For as long as any of them can remember, kids in the youth group at my church -- the First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights (CHUP) -- have had the opportunity to see how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is connected with the church around the world in mission and service.
Before any of these young people were born, CHUP signed a partnership agreement with the Mbenjere Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Malawi. Since then, the youth group has received visitors from Malawi and, more recently, South Sudan, at least every other year. At least one of the young people was prayed over at his baptism by a Malawian pastor. They have seen their pastor and other church members visit our sister church in Malawi, and, in 2016, some of these youth are hoping to plan a trip themselves.
CHUP, located in Pittsburgh, was on the fringe of survival for a long time. The neighborhood in which the church is rooted is often described as disadvantaged, marginal, or troubled. Before the neighborhood elementary school closed a couple years ago, it reported that 93 percent of its students were at or below the federal poverty level. Most of the households with children are headed by a single parent on limited income.
And yet, God has allowed this congregation to thrive in recent years. Nothing illustrates this better than the hearts of our young people after hearing news of the worsening famine in Africa.
I returned from a visit to Africa in July 2015, sharing a report that, due to flooding and drought in Malawi and civil war in South Sudan, millions of our global neighbors would suffer hunger. In God’s timing, while I was in Malawi, CHUP hosted Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, PC(USA) mission co-workers in South Sudan.
To help prevent widespread famine, CHUP aligned itself with members of Pittsburgh Presbytery and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
During a youth group meeting, one of the young people asked if it would be possible for the kids to help. “After all,” she said, “we always raise money for world hunger in the spring.”
I told the youth group that raising money would be a great idea, but we expected the worst of the famine to strike in December and January—before our annual fundraiser.
This is where the young people surprised and blessed me as their pastor. They went to the session of the church—a church with an annual budget of less than $200,000—and asked if they could “borrow money to send to Africa.”
Our church has no endowment and minimal operating reserves. This is a church that nearly closed not too long ago. But the young people told the session in September that they hoped to raise $3,000 during a February fundraiser. They asked the elders to “please send $3,000 immediately so that famine would be avoided, not remedied.” And the elders said yes.
In September 2015, the First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights took $3,000 from its savings and used it to buy food for those at risk in Malawi and South Sudan because the kids in our youth group asked us to.
These are kids who did not grow up coming to worship . . . kids whose parents are not members . . . kids who have been shaped by the power of a gospel that unites, encourages, strengthens, challenges, and feeds us.
And giving didn’t stop there.
When members of the congregation and community heard what the youth group was asking, they got involved. Contributions came in weekly with notes indicating that the funds were for fighting hunger.
By the end of 2015, CHUP had sent more than $6,000 to quell famine in Malawi and South Sudan. In addition, the congregation has asked to be more deeply involved in the mission of the PC(USA) in Africa by providing a temporary home for Michael and Rachel Weller, mission co-workers based in Ethiopia who are in the States until August 2016.
Not long ago our congregation was visited by an associate pastor for mission at a church not far from downtown Pittsburgh. That congregation has been blessed with an abundance of financial resources, and the pastor came to see what CHUP was doing and why and how.
After several members of the congregation shared a part of our story, he said simply, “I just don’t believe it. You all are doing so much, with apparently so little. We need to take this back to our people.” Then he paused and said, “I don’t want you to hear this the wrong way, but . . . well . . . frankly, if CHUP can do this kind of stuff, well, anybody can.”
Exactly. Thanks be to God. That’s how and why we are here.
Support famine relief efforts
Donations to support international famine relief efforts can be made through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Give by mail
If donating by mail, make check payable to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and mail to: P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh , PA 15264-3700. Be sure to include the appropriate Disaster Response number in the memo line of your check, Malawi (DR000158); South Sudan (DR000042).