The Church in China: A Constant Teacher over Thirty-Three Years

by Jeff Ritchie

Next month I make my 25th trip to China. This blog is a reflection on what I have learned about life and following Jesus from Chinese believers since 1983.

Devoted to God: One of the constant factors in the witness of Chinese believers whom I have met for over thirty years is their desire to know God, to praise God, and to serve God by making him known to those outside the church. The witness literally bursts out in the welcome our groups have received as we come into a church yard on the way to worship. 

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"Come"

by Rob Weingartner

I love the Gospel lesson which describes how Jesus, after the feeding of the 5,000, made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. Then, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came the boat was being battered by the waves, far from the land, fighting against the wind. Early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 

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A Real Church

by Rob Weingartner

 

Samuel A. Moffett arrived in Korea in 1890, appointed as a missionary by the Presbyterian Church. After several trips to the northern part of the country, he decided to work in Pyongyang, becoming the first Protestant missionary to take up long-term residence in inland Korea. He faced much opposition and many difficulties. He was spat upon, shunned and, on one occasion, even was stoned by a group of young men. But he deeply felt called to the work. He remained steadfast, focusing on preaching the Gospel and founding schools.

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Read it Again, Grandpa

by Rob Weingartner

Fresh off a wonderful weekend with our older son and his family, I find myself reflecting on our two-year old grandson’s request to read the same story over and over again. It wasn’t that long ago, or so it seems, that his daddy was making the same request.

Heather Turgeon explains, “Kids learn through repetition, so it’s not surprising that they tend to ask for the same books over and over – this is how their brains absorb the stories and language patterns within…. It’s likely that hearing the phrasing and structure of a story many times over helps children grasp and hold on to new vocabulary. 

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Risking for God: Starting New Churches

by Jeff Ritchie

This week something big is happening in Brazil. The Olympics were big, but they ended two weeks ago. The impeachment trial of the current President of Brazil is big, but that is not what I am talking about. As I write this blog, almost two thousand people from several countries are attending a conference on church growth and church revitalization in Campinas, Brazil. Our Outreach staff for Portuguese-Language Ministries, José Carlos Pezini, is leading one of the many workshops.

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Big and Little Much the Same

by Rob Weingartner

Last week, I had the opportunity to gather at beautiful Montreat with a wonderful group of folks who have been engaged for years in ministry with smaller membership congregations. “Smaller” now describes the majority of congregations in the United States, most of which continue to lose members. In the PC(USA) the median size congregation has 84 members; that is, half of the churches in the denomination have 84 members or fewer. At the meeting, I was given some time to share my reflections about small congregations with the group, and this is the substance of what I shared.

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Suffering and Mission: Modern-Day Heroes of Faith

by Jeff Ritchie

 

I was part of a mission team that visited Ethiopia and South Sudan in May of this year. I wrote about the Ethiopia part of that visit following my return (“Changing Your World with the Gifts You Bring,” June 7, 2016). In this week’s blog I want to reflect on some of the people we met in Juba, South Sudan, particularly in light of what happened after our group returned home.

When we met the leadership of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan in May, we heard how difficult it is to live. The General Secretary, the Rev. John Yor (third from left), shared with us that the falling exchange rate had made prices for basic food staples almost out of reach of ordinary people. Medical treatment was difficult to come by. People were not being paid on time by their institutions. Even soldiers in the national army had not been paid for months. 

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Concealed Weapons

The Outreach Foundation’s Associate Director, Marilyn Borst, recently took eight women to Lebanon to participate in a week-long conference with Presbyterian sisters from Lebanon and Syria. One who made this journey, the Rev. Lisa Culpepper, shares the following reflection….

We woke up early on Saturday morning to see our Aleppo sisters off for their long journey home. This departure was particularly difficult as we knew that these women were reentering a war zone that they somehow called “home.” In the darkness and quiet of the early morning dawn, our sisters left the warm security of their six day sanctuary and gathered one by one outside with their luggage.

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That They May Be One

by Rob Weingartner

In his book “Paul and Missional Hermeneutics” N.T. (Tom) Wright describes how, after Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, God’s mission mandate shaped the rest of his life, including his writings. I thought a lot about Paul when I visited Damascus earlier this year.

The Joy of the Gospel

by Jeff Ritchie

 

Like many people, I have been inspired by Pope Francis. His deep faith, wide mercy, and simple lifestyle have resonated with my spirit. Knowing that the Roman Catholic Church has issued many profound statements about evangelism over the past 50 years, I looked forward to seeing what the Pope had to say in his book The Joy of the Gospel. I was not disappointed.

Heavy Lifting

by Marilyn Borst

Prior to my current career call to serve the Church in mobilizing U.S. congregations into God’s big mission around the world, I taught Ancient Art History at the University of Houston. For several of those years, I spent time volunteering on archaeological digs in Egypt. One summer, we worked in Luxor and lived adjacent to a small village right next to our site. Over those weeks we saw a lot of the daily life of the inhabitants of Nag Al-Fukani. One afternoon, we heard, at a distance, the high pitched tongue trill (called ululation) of the women that usually signals a celebration. We spotted a procession of villagers coming from town, with the trill growing louder as they approached.

More than Innovation

by Rob Weingartner

This is a week in which we focus our prayers on the Presbyterian family. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly is meeting in Portland, OR, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church General Assembly is meeting in Northville, Michigan. I hope that you will join with us in praying for the commissioners at each of the assemblies, praying that they will make decisions that will build up the church and strengthen these denominations for God’s mission.

Changing Your World with the Gifts You Bring

by Jeff Ritchie

I met John Jock in 2013 when he was a teacher at the flagship school of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, Good Shepherd School. John was a teacher in the school; he had been trained in education and theology; on the side he worked in the Department of Education of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS).

GLAD

by Marilyn Borst

I was glad when they said unto me, "Let us go into the house of the Lord.” This how Psalm 122 begins and it is also how my dad greeted us when we stumbled sleepily into the kitchen for breakfast each and every Sunday morning when I was growing up. It echoed through my consciousness this past weekend as I began to see dozens of joy-filled pictures being posted on Facebook, all coming from some of the 150 women (and their pastors) who came together at the newly restored sanctuary in Homs, Syria. Drawing from Presbyterian congregations in Mhardeh, Yazdia, Mashta Hellou and Fairouzeh, as well as Homs, I was especially delighted to see the faces of sisters from Aleppo. All of those who had taken to the unstable roads which lead into Homs came at a risk.

Five Trumpets, Five Drums and a Piano

by Marilyn Borst

For over four years, I have been the “lead staff” at The Outreach Foundation for telling the story about the Presbyterian Church in Syria – our precious partner through the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon – and for raising funds which support their work and witness, their mission and ministry, their survival and “thrive-al” during this time of war. Because of the gifts of so many faithful and generous churches and individuals, we have been able to respond with alacrity to the needs of these 18 Syrian churches of the Synod, helping them with the practicalities of life-during-war: food, medicine, heating fuel, alternative housing, etc. We have helped repair and rebuild sanctuaries which were damaged in the conflict.

Elizabeth Carter
THEREFORE

by Rob Weingartner

In less than two weeks I will be in Oryol, Russia, serving as one of the teachers in a training program for Baptist pastors. In Russia, The Outreach Foundation works with partners in both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptist Churches. Because we remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17, Outreach often finds itself working across denominational boundaries and barriers. Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

Global Connections, Deepening Faith

by Jeff Ritchie

This week a friend and former missionary to Ethiopia launched his first book. It is Paradox Lost: Rediscovering the Mystery of God, by Richard Hansen. This volume is serious reading but is well worth the purchase. However, today’s blog is not a review of Paradox Lost.

I met Richard and Marilyn Hansen in Ethiopia where they taught and served the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Both were dedicated workers serving the Ethiopians from several denominations who were studying in this graduate institution. I could tell that they were making a difference at EGST which itself is greatly impacting the Christian Movement in Ethiopia. But today’s blog is not about the impact of servant leaders like the Hansens.

Delighted to be in Their Presence

by Marilyn Borst

We have often heard it said that “You are known by the company you keep.” Come to find out, Proverbs 13:20 has a more pointed version: “He that walks with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools will be destroyed.”

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Family Reunions

by Jeff Ritchie

When my family and I returned from our first term of missionary service in 1984, the extended Ritchie family had a wonderful reunion at a Presbyterian conference center in North Carolina. Not only would we have a reunion, but there would also be a wedding! My youngest brother was getting married, and the reunion thus took on a new dimension. Great joy abounded as the Ritchie family reunited, and as our family was joined by marriage to a new family.

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The Songs of Faith

Singing has been an important part of my spiritual life since childhood. I often tell people that I can remember only one sermon I heard growing up, but I can still sing the words of the anthems our choirs sang. Those anthems, the hymns during worship, and the responsive readings of the Psalms which we did each Sunday—contributed immensely to my spiritual formation.

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