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.