A monthly update from World Mission, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
The Mission Matters column addresses the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk alongside and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.
January 2020 — Standing together: Making a difference
Philip Woods, Associate Director for Strategy, Program and Recruitment, Presbyterian World Mission
As I write this, we appear to have taken a step back from all-out war in the Middle East. My prayer is that peace will prevail, and we will find diplomatic means to resolve the many tensions in the region, and between the region and the USA. Following the reports we receive from partners, news media and strategic analysts helps ensure that we have the best information available to guide us in the decisions we make about the safety and security of Presbyterians serving and visiting around the world. It can be like riding a roller coaster, and quite frankly is sometimes overwhelming, as I am drawn into all the pain and uncertainty of the world.
Partnership, understood as standing alongside people and communities across the world, of being in solidarity with them, is more than a slogan — it is a deep and costly commitment. The access we have to news today brings us closer to the suffering and challenges of people around the world, as well as separates us from them. Each day brings another story or more, and before long it becomes the background to our comfortable lives, so that we take it for granted. Yet for the people living in these situations it is no “background,” it is their lived reality — going to bed hungry; fearful of the next militia strike; despairing of when the next rain will come to break the drought; grieving and angry over the unjust loss of loved ones; wondering how the community will survive the latest earthquake or other natural disaster.
We talk very easily of being siblings, of being sisters and brothers in Christ, but if these were our actual siblings, we would be far more engaged and moved by their struggles. Partnership calls us into that relationship, to be deeply committed to people who may be far removed from us, but are people just like us, trying to do the best for their families and friends, often in extraordinary circumstances.
When I am traveling alongside our partners, I frequently wonder how I would cope in this situation. Sometimes I become acutely aware that it is purely by birth that I occupy the social location I do, and am not instead among the family living a subsistence existence, breaking stones at the side of the road. It was a rainy day many years ago in Northeast India when this thought first struck me deeply, and I had to wrestle with the arbitrary fact of my own existence viz-à-viz other people’s. In such a world, solidarity is not really an option — it is the calling of all of us who are aware of how unearned our privilege is.
What that looks like in practice will vary. For some it will grow into a vocational commitment; for others it will be about opening up to the experiences of people near and far who live quite different lives and face very different challenges, and standing with them in commitment, action and prayer.
Too many of today’s local and global problems stem from the fact that we are failing to identify with one another — to see ourselves in the other. Following the stories from our global partners and mission co-workers, we can bring what we hear on the news to our lived reality, too. And then we can act accordingly, so that together with all people of goodwill we can make this world a more just and a safer place for everyone.
The Rev. Philip Woods is associate director for strategy, program and recruitment in Presbyterian World Mission