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Caring for Caregivers

A letter from Dennis Smith serving as Regional Liaison for South America, based in Argentina

May 2017


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“Sometimes our pastors just run out of steam. There comes a point in their ministry when they have nothing left to give.” This was part of a conversation I had last year with Wertson Brasil de Souza, a ruling elder and the moderator of the United Presbyterian Church of Brasil (IPU).

“During my time as moderator, I’ve heard too many of our pastors say that, while their seminary training prepared them well in Bible, theology, and preaching, they never really learned how to care for themselves and their families. The result? Too many of our pastors suffer burnout or stress-related illness. We discussed this problem in our Coordinating Council and decided to organize a workshop of Caring for Caregivers,” said Wertson.

As Wertson spoke, I thought about the IPU pastors I know. I could count on one hand the number of pastors who receive a full-time salary. Because churches are small and located in impoverished communities, most of the pastors only receive a part-time stipend. That means they must have another profession and hold down an additional job, many of them as teachers or professors. Many also are responsible for more than one congregation. One positive result is that elders in these churches often take an active role in visiting the sick, preaching, teaching, and other pastoral tasks. But the truth is that their sense of pastoral vocation leads most of these men and women to stretch themselves well beyond their limits.

In late March, 23 IPU pastors—4 women and 19 men—gathered in Campinas for this event. Because of your faithful support, Presbyterian World Mission could provide a small grant to the IPU that helped make this workshop possible.

Silent meditation begins the day.

Each day began with a time of silent meditation on the beautiful grounds of the Lar Luterano Belém, a local Lutheran retreat center. The activities focused on the importance of building true and lasting friendships, learning how to support one another as pastors by building healthy and accountable networks, maintaining a personal devotional life, living a healthy lifestyle, and taking time to read and to participate in continuing education. The leadership team used training materials provided by Rev. Dr. José Pezini and local staff of The Outreach Foundation, a US mission group that relates to many Presbyterian denominations, including the PC(USA).

Gordon and Dorothy Gartrell are PC(USA) mission co-workers assigned to the IPU to help strengthen small and struggling churches. They enjoyed the workshop’s focus on setting aside time for personal spiritual growth, study, and family.

Evaluating the workshop, one pastor observed: “Thinking back on my graduating class from seminary, many of them are no longer in the pastorate. We received excellent academic training in seminary, but nothing prepared us for the loneliness of ministry. At my first church, where I pastored for six years, I developed only one friendship. The truth is, my colleagues in my presbytery are mostly just colleagues, not friends.”

IPU pastors memorialize the event with a selfie!

Another recalled: “We are a small church and don’t have the resources for a full-time mentoring program. But with what we learned here, we can begin to mentor one another. We need to do this again on a regular basis!”

When Can We Visit You?
Our next interpretation assignment is just around the corner. From October 2017 through January 2018, Maribel and I will be in the US, available to visit your church and share with you how God is at work in South America.

You have been such a vital part of our ministry for so long, and we are deeply grateful for any opportunity to visit you, thank you in person, and share with you this great blessing of service in God’s mission.

We’re happy to share a sermon or a Minute for Mission in Sunday worship, participate in your Christian Education program, share at a church dinner, talk at a local seminary or college class about current trends in Latin America—whatever opportunity there might be to share, we’d love to do so!

We’ll be based at the Furlough Home on the grounds of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, although we’ll be spending the holidays with my parents in Oregon. That means we’d also be available to visit you in the Pacific Northwest.

We’d need help with travel and a place to stay, although Presbyterian World Mission can provide some small grants to help pay for travel to small churches. Let’s talk! I’m sure we can work things out!

I’d love to fill up our calendar soon, so drop me a line at dennis.smith@pcusa.org, and we can find a way to make this work! You can also look for me on Facebook, on Skype at densmithfam, or on WhatsApp at +1-541-380-1042.

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If you’re in Buenos Aires, be sure to give us a call! Today we shared lunch with an Episcopal couple from Seattle. Their neighbor, it turns out, is a Presbyterian. When the neighbor learned that these folks were traveling to Argentina, she thought to check our PC(USA) Mission Connections webpage.

Thanks to this neighbor’s thoughtfulness, we were able to make new friends and learn a bit about how God is working in another corner of the world.

Thank you for your generous support for our ministry. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for you frequent expressions of friendship. God is good! And we are grateful to be your partners in God’s mission.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis & Maribel Smith


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