism. Still, they will be able to bear witness to the God who made the moon.

The second option worth considering is bi-vocational mission. If a Mormon research scientist can lead LDS worship in Antarctica, surely evangelical explorers can go to the moon with a calling to perform cutting-edge research that glorifies the Creator and provides them with a platform to bear witness to Christ. Christians could pursue a variety of careers in outer space, all while centering their vocation as witnesses to the Risen Lord. This is the next evolution of creative-access approaches to mission.

Sharing the Gospel with Lunar Neighbors

Evangelical Christians should not cede outer space to those with secular agendas. Instead, we should dream now about the missional opportunities that are coming. We must be ready, so that we are not behind when the moment presents itself. As I dream, I realize now that it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of both my father (who labored for souls) and my grandfather (who worked on space). In my lifetime, I believe that Christians will have a semi-permanent presence in outer space, sharing the gospel with their lunar neighbors. Fly me to the Moon…

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Stephen Stallard

Stephen Stallard is the Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He served in NYC for eight years, where he planted a multicultural church. Stephen earned a PhD in Applied Theology from SEBTS. Trained as a missiologist, he enjoys exploring a rich diversity of cultures. Stephen is married to Sonya, the love of his life. They have four children: one girl and three boys. Stephen's hobby is making hot sauce.

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