With those words during the opening plenary on Oct. 22, Hunter Farrell, head of world mission for the PC(USA), set the tone for the Mission Celebration ’09 http://www.pcusa.org/missioncelebration/ convocation — a gathering of more than 700 Presbyterians involved in grassroots mission work around the world, in everything from water purification projects in South America to working with young girls caught up in the sex trade in Southeast Asia.
In the 1960s, “you prayed and you wrote a check,” Farrell said. But now, short-term mission trips have become the norm, for congregations both big and small. Robert Priest, http://www.tiu.edu/divinity/academics/faculty/priest a professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, estimates that about two million Christians from the U.S. now travel overseas on mission trips each year.
With that kind of volume, the denomination’s global partners are pushing the PC(USA) to go deeper in relationship and to reconsider some of the approaches of the North American church that don’t always work so well in the southern hemisphere, Farrell said.
The celebration, being held Oct. 22-24 in Cincinnati, brings together Presbyterians involved in mission networks, which focus on work in certain geographic areas or among particular people groups, and which are meeting in small groups before and after this larger gathering.
Also present in Ohio are about 45 PC(USA) mission co-workers, who for the past month have been traveling around the around the United States in what’s being called the World Mission Challenge http://www.pcusa.org/missionchallenge/ – speaking in congregation after congregation about the work they do and trying to build financial support for overseas mission. Farrell joked that they are the exhausted-looking ones.
And the co-workers are joined by international peacemakers from 10 countries – representing partner churches that work with the PC(USA) to bring peace in troubled areas.
With such an emphasis on short-term mission, and with technological changes making it easier than ever before for people to stay in touch across great distances, the PC(USA)’s global partners are pushing for Presbyterians from the U.S. to “go deeper” in their relationships with Christians from other countries, Farrell said.
First, they want Americans to go deeper in understanding the root causes of poverty and injustice. Many of the international partners “have a very sophisticated understanding of the causes of the problems they struggle with every day,” even if the visitors from the U.S. do not, Farrell said.
He used as an example the “Live Aid” benefit concerts from 1984 and 1985, which raised more than $100 million in aid for people suffering from famine in Ethiopia. More than one million Ethiopians died from the famine, and “all of us felt better because we had done something to help out,” Farrell said.
But later, disturbing facts emerged, he said. In reality, there had been enough food in the 1980s to feed all in Ethiopia, despite the civil war, but a corrupt government kept the food from some rebellious provinces. “The government manipulated the media and even international aid organizations,” Farrell said. Some have concluded that the humanitarian effort may have actually prolonged the war and contributed to human suffering. In such circumstances, “our compassion is simply not enough and can in fact worsen the situation,” he said.
So the partners want a deeper understanding on the part of North Americans of such things as globalization and the politics and history of particular countries – of some of the forces on the ground which produce the realities with which they live day-by-day.
Second, the partners want Presbyterians from the United States to go deeper in speaking of their own faith. “Our partners are often surprised at how secular we seem to be,” Farrell said, and how awkward it sometimes seems when American Presbyterians are expected to pray with and for others and to share their stories of faith. The partners want to hear the stories of how their visitors have been transformed by faith, Farrell said, and want the visitors to listen to their stories of transformation as well.
Third, the partners want to know more of how Presbyterians from different parts of the church are collaborating with each other in mission – for example, through increased support for the mission networks or by providing the expertise for people to work with global partners in areas such as education and health.
“Our partners are often surprised at how disorganized we are,” Farrell said. And sometimes they say, “You can do better than this.”