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God’s Vibrant Mission in Central America

A Letter from Tracey King-Ortega, serving as regional liaison for Central America, based in Nicaragua, currently in the U.S.

June 2019

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Due to ongoing political crisis and social tensions in Nicaragua and prioritizing our children’s well-being, I have spent the last year based in the United States. Interactions with churches here in the U.S. have provided me many opportunities to give a broad overview of what all my work as regional liaison for Central America entails. My ministry involves connecting to and supporting programs of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner churches and organizations in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I also work with mission personnel in the region by communicating regularly with them, offering them counsel and encouragement, and helping them reflect on and assess their ministries. The third facet of my work is with PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries in the United States involved in partnerships in Central America.

Those are the broad strokes, but what does that look like on the ground? As it turns out, it is different in each place.

The PC(USA)’s partner church in Honduras is the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. It is a small but rapidly growing denomination primarily present in rural, impoverished communities. Their depth of faith in Jesus Christ and eagerness to learn and grow in the Spirit have led them to more than double the number of congregations in the past decade. The thrust of my interactions with Honduran church leadership has focused on helping to facilitate a discernment process to identify key ways we can participate in God’s mission together. That has led to a comprehensive theological education program for church leadership as well as the placement of Rev. Dori Hjalmarson as our mission co-worker to help accompany the church in these areas. Dori has done an incredible job in this past year of mission service at building relationships, getting to know our partners and their challenges, encouraging emerging leadership and in general walking alongside them as their sister in faith. Presbyteries and congregations of the PC(USA) that have committed to mission partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras can attest to how encountering the faithful testimony of our Honduran brothers and sisters sparks our own spiritual growth.

In El Salvador, we are partnered with the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador (IRCES). Though small in number, they are big in vision and commitment to the gospel. Grounded in their reformed identity, they are always taking the time to analyze and discern their call based on the context in which they serve. I am excited about where our work with IRCES is leading. A recent Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) grant has transformed part of the church offices into a transitional shelter for returned and deported migrants. World Mission hopes to soon call a mission co-worker to work in partnership with IRCES and other churches in the Northern Triangle of Central America and Mexico to develop a Meso-American refugee and immigration advocacy network. I am also working closely with the church there on the design of a training and empowerment program to form young adult leaders to be peacebuilders in their communities. We will launch the program later this year in El Salvador.

The PC(USA)’s mission partners in Nicaragua are the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua (CEPAD) and the Inter-Church Center for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS). Both organizations are committed to working on the empowerment and transformation of economically impoverished communities. Over the past twenty years, I have worked closely with CEPAD in their International Partnership and Solidarity program, helping to facilitate long-term relationships between Nicaraguan communities and U.S. churches and presbyteries. These partnerships face challenges that include different languages, long distances and distinct cultures. Despite those challenges, they are committed to focusing on the things that unite: deep and growing friendships, a love of Jesus Christ and a commitment to alleviating the causes and effects of poverty in communities throughout the world. In January of this year, Jhan and Ian Vellenga, our newest mission co-workers in the region, arrived in Nicaragua to serve with CEPAD in this important ministry.

Since April of last year, Nicaragua has been in the midst of heartbreaking political unrest. Having called Nicaragua home for the past twenty years, this situation is very personal to me. Assessing needs created by the crisis, CIEETS has responded with humanitarian aid in several communities of Carazo and Ciudad Sandino. Already present in these communities, CIEETS is able to identify families who have been directly impacted by job loss and increased food prices and is providing basic grains and other essential foods. In the current context, an overwhelming, but often overlooked need is that of pastoral accompaniment and trauma-healing. Presbyterian World Mission has provided funds to CIEETS that are allowing them to facilitate workshops to create spaces for this much needed healing and transformation.

In Costa Rica, we are privileged to partner with the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). UBL students come from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The university’s residential and distance programs in biblical studies and theology prepare church and community leaders to serve the church and to be agents of transformation in their communities and countries. The PC(USA) has long-term mission co-worker Karla Koll serving with them as a professor of church history and mission, though in reality she does much more than just teach. Soon we will be placing a couple there to work in the promotion of environmental sustainability, education and community organizing as a tangible expression of how we can care for God’s creation.

Also in Costa Rica is our partner church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Costa Rica (IEPC). The IEPC supports theological education for its leaders and pastors, youth ministry, and women’s ministry, as well as promoting international partnerships with churches from the United States. Among some of their innovative outreach ministries, they have a strong feeding program for disadvantaged children that receives significant support from the two cents a meal program within the Presbytery of Lake Huron.

There is a lot going on in this part of the world, and the truth is, this overview barely scratches the surface. I am so blessed to be able to serve with these amazing partners and am grateful for the support, both financial and spiritual, that allows me to do so.

Blessings and peace,

Tracey


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