Letters from Paul Matheny and Mary Nebelsick
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Rev. Paul Matheny and
Rev. Mary Nebelsick
Mission co-workers in the Philippines since 2001
Serving at the invitation of the United Church of Christ in the
Philippines, at Union Theological Seminary
Mary and Paul will next be in the USA in Summer 2014. Email them or the Mission Connections office (Rachel.Anderson@pcusa.org) to extend an invitation to visit your congregation or organization.
About Paul Matheny and Mary Nebelsick's ministry
Paul and Mary teach in the graduate program in religious studies at the historic Philippine Christian University (PCU). Paul was instrumental in establishing the program in 2001 and has served as its coordinator and administrator from its creation. The graduate program offers master’s degrees in two fields, theological studies and religious studies, and doctoral degrees in two areas, missiology and religious studies. The program is a safe haven for church workers from countries where Christians are persecuted and oppressed. At PCU, they study in an atmosphere that affirms Christianity and values theological inquiry. The program prepares students to become scholars who equip people for Christian service. Paul and Mary have also taught at Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines and currently work in a Union program that prepares graduate students to teach in institutions related to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). The Union program also trains church leaders and theological educators from several other Asian countries, including Myanmar, Indonesia, India, China and Korea.
More than 7,000 islands comprise the Philippines. However, its population of about 100 million is concentrated on about 11 of these islands. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years until the United States took control in the early 20th century. It gained self-rule in 1935 and full independence in 1946. While the country is a democracy, Filipinos who publicly oppose governmental policies place themselves at risk. Pastors and church workers from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) have been among those who have suffered because of their advocacy for human rights. The UCCP is committed to working for peaceful change by appealing to the government and participating in the democratic process. More than 80 percent of the Filipino people are Catholic, 3 percent are Protestant, and 5 percent are Muslim.
About Paul Matheny and Mary Nebelsick
Mary and Paul admire the deep commitment of their students and the Christian communities that nurture the faith of these future pastors.
“Our students want to learn and serve,” Paul says. “They are very grateful for the opportunity to study and become better scholars and ministers.”
Download a prayer card that lifts up the couple's work in the Philippines.
“I have been touched by the deep faith of the Filipino Christians and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their faith,” Mary says.
For example, Mary notes, she’s seen Filipinos forego career advancement to care for children and elderly relatives and start feeding programs when they themselves are barely putting food on the table.
“Sometimes,” she adds, “this sacrifice takes the form of being willing to stand up for better jobs, better housing, and a better way of life even though standing up might mean and has meant that pastors and church members have been abducted, tortured, and jailed.”
Paul is proud of former students who persevere as pastors amid tough circumstances. “They have learned to be caring pastors for people in great need,” he says. “Even though they themselves are struggling, these pastors, along with members of the Protestant churches, calmly and effectively work to enrich the lives of those who endure struggles.”
Since going to the Philippines in 2001, Mary and Paul have stood with people whose loved ones have been abducted, tortured, and/or killed because they spoke out against oppression. They’ve visited courtrooms and prisons to show solidarity.
Paul and Mary see their support as a way to bear witness to the unity of the Christian family, obey Christ’s command to care for the downtrodden, and to demonstrate that the Bible’s mandates are a non-negotiable part of Christian living. “As teachers, we need to live our teaching and walk the faith we proclaim,” Mary says.
It’s a lifestyle that helped build bridges to their partner church. “We are grateful,” Paul says, “that we have been woven into the fabric of the UCCP and have close ties with the pastors of all the congregations in our area.”
Prior to entering mission service Paul was pastor of two congregations, First Christian Church of Conroe, Texas, and Westhampton Christian Church in Roanoke, Virginia. In addition he taught at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina, and at the Houston Graduate School of Theology. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; a master’s degree from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, the Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, the Master of Sacred Theology from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut; and a doctorate in theology from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Paul is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Mary grew up in Berlin, Germany, and Beirut, Lebanon, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries Harold and Melissa Nebelsick. She was a minister at a Presbyterian church in Roanoke, Virginia and a campus minister at Montgomery College in Houston before entering mission service. Mary earned a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the Master of Divinity from Princeton Seminary with a focus on Old Testament studies and a doctorate in Old Testament from PCU. She also studied Old Testament and Assyriology at the University of Heidelberg. She is a teaching elder and member of the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery.
Mary and Paul are the parents of Rachel Marie Matheny, a college student who is studying in the United States.
Paul – July 13
Mary – April 30
Rachel – December 19