Mission At Risk

A letter from Dennis Smith serving in Argentina

June 16, 2015

Write to Dennis Smith
Write to Maribel Smith

Individuals: Give online to E200481 for Dennis and Maribel Smith’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D503801 for Dennis and Maribel Smith’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Dear friends:

Presbyterian mission presence in the world is at risk.

Because of financial constraints, Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) has had to recall mission personnel for the first time in decades.  If we are not able to turn the financial picture around, by 2017 we will have to recall about a quarter of our 160+ mission workers.

One hundred seventy-eight (178) years ago the Presbyterian Church began to reach out in mission service to the whole world.  In those years we have been learning that no matter where we go in this world God is already present, redeeming, reconciling, calling all to wholeness and to service.

Corydon Presbyterian Church presented Maribel with this bouquet and cake to celebrate her naturalization as a U.S. citizen

Corydon Presbyterian Church presented Maribel with this bouquet and cake to celebrate her naturalization as a U.S. citizen

Mission has changed over the years.  Dozens of national churches the PC(USA) helped to plant throughout the world are now preaching and teaching, healing, and challenging injustice in Christ’s name.  There are fewer long-term mission workers than there used to be, and thousands of local congregations in the U.S. now focus less on supporting PC(USA) mission workers as they venture forth in their own mission endeavors, both at home and abroad.

In this changing scenario Presbyterian mission workers continue to be bridge-builders and truth-tellers, healers and teachers, witnesses to how and where God is present all over the world.

As we have served in mission together with sisters and brothers from many lands living in diverse circumstances, we have learned that mission is a two-way street.  We, who have gone to nurture, have been nurtured.  We, who have gone to heal, have been healed. We, who have captured the vision of Jesus, have been challenged by the profound faith of sisters and brothers—far and near—whose lives are very different from our own.

Together we are witnesses to God’s grace. Our neighbors near and far come to know Jesus through us and we come to know Jesus through them.  Without them our experience of Jesus is incomplete.

For the last four years I have served as PWM Regional Liaison for Brazil and the Southern Cone.  One of the joys of this position has been to accompany eight Presbyterian mission workers assigned to our mission partners.  Our partners have invited these mission workers and designated them to perform tasks including theological education throughout the region and, in Brazil, training in Christian Education, distance learning for church leaders, training and pastoral accompaniment of local mission workers, and redeveloping small congregations.

Due to the current financial crisis, three of those mission workers have been recalled: Rev. Dr. Katie Griffin, serving here in Argentina, and Rev. Thelma and Farris Goodrum, serving in Brazil.  All were serving in theological education and all are skilled veterans whose work was deeply valued by our mission partners.  All will have until the end of the year to make plans for the future.  Please pray for them and their families as they face tough choices.

Please also pray for me as Regional Liaison.  At year’s end the only countries in my region where we will have mission workers will be Brazil and Argentina.  Part of my job is to strengthen our historic partnerships in Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay, where we currently have no mission personnel.

There was a time when a significant portion of the average dollar placed in a Presbyterian offering plate went to fund the sending and support of mission workers.  That is no longer the case.  Today less than half a cent of every dollar given goes to Basic Mission Support, the common fund used historically to send and support mission workers.

Presbyterians are generous givers. In 2003 our 2,405,311 members contributed an average of $1,215 each—$2.9 billion in all—to their congregations. By 2013, although we had only 1,760,200 members, the average gift had increased to $1,534, bringing total contributions to $2.7 billion.

Nonetheless, in 2003 only a small fraction of these generous gifts—$20,524,811 or 0.7 percent—went for Basic Mission Support. By 2013, Basic Mission Support derived from local giving had declined to $10,782,796, or 0.4 percent. Thus, for each dollar contributed locally, less than half of a cent funded Basic Mission Support.

As Presbyterians we rely on three sources to fund the sending and support of our mission workers:  Basic Mission Support, investment income, and designated support from local congregations.  Investment income for supporting Presbyterian World Mission is almost exhausted.  That is why PWM needs local congregations and individual Presbyterians to supplement that half a cent per dollar received from the local offering plate by designating additional financial support for mission workers.

The good news is that more local churches are building personal relationships with mission workers and designating support for their ministry. In 2014, 1,436 congregations designated $4,804,660 for the sending and support of mission workers.  One hundred twenty-three (123) of those congregations had not given to World Mission previously. The bad news is that individual gifts have fallen. For 2016 Presbyterian World Mission is facing a shortfall of more than $900,000—a shortfall that, when combined with decreases in available investment income and Basic Mission Support, could lead to the recall of a quarter of our mission workers by 2017. At this time of crisis, please prayerfully consider supporting us and our colleagues throughout the world with your prayers and financial gifts.

During our recent time in the U.S. we spent wonderful hours at dozens of local churches and in the homes of church leaders sharing stories of how God is at work in our world.  Without exception, we found Presbyterians eager to be part of the world that God is bringing into being.  On our last Sunday in Louisville before returning to Argentina a company of believers from the church we attended gathered around and laid their hands on us, commissioning us for another term of service.  This spontaneous gesture, one of many moments shared with so many of you all over the country, undergirds our sense of call.  Thank you!

Important dates:

  • On April 23 Maribel was naturalized as a U.S. citizen!  We’re thankful for this new step and for the amazing flag cake prepared for her by friends at Corydon Presbyterian Church.  The stars were made of homegrown blueberries and the stripes of raspberries.  Amazing!
  • On June 3 we arrived back in Buenos Aires to begin another term of service.  We’re grateful to be back in familiar surroundings, renewing acquaintances with friends and church partners.  (And joining the local gym to deal with those extra pounds put on by indulging in so many Presbyterian potlucks!)
  • July 8-12 I’ll be representing Presbyterian World Mission at the General Assembly of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Brazil (IPIB).  Please pray for wisdom and discernment as we continue our long partnership with this valued mission partner.

Under the Mercy,
Dennis A. Smith

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 44

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