The Mission to the USA program links churches in the Synod of the Covenant (Michigan and Ohio) with international church leaders, both clergy and lay leaders. Each Mission Partner is hosted by a congregation in the synod, joining in the life of church. As the Mission Partners and the congregations spend three weeks together, they share worship, Bible Study, pastoral care, many meals, and much more, they break down cultural barriers and truly become brothers and sisters in Christ.
The focus of the Synod’s Mission to the USA program for the years 2017-2019 is Christian-Muslim relations. The Synod invites and itineraries Christian leaders who are hosted by participating congregations for the duration of three weeks. In 2017 welcomed five visiting church leaders from Indonesia, and in 2018 the synod welcomed three church leaders from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In 2019, Africa will be the region, and we are preparing to invite seven or eight leaders. For more information and to register your congregation to participate in the program, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Synod office.
October 11, 2019 to November 1, 2019.
A mutual reach beyond the oceans
Reflecting on mission ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ in the life of the church
by Raafat L. Zaki
Since 1984, the Mission to the U.S.A. (MUSA) program has connected the Synod of the Covenant in Michigan and Ohio with international clergy and lay leaders through fellowship, hospitality, mutual sharing and awareness. MUSA, which was initially co-sponsored by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for about two decades, has helped each mission partner break down cultural barriers and truly become brothers and sisters in Christ.
As Presbyterians, we affirm the unity of the church and the oneness of the global community of faith. We celebrate that over the centuries the gospel has spread from Palestine to the ends of the earth, arriving in North America through Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Given the history of missionary efforts, many Presbyterians tend to underestimate the interdependent nature of mission and our commitment to doing mission in mutuality and partnership. The mission of the church thrives on continuous exchange and is nurtured by active involvement and intentional fellowship and hospitality.
The Synod of the Covenant’s MUSA program affords congregations and presbyteries the invaluable opportunity to host and share fellowship with international mission partners (IMPs). Hence, in addition to sharing the gospel through sending mission co-workers and funding mission locally and globally, congregations can also nurture mission locally by experiencing the gospel as a mission field. The sending church is equally a receiving church.
The Synod of the Covenant’s MUSA program is a reverse mission based on the interdependent nature of mission. Through MUSA, the synod helps facilitate the listening to and discernment of God’s call beyond the obvious institutional or organizational needs. Anxiety and divisions often prevail when the church is focused inwardly and distracted by the ego, property/building and resources. However, mission thrives where the church addresses human suffering, violence and injustice in society; that is, where congregations are focused outwardly, serving community and neighborhood, which are often impacted by global realities. The objectives include fellowship, hospitality, awareness and mutual transformation.
Since the MUSA program’s inception, the Synod of the Covenant has committed to improving and developing this missional and experiential program. For more than three decades, we have recognized that we have much more to learn and to accomplish. The program originally started by sending delegations from the synod to visit churches overseas, but soon we realized the limited impact of only sending mission co-workers and visiting delegations. Though it is essential to send co-workers and other church representatives to serve and visit with partner churches, we have come to also value and appreciate receiving international mission partners to visit with one congregation for the duration of their service in order to maximize the impact of fellowship. We have also come to appreciate the reverse-mission aspect of the program, whereby the church that was previously known for sending out missionaries has become, and in fact has always been, a mission field. The church cannot grow mission and develop partnerships in a one-way direction — welcoming missionaries by the sending church is also critical to the health of the church and continuity of mission both locally and globally.
Transformation requires multiple and ongoing encounters and conversations in an atmosphere of genuine hospitality. Originally, the program was designed for six weeks, and was later reduced to four, but it was recently reduced to three weeks due to practical challenges.
In 2013 MUSA began focusing on themes and regions, beginning with the Confession of Belhar and South Africa. This was followed by a focus on the Middle East (2014–16). Currently, the focus is on Christian-Muslim relations (2017–19).
We are still listening, learning and practicing. Every year we start and close the program with orientation and debriefing sessions, and every year participating congregations and synod commissioners are blessed by these encounters, and by intentional fellowship and genuine hospitality.
What does it take?
It takes commitment as well as time, effort and resources to build and nurture healthy relationships to bridge cultures, and to interpret the context of the gospel even among members of one body of Christ. We knowingly but prudently take many risks and do much planning and preparation in order to repent, reconcile and journey in unity as disciples of Jesus.
IMPs itinerate with one or two congregations and are hosted by one or more church families. This helps cultivate discipleship and hospitality, as well as the application of genuine fellowship, despite the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the global church.
The demonstration of genuine love and teachings of Jesus enrich congregations, mid councils, disciples and the global church. These concrete visits and encounters also transform our awareness and widen our horizons as we journey together across oceans and beyond political borders, and cultural and socioeconomic boundaries. Given the history of violence and militarism by the U.S. and the unjust interdependency of war and trade, the church must demonstrate peaceful alternatives to war and greed and continue to witness to the hope in Jesus Christ for a lasting, just peace.*
Suggestions for Hosting a Mission Partner
The Mission to the USA program is coordinated by the Synod of the Covenant. Each fall the Synod invites church leaders to spend three weeks in the United States. International partner denominations often send pastors. Each of the Mission Partners is hosted by a local congregation in the Synod. Thank you for your interest in this program. These suggestions are offered to help to make the program go smoothly. But each experience is unique and churches are encouraged to work out plans for their own situation.
Many plans need to be made before the Mission Partners arrive. A committee should be formed to handle the arrangements. This can be a mission team or a group of people who are interested and gathered for this experience. The church leaders and the pastor are expected to attend an orientation at the beginning of the program and a debriefing at the end. The church is responsible for making all of the arrangements for the three weeks.
Housing—the Mission Partner will stay in the homes of church members. One family could host for the whole time or the time can be shared by up to three families. It is suggested that there be no more than three host homes because becoming accustomed to a new situation too often can be tiring and stressful. The host family provides a welcoming environment. Check with the Mission Partner about dietary needs. Be sure the Mission Partner is comfortable with any pets in the home. Offer to do laundry or show them how to do it themselves. Access to the internet is greatly appreciated.
Meals—all meals will be provided by the church, either with the host family or by others. Church members who are not hosting can invite the Mission Partner to their homes for lunch or dinner or take them to a restaurant.
Money—The Mission Partners have been offered an honorarium for their time. The church needs to provide $150 in cash for each week of the visit. This can be given weekly or all of it can be given at the beginning of the visit. The Mission Partner is free to uses this money in any way, including taking it home. The church is also asked to help with the cost of the airline ticket. If either of these are a hardship for the church, the synod can help. Money should not keep an interested church from hosting a Mission Partner. The synod will reimburse the Mission Partner for expenses incurred for the trip, such a getting a passport and visa or travel to the airport. After the Mission Partner arrives, a check from the synod will be written out for these expenses. The check will be made out to the pastor and mailed to the church. The pastor should cash the check and give the cash to the Mission Partner.
Scheduling—the Mission Partner will participate in the life of the church. He or she can be invited to preach one Sunday (best if it is not the first Sunday to give time to get over jet lag), lead Bible study, participate in a Presbyterian Women’s gathering, teach an adult and/or children’s education class, participate in youth group, join in a mission opportunity, attend session or committee meetings, make pastoral calls with the pastor, and anything else that is happening at the church. If possible, provide the Mission Partner with a quiet place to work with a computer or internet access. They may need to prepare sermons or Bible studies and to send emails home.
The church will also want to plan lots of special activities to provide opportunities for everyone to get to know each other. Some ideas are a welcome dinner with food from the Mission Partner’s country, visits to other churches, attend presbytery meeting or event, opportunities to speak to community groups, such a Rotary or Lions clubs, visits to local schools (all levels) and colleges, a farewell party. Some things can be just for fun—a hike in a park, visits to local attractions, trip to a nearby city. Time for shopping is always appreciated! Ask the Mission Partner what he or she is interested in seeing or experiencing. Make use of any special talents—musical gifts, working with children, or whatever the Mission Partner has to offer.
Plan how the Mission Partner will get from one event to another. A volunteer may be enlisted to be the driver for the day. Keeping track of the schedule and keeping everyone informed can be challenging. One church opened a gmail account so they could use the calendar for the schedule. Anyone who had the password had access to the calendar. It is best if only one person makes changes to the schedule to avoid confusion. Be sure to schedule time for rest and “down time.”
The Mission Partners want to get to know their host churches but they also want to share how God is working in their lives and in their country. They have a story to tell. Offer many opportunities for them to do that. Often the best and deepest conversations come in one on one or small group conversations. It is good to have a group that meets with the Mission Partner multiple times, such as a weekly Bible Study group, the mission team, or a church staff meeting. As trust develops, the quality of sharing deepens. Come to this experience with respect and an open mind for new ideas, new perspectives, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Expect surprises, deep friendships, and great joy.
Comments from the Mission Partners
Mission Partner from Palestine –
I was warmly welcomed. I was not with strangers but with family. I am convinced of their friendship and solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Palestine/Israel. I am convinced that the Presbyterian Church is the most courageous church in the States, who take a stand for justice for the Palestinians, to help them survive in the midst of conflict. Please come to the Holy Land to hear the stories from the “Living Stones,” your Palestinian brothers and sisters, who are marginalized and forgotten. We are your partners.
Comments from the Host Churches
Host church in Muskegon, MI –
How has your congregation been changed? Certainly we all have a much greater understanding of the political situation in Egypt–past and present–and have had the real pleasure of getting to know and share with an individual from a different part of the world. In so many ways we are exactly the same, especially in our belief in the Lord’s power, but now we better appreciate the struggles among the Egyptian people, which, unfortunately, continue even today.
Host church in Tecumseh, MI –
We have a new lens with which to read the Bible and consider the gospel of Jesus today. We studied the Exodus story. Our mission partner was honest with us about the conflict these conquest Scriptures present for him because he feels as if he is living it now. Together we reconsidered what it means to be “chosen.” He could be resentful, but as a Christian, he has the most gentle spirit. Just his presence is uplifting.
Host church in Wooster, OH –
This experience far exceeded our expectations. We truly lived, worked, and worshiped together, as our mission partner was involved in all aspects of our church and community life. We are looking for an ongoing relationship with the church in Egypt and hope to participate in the Mission to the USA program again.