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Burning for Learning

A letter from Cobbie Palm serving in the Philippines

October 2015

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Do not make it more complicated than it is; evangelism is the invitation,” exclaimed Caridad Zuela, an elderly woman at the evangelism seminar.

Last week I was in the region of Bicol on the island of Luzon, leading an evangelism workshop with about 40 clergy and lay people.  It was a classic United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) event, held in a small village in an older UCCP church, all participants sitting on the old wooden church pews in a small sanctuary.  The sun burned hot at midday.  After each session I looked as if I had just come out of a rainstorm.  Even inside it was so bright the projected images of my presentation could hardly be seen.

Caridad Zuela sharing her wisdom that day

Caridad Zuela sharing her wisdom that day

As I began the workshop I asked the participants to indicate by a show of hands who were clergy and who were lay people.  To my alarm, I realized that I was in a room full of lay persons with a presentation I had prepared for clergy.  This is life as a mission worker! You prepare as best you can, but blindly you go into every new situation never sure of the facilities you will have or the participants you will face.  The operational word is flexibility.

I began translating my prepared workshop into activities and practical language appropriate for lay people as I stood in front of a group made up of both young and older lay leaders expecting to acquire skills in evangelism.

In the course of the first session, an elderly woman slowly stood up. She introduced herself as Caridad Zuela.  She was surely the oldest person present; for whatever reason, over the years her body had become bent over. I trembled because I knew that in this culture seniority is given precedence and respect.  Clearly her words and wisdom would impact this event.  Her face suggested that she did not appreciate the new evangelistic strategies I was sharing with the participants.  In an instant the sanctuary was silent so that everyone could hear her speak.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another  Proverbs 27:17.

She referred to mission as the party to which evangelism is the invitation.  “Evangelism and mission go together,” she said, “because to get people to the party of mission we must have a good invitation.”

I was given the gift of gratitude from all of the participants, but I left with gratitude to them, my teachers.

I was given the gift of gratitude from all of the participants, but I left with gratitude to them, my teachers.

It was a simple statement but with profound meaning.  My understanding of evangelism was challenged. I realized that I am part of a school of thought that has packed so much into the word evangelism that it has become difficult to do evangelism.  In the words of another participant, “Evangelism is like the courtship to love”; he was young, and the young people responded to this. “Evangelism means to shape events and conversation to get the partner to say yes to your proposal.” Caridad then continued, “Once you are in a relationship, then the mission begins. That is why evangelism and mission always go together.”

As so often happens when I do workshops, my role as teacher is reversed and I find myself cast as the learner. I was given the gift of gratitude from all of the participants, but I left with gratitude to them, my teachers.  Then I went home to unpack my definitions and methods and my understanding of evangelism, only to repack it in the language and nuance of courtship, the invitation to join the party.

Mission reminds me every day that wherever we are, we are learning, and at whatever point we are in life, we are learners.   I offer this joyful story to you to inspire you about the way we are growing in wisdom and the way our church is reaching and touching lives all over the world.  I am grateful to be here as your mission co-worker.  Each step I take, I take with your prayers and your support.

I give thanks to God for you and your faithful partnership with us.  Those of you who give a moment to pray and a portion of your blessings to our ministry sustain us and make it possible for us to be here.  We continue to invite you to walk with us in our ministry.  Together we are changing lives, giving hope and building communities of faith.

Cobbie Palm

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 249


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