Hallowed Ground in Unexpected Places: Dateline Iraq

by Marilyn Borst

By God’s grace, I am about to return to Iraq for the 10th time since 1998. In preparation, I have been rereading my journals and share this memory from 2002 when I was making a third visit to the Presbyterian Church in Basrah. I had just left the “safety” and camaraderie of the group with whom I had been in Baghdad and had ventured south on my own – a bit nervously, I can now admit. This required a flight through a “no fly zone” where my own country’s military had permission to shoot down unauthorized planes – a fact that I was oblivious of until I had settled into my seat and was reminded of it by the man sitting next to me! [Cue: fervent prayer….]

...On previous visits, while a part of larger delegations, I had always stayed in a hotel in town, but I was now solo, and everyone was eager for me to accept the hospitality of the church’s guest room. Not many visitors had been hosted, of late, in the shabby-but-adequate guest quarters which the church kept in its run-down education wing.

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Equipped to Make a Difference in Cuba

by Juan Sarmiento

Life will never be the same for Maricela Muñiz. She will soon graduate from the Matanzas Evangelical Theology Seminary (SET, for its initials in Spanish) in Matanzas, Cuba, where God has transformed and called her to serve Him in her native country of Cuba.  

Her first touch with the seminary was in grade school. Maricela was brought up in two locally popular religious traditions, Santeria and Spiritism. However, at the age of 12, she attended Sunday School through a program sponsored by SET in her small rural village. It was there that she first came to the realization of God’s grace in her life through Jesus Christ. “I realized that God could help me with my difficulties and give me hope,” she shared. As she was nurtured and grew in her faith, she began to feel God’s call to ministry. 

Upon completing high school, she enrolled in the bachelor of theology program at SET. “My understanding of our participation in God’s mission has grown tremendously during the three years that I have been here,” says Maricela. In her quiet but strong way, she says she feels equipped to make a difference and is confident in her ministry.

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Mission, Measurement, and Interconnectedness - Part I
"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
1 Corinthians 3:6

“They are the very heart of all we do at our presbytery!” In an unequivocal way, Rev. Emmanuel Martey, chairperson of the Upper Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, described the importance of the 169 catechists and caretakers that endeavor to support congregations without pastors in their region, which is close to the borders with Burkina Faso, Togo and Ivory Coast. Under the name “Apollo’s Project” they try to visit the often remote locations and preach, teach and lend their support to the people of God gathering in those places. They do this out of a sense of call for being supportive to the congregations that are formed through the joyful, evangelistic efforts of Presbyterians in their ethnically and religiously diverse communities. Often times the catechists travel on bicycles or public transportation without receiving a salary or being reimbursed for their expenses. While the Gospel continues to be planted, the presbytery has identified the “watering” of those churches as what they need to concentrate their energy and attention on.

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Responding to Evil Down the Street and Across the Ocean

by Jeff Ritchie

This month the United States has experienced violence during a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville that exposed once again racist and hate-filled ideologies among us. At the same time, we have seen a heightened tension with North Korea triggered by that country’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon that could threaten our country and North Korea’s near neighbors. The rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington has escalated to the point that some fear we are on the verge of war. 

These two flash points are by no means the only places where evil abounds in the world, but they raise the level of urgency to find answers to the question, “What can followers of Jesus Christ do individually, collectively as the body of Christ, and with other people of good will who are concerned to respond to evils such as these?”

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In Memoriam

Dr. Alex E. Booth, Jr., trustee emeritus of The Outreach Foundation, died at his home in Stuart, Florida, on Thursday, August 17, 2017, with his loving wife, Katherine, at his side.

When he was a young boy, Alex’s great-grandmother prayed that the Lord would make him a pastor or send him to Africa as a missionary. Dr. Alex Booth would grow up and go to Africa many times, and the impact that Dr. Booth has had through mission work there would astonish his great-grandmother. 

In a letter to African church leaders, Dr. Booth wrote, “The first trip I made to Africa was to visit the church that was built with funds left in a small legacy from my great-grandmother. While on this initial trip to Africa, I fell in love with not only Africa, but also its people.”  

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The Company We Keep

by Marilyn Borst

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters!]  dwell together in unity! These are the opening words of Psalm 133 and I know that each and every one of my Outreach Foundation team who went to Lebanon would echo this sentiment. It was, indeed, so very good and so very pleasant to spend eleven days learning from and in fellowship with our Church partners of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. After five intense days spent at the conference center of the Synod, north of Beirut, in the slightly cooler mountain air of Dhour Schweir, where our days were full with Bible studies and seminars, conversations shared over meals and oh-so-many hugs and even more photographs, we said tearful goodbyes to more than 85 Presbyterian sisters from the churches of Lebanon and Syria. Over the next day and a half, we shared with each other our impressions and “take aways”, and helped one another “fine tune” what we might share when we returned to our congregations in Omaha, Tulsa, Moraga Valley, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Evanston and Gaithersburg and were asked “how was your trip?!?! 

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Church, Culture, Context and Change

by Rob Weingartner

Much of my thinking about the church and God’s mission was shaped by the vision and example of the late Harold Kurtz who, after 27 years of mission service in Ethiopia and a pastorate in Oregon, accepted the invitation to become the director of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship.

It was a great joy, not long after I came to The Outreach Foundation, to travel with Harold to India and to see him moving wisely and humbly across barriers of culture and custom. Later, after the trip, I would read this from a slim volume that Harold wrote entitled Mission Matters: “I believe firmly that there can be no true theology produced in one culture, one race, one sex, one nation. Our reformers went astray in their arrogance about the quality of their own culture. We deceive ourselves when we think we can do true theology while remaining in our own cultural environment.”

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The People God Uses to Accomplish His Plans: Reflections on a Journey to Africa

by Jeff Ritchie

My recent trip to Ethiopia came at a time when peace for South Sudan seemed farther away than ever. Upwards of 5,000,000 people in South Sudan were facing starvation. Refugee camps in South Sudan’s neighboring countries were being strained to the breaking point as wave after wave of new refugees fled war and starvation. This terrible situation made us ask ourselves, what can we do to make a difference among so many people? The needs far outstrip the resources that we or others can provide.

Within two days of our arrival we learned that our petition to enter the refugee camps was not approved by the government authorities. We had come to Ethiopia to encourage people traumatized by war. Now our mission was in jeopardy. 

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A "Reverse" Mission, Church Planting and Renewal Movement

by Juan Sarmiento

Rev. Dr. Carlos del Pino is the coordinator of the Europe office of the Presbyterian Agency of Cross Cultural Missions, the mission board of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. He leads a movement of thirty-eight primarily missionary families that serve in a growing number of European countries with a focus on church planting and renewal. 

I first met Carlos when we were both part of the Brazilian delegation to the Fourth Latin American Congress on Evangelization (CLADE IV) held in Quito Ecuador in August 1992. CLADE is series of events sponsored by the Latin American Theological Fellowship (FTL, after its Spanish initials) which since the late 1960s has been the seedbed for a holistic understanding of mission in the region. After that, he went on to pursue both a masters and PhD degree in the Pontifical University of Salamanca, serve as President at the Central Presbyterian Seminary in Goias and then was sent as a missionary from Brazil.

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A Mid-Year Update on the Ministry of The Outreach Foundation

by Rob Weingartner

Dear friends,

As last year ended, we gave thanks for another year of increasing contributions in support of our work. Now, as we head into the second half of 2017, is a good time to say Thank You for your gifts and prayers that make our work possible. We work to steward your gifts carefully. In 2016 only 10.2% of our expenditures were for fundraising and administration.

Our mission is connecting Presbyterians to build the church's capacity to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. There are some exceptions, but mostly we connect Presbyterians here in the U.S. with global partners in ways that strengthen the church for God’s mission.

Let me share a few glimpses of what you’ve helped to make possible in 2017.

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GOD WITH US

by Rob Weingartner

During a recent trip to Europe we visited a small museum in Colmar, France, the last pocket of land to be held by the Germans before the Allied forces pushed them back across the Rhine River, liberating France during World War II. The museum focused on the fighting that raged across the Vosges hills and the valley below. It was during one of these battles that Audie Murphy made his famous stand. 

I was reminded by an object in one of the museum display cases that the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of Nazi Germany, wore belt buckles emblazoned with the words “Gott mit Uns.” That is “God with Us” in English. The phrase was commonly used by the German military going back to the Prussians in the 18th century.

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What We Can Learn from Irish Christians

by Jeff Ritchie

When you think of Ireland, what comes to mind? Leprechauns, shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness Stout, the Blarney Stone, no snakes? How about “Land of Saints and Scholars?” 

After a recent trip to Ireland, what comes to my mind when I think of Ireland are names of saints like Patrick, Brigid, Columba (Columcille), Ciarán, Kevin, and Brendan. I also have been to Glendalough and Clonmacnoise – monasteries where some of these saints lived and have learned about others such as Skellig Michael, Kildare, and Kells. The early Irish Christians have become heroes to me, and I’d like to share some of their contributions in this blog.

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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: 

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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...

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

 

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