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A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal

october 2012

Dear Friends in Mission,

The Wednesday evening Bible study in the IEPP church we serve in Granja do Ulmeiro. These two women claim that this is the best educational opportunity they've ever had.

Once again Keiko and I wish to thank you for your steadfast support for our work in Portugal.  Basic to being Christian is the willingness to take risks for the sake of the gospel, and you who support world mission are genuine risk-takers.  And we risk-takers know from sad experience that not all our investments in time, talent and treasure turn out as hoped and that, even when they do, we often have to wait and wait to see the results. That's why it's such a delight, such a joy, to report to you on the progress being made in the IEPP (Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal).  The results are already very good, and they have not been slow in coming.  To God alone be the glory! No one could have predicted what's happened here, and no one should credit us for it either.  But what you can say is that our presence here in and with the IEPP came at a moment of kairos, a moment in which a whole series of factors came together so that God could act.

We came here at a time when whole congregations of Presbyterian women were feeling lonely, neglected, and embittered by life.  They desperately needed to be loved, encouraged, taught and prayed with, and we did that.  Simple things, for sure, but they came at the right time.

Keiko sitting next to one of the ladies from the IEPP church we serve in Alhadas. They're attending the town's annual festival.

We came here at a time when the IEPP had very nearly forgotten what it means to be semper reformanda.  They asked me to tell them, and I did.  A simple thing, to be sure, but it came at the right time.

We came here at a time when the pastors of the IEPP were feeling and acting like independent operators (lone wolves), and so we talked with them about the solidarity of the Church and our responsibilities to God, to each other, and to the world.  Simple things, but they happened at just the right time.

We came here at a time when adult Presbyterians desperately needed and wanted leadership training and theological education, especially serious, in-depth Bible study.  Since that's what I love best and do best, I gave it to them, especially through the newly formed lay theological education program.  No big deal, but it came at exactly the right time. 

A float from the parade that was part of the annual festival in Alhadas in early September 2012. They also had marching bands, horses and folk dancers.

We came here at a time when the leadership of the IEPP was split between an old guard committed to old ways and a bloc of reformers eager for change but reluctant to openly challenge the establishment.  Somehow our presence was the spark the reformers needed to act in building a consensus.  In the space of three or four months they built that consensus, and the leadership of the IEPP changed dramatically FOR THE BETTER.  The part I played in this was that of the reluctant prophet.  They asked me how things worked in the churches I knew in the U.S and how things ought to work here.  I did my best to tell them.  Nothing fancy.  It wasn't rocket science, but it was what they needed, and it came at just the right time.  In fact, the changes brought about by this change in leadership are so substantive and so important that I want to devote the rest of this letter to that subject.

The couple next to me are Roman Catholics who've decided they prefer the IEPP church in Alhadas. We're about to eat leitão (roast piglet) at the annual festival in Alhadas.

When the new leadership team (the Executive Commission) met for the first time in July 2012, it was also the first time the reformers had full access to information.  The leadership style in Portugal in politics or in any organization has historically been top-down leadership characterized by secrecy and tight control of information.  Therefore, the first thing the new Executive Commission wanted to do and did was vote to be transparent in all its dealings, especially by communicating with pastors and congregations through a factual and exhaustively thorough monthly e-letter.  A further consequence of this new access to information is that the reformers are becoming more and more aware of just why a reform was so necessary.  At every meeting we discover not only bad management decisions made in the past and needing to be corrected but ethical violations of every kind and so shocking that even I have to cringe—and I'm from Chicago!

So what we're talking about in this reform of the IEPP is not just a shuffling of personnel.  We're talking about a major cleanup, and the challenge is to make the cleanup permanent by changing the organizational ethos.  In a society like Portugal where things are designed to prevent change and where folks have deeply ingrained bad habits, this is a huge challenge, which will not be met overnight.  And that's why you need to keep supporting this mission.  This is a moment of kairos.

May God bless you all.

Bob Butterfield  


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


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