Caring for Conflict

Conflict. It seems to be everywhere. Plastered across our newspapers and television screens, sending updates on our phones or notifying us on Facebook. And we see it, we talk about it and can be shocked by it. But to some extent we are never fully surprised, as if we have the muck of reality already penciled into our daily calendars.

My focus is not going to be that the state of the world is not as it seems, that darkness and chaos that we are exposed to doesn’t exist; because it does. Its evidence some days overwhelms us. However, I am also not going to be wrangled into the view that losing to this force is an inevitability, that change is not possible and that hope is an irrational sentiment.

Instead I am going to use this space as a vehicle through which to comment on the distance we put between ourselves and what we view as conflict. That we view from afar, pointing to the distant horizon, saying that is where the messiness is and exactly where I am not since I am clearly here and not there, forgetting that the same conflict photographed with an Instagram filter is sitting across the table from you, drinking a cup of tea, and nibbling a raspberry scone. Conflict happens. It is one of the many things humans do, and the point is not to disagree or feel disappointed in people. The same tension that ebbs and flows through the network of the world is present in us and that one person who we just loathe, who gets under our skin and cooks us from the inside out.

The question is how do we do it well, especially as the Church, who is called to be a unified body? How do we in an ever dividing sphere cease being the divisive humans we are comfortable being?

I don’t know the answer. If I did, I would publish a book and win some sort of shiny important award that would sit either on my mantel (that is, if I had a mantel) or tucked away in some drawer.  hat I do know is this: To be unified does not mean that we have to be in agreement on everything. We are not called to not disagree or even to like one another, but we are called to love one another.

So perhaps the best way to overcome the conflict, to acknowledge the messy world we dwell in, is to love that person or whatever that person respresents. Perhaps all we really have to do is care.

Written by Rebecca Dix, middler M.Div. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

A Mission Reflection: The Church is Alive!!

Too often I hear people say, “The Church is dying.” I suppose what they mean to say is, “The number of active members in mainline churches in the United States is steadily declining.” In fact, the Church - even the Presbyterian Church – is growing rapidly elsewhere in the world. While traveling on a World Mission Initiative Spring Break trip this year, I had the privilege of meeting leaders of the exploding Presbyterian Church in Brazil. The Church in the United States has a great deal to learn from these brothers and sisters, who are passionately engaged in evangelism throughout their communities.

I’d hate to insolently generalize Presbyterians, so I’ll speak for myself: my efforts toward evangelism are timid, minimal, and ambivalent. I fear questions I cannot answer instead of embracing tension. I’m slow to inquire about others’ faith, and almost never invite people to church. While I believe all people need Jesus, my courage to “make disciples” has been co-opted by the individualist principle that warns me not to “force my beliefs” on others. I’d venture a guess that other Presbyterians may be in the same boat.

Brazilian Presbyterians make evangelism a huge priority. As a result, hundreds of new believers are “added to their number” each year. I initially begrudged the glamorizing numerical statistics the pastors shared with us. “Well, there’s no way to know if these crowds are ‘serious’ Christians,” I thought. “It’s a ‘narrow way’ after all.” “The numbers game is a dangerous enterprise.” Yet I soon realized that my skepticism about what the Spirit is doing in Brazil was little more than jealousy. No cleaver contention could alter the source of my incredulity: I simply wish God would bring new believers to my communities as well!

Presbyterian evangelism in Brazil doesn’t resemble the in-your-face, turn-or-burn Bible thumping street corner preacher. It doesn’t even look like an American evangelical crusade à la George Whitfield or Billy Graham. In fact, I saw many similarities with the evangelism methods I’ve seen American Presbyterians employ. The primary “strategy” is to engage relationships: If I get to know someone, I will have an opportunity to share the Gospel with him or her through friendship. Insofar as I have engaged in evangelism in my life, this has been the approach I’ve adopted.

Here’s the key difference I discovered: While I am quick to find an excuse not to share the Gospel “just yet,” the Brazilians I met actually talk about Jesus. I tend to worry about making a relationship awkward or causing people to feel as though I’ve only befriended them in order to “convert” them rather than telling them “how much the Lord has done for me.” I share with the Brazilian pastors the desire to share Christ through relationships, but while they are quick to follow through, I am slow to do so.

Our Presbyterian tradition affirms that it is the Spirit, not the disciple, who transforms those at enmity with Christ. With this theological foundation, I need not evangelize others as if their salvation depended on me, yet I can – I must! -intentionally and eagerly bear witness to the work of the Spirit in my life. Though it would be wrong to befriend others with the goal of making them Christians, I see nothing wrong with befriending others with the hope that Christ might break into their lives; surely this is the hope of evangelism! My time in Brazil brought this derelict hope to the surface of my heart, and I’m giving evangelism new consideration.

Perhaps our Presbyterian Church as a whole can come together and consider how we can approach evangelism with more passion and dynamism, not because we think the Church is dying, but because, as one Brazilian pastor put it, “You cannot do ministry if you do not love the souls of people.”

Written by Brian Lays, middler M.Div student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Learn more about WMI and the work they do by liking their page on Facebook or going to their website: http://worldmissioninitiative.org/

A Mission Reflection: More Than a Building

Our group of seven students and two leaders spent the better part of two weeks in Brazil.  The first week was spent in Manaus, a city in the heart of the Amazon.  We visited numerous churches and pastors and tried to soak up as much information as possible.  These pastors are so passionate and humble about their work! They pray for numerous hours a day and dedicate their lives to doing the work of God.  Their churches thrive on small group ministry.  Held in the houses of congregation members, these small groups are used as a way to invite and minister to non-believers and show them the love and grace of God. Each person is involved in a small group Bible study, and the groups come together on Sundays to worship.

What amazed me about these people was their passion and immediacy about evangelism.  They see Christianity as a life or death situation, and therefore they find evangelism to be a crucial element of the faith.  They are certainly not ashamed of the gospel message!  It was not uncommon for grocery stores to have “Jesus is Lord” written on their signs, nor was it uncommon to see a man with a speaker strapped to the roof of his car, preaching the gospel as he drove through the crowded city streets.  Since they do not fear offending anyone, they are always willing to share the story of how God changed their lives with anyone who will listen, having full faith that God will work through them.  Their courage and passion was contagious!

After a week in Manaus, we flew to the eastern side of Brazil to the city of Sao Paulo and spent time in the surrounding cities of Campinas and Sorocaba.  We continued to visit churches, learn from the pastors and observe how they worked to expand and plant churches.  Many of the churches here seemed to be niche churches.  For instance, we went to one church that reached out to rock-n-roll fans and people with tattoos.  Another church evangelized through jiu jitsu! (and we even got to learn some moves!) After each jiu jitsu lesson, the pastor would sit the students down, read a Bible passage, share the gospel message, and close with prayer.

What struck me about Brazil is that the church building itself seems to be of little importance.  One church met in a local workout gym, another met in a jiu jitsu school and a third met in a small rented warehouse.  What matters exponentially more is the body of Christ itself.  The people in Brazil are very relationship-oriented, and their best evangelism seems to be done through real loving relationship with each other and with God.  By loving each other, they are showing each other God’s love. We asked one pastor what his biggest challenge was when it came to evangelizing to his church of rough, rock-n-roll, tattooed, motorcycle men, and his response was “changing my heart first.”  This was huge to me!  It is important, I have learned, to humble ourselves and admit our shortcomings in order to more fully share the transformative power of the grace of God.  Evangelism is not something that should be viewed as something that we do to people, but rather a dynamic experience that develops through loving relationship with another person.

This trip to Brazil allowed me to see what God is up to in other parts of the world, but also reinforced in me the importance of living a simple life.  When we schedule every hour of each day, we do not leave time for God to speak in the silent, still moments of our lives.  What would it look like if we let go of our tendencies to schedule ourselves down to the half hour, and instead created space for God to work in and through the silences of our lives?

Written by Stephanie Martin, first year M.Div Student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Learn more about WMI and the work they do by liking their page on Facebook or going to their website: http://worldmissioninitiative.org/