Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/1 2014

A Mission Reflection: Remembering

Lisa Davis

 

When traveling, especially to a foreign country, I am often first struck by the
new landscape or smells, but by the time I leave, my lasting memories are of the
people I have met. There is always a temptation to get stay caught in the
“picture:” the scenery, the smells, the newness of the experience and never move
into three dimensions: the people, their lives, their pains, and their joys.
But as my trip to Haiti this spring break reminded me, moving into three
dimensions is most important part of life no matter where I am; to see the
people for who they are, because human nature transcends time and space.

In Haiti I saw a lot of disturbing things. I saw a woman with a tumor
the size of an orange on her face sitting in her back yard while I was painting
the overlooking fence. I saw an 11-month-old baby who was so malnourished he
couldn’t pick up his head. I played with a little girl for a couple of days,
met her mother, and was asked later by one of her friends if I was going to
adopt her because we loved each other. A small group I was a part of was asked
extremely tough questions, like, “why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” and, “does
the faith of a nation determine their prosperity?” But in spite of my
challenging feelings, I was left reflecting upon God’s love and upon His
sovereignty that gives purpose to the lives of those I encountered and to my
life.

It is easy for me to remember the challenges I observed and faced
and the images will never be erased from my memory, but the challenges did not
define my trip. What I will remember most is the wisdom with which our
translators spoke: the insight that they brought into our journey in Haiti. I
will remember the joy I heard with every song that rang out from the church and
filled the community. I will remember how God used the people I met to move me
away from the contentment that I had gotten accustomed to, to a place where I am
asking God to use me for His glory, even if it is at the expense of my comfort.

What was important about our trip was not the work that we did for the
mission, the mixing and carrying of concrete, the painting, and the picking up
of trash, but the realization that despite material possessions and the lack
there of, we are all the same. In all honesty we are no more fortunate than
they are. We may have more possessions, but we lack the richness of communal
responsibility. This is a hard concept for those of us who come from tight
communities, however, I guarantee that our sense of community and our
responsibility to one another does not begin to compare to that of the people I
met in Haiti.

For instance, we met a young man who is not getting married for
several more years in order to fully devote himself to providing for parents and
siblings. We encountered many multigenerational households full of individuals
who put the needs of their family members before their own. And we met teens,
full of ambition, whose life goals were not to become doctors or lawyers, but to
run orphanages. But it is these things: the sense of community, hope, and
happiness, despite a lack of basic necessities, that I will remember most about
my trip to Haiti.

Written by Lisa Davis, current M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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4/25 2014

A Mission Reflection: Pray, Bring Good News, and Build Relationships

brendan in brazil

In Luke chapter 10, verses 5-9, Jesus teaches the disciples how to find the other hospitable:

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

My time in Brazil taught me to do this very thing. This short term mission trip was not about saving or fixing the other; it was about building relationships, so we could learn from one another.

The purpose of our trip was to learn about church planting outside of a Western
context. In the span of ten days, I learned many things, but three themes struck
me in particular: pray, bring good news, and build relationships.

These three themes boiled up in every church plant. My hope is to reflect on the three
themes I learned from my brothers and sisters, in order to engage with the community God is sending me to.

Written by: Brendan Ashley, current MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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4/3 2014

A Mission Reflection: The Church is Alive!!

Too often I hear people say, “The Church is dying.” I suppose what they mean to say is, “The number of active members in mainline churches in the United States is steadily declining.” In fact, the Church – even the Presbyterian Church – is growing rapidly elsewhere in the world. While traveling on a World Mission Initiative Spring Break trip this year, I had the privilege of meeting leaders of the exploding Presbyterian Church in Brazil. The Church in the United States has a great deal to learn from these brothers and sisters, who are passionately engaged in evangelism throughout their communities.

I’d hate to insolently generalize Presbyterians, so I’ll speak for myself: my efforts toward evangelism are timid, minimal, and ambivalent. I fear questions I cannot answer instead of embracing tension. I’m slow to inquire about others’ faith, and almost never invite people to church. While I believe all people need Jesus, my courage to “make disciples” has been co-opted by the individualist principle that warns me not to “force my beliefs” on others. I’d venture a guess that other Presbyterians may be in the same boat.

Brazilian Presbyterians make evangelism a huge priority. As a result, hundreds of new believers are “added to their number” each year. I initially begrudged the glamorizing numerical statistics the pastors shared with us. “Well, there’s no way to know if these crowds are ‘serious’ Christians,” I thought. “It’s a ‘narrow way’ after all.” “The numbers game is a dangerous enterprise.” Yet I soon realized that my skepticism about what the Spirit is doing in Brazil was little more than jealousy. No cleaver contention could alter the source of my incredulity: I simply wish God would bring new believers to my communities as well!

Presbyterian evangelism in Brazil doesn’t resemble the in-your-face, turn-or-burn Bible thumping street corner preacher. It doesn’t even look like an American evangelical crusade à la George Whitfield or Billy Graham. In fact, I saw many similarities with the evangelism methods I’ve seen American Presbyterians employ. The primary “strategy” is to engage relationships: If I get to know someone, I will have an opportunity to share the Gospel with him or her through friendship. Insofar as I have engaged in evangelism in my life, this has been the approach I’ve adopted.

Here’s the key difference I discovered: While I am quick to find an excuse not to share the Gospel “just yet,” the Brazilians I met actually talk about Jesus. I tend to worry about making a relationship awkward or causing people to feel as though I’ve only befriended them in order to “convert” them rather than telling them “how much the Lord has done for me.” I share with the Brazilian pastors the desire to share Christ through relationships, but while they are quick to follow through, I am slow to do so.

Our Presbyterian tradition affirms that it is the Spirit, not the disciple, who transforms those at enmity with Christ. With this theological foundation, I need not evangelize others as if their salvation depended on me, yet I can – I must! -intentionally and eagerly bear witness to the work of the Spirit in my life. Though it would be wrong to befriend others with the goal of making them Christians, I see nothing wrong with befriending others with the hope that Christ might break into their lives; surely this is the hope of evangelism! My time in Brazil brought this derelict hope to the surface of my heart, and I’m giving evangelism new consideration.

Perhaps our Presbyterian Church as a whole can come together and consider how we can approach evangelism with more passion and dynamism, not because we think the Church is dying, but because, as one Brazilian pastor put it, “You cannot do ministry if you do not love the souls of people.”

By Brian Lays, middler MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Learn more about WMI and the work they do by liking their page on Facebook or going to their website: http://worldmissioninitiative.org/

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