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A letter from Bob and Keiko Butterfield in Portugal

March 17, 2011

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Keiko and I are happy to report that two of our three congregations celebrated the World Day of Prayer together. Unfortunately, the women in the third congregation live too far away to join the other two groups. In any event, Bible studies on the selected texts and rehearsals for the World Day of Prayer began three weeks in advance, and there were reading parts for everyone. We even practiced singing “Gracias a la vida” in the minimalist style of its composer Violeta Parra. In fact, everyone really enjoyed not just the lead-up to the World Day of Prayer but the actual celebration and the fellowship hour following it.

The basic idea of this year’s World Day of Prayer was that with the help of God women have the ability to help other people and even to feed the world. The biblical basis for all this came from the story of the widow at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 and the story of the feeding of the five thousand in Matthew 14. Since Matthew 14 does not refer specifically to women, our women chose to interpret that story in a fresh and adventurous way. They decided that feeding five thousand people would not be such a great miracle; after all, many restaurants can do that. Jesus’ far greater miracle, they thought, was that he touched the hearts of women in his audience so that they were willing to share with each other, and as a result there was enough for everyone, with leftovers besides. Keiko and I were amazed that they came up with such an interpretation and that they so eagerly accepted the notion that women of faith could actually feed the world.

The week after the World Day of Prayer, in our regular weekly Bible study, the explanation for what had happened began to come out. One of the women in attendance broke down in tears and confessed that she felt stressed from trying to meet the needs of so many people. We asked what she meant, and she explained that she has a part-time job as a pharmacist’s assistant and that all of the (mostly older) women in the congregation, as well as many other older folks, come to her for help in getting their medications. Even with the national health plan in Portugal, senior citizens still can’t afford their medications. So senior citizens in the neighborhood constantly ask this woman for help, and she in turn calls their physician and tries to arrange for a generic drug or a substitute of some kind. When she is unsuccessful, those who asked for her help literally have to choose between eating and medicating, and the burden of this responsibility is heavy and takes its toll on this woman. We all consoled her, and in the process the other women present began to reveal that they too are heavily involved in helping not just each other but all sorts of people in the wider community. If you put all their stories together, you get the picture of a complex but invisible network of mutual assistance, which even with five months of close observation Keiko and I had not seen.

Thanks to what happened at that particular Bible study, we came to understand how our women had dealt with the World Day of Prayer. From hard life experience, they knew how difficult it is to change a person’s heart, and that’s why they thought it would have been a far greater miracle for Jesus to change the hearts of his audience than simply to supply food. They also knew far better than we did — and far better than even the story of the widow at Zarephath could ever convey — what capacity for good works women have when, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are incarnating the good news. Our women may not be able to put it into words, but they have a profound understanding of what it means to be a little Christ for others.

A man a two women looking at paper on a table.

Adult literacy class in Sao Miguel do Rio Torto.

Something else that came out of the World Day of Prayer was that one of our older women who comes from a really impoverished background, never attended school, and is quite unable to read decided as a result of attending the World Day of Prayer that she wants to learn to read. She has tried before to learn, but her previous attempts have all fallen short. Nevertheless we were thrilled to hear that she wanted to try again, and we organized an adult literacy class for her. Even learning the alphabet is excruciatingly difficult for her, and we can see that this is going to be a terrible struggle. Besides the encouragement that Keiko and I can give her, we’re counting on the invisible network of mutual assistance to keep her motivated. From everything we’ve seen, it can and will.

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of people, to be seen by them … but when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:1a and 3).

You can contribute to our sending and support costs on-line or by sending a gift to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

Write “E200450 - Bob and Keiko Butterfield” on the memo line.

Churches and presbyteries can also allocate part of their Basic Mission Support by designating an amount to “D506098 - Bob and Keiko Butterfield”. Donations may be sent through your normal receiving site or through the address above.

[You can always give online. See the Give box in the left column of every page. —Ed.]

Yours in Christ’s service,

Bob and Keiko Butterfield

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 194

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