A monthly update from Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission, on the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk with and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.
Both Bricks and Mortar
When Ruth and I arrived in the Congo to work with the Presbyterian Community of the Congo, we asked to be able to spend the first two months in a village to help us learn the Tshiluba language spoken by two million Presbyterians in that nation and, more importantly, to learn to rely on the Congolese as our teachers. Our mission training had taught us that only if we could learn to trust their leadership—that God was speaking first and most clearly through them about the direction of their church’s mission efforts-- could we engage in the kind of relationship that true mission partnerships require.
The Congolese Church sent us to the village of Tshimana (CHEE-mah-nah) where we met a remarkable Presbyterian elder named Mutshima wa Tshimana. Mutshima was the lay leader of the Presbyterian Church of Tshimana, a mud brick structure with a thatched roof. One hot morning, I was working with a group of men building a wall at the side of the simple sanctuary. After laying the first line of adobe bricks, Elder Mutshima applied a good amount of thick, sticky clay called bitotshi (bee-TOE-chee). This local mortar served to glue the lines of bricks together so tightly that, once dry, not even the heavy tropical windstorms that swept through the area could topple the brick structure. One morning several months later, I heard Elder Mutshima consoling a villager whose poorly constructed shed had collapsed in a rainstorm. He noted that due to our neighbor’s haste to build his house, he hadn’t used mortar to secure the walls. “Only a fool would build a wall of bricks without mortar” said Mutshima, before we all pitched in and helped rebuild the shed.
Just before we left Tshimana to go teach at the seminary at Ndesha, I heard Elder Mutshima use bricks and mortar in a sermon when he called the church to both talk to their neighbors about God’s love in Jesus Christ and pray and act for justice in a country dominated by the then-richest dictator in the world, President Mobutu Sese Seko whose personal fortune was, ironically, the equivalent of the national debt. Christian discipleship required both, said Mutshima, “…like bricks and mortar.”
Over the years, though advocacy for justice was not a part of my church upbringing, I watched as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) responded to the urgent requests of our Congolese and other church partners by denouncing in our General Assembly the human rights violations of the Mobutu regime, the apartheid South African government, and, more recently, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
I’ve kept the “bricks and mortar” image in my heart over the years as I watch some congregations in our denomination struggle with an emphasis on either evangelism or justice. For Mutshima, Christian discipleship required both. This has helped me better understand many of our global partner churches who seem able to speak of personal evangelism and advocacy in the same breath:
- The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s current top two priorities are doubling the number of church members by 2020 AND “standing in solidarity with landless farmers” – the poorest of the poor in a nation where the gap between rich and poor has increased significantly in recent years;
- The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, founded by missionaries from our denomination in 1847, has adopted an intentional program of church planting and context-appropriate evangelism, even as its members and leaders speak out on issues of religious freedom and government corruption;
- The Presbyterian Church of Colombia is working to grow its membership even as it advocates powerfully for peace and justice in that land, characterized by violent conflict since the 1950’s.
From what we’re learning from our partners around the world, I have to agree with Elder Mutshima—we’d be foolish to try to build God’s Realm without the bricks of sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ with neighbors near and far and the mortar of working for right relationships—God’s justice—wherever we are. In Presbyterian World Mission, we’re working to do both by working to reduce poverty, strengthen evangelism efforts and promote reconciliation.
Won’t you join us?
Mission Matters Archives
October 2014 - Binding Threads
July 2014 - Abound in Hope: the 221st General Assembly (2014)
May 2014 - Training Leaders for Community Transformation
April 2014 - Ending Violence against Women and Children
March 2014 - 3 Critical Global Issues—#1: Quality education for 1 million children by 2020
February 2014 - CEDEPCA: Caring for God's Creation
January 2014 - Young Adult Volunteers: New YAV Sites Opening
December 2013 - We are truly better together
November 2013 - South Sudanese: Displaced by violence
October 2013 - Haiti: the Presbyterian Church is here to stay