Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mission Networks in the PC(USA)

Did you know that the Presbyterian Church in Madagascar has more members than our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Did you know that we have a close working partnership with two different Presbyterian Churches in Ghana: the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana? Did you know about the efforts of American Presbyterians to establish relations with the emerging house churches, many of which include people with a Reformed and Presbyterian background, in all the “stan” countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)? Did you know there are new efforts to connect our church with the peacebuilding efforts which have been bearing fruit in Ireland for many years, through the work of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland? Did you know about the longstanding effort of American Presbyterians to stand with our brothers and sisters in Columbia against the violence in that nation? Our Columbia Mission Network, in a powerful ministry of compassion, has provided for the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia when he, his wife and young children needed to leave Columbia because of the death threats received in response to their Christian witness? Did you know that because of the influence and support of American Presbyterians, the Presbyterian Church in Honduras, after years of effort, has finally had their legal petitions with the government, which is dominated by Roman Catholic officials, approved. Now the Presbyterian Church has official standing as a religious organization in Honduras. This means, for the first time, that the Presbyterian congregations in Honduras are able to legally own their church buildings and property. Given the lack of social infrastructure in Haiti, do you know about the incessantly difficult work which American Presbyterians are doing to bring a long-term, sustainable, mission effort to that poor country? Did you know, after generations of conflict and war, the church is emerging with amazing life and vitality in Vietnam and Laos and that American Presbyterians are partnering with those congregations? All of this work is being carried and supported by the burgeoning, new Mission Networks of our Church.

There are now thirty three Mission Networks in our church working closely with our World Mission office and spanning the globe. Do you know about this new movement in Presbyterian World Mission? We were all together for what was only the second official gathering of Mission Networks for several, strategic days in September. Hosted by Hunter Farrell, the Director of World Mission and all of the Mission Area Coordinators from around the world, each one of our mission networks participated in this gathering. The energy, vision and commitment of the more than sixty people gathered at our Mission Network conference was remarkable. The images and stories of mission work from around the world breathes life into this dry definition of Mission Networks taken from our World Mission website:

“Mission Networks bring together Presbyterians from around the United States who share a common international mission focus. World Mission Networks facilitate building and maintaining healthy partnerships, and provide a place for representatives of various PC(USA) partnerships to share information and coordinate their efforts. Each Mission Network centers around a specific country, people group or program area of ministry, and is composed of Presbyterians who represent international mission partnerships established through their synods, presbyteries, congregations, or other PC(USA) entities.”

The Mission Network movement is clearly the way forward in Presbyterian World Mission. This movement responds to the fact that the locus for World Mission has undeniably shifted to our congregations and presbyteries, who are doing mission on their own by sending out short term mission teams. The Mission Network movement is an effort to harness and connect those congregational efforts. When we learn some of the horror stories of poorly planned and unconnected mission trips the importance of our Mission Networks is clear. When we learn of two different Presbyterian congregations bringing large, medical mission teams to the same foreign medical clinic the same week, we understand the important of Mission Networks. We learn of the small, Presbyterian Church in a nation in Africa that could not handle the repeated requests from different American congregations to host their mission trips. Thus the different American teams were asked to paint the same wall in the same public school four weeks in a row and we see the need for Mission Networks. When we learn about the social scientific research of Dr. Robert Priest at Trinity Evangelical Seminary about short term mission trips we see the need for Mission Networks. Dr. Priest’s research concludes that short term mission trips have very little long term transformative power in the lives of participants if these experiences are not surrounded by very intentional support, reflection and nurture both before and particularly after the experience.

The Mission Network movement is an effort to connect all the enthusiasm and passion for mission, which is expressed in congregations doing mission trips, with the Presbyterian Church’s historic commitment to deep, long-term, sustainable mission work with Christian partners around the world. Mission Networks connect the long-term, mature, sustainable model of mission which grounds the work of our professional mission co-workers with the short-term, local, enthusiasm of mission trips. Most important, the Mission Networks may be the best connection between our congregations and the World Mission office. There is a new spirit of collaboration, partnership and mutually blowing through our General Assembly, and particularly embodied in the new team, under the leadership of Dr. Hunter Farrell, now assembled to lead the World Mission office. This spirit is very evident in the growth and support given to our Mission Networks. We have received and we stand in a glorious heritage of Presbyterian world mission. Get involved! Support World Mission!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Report to the Presbytery September 23, 2008

What do you want to talk about? G.A.C. or O.G.A.?

What do you want to talk about? When we speak of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) it is very important for us to remember that there are several different conversations going on at the same time. These different conversations often have nothing to do with one another.

What do you want to talk about? On one hand we can talk about the work of the Office of the General Assembly. But, in fact, I would much prefer to talk about the work of the General Assembly Council. What I want us to remember again is that when we are talking about the work of the General Assembly we must be very clear about the distinction between the Office of the General Assembly and the General Assembly Council. These two entities are very distinct, with different purposes, different sources of funding, and completely different staff.

My concern is that when we talk casually about the General Assembly, in our congregations, what we typically mean is the Office of the General Assembly. The Office of the General Assembly is funded almost totally by our Per Capita assessment, it is led by the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, now the newly elected Gradye Parsons, and it is responsible for the polity side of the church. The Office of the General Assembly includes the Stated Clerk’s office, the Permanent Judicial Commission, and is fully responsible for the biennial meeting of the General Assembly. Any time we are talking about polity including the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions we are talking within the purview of the Office of the General Assembly. Indeed, we must again have conversations here at our Presbytery about polity, and about proposed changes to our Book of Order. I understand that these conversations are very important. We must carry them out with prayerful discernment.

But, my friends, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about the work of the General Assembly Council. This is a very different conversation. The General Assembly Council, now under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Valentine, is the mission and program side of the General Assembly. Although we do not talk about it nearly as much, the General Assembly Council is significantly larger than the Office of the General Assembly. The General Assembly Council is funded by our mission giving and our special offerings. The General Assembly Council includes Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Hunger Program. The General Assembly Council also includes the Office of Theology and Worship, which creates excellent theological resources for our church. The largest piece of the General Assembly Council is our work in World Mission. The General Assembly Council’s office of World Mission recruits, trains, funds and supports our more than 200 full-time, professional mission co-workers around the world. Let’s talk about that work!

This is my request and my plea. Many of you, I know, on both sides of the debate, have concerns and deep questions about the conversations we are having about polity and the Book of Order. We will continue those conversations here at our presbytery as we consider the latest proposals. Please do not allow any frustrations you may have with our conversations about polity to distract from or frustrate your support for our world mission. They are very different conversations, representing very different entities within the church. More over, I have this crazy idea that if we can shift the conversation a little bit, and talk more, and learn more, and commit ourselves more to our work in world mission, on the General Assembly Council side of the church, it may help us find our way forward through our very difficult polity conversation. What do you want to talk about? We must continue our conversation about polity, but let us also remember this very important conversation and commitment to world mission.

Note: For more information about the General Assembly Council please see their website at World Mission also has a website at The Office of the General Assembly also has a website at

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Support World Mission

A Report from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The jet ways which off board each jet at Toncontin International airport lead everyone to a long walkway. At the end of this walkway a pair of escalators direct everyone down to the immigration desks, baggage claim and customs. Like the whole airport, this hallway is always immaculately clean, it’s polished floor glistening and bright. The outside wall of this long walkway is glass from floor to ceiling. Like the whole facility, the glass is sparkling clean. I am delighted to return to Tegucigalpa, Honduras; a place I have learned to love. Walking along this walkway, shaking off the fatigue of the long jet rides which started early in the morning in Baltimore, I breathe in the joy and satisfaction of being here again. My body enjoys the opportunity to stretch, loosen and walk after being cramped up in an airplane for the last hours. My eyes and mind are lifted up and out through the windows and far beyond to the exquisitely beautiful horizon. The jagged peaks of Tegucigalpa’s famous mountains, which are all around in all their lush green, rise up and out of the urban sprawl and touch a beautiful sky. Strolling along this walkway is a moment of spiritual transition. Now having arrived, my mind can cast aside all the details of travel. The obsession with flight schedules, making connections in Houston, and constant concerns about delays, changes, or cancellations are now all gone. Now I am here and turn to the purposes I have in mind for these few precious days in Honduras.

Our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been doing world mission for a very long time. Our heritage of world mission is deep, long and remarkable. One of the purposes of my ministry now is to understand, celebrate and support our work in world mission. Our world mission work is where my heart is; increasing this is where my passion and energy are leading me. As we have always done, the church must again rally and unite around our world mission work. This is now one of my deepest convictions. This is a conviction which has been building, growing, developing and maturing for many years. The congregations where I have served as pastor were always blessed, renewed and vitalized by strong mission programs and generous mission giving. I believe our mission work is a vital piece, maybe the vital piece, toward the future peace, purity and unity of the church. This quick, three day trip to Honduras is an expression of my continuing education. I am here again to learn how the Presbyterian Church does world mission. I want to learn with my feet on the ground, talking with the people, understanding the decision-making, beginning to discern the challenges which must be faced, and learning this process. What does our world mission work look like in our world today?

On this trip I have the opportunity to learn with the experts. Along with Kathy Wells, the Director of Christian education in our Mechanicsburg Church; we are along for the ride as our world mission people do their work. We are here with Stan Devoogd, the area coordinator for Mexico and Central America. Stan is one of six area coordinators who work with the General Assembly Council and oversee our world mission. We are joined by our mission co-worker Tracey King, the regional liaison for Central America. Tracey’s office is in Managua, Nicaragua and she is responsible for relationships with all our mission partners, supporting our mission co-workers, and relationships with other U.S. Presbyterians working in the area. Specifically, Kathy and I have joined Stan and Tracey on this quick trip to Honduras to talk with our mission partners, and begin creating plans for a potential new PCUSA mission co-worker position in Honduras.

I have learned about the structure which we now have in place in our world mission office. Hunter Farrell is the director of world mission, and works directly with Linda Valentine, the executive director of the General Assembly Council. Hunter is the voice and vision of world mission today. (Hunter will be with us for the April 2009 meeting of the Presbytery of Carlisle.) Hunter is supported by the six area coordinators, like Stan, who each oversee our mission work in a particular area of the world. The six areas each have several regional liaisons, like Tracey. Together these world mission staff people are responsible for recruiting, supporting, encouraging and connecting the 200 mission co-workers who are serving in world mission for the PCUSA.

The single most important feature of our world mission work today is its collegiality. We do mission in partnership with other churches, ecumenical partners and all varieties of Christian mission organizations all over the world. Thus our mission co-workers are always serving at the invitation of local Christian organizations, schools, hospitals or churches. This commitment to collegiality with Christian brothers and sisters in every nation expresses deep theological commitments about what we believe about world mission today.

Our task here in Honduras is to talk with our Christian partners, to understand their ministries, and to explore ways we may work together. In Honduras, like most nations today, we have several different Christian partners. In Honduras, our Presbyterian Church has had a long partnership with Heifer Project International with whom our PCUSA mission co-workers, Tim and Gloria Wheeler, are now serving. (For this trip, we are staying in the Wheeler’s home even while Tim and Gloria are in the United States doing mission itineration. The Wheelers will be in our Presbytery in October.) We met with the Heifer Project staff all afternoon on Friday in their office. We had a wonderful discussion of their model of community development. This work is commendable, and I encourage your support. Our Second Carlisle Church has a close relationship with the Wheelers, and has been doing mission trips with the Wheelers every year. Please talk with Rev. Jennifer McKenna about their work. I particularly encourage your support of Heifer’s alternative Christian gift program.

Most important, our world mission staff has been in a continuing conversation with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. We are exploring ways that our churches may work together and join in mutual mission. Thus we met all day with the executive board, “el junta,” of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. Stan and Tracey led us through a three point agenda around which we worked for almost five hours. Of course, in the relaxed Latin American style, we also had a lengthy time of Bible study, shared prayer, numerous coffee breaks, a long, leisurely lunch and a lot of cordial conversation, especially since my Honduran friends keep pushing me to speak Spanish. We did spend considerable time on these questions: In what ways are the PCUSA and PC Honduras cooperating and working together now?; What would the PC Honduras propose as the responsibilities and objectives of a potential mission co-worker working with them?; How would the PC Honduras define the qualifications and personal qualities they would like in a mission co-worker? These leaders from the PC Honduras were very clear and very articulate in their appreciation for the partnership with our PCUSA. Their objectives for a potential mission co-worker working serving with them are also very clear: leadership development. They need help in the administrative organization of their Presbytery. (The PC Honduras now has one presbytery which includes all of their 20 congregations.) They need help in the theological and spiritual support of their pastors. They need help in the equipping of their Sunday school teachers and the strengthening of their ministries of Christian education. Clearly these are gifts and skills the PCUSA can bring to Honduras when the right person is called, recruited, and funded.

As I reflect on that long day of conversation with my friends in the PC Honduras, I rejoice both in my opportunity to be involved in these conversations and the beautiful work our church is doing in world mission. At this meeting we were truly brothers and sisters working together to build Christ’s church. This experience was a true embodiment of mutuality in mission and partnership. I am convinced that if our PC USA can find the will and way for growing world mission, and providing a mission co-worker to work with the PC Honduras, we will be doing a very worthy and good ministry. I plea for your generous support for our work in world mission, and specifically for this new mission co-worker position to serve the Presbyterian Church of Honduras.