Reflection on St. Andrew's Day

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.

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Love them as I have loved you...

Love them as I have loved you…
Jesus

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.

One of the biggest challenges facing children in our world today is poverty. Many children living in poverty are orphans and others are vulnerable in indescribable ways that are unacceptable by the standards of our society. The Outreach Foundation believes that all children have a right not just to survive, but to thrive and fulfill their potential for the benefit of a better world. This means giving them access to basic services while understanding the difficult situations children face in different parts of the world. Today over 150 million children live on the streets or in absolute poverty globally. They are at risk because many of them don’t have loving caregivers, are living in unhealthy environments, or have been traumatized in some way. The majority of these vulnerable children are in urban centers of developing countries in Africa, but there are also street children in Brazil, Haiti, and other parts of the world. 

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The Gift of Helps

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:

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Reformation Day Lessons from the Presbyterian Churches of Syria and Lebanon

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…

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Translation, Reformation and Mission

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.” 

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What IS your only comfort in life and in death??? (with thanks to the Heidelberg Catechism)

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.

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Take Comfort: We Are Not Called to Build

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.

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Emerging from Disaster

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. 

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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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