by Brian E. Konkol
Brian Konkol, '05, is co-pastor at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison, Wis. Previously, Konkol served as a Horizon Intern and pastor in Guyana (2003-04, 2005-07) and as the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission country coordinator in South Africa (2008-2012). Below, he reflects on three globally informed lessons that shape his new role as congregational pastor in North America.
When I was selected to serve as a Horizon Intern in 2003, I had never left the United States and was unsure of where Guyana was located. In spite of my initial ignorance, after a wonderful internship experience, a final year of coursework at Luther Seminary and ordination with the ELCA in June 2005, I was called back into service in Guyana with ELCA Global Mission. The result was grace-filled global transformation.
Over the past nine years in Guyana and South Africa, I travelled thousands of miles, visited an assortment of countries, experienced various cultures, met a multitude of amazing people and experienced the love of God through sights and sounds that I never imagined possible. While it is impossible to summarize all I learned, the following is an attempt to apply three globally informed lessons to my new role as a congregational pastor in North America.
Wade Davis once remarked, "The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit." When in contact with other cultures or traditions in North America, although an initial impulse may continue to be discomfort, I realize it is most often because of difference rather than wrongness. In my new role I have tried to seek out diversity in our congregation and community, to move past tolerance and more fully embrace the practice of inclusion.
The African philosophy of ubuntu states, "I am because we are," and thus affirms that a person is only a person through relationships with other people and the earth. My experiences of ubuntu have shown that while personal responsibility is important, we are intimately connected with all people throughout our local and global communities. In my new role I try to reveal, cultivate and transform the mass assortment of connections that inform, form and transform.
Throughout my time with ELCA Global Mission I was taught to be more aware of the diversity and connectedness of our global and local communities, and the result was an increased capacity to embody the gospel of Jesus Christ through an accompaniment of solidarity. In other words, I learned that I am not merely a U.S. citizen and an ELCA pastor, but I am a person of faith who is incorporated into the value, sacredness and dignity of life because we are members of a common humanity that is loved by a gracious God.
All together, instead of perceiving a return to North America as the conclusion of missionary service, I was shown that everywhere is the "mission field," each day constitutes "mission trips" and every local missionary action has a deep and wide global mission reaction. And so, as my family and I continue our transition back to life and ministry in North America, I believe that our global missionary service has not concluded, but turned a new and exciting page.