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A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal

February 2012

Friends in Christ,

In most of our newsletters we have told you stories about how members of our congregations or we ourselves have been affected by our work here in Portugal, but this time we’re going to talk more about how whole groups of people are being affected.   The reason for this change in emphasis is that, in addition to our regular weekly ministry with three small congregations (in the area of Abrantes, central Portugal), we are increasingly involved in activities beyond the local level.

For example, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (the IEPP) now has a program of lay theological training.  It started one year ago with a course on equipping your congregation for evangelism.  That course attracted 35 students, and I was one of the instructors.  We are now into the second course (in a 10-course sequence); it focuses on understanding the group dynamics involved in a Bible study group and gives students considerable practical experience in leading Bible study.  This time 50 people are enrolled (2 from our congregations), and 24 of them are my students, divided into two groups.  We meet once a month for four months, each class lasting three hours.  This course involves a lot of study and preparation for both students and teacher.  The goal of this training program is twofold: (1) to improve the theological understanding and leadership skills of as many lay people as possible, in the hope that their influence will positively impact their congregations, and (2) to identify and train future pastors, which the IEPP needs in order to open new churches and spread the gospel in Portugal.  All of us involved with this program feel that the jump in enrollment is a very positive sign and surely shows that students who went through the first course were able to influence other folks to enroll.  If this trend continues, the net effect on the IEPP and its ability to evangelize will be substantial.

Another major activity that takes us beyond the local level involves the monthly meetings with pastors in the Southern Region (greater Lisbon) and in the Central Region (in and around Figueira da Foz).  When I was asked to lead these meetings back in November 2011, the other pastors and I agreed that we would devote several meetings to strategic planning.  After two such meetings in each region we brought the two regions together for a joint meeting in January and discovered that we had in fact reached a consensus concerning the mid-range and long-range objectives of the IEPP.  Over that same three-month period the Executive Commission of the IEPP was also at work doing strategic planning, so that at the January pastors’ meeting we were able to compare the pastors’ vision of the future IEPP with the vision developed independently by the Executive Commission.  To our surprise and delight, the two visions were essentially identical.  What this means is that we have the political will necessary to undertake a thoroughgoing reform of the IEPP.  The next step is for us pastors to take these vision blueprints back to our congregations for discussion.  We need the support and collaboration of our membership in order to make this reform genuine and durable.  Moreover, in several areas, particularly financial planning and public relations, we very much need the professional advice and assistance that some of our lay people can provide.  In any case, the strategic planning that has been done thus far is quite promising.  If carried out responsibly, it will result in a better organized, more biblically educated and more financially stable church body, more motivated and better able to do the work for which God called the Church into being.

Now that the need for strategic planning has been met, the pastors have asked me to give workshops on subjects important to their ministry.  Thus the next pastoral meeting, involving both regions, will consist of workshops on group dynamics and on family systems theory as it applies to churches.

Keiko continues to be very busy with women’s groups.  The last Saturday in January we attended the winter meeting of the Presbyterian and Methodist Women of the Central Region.  It was a meeting dedicated to discussion of sexuality and gender issues.  Since most of these women grew up during the Salazar dictatorship, which seems to have been very prudish and sexually repressed (and repressive), this frank presentation about sexuality and gender generated spirited debate.  It also gave Keiko a chance to make friends with a lot of women in the wider church.

Today, February 8, we begin preparations for the celebration of the World Day of Prayer.  The women of the IEPP love this event and are looking forward to learning all about the women of Malaysia.  Getting ready for the WDP is a real educational experience particularly for the women in our three congregations, and practicing their parts for the celebration is an excellent chance for them to feel affirmed and to participate in a gratifying way.  It’s a pleasure for Keiko and me to see them take ownership of this event and throw themselves into it.  And after today’s rehearsal there will be an hour of old-fashioned fellowship: with plate and cup. 

We ask your prayers and your support for our work with the IEPP.

Yours in Christ,
Bob 

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 270

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