Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Presbyterian World Mission: Listen to the gentle ones!

As I reflect on the fabulous World Mission Celebration which was held this October 21 to 24 in Cincinnati, I believe I have discerned something of the challenge we face. Our Presbyterian Church needs to celebrate and support the work being done all around the world, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by our full time, professional missionaries. These are our people! They are serving on our behalf around the world and at the invitation of our partner churches. I have been very involved with our World Mission work for several years; I have learned something of the spiritual paradox of our missionaries. Almost to a person, including the director of World Mission Hunter Farrell, every Presbyterian missionary I have met and talked with recently has a very gentle, humble, quiet personality and presence. Our missionaries are not gregarious, loud and life-of-party personalities. They are not flashy. Our missionaries are humble servants. At times these missionaries are difficult to personally connect with because often they do not initiate conversation or broadcast their stories. But these are the people who we are asking to sing from the mountaintops, to proclaim abroad the good work of World Mission. There is a paradox of personality here. Our missionaries are the gentle servants of the church, who work in humble partnership with our church partners all over the world. But we are also asking them to be the cheerleaders for our World Mission work. We must listen carefully. We must pay attention. Our missionaries are not going get in our faces and buttonhole us at the coffee break with their stories. These missionaries are not loud. Often, I have noticed, they are uncomfortable with public speaking.

We need to listen to these gentle ones. We need to open our hearts to their stories. There is a spiritual lesson for us here. It is often the loud, flashy, polished and sexy noise of our world that gets our attention and, too often, our devotion. But maybe God is not in all the noise which attracts us and seduces us. We need to listen to the still, soft voices. We need to listen in and through the silence of deep prayer. Indeed, let us celebrate and applaud the work of World Mission around the world today and hear the quiet, gentle voices of our missionaries. If you are not listening with an open heart and a focused attention you may miss the good news. Let us listen! Let us hear the story of Mark Hare working so far out into the rural area of Haiti that few mission teams ever visit. Mark will tell the good news of the moringa tree. Let us hear the story of Tricia Lloyd-Sidle who works in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Cuba. If we listen, Tricia will breakdown many of our stereotypes and polarized perceptions. She tells the story of Presbyterians who have been faithful, devout, and persevering through all the years of the Castro regime. Let us hear the story of Gloria Wheeler who knows what happens when poor women are inspired and come together around the task of community development in rural Honduras. Let us hear Jim McGill’s story about the social and spiritual domino effect which unfolds in a rural Malawian village when a new well provides fresh, clean water for the first time ever. Listen to the heartbreaking story of the Roma people. They were in the crosshairs of Nazi Germany, and the victims of prejudice and discrimination throughout the ages. Now there are glimmers of a new tone, a new message and the breaking down of the strong walls of hatred. Our missionary Burkhard Paetzold is there. Are we listening? A quiet, deep truth is being proclaimed. It is the story of Presbyterian World Mission. Please listen to these gentle ones.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Letter from Honduras

This letter is from Mark and Ashley Wright, new Presbyterian missionaries in Honduras. This letter may also be found at the Mission Connections website: http://www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/letters/wrightm/wrightm_0910.htm

October 14, 2009

Moving to a new country isn’t easy. Even though we talked about it at orientation this summer, and even though I had traveled a lot in foreign countries before, I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of it. What made this time different was that I knew I wasn’t going back home. This strange place was supposed to become my home.

I did great at first. I was so excited to finally be here, excited to be answering God’s call and thrilled to be sharing my knowledge with other people. But things started to get a bit tough when it started to set in that I wasn’t going to get to go home anytime soon, and all the frustrations started to really gnaw at me.

One day, as I was making a mental list of all the things that bugged me in Honduras, I had a sudden realization of all the things that weren’t bugging me, and I had to laugh and say, “Glory to you, God, for how you have prepared me for this, and I didn’t even know it.” In a flash, God showed me how He has been preparing me step by step for this adventure. Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.” And indeed, by Him and in Him, I am a new creation. My old life has gone, and a new life has begun.

Over the years, God has met me and changed me in very practical ways—from our honeymoon on the Greek islands where (like Honduras) old and inadequate plumbing means that toilet paper goes in the trash can, not the toilet; to learning to live with the nightly window-rattling “boom-boom” cars in our neighborhood in Cincinnati, which prepared me for the incessant noise of Tegucigalpa; to the culture shock of our first pastorate in the Appalachians, where mountain ways were much more different than we expected, and we learned what it meant to be outsiders. Coming to Honduras, we expected major cultural differences, but through those early pastoral years God sharpened our sensitivity to the subtle cultural norms and values that are so important, but rarely discussed.

Last spring, when we first got the chance to meet with the pastors here in Honduras and hear how they had been praying and planning for PC(USA) mission coworkers, it became so clear how God had been preparing us—all of us, in Honduras and North America—for something that we can’t even begin to understand yet.

I know that living and working here in Honduras will bring many difficult challenges. Even the smallest things we take for granted can become mountains to climb. Right now we live day to day, not knowing what the political situation will bring: Will there be a demonstration blocking the road to the kids’ school? Will there be more curfews and disruptions of daily life? What about the people who are in such need even when things are “normal?” They need to work every day just to have a bit of food for their families. I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I can’t change them. I can’t fix them. I don’t even always know how to be faithful in the face of them, but I do know that God is with us all of the time. And I know that God has called us here, to this place, at this time. And looking back, I can see how God has been patiently preparing me and my family for this very thing. Scripture tells us that even when we am faithless, God will still be faithful with us: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

There are still days when I ask myself, “Why are we here? What possible good can we do? And though we don’t know fully how we will be used down here, Mark and I have felt that something big is happening here in Honduras. This sentiment has been echoed by other people here as well. The young and old here are so hungry for God’s word. And they are not afraid to share the hope they have in Christ. When you meet a person who knows what the good news of the gospel is, you can tell right away by the smile on their face, or the happiness in their eyes. Yes, they may have tragedy in their lives, but they know that what they see before them is not God’s final say on the situation.

When I am faithless and think that nothing will ever change, I have to remember the people we have met here who carry the promise of the gospel inside them—how they are a blessing to us, and how, somehow, just by being here without a political or economic agenda, we seem to be a blessing to them as well. Together we live in expectation of the things that God has been preparing, whatever they may be, and in thankfulness and humility that God has been preparing us for this very time.

I hope that you will pray for Honduras during this difficult time, for the political leaders and for the people.

Grace and Peace,
Ashley and Mark Wright

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.-Peter 1:3-4