Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/19 2013

A Mission Reflection: Senegal

In this season of Easter, I have been reflecting upon the way God is breathing resurrection power into the lives of those who live in Senegal. It was awe-inspiring to live amongst our Senegalese brothers and sisters for two weeks; here are some of their stories.

Here is the Baobob tree and Francois, our translator, sharing the “monkey fruit” with us.

The first is a couple. They are our hosts. Although Senegal is a completely open country for spreading the gospel, I will refrain from using their names because their history is so difficult. The husband was a brilliant military leader in his youth. He was invited to another nation to train troupes and stage a coupe against the reigning president. But after serving for a while, he realized that the troupes he was training were not just preparing for the coupe, but where killing civilians from rival people groups. He became disillusioned and wanted to leave, and met some Christians who likewise were realizing that this was not the way of the Lord. But you don’t just “quit” leading a rebel army. He was tortured. And only by the grace of God was he able to flee, with his wife and children to Senegal. There, he learned about the Lord, mostly through the faith of his believing wife, and now both of them lead the church.The wife is now a powerful teacher and preacher. Her husband is also a pastor now, and he speaks to the President of Senegal when matters concerning people of faith arise. God took the natural gifts that God had born in our host – gifts of charisma and an ability to lead people – and turned these gifts from training for violence to training up in the way of the Lord Jesus on a national level. That is the power of resurrection.

Story telling in the villages. We acted out the stories of Lazarus and Bartimaeus.

The second story is about a local village pastor. The work God is doing through him is a tangible manifestation of resurrection power. Pastor Malek lives in the bush, where most people live day-to-day. The land is extremely dry and with the exception of three months out of the year, it is difficult to cultivate plants. But Pastor Malek knows the Lord Jesus and has hope in difficult situations. He has started a farm to feed not only his wife and eight children, but to provide income for his village and for his church. Although he has to walk two miles to get to the garden and then carry buckets up the hill over and over again to water the plants, he is giving new hope to his people by showing that the land can produce. The Lord is enabling this pastor to live in the power of the resurrection in a tangible way, literally turning uninhabitable land into a paradise.

The team

Yet another place where we encountered God’s resurrection power in the life of His people was through the testimony of Suza. She is not from Senegal, but from the Congo. And she paid a large sum of money to a man who told her he would get her to France by boat if she could get herself to Senegal. We heard many, many stories of people like her, trying to escape impoverished situations in their home countries. Families putting all they had on the line for the sake of one family member making it to another country where there might be hope for work. But it is a rouse. When she arrived in Senegal, she knew no one. She did not speak the language. She had no family. She had no home. Nothing. If anyone has a right to be bitter and angry, to turn away from God, it’s Suza. But the church took her in. They pay her a very small salary for odd jobs  And they allow her to take classes at the Theological Seminary where we were teaching. Suza is a woman of deep joy and passion. She said to me, “KJ, if that man had never deceived me, I would have never learned about the Lord. How can I be angry with him? The Lord will provide for me. I will find a way forward.” Suza has not experienced resurrection, newness of life, in a way that I am use to seeing it. She is still a poor woman, living day-to-day in a foreign land.  And yet, she knows the power of resurrection.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have met our brothers and sisters in Senegal and hope that their stories inspire you on this day as we remember Christ’s resurrection in this Easter Season.

By KJ Norris-Wilke, 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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4/12 2013

A Mission Reflection: The Mexico Border

When you get home from a mission trip, people always ask, “What did you do?” A wise man once told me that hanging drywall is never the purpose of a short-term mission trip. The purpose is to immerse yourselves in a different cultural context, meet new people, learn about their lives, understand their context, and look for the ways that God is working in that corner of the world. You’re there to build relationships with people in that community and to strengthen the bonds within your own group; if you happen to hang some drywall while you’re there, that’s great, too. I would also add that seeing and participating in someone else’s reality helps to see your own corner of the world a little bit differently—ideally, you get a fresh perspective on your life and what God is calling you to do in your own community. We did not hang drywall during our trip to the Mexico border.

From left to right: Mary Morrow, Dave   Rupprecht, John Hoover, Karen Rupprecht, Sarah Ott, Alan Olson, Marty Neal,   James Lee, Brad Rito, Ken Love, Joca Gallegos, John Welch

 

We were a group of eleven pilgrims, many of whom were not from the PTS community. We were from different contexts and different world views—urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative. The trip was co-lead by the Rev. John Welch, Dean of Students at PTS and PTS alum Rev. Sarah Ott (class of 2010), the pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of DuBois, PA. The group included three current students (James Lee, Alan Olson, and Bradley Rito), one other PTS alum (Ken Love), and five people from DuBois (John Hoover, Mary Morrow, Marty Neal, and Dave & Karen Rupprecht). We went to the city of Agua Prieta, Mexico.

Agua Prieta is a city of 120,000, located across the border from Douglas, AZ. While we were there, we coordinated with Frontera de Cristo, a mission agency of the PC (USA). We learned about Frontera’s various ministries on both sides of the border. We learned about U.S. immigration policy, and then we saw the human consequences of that unjust policy. We shared tables with migrant workers and we heard their stories. We enjoyed the hospitality of Mexican families. We walked the paths of migrant workers in the Sonora desert and we participated in a prayer vigil for those who lost their lives along the border.

 

The border wall was one of the inescapable features of the landscape. In most places the wall is thirteen feet high.

These crosses bear the names of all the migrants who have died near Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico since 2004

¡Presente! Brad Rito holds a cross in the vigil to honor the human victims of an unjust policy

For me, the most powerful event of the entire trip was a meal that we shared with migrant workers at a shelter (run by the Catholic Church) called CAME. We met the migrant workers as equals at the table; we heard their stories. I sat across from three men: Juan, Miguel Angel, and Jorge. Juan appeared to be in his forties. He had worked in California and his family was there. He was going to try to get back to his family. Jorge, 24, had last worked in Sheboygan, WI. He dropped out of school so that he could work and send money home—so his brothers and sisters could continue their education. All three men spoke of the pain of separation from their loved ones. Miguel Angel also dropped out of school and went to work so that his siblings could get an education. His last job was in the kitchen at a Chili’s restaurant in Bensalem, PA. I know where that restaurant is; it can’t be more than five miles from where my mother lives. I may have eaten there. Miguel Angel may have prepared my food. In that instant my world shrunk. Had I just traveled thousands of miles to meet a man who worked where my mother lived?

We were only in Mexico for five days, but still, there are too many stories to tell in one blog post. We saw God at work in many wonderful ways. I could tell you about the good work that’s being done by Café Justo, a fair-trade coffee company that was founded with seed money from Frontera de Cristo. I could tell you about the U.S. Border Patrol officer we ate lunch with, and how there are kind and decent people charged with enforcing this unjust policy in the United States. I could tell you all about the prayer vigil in Douglas, AZ, where we recognized the names of migrants who lost their lives, remembering those who might otherwise be forgotten. I could tell you so much, but there isn’t enough space.

I will tell you that the two groups on our trip became one while we were in Mexico. We all came to see that the fence was a symbol for an unjust immigration policy and that there is an urgent need to change that policy. The more time I spent looking at that fence, the more I became aware of the walls within my own heart. We are called by Christ to love one another, to practice agape love for all. None of us will ever live up to this completely, but if we are to be faithful to Christ’s call, we must begin to tear down the walls in our hearts. For me, this process began in earnest at a table, in Agua Prieta, while sharing a meal with Jaun, Miguel Angel, and Jorge.

By Alan Olson, 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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4/4 2013

A Mission Reflection: Chiapas

Yesterday I was driving on the bumpy roads deep in the heartland of Mexico surrounded by smells, colors, and people that were completely foreign to me a week earlier. This morning I am sitting in my favorite Pittsburgh coffee shop and it is hard to believe. I am slowly readjusting to the radical change and trying to take time to decompress from so many emotions, thoughts, and cultural realities. So much has happened over the last ten days. I feel a bit like the characters in C.S. Lewis’s children series, “The Chronicle of Narnia” when they walk back through the wardrobe after visiting a foreign land. They each have experienced a world that is radically different from anything they have ever known. They have eaten food that was foreign to them, they have talked to strangers they did not know existed, and they walk in a land that was both far more dangerous and beautiful than anything they had previously imagined. Yet, as they leave this land and walk through the wardrobe, they enter back into the world they left far behind, and nothing has changed. Even so, they will never be the same, because what they have experienced has changed them.

Perhaps, this is the best way I can articulate my experience over the past week. I have befriended many people whom I did not know existed. I have eaten the ripe fruit from the land of Mexico and I have experience a land that was completely foreign to me. More than all of that, I have been the victim of the Chiapas people’s love towards me. Through food, conversation, and sacrificial hospitality I have been pierced deeply by their love. It is as if they really believe the words of the author of Hebrews who writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2) I am far from being an angel, but their hospitality was worthy of such guests. Every place we visited they had a feast prepared and it was their best. They served us first and what was left over was their portion. They gave us the best and ate the leftovers. The family I stayed with for a few days rearranged the entire house, in order that I could sleep in the best room. They fed me their best food and adopted me as one of their own. This was my common experience in Chiapas. I was a victim of their love and their wounds will not heal quickly, or least I pray that I will feel them for many years to come.

My eyes have seen the beauty of the mountain ranges and the splendor that is rooted in the lives of the ingenious people there. Smiles that shine and eyes that display a depth that is difficult to put into words. Eyes that tell a story of pain, eyes that have a depth shaped by many weathered storms and a firmness within them that declares we expect more to come. People that do not place their security in bank accounts or insurance firms, but live off the land and trust that God will provide for the needs. I learned that my brothers and sisters have been persecuted for their faith and they live daily in the tension between the heavens and hells that exists in this world.

At one point in our trip we had the opportunity to visit a drug and alcohol rehab center. This was a powerful experience. These men (and two women) lived in conditions that were desperate. The spent time with these men and women has given a clear picture of my own desperation for God’s mercy. They live in conditions that we would be considered unfit for our pets, and they ate from the grasping fingers from the trash who reluctantly handed a few scraps. Yet, they choose this path because they have come to realize that their addiction leads to nothing less then death. They daily wrestle with demons in conditions that break my heart, but it is better to wrestle than to give in to death. Despite all this brokenness, our time together has reminded me of the power of God’s love, the power of the cross. That God became man and entered into the condition that these men walk in daily, in order that they might walk out of death and into light. Like the path Jesus walked, this path is tremendously difficult and painful, and it will cost them everything, but this is where life is found.

Those men and women know they need life, they know they need the grace of God to live. They understand that redemption is a necessity not an option. As I reenter into the society that has raised me. I wonder if we understand our condition? Do we understand how much God loves us and what it has cost him to give us life: or are we deceived and settle for so much less? I do not know if I always understand the love of God. No, I know I do not always understand this or better said, I know I do not always believe this. I am not only scared to be the man that God calls me to be: a man of integrity, holiness, and one who loves God and his neighbor with his whole heart, mind, and soul. I am scared to believe how much God truly loves me. Like Adam in the garden, I stand before God in my complete nakedness as all my deeds of wickedness are exposed before a Holy God, and my shame is too much to bear. Yet, instead of receiving the due shame and death of my sin, I hear the Lord say, “You have no idea what this going to cost us, you have no idea how dark evil truly is and what you have chosen. You have no idea how much pain your rejection of my love has hurt us, but I love you still and I am willing to pay the price in order to have you back.” This Love is terrifying. It terrifies me because it seems too good to be true and it demands me to give what I receive to others. There is no hoarding this love and it is dangerous, it is scary. To love with the same love of God tears down all my walls of defense and leaves me completely vulnerable. It leaves me naked before others and being abused and rejected is inevitable. I constantly hear the accusations that to love with such love is a set up for unbearable pain. That this type of love will be rejected or stolen from me through death, rejection, or manipulation, but in Jesus, I see and hear God saying, it is worth it and my love cannot be broken.

As I step out of the wardrobe back into this familiar world of family, friends, and the city of Pittsburgh. I pray that the wounds of love that I received on this journey will propel me to receive the love that God has offered me in his own deep wounds, for the journey of my life. I pray that I would no longer listen to the many voices that have come to kill, steal, and destroy, but I would listen to the One who leads to abundant life.  I pray for the grace that I desperately need to become vulnerable in order to receive the Love that is stronger than anything.

By Joshua Fisher, 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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