A Letter from Paula Cooper, serving as Regional Liaison in East Central Africa, based in Zambia
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Me, a woman afraid to fly, facing my fear by taking my first flight at the age of 40 to Louisville, KY, to attend my first General Assembly. As I boarded the plane, I remember promising myself that I was going to read my Bible the entire flight. As we began to take off, the woman I was traveling with looked over and saw me reading my Bible. Then, she gently placed her hand on top of mine. After a while, the pilot announced that we had reached 37,000 feet. I looked at my friend and said, “Well at this point, if we fall out of the sky, I’d probably only have enough time to get an ‘Amen’ in!” We laughed. My feelings of fear ceased!
I know it was the Scriptures that I read that gave me such a peace. Philippines 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Me, at the age of 50, putting away all my fears of starting another career, going off to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary to undertake a path that God had called me on so many times before — but I had been afraid!
My work in the urban community of Logan within Philadelphia, where my home church — Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Presbyterian Church — serves, was comprised of listening to the stakeholders of the community voice their concerns, issues and needs. The two ministries I worked with, Youth Project and Equal Partners in Change, both hosted by my church, planned activities and events to build the community’s capacity for healthy change. While I was engaged in God’s work in Logan, God was transforming my life, and I then began to listen to God’s call.
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a mission-minded seminary! However, mission work wasn’t new to me because I knew in my heart that my mission work had actually begun in the Logan community of Philadelphia.
As a child, I used to lie in bed at night and dream of visiting the Motherland — Africa — and the Holy Land — Israel. Since I was afraid to fly, I couldn’t imagine actually getting there. During my second semester at the seminary, in my Old Testament class our professor announced a trip to Israel. He would be taking students to the Zeitah Excavation, an archeological site in Jerusalem. Here it was, the chance of a lifetime, but I couldn’t imagine actually going. I kept putting it off until one day I just happened to say out loud, “I can’t go there over the summer; I have to take my Hebrew course this summer.” A classmate sitting next to me asked, “Why can’t you just take the class next summer?” Duh!
As soon as I showed some interest in wanting to go and completed the scholarship application, my professor told me that he didn’t think there was any scholarship money available. I remember telling him respectfully, “You just submit the application, and let God do the rest!” I was awarded a scholarship through the seminary and was also able to obtain a scholarship from my home church, Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Church.
As if God and time were working together on my behalf, during that same semester, the Metro Urban Institute of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and my Urban Ministry professor were completing plans for four students to accompany him and several other theological professionals to Zambia, Africa, to attend an HIV/Aids conference. Another chance of a lifetime!
During that summer, I flew to Israel — the Holy Land — and worked on the Zeitah Excavation site for six weeks. I also flew to Africa — the Motherland — for 14 days.
My childhood dreams accomplished and my fear of flying conquered, I was called by God to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City as their Phillip Talbot Global Mission Fellow to serve this past year in Zambia, Africa, at Theological Education by Extension in Zambia. There I had the opportunity to train Christian leaders, teachers, and pastors in facilitation of basic Christian education and theological courses. Day by day, I saw in their faces growing confidence in their skills — I too was feeling a deepened confidence in the ministry of training leaders for community transformation.
This past August, I was called by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to serve alongside church partners in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia as their regional liaison for East Central Africa. As you have guessed, I’ll be flying to these countries to work alongside and support our partner churches and organizations, our mission co-workers and our Young Adult Volunteers. My experience in training with the Theological Education by Extension in Zambia will come in handy as I come alongside our partner churches and our mission co-workers in each of these four countries to build up the ministry of training leaders for community transformation.
Life is full of risks, fears and stuff we just can’t control. However, we cannot allow those things to hold us back from what God may be calling us to do! I believe I am experiencing another God-incident. My first flight experience was to Louisville, KY, for the 208th General Assembly. The latest flight experience brought me back to Louisville to the General Assembly headquarters to attend my orientation and preparation for this next ministry.
I invite you to join me on this next flight with God as our pilot. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I thank you for your interest in God’s mission in Africa, and I invite you to purchase your ticket and fly with God and with me, as God uses us, our global partners, mission co-workers, and Young Adult Volunteers as instruments of transformation in these countries! Whether you’re afraid to fly or not, you can give God your fears and trust God. I did, and look what God has done in my life! Fly with us through prayers for me as I get started, for our mission co-workers and Young Adult Volunteers in the region, and especially for our global church partners. Fly with us through financial contributions to this ministry, and through subscribing to my quarterly Mission Connections letters. Stay in touch! Join us when we plan Bible studies. Or, write to me and share some of your spiritual disciplines.
Just imagine how our work together will contribute to a collective transformation for all of us on this flight.
In Christ’s love,
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Tags: fear, Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, israel, Logan, philadelphia, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Theological Education by Extension in Zambia, zambia, Zeitah Excavation
Tags: Paula Cooper
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