A personal report from the Rev. Dave Carver on how he sees a full spectrum of mission involvement as key to transformational ministry at home and overseas. Carver is pastor at First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, a church in Pittsburgh Presbytery.
Something wonderful happened a few months ago. A group of five young people ages 16-19 asked me if I would help them realize a dream that they’ve nurtured for some time: “Pastor Dave, will you take us to Africa?”
It’s not surprising that kids think going to Africa would be cool. And these folks, in particular, have grown up having heard stories about our partnerships with the church in Malawi and in South Sudan. But what was surprising and wonderful were the answers I got when I asked “But why do you want to go to Africa? Safari? Adventure?”
One young woman fairly spit at me when I asked that question. “Dave! That’s not why we want to go. We want to go to church. We want to stay in someone’s home. We want our lives to be changed the ways that your life has been changed.”
And that is why, Lord willing, this December I’ll be taking five young leaders from an inner city parish that many people thought would close a couple of decades ago to Malawi. Investment in mission has not only transformed my life, it has saved this congregation.
You might say, "For crying out loud, Carver, people are starving! We are being forced to consider early return for our mission co-workers! Wave upon wave of refugees is crashing against the shores of every continent! Your own congregation is behind on repairs to its building… And you want us to get excited about tourism?" Trust me, the 25-year-old Dave Carver has already yelled that at me.
Yet this is my story: I have been deeply and profoundly shaped by participation in the worldwide mission of Christ's church. I have sought to be an encouragement to those who are hungry and who seek justice and who proclaim good news. I think I've made some strides in those areas. By God’s grace, I have been privileged to be witness to great healing and reconciliation in many places on six continents—all while being a solo pastor of a small urban church. And all of that started when I received an African visitor into my home.
Before I ever dreamed about going overseas, let alone sharing in leadership for relief and development efforts, an elder from a nearby church brought a visiting Malawian to Crafton Heights for the day and we talked about what the Lord was doing in that country. Subsequent to that, our congregation was privileged to host a visitor from Malawi. Then, I went myself, and was warmly received not only by our Malawian counterparts, but by PC(USA) mission co-workers in Blantyre.
My life, and that of our congregation, has been irrevocably changed. In the past twenty years, I have visited Africa dozens of times. I have been privileged to offer leadership in three major famine and development projects. I have had the deep blessing of praying with South Sudanese church leaders in the midst of a civil war. In the same twenty years, our congregation has shifted from being a declining, mission-receiving church to being a vibrant, mission-sending fellowship. While there have been many factors at play in all of this, I would suggest the single most important one was our ability to host a visitor from the church in Africa.
- If a visitor had not given a “face” to the church in the two-thirds world, it would not have occurred to me to go to Africa in the first place.
- If I hadn't have gone, I wouldn’t have been in the room to hear and accept an invitation from mission co-worker Doug Welch to visit his home in Blantyre.
- If I hadn't have crossed the street for tea, I couldn't have heard Doug challenge me to invest myself in the international mission of Christ's church—to care more deeply for the whole church than I did for the survival of my congregation.
- If I hadn't have thought deeply about that challenge, I couldn't have extended it to the congregation I serve.
- If I hadn’t challenged my congregation to continue hosting and subsidizing travel for visiting missionaries, they would have thought that the world began and ended in Crafton Heights.
- If they hadn’t fallen in love with Christians living and serving around the globe, their children would think that Africa is the place for animals and adventure, rather than vibrancy of faith and an opportunity to learn from church leaders who are striving to follow Jesus in that place.
And so on, and so on…
Here's the deal. People are starving, right now. And mission co-workers are at risk. There doesn’t appear to be enough money to solve all the world’s problems.
I'm suggesting one of the best ways you can help those folks is to invite the people with whom you worship to come to know and love actual people who live and work and serve in Malawi and in South Sudan and Brazil and Peru and Jordan and Turkey and the list goes on and on. My experience is that when we build these relationships, lives and priorities change.
Not overnight, but they do change. And not only do they change, but we grow.
It might not seem like much, but take a step. Invite an itinerating mission co-worker to visit your church. Talk to someone in your Presbytery about involvement in an international partnership. Get to know someone whose walk in life and in faith is dramatically different than your own. And then invite someone to walk there with you. It will be wonderful. Trust me—I know.