Sunday, August 19, 2012

“Making All Things New”

Isaiah 42:9, 43:18-19, Revelation 21:5
Written by Rev. Dr. John M. Best, General Presbyter, Lake Michigan Presbytery - a devotion for the 40 days of prayer for GA commissioners leading to the 220th GA

“See, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5

Isaiah addresses an exiled people in Babylon, and John, in Revelation, a persecuted early Christian community. The painful status quo was not an option! These prophets gave depressed exiles and persecuted disciples vision of “the new thing” God was doing. These prophetic words resonate with the church today as we discern what God is doing. Our newly revised Form of Government reclaims two old terms: “councils” and “ruling elders.” Councils, we learn, gather to consider important matters of faith. Ruling elders “measure the church’s fidelity of the Word of God.” The questions always before us are, what is God doing, and how can we align ourselves as partners joining in what God is doing.

Presbyterians are celebrating 175 years of Presbyterian Mission this year! Indulge me in my Forrest Gump like intersection with this history. I personally have witnessed the deconstruction and reconstruction of Presbyterian Mission three times.

My adult life began as a P.C.U.S. missionary to Brazil with my wife, Eileen, in 1977. We were the first married couple to ever be commissioned by the P.C.U.S. Mission Board where the wife fulfilled the requested position. I went along as the spouse. Chock one up for that new day of women’s empowerment! Moreover, we stepped into a paradigm shift/hinge of mission history. Just months after our arrival in Brazil, we gathered with 90 plus other Presbyterian missionaries for a Mission meeting. It was a lot like a Synod meeting. We discussed budgets, work assignments, and strategies. When we gathered the next year, it was for a spiritual retreat. The Brazilian “Mission Field” was turned over to the Brazilian Church, which after 1978 directed our mission work there. It was a painful, yet healthy hinge of history as over half of the missionaries were dismissed by the end of our term in 1980.

Twenty years later, I was starting up a pastorate, which had an ecumenical partnership with a congregation in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba. My presbytery had a 15 year history building a relationship with the Presbytery of Havana, and my congregation had just established a sister congregation with the Church in Guines. Only the General Assembly staff person told us our covenant relationship was up. Find a new partner! Right, like that was going to fly! Guess who won that one? Another hinge! There was no way we were going to walk away from our brothers and sisters in Christ who were isolated due to government embargoes. I traveled to Cuba six times over the next 10 years, and hosted Cuban guests as many times. I took part in the Guines Church’s Centennial celebration, and in the pastor’s wedding.

Today, the presbytery I serve has a partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in Ghana. A Ghana Network exists to coordinate our mission. We meet regularly with our global partners, other Presbyterians connected to the Ghanaian Church, and the GAMC staff and mission co-worker in Ghana. Hunter Farrell, Presbyterian Mission Agency, Director of World Mission, gets it right! He envisions these three separate but intersecting and overlaying partners as Communities of Mission Practice. PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers work not only with our global partner host churches, but with our congregations and presbyteries who have partnerships as well. From this writer’s Forrest Gump perspective, this is the right adaptive change, perfect for this time.

As you prepare to gather as a council this summer, I commend to you our rich history of
Presbyterian mission. Adaptive change is not easy. It never has been. But if the new thing is
God’s mission, sign me up!

Prayer: Lord, bless our mission partners. May we learn from each other, and most importantly
partner with you in what you are doing as you make all things new! Amen.