But What Does That Mean?
First we partner with God and use an incarnational model.
“God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.”
Isaiah 40: 29-31 (The Message)
In my context, as a PC(USA) Mission Co-worker serving outside the USA, living missionally means working in faith with ministry partners to find and open a window, so that the fresh air that is the wind of the Holy Spirit can flow freely in and among all who share in the partnership.
Living missionally means working in faith with ministry partners to find and open a window, so that the fresh air that is the wind of the Holy Spirit can flow freely in and among all who share in the partnership.
Cleansing and transforming breaths of inspirited air flowing through that window may strengthen and embolden us and those with whom we partner. That strength lets us “run and not be weary,” so that we can be God’s hands and feet in the world. In this way, living missionally – opening new vistas in all the world – nurtures hope, arouses compassion, and encourages freedom of the spirit – freedom from the many sorts of bondage which may hold us captive.
The ever-opening window allows people outside the ministry to see in, in full light. Opening that window allows partners to see with new eyes the people and possibilities beyond their walls.
The opening window image can mean making possible mutual exchanges of respect, hugs, talents, and treasures, all in the name of Jesus Christ.
We build relationships believing that what has been broken can be made whole.
Here’s an example:
In mid-July, infant Eduard Andrei was christened at St. George’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Tulcea, Romania. As Romanians say: “One more Christian has entered the world.”
Both of Eduard’s parents are orphans: they were children of sustained trauma and inmates of state institutions during difficult times. Singled out for humiliation in school, stigmatized and marginalized, they had witnessed few positive relationships and knew no happily married couples. They had never seen good parents in the act of parenting.
Their church wedding, Eduard’s christening, and all that these celebrations of relationship may represent are rare in the orphan population. In their case, these experiences of God’s blessings were made possible by a network called New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children – NOROC, for short.
‘NOROC’ means “God Bless” or “Good Luck” in Romanian. The work of this organization – conducted by about 80 Romanian staff and volunteers – is the result of ongoing and long-term relationships among congregations, individuals, secular organizations, dedicated Romanians, PC(USA) World Mission, Presbyterian Women, and many others.
Many who work with NOROC serve as living models for loving relationship.
Many who work with NOROC serve as living models for loving relationship, including the tireless small group and Bible study leaders, psychologists, camp counselors, and others who believe in the healing and transforming love of Jesus Christ.
Mariana has been able to keep her job at the sewing factory for some years. Cristi is in and out of casual jobs. NOROC sustained them through very dark and difficult times. Now they are a beacon of hope for hundreds of institutionalized kids in Tulcea county. Their church wedding and full-on Romanian dinner and celebration were a Disney dream come true — made possible by NOROC’s partnership with the PC(USA).
The bride’s dress and the DJ for the reception were made possible by contributions from individuals/congregations/presbytery in Connecticut. The Romanian godparents who paid for the church wedding and the reception connected with the couple via NOROC’s network. Many of the attendees who gave generously (cash is the preferred wedding gift) were NOROC staff and volunteers.
The Godparents who made the wedding and reception possible returned from work in China for the christening – a ‘must’ in this culture of relationships. They presented the child in the church, vowed to watch over the child’s spiritual life, and paid the fees for the service.
We pray to expand the circle of caring and deepen relationships.
Although they have very little, Mariana and Cristi have reached out to help youth recently released from the system. Many have slept on the couple’s kitchen floor, receiving their advice and eating at their table. The couple reaches out in love to those with little hope. Hope and love were made visible to Mariana and Cristi thanks to a unique network – a safety net woven by many hands. Now the blessing has come full circle, for Mariana and Cristi have had the opportunity to become a strong and vital part of it that same network.
True partnership. Many participants. Meeting needs one-by-one, as they arise. Creating relationships that will last. Bringing new hands to the work. That is missional ministry in partnership.
Mission Co-workers can help broaden and deepen partnerships.
As a mission co-worker, I am a U.S. citizen partnered – via the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Palo Duro Presbytery – with Asociatia Umanitara NOROC in Romania.
I am also joined in partnership with Presbyterian Women and with scores of congregations, individuals, and secular entities in the USA and Europe. As a Mission Associate with the United Church of Christ, with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and in God’s work in and through Orthodox believers in Romania, I see what I do as outside the confines of denominationalism.
The missional challenge of partnership is to walk with—not in front and not behind – and to make sure that everyone in the broad network and the wide circle is accountable to a walking-with partner.
Partnership is a high calling.
This task of forging strong links in the circle of caring is not one to be undertaken lightly or without consultation across the partnership. This is about much more than youth groups traveling to connect and have fun, building crews erecting a building, or sending Christmas gifts.
Partnerships handle the shards of fragmented lives, armored hearts in need of healing, and minds that have been taught never to hope, all in cultural contexts that are very different from our own.
I believe that only the fully accepting and eternal love of Jesus Christ can heal such deep hurts, bind up wounds, make forgiveness possible, and create a future for those whom society wishes to forget or exclude. NOROC’s circle brings children of trauma into relationship, into trust, into forgiveness, into accountability, and into the healing warmth of love and acceptance. This is truly holy work. And this is the task of our global community of faith and practice – of partnership.
I have borne witness to what can happen when God’s people reach across the boundaries that may challenge or seem to confine us. Often I have to remind myself that our highest calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to forge links in a circle of caring so strong that it cannot be broken—neither in heaven nor on earth. That is our call. That is our promise. And that is our continuing ministry together in unconditional love and faithfulness.
Partnership models unconditional love and inclusion.
The message that our partners and I seek to bring to orphaned, abandoned, and abused children in Romania is: “No matter what you’ve done, and no matter what has been done to you in the name of love or relationship, you are a member of a great, safe, and loving family—the family of God. No one can take that away from you – not now and not ever. You are known and you are loved.”
That powerful message informs all that I do, all that NOROC does, and all that we do through our partnerships—every program, every contact, and every plan.
At NOROC, there is no shortage of people conveying that essential message. Big-hearted Grannies hug toddlers and psychologists counsel. There are the speech and horse therapists, tutors, Learning Center staff, small group leaders, camp staff, Bible study leaders, life skills developers—every one of nearly 80 volunteers and staff in Romania is acting as God’s hands and feet in the world. And when feet become weary and bodies tire and feel faint, it is the love, support, and counsel of U.S. partners that lift up and sustain those in Romania.
Our highest calling as followers of Jesus Christ is to forge links in a circle of caring so strong that it cannot be broken—neither in heaven nor on earth.
We can talk programs. NOROC has amazing and transformational ones. We can talk needs. NOROC’s ongoing needs are real and serious and challenging. We can talk about protecting children and women in cultures of poverty and violence, or about trafficking, stigmatization, bullying, and long nights of terror and pain.
But the greatest thing we can talk about is the healing message of partnership – relationship in the love of Jesus Christ—you with us, and all of us with the children and youth who become adults—like Cristi and Mariana –in NOROC’s care.
Thank God for strong hands forging partnerships, yours among them.
Thank God, and thank you!
AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Searles is a PC(USA) Mission Co-worker in Tulcea, Romania. The daughter of United Presbyterian missionaries, Liz was raised in Egypt and in Ramallah, Jordan—now the capital of Palestine. After some years as a university professor, Dr. Searles, along with her husband, Rev. Douglas Searles and their two children, answered the call to international Christian service.
The Searles ministered as a family in India, China, and Poland. Now Liz is partnered with NOROC, “New Opportunities for Romanian Orphaned Children,” as a PC(USA) Mission Co-worker, as well as a Mission Associate with Global Ministries (combined witness of the UCC and Christian Church/DOC).