A letter from Tracey King-Ortega serving in Nicaragua
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Years back, when opening a bank account here in Nicaragua there was a lot of paperwork involved. When asked who my employer was, I proudly said, “la Iglesia Presbiteriana.” But when I looked down at the form she was filling out, I noticed that she identified me as “Traspiteriana.” Huh? That’s a new twist on our name. “Traspiterian” definitely has an interesting ring to it. For the bank’s purposes I knew it wouldn’t make a difference, so I let it go, but it did get me reflecting on how foreign I am to this place and how saying that I am a “misionera presbiteriana” can be easily misinterpreted, both in sound and purpose.
To be honest, referring to myself as a “missionary” kind of makes me cringe. I feel there is so much baggage that comes with the term, both historical as well as in the kind of expectations that it places on someone as to how they are to be and act. I much prefer “mission co-worker,” which connotes that we are working together with our partners around the world in God’s mission. However, “mission co-worker” doesn’t translate so well into Spanish, so I’ve come to except the “misionera” label in a foreign language.
Presbyterian, on the other hand, does not bring preconceived images to mind as to who or what I am. It provides an opportunity to talk about a denomination I am proud of and how we seek to engage in God’s mission in faithful and effective ways. I use such opportunities to talk about doing mission in partnership. Even where we have partner Presbyterian churches, like in Honduras, we find that our Central American colleagues sometimes struggle to understand what “Presbyterian” means and how they can develop a Reformed identity that can shape the way they live out being church.
As Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) mission co-workers, one of the critical global initiatives we embrace is evangelism. The word “evangelism” can be off-putting to some and central to the faith of others. The way I see us “doing” evangelism is through the important task of “strengthening the capacity of the PC(USA) and its global partners to witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ.” Real leadership development is key to strengthening the local church and its capacity to serve and grow in healthy and faithful ways. PWM’s evangelism campaign, “Training Leaders for Community Transformation,” says that “one of the most effective ways to grow the Church around the globe is to train local leaders to address the specific challenges they face in their own community, whether hunger, a natural disaster, injustice or the persecution of the Christian community. Our global partners have challenged U.S. Presbyterians to help equip their leaders to become agents of transformation—not with imported, ‘cookie cutter’ solutions, but with training that enables leaders to reflect theologically and to lead their community towards local solutions.”
Assistance in leadership development and community transformation is a common request we receive from mission partners around the world. Over the years that we have been walking with the Presbyterian Church in Honduras, they have repeatedly requested help with theological education. They say they want to understand what it means to be Reformed and share with us a long list of concerns that is similar to the table of contents of our Book of Order. We want to respond helpfully to their request, but we don’t want to impose on them the PC(USA)’s understanding of Reformed faith. We want them to understand that being reformed means always learning and reforming. It would be wrong for us to just teach them a way of being church rooted in the U.S. context, one very different from theirs. If we are going to take seriously the challenge of leadership formation in Honduras, we want to walk with them as they wrestle with scripture and define their Reformed identity for themselves. And in the beauty of doing mission in partnership, we may learn a thing or two while we are at it as well. Mutual learning and growth is our goal.
In response to this request from our Honduran partners, this past May we organized a workshop to explore with them what theological education in the Reformed tradition might look like. PC(USA) mission co-worker Karla Koll and her colleague Nidia Fonseca, both faculty at our partner institution the Latin American Biblical University (UBL), designed the workshop to help a cross-section of Honduran Presbyterian leadership define their theological training needs by analyzing their local context. The workshop also allowed them to experience the participative teaching methodology of the UBL.
After just one introductory workshop, I’ve already observed shifts in perspective and understanding amongst church leaders in Honduras. In follow-up conversations with them, they talked to me about how impressed they were with how Bible-centered the learning was. They loved how interactive the methodology was. They are more accustomed to being given information to memorize instead of encouraged to wrestle with scripture and context. For the first time I heard them relating the gospel message to justice. One pastor had an “a-ha!” moment when he realized that caring for creation is a biblical mandate and not a “worldly” cause.
We are all extremely excited about the partnering potential between the UBL’s Instituto Biblico Pastoral, the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, and the PC(USA)’s Honduras Mission Network as we work together on theological education and leadership development. This is what Presbyterian mission looks like: growing together in our understanding of how God calls us to build the Kingdom. We are building church by learning how to be church. I also believe that our Reformed presence is, in small but significant ways, building democracy through our unique system of church government. In a place like Honduras, with extremely high levels of corruption, violence and lack of governability, it is a slow road to real change. As a Presbyterian missionary, I am proud of the small contribution we are making.
Thank you for the many prayers, words of encouragement and financial contributions that make it possible for me to do this work. We are better together and I am truly grateful and blessed. I look forward to seeing our accompaniment of theological education in Honduras grow into a thriving program that will bear countless fruit. Your continued prayers and financial support will be key to making that happen. ¡Muchas gracias!
Blessings and peace,
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