God’s Rhythms

A letter from Dennis Smith, regional liaison for Brazil and the Southern Cone, based in Argentina

April 2016

Write to Dennis Smith
Write to Maribel Smith

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

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

Dear friends:

Before us crept the cold, blue brilliance of Patagonia’s Perito Moreno glacier.  The glacier, one of 48 that make up the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, covers a mind-boggling 250 km. The face looming before us was 5 km. (3 mi.) wide and more than 80 meters tall.

Our family took a week’s vacation in Patagonia last December, and the visit to the Perito Moreno glacier was the crowning moment.

We stood and watched.  Gradually it sank in that this massive ice flow was indeed moving!  Every few minutes building-sized pieces of ice would calve off into the water. It was as if the glacier was, somehow, an ancient living organism.

On vacation at the Perito Moreno glacier

On vacation at the Perito Moreno glacier

Observing the glacier, it came to me that this colossus had its own rhythms. Its pace was almost imperceptible, yet the movement was there for all who took the time to see. It was an inexorable movement whose massive power, century after century, exceeded anything I had ever witnessed or imagined.

In 2017, God willing, I will complete 40 years of mission service.  One of the great blessings of devoting a lifetime in service to God’s mission is that you can stand back a bit and capture a sense of how God works over the long haul. God’s rhythms are not ours, of course, and in God’s time, 40 years is not even the blink of an eye.  But in human terms, 40 years is enough time to watch children become grandparents, to watch institutions grow or fade, to capture a sense of how God’s grace and justice flow through families, communities and nations.

This line of thought brought to mind this fragment from a prayer by Saint Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is beyond our vision.  Nothing we do is complete…
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.” ( https://educationforjustice.org/pdfs/ej/romero.pdf )

Javiera Contreras asks about theological education

Javiera Contreras asks about theological education

There are moments when as a mission worker you witness dramatic and rapid change.  An individual experiences a dramatic conversion or healing that brings well-being to a whole family, a community stands together and embraces the afflicted, a group of young women—until now excluded from pastoral ministry—bring new life and new vision to a struggling church. But most often change comes in fits and starts over the long haul.  So one of the great gifts of long-term mission service is to be able to check in with folks that you first met 5, 10 or 20 years ago and see how they have flourished. Just last week I was with a young woman we first met years ago as a young adult volunteer; now she is serving as a fellow Presbyterian mission worker.

The road is never easy, but God is faithful.

In January I participated in the Synod meeting of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Chile (IEPCh).  Presbyterian World Mission has had no mission workers in Chile for more than a decade, so it is especially important that I show up for these annual meetings to express with my presence how much we value these long-standing mission partners.

Five years ago I heard from our Chilean friends that they urgently needed to cultivate a new generation of pastoral leadership. On that trip I was surprised to find that Ivonne Ferreira and Gonzalo Berríos were still serving as full-time ministers.  I had first met Ivonne and Gonzalo in 1974 at the Presbyterian Seminary in Guatemala, where I was serving as a volunteer. Forty-two years later, now in their 70s, they continued to serve the church with passion and great competence.  A review of the pastoral rolls revealed that about half of the IEPCh’s ordained ministers are in their 60s or older, and many of the younger ministers are still scrambling to complete their theological studies.

Not only that, several years ago the IEPCh lost their historic tie with the Comunidad Teológica Evangélica (CTE), the inter-denominational seminary in Santiago that Presbyterian World Mission had helped to establish.  This January I witnessed the fruits of the prayers and hard work of the Chileans to address this problem. First, they have reconnected with the CTE and signed up a dozen new theology students.  The CTE is working with the Synod to design a special track in Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity.  Second, as I mentioned in a previous letter, the CTE has negotiated with the Catholic University of Valparaiso so that their students will receive degrees accredited by the Chilean Ministry of Education.

As I sat in on one session between the Rector of the CTE and IEPCh university-aged students, one young woman, Javiera Contreras, expressed her interest in the program.  Her mother and aunt are both IEPCh ministers and, as the three have traveled in the car together, said Javiera, she has always joined in the provocative conversations about Bible, theology and the pastoral needs of the community.  She may or may not become a minister, but if Javiera can get an accredited degree in a subject that interests her, why not transfer to the CTE and study theology?  A theologically literate laity will be of great benefit to the future of this church.

Cut to the chase? In January I learned that both the IEPCh and the CTE are in very different places than they were five years ago. God is faithful.

God is faithful.  So too, by God’s grace, are God’s people. Last year we reached out to you expressing an urgent need to increase your financial support for us and for all Presbyterian mission workers.  You responded generously and we are deeply grateful.  Your prayers, your regular correspondence, and your financial support make our continued mission service possible.  From now through April 30 your gifts for mission worker sending and support will be matched one-to-one, up to a total of $76,000.  The matching gift will go into the general sending and support fund, benefiting all mission workers. So if you usually send your support later in the year, or if you’d like to begin supporting our ministry this year, this would be a great time to do so!

Under the Mercy,
Dennis Smith

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