Mutuality, communication and connections in God’s mission are key takeaways
by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service
ATLANTA — During the first of three U.S. partner consultations, more than 30 supporters of Presbyterian World Mission came together last week by invitation to discuss and discern God’s mission in a rapidly-changing world.
“Because we are living in a different world, we have to begin to think how to do mission in this particular time for this particular world,” said the Rev. José Luis Casal, director of Presbyterian World Mission. “This is the purpose of this conversation. Every opinion is necessary. Every idea is important.”
The Presbyterian World Mission Southeast Consultation, held at the Calvin Center near Atlanta, followed four international global partner consultations in Nairobi, Kenya (Africa); Berlin, Germany (Europe and the Middle East); Chiang Mai, Thailand (Asia and the Pacific) and Cartagena, Colombia (Latin America and the Caribbean).
“We are thankful for the witness of our people in the pews,” Casal told those gathered. “We are proud of the witness of our partners in other parts of the world and in the United States. We give thanks to God for each of you who are here to be part of this process.
“Make us uncomfortable. Yes, make us feel uncomfortable. That’s what Jesus would be doing,” he said. “Let’s do it. Let’s do it together because that is the nature of mission work. We cannot work alone. We cannot work as only Presbyterians. We have to look at the future in an ecumenical way, in a more comprehensive way, because there are many things to do.”
Table groups discussed a series of six questions, with time set aside for sharing. The first question on effectiveness in God’s mission brought to mind the question “How do we measure effectiveness?” Other questions included “Where is God calling us to put our energy? What resources are needed? What does it mean to be partners in God’s mission?”
The Rev. Dr. Jan DeVries, general presbyter of Grace Presbytery, participated in the last Presbyterian World Mission strategy process in Dallas in 2010 and 2012. She explained effectiveness by sharing about the ineffectiveness that comes from the “doctrine of the blessed assumption.”
“This means we walk in with our assumptions about how mission happens, how churches are structured, what accountability looks like, what their funding looks like. We begin by saying, ‘Here’s what we’ve got’ rather than ‘Tell us about you.’”
She clarified that this isn’t an accusation against World Mission as much as it is a recognition of the fact that it isn’t just World Mission doing mission, “which is part of the plus and minus for us as Presbyterians right now,” she said.
“Mission is not just evangelism, but it is solidarity and our need to recognize what solidarity means,” she said, “instead of just ‘Here, we have the answers’ or ‘We think you need to grow.’”
She said the Presbyterian church in Congo is now larger than the PC(USA) and, she added, that’s been true in Korea for a very long time. “So, one might ask, ‘Who needs the evangelism?’”
The Rev. Marthame Sanders led a presentation on the “sign of the times.” His personal journey is an example of mission extending beyond the confines of traditional “church.”
Sanders described his journey from cradle Presbyterian at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta to seminary “to figure out what I believed,” to being ordained to mission service with his wife, Elizabeth, in a Palestinian village in the Northern West Bank for four years, to working in the Middle East office at the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville for a short time, to serving as the pastor of a congregation in northeast Atlanta for 11 years, to a period of restlessness three years ago.
This “restlessness” led Sanders to organize a 1001 New Worshiping Community, which currently exists as an Art, Inspiration, Justice podcast in Atlanta. He left behind a full-time job with a full-time salary, benefits and a pension. “Now I’m part of the ‘gig economy,’” he said.
“I am trusting the nudge of God in what I am doing in each and every moment of this ministry,” Sanders said. “It’s a podcast in which I sit down with artists and talk with them about their sources of inspiration, how that art and their desire to create imagines a more just world. Many times, that is a source of inspiration that has to do with faith, sometimes it doesn’t. So, what is it that they are doing that imagines justice, calls to mind injustice, makes us aware of injustice, imagines a world as it could be?”
Sanders asked participants to pair up for an exercise he called, “Yes, and …” where, regardless of the over-the-top suggestion of the partner, the answer is “Yes, and let’s also (fill in the blank).” The initial suggestion switched back and forth between the pairs and the suggestions and additions brought creativity and laughter to the table groups.
“I believe the notion of ‘Yes, and …’ correctly understood, is a great way of being in the world,” Sanders said. “I also think it can enhance us as we engage mission partners because it is a way for us to value each other and build off each other.”
He added, “I think ‘Yes, and …’ is God’s holy response to us. That God takes even our weirdest ideas and can find something good in them. That God sees us and says, “’Yes, and …’ That’s what we should be doing with God.”
The Rev. Rafaat Girgis, moderator of the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus, commented that the idea of “Yes, and …” is “biblical.” He cited 2 Cor. 1:18–20a:
18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” 20 For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”
“The goal of these consultations is to see how all this joins up,” said the Rev. Philip Woods, World Mission associate director for strategy, program and recruitment, “and how we can work more effectively together as servants and partners in God’s mission today. After this information-gathering phase, World Mission leadership will meet to make sense of all we are learning. Out of that will come our sense of direction for the period going forward. We will be updating all our colleagues along the way.”
Northeast and southwest consultations are scheduled for Stony Point, New York, April 4–6, and Zephyr Cove, Nevada, May 10–12. These international and domestic consultations will be followed by a Presbyterian Mission Agency staff consultation at the national headquarters in Louisville in 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 inform the next strategy for Presbyterian World Mission.
The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo, coordinator of the Iraq Partnership Network, created a Facebook group where participants in the 2019 Regional Mission Consultation Group Southeast can continue to share ideas about mission.
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