A letter from Sarah Henken serving as Regional Liaison for the Andean Region, based in Colombia
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Uno, dos, tres … cuarenta y cuatro … sesenta y cinco … ochenta y nueve.
Eighty-nine was the magic number, the total number of voting delegates sent by the synods from all over Peru. Eighty-nine votes should be cast per round, on paper ballots collected by ushers, counted out publicly to be sure the correct number were collected before tallying how many votes were cast for each candidate for the presidency of the Iglesia Evangélica Peruana (IEP). The painstaking process was carried out with great care and attention to detail—decently and in order.
The IEP is our newest ecumenical partner in the Andean region, but it is a historic denomination in Peru, the fruit of mission evangelists from Europe who came to Peru in the late 19th century. Since 2011 the IEP and the PC(USA) have chosen to connect in covenant partnership. We have invited representatives to each other’s General Assemblies. Youth from both churches have met for fellowship, prayer, and bunk-bed-building. Adults have connected to share resources and approaches for Christian education. Water purification systems have been installed. PC(USA) mission co-workers Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson are invested in the delicate, challenging, rewarding task of facilitating partnership between our churches. They organize, coordinate and translate for visiting delegations from the PC(USA), helping to ensure that these visits reflect the mutual mission priorities of the two denominations.
¡Mirad cuán bueno y cuán delicioso es
que habiten los hermanos juntos en armonía! —Salmo 133:1
Look at how good and pleasing it is
when families live together as one! —Psalm 133:1
“Partnership” is a key word, and if we’ve met in person recently, you may have heard me talk about its many possible translations in Spanish. The word socio often gets used for partners, but it has a pretty strong business connotation. Another option is to talk about our work together, or trabajo conjunto, but this puts the focus on doing more than on being. In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world we talk about compañerismo, a committed and engaged form of companionship. But in my region the most commonly used word for mission partnership is one I’ve come to love: hermanamiento.
I love this word for two reasons. First, because it’s based on the word hermano, sibling. Second, because its form, with the –miento suffix, gives a sense of process, activity, becoming. It can be defined as the action or effect of establishing a familial relationship, or bonds of friendship, to unite and join our lives together.
If our deepest identity is as children of God, then our relationship with one another is that of siblings. When we come to know one another through our common call in God’s mission, that relationship becomes real. It goes beyond a photograph and an invitation to pray for our sisters and brothers in another part of the world. It brings our particular gifts—and limitations—to the table, and opens a space for meaningful encounter. We are no longer strangers, siblings separated by circumstance, but instead we reach out and seek to know one another, support one another. This principle of hermanamiento lies at the heart of mission partnership.
We enter into mission partnership with visions of all the things that are beautiful about connecting with our sisters and brothers, but we know that sibling relationships aren’t always easy. We can disagree over things trivial and profound, offend one another unintentionally, try to dominate or have our way. When major differences or misunderstandings arise it can be difficult to be in the same room together. But even then our core identity remains. Both in times of struggle and times of harmonious shared living, hermanamiento invites us to intentional engagement with our identity; it is the process of being, in word and deed, sisters and brothers in Christ.
The PC(USA)’s hermanamiento with the Iglesia Evangélica Peruana has been a source of inspiration and hope for those who have personally engaged in spaces of encounter and shared ministry, but we represent two denominations with profound differences. We share roots in Scottish Presbyterianism, but we come from different currents of that larger stream. As good Reformed Christians, we affirm that we should be united in the essential tenets of the faith but allow for freedom in matters of secondary importance. The problem can arise in defining what, exactly, are the essentials.
When we establish mission partnerships we determine what our shared foundation is but agree not to interfere with one another’s internal debates and issues. With partners such as the IEP, for example, the PC(USA) is clear that we ordain women to the various offices of the church but do not insist that they should change their practices. This potential area of tension has been relatively easy to tolerate in recent years. Debates over human sexuality, however, can become a line in the sand.
So far the relationship between the PC(USA) and the IEP continues, keeping that issue and our General Assembly’s recent decisions on the sidelines and banished from our official interactions. It’s an uneasy peace, but I think it’s a faithful one. Being sisters and brothers doesn’t mean we will always think alike, or that we will like all the choices our siblings make. None of us can pretend to comprehend the wisdom of God. But by the grace of God we are the body of Christ together, seeking to glorify God in all we say and do.
Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).
In these days of tightening budgets and shifting dynamics of congregational mission involvement, I am proud to be part of a denomination with a deep history and unwavering commitment to continue to grow in hermanamiento with churches around the world. I help interpret cultures, context, and languages; introduce people to one another; think about new opportunities for faithful and effective mission; answer questions; share stories. Whether I am clarifying the votes taken by a General Assembly or helping a young adult dig deeper in what it means to invest oneself in God’s mission, I am involved in building stronger and healthier connections, and it is a blessing.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and engage with God’s mission. I covet your prayers and invite your continued or increased financial support for this ministry. We are at a crucial time for securing the ongoing viability of the work of Presbyterian World Mission around the world, and faithful gifts both small and large will make it possible. Please join me and our mission partners in the Andean region in committing to the challenging, rewarding work of building fruitful and faithful hermanamiento together.
Your sister in Christ,
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 44
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