International, U.S. gatherings designed to inform World Mission’s strategic planning
by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — What does it mean to be a Matthew 25 church today? That’s the key question participants in a series of international consultations and U.S. regional gatherings have been addressing through roundtable discussion across the country and around the world.
International consultations with World Mission partners, held in Kenya (Africa), Germany (Europe and the Middle East), Thailand (Asia and the Pacific) and Colombia (Latin America and the Caribbean), along with U.S. regional gatherings in Georgia, New York and, on May 10-12, at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center in Zephyr Point, Nevada, will be the foundation to inform World Mission’s strategic plan moving forward. Each gathering brought together a diverse group of World Mission partners and supporters to discuss and discern how best to continue the work of God’s mission in the world as Presbyterians.
Both the 222nd and 223rd General Assemblies (2016 and 2018) challenged the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be a Matthew 25 church, to act boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor. What it looks like, day to day, to awaken faith by building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty is the bold vision and invitation offered to congregations and mid councils to unite Presbyterians for the holy purpose of doing mission in partnership.
“When you’re doing strategic planning, you have to look backward and ask, ‘What did we do well?’ and ‘Where did we miss the mark’? said the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, World Mission’s Africa area coordinator. Braaksma and the Rev. Philip Woods, World Mission’s director for strategy, program and recruitment, are facilitating the strategy process through the consultations and regional gatherings.
Six key questions
Identical to the previous strategy process consultations and regional gatherings, table groups will discuss a series of six questions: “How effective have we been as partners sharing together in God’s mission?” “Where is God calling us to put our energy today?” “What does it mean to be partners in God’s mission today?” “What might this look like in practice?” “What resources are needed?” and “What can we contribute?”
“Every opinion is important, all ideas matter. I challenge you to be blunt and honest. Make us feel uncomfortable, because that’s what Jesus would do,” said the Rev. José Luis Casal, director of Presbyterian World Mission. “We cannot work alone. It will take all of us working together in a comprehensive, ecumenical way. There are many things to do.”
“Mission for me has been one of the most exciting parts of my ministry — not only because we do ministry locally, but because we do ministry all over the world,” said the Rev. Dr. Arlene Gordon, parish associate with the Korean Presbyterian Church of Miami, Fla.
Gordon, former executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, past president of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus and honorably retired teaching elder in the PC(USA), said that over the years she’s tried to get Presbyterians to understand the important role of mission in the church, both locally and globally.
“I am currently serving a Korean church, and oftentimes we do mission in Latin American countries, but I have said to the pastor, ‘Mission is not only in Latin America — mission is all over the world, and mission is right at our doorstep.’
“When we see someone on the street holding a sign saying, ‘I’m hungry. I just need money to buy a meal,’ that’s mission,” she said.
In late April, the Korean Presbyterian Church of Miami partnered with another local Presbyterian church in a service day that offered more than a hot meal. “They also had a bus equipped with showers,” Gordon said. The partner church provided towels and clean clothing, including underwear. “The Koreans were so excited to be able to just drive a few blocks from their own location and do mission,” she said.
After she attends the World Mission Southwest Consultation at Zephyr Point, Gordon will travel to the national conference of the Korean Presbyterian Church in Orlando to present a workshop on local and global mission, including opportunities for mission service in other places, including the Young Adult Volunteer program, an ecumenical, faith-based year of service at sites within the U.S. and abroad for people ages 19-30.
“I am honored they have asked me to do a workshop,” Gordon said. “We will discuss what it means to be a Presbyterian to do mission not only in other places but in our own areas as well. I intend to talk about mission and how we can expand our mission projects locally and worldwide.” Before her retirement, Gordon served several years as associate director for congregational ministries, resource center coordinator and educational ministry advocates coordinator at the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville. During her tenure as president of the National Black Caucus, the caucus and Presbyterian World Mission entered into a covenant agreement to strengthen World Mission’s recruitment among African American Presbyterians for service as mission co-workers and Young Adult Volunteers around the world.
Gordon joined the Presbyterian Church later in life because she grew up in Virginia during a period when there were only black and white churches, she said. Her earliest memory of mission was of trying to help others in need, whether it was taking them food or sharing her own food with them. She didn’t know she was doing mission at that time. “I think that’s where it all started,” she said, “at the church where I grew up and how we used to do things at our church that were outreach to others.”
After she moved to California and began attending an interdenominational church, a pastor of a Presbyterian Church invited her to visit. “I went to that church, and I never looked back. I was a Presbyterian from that point on,” she said. The same pastor later convinced Gordon to attend seminary.
“I didn’t really go on mission overseas until I went with the Koreans,” Gordon said. “My life has been so enriched by my experience at the Korean church. I’ve been on three missions in Cuba, one in Colombia and one in Costa Rica. Just going out and working among the people and seeing the needs of people, and just being able to show them love and hugs. The children are just fantastic! I am just so moved by their ministry, and what’s so great is that behind all of that is just my longing to do something for somebody else or just to help somebody all the time.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you go to the Korean church, you don’t speak Korean?’ But I love their worship. I love their commitment to the church, to early morning prayer — just their whole level of commitment.”
Stories of how God’s at work in the world
The Rev. John Odom, presbyter for community life at Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, also will be attending World Mission’s regional gathering at Zephyr Point. He said he’s looking forward to hearing stories of how God is working in the world through Presbyterian mission.
“The PC(USA) has always been a leader in engaging in mission work throughout the world. We have sent mission co-workers to plant and grow and strengthen churches all over the world,” Odom said. “We have understood the importance of walking with and empowering global partners. Through it all, we have understood that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35).
“I think now is the time for the PC(USA) to begin to understand that there is also a blessing in receiving. We need to understand that the United States is a mission field. We need to learn to receive mission co-workers from the global church to help mid councils supply much-needed leadership with new immigrant worshiping communities. We need to mobilize the expertise of Christians throughout the world to help grow the church in the U.S. deep and wide. To this end,” Odom said, “we need to focus more on receiving than sending.”
What’s needed: guidelines, best practices and encouragement
Odom said he sees individuals, congregations and mid councils creating their own partnerships, sending their own mission co-workers and building their own networks of support and care. “What these groups need from the national expression of the church are guidelines, best practices and encouragement so that local and regional expressions of the church can do ministry more directly,” he said.
As increasing numbers of Presbyterians engage in mission, it helps to grow empathy in the church, Odom said. “Engaging in hands-on mission work, connecting with friends who look and live and speak and eat and worship in different ways, and yet who are loved by Christ the same as us, changes us. Mission experiences help us grow empathy and practice hospitality.”
Of the regional gathering at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center, Odom said, “I want to be inspired, challenged and have my faith expanded as I consider how my mid council and its congregations can more fully engage in being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. I want to be humbled by the powerful ways that God has used and is continuing to use Presbyterian Mission to transform the church and the world, and to bring the reality of heaven right here on Earth.”
These international and domestic consultations will be followed by a Presbyterian Mission Agency staff consultation at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headquarters in Louisville, planned for June. All eight consultations, along with a regional liaison gathering held prior to the consultations, will bring together a total of more than 700 partners, supporters and mission personnel to include a broad range of diverse voices to inform the Presbyterian World Mission strategic plan moving forward.
After World Mission leadership has reviewed the information gathered through the consultations, a report will be issued and shared with everyone who took part.
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Categories: Matthew 25, World Mission, Young Adult Volunteers
Tags: consultations, Debbie Braaksma, jose luis casal, Mid Kentucky Presbytery, outreach to the world, Philip Woods, rev. dr. arlene gordon, rev. dr. diane moffett, rev. john odom, strategy, world mission, yav, young adult volunteers, zephyr point
Ministries: World Mission, Young Adult Volunteers, Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): Join the Movement