A letter from Burkhard Paetzold serving in Germany
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“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of strength and of love and of temperance.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Interestingly, this Bible verse was our preaching text for September 11th of this year in the Berlin-Brandenburg Churches. Germans tend to become fearful easily. Even though Germany is well off, “German angst” is something you find these days more than usual in a fear of strangers, of social disconnectedness or a fear of terrorism, globalization that will change our life, or of almighty security services that manipulate us. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories out there and I strongly believe this is what the Bible verse tells us, don’t answer fear with fear, conspiracy with counter-conspiracy, but take a deep breath and know that you are my beloved children. Or as the German singer-songwriter Wolf Bierman said in 1968 facing the occupation of the Prague spring of that year, “Men, we are stronger that rats and dragons – and had forgotten – but, actually, had always known.”
I thank God that I have been allowed to see more of the U.S. than just newscasts of the conventions. Connecting with churches helps a lot to put things in perspective and not to get overwhelmed with fear-mongering, but to be with people “of [inner] strength and of love and of temperance.” I found that while visiting with PC(USA) congregations, I saw a spirit of strength, a powerful creativity even among elderly that don’t look back in nostalgia, but work for new beginnings, build bridges, lift up what is heavy on our neighbor’s and our own hearts.
While in the U.S., I had the privilege of attending the General Assembly of PC(USA) for the first time. General Assembly was a new experience, even though I had heard about it beforehand. I was invited as a mission advisory delegate and served on the peacemaking committee. It was powerful to meet so many committed commissioners, advisory delegates and guests at GA and to be part of the historic moment when PC(USA) overwhelmingly adopted the Belhar Confession with Allan Boesak from the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa present, and to reflect this important confession already in many of the practical and personal decisions made.
I was disappointed, though, that the decision to divest from fossil-fuel firms was postponed out of fear. Folks, please take the side of God’s creation. Don’t be afraid to stop wasting resources. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26 NRSV)
I also had the opportunity to attend my first World Mission Sharing Conference for mission personnel on Interpretation Assignment in the U.S., along with World Mission colleagues in Louisville, Kentucky. These mission co-workers serve in all corners of our earth (from the US/Mexico Border to Indonesia, and from Ethiopia to central Asia) Our perspective in Europe as well as in the U.S. is focused on our own worldview, as if there is no other world around us. These days we feel what is happening on other continents, because of the many refugees that are coming. It’s eye opening to hear stories from the two thirds world to learn about how our lifestyles, our exploitation of resources and our dominance in globalization influences their lives. It helps to be humbled by getting together with our own “ambassadors” and hear what they have to share.
Our common bond at this Sharing Conference was love for the people of each of our mission sites with whom we walk. And in this particular Sharing Conference we reflected on preconditions for this love which starts with God’s love for us. We did our daily reflections using Henry Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. Nouwen writes, “We are God’s chosen ones, even when our world does not choose us.” This Good News is utterly important for everyone, but middle class Caucasians may not easily understand its importance. I learned it from some of my Roma friends, for whom this message was life changing. As some of you are aware, lifelong discrimination against, and stereotyping of a “Gypsy” person is a threat that may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ironically, it also destroys the personality of the discriminator. In this relationship that Nouwen describes, however, seriously witnessing that we all are loved ones turns things upside down.
I was happy to meet up with my friend Ellen Ueberschär and her family who came to Louisville to visit while I was there. We worshiped together and went to a Black Lives Matter rally in West Louisville. The main reason for Ellen to come was to meet with some of the church leadership to ask their help in inviting Presbyterians to the German Protestant Kirchentag, which takes place May 24-27, 2017 in Berlin and Wittenberg, Germany. Kirchentag is a forum for critical debate about current questions of Christians in our society. It is a huge event with expected 150,000 national and international guests and … a joyful festival for everyone. In 2017 it will be special because we will celebrate 500 years of Reformation. You are kindly invited to a variety of events. For more information, visit: https://r2017.org/en/worldwide/
Besides my participation at General Assembly and Sharing Conference I have been blessed by invitations from different PC(USA) congregations. I’m grateful for all of your hospitality and for your interest in my ministry. This year’s invitations brought me to Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. I was grateful for the large interest in refugee work and in the life of the Roma in Europe. And after we watched fear-mongering TV broadcasts together, it was good to be with old and new friends who took a deep breath of “strength, love and temperance.”
Dear friends, thank you very much for all your support. Thank you for not being afraid, but rather giving your love, exercising self-control and good judgment. I am grateful for your strength of creativity and your willingness to build bridges, by putting yourselves in the shoes of strangers and showing them hospitality.
There is still much work to be done. I’d like to invite you to deepen your involvement in God’s mission with a long-term commitment to my sending and support, or to the sending and support of mission co-workers like me.
Blessings and peace,
Please read below for an important note from Hunter Farrell:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)
Dear Friend of World Mission:
Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Burkhard Paetzold this year, and any previous year. I know from my 15 years as a Presbyterian mission co-worker that your prayerful financial support has meant the world to him
Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for churches and individuals to commit themselves to support Burkhard. Our global church partners greatly value their service and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Germany, Central and Eastern Europe.
We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from churches to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished, and it is only through the over-and-above gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Burkhard doing the life-giving work God called him to do. A year ago, in May of 2015, for the first time in recent history, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. We communicated the challenge to you and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”.
Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.
My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Thank you for saying “yes” to love.
With you in Christ,
Director, World Mission, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
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