Opinion: Does God's mission have a church?

Opinion: Does God's mission have a church?

January 24, 2010
Written by Gregg Brekke

The news reports from Haiti in the days following the recent horrible earthquake were grim.

I found myself praying like an elementary Sunday School teacher had taught my daughters to pray so many years ago: "As you drive past a car accident on the highway or see a tragedy on the news on T.V., immediately start praying - pray for healing for the people who are hurt, pray for comfort for those who have lost a loved one, and pray for the 'helping people' (the police, the ambulance drivers, the EMT, the concerned neighbors)."

As would any family whose loved one is unaccounted for in a tragedy, the UCC and Disciples' Global Ministries' family worried mightily and prayed hard for a member of the board of directors of our Common Global Ministries Board. For several days, we had no news of the Rev. Patrice Villier, director of one of our partner organizations in Haiti, CONASPEH (the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti), and his wife Francoise.

CONASPEH has some 6000 member churches whose ministries are located in the middle of the very poorest of the very poor communities in the very poorest country in the western hemisphere. That global church partner in Haiti offers basic health service in three small clinics, trains people to serve as pastors of local churches, founded a nursing school, a seminary, as well as a school and orphanage which is now one of our Global Ministries' Child Sponsorship sites.

How relieved and grateful we were, after several days, to get the news that Patrice and Francoise were alive! However, we grieved with them when we learned that their foster child had been killed, just as we grieve over the thousands and thousands of other Haitians killed in this disaster.

Earlier we had heard that our mission personnel in Haiti assigned to CONASPEH, a young couple, Kim and Patrick Bentrott, and their soon-to-be-adopted infant son Solomon, miraculously escaped from their third floor apartment just as the building collapsed on top of the first floor.

The Bentrotts offered to go to Haiti right after Kim finished her residency in family medicine and Patrick graduated from seminary. Kim's work is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing OGHS and Patrick's by Our Church's Wider Mission OCWM.

In their personal blog on the web, Kim and Patrick had reported, before this tragedy, that their favorite thing about the Haitian people was their very strong sense of community. We pray today that that sense of community will prevail and will move our brothers and sisters in Haiti into a new, more hopeful place.

There is so much that we in the UCC in the United States can learn from CONASPEH. In remarks to the Global Ministries' board of directors just over a year ago, Patrice Villier told us "Peace – shalom – God's peace, with justice – means that every person should have three things: bread, a piece of land and respect.

"Bread, the food needed to nourish the body of each person in a family; a piece of land on which to build a small, modest shelter for one's self and family, and the respect of others, the respect of the authorities, of one's neighbors, of all others in society," he said.

At our board meeting the year before, Patrick said something else that really stuck with me. He said that, from his point of view, Christians in North America are 85 percent material and 15 percent spiritual, and that Christians in Haiti are 85 percent spiritual and 15 percent material.

Again, we pray today that this spirituality will sustain our Haitian sisters and brothers even as we from the "developed world" try to help provide them with the material gifts they need to survive physically. Who knows, perhaps that will even lead to our own spiritual maturing!

Another of our six Global Ministries' international board members, a native of Zimbabwe, the Rev. Majaha Nhliziyo from the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa, speaking to a gathering of UCC conference staff and representatives in November 2008 proclaimed, "Mission is in essence God's action through human agents… The church is one of the agents for the Mission of God."

Nhliziyo went on to say that the church is not the only agent for the mission of God. "We must be humble," he said, "the mission does not belong to the church, no matter how well resourced or committed the church may be". In response, the Rev. Alan McLarty, Conference Minister of Penn West Conference of the UCC, said that his conference had been taught an important lesson in recent years by Ozzie Smith who asked: "Does your church have a mission or does God's mission have a church?"

That is the question: does God's mission have a church in your location? Thanks be to God for people and churches who respond to God's call to be part of God's mission in so many places in "this world which God so loves!" Amen.

The Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte is the UCC's executive minister for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive minister for Global Ministries. She is also a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.

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