Living the Matthew 25 vision across the Atlantic

Strengthening the ties that bind the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Liberia

by Diane Givens Moffett | Mission Crossroads

Students at the Todee Presbyterian Mission School in Liberia, which receives support from several PC(USA) congregations, greet PC(USA) delegates, including, at right, the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), and Dr. Dianna Wright, ruling elder and associate presbyter of Salem Presbytery and representative of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus. (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

LOUISVILLE — In December 2018, I participated in a World Mission global partner consultation in Nairobi, Kenya. The gathering was attended by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers serving in Africa and leaders and members of the various African churches and organizations with whom we partner in God’s mission. The purpose of the consultation was to hear about the work and witness of ministry on the African continent, and to gain insight for the development of the future strategy of World Mission.

I learned much from these men and women of faith — many of whom were meeting each other for the first time. We worshiped together, sang together, danced together and prayed together. We sought to discern together how God is forming and shaping our partnership in ministry and mission for such a time as this. I presented the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 vision and the trifold focus of the mission work plan for 2019–20, aimed at building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty and dismantling structural racism. After listening and learning from fellow followers of Christ in Africa, a smaller delegation of World Mission staff traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, to strengthen the ties between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church in Liberia.

Our ties with Liberia and West Africa are not new. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) helped develop the West Africa Initiative (WAI) in 2006. The WAI is a sustainable agriculture program that addresses food security in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is supported by our denomination’s One Great Hour of Sharing offering, in partnership with the Self-Development of People ministry, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and ecumenical partners in the U.S. and West Africa. I found our visit to Liberia to be inspiring as well as challenging.

A member of the Gbansue Nyankai congregation molds concrete blocks for the construction of a community health center. (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

I have known about the country of Liberia for quite some time. When I was a teenager growing up in Oakland, California, my parents made the decision to host Stephen Weeks, a high school exchange student from Monrovia. My parents believed that if we could not visit the world, one way to have a cultural exchange with people from other nations was to have them visit us through the high school student exchange program. Stephen was selected to live with our family in 1976, and from that time on we welcomed him into our hearts and home. We both held roots in the Protestant tree of religion, so Stephen easily adjusted to church life in America. To this day, Stephen, the son of a United Methodist pastor, remains a part of our Presbyterian family.

Stephen taught me about the traditions and culture of Liberia — the food, rituals and customs of the land. I also learned about the political instability in the country and, during Stephen’s stay in America, there was a coup in Liberia. The coup adversely affected one of Stephen’s friends, Estrada Bernard, who was also an American exchange student at the time. Estrada’s father was serving in a high government position in Monrovia, and his entire family was forced to flee the city. Having heard so many stories, I was eager to travel to Monrovia, and I was honored to be among those who engaged in conversation regarding how the PC(USA) and the Presbyterian Church of Liberia might reaffirm and recommit to our partnership in mission.

As with other partners from Africa, it became clear to me that the Presbyterian Church of Liberia is a Matthew 25 church. They are actively engaged in the world, embracing both the perils and possibilities of our time. I witnessed stories of church vitality — how churches are growing people in faith and making a difference in the lives of church members and the community at large. I was struck by the patience and persistence of our brothers and sisters in faith to work for change and advocate for justice, even in the face of its bitter denial. I learned how important it is to strengthen the ties that bind us, empowering indigenous groups to create, develop and establish meaningful ministries that help heal the hurt of God’s people.

The conversation was an easy exchange of ideas and desires between our PC(USA) delegation and leaders in the Presbyterian Church of Liberia, including its outgoing moderator, the Rev. Sando Townsend, who invited us into the dialogue. Liberia is still recovering from its history of civil war that left the country with many needs. Poverty affects many, especially youth and young adults. The challenge to develop education and training opportunities, access to health care, food, housing, job training and employment, as well as the need to develop infrastructure to attract business and commerce to the country, is apparent. The Liberian brothers and sisters we spoke with are aware of these needs, and many have established churches and organizations to address them.

On Sunday morning, I attended worship at a church in Monrovia. Despite the sweltering heat and dirt floors of the church, I was inspired by God’s spirit and energy present with us in worship. The congregation included rows of children who remained in worship with adults. A high school youth led us in praise and worship. The pastor delivered a stirring and spirited sermon reminiscent of preaching in the black church tradition. Afterward, he took the Rev. José Luis Casal, director of Presbyterian World Mission, and me on a tour of a school the church built to help educate elementary school children in the neighborhood. He shared his vision for the educational facility and the need for scholarships so more children can attend and more teachers can be trained to serve the community.

It is my hope that the partnership between the Presbyterian Church of Liberia and the PC(USA) will result in assisting our Liberian brothers and sisters in raising up more followers of Jesus Christ who will dream, innovate and establish creative means to sustain and serve citizens in this beautiful country. I am mindful of Liberia Pure Honey, which has grown from a West Africa Initiative job-creation project to train hundreds of honey producers to become an award-winning business. Producers make more than honey and donate profits to educational programs in Liberia. I am hopeful that the PC(USA)’s partnership with Liberia may also produce more self-sustaining business models. By doing so, our partners will be able to sustain their communities and families and develop the means to offer scholarships, train teachers and nourish the dreams that God deposits within them.

In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus is judging nations. It is a nation’s responsibility to develop systems that ensure that the hungry are fed, the thirsty receive water, the naked are clothed, the stranger is welcomed, the sick are visited and the imprisoned are cared for. When we meet the needs of the least of these, we are meeting our own needs, and we are being faithful to the One who calls us to follow him, even Jesus, the Christ. I look forward to strengthening the partnership between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Liberia. I encourage all of us to be a Matthew 25 church together — actively engaging in the world and bearing witness to the love and justice of God.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Let’s work together
Support the work of regional liaison Josh Heikkila in West Africa:
pcusa.org/donate/E200353

In the spirit of Matthew 25, make a gift to eradicate systemic poverty in West Africa: pcusa.org/donate/E052194

This article is from the Summer 2019 issue of “Mission Crossroads” magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission and also available online at pcusa.org/MissionCrossroads.


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