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Participating in Mission: The Rewards

by Doug Brunson
Member at United Church of Christ of La Mesa
     UCCLM is active in mission.  There is room for more of us to join in our current activities and there are many opportunities beyond our current ones.  Many in our world are hurting.  There is injustice everywhere, including right here in San Diego. 

     When new members join us we are awakened or inspired to participate in new mission opportunities they make us aware of.  For example, through Carmen Samuels we became involved in the Uptown Project, serving some of San Diego’s homeless.  New justice issues arise within the political environment that call us to witness God’s love for all people.  The passage of Proposition 8 issue which denies marriage to loving, committed gay and lesbian partners serves as an example of such.

     We are challenged to be in mission as followers of Jesus who came to “bring good news to the poor” and to demonstrate that our God is a loving caring deity.  It is our responsibility, as the hands and feet of that God, to demonstrate that love.

     The personal rewards of mission almost always include the feeling that it is more blessed to give than receive.  Some of us have the blessing of being able to devote our full-time efforts to mission work, as  my wife Phyllis and I have for a number of years.

     Here’s our story.  Phyllis and I were involved in a small, active community church in New York.  We participated with the congregation and beyond in youth work camps in Appalachia and Maine, building parks and repairing homes in Harlem, advocating for hunger action, providing child care for low income working mothers, joining in peace marches, and supporting access to reproductive services for women.

     I was working for IBM and then Exxon.  We had a great church with an outstanding, young female pastor, an active community life, a beautiful home overlooking the Hudson River, kids away from home (in college or beyond).  Then “opportunity” struck.  Exxon decided to get out of the office systems business, laid off 6,000 people and closed shop.  I was left looking for work.

     A major question arose: Do I continue to pursue jobs in the corporate world or try to do something mission oriented, something that would put my faith and work together, making a difference to those struggling for economic justice?

     Finding a job was a struggle, but that is another story.  We ended up moving to Europe, where I took a job as CEO of Oikocredit – at about 25% of our prior income.  UCCLM is an investor in Oikocredit which provides loans to groups of poor people to help them create jobs to improve their income and their children’s educational opportunities.  It is now the world’s largest private lender/investor with micro finance institutions, providing very small loans to hundreds of thousands of women around the world.  These loans have helped thousands of families out of poverty, truly bringing “good news to the poor”.  We moved 3000 miles further from family and friends, giving up many church and community connections.  It was the best nine years of our lives.  The people we worked with, the improvement in lives of many people, and the growth in our faith journey made it so.  Oikocredit’s board of directors and staff were outstanding people committed to making their faith real in a world not oriented to bringing “good news to the poor” but instead living by “survival of the fittest.”

     Some examples:  Father John Kelly, a Roman Catholic priest from Ireland who spent his life in Ecuador and served three small parishes there but his main task, as an agronomist, was initiating income producing activities with indigenous peoples.  Another was Chief Ashamu, a Nigerian chief, businessman and visiting lecturer at Harvard.  Chief  Ashamu was also a minister in The Church of Our Lord Aladura, a member of the World Council of Churches.  He shared his wisdom with those of us from the north, assuring us about people from underdeveloped countries:  “We are poor but we are not stupid.  Given access to capital, we will be successful.”   Another, Dr. Mina Ramirez, an educator from the Philippines, ran a graduate education institution focused on building skills in self sufficient development.

     These people and others on the board were saints of their faith.  What a privilege to work with them and be inspired by their wisdom, love and faith.

     Oikocredit’s work was primarily with cooperatives in underdeveloped countries.  These co-ops were too poor to qualify for loans from the banking system.  Oikocredit helped them develop viable enterprises and lent them the capital to compete in the world’s harsh market environment.   Enterprises needed to be viable to improve income and lives and also pay back loans.

     Working with theses co-ops we learned that people are creative and determined.  The future of their children’s nutrition, health and education often depended on the cooperative’s success.  Many are people who are worthy of access to credit but are denied it by the formal financial system because they are poor.  With a little business planning help and a loan they are afforded a better life.

     These are good people, children of God, just like us.  They deserve our respect and admiration.  Their values of family and care for the environment often inspired us to grow in our own lives.  To be inspired by a dirt-poor farmer is a tiny village in the mountains of Guatemala opens us up to God’s grace.

So what are the rewards of participation in mission?

     We have the rewards to include: an appreciation that saints appear everywhere;
finding that you, as one person, can make a difference in the life of others;
a growing understanding that God loves us all, we are all worthy in God’s sight;
realizing that poor people are as smart and capable as anyone else and love their families and their  God just as much as we do; and experiencing that God’s blessings increase as they are shared.

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