A letter from Jeff Boyd in Cameroon
Dear family, friends and supporters,
“Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership” is the title of PC(USA)’s 2003 mission policy statement. When speaking about partnerships, we tend to think of external relations with churches and groups overseas, but as a connectional church, we also have our own internal mission partners.
While Presbyterian partnerships have for long been viewed as bilateral relationships between two institutional partners, a proliferation of mission activities has surfaced for which Presbyterians do not necessarily connect with denominational efforts. In this changing landscape, Presbyterian World Mission (WM) discerned anew its role and recognized that this phenomenon carries great potential for participatory mission engagement in support of our traditional mission partners and their programs.
“Communities of Mission Practice” (CMPs) were introduced as a contemporary mode for Presbyterian missions to catalyze and capitalize that potential. WM considers a partnership to be a CMP when each of three partner entities is represented: World Mission, a global PC(USA) partner, and Presbyterian constituencies in the United States like congregations, presbyteries, mission networks, validated and other constituent mission support groups, who all bring their passion and particular gifts into their partnership. CMPs can be understood using Venn graphs with overlapping circles to illustrate a combination of connected relationships, highlighting their shared areas and distinguishing those from separate spheres. Through CMPs, Presbyterians do mission collectively!
With Congo as a focus country, I share here a few examples for how it is working.
Education has historically been a vital Presbyterian ministry in Congo. Today PC(USA) constituents are helping realize the educational goals of our Congolese partners. Presbyterians from Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere have formed the Congo Education Excellence group (CEE), an important constituent mission support group providing momentum to this new “community.”
Back in 2007 I joined three members of First Presbyterian Church, Evanston, Ill., when they traveled to Congo. We stopped at many Presbyterian primary and secondary schools and later facilitated a process through which Congolese educators and church leaders set their priorities to improve education in their schools: safe and durable infrastructures; textbooks for all teachers; in-service development for teachers and administrators; transportation for school supervisors; and better access to quality education for girls. Numerous visits have ensued to follow up on progress, review plans, and share experiences.
This pioneer effort reinforces the endeavors of other Presbyterian constituent groups accompanying our Congolese partners in their educational ministries. Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, for example, has worked with The Outreach Foundation to help pay for a PC(USA) mission worker serving the education program of the Presbyterian Community in Congo. By supporting the educational ministries of its Nganza and Tshibahi counterparts, the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley contributes to the priorities of the denomination as a whole. Presbyterian Women has awarded Birthday and Thank Offering grants to the educational programs of both Congolese partner churches.
Individual Presbyterians are also undertaking initiatives that range from fund-raising activities such as crocheting necklaces, organizing church fairs, and submitting proposals to Rotary Clubs, to advocacy, calling the U.S. government to invest more in Congo’s education sector and bolster the Congo peace process.
The CEE meets regularly by conference call, including also the WM Africa office, mission personnel and, logistics permitting, Presbyterian educators in Congo. Exchange visits help broaden perspectives while enlightening partners on donor standards for planning, accounting, evaluating and reporting as they seek to broaden their support base to face the daunting challenge of educating 207,000 students in over 800 Presbyterian schools.
Another example that illustrates CMPs is the collaborative efforts around the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK). The Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), Myers Park Presbyterian Church, World Mission, and the Mennonite and Presbyterian communities in the Congo have all demonstrated steadfast commitment to IMCK’s health ministry. The circle is even larger with scholarships for nursing students from New Castle Presbytery and Presbyterians writing newsletters, praying for the work, and financially supporting it.
At times health professionals share their expertise during a single mission trip, but administrative skills acquired in the U.S. do not automatically take root when transplanted to Africa. Rather, long-term dedication is needed for relationships to weather differences in understandings and priorities. This is why Myers Park Presbyterian Church has already sent multiple teams with expertise in managing human and financial resources to better comprehend the Institution’s difficulties and explore with leadership from IMCK, the churches and WM effective approaches to face the challenges. Meanwhile, MBF is refurbishing the hydroelectric dam that provides water and electricity to the hospital and nursing schools.
This is how Presbyterian constituents, World Mission and our Congolese partners form CMPs focused on education and health in the Congo. The “community” is diverse, and unity does not mean there is always agreement. Disparity can easily allow affluence and expertise to distort a relationship into one of dominance and dependency. That is why, as Presbyterian mission practitioners, we are bound by common principles of mutuality and respect as outlined in the 2003 policy statement.
For all Presbyterian mission efforts in Congo the synergies converge into the Congo Mission Network (CMN), a large pool of U.S. Presbyterians who are involved with PC(USA) mission partners, be it in health, education, evangelism, or development, etc. Recognizing the importance of education ministries in Congo, the October 2011 CMN meeting centered on education. Regrettably, one of two invited Congolese partners was denied a visa to attend.
Grace and Peace,
Jeff (and Christi)
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 88