More than 700 mission-minded Presbyterians gathered here Oct. 22 to celebrate Presbyterian world mission in all its variety.

The three-day event, Mission Celebration ’09, culminates a month-long effort, Mission Challenge ’09, to connect Presbyterians around the denomination with PC(USA) mission workers around the world.

Since Oct. 1, in an effort billed, more than 50 PC(USA) mission workers and international peacemakers — leaders from partner churches in trouble spots around the world — have been itinerating in more than 150 of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries seeking prayer, spiritual and moral support for the church’s global mission work.

“Take a look around you,” Presbyterian World Mission Director Hunter Farrell told the throng to start his conference-opening address. “Look at this huge group of Presbyterians who are passionate about God’s mission!”

Passionate, and engaging in mission in a variety of different ways. “To be a faithful Presbyterian back in the 1960s, you wrote a check and prayed,” Farrell said. But changes in communication, technology and travel have made it possible for an estimated two million American Christians to engage directly in mission beyond the U.S. border, he said.

Conference planning reflected the proliferation of PC(USA)-related groups involved in mission. “Two years ago at the first Mission Celebration, all of the planning was done by the denomination’s World Mission office,” said planning team chair Donald Dawson, director of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s World Mission Initiative and the annual New Wilmington Mission Conference. “This year, the planners represent the breadth and diversity of Presbyterian mission.”

Some of those involved in planning or funding the conference along with the General Assembly Mission Council are Frontera de Cristo border ministry, the Presbytery of Des Moines, The Outreach Foundation, Coalition for Appalachian Ministry, Medical Benevolence Foundation, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, the Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors, Presbyterian Women and Dawson’s two organizations.

In addition, most of the three dozen mission networks — Presbyterians from congregations and presbyteries with mission partnerships in various regions of the world — gathered here prior to the celebration to continue coordinating their efforts and sharing best (and worst) practices.

“I am convinced that more Presbyterians are deeply engaged in world mission than ever before in the history of our church,” Farrell said. “Praise God!”

And through that mission activity, “exposing ourselves to our global partners’ faith and to their understanding of God’s mission,” he added, “we open ourselves up for some powerful transformation ... to go deeper in God’s mission in a way that transforms our global activity into global discipleship.”

That such transformation is needed in the world today cannot be denied, Farrell insisted. Americans spend more on personal consumption than ever before “yet studies show we’re more obese, less healthy and less happy,” he said. The U.S. is the wealthiest nation the world has known, “yet our lack of care for the earth places in jeopardy its very survival.” And the U.S. has more billionaires than at any previous time, he said, “but a frighteningly large and growing number of children don’t get enough to eat each day.”

Global partners are calling for American Christians to “do deeper” in God’s mission in three ways, Farrell said:

  • To “go deeper into root causes of poverty and injustice” rather than focusing on surface symptoms of human suffering;
  • To go deeper in our proclamation and witness, “to open our hearts to God’s Spirit as we freely and respectfully share the difference Christ has made for us, how God touched us in our place of greatest brokenness, changed us, and invited us to be agents of change in the world,” Farrell said;
  • To go deeper into partnership between denominational mission efforts and the mission work of the variety of PC(USA)-related organizations and groups. Farrell invited those who committed to greater mission coordination at the “Dallas Consultation” two years ago to gather at the conference for the next step beyond commitment: “to craft benchmarks to strengthen our mission faithfulness.”

Returning to his opening refrain, Hunter reminded the crowd that “we are members of the same family. Remember that,” he said, “when you meet those strangers, now friends, anywhere in the world and tell them you are Presbyterian and see their face lights up with recognition.

Will you commit to that realization?” he asked, “that as Presbyterians and family, we are united in God’s mission of justice, peace and reconciliation.”

Mission Celebration ’09 continues through Oct. 24 with a variety of worship services, plenary presentations, workshops and mission-related gatherings.