The 8.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the southern Mexican state of Chiapas and neighboring Oaxaca and Tabasco on September 8th resulted in a death toll of at least 90 people, with thousands of people injured. At least 70,000 people were displaced due to significant home and infrastructure damage. Felt strongly in places as far off as Mexico City and Guatemala City, it was described by President Enrique Pena Nieto as the worst earthquake to have hit Mexico in a century. Shortly after that on September 19th, Mexico City and its surrounding areas saw 370 people killed and 6,000 injured from the effects of a 7.1 earthquake in the Greater Mexico City area.
The Outreach Foundation’s partner, The National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, became actively involved in demonstrating Christ’s love through relief efforts by opening the facilities of its national headquarters to receive donations for those displaced by the destruction from the earthquakes as well as from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katia flooding in Veracruz.
2017 has been a year full of new experiences, blessings and lessons learned. I am thankful that during the challenging times, both personally and for those around me, God has been calling us to trust in him. I am reminded by Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
The newest country in the world, South Sudan, is at the top of the Most Fragile States list. More than two million South Sudanese are living as refugees. They are part of my concern and my ministry as Africa Mission Specialist with The Outreach Foundation.
During my visit with South Sudanese refugees in June, church leaders stated that healing trauma wounds and memories was a priority for all refugees, adults and children. We then began planning to conduct a training of local facilitators to work with children from each of the six camps for South Sudanese refugees in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.
Nile Theological College carries on its ministry in North-East Africa through its campuses in Juba (Republic of South Sudan) and Khartoum (The Republic of Sudan). Each location has its own unique character and lives out the calling to develop Christian leaders in very distinctive ways amid formidable ethnic and religious tensions. The Khartoum campus recently sent us a moving update worth celebrating.
Leading to a bachelor’s degree, Nile Theological College (NTC) in Khartoum offers the highest level theological training institution in the Republic of Sudan. Presbyterians, Episcopalians and members of other Protestant traditions attend school there.
With ninety-eight percent of the population of the country being Muslims and seven percent of the population having access to college-level education, the school plays a crucial role in the current and future life and witness of the church. As only eight percent of those attending college in the country are women, The Outreach Foundation comes alongside the efforts of Nile Theological College in support to its female students.
GROW Early Childhood Development Center provides wholistic Christian care for at-risk families by providing a safe, high quality, early childhood development program for one to four-year-olds as well as adult mentoring programs for their parents/caregivers. GROW creates a Christian environment where children thrive and parents become active participants in the success of their child through the love of Christ.
The Philemon Project has grown since our beginning! We have 16 full and part-time staff members and three volunteers committed to carrying out the best Christian early childhood and adult mentoring program. We hired legal counsel and an outside accounting firm to ensure organizational strength, and by God's grace moved the project through various challenges and obstacles. One essential obstacle we needed to overcome was gaining our license with the Ministry of Health. Without our license, we could be closed down at any moment and disrupt a thriving ministry. When we face challenges, God's word encourages and instructs to gain perspective.
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.
I have a favorite quote from Frederick Buechner (a Presbyterian pastor and a prolific writer) and it is not “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet” – although that is a really good one! It is this: “If you want to know who you are, as opposed to who you think you are, pay attention to where your feet take you.” At the end of the day, no matter how often we pray for the Global Church or send funds to support the work and witness of the Global Church, there is much to be said for a willingness to actually be present to the Global Church.