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A letter from Bob Butterfield in Portugal

July 2013

Friends in Mission,

Warm greetings once again from Bob and Keiko!  We’re itinerating.  From June 20 to July 5 we were in San Francisco to speak at the San Francisco Presbytery meeting in Lafayette on June 25 and to preach at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Pacifica on June 30.  Meanwhile we stayed in San Francisco with our son and daughter-in-law, who’ve just had a baby boy, our second grandchild.  

Because we’ve been traveling more or less constantly since April 22, we’ve met quite a variety of folks, especially in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, California, and Minnesota, and had many opportunities to talk about our work in Portugal, and it’s been a real learning experience for everyone involved.  Let’s start with what Presbyterians have learned about why the PC(USA) is doing mission in Portugal.

First, Presbyterians have learned that, although Portugal is part of the European Union, it’s a poor and struggling member.  For example, the transportation system Portugal has may be spiffy and modern, but it was built with money borrowed from the EU, money Portugal can’t afford to repay.  To enable Portugal to return to the money markets to borrow more, the current center-right government in Lisbon has imposed a super-severe austerity program that has raised taxes, cut salaries and pensions, eliminated jobs in large numbers, sent hundreds of thousands of people out of the country in search of employment, and shrunk the economy to such an extent that it will be decades before the Portuguese return to anything like normal living.

Second, Presbyterians have learned that in Portugal Presbyterians as a group are near the bottom of the social pyramid, are among the hardest hit by the crisis, and have family incomes at or quite frequently below the minimum wage of 450 euros (=US$600) per month.  Such hardships are being borne by people who had very little cushion (capital) to begin with, and as a result they’re running on empty.  Not surprisingly, the emotional strain particularly on older Portuguese is terrific, especially since, as is often the case, their children and grandchildren have emigrated and left them to face the crisis alone.  To make matters worse, the National Health Service is currently so underfunded that people can’t get the treatment or the medication they need. 

Third, Presbyterians have learned that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal (IEPP) is in such desperate financial condition that it exists purely by the grace of God and through the heroic efforts of its Executive Commission, which has frequently had to deal with situations in which unavoidable expenses exceed revenues.

Fourth, Presbyterians have learned that Portugal’s current poverty is not new and in fact has been around for centuries, with the harshest impact being felt by women and children.

Finally, Presbyterians have learned that a critical priority of the Mission Agency of the PC(USA) is to address the roots of poverty, especially as it affects women and children and that, given the poverty faced by the Portuguese generally and by Portuguese Presbyterians in particular, the love of Christ compels us to do mission in Portugal. 

Now let’s talk about what Keiko and I have learned in talking with so many Presbyterians.  The first thing we have learned is that the people we spoke with in the PC(USA)—and at several UCC congregations, especially Union Memorial Church, Milford, Iowa—genuinely care about the work Keiko and I are doing in Portugal.  Other American Christians may have turned in upon themselves and chosen to not look beyond the walls of their own building or the boundaries of their own town, but the people we spoke with have a broad vision of the world and are able to think of people in other countries, people they may never meet, as brothers and sisters in the same extended family, siblings of the One who is Father and Mother of us all.  Such an awareness of our interconnectedness we find to be a really hopeful sign.  

Second, we have learned that the people we spoke with are able to picture our work in Portugal as somehow their work too.  In their eyes, Keiko and I are helping and touching folks they themselves would like to help and touch.

Third, we have learned that, for the people we spoke with, the Church really does exist for the sake of mission.  The call to mission is a call Christ issues to all his disciples.  God in Christ has freed us from the power of sin not as an end in itself but so that, as free and responsible adult partners, we might cooperate with God in building the generous community, in which human dignity is respected and in which all persons have access to health care, education, and a decent job.  The people we spoke with joyfully accept that responsibility.  Thanks be to God!   

Keiko and I wish to thank all the individuals, congregations, and presbyteries that have hosted us and received us so warmly, and we ask that you pray for us and for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Portugal.  We also ask that you correspond with us so that we all may feel that our work in Portugal is a common ministry.  And finally we thank you for your financial support and urge you to keep giving it.

May God bless you, and may Christ’s call to mission continue to inspire you.

Bob

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 276
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