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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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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Out of Style?

by Juan Sarmiento

Traveling to Cuba seems to be “in style” these days. With the easing of historically imposed restrictions by our government and the ensuing re-establishment of airline operations, the island is drawing increasing numbers of visitors from the U.S. Being here gives you a sense of the fast pace with which change is taking place: More and more of the architecture of the capital is now illuminated in ways that highlight its impressive contours, appealing restaurants are proliferating, newly installed digital screens announce the cultural offerings and the emblematic cabs from the 50’s and 60’s are now joined by a considerable number of recent models. 

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Scripture-Shaped Living

by Jeff Ritchie

On a visit to Pakistan a decade ago I learned that the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan had translated the Psalms into songs that could be sung in the heart language of most of the believers (Punjabi). This may have been a legacy of the early Presbyterian missionaries who were singing the metrical Psalms in their countries of origin. By putting the Psalms to music, Reformed and Presbyterian believers in Pakistan effectively internalized the “prayer book of the Bible.” I was impressed.

In another former mission field of the American Presbyterian Church, Egypt, I saw the lips of older believers moving when the scriptures were read in worship. These believers had memorized the scriptures, especially the Psalms, through constant reading and hearing of the Word of God. Again, I was impressed. 

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Where Your Treasure Is

by Jeff Ritchie

This week our grandsons, Alex and Matthew, taught us a lesson in giving. They collected all the money in their possession and asked “Grammy” and “Grandpa” to take them to a store where they could get birthday presents for their “Mommy.” They carried their dollar bills and coins in a bright red wallet and a plastic sandwich bag.

Seven year-old Alex had in mind to buy his mother a “necklace with a gem," and so we pored over everything in the jewelry section of Kohl’s that could be bought for $23. As you can see from the photo, we found something to Alex’s satisfaction and so he proceeded to count out all his dollars for the sales clerk. He was happy that he could shower his Mommy with love on her birthday! Three year-old Matthew settled on a bottle of nail polish, and he was pleased to provide his Mommy with a gift in such a shiny package.

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Which Rules? Whose Values?

by Rob Weingartner

Many years ago I read about a most unusual bicycle race in India. The object of the race was to travel the shortest distance possible, in a given period of time, without falling off one’s bicycle.

Now, imagine if you showed up for the race but didn’t know the rules. The starting pistol would fire and away you’d go – to a remarkable defeat!

The scenario reminds me that it is important to know the rules.

People adopt and adapt to all sorts of different rules for how they will try to live their lives. And as that plays out, around us and even in our own lives, we see that it is possible to be a brilliant success in the eyes of the world and a failure in the things that are important to God.
 

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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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