A letter from Mary Nebelsick and Paul Matheny in the Philippines
June 2, 2010
Our time in the United States is drawing to a close. It is with tinges of sadness and with the joy of anticipation that we return to the Philippines next month. This year has been a wonderful year at the Overseas Ministries Study Center, full of the joys of family. It has been a time of renewal,when we have rededicated ourselves to the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We have loved talking to churches and meeting so many dedicated Christians around the country. We thank you all for the wonderful gift of time that you have given us.
Since we will be returning to the Philippines soon, Paul, Rachie and I decided to make the Memorial Day weekend special. We went to New York City. The morning train left the New Haven station and arrived at Grand Central. With map in hand, we headed down into the subway and emerged into the blinding sunlight at Battery Park. We were off to see the Statue of Liberty! We had our tickets. But first, we had to wait. The line for the ferry wound around and around Battery Park like a snake. We finally got on the ferry after waiting for two hours in the heat and the sun. The ferry was tall, heavy and solid! When I was standing high up on deck, I couldn’t help but remember the boats we had traveled on in the Philippines. These boats were small and rickety. Some were made of bamboo, others of wood. When we sat down in them we were at ocean level. Salty sprays of water splashed against our skin as our boats bobbed up and down treacherously. We were part of the ocean, we ere caught in her grasp, we were at her mercy. This was not true of the Staten Island ferry. This ferry plowed through the waves and we rode high above them in security.
When we arrived on the island I noticed something about the Statue of Liberty that I had never noticed before. I noticed that Lady Liberty was depicted not as a woman who standing still holding up her torch to shed light to those who came to her. Instead, the statue is captured in a moment of movement. She had trampled down the chains of bondage and was striding out in freedom with her torch. She had been imprisoned. Now she was free. But she was not content to stand still in her freedom. No, with great dignity she lights her torch, raises it up high. She strides purposefully out into a dark world to bring freedom and light to all.
I suddenly had a vision that this statue, Lady Liberty, could also be interpreted as a very powerful symbol of the missionary movement. Over the centuries many, many men and women have courageously taken the light of the gospel and have walked out majestically to bring the light of Christ to the world. The Presbyterian Church has been part of this proud legacy. It has been on the forefront of bringing the wholeness of the Christian life to the people of the world. In response to the God’s call, the Presbyterian Church has brought the light of the gospel to people who were hungry for the Word of God, medicine to those whose bodies were wasted by diseases and education to those who yearned to be able to read God’s Word for themselves. They traveled on rickety boats, they waded across dangerous rivers and they fought against tropical diseases. They watched their children die and buried them in the soil of their adopted countries. They gave their lives so that all the world could hear the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
This is what we do in the Philippines. We work with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to bring the light of Christ to those who are desperate to live in the freedom that Christ brings. We teach in the Philippines, in a country where life is insecure, jobs are scarce and hope is hard to find. Faith in God is not an option. It is not a philosophy to be discussed. It is a hope that is lived. It is the only thing that stands between many people and despair. Faith in God is life — life on this earth and life eternal.
This does not mean that life is easy for the pastors we teach. They come from the Philippines and from other countries of Southeast Asia. Many will serve churches that can barely pay their salaries. Others will serve mission churches and travel up steep mountain cliffs and down sharp valley walls to bring the gospel to their parishioners. Others will follow God’s call to serve God’s poorest people in the slums of the inner cities. Still others put themselves in harm’s way by living out their Christian life in self-sacrificing love to the most downtrodden of God’s children. We are proud to be part of their journey. We are proud to serve the Presbyterian Church as missionary co-workers and continue the journey that was begun so many years ago at Pentecost. We thank you for making it possible for us to serve them and to be your hands and hearts in this Spirit-filled work, and we ask that you continue to support us and all other mission personnel with your prayers and financialgifts.
Mary, Paul and Rachel Marie
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 143