Modern-Day Marys: Women on the Front Line of Mission

by Jeff Ritchie

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is might has done great things for me.  (Luke 1:47-48)

Last Sunday I sang a hymn that paraphrases the “Magnificat” of Mary, the praise she offered in the presence of her older cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. “Canticle of the Turning,” as the hymn is called, is a stirring text that God is about to turn the world upside down through the one born of Mary. The lively Irish tune and the hymn text communicate the hope that God is going to intervene and that he is using this servant of the Lord to accomplish his mighty acts.

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Joy in Sabanilla

by Rob Weingartner

If spunk is a spiritual gift, Mercedes Cardenas Hodelins must have gotten in line several times. A Presbyterian lay preacher in the Cuban town of Juan G. Gomez (familiarly called Sabanilla), Mercedes, slender and small at 87 years of age, has been a formidable force for the Gospel in her Presbyterian congregation since she was four years old. Many have observed that the impact of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba has been disproportionate to its relatively small size. That’s true of Mercedes, too.

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Election Results

by Jeff Ritchie

We have just finished another presidential election in the United States. This four-year cycle of American society dominates the news for close to two years until the new president is chosen and inaugurated. Then, after about two years, it starts again. What is the point of this exercise? Is it a game, an entertainment, the ultimate power play? 

In our election fever we so easily forget that the purpose of getting elected is to govern well, to serve the people well. Unfortunately, forgetfulness of purpose is not limited to the political sphere. It also is found in the sphere of faith. Even the best of us forget why God calls us to be his children. In Mark 10 we hear some words that Jesus spoke to his disciples, words that we need to be reminded of over and over, lest we too forget why we have been chosen to be God’s people.

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Why We Go

Rev. Dr. John Daniel,  who serves on The Outreach Foundation's Board of Trustees, wrote the following blog this spring when Outreach had a team in the Middle East. We are happy to share his reflections:

From time to time I hear people question the value of short-term mission trips saying, "What do they accomplish?" Over the years of ministry I have never declined in my conviction of the deep and rich value of those who go for a week, two weeks or a month to the mission field. TODAY I have four friends who are in Lebanon and Syria VISITING and SEEING what God is doing in this world of His creation. They will not build a church, they will not treat the sick, they will not run a VBS (all of which have great value in missions) but they will sit with people whose very lives are threatened. And they will worship in churches where terrorists have tried to overtake life.  

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Leaning into the Future of Mission: Korean and non-Koreans as Partners in the Mission of God

by Jeff Ritchie

I have just finished a two-week visit to Korea. Twenty-one of us took advantage of the invitation of the Rev. James Kwon to see the Korean Church at its best, and we were not disappointed. For those who have followed our trip blogs, I will not repeat our day-to-day observations (see www.theoutreachfoundation.org/news/trip blogs). What I would like to focus on in this blog is the biggest take-away for me from this trip, namely, the opportunity that non-Korean churches and mission organizations in the U.S. have to link with the Church in Korea and with Korean churches in the U.S. for greater faithfulness and fruit as we participate with God in mission. 

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The Gift of God

by Rob Weingartner

Muhammed Ali died back in June. I had a lot of respect for him. Following his death, I heard an interview with his wife in which she described how he would often push himself to exhaustion at public appearances in order to sign more books, give more autographs, meet more fans, out of his belief that increasing the number of good works that he did might overcome the bad things he had done and possibly bring him to heaven. The interview brought to mind a man I met named Hassane. He told me his story.

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Joyful

by Marilyn Borst

Unseasonably hot and humid last week, about 70 of us were uncomfortably packed into the only large (and un-air-conditioned!) classroom at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Matanzas – half of us had come from U.S. Presbyterian churches or organizations (like The Outreach Foundation) who had partnerships in Cuba and half were pastors or elders of the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba with whom we partner.

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God Loves You

by Rob Weingartner

 

When our board met recently in Houston, we were blessed with the presence of one of our dear mission partners, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk, Iraq. He told the story of how, for seven years, his wife and a group of women have carried on a ministry to women in a nearby prison. Most of the women are in prison for prostitution or theft. Their families don’t help them, and they won’t even mention them because of the shame they feel.

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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.