October 16, 2017

Mission in Reverse

I sometimes hear the words "mission in reverse" when persons describe the arrival of formerly evangelized people as missionaries to the sending nation. In many respects, this is the story of the impact of the Burma diaspora on American Baptist Churches.  Thousands of ethnic minorities have made their way from Myanmar, often by way of a refugee camp along the Thai-Burma border.  Seeking religious liberty and a more peaceful land, they quickly find their way to a congregation--or plant one.  Recent growth in American Baptist churches is due, in large measure, to their presence.

Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C., houses a large congregation, which was the site of an amazing celebration yesterday afternoon.  Central and International Ministries commissioned Sayama (teacher) Marlene Po as an associate missionary who will serve as director of Central's Judson Communities program.  This is a certificate program in ministry studies designed for emerging leadership in their respective congregations.

Over the past several years, Central has offered these courses in Ft.Wayne, IN; St. Paul, MN; New Bern, NC; Portland, OR; Nashville, TN; Oakland, CA; Syracuse, NY; and Washington, D.C.  Over 325 graduates of this program are strengthening churches through the equipping for ministry they have received.

Some churches have decided not simply to host a congregation, but to attempt to fully integrate the refugees into their existing congregations.  Challenges are great, and rewards are many; and the Body of Christ grows more luminous with this expansion of identity.  Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, is one such church, and now they cannot imagine their identity apart from the many Karen who comprise the church alongside their English as first.language counterparts.

God has placed an open door before Central to work with persons from Myanmar--both in their homeland and here in the US.  Our collaboration with Myanmar School of Theology is ongoing.  We are just concluding Doctor of Ministry seminars on our campus, and students and faculty colleagues are returning to Myanmar today.

We give thanks that God is making all things new through vibrant partnerships among these Baptist kin.  It is surely the horizon of the future.

Molly T. Marshall

October 9, 2017

The Strength of a Pastor

Yesterday was Clergy Appreciation Day, and many churches found ways to honor their pastors.  While this may be more a construction of Hallmark than the liturgical calendar, it is a fine practice for churches to recognize the pastoral leader in their midst.

Where I preached yesterday in Manhattan, KS, nary a word was said about the  observance, but the appreciation of the pastor was palpable.  I think it is because he is so intent on creating space for people to flourish.  In fact, he is so busy serving them that he has little time to consider whether or not the congregation is paying attention to this new entry on the calendar.

Pastor John Parsley's generosity of spirit sets the tone for the church.  There is freedom for worship leaders to lead; there is eagerness to share the pulpit with a guest preacher; and, there is desire to honor the many worthy ministries that the church members have sustained over the years.  Silver-haired and in the summative years of his ministry, this pastor's strength is seen in his empowerment of others.

During the service he announced that there was a need for assistance in emptying a storage unit and moving a congregant to a new dwelling.  He said he would meet volunteers at the unit at 2:00 PM to do the work.  As I stood at the door by the pastor to greet the departing worshippers, several said they would meet him at the appointed time and place.  With that kind of example, people are eager to serve, also.

One can sense the thick bonds of a gathered community by how they linger after the service to have further conversation with fellow members.  And they did linger!  Black and white and Asian, young and old, this expression of the Body of Christ is seeking to make an impact in Manhattan and beyond.  Part of the conversation after the service was about how their church could link up with what the American Baptist Home Mission Society is attempting in Puerto Rico.

This church has been a good friend to Central, having lent us a board chair, Don Wissman, and current chair of Governance Committee, Carol Ann Holcomb.  There are also faithful donors in the congregation, for whom I give thanks. 

I am at Kansas State for three days as Theologian in Residence.  Not only to I get to meet with students and clergy, offer a public lecture and teach a class, but I also get to visit a vibrant church like First Baptist Manhattan and witness the strength of its pastoral leader.  It is Central's mission to prepare excellent leaders for congregational leadership, as well as other ministry contexts.

Molly T. Marshall