A letter from Tracey King-Ortega in Nicaragua
Greetings from southern California! I’ve been here for over three months now, connecting with local congregations as part of my interpretation assignment, trying to keep up with my duties as regional liaison and waiting; waiting for the arrival of my twins.
My mom has been kind enough to allow my 2-year-old and me to move in with her for this time, and our numbers keep growing. About four weeks ago my husband came up to join us, and anytime now two more members of our family will add to the invasion. It has been a real gift to get this time with my family here in the U.S. and to see the bond grow between my daughter and my family. She and my mom, her Nana, are so close now, and Catherine just bounces with joy whenever my brother shows up to play with her. It’s going to be hard on all of us when we head back to Nicaragua.
The time here has also given me the opportunity to connect with churches around southern California. I have been received warmly and felt encouraged in my ministry by the churches that have hosted me, and hopefully I have been able to encourage them as well. Beyond sharing about how I, through Presbyterian World Mission and our partners, am engaging in God’s mission in Central America, it has been exciting to hear about and see the dedication of churches around here seeking to serve in big ways and small.
I have particularly enjoyed being able to work face-to-face with the mission committee of my home congregation, St. Peter’s by the Sea Presbyterian Church in Rancho Palos Verdes. Over the past four years I have been in conversation with leadership and members about what it could look like to do mission a bit differently. The conversations have been rich and we have all grown in our understanding of what mission can look like. I have hosted several teams from St. Peter’s in Nicaragua to explore and discern mission possibilities for this congregation and accompanied other teams as we began to solidify a commitment to CIEETS, the Interchurch Center for Social and Theological Studies, the organization with whom they decided to partner.
St. Peter’s entered into this partnership because of hope in a mission model that was not just about going and doing for others, but about being inspired and transformed by brothers and sisters whose experience of God was distinct, and knowing that building relationship together was going to be a new and powerful way for them to participate in God’s mission. This model of mission through partnership can be a source of hope. Hope because it allows us to recognize and build up the body of Christ, the Church—“the whole body, joined and knitted together…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16).
Mission to me is synonymous with Kingdom building. And Kingdom building, like mission, is not bricks and mortar work, it is about how we relate to others, taking on a Christlike attitude that then has the power of transforming us and those around us. Our values and priorities begin to change, which is exactly how God’s Kingdom is going to be built.
Our experience is necessarily limited. Each of us only has a partial view, but joining together, as the global church, as the body of Christ, we can see and understand God in new ways.
In the beginning stages of this relationship we held bilingual Bible studies through Skype. It was always an enriching and eye-opening experience to read a familiar passage together and then hear how our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters understood it in ways very different from us. When we engage in mission with people like those from CIEETS, by building relationships, studying Scripture, reflecting on what God is calling us to, and then serving together, God’s mission will be a transformative experience. It energizes us and fills us with hope that together we really can make a difference, there and here.
Last month two members of CIEETS staff came to spend 10 days with St. Peter’s for a time of mutual sharing and conversation about future possibilities for this mission partnership. There was some talk about possible concrete projects to benefit rural communities with latrines and clean water systems, which is an exciting way for us to help them make a real difference in the lives of the people there. But more important than that, I believe, was the personal sharing and exchange that took place. We heard from Agenor Gutierrez, Bible professor at CIEETS, that this partnership has helped them re-assess all their relationships as an institution, empowering them to engage in new and deeper ways where possible, rather than just forming donor-recipient relationships. They too have begun to grasp the concept of mutual mission. I believe that in an ideal partnership we find ourselves asking, “Who is ministering to whom?” The way this partnership between St. Peter’s and CIEETS has been forming, emphasizing the relationship as a way through which we discern God’s Kingdom and mission, I see this happening, which is exciting and an incredible source of hope for me in my work.
I think we find and share hope when we engage in mission. We are called to communities that sustain us, but also hold us accountable. That, to me, is what being the church is about. And we need to be doing this globally, not just in our own little enclaves. I believe that following God’s call to participate in mission is the most faithful and effective way to find hope. Mission should not be a side dish or an afterthought in the life of the church. Mission needs to become an integral part of what we do and who we are as the church. No doubt a daunting challenge, but one we are called to take on together as partners in Christ’s service.
In our service together, I ask for prayers for this and the many partnerships between the PC(USA) and churches and organizations throughout Central America, that they may be powerful mechanisms of transformation and engagement in God’s mission. I also want to thank you for your continued encouragement and support, both spiritual and financial, of my ministry and of me personally. I truly have felt a powerful web of support surrounding me throughout this pregnancy, and I am so excited to share the news of two healthy babies, if that day ever comes.
Blessings and peace,