Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/1 2014

A Mission Reflection: Remembering

 

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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4/10 2014

Caring for Conflict

Conflict. It seems to be everywhere. Plastered across our newspapers and television screens, sending updates on our phones or notifying us on Facebook. And we see it, we talk about it and can be shocked by it. But to some extent we are never fully surprised, as if we have the muck of reality already penciled into our daily calendars.

My focus is not going to be that the state of the world is not as it seems, that darkness and chaos that we are exposed to doesn’t exist; because it does. Its evidence some days overwhelms us. However, I am also not going to be wrangled into the view that losing to this force is an inevitability, that change is not possible and that hope is an irrational sentiment.

Instead I am going to use this space as a vehicle through which to comment on the distance we put between ourselves and what we view as conflict. That we view from afar, pointing to the distant horizon, saying that is where the messiness is and exactly where I am not since I am clearly here and not there, forgetting that the same conflict photographed with an Instagram filter is sitting across the table from you, drinking a cup of tea, and nibbling a raspberry scone. Conflict happens. It is one of the many things humans do, and the point is not to disagree or feel disappointed in people. The same tension that ebbs and flows through the network of the world is present in us and that one person who we just loathe, who gets under our skin and cooks us from the inside out.

The question is how do we do it well, especially as the Church, who is called to be a unified body? How do we in an ever dividing sphere cease being the divisive humans we are comfortable being?

I don’t know the answer. If I did, I would publish a book and win some sort of shiny important award that would sit either on my mantel (that is, if I had a mantel) or tucked away in some drawer. What I do know is this: To be unified does not mean that we have to be in agreement on everything. We are not called to not disagree or even to like one another, but we are called to love one another.

So perhaps the best way to overcome the conflict, to acknowledge the messy world we dwell in, is to love that person or whatever that person respresents. Perhaps all we really have to do is care.

Written by Rebecca Dix, middler MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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3/26 2014

A Mission Reflection: More Than a Building

Our group of seven students and two leaders spent the better part of two weeks in Brazil.  The first week was spent in Manaus, a city in the heart of the Amazon.  We visited numerous churches and pastors and tried to soak up as much information as possible.  These pastors are so passionate and humble about their work! They pray for numerous hours a day and dedicate their lives to doing the work of God.  Their churches thrive on small group ministry.  Held in the houses of congregation members, these small groups are used as a way to invite and minister to non-believers and show them the love and grace of God. Each person is involved in a small group Bible study, and the groups come together on Sundays to worship.

What amazed me about these people was their passion and immediacy about evangelism.  They see Christianity as a life or death situation, and therefore they find evangelism to be a crucial element of the faith.  They are certainly not ashamed of the gospel message!  It was not uncommon for grocery stores to have “Jesus is Lord” written on their signs, nor was it uncommon to see a man with a speaker strapped to the roof of his car, preaching the gospel as he drove through the crowded city streets.  Since they do not fear offending anyone, they are always willing to share the story of how God changed their lives with anyone who will listen, having full faith that God will work through them.  Their courage and passion was contagious!

After a week in Manaus, we flew to the eastern side of Brazil to the city of Sao Paulo and spent time in the surrounding cities of Campinas and Sorocaba.  We continued to visit churches, learn from the pastors and observe how they worked to expand and plant churches.  Many of the churches here seemed to be niche churches.  For instance, we went to one church that reached out to rock-n-roll fans and people with tattoos.  Another church evangelized through jiu jitsu! (and we even got to learn some moves!) After each jiu jitsu lesson, the pastor would sit the students down, read a Bible passage, share the gospel message, and close with prayer.

What struck me about Brazil is that the church building itself seems to be of little importance.  One church met in a local workout gym, another met in a jiu jitsu school and a third met in a small rented warehouse.  What matters exponentially more is the body of Christ itself.  The people in Brazil are very relationship-oriented, and their best evangelism seems to be done through real loving relationship with each other and with God.  By loving each other, they are showing each other God’s love. We asked one pastor what his biggest challenge was when it came to evangelizing to his church of rough, rock-n-roll, tattooed, motorcycle men, and his response was “changing my heart first.”  This was huge to me!  It is important, I have learned, to humble ourselves and admit our shortcomings in order to more fully share the transformative power of the grace of God.  Evangelism is not something that should be viewed as something that we do to people, but rather a dynamic experience that develops through loving relationship with another person.

This trip to Brazil allowed me to see what God is up to in other parts of the world, but also reinforced in me the importance of living a simple life.  When we schedule every hour of each day, we do not leave time for God to speak in the silent, still moments of our lives.  What would it look like if we let go of our tendencies to schedule ourselves down to the half hour, and instead created space for God to work in and through the silences of our lives?

By Stephanie Martin, first year 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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