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.”
What was going on 125 years earlier? As President Lincoln put it, our nation was “engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” But that didn’t deter Presbyterians from reaching out!
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America met in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 5, 1864. That very day the forces of Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee clashed in the Wilderness forest in Virginia, beginning an epic campaign. The minutes of the Assembly state, “Our backs are to the wall and our homes are being burned and our churches destroyed, but we must send another missionary to Brazil.” And it named the missionary.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (the “Northern Church”) met in Newark, New Jersey, two weeks later. Those minutes record, “The world is watching us in our travail to see if we are serious about global mission and the Great Commission.” And the Assembly’s “Foreign Mission Report” named the first three missionaries that were opening a mission field in the Cameroons. They began the work that Marj had been invited to celebrate.
It is an inspiring and humbling story, friends, that reminds me that it is always a good time to join Jesus at work in the world.