What does it really mean to be a PC(USA) mission co-worker?
By Stephanie Caudill | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Mission co-workers are called by God to serve four or more years alongside Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partners in ministry around the world. They dedicate years of their lives to building bridges, interpreting language and culture and advocating for justice and peace. But what does it really mean to be a PC(USA) mission co-worker?
In Elmarie and Scott Parker’s most recent letter, they give a glimpse of what it means to live in solidarity with those whom they are serving in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria:
Scott and I are living alongside of and accompanying our friends, neighbors and partners as they navigate multiple, simultaneous crises — economic collapse (starting fall 2019), the COVID-19 pandemic (since February 2020) and the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion (since August 2020). In the context of ongoing political stalemates, the future feels bleak to many people. In Lebanon, life savings have been lost as bank accounts are frozen to preserve capital in the country. Due to inflation, spending power has radically decreased. A person who earned a salary of $1,000 a month in 2019 now earns the equivalent of $200 a month (if they are fortunate enough to still have a job). Consumer prices have increased by 151.5% between January 2020 and January 2021. We see the impact when we go grocery shopping. Middle-class families, who normally would have filled their cart, now wander the aisles selecting the two or three items most necessary to their survival and that they can afford. Meat or chicken has dropped out of most families’ meal plans. Families who were already economically vulnerable now often only have one meal a day; parents often go without so that their children have something. The situation is even more severe in Syria and for many in Iraq. And, on top of the harsh economic conditions, families have been faced with the brutal consequences of isolation during extended COVID-19 lockdowns.
I could not bring myself to say “Happy Easter” this year. There has not been anything happy about the past 18-plus months for the vast majority of people around us. I found myself longing for something more substantial than what “happy” connotes for me. “Happy” doesn’t seem a solid enough word to convey the great sustaining hope we receive through Christ’s experience of tremendous suffering and death prior to his resurrection. What is the substance of the hope we receive through our Lord’s resurrection? How does the hope of Resurrection Sunday nourish and sustain a community, a family, a person when the realities of Good Friday continue without any end in sight? How is hope nourished and sustained in my spirit and in the spirits of the beloved community around me?
I can only bear witness to what I have seen and experienced even as I live with these questions. One friend serves as the abbot in a Greek Orthodox monastery near our home. He and his community are doing everything they can to help 350 or more families from towns across Lebanon live with dignity — providing food and other necessities. They continue in this work even though they don’t know from where the resources will come. The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), one of our PC(USA) partners, asked my friend to contact them for additional funding so they can keep on keeping on. Another friend invites others to band together to help provide diapers, clothing, food, medications and medical treatment to more than 400 of the most vulnerable families in communities around the greater Beirut area and beyond. They offer funds from their radically reduced salaries and invite friends from the United States and Europe to join them. The funds keep coming in, and supply boxes keep getting shared.
I was talking with another friend and partner of the PC(USA) a few days ago. I asked her: “What do you think nourishes hope among the people here in Lebanon today?” She had been talking about how hope is seen in the actions of choosing to build again, especially when the future is hidden in the fog of uncertainty. But I wondered what nourishes that hope to choose to act in such a way? She replied: “It’s knowing we are not alone. We are a community together who are building again — investing in others, investing in our places. Our partners are with us. The risen Lord is with us.”
Search for mission co-workers to connect with by name or country of service through Mission Connections profile pages. To invite a mission co-worker for a virtual visit, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or email the mission co-worker directly. In your email invitation, be sure to explain what questions you have and the type of presentation/involvement you would prefer. Mission co-workers in sensitive areas will need to take into consideration security concerns for themselves and the people they serve. To reach out to a mission co-worker in a sensitive location, contact Octavia Coleman at email@example.com or 800-728-7228, ext. 5327. To prepare for a virtual visit, go to the mission co-workers’ Mission Connections page, where you can download their prayer card, read their letters to learn about their work with mission partners and sign up to receive their quarterly letter updates by email. After you schedule a virtual visit, it helps to promote the details through your church website and newsletter so more people can make plans to take part.
Stephanie Caudill is a mission associate for resources and promotion in Equipping for Mission Involvement, Presbyterian World Mission.
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