The Joys of SMC

Last week I attended my very first Global Mission Summer Missionary Conference (SMC). It is the time when global personnel from all over the world are on their bi-annual home assignment stay. That means that every year half of the global personnel that are sent by the ELCA out into the world to accompany Lutheran Churches and other institutions are gathered. The SMC which takes place at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin offers fellowship, formation and fun. There were about one hundred and twenty-eight people in attendance which includes most of the Global Mission staff that work at the Lutheran Center in Chicago.thCAE8E71C

Carthage is a beautiful setting; it is right on Lake Michigan. It provides an opportunity to sit on the beach, watch the moon rise and have pleasant walks in the morning. During the conference there is time for worship and reflections. In the college chapel, worship with preaching and eucharist begins the conference and a remembrance of baptism and anointing ends the SMC. Every other day of the SMC devotions are offered as we gather for plenary.

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There is also a chance to hear engaging Lutheran Theologians. This year Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos and Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing talked to us about origin and destination narratives. Dr. Santos told us that as a person from Puerto Rico his history included Africans, Indians and Europeans. As he showed us a statue that represented this history, he said that parts of his origin narrative, part of his story is one of violence and oppression. This is the part that no one sees or makes explicit. Thus portions of his history, part of his origin narrative is unspoken.  So the popular story that we hear of the beautiful people on the island of Puerto Rico is an invented story. Because of this Dr. Santos let us know that stories of origin are invented and his origin narrative is broken. He also assured us that being invented does not mean these stories are not true, but if invented these stories can be re-invented. He also told us that a broken narrative can be mended.

The other meaningful part of SMC is simply being with old friends and meeting new people. I welcomed a new long-term missionary that is going to Sierra Leone, Rev. Morsal Collier. I got to hang out with Rev. Dr. James Thomas a professor from Southern Lutheran Theological Seminary. He is going on sabbatical; Dr. Thomas will be teaching for a semester at Good News Theological College and Seminary in Ghana. Other members of the West Africa team, Joe and Deb Troester who serve in the Central African Republic were also there.

Part of the job of Area Program Directors is to meet with global personnel for consultations and debriefing. During this time I had the pleasure of having conversations with global personnel serving in West Africa that I have never met: Mary Beth and Bayo Oyebade and Sarah and Dirk Stadtlander.  The Oyebades serve in Nigeria at Mashiah Foundation and the Stadtlanders have completed service in Linguere Senegal.IMG_2159

At every SMC  there is recognition and celebration at a formal banquet. This year there was recognition of Mashiah Foundation and the supporters of that ministry the Upper River Iowa Conference of the Northeastern Iowa Synod. Also, there was recognition of long-term global personnel completing service through videos and certificates. Although just getting to know the Stadtlanders, I was able to thank them for their service and tell the gathered community of their deep and abiding banquet SMC Stadtlanderlove for the people, the culture and country of Senegal.

It was an intense but good week. I look forward to many SMCs and getting to meet wonderful people who serve all over the world.

I am westafricabound.

Grace Three: More than a Coincidence

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“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

I was almost finished writing my blog about plane rides. Yes, these three blog posts started out as one, but because of the way I write, you get three. You see I write in fits and starts. I write a little and then put away the writing for another time maybe a few hours, maybe a few days. I edit, rewrite and write some more in different sittings. This is how I also prepare sermons.

I put the final line on the blog post . . . “I am westafricabound.” Then, I met another Grace. Grace sat down with me and Dorothea from Canada as we sat under a tree taking a break from workshops and crowds. A lively conversation ensued.

This Grace is a beautiful 33-year-old married mother of a three-year old from Kenya. She is here at the All Africa Conference of Churches as a delegate for her church–the Coptic Church. She is married to a Coptic priest and works for the Coptic Hope Center in Kenya as a human resource person. As Dorothea left, we continued talking.

We had just come out of the workshop about “Gender Based Violence;” so, we started talking about that topic. In the workshop, the issue of the churches’ perpetuation of gender based violence came up, but of course that is a topic no one wants to talk about. We very readily talk about the huge, overwhelming acts of gender based violence that we see in war-torn countries and in news worthy catastrophic acts.

Yet, Grace and I talked about the everyday incidences of gender based violence. We talked about those incidences that occur in the home, in the work place and yes, even in the church. We shared stories of the incidence that we had read about and witnessed of unhealthy ways that the church deals with gender based violence and inappropriate behavior. It happens in the Coptic Church and in the Lutheran Church.

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We talked and I told her “thank you” for sitting down with me. She had been a sort of answer to my prayers. I had asked God to give me a clearer picture and understanding of my new role as I travel the continent of Africa. I did not get that, but it cannot be a coincidence that doing this job I have already met three Graces.

It is as though God is telling me, “don’t worry, follow me and everything you do. No matter what you do it will be full of grace.”

All I can say is thank you God and look for other grace filled moments as I am westafricabound.

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