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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Beauty of Partnership
July 28, 2016

This week our presbytery is hosting a delegation of mission partners from Malawi and South Sudan, a wonderful privilege that we enjoy every two years. This visit is especially notable, as it marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of our partnership with the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. Over these twenty-five years, in addition to our many visits back and forth, we have been blessed to develop more than three dozen "twinning" partnerships between particular congregations in our respective bounds.

When the partnership began, it adopted as its motto Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one…” The subsequent twenty-five years have confirmed this abundantly for us in Pittsburgh, and our Malawian friends say the same from their side. We have been enriched by learning better how to love and serve the Lord from our overseas partners. We have been strengthened in our zeal to serve the least among us by seeing how our partners give themselves generously for the sake of the Gospel. Our passions for evangelism and justice have been stoked by seeing our partners’ public witness to the Gospel in their own context. Our worship life has been quickened as we have learned from our partners how to celebrate more joyfully the goodness of God in the assembly of the saints.

The list of benefits goes on, many of which we hoped for when we first began this journey together. One that we had not fully foreseen, however, has become one of the most profitable developments of all – in partnering with one another across the ocean, we have become better partners with one another within our own presbytery.

Partnership has this wonderful fecundity – when we invest ourselves faithfully in a covenant bond that bears good fruit, we find ourselves drawn to invest in covenant bonds with other partners as well. We have discovered the sweet fruits not only of covenant partnerships with congregations in Malawi, but of deeper and richer bonds between congregations and pastors within our own presbytery who have collaborated in the international partnership.

I was privileged last Sunday to hear a sermon delivered by the Rev. Alex Maulana, General Secretary of the Blantyre Synod. In it he spoke of “the beauty of being two,” citing not only the practical benefits adduced in Ecclesiastes 4, but also the beautiful symmetry and mutuality of human partnership disclosed in Genesis 2. That text follows up God’s repeated celebration of the goodness of the created order (Genesis 1) with a statement about something being not good – humans being alone. The full beauty of human creation shines through only when humans live in partnership with each other.

The practical benefits of partnership may have been the initial reason Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, rather than singly. (Luke 10:1) Similarly, the apostles may have done their missionary work in pairs first of all because they needed each other’s support. But I wonder if something deeper was also at stake – might it be that the beauty of the reconciled relationship being demonstrated by these pairs of evangelists was itself one of the keys to the power of their witness?

A month from today my parents will celebrate their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary. Their bodies no longer radiate the physical beauty of youth that they exuded on their wedding day, but the treasure of their abiding love that has been refined and polished over their many years together is more beautiful by far than mere physical beauty.

Partnership is about more than working better or smarter – it is the practice of cultivating genuine beauty. Binding ourselves in the Gospel to people different from us – whether by virtue of hailing from the other side of the planet, or of differences in local practices, politics, and preferences – is to choose beauty. It is to choose winsomeness. It is to choose delight. It is to choose treasure that remains when the world around us is shaken.

One mark of the beautiful fecundity of the twenty-five year Blantyre-Pittsburgh partnership is its recent expansion to include a third partner, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Partnership breeds new partnership, and this is a truly beautiful thing! More than ever, we are living into the text we adopted at the beginning of our Malawi partnership twenty-five years ago: “Two are better than one… A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Whether international or local, our enduring partnerships reveal the luminous beauty of the Gospel in a broken world. When the cause of Jesus Christ is pursued together, rather than individually, wonderful good fruits are borne. Thanks be to God for the beauty of our partnerships in the work of our Lord!

Your partner in Christ’s work,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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