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!