This is an article from the November-December 1992 issue: Building the Mission Bridge

Presbyterian Agency Votes $1,000,000 for Frontier Mission Outreach

Presbyterian Agency Votes $1,000,000 for Frontier Mission Outreach

"Great, new, exciting changes in our denomination!" is the way Tom Theriault describes the missions advances taking place within the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recently, unreached peoples, the Adopt-A- People concept, and new fields for service have loomed large in Presbyterian mission efforts.

In order to appreciate the drama of these recent changes, and why a re-emphasis on unreached peoples is so revolutionary, a brief history of Presbyterian international mission practice is necessary. Beginning about 1958, Presbyterians recognized that the church had been well-established in the mission fields to which they had previously gone. They resolved that new missionaries should be sent only when there was an invitation from those established churches.

Unfortunately, this policy meant that where there was no national church, no Presbyterian missionaries could be sent. The result was that for many years Presbyterians have not been much involved in frontier mission among unreached peoples.

All this officially changed in 1991 when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted the resolution Turn to the Living God: A Call to Evangelism in Jesus Christ's Way. The prologue of this mission statement for the church says:

"The Presbyterian Church (USA), in grateful response to the triune God, commits itself with other Christians to witness to God's grace and love in Jesus Christ. Together we will invite people of 'every tribe, tongue, people, and nation' to join us in turning to the living God."

Bold New Plans for the PFF

One organization which stands ready to help the Presbyterian Church (USA) implement this resolution is the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF). It has the specific goal of working with denominational leadership to establish churches within the cultures of the unreached peoples of the world. It desires to encourage "Presbyterians all over the denomination to continue or renew their biblical mandate to take the Gospel to every tribe and tongue and people and nation who do not have an indigenous Christian church." The PFF has already built the structure needed to help Presbyterians fulfill their commitment.

The PFF, a volunteer organization under the leadership of Rev. Harold Kurtz, is a Validated Mission Support Group of the PC(USA) and has been around for about 10 years. It promotes the cause of the unreached peoples within the church. All monies raised by the PFF go entirely to frontier mission work. Just recently the board of the PFF met and determined to double its operating budget in 1993 from the current $500,000 to $1 million. Such funds already go to some 26 projects around the world, everything from computers which "speak" Laotian to Kenyan evangelists and joint German-American mission among Kurdish people in Berlin.

Tom Theriault, board member of the PFF, says,"We believe that the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship is one of the bright spots in the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It's one thing that Presbyterians of many stripes...can rally around."

A Yupik Harvest

One new and exciting project recently funded by the PFF is an international mission outreach by the Yukon Presbytery to northeastern Siberia. The story, involving the Yupik Eskimo tribe, is really amazing. Yupiks live in both Alaska and Siberia. Those in Alaska were evangelized and gathered into a strong Presbyterian church, while those in Siberia remained unreached.

With the advent of glasnost, first contact between American and Soviet Yupiks came in 1988. Alaskan Airlines sponsored a Friendship Flight, which was followed by the traditional Yupik welcome dance. Much to the amazement of the Presbyterian elders who made the flight, the dance music was Jesus Loves Me! It turns out that a small Christian radio station in Alaska had been broadcasting half an hour a week in Yupik. Later, through the courtesies of the Alaska Rotary Club, Presbyterian pastor Dr. Willa Roghair, who just happened to be a Russian major in college, went to Siberia as a translator. There she met Igor Pavlov, a government official who invited Dr. Roghair to start a Presbyterian church among the Siberian Yupiks!

Funding for the training of American Yupiks to evangelize their Soviet counterparts was obtained through the General Assembly of the PC(USA) when the Yukon Presbytery overtured to annex eastern Siberia! They didn't get the land but they did get the money. Now training and evangelism are in full swing. It's no wonder that the capital in that area of Siberia is named Providenia!

A further tool of the PFF is the Presbyterian Global Prayer Digest. Readers of MF are familiar with the generic GPD, but for those who want to remain up to date on developments in the PC(USA), a Presbyterian version is available. It has the same inner core as the regular GPD, but the outer pages contain special interest articles and a letter each month from Rev. Harold Kurtz, director of the PFF.

PCMS Advocates an Adopt-A-People Program

The Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies (PCMS) is another organization with frontier mission impact in the PC(USA). It celebrated its 20th anniversary this year by helping the Global Mission Unit (GMU), the Evangelism and Church Development Unit, and the PFF to develop the Adopt-A-People concept for Presbyterians. A simple and do-able version of Commitment to Share Good News (a recommendation coming out of the resolution Turn to the Living God) needed to be produced. In June the PCMS came out with a brochure succintly describing the Commitment and how to do it.

This creative plan links Presbyterians with people groups which are without the gospel--both in the USA and abroad. The inclusion of the adoption of a local people group as well as a distant one makes this plan different from many denominations. In the plan, Presbyterians are encouraged to pick two peoples, one close by, the other overseas. After approval from the GMU, they make the Commitment to Share Good News and develop a strategy to fulfill that commitment. In the 20 months since its inception, 7 congregations have adopted peoples through this plan.

The PCMS also provides resources and research on unreached peoples to the denomination. A quarterly update to 5500 readers keeps friends of the PCMS filled in on the latest Presbyterian frontier missions news.

Perspectives for Presbyterians

Readers of MF are also familiar with the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, which which is sponsored by the US Center for World Mission, and has spread across the country and around the world. Beginning in January, Perspectives will be taught with a Presbyterian "flavor" in a class sponsored by Arcadia (CA) Presbyterian Church and endorsed by the San Gabriel Presbytery Mission Committee. Judy Theriault of the Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies is coordinating the class, which will meet on Sunday night. All the lecturers for the class, save one, are Presbyterians and the students are expected to come from various PC(USA) churches in the area, although the class is open to all Christians. Exciting changes and breakthroughs in Presbyterian missions (such as this article describes) will be shared with the class, which begins on January 10.

Latest Developements

Another new development within the PC(USA) is the launching of a series of exploratory trips by veteran Presbyterian mission leaders to explore ways to engage in mission and evangelism among Muslim peoples in Central Asia. The PC (USA) has entered only a few new fields in the last 50 years and these mostly at the initiative of others. As part of their research, the exploratory team is meeting with numerous evangelical denominations and parachurch groups as well as PC(USA) partner churches. These trips have great potential for missions advance within the denomination.

Finally, through the work of the PCMS and the San Gabriel Presbytery, two overtures were presented to the 1992 General Assembly of the denomination. These overtures were designed to expand the role of presbyteries in the selection and funding of missionary personnel. Rather than simply sending gifts to a central mission fund, these overtures will allow congregations to directly support missionaries they know personally.

The General Assembly responded by urging that a task force develop and test the idea further. At the 1994 General Assembly, this task force will present a strategic plan to increase the number of PC(USA) personnel working around the world and the involvement of presbyteries in their support and nurture. One Presbyterian missionary veteran says, "This is one of the most profound changes in Presbyterian Mission in our generation."

With all these forward steps in Presbyterian missions, world Christians everywhere have reason to rejoice. This mainline denomination has made great progress. It's great success in past efforts had created so large an overseas movement that efforts at frontier outreach had drastically declined. It has great potential, and other mainline denominations must now ask, "Where can we advance likewise?"

For more information contact:

Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, 6146 N. Kerby Avenue, Portland, OR 97217, (503) 289-1865

Presbyterian Center For Mission Studies, 1605 Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, (818) 398-2468

Margaret Lyman is participating in the Serve Work Study Program here at the Center and is serving part time in the Mission Frontiers office. See page 29 for more information the Serve Work Study Program.


There are no comments for this entry yet.

Leave A Comment

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.