Last week I was talking with a pastor friend in Minnesota who I check in with occasionally for support and reflection. I asked him what it was like being a pastor in America these days. He said, “…Actually, the task of the church has never been more clear.” He went on to talk about how he sees that task amidst the current events unfolding in the United States. Here in Timor-Leste, I feel a similar clarity in terms of the task before our partner church, the Protestant Church of Timor-Leste (IPTL) and by extension, our role as Global Ministries mission personnel.
Fourteen years on from independence, the IPTL finds itself in a difficult position. As a minority church, it has not had the benefit of government support for its ministry that the majority Catholic Church has. And the IPTL is burdened by a top-down governance structure imposed on it during the Indonesian period between 1975-1999. In the post-independence period, this structure has stifled congregational vitality and made it difficult for local churches to learn and practice the stewardship necessary to support pastors and do mission.
Throughout that same period, IPTL has had a number of partner churches and Global Ministries has been the most steadfast and reliable. Despite many limitations we continue to accompany IPTL in its efforts to re-imagine its identity, revitalize its congregations, move toward self-sufficiency and find its place in the mission of God.
Since coming back to Timor in June, together with the Synod of IPTL we have identified strengthening pastoral commitment as the clear and urgent task for IPTL. Without spiritually vibrant, practically skilled clergy it will be hard for IPTL to remain viable over the long term. As Global Ministries, we want our presence with partners to strengthen them toward self-sufficiency while enhancing our sense of God’s activity and mission in the world. As with all mission engagement, the foundation of success in this is relationships. And the good news is that with IPTL, we enjoy deep and abiding relationships where there is enough trust to be truthful about the realities we face, and in that we find hope for the future.
Over the next year, in addition to serving as a regional pastor in Lospalos, I will be working closely with IPTL’s Synod to develop and implement some grass-roots pastoral training workshops. We’ll be focusing both on renewing IPTL pastors sense of call and vocation as well as practical things like basics in administration, stewardship, asset-based community development and pastoral care. Our monthly meetings will take place in the rural local church context where vitality needs to happen if our partnership with IPTL is to make a lasting difference for the people of Timor-Leste.
As always, we are grateful for your interest and support of this ministry. We believe that engaging in global mission is a vital task of the church even when it’s difficult and uncertain. God’s presence and activity persist despite the world’s brokenness and human limitation. As people of faith, we must do the same.
Yours in Christ,
Tom Liddle serves with the Protestant Church of East Timor. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.