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“While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” —Luke 24:51

Mission Matters

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.



April 2016

The Gift of the Elder

I felt a hand on my shoulder shortly after the closing hymn and turned to see his smiling face. It was like he had read my mind because he said this: “I know you’re frustrated with the American church. You should experience the church’s work in Africa.” Those words opened up a door that I had never considered before, and, within nine months, I was working as a volunteer-in-mission (the predecessor to today’s Young Adult Volunteers program), an experience that led me to work for a world of justice and peace through the Presbyterian Church.

It’s amazing how a community’s elders can open the door for the next generation’s participation in God’s mission. Margaret Flory worked on the national staff of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. for 36 years. She had an innate sense of her responsibility to connect young adults with mission. In 1953, she founded the Presbyterian Church’s “Junior Year Abroad” program that sent more than 1,000 Presbyterian college students overseas for study—decades before U.S. higher education would recognize the importance of connecting students with the world. Margaret was a leader in the Student Volunteer Movement and chaired the planning for that movement’s quadrennial conference in 1959, which brought thousands of young adults from 97 countries around the world together around mission—including a young black student from the U.S. named Martin Luther King Jr. Can you imagine the impact that conference had on King, who would later become the religious leader who most effectively challenged U.S. political leaders with the teachings of Jesus?

Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian and poet, wrote of her, “Margaret Flory is one of the most outstanding leaders of the ecumenical movement of the 20th century because ‘her eyes had the power to see trees when they were only seeds.’” Margaret understood the power of elders to connect the next generation with God’s mission.

Helping others develop a heart for mission is the call of Don Dawson, who leads the annual New Wilmington Mission Conference and the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Don was raised in western Pennsylvania, an area steeped in global mission tradition of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, a predecessor of the PC(USA) and a church that distinguished itself as having the highest per capita mission giving among U.S. denominations. He was pastoring in 2000, when he was called to lead these two institutions. Over the years, his creative leadership has open the door for thousands of young adults to take up the challenge of engaging in God’s mission. 

The annual New Wilmington Mission Conference connects hundreds of children, teens and young adults with global church leaders, missionaries and leaders in missional theory. The World Mission Initiative takes Pittsburgh Seminary students to the frontiers of global mission and helps them translate mission experience into seeing the church primarily as a mission society 

Margaret and Don both dared “to see trees where there were only seeds,” recognizing in each college student, young adult, child and seminary intern both God-given potential and God’s call to change the world.

The amazing truth is that you and I can open a door to a young adult in ways that can change their life. By offering to accompany your congregation’s youth group on a mission trip or advocating for them to share their experience with the congregation after the trip, you can open the door and welcome them into the world of servant leadership, heightened cross-cultural sensitivity, and faithfulness to God’s eternal call. Simply by challenging a young adult in your congregation to participate in the Young Adult Volunteer program, you can help them see themselves in a new light that changes the trajectory of their career and life. 

I know this because an elder of my home congregation cared enough to challenge me. And the resulting yearlong experience of mission with the Presbyterian church in the Congo, for me, has made all the difference in the world.


Mission Matters Archives


March 2016—The First Step Toward Unity
February 2016—Why choose mission in partnership?
January 2016—A lesson from the vicuña: God's mission takes 'every hand'

To view entries from 2015, click here



  • I remember Margaret Flory well - I was part of the Junior Year Abroad and attended Universite de Geneve in Switzerland many years ago! It was a year I will always treasure. I also agree that Don Dawson is a mighty force in the faith today. NWMC is another important part of the lives of so many - a very valuable experience. Thank you , Hunter for all you do and write! by Cindy McKnight Reed on 04/26/2016 at 8:12 p.m.

  • Hunter, Thank you for a lesson that can be applied in so many ways around the world. I intend to use this approach with the kids on Sunday as we dedicate our "fish" for OGH...showing what we can do if we reach out and, not only touch, but work with our neighbors whomever and wherever they are. by Mary Lynn Walters on 03/16/2016 at 9:47 p.m.

  • The church I serve is a diversity of beliefs, who try to live together and love each other despite the varying views on so many divisive issues. Your article brought tears to my eyes. We are so wrapped up in these issues. And though it's important for us to be informed, we also need to hear and understand what's happening with our Christian brothers and sisters in our global community. Thank you so much. The people of New Jerusalem Church modeled for me what community is about in God's Kingdom. by Sandy Bach on 03/16/2016 at 10:44 a.m.

  • thank you, Hunter, for a moving story that certainly applies to our PCUSA denomination, congregations, and members. It is the word we need to hear especially as Holy Week draws near...Blessings always...Jack Carlson by John V. Carlson on 03/16/2016 at 9:45 a.m.

  • Hunter, Thanks! This is a great image and story! Mark Englund-Krieger Presbytery of Carlisle by Mark Englund-Krieger on 01/20/2016 at 9:48 a.m.

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