A letter from Rich and Marilyn Hansen in Ethiopia
Some days here in Ethiopia we think a lot about connections: whether our phone is connected, whether our Internet is connected, how well the pipes in our house are connected, whether we are connecting with people, given language and cultural differences.
In May and June while in the United States we also thought a lot about connections—how we are connected in mission within the Presbyterian Church and within the larger body of Christ. When we began as PC(USA) mission co-workers last July, we unknowingly were “catching the wave” of an exciting vision of doing mission as Presbyterians.
Of course, the “wave” is nothing new; it has been gathering force for decades. Most of you reading this are part of it. The old model of mission centralized in a denominational headquarters that received funds, recruited and sent out missionaries, and prepared glossy reports for people back home is long over. Mission action today—both in dollars and people—is widely dispersed across thousands of local congregations and presbyteries. If the old model relied on centrifugal force (pushing in toward a central office), the forces in mission are now definitely centripetal (pushing out to the periphery).
Direct partnerships between local congregations or presbyteries and churches all over the world is the way many PC(USA) congregations now do mission. For example, during Rich’s years as pastor of First Pres, Visalia, California, a 20-year partnership developed with a consortium of churches in former East Germany; more than 250 people traveled between the United States and Germany sharing all kinds of ministries together. Our Visalia congregation has installed more than a dozen clean water systems in Guatemala, Haiti and Chile, partnering with Living Water for the World, a PC(USA) group. In fact, our Visalia church became its own “sending agency,” training many other congregations in central California and beyond to begin their own clean water installation projects and even helping open a West Coast “Clean Water U” training center.
Rather than bemoan this new wave of decentralized mission, the PC(USA) World Mission office has re-envisioned its 21st century role as facilitating “communities of mission practice” throughout the church. As PC(USA) mission co-workers, it’s our privilege and joy to get in on this action!
During our recent six weeks in the United States we spent a delightful week with the lovely people of Shenandoah Presbytery, nestled in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Just last year they celebrated a 20-year partnership with a synod of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), our PC(USA) partner here in Ethiopia. In fact, the presbytery’s partner synod in western Ethiopia is the heartland of early Presbyterian mission work that began in the 1920s, which helped birth the EECMY denomination, now more than 5 million members strong. Thus a three-legged stool of “community of mission practice” is formed—Shenandoah Presbytery in the United States, the EECMY here in Ethiopia, and Rich teaching at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST).
Imagine our surprise to discover that several people we met in Virginia knew and loved Wondimu, one of Rich’s current students. Wondimu was a leader in their partner synod before he came to Addis to gain further education in the M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies program at EGST! But Wondimu was only the first of many EECMY church leaders with whom we and Shenandoah Presbytery shared common connections. Connections is the key. In fact, we connected with Shenandoah leaders about how they might join with EGST to equip more future leaders in their synod partnership with the EECMY. We came away from our time in Shenandoah excited to see how this evolving “community of mission practice” might grow in the years ahead.
We also were reconnected with people in our home church in Visalia. One evening while there, we shared with many about our work and life in Ethiopia. Because we are supported by this church, people in attendance could feel a connection with the students Rich is teaching and the people Marilyn is relating to. We felt sent out by them and are hoping that God may want to develop more personal relationships and ministry between people here in Ethiopia and people in Visalia.
And lastly, we reconnected with our children. We attended three graduations: our youngest, Lauren, graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California (see photo); our daughter-in-law Milli graduated from Columbia University Law School in New York; our son Nathan graduated from Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. (see photo). In Boston we spent time with our daughter Megan and her fiancé. Our time together with our children was a precious time of celebration and joy.
One of the strengths of the PC(USA) is the connectional nature of our denomination. Our structure promotes our connections with one another. But more than that, Christ’s church is a connectional church:
“The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. …You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are!” (1 Cor. 12, The Message).
- Praise for our recent trip to the United States, for the opportunity to connect with so many friends and family.
- Praise that in the new 2011–2012 school year EGST will have 160 students, compared to 122 in the 2010–2011 year just completed. This is the largest student body in the history of EGST.
- Prayer that this summer Rich would accomplish all he needs to in preparing for his classes this fall and fulfilling his responsibilities as Acting Dean of Studies.
- Prayer that, in the current economic climate, low-income people in Ethiopia would have the resources to take care of their families.
Thank you for our connection with each of you. We celebrate these connections with joy.
Rich and Marilyn
The Rev. Dr. Rich Hansen
Acting Dean of Studies & Professor of Systematic Theology
Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST)
P.O. Box 24934 Code 1000
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57
Thanks for your great newsletter. I made copies for our members, many of whom do not have internet access. Our church is a part of Shenandoah Presbytery. I was sorry I was not able to meet you when you were here. We will pray for you and your work. Thanks be to God for all you do in His name.