Transcending Divides, Couple Make Relationships a Priority with Their Mission Support
Although Bonnie Clarke’s Spanish was rusty on her first trip to Guatemala, she quickly began to experience the people in ways that transcended verbal communication.
“I remember the first Guatemalan worship service our delegation attended,” she says. “It was a rustic, profoundly community-centered experience in which we immediately felt like family before a very near God.”
Bonnie and her husband, Bill, first visited Guatemala in 2000 as part of a Baltimore Presbytery mission partnership. Bonnie, the only person in the group with a significant knowledge of Spanish, served as translator. The couple’s rapport with Guatemalan Presbyterians developed rapidly.
More than two dozen trips later, the Clarkes have expanded their relationships with Guatemalans, grown in their understanding of mission, and discovered the importance of regular mission support. Yet they acknowledge they and others in their presbytery encountered a learning curve.
“We started with the old model of sending money and doing ‘for,’ rather than ‘with,’” Bill says. “As our partnership evolved, it was clear our relationship had to become one of equals and empowerment, but that is difficult for empowered North Americans to embrace.”
Strong partner organizations and mission co-workers offered guidance so the partnerships could advance. Recognizing the valuable role of mission co-workers in partnerships, the Clarkes decided to make financial gifts to mission co-workers’ ministries. Mission co-workers’ model of servant leadership imitates Jesus’ ministry, Bonnie says. Jesus, she explains, related to people “by affirming their presence and worth, drawing out their capabilities and accepting their experience of God.”
The Clarkes devote considerable time and resources to Presbyterian mission and other philanthropic activities in the United States and abroad. Before retirement, Bill was a commodities trader, and Bonnie was a teacher. She also served their congregation, Ashland Presbyterian in Hunt Valley, Maryland, as a Christian educator.
Internationally, the Clarkes often work through faith-based groups. “Community and human development assisted by faith partners give a true advantage in helping people help themselves. The human trust and equality established are augmented by the power of God to transform people’s lives,” Bill says.
The Clarkes support the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA), a longtime World Mission partner that has a partnership with Baltimore Presbytery. “CEDEPCA’s work embraces a biblical message of transformation and renewal that reaches the hearts of people whose faith was formed by colonial theology seeking control rather than liberation,” Bonnie emphasizes. “Now, women and men learn to read the Bible contextually, practice compassionate pastoral care and become faithful church and community leaders.”
Over the years, the Clarkes have gained satisfaction from seeing people reclaim their lives and from fostering relationships that cross traditional divides. Bill says, “Making relationships with people you would not expect to be in relationship with illustrates so wonderfully the concept that we are all interdependent and equal in God’s eyes.”
Pat Cole, Communications Specialist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
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PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Dear God, thank you for raising up prophets in our midst to bring us good news. Accompany them in their journeys and strengthen their ministries. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.