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Understanding Presbyterian mission

The importance of ‘co’ in doing mission work

by Cindy Corell | Presbyterians Today

Mission co-worker Cindy Corell (right) working with partners in Haiti. (Photo provided)

Mission co-worker Cindy Corell (right) working with partners in Haiti. (Photo provided)

Sometimes the simplest questions give rise to the most interesting conversations.

That is what I discovered one morning at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia.

The pastor, the Rev. Caitlin Deyerle, had invited me to offer a sermon during both services, but not in the ordinary manner. Rather, she asked me to collaborate. I would participate in an interview in which she would ask me questions about our ministry in Haiti.

One of the questions was: “Why are you called a mission co-worker instead of a missionary?”

Let me start with this disclaimer: I have no idea what the-powers-that-be who chose this term were thinking, so my answer to the congregation at Southminster—and in this column—is mine alone.

Some of my favorite words start with “co.” Collaborator. Colleague. Correspondent. Coordinator. Community. Congregation. Committee.

They all indicate a group of people brought together for the same purpose.

When people ask why I’m a mission co-worker, I tell them I am in great company. Serving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as one who lives in a foreign land, I have learned and continue to learn so much from my colleagues who have gone before me. Other PC(USA) mission co-workers are the most remarkable co-workers I’ve known.

“Co-worker” also agrees quite happily with another of my favorite words, accompaniment.

You see, we who serve through the Presbyterian Mission Agency are striving to add another element to the work our denomination has carried out for almost 180 years. Yes, we serve others in mission, but more than ever, we seek to accompany our brothers and sisters, meeting them where they are, listening as they grow in confidence to trust us more deeply and to share their own stories with us.

It takes time. To be a mission co-worker is to disregard any strong desire for instant gratification.

The gratification and rewards in this work come when our partners realize the time it takes. We work in concert, but at the lead of our partners who are serving in their own land.

So we are co-workers with one another within the Presbyterian Mission Agency. And we are co-workers with our partners in the places where we work.

Finally, we are co-workers with you, the members and churches of the PC(USA). Because of the generosity of people in Presbyterian congregations, we are able to go into the world.

And we go gladly. We go humbly.

When I first learned I would be asked this question at Southminster, my mind went immediately to a favorite quotation.

In writing to white ministers from his cell at Birmingham Jail in April 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously described how societies are changed for the better.

“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability,” he wrote. “It comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

Of all with whom we work, God is the greatest co-worker of all.

How great it is to be in this community, all of striving for a better world in which children are born healthy and families have clean water and enough food to thrive. A world in which people live in safety and security. A world where quality education, strong communities, and good-paying jobs are available and discrimination is stamped out.

It is an ongoing challenge, an adventurous life, and a humbling blessing to be called a mission co-worker.


Presbyterian World Mission mission co-worker Cindy Corell has been a companionship facilitator with the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Joining Hands initiative in Haiti since 2013.

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