Eight countries of origin, 63 missionaries, nine species, 300 churches, 1979 and 13,447,000 people…. what do these numbers mean? They represent connections, relationships, discernment and dedication in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus! Outreach’s Executive Director Rob Weingartner shares some fascinating facts about mission, witness and The Outreach Foundation. Enjoy!Read More
Some people say that Jesus passes by…. while the dough is rising for the “awamet.” It was Baptism of the Lord Sunday in Tripoli, Lebanon (a city of sweets) where the syrupy “awamet" (meaning, “to rise out of the water”) pastries were being passed around. As the platter was quickly emptying we were told that this traditional sweet is served in celebration of baptism. The dough, which is made the night before, is left to rise and later formed into small balls which are fried in hot oil. Watching them sizzle and skip in ‘baptismal’ oil, they float to the top, rising to new life, and a drizzle of syrupy sweetness.Read More
Some years ago, I began to look at the Lord’s Prayer and how it relates to our missionary calling as disciples of Jesus. This Lenten Season the church where Megan and I worship is studying and reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, and it has become an opportunity for me to think again how Jesus’ prayer can form us, his disciples for our worship and work.
The prayer starts off “Our Father.” The God to whom we pray, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus, is “our Father.” He is my God and the God of people from every tribe, tongue, and culture who have turned to the living God through faith in Jesus.Read More
My relationship with the small church has been an on again, off again relationship. I grew up in a small congregation where my faith was formed, I was confirmed, served as a junior elder and as a youth leader. In my young adult years, however, I became disillusioned when the congregation refused to have anything to do with the Vietnamese refugees settling in the neighborhoods around the church.
That’s when I moved my membership to a mega church that had a robust community ministry. I spent the next 25 years in that worshiping community working on local mission projects, serving as chair of the newly formed global missions committee, teaching Sunday School and serving on the session. It was in the life of this congregation that I heard the call to ministry and where I was sponsored as a seminarian.Read More
by Marilyn Borst
I am not much of a sports fan, but I am easily caught up in the excitement of the Olympics. Much to my husband’s surprise, I am glued to the television and cheer for countries not my own: the Dutch in speed skating, the Russians in curling, the Norwegians in cross-country skiing. Having spent so much time “on the road” and out of this country, I guess that I am easily “at home” in other cultures. Some of that “ease” comes from discovering that people are more alike than they are different, as these photos may suggest: kids love to play in model trains, women out for an afternoon outing enjoy an ice cream cone, a family in their “Sunday best” take a photo in front of a lovely flower display, a choir robes up and leads in worship.Read More
by Rob Weingartner
Earlier this week my wife Terry and I received a statement from our church listing our financial contributions for 2017 for use in preparation of our income tax return. I smiled as I read the IRS-conforming language at the bottom of the statement: “Only intangible religious benefits are provided in exchange for contributions.”
Intangible. That describes something that is unable to be touched or grasped, something not having a physical presence. I understand the reasons for the caveat on the giving statement; we put something similar on the statements that Outreach sends to our donors. But the language required by the IRS runs so counter to the incarnational character of our faith and discipleship.Read More
by Jeff Ritchie
Almost 2,000 years ago the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to people whom he called “the exiles of the Dispersion” living in what is now Turkey. Who were these “exiles of the Dispersion?” They were Jews living outside their homeland dispersed among the non-Jewish majority population, and so were called by a short-hand word, “the Diaspora.” These Jews had come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, and they in turn shared their new faith with Gentiles. The churches to whom Peter wrote were born out of mission among the Jewish Diaspora.
Today the phenomenon of Diaspora Mission is once again a major part of God’s mission to build up his kingdom.Read More
by Jeff Ritchie
My friendship with Jeff Horen goes back to our days in junior high in Louisville, Kentucky. Our birthdays are two days apart. We were inseparable in high school where we specialized in “creative play” to the consternation of our teachers. During class we surreptitiously played “dots.” In breaks between classes we played paper-wad basketball (the “goal” was the trash can in our classroom). Outside of class we had an on-going rivalry in ping-pong and backyard basketball. We had a special connection which we have kept through the years since high school.
My friend Jeff is an Orthodox Jew, and I am a Christian. We have talked about matters of faith for decades, but the past year the conversation has gone deeper.Read More
by Rob Weingartner
The season of Advent invites us to consider afresh the question asked by a familiar carol – “What child is this?” The carol itself offers an answer. “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing! Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”
What child, indeed! The shepherds guard. The angels sing. We bring him laud (that means our praise). All in response to what God has done. The initiative is with God!
I’ve been thinking about how we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus. The celebrating and giving and feasting with family and friends, all of that is wonderful. But what is truly radical about the Christmas story, and we can miss it if we stay focused on what we do, is what God has done.Read More
by Jeff Ritchie
November 30 is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. Andrew has always been my favorite among Jesus’ first disciples, and this blog is dedicated to St. Andrew.
Andrew was the first evangelist of the Christian faith, for he brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:41). As I have been involved, directly or indirectly, in sharing the Good News of Jesus most of my adult life, Andrew has been a model disciple for me.
Andrew was not one of the three disciples closest to Jesus – Peter, James and John. He played a background role as his more famous brother became the spokesperson of the early church. Nevertheless, a look back at references to Andrew in the Gospel accounts reveals that he made key contributions to the story that became the Good News, the Gospel.Read More
Love them as I have loved you…
by Ebralie Mwizerwa
“World Children’s Day” will be celebrated on Monday, November 20. It is a time for the world community, churches and individuals from all walks of life, particularly believers, to express their dedication to and concern for the well-being of children.
The World Council of Churches is inviting its member churches worldwide to mark World Children's Day by organizing celebrations for children on November 19-20 and letting the voices and thoughts of children be heard. In many communities around the world, I am sure the focus will be on the problems faced by children and the important role of churches in supporting young people worldwide.Read More
by Jeff Ritchie
Almost two months ago, Jacksonville was hit by hurricane Irma. The cleanup crew contracted by the city of Jacksonville arrived a couple of weeks ago to pick up the debris from the hurricane which had been waiting on the curb for over six weeks. We rejoiced and went out to help the workers clear away the detritus of the storm. As my wife and I talked with the men who were helping the citizens of our city in such a practical way, I thought of other helpers, the unseen and unsung people I see every day who make a difference in this world. The Apostle Paul spoke of the gift of helps in 1 Corinthians 12. Here are some of those helpers I have seen recently:Read More
by Nancy Fox
We know the story of Martin Luther, and this 500th anniversary of the posting of his ninety-five theses in Wittenberg has refreshed our memories. To some degree, many of us also know the story of John Calvin, the spiritual father of our Reformed/Presbyterian branch of the movement, and of the church he led in Geneva. But what about the Reformed churches in Syria and Lebanon? On this Reformation Day, let me tell you some of their stories and how all of these connect…Read More
by Juan Sarmiento
The dynamism of the historical movement within Western Christianity known as the Reformation has had much to do with its emphasis on translation and communication efforts. Thoughtfully appreciating different cultures and diligently working to convey God’s message in ways that relate to a broader audience has been at the core of our Reformed identity since its early days.
Known as the “Ninety-Five Theses,” Martin Luther used Latin for the publication of his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in October 1517. As other documents intended to provoke the exchange of opinions among university students, it was reasonable to use the language of the church, academic and administrative elite. With help from the new advances of the printing press, the polemical document was soon printed and distributed in many surrounding towns. It was three months later when, translated into German, it “became viral” throughout Germany. On March 1518, he published another piece entitled “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace.”Read More
by Marilyn Borst
I have just returned from my 10th trip to Iraq. I first encountered our Presbyterian family there on a trip in 1998. My admiration for their faith and faithfulness under difficult circumstances multiplies with each visit. Middle Easterners have “hospitality” in their DNA and food is one of the ways in which this is extended – with frequency and in abundance! In an attempt to offset the generous hospitality we had been receiving from the church in Baghdad, I had taken to walking laps in the church courtyard/parking lot, just down the stairs from the guest apartments where we have been staying. 30 minutes goes slowly when you are walking confined laps so I passed the time singing hymns (in my head, because everyone else is asleep) and praying for that place and for its work and witness. Each lap took me past the "guard house" outside the gates where, around the clock, in eight hour shifts, Iraqi soldiers protect this Holy Ground – and I offer a prayer of thanks for them.Read More
by Rob Weingartner
Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God (in Matthew, the Kingdom of Heaven) more than any other topic or theme. He speaks of how the Kingdom is at hand, among us. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and to pray that his Kingdom will come. We are to proclaim the Kingdom and enter into the Kingdom.
Looking far ahead, Jesus tells us that people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.
To what shall we compare this Kingdom, this grace-filled realm in which God is recognized as having full claim on us? Jesus unpacks the meaning of the Kingdom in parable after parable.
We announce… We behold… We exhibit… But we do not “build” the Kingdom, despite how popular that phrase has become in church circles.Read More
by Jeff Ritchie
My wife and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. Along with thousands of other Floridians, we evacuated as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida a few weeks ago. Returning after the hurricane, we found that our home was spared; electricity was back on, and the neighbors who had not evacuated had already cleaned the debris from all the yards of the houses on our street. We were the fortunate ones. Others in Jacksonville and other parts of Florida were not so fortunate. Neither were far too many people in Texas and in several Caribbean countries who will be spending years getting their lives back in order.
Last week on The Outreach Foundation’s Facebook page we posted this prayer request regarding hurricanes Harvey and Irma, “Please join us in praying that relief efforts will restore lives and that we will ultimately see the good from these events.” I started thinking about what “the good from these events” might look like. And the image of a magnifying glass came to me.
In disasters we experience great loss – the destruction of property, the loss of irreplaceable parts of our past, and we mourn even as we wonder about the future. At the same time, however, we find surprising, unexpected goodness, love and support that the disaster, or rather, the response to the disaster, magnifies.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
"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.Read More