‘God never tires of creating something new!’
By Doug Tilton | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “The creation of God is not an historic fact but a continuous and permanent action,” the Rev. Jose Luis Casal, Director of Presbyterian World Mission (PWM), told representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s global partners in Africa at a two-day conference in Nairobi at the end of November. “God never tires of creating something new!”
Casal was welcoming participants to the first of a series of consultations intended to help PWM discern how God is calling the PC(USA) to mission in the foreseeable future. “This process of renewal and change is, first of all, a collective search process,” Casal remarked. “All ideas need to be heard, … [including those] of pastors, leaders, mission co-workers, staff, members of our churches as well as our international and ecumenical partners.”
“I think it’s symbolic that our first consultation takes place in Africa,” he said. “This continent occupies a very special place in the Global South and represents a light of hope for the future of humanity. Africa is a reservoir of human energy, dynamism and resources.”
In an opening Bible Study on Matthew 25: 31-46, the Rev. Lydia Neshangwe, Clerk of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa, highlighted some of the key themes in Jesus’ familiar parable of the sheep and the goats. She reminded participants that sheep and goats were equally prized in both ancient and modern cultures, noting with amusement how difficult it is in practice to separate them.
She also pointed out that both the “sheep” and the “goats” were surprised by the judgement they incurred, whether laudatory or critical. “This lack of certitude is an unnerving theme. It is something that we live with in Africa, but still find hard to accept,” she observed. “But that’s the wisdom of the Bible. It disturbs us because it doesn’t support our biases and agendas, then it transforms us.”
Recognizing that the basis of separation was action, she said: “The key is that the parable is not so much about right belief as about right practice. This parable is calling us to go beyond simple doing … to make these actions a lifestyle.” She challenged participants to consider if they were prepared to serve “the least of these” regardless of the morality, beliefs or lifestyle of those whom they encounter.
Ms. Afiwa Allahare opened a stimulating discussion of “the signs of the times” from her vantage point as Executive Secretary for Communication and Climate Change for the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), a continent-wide ecumenical body whose 192 member organizations represent more than 140 million Christians across Africa. She identified a number of areas that demand the urgent ministry and witness of the Church, including peacebuilding, church leadership development, human trafficking, the needs of vulnerable populations, health and healing, disintegration of the family unit and climate change.
The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), shared the vision of the PMA’s future work plan, designed to help the PC(USA) live into its commitment to becoming a “Matthew 25 Church.” She invited participants to reflect on how Jesus sought to change people by telling the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Moffett saw in the passage a call to recognize God reflected in all people, to act boldly and effectively in good stewardship and to make faith come alive through action and works.
Animated by each of these inputs, 80 partner representatives from across the continent discussed questions such as “What does it mean to be partners in God’s mission today?” “What might this look like?” and “What resources are needed and what can we contribute?” Sharing occurred in table groups of eight partners, designed so that each group reflected regional and gender diversity. Simultaneous translation facilities enabled partners from French-speaking nations to take part fully in the conversations and the group reporting. Twenty PMA staff, including Regional Liaisons, were also present and discussed the questions separately.
Many partners expressed appreciation for the extensive opportunities to interact with colleagues from other parts of the continent, to share both joys and challenges. Partners from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe lifted up particularly difficult social, political and economic situations in their countries, so time was set aside one afternoon to pray for these churches and the people whom they serve.
“When the nation suffers, the churches bear the brunt of that suffering because we are among the people,” the Rev. Dr. David Mhlambeni, Moderator of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, said in explaining the enormous economic challenges Zimbabwe is experiencing.
The consultation concluded with a worship service and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, led by Moffett and a pastor of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, at whose conference center the conference was held.
The Africa consultation was the first of four global consultations PWM is organizing. Subsequent consultations will take place in the other three PWM areas: Europe and the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. These will be followed in mid-2019 by three regional consultations with PC(USA) constituencies in the United States. The insights gained from the consultations will inform PWM’s strategic planning.
Doug Tilton is Regional Liaison for Southern Africa for Presbyterian World Mission.
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