A letter from Elisabeth Cook in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from Costa Rica
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Dear friends and partners in mission:
“What can World Mission do that other mission agencies cannot do?” This was the question Hunter Farrell, Director of Presbyterian World Mission (PWM), shared with mission personnel as he prepared to participate in a task force convened by General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada. The task force gathered to discuss the critical funding issues faced by PWM that have led to the reduction of mission personnel this year and, unless things change, will require further reductions in 2016. (For more information see https://www.pcusa.org/news/2015/4/15/presbyterian-world-mission-faces-potential-funding/).
Hunter’s question goes to the heart of the issue. Why should the PC(USA) be involved in mission? Is this a necessary or important part of our role as part of the body of Christ? There are so many problems in our very own backyards, why should we continue to do mission around the world?
As I reflect on these questions, my mind and heart are full of the faces, conversations, and experiences that have filled these months as I have been in the United States on Interpretation Assignment. The opportunity to share with many of you, to hear your stories, to share mine and those of students and staff at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana (UBL) has been a privilege and a blessing. I give thanks to those who opened their homes, pulpits, adult education classes, and shared their tables and hearts with me, and through me with UBL students, faculty and staff.
During these many visits back and forth across the country I have realized once again how many things unite the PC(USA) with our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean. Poverty, homelessness, violence against women and children, racial and gender discrimination, unemployment, tremendous social inequality, climate change: all these things and more unite us and challenge us to work for a world of justice and dignity for all of God’s creation. But we are also united in our joint call to mission, to celebration, worship, service and discipleship. We are jointly encouraged by God’s working in the world and the signs of hope and life we see around us. I have been touched and greatly challenged by the commitment and engagement of so many congregations and individuals who are working to make a difference in their communities and around the world.
The concerns and challenges we share suggest to me that our connections with each other, across borders and boundaries, are increasingly important. The “Third World” is no longer restricted to the global South; it is among us. And the “First World” is present in Latin America as well, where structures of inequality deepen and widen. The logic of consumption, profit, individualism, and exploitation that governs much of our world today is not restrained by borders, languages or cultures. The challenges it presents require a joint ministry in favour of our common humanity, in response to Christ’s call to abundant life.
Growing up in Latin America as the child of missionaries, I came into contact with many missionaries from various denominations. I was not Presbyterian at that time, but I remember being impressed by “Presbyterian missionaries.” They were the ones marching in protest of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War and against Central American military dictatorships. They spoke out prophetically against injustice and violence and accompanied the poor and repressed. In short, I saw human beings walking together with other human beings, in solidarity and partnership. And they were in it for the long haul.
My 25 years of service with the PC(USA) have meant, for me, the opportunity to act out the partnership between the PC(USA) and UBL, to serve our church as a part of God’s call to mission at home and throughout the world. Just as we are a connectional church, so our worlds are connected. Indeed, they collide. What happens in Latin America and around the world affects lives here in the United States, and vice versa. Drug and human trafficking, gang violence, global warming, and forced migration are not issues that can be addressed by or in one country, one continent. Globalization is not just about free-market economics or technology. The health of our communities and the future of our children is, in fact, a global issue. This is one way, today, of understanding Jesus’s call to be witnesses “in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1.8).
Thanks to the Internet, I continue to be present at UBL even as I continue my Interpretation Assignment. I was thrilled by the news yesterday that our proposal for the online Bachelor’s in Theological Studies is ready to present to the Ministry of Education for approval. This concludes a two-year process of planning, preparation, training and hard work. We continue to move forward on three new master’s programs, including one in Religion, Gender, and Diversity.
This year we were blessed to have students from 19 countries and over 13 denominations, including Catholic. Next week nine students will graduate, many of them after long years of study interspersed with work, church and family responsibilities: from Perú, Juver Rimari and Macoy Torres; from Costa Rica, Adela Artavia and Rosa Maria López; from Colombia, Aníbal Cañaveral and Viviana Machuca; from Chile, Albertina Quilamán; and from Bolivia, Edgar Mayta. I will miss not being able to celebrate with them, but I look forward to many future graduations and to hearing from them as they continue their ministries in their own countries. I return to Costa Rica December 15, after teaching a course in Nashville in UBL’s program with Hispanic Methodist pastors in the United States.
Thank you for your prayers and giving. Thank you for walking with me in this ministry that is our ministry. I am grateful for the individuals and congregations that have continued their support of my work this year, and those who contributed for the first time in these past months. My position, as that of many of my colleagues, is not yet fully funded. I encourage those who are considering support of mission co-workers to prayerfully consider your contributions for this and the coming year.
As we draw near to the Advent season, may the God who made God’s self present in Jesus Christ among the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, and in whose birth, death and resurrection we have been granted life, give us hope and strength to continue the journey.
Peace and grace,
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66, 67
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