A letter from Tracey King-Ortega, regional liaison for Central America, in Nicaragua
August 30, 2011
Mission to me is about our own transformation, an opportunity to get to know God better in ways that shape us. Whether near or far, be it building houses, serving meals, or getting to know a reality different from our own, mission is how we expand our understanding of who God is. As regional liaison, I aim to make this kind of mission possible.
A significant part of my work is serving as a resource for U.S. Presbyterians “doing mission” in this part of the world. I visit with mission groups, consult with partnerships, and help to organize and sustain country mission networks in the hope that we can all do what we do better, striving together to be more faithful and effective. Because of Central America’s proximity to the United States it is a popular place for international mission involvement, keeping me plenty busy.
Another aspect of my role is to liaise with our partners here in Central America. It may be getting things set up for a new mission co-worker’s arrival, having conversations with them about changes in our polity and how that may or may not affect our relationships, and overall just wanting to make sure that we are serving each other the best we can. In an official capacity, this often means that my interactions in each country are limited to the leadership. I miss visiting communities and congregations and really learning from “the people” that have so much to teach us about life and spirituality.
For this reason I was really pleased to be able to help lead a two-day national partnership encounter with our Nicaraguan partner organization CEPAD earlier this month. In attendance were 20 Nicaraguans from communities and churches across the country that have partnerships with churches or presbyteries in the U.S. It was well attended and provoked great reflection among the participants. The overarching theme was Servant Leadership, and within that we talked about service, leadership, accountability and communication.
The Bible study our first morning together was packed with great learning about leadership, service, and partnership. We read together from Luke 10:25–37, the story of the Good Samaritan. This is a well-known parable used to teach about serving others, and this time was no different. However, using the “see – judge - act” method often used by the church here in Latin America to put social justice principles into practice, I feel that I got much more out of this passage.
Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question “What must I do to gain eternal life?” As our Bible study leader Carlos Silva of CEPAD summarized it, “Christ shows us a way that overcomes death and will bring us eternal life: love.” But how do we love, and whom do we love? The Good Samaritan shows us that true mercy and compassion move us to serve. It allows us to discover and recognize our neighbor. That kind of sensitivity is essential to our understanding of the gospel. It is the faith experience. As Carlos put it, “If we don’t see our neighbor, then we don’t understand the gospel.”
As these ideas emerged from our reflections, it dawned on me yet again I was hearing a message of partnership. Because as Presbyterians we “do mission in partnership,” the word partnership has marked my 10-plus years of mission service. I see it as a way for us to truly get to know our neighbors. It is so easy to get jaded by news of poverty and suffering, but when we do mission in a way that allows us to build a relationship, the statistics begin to have names and faces. We gain the perception necessary to understand what kind of love Christ is calling us to share. It becomes real and we are challenged to serve in new ways. When we are moved to serve, like the Good Samaritan, we can dig deep and commit our own resources, but even he didn’t go it alone. He turned to the innkeeper to help care for the beaten man. This was a surprising message that spoke to me, that not only in mission (being transformed by God) but also in serving, we are called to do this in partnership.
During the rest of the encounter I continued to be impressed with the sharing and fellowship among the Nicaraguans. It was obvious that they take their partnerships very seriously. I saw their desire to deepen and sustain their connections with their brothers and sisters in the North, but I could also sense a longing in them to serve their brothers and sisters in their own communities here in Nicaragua. It was powerful for me to gain the insight that it is their partnerships with the church in the U.S. that enable them to serve those around them. U.S. Presbyterians and the Nicaraguans they are “doing mission” with are being transformed by the love they share in serving their neighbors precisely because they are doing it together.
Blessings and peace,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 280