The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
In 2018, the Saint Paul Area Synod released "Stories of the Synod," a 24-page stewardship booklet detailing the synod's work. The stories inside are just a glimpse of the work that Mission Support makes possible. One of those stories, below, tells of how the Bega Kwa Bega Ambassador program keeps companions close.
Bega Kwa Bega is the name given to the Saint Paul Area Synod’s companionship with the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Meaning “shoulder to shoulder” in Swahili, Bega Kwa Bega (BKB) is supported by three pillars: prayer, presence, and projects. While it isn’t too difficult to pray for our companions and support their projects from afar, the presence piece is more difficult. “Minnesota and Tanzania are almost half a world apart,” says Jo Whiting. “It is time-consuming and expensive to travel between them.” To help bridge some of this difference, Jo became an Ambassador.
The Bega Kwa Bega Ambassador program was established to help strengthen the 70 companion congregation relationships that make up Bega Kwa Bega. As part of the Ambassador program, volunteers go to the Iringa Diocese for 6-8 weeks at a time. There, they visit congregations and share greetings and updates from their American companions. In addition to sharing, Ambassadors also collect messages, photos, and prayers to bring back to the American companions. “Along with the exchange of information and prayer requests and news, we can describe the smiles and joys and successes and challenges and even sorrows and disappointments that we observe and experience because we are able to be there in person,” Jo says.
Companion relationships between Saint Paul Area Synod churches and the Iringa Diocese congregations are defined by the values of accompaniment. With both partners working together, they pray for one another, offer support for one another, and mutually empower one another. As Jo brings well wishes and updates to churches in Iringa, she completes the circle by bringing back similar news and greetings to the American partner church.
“It is a challenge to express the love, passion, and relationship to the U.S. congregation, but hopefully they get a flavor of Tanzanian love we try to bring back,” Bo Skillman says of his time as an Ambassador. “Each relationship is so unique and personal. As an Ambassador, we see different ways congregations and parishes unite and encourage each other. We see how it helps partners living in such different situations grow spiritually and compassionately.”
As Bega Kwa Bega grows, and more churches find companions in one another, the reach of the Ambassador program grows, too. “It is incredibly easy,” says Russ Hilliard, an Ambassador. “Simply say yes, and provide the Ambassadors with something – a letter, a picture, a memento that we can carry with us on the visit. We then hope that our written report back to St. Paul is enlightening and meaningful.”
“Every opportunity for presence in the physical sense is important, and enriches the relationship,” Russ concludes.
As we fill in these physical gaps that keep us apart, so too do we fill in these places with love and a rich sense of living out the Gospel as one church, together in the world.
Churches are encouraged to share the content of these stories in their congregations. Any re-print should include: Saint Paul Area Synod, www.spas-elca.org. To request printed copies of the booklet, please call 651.224.4313. A PDF of the booklet is also available here.