While COVID-19 has mostly been a way of learning about yourself and acquiring new impressive quarantine skills, it has also given us an opportunity to fill pulpits (preach) in many locations…from the comforts of our home. While the quality reflects that of someone preaching to a webcam, the opportunity to share is comforting. I know many dedicated pastors who are working tirelessly to navigate congregational shepherding in the absence of being in the same room. It is difficult and can lead to pastors putting their self care on the back burner, and this is not healthy for them or their congregation.
We had the opportunity to submit a sermon, recorded at home, that will be broadcasted on Emmanuel UMC of Melbourne Florida’s FaceBook Page (LINK HERE) on April 26th at 11:00am Eastern (10:00 Central). This sermon shows how our call into Missionary Work and our first days in Mozambique mirror some of the social conditions we are living in today. I’m going to give you a spoiler alert in case you don’t have time to read or watch the video. The cornerstone of the sermon is that God’s presence is constant…and it sustains us all!
The video is below for those who would like to watch and listen. Below the video we have posted the words from the sermon. My hope is this sermon (which can be used at any church) can bring some encouragement in these uncomfortable and odd times.
***If you would like the McCormicks as Missionaries with the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries virtually preach at your church, send us an email and we would be happy to find something perfect for your church***
Emmanuel UMC’s Sermon: God’s Presence is Constant
Good morning Emmanuel UMC! We are so very thankful to be able to join you today. My name is David McCormick and I am Elizabeth McCormick and we are missionaries, along with our two daughters, with the General Board of Global Ministries. Pastor Mike has given us the opportunity to share with you all today and while I would like to just share stories of your pastor during missionary training…I will save those for another time. We are speaking our home in Little Rock, AR, just as you are able to connect via the comforts of your own home.
I have to say, while I am happy to be present with you this morning via the internet. I am sad we that have missed out on a trip to Melbourne. But more than my sadness of missing out on a road trip, I am appreciative of the wonders of technology that brings us together in times of separation and isolation. I hope during this time you are finding ways to take care of yourself and find your version of sabbath.
Elizabeth and I are serving as Mission Advocates for the General Board of Global Ministries. Global Ministries is the mission arm of the UMC and our responsibilities are to equip, coach, and support conferences and congregational mission leaders. It is a fun, evolving job and a job we are thankful to have.
Prior to this missionary position, we served in Mozambique, Africa. I was a director of Chicuque Rural Hospital and Elizabeth a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene project leader, a local entrepreneur, and a community pharmacist. Today, we are hoping to share with you, how our journey into mission work and our following of God’s call, has prepared us for service at each step of our journey.
And really, what it comes down to is that our story is a just witness that God’s Presence is Constant…and It sustains us.
As we reflect on the scripture read earlier, what do you feel it is saying to you, where you finding yourself in the scripture right now? For us, the words of the Psalmist can be very applicable to today’s times. “though the earth changes, though mountains shake (and I think here we can say it is more than just physical mountains shaking) …YET we find refuge and strength in God. And this scripture also speaks to our time as missionaries in Mozambique. It has been our experience that, God prepares the way…in God’s timing. And God’s timing is not always our timing, right?
David and I had been called into missionary service, for many years before becoming International Missionaries. We went on short term trips; we were involved in a community organization which served a marginalized population by addressing social and economic obstacles. We worked at our home church and helped wherever we could find a need. But fulltime, “all-in” mission work continued to tug at our hearts.
BUT We had excuses: nice/secure jobs, good retirement, young children, student loans, etc. But, as you may know, when God puts something on your heart, we find God makes the way and provides the strength. Through prayer, discernment, and that holy way God weaves things together, we responded and confirmed a calling into full time, international missions.
So, we applied to be missionaries through the United Methodist Church. And for over 14 months we heard nothing! It was a frustrating time; we had finally answered God’s call and then we were rewarded with radio silence. We questioned ourselves, questioned our discernment, but we remained hopeful.
I remember the day we heard from Global Ministries, it was in December of 2015. I had just dropped my oldest daughter off at school, a school she loved and where she was doing well. After I dropped her off, I said to God. “Ok, so this is not what we wanted, but my daughters are happy, my family is in a good place, if this is what our life will be, then that’s ok.” Would you know it was that very day I received an email from the recruiter. It was a short email, not even 5 sentences. It said, “we may have found a placement for you in Mozambique. We will let you know more soon. Advent will surely be a season of preparation!” and that was it. No more details, no more information. The first thing I did was google “Mozambique.” Then heard nothing more for the next two months.
On February 5th, we received our placement email, saying we would be going to Mozambique. We were called to serve as the director and pharmacist of Chicuque Rural Hospital. Chicuque Hospital was a large medical facility, with over 300 employees, 40,000 patient consultations, and 2,000 babies born yearly. It has served the population of rural Mozambique for over 100 years.
It was an exciting and chaotic time. Our missionary training began less than 2 months later. Mind you we had full lives, full of possessions and many loose ends to tie up. But God prepares the way…in God’s timing. And that is exactly what happened. Between February 5th and April 1st, David had quit his job, we had sold our house, and most of our possessions. We moved what little we had remaining and what we were taking with us to Africa to my parents’ tiny “mother-in-law” house in Louisiana.
It’s funny to think about how our time between leaving for training and getting on a plane to Mozambique prepared us for Africa. We moved into a small house, where most of our possessions had been sold, so we got our first taste of being inventive in our family operations with limited space and without our normal things. The internet in Africa was not great. But, it was better than service we had in rural Louisiana, so our digital preparation started before we even left. Lastly, we started finding extra time on our hands with nothing to do as we had shed most of our responsibilities.( Some of this may sound familiar in your life under COVID-19.)
We arrived in Mozambique in August of 2016 and started our time there with a 10-day waiting period in the capital city of Maputo. Our placement site was 7 hours north in an agricultural town called Maxixe, but the local annual conference was still finalizing the details of our arrival. So, we waited, and when the path was prepared for us, we moved to Maxixe.
But we did not speak Portuguese, and we did not know anyone. We had tried to learn some language before we left, only to learn our Rosetta Stone was Brazilian Portuguese…not Mozambican Portuguese. So there we were in a new land, unable to speak the language and knowing no one.
We experienced our own forced social isolation. It was quite the adjustment. The climate, the food, the way of buying necessities, my job expectations….it was all very different. I thought I was going to be a pharmacist at the hospital. But when we arrived, we found they already had a working pharmacy and didn’t need me. And our inability to speak the language was concerning in the medical world. With medications, a language barrier mistake could be deadly. It was a hard time for me as I had to reevaluate what was important and where my place in God’s mission would be. I did not realize how much I leaned on our support system until it was an ocean away. We knew we were covered in prayer but in some ways, we felt very much alone in the world. But through that we found a deep closeness to God. We experienced how God is present in the hard times. Through challenges and obstacles, we found ourselves daily, almost hourly crying out to God to support us and to sustain us. And beyond all doubt, God was our refuge and strength. The verses to the song “I need thee every hour” became our mantra.
We were fortunate to have had some spiritual training and a community connected virtually to fall back on. This is how we found our direction in the time of change. Our new normal developed over six months. We had no movie theatres, or parks, or playgrounds to occupy our time and that was hard. And while we lived by the water, the local beaches were filled with glass and trash and the waters were dirty. We learned we had been conditioned to our U.S. culture. One that fills our day with things to get done, that focuses on excessive achievement and metric-based outcomes. Our old normal was a sense of busyness. A busyness that has forced its way into all aspects of our culture, from our schools to our churches. And then we found ourselves in a situation where this way of life did not hold up.
I would come home from working at the hospital and then have hours and hours of time with nothing to do. No committee meetings, no sports practices or music lessons, no happy hour gatherings or small groups. Just the Core Four and hours before bedtime. For me, that was a struggle. But in even this we found God is present in the hard times.
It took time to relax, but eventually I was able to find a simplicity and rhythm in life that I had missed because of distractions. I found peace and comfort sitting on the porch watching my girls play. I found different ways to deepen my engagement with God and had the opportunity to learn spiritual practices to strengthen my connection through meditation and prayer walks. And I hope you are able to find a simplicity and rhythm in the midst of our current situations.
We found ourselves on occasion hosting a home church as break from local worship and listening to podcasts of sermons from pastors in the U.S when we needed extra encouragement. We found that because we could not be corporally present in a church service, our manner of “doing” church changed (Much like how we are operating today). And it was good, this provided such a close relationship with God. But I will say, this relationship took extra work and dedication. Without a group to be accountable to, we had to be mindful to be accountable to ourselves and each other.
This attitude of spiritual simplicity helped us in our “day” jobs at the hospital and for me in the community. When David would have tough decisions to make, he would walk a specific path from the hospital to the beach and back. He would use this time to separate from the work at hand and refocus on the mission, our mission of not solving problems, but remaining faithful. We recognized our new culture worked at a different pace and we were able to give ourselves some grace with timelines and deadlines, and that felt good.
Through some amazing, God inspired moments, I was able to partner with local artists and start a screen-printing business which provided them with a income and an outlet to use their talents for the community. I also got to come along side a group of high school students to design and construct bathrooms destroyed in a hurricane (It is worth mentioning those bathrooms destroyed were the only one available for a school of 5000 students) AND we helped train them on issues of health and hygiene.
We found our job was not to work at a hospital or to build new bathrooms at a school or sell screen printed shirts, even though that is what we did. But our job was really to empower people and come alongside their lives as friends and mentors. Our responsibility was to recognize where God was present in our lives and in the lives of our community and to highlight that connection. This was something we were only able to do, when our daily To-do list dried up and we shifted from a position of constantly doing to a position of listening and watching. In that simplicity, we found God’s presence and affirmation in our calling.
This is a missional call each of us share. As God calls each of us into service, we find ourselves redefining how we “come along side” as we are in the midst of a changing world, a developing landscape of life, a life of mission and ministry. Whether you are clergy or lay we are all called to serve, you do not have cross an ocean to be a missionary, you can simple cross the street…or pick up the phone. When we open our lives up to allow God’s divine spirit to connect with each other, we are missionaries. Now, it is our responsibility to recognize where God is present in our lives and in the lives of our community in the face of this pandemic. We do not face this alone, we have each other, but more than that, God is present in these hard times.
Eventually, we turned our jobs over to local Mozambicans and returned to the United States to fulfill the assignment of Mission Advocates. And while the readjustment was quick and the responsibilities mounted, our current situations in the times of Coronavirus, have left us feeling a similarity to our first days and months in Mozambique. However, here at least Amazon delivers.
Here we are in another forced social isolation. Unable to gather as normal, unable to operate as we have in the past. We are surrounded by people hurting and while the needs are many, our impacts may be limited.
We are in a position to find our new normal, to navigate virtual church and online communities. We are learning what our faith looks like through widespread fear and anxiety and zoom. Our approaches of self-care and sabbath are taking different directions, and it feels uncomfortable, aggravating, and at times overwhelming.
For some of us, this is providing, or moreover, forcing us to reexamine our connection to the Holy. Where we once found comfort and familiarity, we must navigate a new connection. But, what does that look like now?
So we ask you to take time to reflect on this. We have seen and understand how God prepares our way…into the future. We know this virus and this isolation will not last forever, but we also recognize we are changed as a result of this experience. There are lessons to be learned, connections to be made, and hope to be recognized. How can we recognize those shimmers of hope God gives us?
Our story of mission work has taught us a few truths. First of all, God’s presence is constant…and it sustains us through both the celebrations and the sadness. Also, while the way we have to do mission has changed… the mission has not. We are called to serve, and we are confirmed in the truth that the Act of Mission is more than just what we do, it is how we build relationships and nurture them along the way. May God be with us all as we share the love of Christ in only the way we can. Amen.