Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/18 2017

Seeing God in the World through Short-term Mission

short-term mission trip participants, The Netherlands

WMI Netherlands 2017 mission trip participants at the community of Nijkleaster

WMI Brazil 2016 mission trip participants learn from church planters in Sao Paulo

In the fall of 2014, my wife, TJ, encouraged me to look into going on a mission trip through Pittsburgh Seminary’s World Mission Initiative. I was apprehensive in the beginning because this was my first year in seminary and I had never been outside the United States or Canada. After looking at the different trips offered in the spring, I joined a group that regularly met over lunch to share about their relationships with folks that they met while in Southeast Asia on previous WMI mission trips. Through the stories I heard and the learned reality of God’s people in this land, I had to go for myself and witness what God was doing in that place.

After receiving financial help from the World Mission Initiative, the Shortridge Fund, and many generous friends and family members, I was headed across the Pacific to meet these people and hear their stories and be with them in worship, study, and prayer. On a cold February day in 2015, a group of us departed from Pittsburgh and flew 12 time zones to experience life as a Christian in a completely different culture than our own. Through this one trip I was able to explain to others back home that the world is not at all what we have been conditioned to believe but instead the world is full of beautiful people that are made in the image of God.

Fruitful Ministries Around the World

My first trip to Southeast Asia also allowed me to see what it is like to have fruitful ministries in places that we would least expect. Most churches that we visited were either additions to someone’s home or simply someone’s living room. But the Holy Spirit was present in these places and God was moving through the church leaders that we met, and the Christian faith was growing.

In the following months as I grew spiritually, I was able to see that God was really pointing me in the direction of church planting. My experience that I had in the spring showed me that God does not need walls and a hymnal to show up; but God needs people connecting with other people. So I began to connect with others and listen to stories and hear how the Spirit was moving in communities and in relationships. Once again, I was able to travel with WMI to Brazil and continue my listening journey. As we traveled around the state of Sao Paulo, we met with innovators in church planting that were wrestling with their faith, listening to others, and finding a place to welcome their neighbors. That was what God was calling me to hear and I heard it—loud and clear.

God in the 21st Century U.S.

Just a couple months after our Brazil trip, my wife traveled with WMI to Kenya and was too introduced to a new culture and a new way of defining church. This experience sparked in her what I had been unraveling since I first started traveling. We talked about culture and faith and this helped us to better discern our future together in church planting. But for me, there was still a burning question: what is God up to in the 21st century U.S.? To discover this, I journeyed again with WMI to the Netherlands to see what God was up to in a secular society.

In the cold, windy, rainy countryside known as Friesland, our group met with a gathering of people that have called themselves Nijkleaster (translated: New Monastery). This project was based out of a nearly 1,000-year-old church and included folks from all walks of life and faith traditions. They gathered on Wednesday mornings and occasionally on Sundays to dive into Scripture, pray for each other and the world, and to experience God through one another and through contemplative practices. The most profound experience occurred Wednesday morning when we took a pilgrimage walk with the folks of the monastery. This was a time of reflection and prayer and allowed people to walk around the farmlands and be totally blessed by the presence of others. What I heard God say on that walk was that people desire to be accepted and loved. They do not want fancy solutions to their simple problems; people want to be loved, just as Jesus commands.

If there is one theme that goes throughout my journey of international travels with WMI it would be that God wants to show us something, and to see it we have to be attentive to the Spirit working through others in this world. Are you unsure about whether you should go on a WMI trip? I encourage you to go and see and hear what God has in store for you.

The World Mission Initiative is now accepting applications for the 2018 spring break trips to Egypt (Church Planting in Context), Colombia (Cultures of Violence, Culture of Peace), and Israel/Palestine (Listening to Palestinian Voices). Learn more about these trips!

Ryan Lucas is a senior M.Div. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He and his wife, TJ, are raising their daughters while both attending seminary and serving the churches and communities they love.

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4/17 2015

The Power of Prayer

power-of-prayer“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14

The last day we were in the village of Bhirkot, we walked to the home of one of the villagers for a time of fellowship and worship. We met many new people and made our way to the upper level of the home. We took the customary places on mats, on the floor, in a large circle, and began to worship. Pastor Rajendra led the service and hymns were sung in Nepalese and English. The Word was provided by Rebecca. There were also witness stories given. At the conclusion of the service Don Dawson asked if we could pray for those who shared their stories with us. There were four individuals so Karen opened the prayer, and then Brian, Jane, Ben, and I prayed in turn for these people. I prayed for Krishna, his family, and especially for his granddaughter who is crippled. My turn came and with my hand on his shoulder, as I prayed, I could feel Krishna shaking. After Don wrapped up our time of prayer, Krishna lifted his face full of tears.

Almost all Nepalese Christians have received or know someone who received some type of healing through prayer. Because there were only a handful of Christians in Nepal 35 years ago, most Christians are converted Hindus. Most of the conversions are the result of these healings. Their profound belief in the power of prayer and especially Krishna’s deep emotional reaction to our prayer for his family and his granddaughter led me to evaluate my own conviction in the power of prayer. Martin Luther wrote that we should always pray expecting an answer to prayer. We shouldn’t presume to know what God’s answer will be, but to KNOW the prayer is heard and in time will be answered. I continue to pray that I will have the faith that the impossible will be made possible through prayer that our friends in Bhirkot showed us.

Marty Neal is a first year MDiv student at Pittsburgh Seminary. During spring break he travelled with the World Mission Initiative to Nepal.

Other Nepal Reflections:

Rebecca DePoe – We’re All One Body in Christ

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4/14 2015

We’re All One Body in Christ

“For just as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Nepal-Mission-TripI shared this scripture passage with my World Mission Initiative Nepal team during the morning it was my turn to lead our devotional time. That morning our team shook ourselves out of bed at 4:00 so we could watch the sunrise over Mt. Everest. Of course I forgot that it was my morning to lead devotions until we filled into the church van to drive to the mountains. And of course I was so tired that I slept almost the entire drive there. I stumbled out of the van more worried about how I was going to pull together an on-the-fly devotional, than excited about watching the sunrise.

After ascending a few stairs, our team arrived at a flat, raised, platform just as the sun started to peak through the mountaintops. It is hard to describe what it feels like to watch the sunrise over Mt. Everest for the first time. It’s almost like watching a stage manager begin a play by turning on one stage light on at a time. At first all you are able to see is one stage prop, but slowly you start to see more props, then actors, then what the actors are wearing, then how the actors fit into the set. By the time the set is fully illumined, you cannot help but marvel at how every part of the set works together to tell a story. When the sun finally crept above the mountaintops, I had to sit down for a minute because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation- particularly how each part of the mountain-from the snow peaked caps to the luscious green tree tops, worked together to create the breathtaking view in front of me.

All of the sudden I knew what I would share about for our morning devotional time: the idea of the church being one body with many members. One of the things I struggled with on our trip to Nepal was figuring out my place within our group. To use Paul’s metaphor for the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians, I was struggling to be a head in a context that called for hearts. I cannot be immediately comfortable in new situations the way some of my teammates can. I cannot put people at ease the way some of my other teammates can. And I certainly cannot work a church coffee hour the way our team leader can. But one thing I can do is observe a new situation and proclaim how Jesus is moving in that new situation.

So with Mt. Everest behind me and my team in front of me, I lead a devotional time on the body of Christ. I read Paul’s exhortation on the body of Christ, then lead my team through a time of recognizing the various gifts and talents of each team member. I ended our devotional time by praying for the people we met in Nepal, and for the people we left behind in the United States.

As I transition back into my life at Pittsburgh Seminary and reflect on my experience in Nepal, I realize that leading that devotional time was an important moment in my journey toward discerning my call to ministry. I learned that not only do I have gift and talents for proclaiming the Word of God, but doing so brings me great joy. For it is in the proclamation that I get to take all of my observations, and reflections about who God is and how God acts, and share them with others in a way that brings God glory. Because of my experience in Nepal I am newly energized to participate in God’s call in my life through my seminary education and ministry in the PC(USA).

Heavenly Father,

I praise you for the diversity of gifts and talents that exist within your church. Help us as a community of believers to recognize and appreciate this diversity. I pray that you would help your church discern its gifts and talents so that it might serve you more faithfully.

In your Son’s holy name we pray,

Amen.

Rebecca DePoe is a middler MDiv student who recently traveled with the World Mission Initiative to Nepal. She’s serving as the seminary intern at Bellevue United Presbyterian Church. You can follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaDePoe where she live tweets her #ch47pts readings.

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