A letter from Gary Payton in the United States (regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and Poland)
December 2, 2012
Dear Friends in Christ,
Advent! Our season of hopeful waiting wraps us in mystery as we remember the past, look to the future, and await again the joy of Jesus’ birth into our troubled world. For me this Advent is particularly filled with nostalgia, reflection, and anticipation.
My first international travel representing the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took me to Harare, Zimbabwe, during Advent 1998. At the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches I was struck by the extraordinary spirit of ecumenism as delegations from over 300 worldwide denominations gathered under the theme “Turn to God—Rejoice in Hope.” For the first time in my life I truly saw the face of Christ’s church in the world today—Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian Coptic priests, South Korean Protestants, brothers and sisters speaking Spanish or Portuguese from Central or South America, clergy and laity from across Africa, and an extraordinary woman who lead the Assembly in the Lord’s Prayer speaking in Aramaic—the language of Jesus. Harare opened a new chapter in my life.
Just weeks ago I returned from my 24th visit with church partners in former communist states. Across my years as a mission co-worker I have been privileged to work with partners and mission colleagues of many nationalities in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, Poland, Hungary and Germany.
This year, as each year, held many highlights:
• Seeing firsthand that the relocation of Al and Ellen Smith from Moscow to Berlin to continue their ministry in Russia is working. Tightened Russian visa and work permit laws made this move necessary. That it is working is a joy! http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/smith-alan-and-ellen/
• With my colleague, Ellen Smith, introducing Amgad Beblawi, World Mission’s area coordinator for the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia to our Baptist, Orthodox, and Lutheran partners in Russia.
• Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy with the congregation and representatives from multiple denominations across Russia and the U.S. http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/10/15/monumental/
• Acknowledging the courage of a Russian Baptist pastor to organize the first-ever Martin Luther King Day celebration and worship service speaking out against racism and racist attacks in Moscow. http://baptist.org.ru/news/english/3263/
• Sharing with Russian Orthodox colleagues PC(USA)-produced resources on domestic violence. Some of these resources have now been incorporated into domestic violence training programs for priests in two regions. http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/payton-gary-201211/
• Marking the election of Dietrich Brauer as the Acting Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia—a former seminary student of Presbyterian mission colleague, Joe Kang. It is a joy to see the advancing Russian leadership in the Lutheran church.
• Gathering for the eighth consecutive year with fellow Presbyterians and Russian guests for our Russia Mission Network conference. It was a great joy to have Father Vladimir Klimzo, Russian Orthodox priest, and Pastor Andrey Beskorovaini, a Russian Roma pastor, join us in our annual gathering. http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/9/26/knowing-jesus/
On a very personal note, I share with you that I will be retiring as a Presbyterian mission co-worker on March 31, 2013. My 14 years serving churches in former communist countries will formally come to a close. Yet there is one more important trip to make! Early in 2013 I will travel to the region with my regional liaison successor to “hand off” responsibilities from one person to another as we continue to “come alongside” our church partners.
My ministry has been and continues to be sustained by your prayers and your gifts. May I ask you again for your prayers for our brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to build and rebuild their churches? And, may I ask one last time for your support to continue my ministry in the months ahead? In these challenging economic times, might you assist with a gift of $25 or more? Your contribution will go toward purchase of part of an airline ticket, a ride on the night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, a bus or metro ticket to visit ministries around the cities, or cell phone minutes to connect with partners and colleagues, etc.
If you or your congregation can offer support, here’s how. To contribute to my travel costs, write “Regional Liaison for Russia/ECO E051663” on the subject line of the check and your cover letter or note. To support my overall sending and support, write “Regional Liaison for Russia/ECO E200395” instead. (You can give online using the "Give" links below.)
Contributions from individuals may be sent to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
You may also make an online donation at www.presbyterianmission.org/give/. Click on “search giving opportunities” on the left side of the page and enter the ECO number in the search box, starting with the letter “E” to find the one to which you’d like to contribute. Contributions from congregations may be sent to their normal receiving site or to the same address above.
In Advent worship my favorite hymn remains “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” With eyes closed, the medieval melody stirs deep longings within me for God’s presence. And as a mission co-worker the final stanza represents the hope for our participation in God’s mission. “O come, desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”
It has been and it continues to be a joy to serve the Lord, our faithful partners, and all those across our churches in the United States who are called to come alongside brothers and sisters in Christ in faraway lands.
Thank you for your prayers and for your steadfast support. And may the Lord richly bless you and yours in 2013!
Yours in Christ
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 285
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 290
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