Mission Magnified, a Presbyterian World Mission conference held in Kansas City, Mo., recently brought nearly 70 congregational mission leaders from 22 states together for tools, training and networking to enhance Presbyterian mission around the corner and around the world.
The gathering, held at Heartland Presbyterian Center Nov. 19−21, also provided a scenic respite, time for worship, and time to embrace core values that strengthen mutuality, dignity and partnership in mission.
“I am new to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” said the Rev. Princeton Abaraoha, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Midlothian, Texas. “I came because I wanted to know the way Presbyterians do mission.”
“It’s a great responsibility to seek to discern as faithfully as we can how God is calling us into mission,” said Ellen Sherby, coordinator, Equipping for Mission Involvement with Presbyterian World Mission. “We hope the tools shared during these three days will help all of us be more effective in mission service by going deep into topics of strategy, cultural intelligence and partnership.”
“We’re facing the era of greatest change in the way that Americans understand and engage in mission,” said the Rev. Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission.
“We may have taken part in a mission across town, but the concept of going to another country was not a concept 40 to 60 years ago,” Farrell said. “Today,” he adds, “short-term mission has grown to be a $4 billion-a-year industry in the United States.”
Instead of participating in mission “on behalf of congregations,” Presbyterian mission co-workers and support staff at the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville inspire, equip and connect the denomination’s 10,000 congregations to mission work through short- and long-term programs and projects with regional and global partners to address critical needs at home and abroad.
The Rev. Mark Adams, PC(USA) mission co-worker supporting the ministry of Frontera de Cristo at the U.S. Mexico border, led sessions for mission leaders on maximizing the effectiveness of short-term mission trips. Adams and his wife, Miriam Maldonado Escobar, have ministered on both sides of the border for nearly two decades. They help churches in the United States and Mexico respond faithfully to immigration challenges in community transforming ways.
“Each year through our mission delegation ministry at the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 500 individuals from about 40 churches, seminaries, universities and leadership organizations join us for immersion experiences that provide opportunities to be touched by Jesus, to see more clearly and to hear Jesus’ call to be changed,” Adams said. “These experiences are more meaningful and beneficial if those in the home congregation have a clear understanding of the culture, challenges and needs of the host partner and vice versa.”
Adams shared several stories of miscommunication between short-term mission teams and global partners, stories that may have had different outcomes had each better understood what the other might find offensive. One example was Adams’ own miscommunication early in his ministry as he led communion, calling on his best high school Spanish language skills.
“Instead of using the phrase vengan a la mesa, ‘come to the table,’ I learned what I had been saying for 18 months was vengense en la mesa, ‘get revenge at the table,’” Adams said. “Obviously what I wanted to communicate was not what I communicated.”
Communication in mission can be well intentioned but, according to Adams, can result in miscommunication. He shared how a short-term mission group wanted to do something nice for their partners in Mexico, about whom they cared deeply. However, a mural the group painted that showed how they had experienced the struggles and ministries of their Mexican partners was unwittingly offensive. Adams walked through the mural story to explore how, due to different cultures, sometimes in mission simply “best intentions” are not enough.
“By building relationships with mission partners over time we will, hopefully, build the kind of communication where we can be taught when we make mistakes,” Adams said. “As mission leaders, the goal is to help train and equip yourself and your group to minimize these kinds of mistakes.”
The Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick, former PC(USA) mission co-worker in Egypt, now serving as associate pastor for adult education and mission at Bryn Mawr (Penn.) Presbyterian Church, led worship during the conference. She told the group about her first short-term mission trip to Malawi as a teenager in 1993, an experience that transformed her life.
Kirkpatrick shared a message from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in which she described the “short-term, intergenerational mission trip” of Mary to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, a trip that must have taken several days as Mary traveled from the northern Israel region of Galilee to the southern region of Judea.
“Here are two women at very different moments in their lives, experiencing a very similar turn of events,” Kirkpatrick said. “They can relate with one another about the unexpectedness of their pregnancies, and the way that this has strengthened their faith in God and their hope for the coming Messiah.”
They had very different challenges as well, she said. “Imagine Elizabeth on her most difficult of days complaining to Mary about being pregnant at such an old age, the ways her body was or wasn’t adjusting to this new state of pregnancy, probably even lamenting her husband’s lack of faith and his muteness.” Kirkpatrick imagines Mary’s response might have been, “At least you have a husband.”
“This is a challenge of short-term trips of course—one of the greatest challenges,” Kirkpatrick said. “Trips can be remarkable experiences of different ways of expressing Christian faith, different manifestations of the community of faith, different cultural challenges to the practices of faith. The relationships that we build with mission partners on these kinds of trips at their best are rooted in our common connection as members of the global body of Christ, but navigating the differences without minimizing them or sometimes even romanticizing them is one of the trickiest parts of doing this work with integrity.”
Sue Ann Seel, commissioned ruling elder at Potwin Presbyterian Church in Topeka, Kan., said her congregation met in 2009 to vote on whether they’d close the church doors. The congregation decided “it’s not about numbers, but rather ‘do we still have a mission’ to do,” she said.
She reported that members who used to attend have come back and have brought with them children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Potwin Presbyterian has partnered with the small Westside Baptist Church, two blocks away, to provide an innovative “Wonderful Wednesdays” worship experience for their community where 35 to 40 children and adults share a meal, sing and pray, attend classes and Bible study. In the summer, Heartland Presbyterian Center brings its traveling day camp to these children, including horses.
“You don’t have to be big to do mission,” Seel said. “You just have to look at the resources you have and use them effectively.
Seel added, “We have to stop assuming big congregations are healthy and little ones are not. We all have a part to play in God’s world.”
“Our congregation is rethinking what we mean by mission,” said Michael Kruse, a ruling elder at Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo. Kruse is a former chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (2010-2012) who now serves as the chair of the Heartland Presbyterian Center Board.
“Now we are asking how we can strategically invest our time and energy in mission that genuinely reflects God’s Kingdom?” Kruse said. “The event gave us some wonderful tools and templates to help us process these questions. It is a real jump start.”
If you’d like to be notified of future mission leader conferences hosted by Presbyterian World Mission, contact email@example.com or 800-728-7228 x5612. For tools to equip your congregation for mission involvement, visit pcusa.org/missionresources.