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Presbyterian World Mission celebrates 180 years of service

‘Mission 180’ reflects on the changing face of mission activity

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – To celebrate 180 years of international mission engagement Presbyterian World Mission has been reflecting on the changes that have taken place over the years.

“Looking back 180 years, missionaries of that time had a more colonial approach to mission. God blessed that work, and the church grew tremendously,” says Rachel Yates, acting co-director for Presbyterian World Mission. “Now our mission co-workers work in partnership with those we serve based on invitation, mutuality and interdependence.”

Yates’ colleague, Presbyterian World Mission co-director Tamron Keith, says the significance of that “is like 180 degrees, representing a turnaround.”

“We’ve had our own 180-degree change if you will,” adds Yates. “In how we think, talk about and participate in God’s mission.”

Now, working in close partnership for multi-year terms, mission co-workers strive to translate not just language but the nuance of context and culture. This helps them earn the trust of global partners and, in turn, “to help Presbyterian congregations do mission more faithfully and effectively.”

Citing an example, Yates describes how Presbyterian congregations in the U.S. are “twinned” with congregations in Russia. When Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Utah went to meet with a sister congregation in Russia, they began to talk about what their new relationship might look like.

At first, the after-dinner conversation was almost diplomatic in nature, but then one of the Russians asked, “What do you mean by this word ‘partnership’ that you keep using?”

One of the US Presbyterians responded by saying, “We are coming to you as Christians.”

“Suddenly it was if a light bulb went on,” says Yates. “The Russian said, ‘Ah and we thought you were coming as Americans.’ That’s the 180 degree switch we’re talking about.”

That example of 180 degree transformation—“Mission 180,” if you will, is deeply important to Presbyterian World Mission as it prepares to participate in God’s mission, through all of the changes the next 180 years might bring.

“Right now the challenge for World Mission, for our co-workers and even our congregations,” says Keith, “is to find the best ways to coordinate efforts among our global partners, so that we are providing a faithful and unified witness of Christ, to the world at large.”

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