Unique Gospel Expressions Were Eye-Openers:
An Interview with Curt Peterson
by Stan Friedman
May 14, 2015
CHICAGO, IL (May 14, 2015)—After serving 12 years as executive minister of World Mission (now a part of the Serve Globally priority), Curt Peterson is retiring in June. Previously he served as pastor of Montecito Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California, for 23 years. He recently sat down and talked to Covenant Newswire about his work.
How has your view of the gospel changed as a result of your work in Covenant World Mission?
I’ve gained a greater awareness that the unique ways people look at the world are God’s gift. It’s a great privilege to see Christ in different cultures. Sometimes we think we’re going to take the gospel to East Asia or Sudan—to “the ends of the earth.” But East Asia is sending people in more powerful and passionate ways than many of us are. People in Taiwan have this conviction that wherever someone goes, they start a church. Such countries see us as the receivers, not the senders, of mission because of the secularization of our culture.
I’ve seen that everyone has a kind of heart language that they use to express their faith. Heart language has to do with verbal language, but it also has to do with forms, whether it’s the way they dress or dance or sing, or the instruments they use, or the way they sit in a meeting.
These are not institutions that we are holding up. These are not structures or organizations that we’re leading. We’re privileged to be partners with God’s work. I think I’ve come to a deeper awareness of the Missio Dei—the mission of God—that God is at work in so many different ways revealing to people hope and life through dreams, through creation, through some kind of awareness that is informed by the Scriptures and the gospel.
The power of the Holy Spirit in many cultures is more evident than we have eyes to see in our well-resourced context. But when you have nothing but Jesus and you have nothing but prayer and you see a miraculous healing, then you see the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God at work. That is happening around the world.
What have you learned about hospitality?
When I am in some other countries, people prepare a meal for us that I know they have sacrificed a month of resources to provide—and would never make for themselves. They welcome me into their home with pride.
I’m ashamed of the times I’ve looked around and thought, “How in the world can anybody live here? There is a dirt floor, just two rooms, and a family of ten in this house!” We have such a skewed vision of what the good life is. We want paved roads and water we can drink from a faucet. In many countries if you ask someone what it means to be rich in their culture, they will say a rich person has a door, has a window, their child can go to school, and they can be treated with medicine if they get sick. A poor person doesn’t have those things. We think they’re all poor.
If you pastored a local church today, how would your ministry be different than it was before?
It would be a non-negotiable that we look at the full scope of God’s call for us as a local church—to get outside ourselves. I tried to do this and I visited many countries as a pastor, but I would do it with more passion now. I would also invite international leaders to come and give us instruction, to come live with our people so we could experience Christ in deeper ways.
Have you always had a passion for mission?
I was born into the Covenant Church. My parents and grandparents were all part of Covenant churches, and global mission has always been an important part of those historic churches.
We had missionaries in our home, so I heard stories around the table. That was normative for me. It’s what the church was about. Pasadena Covenant Church, where my family attended, was close to Fuller Seminary, so graduate students in international studies were our youth leaders and served the church in other ways.
I had Jim Gustafson (previous executive minister of World Mission) in my church through his seminary years. He sold shoes with me in my dad’s store so his passion for mission was always there and was an influence. Later, I was always moved at the Annual Meeting by the commissioning of missionaries and hearing their stories.
What was the best part of the job?
Seeing God at work in the world and working alongside an incredible team of missionaries and staff. The privilege of sending new people out, seeing their hearts warmed and their passion expressed in the going has been a great part of this.
What was the hardest?
Travel is hard. The physical wear and tear, the dangers. It’s terribly difficult to know that we can do nothing about it, but people throughout the world live with conflict and war and division and corruption. Just empathizing with that pain is a hard thing. Our financial resources are limited and we have more opportunities than we can pursue.
On the lighter side, one hard thing is eating some of the exotic food—I’ve eaten eyes and stomachs and toes. Or at the moment I’m introduced at a meeting, I’ve been told I am the preacher for that day. I don’t know if I call that hard, but it is challenging!
I didn’t have asthma before I started this job, but I think I’ve developed it because of the pollution. There have been times when I’ve come home and gone right to the emergency room with asthma attacks. I’m sure all the rough travel contributed to the deterioration of my vertebrae.
What’s next for you?
It may be cliché, but I will always be living my call to live for Christ and in Christ.
I think that I will be involved in encouraging the church in its larger mission. I have eight grandkids, so I’m going to be a more available Poppa.