Pittsburgh Pastor Shares Passion for Mission Work
July 6, 2016
Something wonderful happened a few months ago. Five young people ages 16–19 asked if I would help them realize a dream: “Pastor Dave, will you take us to Africa?”
What was wonderful were the answers I got when I asked, “Why do you want to go to Africa? Safari? Adventure?”
One young woman fairly spit at me when I asked that question. “Dave! That’s not why we want to go. We want to go to church. We want to stay in someone’s home. We want our lives to be changed the ways that your life has been changed.”
That is why, Lord willing, this December I’ll be taking five young leaders from an inner-city parish that many people thought would close a couple of decades ago to Malawi. Investment in mission has not only transformed my life, it has also saved this congregation.
You might say, “Carver, people are starving! We’re being forced to consider early return for our mission co-workers! Wave upon wave of refugees is crashing against the shores of every continent! Your own congregation is behind on repairs to its building. And you want us to get excited about tourism?”
Yet this is my story: I’ve been profoundly shaped by participation in the worldwide mission of Christ’s church. I’ve sought to encourage those who are hungry and who seek justice and who proclaim good news. By God’s grace, I’ve been privileged to be witness to great healing and reconciliation in many places on six continents—all while being a solo pastor of a small urban church. And all of that started when I received an African visitor into my home.
Before I ever dreamed about going overseas, an elder from a nearby church brought a visiting Malawian to Crafton Heights for the day, and we talked about what the Lord was doing in that country. Later, our congregation was privileged to host a visitor from Malawi. Then I went myself, and was warmly received not only by our Malawian counterparts, but also by PC(USA) mission co-workers.
My life, and our congregation’s, has been irrevocably changed. In the past 20 years, I have visited Africa dozens of times. I have been privileged to offer leadership in famine and development projects. I have had the deep blessing of praying with South Sudanese church leaders during a civil war. In the same 20 years, our congregation has shifted from being a declining, mission-receiving church to being a vibrant, mission-sending fellowship. While many factors have influenced all of this, I would suggest that the most important one was our ability to host a visitor from the church in Africa.
If a visitor had not given a “face” to the church in the two-thirds world, it would not have occurred to me to go to Africa in the first place.
If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have been in the room to hear and accept an invitation from mission co-worker Doug Welch to visit his home in Malawi.
If I hadn’t crossed the street for tea, I couldn’t have heard Doug challenge me to invest myself in the international mission of Christ’s church—to care more deeply for the whole church than I did for the survival of my congregation.
If I hadn’t thought deeply about that challenge, I couldn’t have extended it to the congregation I serve.
If I hadn’t challenged my congregation to continue hosting and subsidizing travel for visiting mission workers, they would have thought the world began and ended in Crafton Heights.
If they hadn’t fallen in love with Christians living and serving around the globe, their children would think that Africa is the place for animals and adventure rather than vibrancy of faith and an opportunity to learn from church leaders who are striving to follow Jesus in that place.
And so on, and so on . . . .
Here’s the deal. People are starving, right now. And mission co-workers are at risk. There doesn’t appear to be enough money to solve all the world’s problems. I’m suggesting that one of the best ways you can help those folks is to invite the people with whom you worship to come to know and love actual people who live and work and serve in Malawi and South Sudan and Brazil and Peru and Jordan and Turkey and the list goes on and on. My experience is that when we build these relationships, lives and priorities change. And not only do they change, but we grow.
Just take a step. Invite an itinerating mission co-worker to visit your church. Talk to someone in your presbytery about involvement in an international partnership. Get to know someone whose walk in life and in faith is dramatically different than your own. Then invite someone to walk there with you. It will be wonderful. Trust me—I know.
Dave Carver, Pastor, First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Let us join in prayer for:
Sheldon Sorge, General Minister
Beverly James, Associate Minister for Discipleship
Ayana Teter, Associate Minister for Outreach
Carla Campbell, Stated Clerk
Betty Angelini, Executive Director, Crestfield
Roy Burford, Business Administrator
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
God of compassion and grace, be with our African partners as they courageously address violence, struggle to provide Christian education despite scant resources, and boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus while addressing urgent social needs. Amen.