Saturday, July 30, 2016

We Need Each Other

This month of July Kristi and I have been on the road.  We have had fun, hiking in Pennsylvania, seeing Shakespeare performed in Louisville, sitting under the stars near the Allegany mountains, attending a Pirates/Brewers game in Pittsburgh, eating Handel’s ice cream near Youngstown (OH), speaking in various churches across Ohio and Pennsylvania, and being fortunate enough to attend two significant conferences, one in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. 

Kristi with Pennsylvania sign

Pittsburgh - Bob and kristi with PNC park
PNC Park across the river, had fun exploring Pittsburgh!

Handels ice cream in Canfield, OH 
Got caught in the rain eating ice cream on a Sunday! 

The second week of July we attended the Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission Sharing Conference at Laws Lodge, Louisville Seminary.  This conference brings together PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers serving afield,  currently on home assignment.  This year we were a group of almost forty adults and children, coming from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean Islands, Indonesia, the Mexican/US border, Central Asia, Costa Rica, Columbia, Germany, a country in the Middle East which I cannot name, Thailand, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Our facilitators commented several times that this was a special group with lots of experience.  We spent lots of time laughing through our sessions, commiserating together and celebrating together the joys and challenges of a unique life and shared calling.  The time together almost felt like a homecoming, a place of nurture, a place of shelter in the midst of the storms and vicissitudes of life within our families, our communities, and our ministry contexts.  Each morning we spent time studying the book Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, then spending time in small groups where we could share more deeply on themes related to our brokenness and call to serve God as His beloved daughters and sons.  I was impressed by the vulnerability and openness of members of our groups, and it became evident that this was a deep and meaningful time for all.  Kristi and I are grateful for the Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) support staff, for the ways they brought us together to foster a community of love and trust.  We were given a significant opportunity to connect with members of “our tribe,” re-identifying a common identity and being renewed in our vocation.

This last week Kristi and I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference, held at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  It is our second time to participate in this one hundred and eleven year old missions conference, the longest running mission conference in the United States.  I have been impressed hearing over and over how people feel drawn to come back to this conference, feeling loved and accepted, empowered to fulfill God’s calling.  Having representative missionaries and nationals from all over the world, we have received insight into events and God’s work across the world, ideas and realities which transcend the news conveyed by the manifold news services, delivering only in sound bites, delivering non-nuanced and under-informed interpretations of global realities.  For instance, a pastor from the Czech Republic informed us how Christians in his homeland have “stood” their ground in response to the stranglehold of communism, “walked” forward against oppression and injustice, and “helped others to run,” empowering sisters and brothers in Ethiopia and other countries.  Lesser known stories like this one are voiced and inspire us to greater commitment and service. 

NWMC - Africa game with Ludwigs 1
Kristi and I and others hosted “the Africa Game” at the NWMC,
helping children and others understand the challenges
children face going to school in Congo

NWMC Shelvis and Nancy
Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, colleagues who serve in South Sudan
taught each morning at NWMC, inspiring all delegates to
greater faithfulness and service to the Living God

Throughout this week Kristi and I have served on the Mission Staff, speaking to different age groups each day of the week.  We have helped high school students understand how they are connected to youth in Congo, tied by the dark reality of conflict minerals, minerals necessary to satiate our hunger for smart phones and electronic gadgetry.  We have told the story of our calling to Congo to groups of young adults, provided young children an idea of what life is like for Congolese children, and shared with others our passion regarding healing and reconciliation and providing financial services to the poor in Congo.  Our Mission Staff has been a large group of thirty, and our morning meetings have served as a place of laughter and vulnerability.  I was personally blessed by a colleague serving in Ethiopia who took the time to check in with me early in the week.  His tender care, his listening ear, and his faith filled prayers lightened my load, helping me know that God’s Spirit knows the cries of my heart and that God will unravel uncertainties hidden within my heart.       

NWMC B&K with Karen and Dave
What a joy it was to reconnect with old friends – Karen Sloan and her
husband Dave Carlton, and to meet their son Daniel, being introduced
to Daniel’s joyful, effervescent spirit!              

This month I am reminded of how much we need each other.  We need to know that we belong to a company of companions who care, that others around us share visions and values, that others are willing to come alongside us as we share brokenness and dreams, and those close to us can encourage us on the journey, speaking God’s life giving word, tearing the veil of uncertainty and fear.  Truly, we need each other.  I am thankful for those whom God has graciously and lovingly placed around us.  God’s mercies and love never cease to amaze me. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bible news from Congo

Our colleagues in Congo have written recently with updates about the Bible subsidy program, which continues while we are in the U.S. this year. So far this year 155 Bible have been sold in Kasai at the subsidized rate. There is a gathering every April of lay leaders (elders, deacons, women and youth leaders), and people come from all over Kasai for that gathering. Our colleague Pastor Mukenge was able to bring 2 boxes (56 Bibles) to that gathering this year, and people from very rural regions who were overjoyed to finally have a Bible. Susanne Meta was one of those people, who said that she had a Bible, but it was so tattered that it was missing the first 2 books in the Old Testament and the last several books in the new Testament. She is a leader in the women’s ministry, and said that having a Bible will help her when they gather for Bible Study and worship.

Another colleague, Pastor Mboyamba, was teaching a seminar in June at the pastoral institute in Bulape, a rural village far from Kananga. He encountered Pastor Mafuata, from another rural village, who described the dire lack of Bibles in their village. He has a Bible, but it is old and ragged and missing many pages. Sometimes when he is preaching, he finds a song in the hymnbook that resembles the passage he wants to preach on, and uses the song as the text since he does not have that part in his BIble. Pastor Mboyamba felt so moved by his plight that he gave Pastor Mafuata his own Bible, trusting that he could get another one when he returned to Kananga.

Pastor Mafuata received Bible from MboyambaPastor Mafuata

We are also thrilled to report that more Tshiluba Bibles are coming soon to Kasai, thanks to some generous gifts in the past few months from individuals and congregations, including the women’s Bible study at Grace Church,First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac, IL, and members of the Jesus House ministry in Bloomington, IL. In Tshiluba, there is a common proverb that says “kamue, kamue, wa ba dikumi”, which means that 1 by 1, our little pieces put together become something significant. While one person alone might not feel they can make a big difference with this need, when all of our little pieces get put together, God’s Word is getting into people’s hands all over the central Congo. David says in the Bible “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Ps 119: 72). May that delight in God’s truth be true for all of us, including our brothers and sisters in Congo!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

American Society of Missiology (ASM)

Two weeks ago today I attended the American Society of Missiology’s annual conference, this year held in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The American Society of Missiology (ASM) describes itself as an inclusive, diverse and professional association comprised of Independent (Evangelical, Pentecostal), Conciliar, and Roman Catholic communities of the Christian Church.  ASM officially began in 1973 with the intention of being an organization which would promote scholarly research, discussion, publication, and teaching in the field of mission studies.  ASM currently describes itself as the ecumenical, professional association for mission studies in North America, including more than 600 academicians, mission agency executives, and missionaries in a unique fellowship of scholarship and mission.  While attending the annual gathering, I also learned that in the last five years ASM has moved in the direction of including more young people involved in mission and has become more sensitive to the need of promoting the significant role of women in mission.  This year’s gathering reflected these changes. 

ASM represents multiples languages, cultures and nationalities,
coming together for the common purpose of critically engaging
the world, furthering God’s purposes on earth! 

Missiology, filled with insightful, cutting edge ideas is
the official journal publication of ASM

Every annual gathering has a theme, and this year’s theme was “Missiology and Public Life: Mission's Constructive Engagement with Societies, Change, and Conflict.”  Plenary addresses were given, along with papers submitted and presented on a host of topics as diverse as “Race, Justice, and Participation in the Mission of God” to “Public Religion, Faith, and National Politics.”  One of the plenaries was delivered by Sebastian Kim, who serves as Chair of Theology and Public Life at York St. John University in the UK.  The title of his address was “Mission’s Public Engagement.”  He made the point that theology is inherently “public” and available to all, and helped us to think about both the private and public components of our faith traditions.  He also named the tension in missiological thought between salvation and liberation, encouraging the expansion of mission to be both evangelistic and socially minded.  He poignantly stated that Public Theology often focuses upon the world, while Missiology focuses upon issues related to mission.  He inferred that there needs to be stronger correlation between the two. 

The night previous Gregory Leffel who serves as 2016 ASM President and directs One Horizon Institute gave an address entitled “The Missiology of Trouble.”  His presentation was equally thought provoking.  He touched on issues related to modernism and post-modernism, and then framed a new sociological construct he labelled “Metamodernism.”  He first highlighted our American society’s strong tradition of liberalism, liberty and liberality.  He then skillfully dissected the current state of affairs as the Left is in tension with the Right, both sides reflecting different ideals from people to property, communitarianism versus individualism, and democracy in relation to free market domination.  He introduced the idea of “metaxis,” which seeks to integrate two contrasting elements, finding a coherent organizing structure or idea to help us think about and address the pressing issues of our times.  He made the point that “Public Missiology,” a new term submitted for thoughtful reflection during ASM 2016, is essential to accomplish the work of ‘metaxis’ in finding things that unite us while respecting differences.  I have to confess that I had to have my “A-game” on to follow some of the highly technical jargon and head spinning concepts both speakers espoused.  I did my best, and was even able to offer a somewhat lucid question to Sebastian Kim regarding how to stand in solidarity with colleagues and friends, encouraging public engagement in the context I serve in Congo.  Dr. Kim along with others gave me some helpful food for thought.

As part of ASM 2016 I actually presented a paper as well.  The paper’s title is “Faith and Politics:  Rwanda, a Case History.” I was quite nervous about presenting and spent lots of hours preparing.  Thankfully my paper presentation was well received and I was greatly encouraged by my facilitator, by fellow presenters, and by those who came to listen and learn.  Honestly, I felt quite empowered and felt like maybe I actually fit into this body of mission-minded scholars and practitioners.  I was also able to connect with and make a few new friends, as well as connect with former professors and classmates from Fuller Theological Seminary.  We had lots of fun conversations around meals that were both light hearted but also cut deep into our own personal histories, hopes and dreams.  I felt so edified participating in ASM’s annual conference.  Praise God for such a thoughtful group of people seeking to bring glory to God and expand His Kingdom here on earth!

ASM 3 (Dan Shaw) 
I was able to connect with my anthropology professor from Fuller, Dr. R. Daniel Shaw -
he encouraged me, and was glad to see me at ASM!

May God bless this coming together of His people for His Kingdom!