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Presbyterian World Service and Development – small but significant

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Transfiguration Sunday and PWS&D Sunday – February 11, 2018

Matthew 13:31-32 and Psalm 126

One good thing about attending church is that it may be one of the few times during the week when we think big thoughts. On the other days many of our concerns may be small and transitory. But on Sundays we must think about faith, our place in the universe and helping our neighbour.

One reason we may avoid big thoughts is that so many big issues are complex and beyond us. Take the universe; it’s ninety-one billion light years across and it’s still expanding. Still expanding…as Christians we may wonder why God wants more space.

And there are still over a billion people in our world living in poverty. In a world of abundance, we wonder why this happens, where God is in tragedy, and what we can do about it. This Sunday we cannot discern why the universe is so big. But we can discern how, in our corner of the universe, we can help our global neighbours as an expression of our faith.

Attempts to alleviate poverty have been many. Good governance practices, forgiving national debt, to name a few.

There has been considerable progress in many developing countries. But we still spend vast amounts of time, energy and money trying to find out what works best. International development aid by all countries now amounts to one hundred and sixty billion dollars a year. That’s more than half of the entire annual budget of the Government of Canada. If I had one hundred and sixty billion dollars every year to spend on development, how would I spend it most effectively? That’s just one more big thing that I don’t know.

What then as Canadian Presbyterians should we think about our own capacity to do good in the developing world? What is our capacity to make a difference with our annual Presbyterian World Service and Development budget of about four million dollars, a small thimble-full of cash in this big sea of money?

Christians often turn to the Scriptures as one place to get an understanding of these questions. But, the scriptures don’t overflow with answers to many of the things we want to understand.

Today we’ll be reflecting on the well-known parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed wasn’t a seed that farmers planted in their gardens. It just grew in the fields. But Jesus chose the mustard seed to illustrate how something small and undervalued can grow and serve…grow not for its own sake, but for the sake of the birds of the air, giving them a place to rest, to observe, to recover…a place for them to be.

Scholars usually interpret this parable to represent the power of faith, the spread of the reign of God and the growth of the Church. From its small and humble beginnings, Christ knew that Christianity would flourish and grow in the world, standing as a tall and welcoming faith, giving people a place to shelter. Our Church’s support for international development mirrors that vision of the small becoming big, of modest investments making a difference in people’s lives.

Working with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, women have access to vocational training for themselves and elementary schooling for their children. In their home villages we support education about human rights, respect for women and knowledge about the health problems people once believed that witches caused.

Sometimes it takes years. It’s a big thing we are accomplishing with only small contributions.

This is not to say that all Presbyterian World Service and Development projects are small. Great challenges sometimes require great efforts.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world—ranking number 170 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Malawi is where one half of all of Presbyterian money is spent; a country where we Presbyterians have many historical bonds. And where your support is directed at the poorest of the poor. Set on a scorched landscape where rivers have become dried up riverbeds, children rise each morning, often with nothing to face but a day with no programs or resources or toys. Some schools are so poor there are no chairs or desks or chalkboards… just teachers left to their own resources.

And of course, there is death—high rates of mothers dying during pregnancy or in childbirth and high rates of child mortality. They are victims of high rates of adolescent pregnancies, unskilled birth attendants and poor emergency care.

But change is happening in these difficult circumstances, through your support, along with funds from the Government of Canada. Community organizers teach about good nutrition and early warning signs in pregnancy. Groups are formed for men to learn about their responsibilities to their wives and newborns. In the hospitals private delivery rooms are being built and good quality neo-natal care given. The death rates have dropped dramatically. Together, through Presbyterian money, we are helping save many lives and truly carrying out the gospel’s call for social justice.

There are many big things we’ll never know… why the universe needs more space, or how to solve every problem in the developing world. But, we are blessed with enough knowledge to act in a faithful and effective way toward our global neighbours.

We know that through doing small things, through our generosity, people’s lives will be made better. In many cases, in most cases, you and I won’t see the result. But just as the early Christians sowed their small mustard seeds confidently knowing that a Church and a faith would grow from them, so we can confidently make our own contributions to Presbyterian World Service and Development, knowing that in our small way we are truly accomplishing big things and advancing the Kingdom. Please share the good news about what our Church is accomplishing in Christ’s name with your families, your neighbours and your colleagues.


Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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