Joining God's Work in Latin America

by Juan Sarmiento

When thinking of Latin America, it is easy to see it simply as “our neighbor to the south.” In reality, there are twenty-one countries in the American continent for which Spanish or Portuguese is the majority language, each one of them with very distinct cultural identities and national characters. Along with English and Mandarin, Spanish is among the top three most widely spoken languages in the world. The Outreach Foundation currently facilitates partnerships between churches in the United States and five of those countries. Those partnerships have an effect on several other countries in the region and beyond.

The primary ways in which The Outreach Foundation is involved in Latin America are through joint efforts around the following areas: 

Holy Land Mission Trip: New Ministry in Old Places

Outreach is well known for our mission vision trips. We take people from churches across America to see what God is doing in other parts of the world. We recently had a team return from the Holy Land, a perennial favorite destination and an exciting place of ministry. 

This trip was led by Outreach Associate Director Marilyn Borst. Amazingly, it was Marilyn’s 14th trip to the Holy Land, and it began like most of them do: a full day of walking through the Old City of Jerusalem. The team of 13 visited many sites which commemorate our Savior's passion and where many historic churches mark the traditional places where Christ was tried before Pilate or scourged by Roman soldiers...

Do More with Less?

by Marilyn Borst

"Do more with less" usually means to be (more) productive or creative with less money or resources. Business “guru” Bloomberg muses that: “The traditional view, from both the organization’s and employee’s perspective, is all about what employees need to do to help organizations accomplish more with fewer resources.” (Yea…. like that is gonna work!)

I just finished reading an in-depth report, written by one of The Outreach Foundation’s partners in Jordan, the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). For the past few years, and with generous gifts from churches and individuals, TOF has supplied funds for MECC’s ministry with some of the 2.7 million – million – Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have sought a haven in this country, which, admirably and with great dignity, refers to them as “guests.”

2016 Ministry Highlights

by Tom Widmer

Through you our donors, God richly blessed The Outreach Foundation in 2016. Because of your trust in us and our responsibility to you, we constantly ask ourselves if we are accomplishing the three priorities set by our Board of Trustees. Below we reflect upon those three priorities and share ministry highlights for each.

Priority 1:  Helping the church live out its missional calling
In Jesus’ Great Commission, he calls us to go out and make disciples of all nations. (Matt 28:19) In light of that, Outreach works with churches across the U.S. to help them better understand Jesus’ command and to help them be more engaged in his work. Kairos Church in Atlanta typifies a church living into that call:

Partners in Mission

by Rob Weingartner

There is a lot of talk these days about doing mission in partnership. It is driven, in part, by an increasing awareness of the growing global church and respect for the initiative and faithfulness of brothers and sisters in Christ who are already engaged in mission in places where we are or seek to be involved.

For followers of Jesus the idea of partnership comes to us not from the business world but from God’s Word and the life of the church. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. The Greek word that Paul uses is koinonia. Sharing. Communion. Participation. Partnership. These English words help to unpack the richness of the term that Paul employs.

Stories of Hope: Homs, Hope, and Homes

by Julie Prescott Burgess

It was November, 2014, and a small group of American Presbyterians had traveled to Syria with The Outreach Foundation to be with our Syrian brothers and sisters. We arrived in Homs that day, not long after it had been liberated from the extremists who held it for more than two years, destroying buildings and lives. Coming from the Midwest, we see pictures of destroyed places regularly on the news during tornado season.  Yet I had never seen anything like this. Block after block, street after street, five-, six- and seven-story buildings lay in heaps of broken and pancaked concrete. Homes. Businesses. Hotels. Mosques. Churches. Nothing was spared. How does a city go about rebuilding when seemingly nothing is left and most of its population had fled elsewhere? This was the picture that would be in the dictionary illustrating the word hopeless.

Prayer for Blessing One's Enemies

Bless my enemies, O Lord. 
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. 
Friends have bound me to earth, 
enemies have loosed me from earth
and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms
and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. 
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, 
so have I, persecuted by enemies, 
found the safest sanctuary, 
having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, 
where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul. 

Forgiveness

by Rob Weingartner

One of the most compelling videos that I have seen in a long time was sent to friends by the Bible Society of Egypt not long after the tragic Palm Sunday bombings in Alexandria and Tanta, Egypt. Taken together, these two bombings took at least 45 lives and injured many more.

In an April 10 statement, ISIS identified the two bombers as Egyptians, using the pseudonyms Abu al-Bara al-Masri and Abu Ishaq al-Masri. The group threatened further violence, describing Christians as “crusaders” and “apostates” and declaring that “the bill between us and them is very large, and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, with God’s permission.”

 

Seeing Our Neighbor through the Eyes of Jesus

by Jeff Ritchie

“Can’t Christianity be something simpler than we have made it?” This was the query of a man in the Bible study I attend on Wednesday mornings. The pastor wisely replied, “Yes, Jesus distilled it down to two things: love God and love your neighbor.” Simple? That is true. Easy? Not by a long shot. So how do we go about obeying a simply-stated, but very challenging commandment?

First of all, some people don’t want to be our neighbors, and if the truth were to be told, we would not naturally want to be theirs. A few years ago, my father shared a book with his children: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart. The thesis of the book is that we are becoming a nation of people who do not want to associate with, or even listen to, people who are different from us.

Loving God and the Bible with Chinese Leaders

by Juan Sarmiento

In his youth the Rev. Shan Wei-Xiang was the pastor of a typical Chinese congregation during those years: One that owned no Bibles. In fact, since the only copy of the Scriptures in town was found in the library, the congregation had agreed that nobody else but him would check the Bible out each week from the local library and they would help him write down by hand copies of the passage from which Pastor Shan would preach to have it distributed among the people. 

Things have changed significantly in recent decades but Rev. Shan’s commitment to sharing God’s message remains strong. He now heads a program of the Church in China that is responsible for the distribution of the Bible inside China. Since the late 1980s, tens of millions of Bibles have been distributed inside China as the church has tried to keep up with the growth of disciples of Christ. The most conservative estimate of the number of Protestant Christians in China is 46 million, up from less than one million in 1949 when the Peoples Republic of China began. 

Life Hurts, Love Heals

by Frank Dimmock

Recently I was blessed to co-facilitate a trauma healing group session for eight Congolese and Rwandan women living in the Louisville, Kentucky area. (This session was made possible by The Outreach Foundation’s gracious support of my training as a trauma healing facilitator.) Training our partners in listening and recognizing trauma wounds and how to help and when to refer is critical. The African women in this session are survivors of the violence and genocide that have been taking place in their part of the Great Lakes region of Africa. They told stories of fleeing violence, being separated from family, and witnessing and enduring long periods of pain and suffering. Through a series of miracles, they have resettled in apartments within ten miles of my home. I was aware, through the news, books and movies, that refugees from conflict areas (most notably, the Lost Boys of Sudan and Syrian families) had been settled in U.S. communities, but I had not personally heard their testimonies or recognized them as my neighbors. 

Healing the pain of heart wounds requires time and courage. It is a process. Most importantly, it is reinforced through engagement with God's Word.

It requires an understanding of suffering, supported with scriptural references to God’s love, power and compassion (Romans 8:35-39) and God’s personal sacrifice (1 John 4:9-10).

It requires an identification of heart wounds and pain, and with time and courage, a remembrance of a traumatic experience. I was deeply affected by the horrific stories of these courageous African women.

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Now is Not a Good Time

by Rob Weingartner

It is a common refrain across the churches. “This is not a good time for me/us to get more involved in mission.” Pastors feel the need to focus on their congregations, on their families, on their D.Min. Congregations focus upon themselves, convincing themselves that after they get stronger, gain more members, or finish their capital campaign, then they will be able to turn outward and get serious about mission and living for the sake of others. It often sounds a bit like Tevye’s “If I were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

My friend Marj Carpenter, a former Moderator of the PC(USA) and a trustee emerita of The Outreach Foundation, made an interesting, relevant discovery in 1989 when she went to Cameroon to celebrate the church’s 125th anniversary. She describes this in her book “To the Ends of the Earth.”

The Outreach Foundation
Stories of Hope: Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan

by Jeff Ritchie

War was not new to John Jock. It had been somewhat continuous in Sudan/South Sudan since 1983. But this time, as he watched the destruction of his town, Malakal, South Sudan, he knew it was too dangerous for him and his family to remain. In February, 2014, they fled Malakal, leaving all their possessions in search of a safe place to live. In fact, the entire town fled. 

Prior to fleeing, John was a teacher at Good Shepherd Primary School, the flagship school of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). When not teaching, John applied his theology training by working in the Department of Education of PCOSS. John knew how important education was in the lives of people, especially those in South Sudan who had little else. Reading and writing skills elevated people from poverty to independence. John dedicated himself to making sure students had the opportunity to learn… until the war interrupted his dream.

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Joyful Encounters

by Juan Sarmiento

One of the most frequent observations that I hear when facilitating exchanges with Outreach Foundation partners in other countries is how joyous they are despite the often-difficult circumstances that they face. I often hear, "Can some of that bliss be brought back home?" There is no doubt that the adventurous thrill of an international visit combined with the naturally hospitable disposition of so many cultures creates the conditions for delightfully memorable interactions. However, when the excitement of the trip fades to make room for the routine and struggles of our lives as individuals and churches, the relationships that are built give us a sense of fulfillment that outlasts our visits. 

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A Community of Sinners in Transformation

Rev. Roy Soto pastors the congregation Comunidad Cristiana Shalom in Fraijanes, Costa Rica, a rural community with a population of 1,300. We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Rev. Soto to the Outreach office in Franklin, TN, where he shared with us his vision for the church as well as some personal testimony. 

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To Hear the Voices of Peoples Long Silenced...

by Jeff Ritchie

In “A Brief Statement of Faith,” one of the confessional statements of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), there is a phrase that resonates with me when I think of the voices of people and nations who are not ordinarily in the U.S. news: 

“In a broken and fearful world, the Spirit gives us courage . . . to hear the voices of peoples long silenced.”

The people of South Sudan are among those whose voice has been long silenced in the U.S. media. While the plight of the peoples of Syria and Iraq have been before us for five years, a civil war has been raging in South Sudan for over three years during which time several million people have fled to refugee camps outside South Sudan and to internally displaced person (IDP) camps inside the country. Millions others have fled from their homes and live in the bush without the means to sustain their lives. 

The Outreach Foundation
As If You Yourselves

by Rob Weingartner

Typically, I put a quotation or Scripture verse that has connected with me in a fresh new way at the end of my email signature. The verse that appears now is from Hebrews: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3 NIV)

We who follow Christ in the relative security of the United States don’t often think of being imprisoned for our faith, but it is a familiar experience for many of Jesus’ followers in other parts of the world. That shouldn’t be a surprise. In speaking of the end of this age, Jesus says, “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.” (Luke 21:12) Jesus told his followers that following him would get them into trouble!

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More than History – God's Unfolding Mission in Cárdenas, Cuba

by Juan Sarmiento

“The mission of the church has a specific name: witness. It has a specific characteristic or peculiarity: prophetic. And It has a unique purpose: evangelization” *      Rev. Dr. Sergio Arce Martinez

The picturesque, straight and narrow streets made Cárdenas gain its reputation of being the "Charleston of the Caribbean.” With more than 100,000 people, it represents one of the main cities in the Matanzas province and the place where what was named the first Presbyterian Church of Cuba was established. 

Cárdenas was the very first place where the Cuban flag was flown in 1850, signaling the eventual independence from Spain 48 years later. Around that period of time, Evaristo Collazo returned to the island having been exposed to the Christian faith with its Presbyterian emphasis and form of governance while working in the United States. 

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Stories of Hope: The Vulnerable Church at Work in Iran

by Tom Widmer

Iran is a unique place in the Muslim world. Why? Because it’s on fire for Christ. This may sound antithetical, but the Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work there. In fact, more people have come to Christ in Iran in the last 14 years than in the previous 1,400 years combined!

God is working through Iranian men and women to share the Good News of Jesus in many unique ways. House churches have been springing up in unthinkable numbers with hundreds of thousands worshipping secretly. A vast array of internet and satellite programming is available – in a country where satellite dishes are illegal! The programming includes leadership training, theological training, model church services and much more. And Iranian ministries outside of Iran are providing leadership training to church leaders inside Iran.

The Outreach Foundation
Crossing Boundaries with the Living God

by Juan Sarmiento

As the body of Christ, the church is charged to not only make the deeds of Christ visible but also to make the words of Christ audible. We are thus called to develop an evangelistic attitude that beckons us across boundaries and sends us in faith from one culture to another, from our own history to that of others with the glad news of God’s salvation.
     "Turn to the Living God, A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ’s Way," page 10

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week at the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba (an Outreach Foundation partner institution) for a time of discussions with Christian leaders from both countries on the subject of “Mission in Context.” 

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