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.