I fear returning to “normal”…perhaps God is doing a new thing, and we are invited into this.Tracey King-Ortega
On Palm Sunday, two pairs of church members with two trucks drove out to deliver 250 bags of basic necessities to families across the 27 congregations of the presbytery. They plan to do it all again as soon as possible. … Meanwhile, despite border closings and the threat of spreading the coronavirus between our two countries, deportation flights from the United States continued to land in Honduras. U.S. citizens, seeking virus-related evacuation, were sold seats on the returning ICE-chartered planes.
“We are learning what we’re capable of,” said Selenia Ordóñez. She and I share an anniversary: Ordóñez and her Presbyterian Women’s team began running a retreat center ministry the same week I was installed as a mission co-worker with the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. For the past year, we have both been learning what we’re capable of.
My job description is “facilitator for theological education and leadership development” within the Presbyterian Church of Honduras. The focus of my first year, although not explicit, has been education and development of the concept of partnership. I see my work as empowering and highlighting the capabilities of the Honduran church and sub-groups, such as the Presbyterian Women, youth groups, lay pastors, and theological students.
During a recent visit, the Presbytery of Carlisle and the Honduran church took a day out of their schedule of home construction to receive training from a local organization on intercultural and international partnership, and to start a process to assess and renew their bilateral relationship. I confess that some of our participants started out skeptical that this training was of any practical value — admittedly, its value was less tangible than building a home from cinderblocks.
Inspired by the training in partnership and mutual concern, the week ended with a Honduran-led initiative that has never happened before: A leader in one of the Honduran congregations gathered volunteers and workmen to join in partnership with the North American volunteer construction crew in building the home of a member of a different congregation. Local presbytery leaders are now encouraged to practice this demonstration of mutuality and partnership more intentionally in their own communities.
In March, the Presbyterian Women of Honduras learned that the U.S.-Honduras partnership has met its goal of raising $189,500 to complete the purchase of the retreat center property that they have been running. The Presbyterian Women of the PC(USA) gave $100,000 from one of their grant programs. The Presbyterian Women of Honduras contributed $520.77 to date. This discrepancy brings to mind the story of the widow’s mite in the gospel of Luke. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others.’” But I don’t believe this story in Luke is really about money and economic class. It comes at the end of a lengthy critique of the Temple system that creates inequality, and a warning from Jesus against the traditions of the scribes and other Temple leaders.
Our old ways of worshiping, of maintaining our connection to God, of supporting the activities of the Temple, are not truly just and good. We must examine our traditions and live into a new way of connecting to God that is not entirely financial and unequal. It is telling, I think, that Jesus does not call us all to be like the widow, but he does warn us all against being like the scribes. This story calls us all, rich and poor, to live into a new way of relating to God, to the church, and to ourselves.
This is what the Presbyterian Women of Honduras are doing as they manage a ministry of the church. They are doing so without the direct oversight of a male pastor. They are making decisions for the retreat center based on their understanding of hospitality, mission and ministry. They are seeing and valuing the gifts of ministry that they can contribute, rather than seeing only what they lack. We are transforming our concept of partnership from one of “giver and receiver” to one of mutual work and mutual contribution. Together, we are learning what we’re capable of.
New relationships, new life at retreat center
This year the tapestry of partnerships between U.S. and Honduran Presbyterians became more intricate. The women’s ministry of the Honduran Presbyterian Church received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Presbyterian Women organization — about two-thirds of what is needed to purchase and refurbish a retreat center called Villa Gracia. The center will become a place where all 26 congregations in Honduras may gather for spiritual formation, conferences, camps and education. In two months, the women’s ministry has hosted a day-long retreat titled “The Power of the Wise Woman,” a three-day pastoral education encounter, a lunch-time presentation of scholarships to 95 youth, and a church plenary meeting. The chair of the women’s committee, Selenia Ordóñez, says that the job was so big, she worried it couldn’t be done. “I was stressed out and anxious,” she said, as the women cleaned and repaired rooms, sewed bedclothes and curtains, and planned menus. “But after a successful first event, I started to think it might be possible.” The women say that they trust in God’s help that they will make Villa Gracia into a life-giving and sustainable retreat and conference center.
More help is needed. The Honduras Mission Network of the (PC)USA is making efforts to raise the remaining $70,000. As I write this, about one-third of the needed funds have been raised. For more about the Presbyterian Women grant, go to https://www.presbyterianwomen.org/what_we_do/support-mission/birthday-offering/
See more on the development of the retreat center, called Villa Gracia, or Village of Grace, at http://villagracia.org/
Our pastoral identity should be grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and obedient above all else to Jesus. We should live as whole persons — not bifurcated — saying and living what we believe the gospel requires of us.
“We look at this Son and see God who cannot be seen. … So spacious is Christ that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.”
The past day was filled with contradictions as we met people of faith who work and live on the border in Douglas and Agua Prieta (DouglaPrieta). A Border Patrol agent left his teaching job because he believes he makes a more immediate difference for children as an agent. A church pastor helped his congregation rally around a deacon facing deportation, but the church won’t become a sanctuary because migrants also do harm to property as they cross. A director of a shelter for migrants says he has faith in God, not in governments, and serving his neighbor is what gives him joy and strength.
The irony of immigration policy in the United States is that it does a better job of keeping people in than keeping people out, one U.S. church mission worker says. People already in the United States choose not to return to their homes because it is so much harder to cross a second time. The number of border agents has quadrupled and wall infrastructure has multiplied exponentially. The desert is cut to dust as agents drag roads and “cut for sign” and track footprints. The agents in Douglas more often than not are not Douglas natives and don’t live in Douglas, so there is tension between them.
In Corinthians 4:4 we read, “The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And our group’s daily reflections ask us: What is our relationship as Christians with this particular community of the people of God?
I realize on this trip that I am part of the body of Christ with not only the migrants and the church workers who aid them but with the Border Patrol agents who say they do this job to help children and whose faith also informs them. I am one with church members who give food and water to migrants and then call immigration authorities to report them.
I am struggling to reconcile these contradictions and contrasts. There is room for all, but how is God calling me to respond to these differences?
I told a man staying at the shelter in Agua Prieta, contemplating an attempt to cross to the north, that our group is on our way south from Tucson to Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“Hacemos la migración al revés,” I said. “We are making the migration in reverse.”
“Ah! La diferencia es que a Uds. no quieren a asesinar.” “The difference is they aren’t going to try to kill you.”
(Quote from Colossians in The Message)
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