Churches that have made the decision to grow must be outward-looking. Overseas relationships stretch us to encounter the unfamiliar and are an important part of church growth. The potential benefits and unanticipated spiritual rewards are limitless. We are called to live into Jesus' words to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31) -- yet we are often slow to reach out to Christians elsewhere in the world.
By sharing in the lives and ministries of others, we see God at work in new ways. Global mission is relationship-centered and results in renewed faith, stronger communities and a unified church. To make a difference in a world rife with need, we need each other.
Consider these steps when establishing connections:
- Prayerfully discern how and where God is calling you to be involved in overseas mission;
- Approach contacts who can introduce you to an appropriate companion relationship (begin by visiting the online resources of the Office of Anglican and Global Relations at the Episcopal Church Center, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/agr);
- Together, develop shared expectations, projects and creative encounters;
- Involve and educate church members about the program and develop a long-term relationship.
Who is my neighbor, anyway?
The Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine in Houston (Diocese of Texas; http://www.sjd.org) is a large, urban family-oriented church of 4,000 members. The World Mission Committee at St. John's coordinates work into four thriving mission programs with an annual budget of $75,000:
- The Haiti Education Foundation;
- The Amistad Mission and Retreat Center, Bolivia;
- The Mendies Haven, Nepal;
- The Mission Russia Program.
Bob Stinson, a lay member and head of the World Mission Committee, says that the call to global mission grew from prayerful discernment and a need to "organize people's response to God's call." St. John's raised $20,000 in two days to assist the Diocese of Peshawar, Pakistan, to buy tents and equipment after the 2005 earthquake.
Companion relationships have expanded since Stinson's first trip to Bolivia some 10 years ago. Based on a personal connection by a parishioner, several went to Bolivia and were overwhelmed by the strong faith of the people they met. At the end of the visit, Stinson realized that those he encountered had motivatd him to get involved and give something back. By 2005, the number of parishioners who went on mission trips increased to 40 and the goal for 2006 is 70.
Stinson says he has seen "how much God is working in the world, in places people do not know exist." He adds that he is humbled to be part of meeting needs in places where people have few resources.
Involvement has deepened prayer life at St. John's. "People have a real connection with the places and people we pray for and know personally," says Stinson. "We have learned how extensively the Anglican Communion has permeated around the world." In the future, St. John's plans to increase mission trips and support parishioners considering becoming full-time missionaries.
Strengthening the connection
Parishioners of St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Oakland/Franklin Lakes (Diocese of Newark, http://www.stalbans-ofl.dioceseofnewark.org) are also growing in global mission. A new phase has begun in their relationship with the rural community of Kothapallimitta (village on a
hill) in South India. To bridge the distance, the churches are conducting Bible study by video exchange. Each congregation is studying the same biblical passages and videotaping the discussions. After translation, the tapes are exchanged. There is anticipation as each community awaits its companion's tape. This is a novel way a congregation with limited resources can deepen a relationship.
The Rev. Prince Singh, rector of St. Alban's, was ordained in South India where 80 percent of Christians are Dalits (untouchables). He helped establish the relationship with Kothapallimitta three years ago. St. Alban's is a suburban, middle-class congregation in New Jersey with about 100 people in church on Sunday, including a growing number of young families. Together with a neighboring Episcopal church, they are funding the construction of a school for 300 children in Kothapallimitta. Part of the $200,000 project is complete, and 100 children already attend school.
Singh emphasizes that the relationship is "a long-term commitment" to learning and building, based on equal respect between two different communities." People at St. Alban's were shocked to realize the depths of poverty in India. "Life happens even when people have absolutely nothing," says Singh.
Erika Murphy, a seminarian, is looking forward to going to India this summer. "It's humbling to work with issues of poverty and injustice in Kothapallimitta," she said. "There are so many ways to help, but getting personally involved is the most meaningful. I plan to bring the
experience back here and share it with St. Alban's."
[Reprinted with permission from the author, this article was originally published in the May/June 2006 edition of Vestry Papers, a publication of the Episcopal Church Foundation.]
-- Maurice Seaton is associate director of Learning and Leadership at the Episcopal Church Foundation, where he is responsible for the Global Anglicanism Project (GAP). He is a lifelong Anglican, born and raised in South Africa.
GAP is a resource for Episcopal congregations seeking to understand the Anglican Communion. GAP's most recent report, "The Vitality and Promise of Being Anglican," is available for adult education groups. The report narrates stories of the life and ministry of Anglicans in Brazil, North India, New Zealand and Tanzania. Copies may be obtained online at http://www.episcopalfoundation.org/ or by phoning +1.800.697.2858.