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. 

1 comment:

Dave Carlton said...

Awww... and we had such fun with you two! Thank you so much for encouraging us to attend such a great week at NWMC and blessings on your travels!