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Every year, First Presbyterian Church donates funds and sponsors walkers in the CROP Hunger Walk. CROP walks are community-wide events sponsored by Church World Service and organized by local congregations to raise funds to end hunger at home and around the world. CROP Hunger Walks help to provide food and water, as well as resources that empower people to meet their own needs. From seeds and tools to wells and water systems, the key is people working together to identify their own development priorities, their strengths and their needs – something CWS has learned through 70 years of working in partnership around the world.
First Presbyterian Church supports the clean water for Honduras program of the Rotary Club of Grand Haven. The Rotary Club and dedicated volunteers have installed thousands of water filters and have constructed small and large water systems bringing clean water to families in Honduras.
“We feel called to mission service because we believe it’s the place where our interests and gifts coincide,” Michael said. “We’ve always had an interest in other cultures and other countries, and felt a desire to help others in the areas of their deepest need.”
“We also have gifts for teaching and learning and for living simply,” Rachel added. “So, we feel like God has prepared us for a long time to serve in Niger with its different opportunities and challenges for learning, serving and living.”
Michael and Rachel’s work in Niger strengthens the community and health of both Christians and Muslims. The Nigeriens who approach pastors seeking to improve their health, education and community problems are from both religions. By using the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) strategy for holistic health and development, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN) wants to teach people valuable skills, build goodwill with Muslim neighbors and offer a respectful witness to the Christian faith. “Our hope is that the church is better able to reach out with tangible help through teaching community health skills at the same time as offering spiritual help through the good news of Jesus Christ,” Michael says.
In their mission service, the Ludwigs say they try to rely on the guidance offered by 2 Corinthians 2:17: “For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.”
“This informs our mission service because it reminds us to be genuine in sharing things of God that are life-giving and that are relational, coming as a result of our own relationship with God, rather than just trying to get people to sign on to some program because we need to carry through our preconceived agenda of what people in Africa need,” Michael said.
In Niger, the Ludwigs and their three children experience a life full of opportunities and challenges. “We have the joys of close and friendly family life, vibrant worship and excitement of helping people learn new skills that help them. But we also have challenges of dealing with very hot conditions, malaria risks, learning multiple languages, dealing with different time expectations and answering the needs that God wants us to focus on instead of trying to answer every need,” Rachel explained.
Michael, a native of Holland, Michigan, was an associate pastor at Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, for four years prior to entering mission service. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster in Ohio, and a master’s degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He also has done graduate study in the classics at the University of Cincinnati. Michael is a member of Scioto Valley Presbytery.
Rachel grew up in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, and has spent most of her professional life as a middle school math and science teacher. She taught in public school systems in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster and a master’s degree from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the College of Wooster in 2001, she spent one year as a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Young Adult Volunteer in Guatemala and one year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Cincinnati. Rachel is a member of Overbrook Presbyterian Church.
They carry a deep concern for those whose hopes for a better life for themselves and their families have been dashed by human traffickers. “I pray the Lord would lead and guide us as we address migration and human trafficking by participating in God’s work to redeem economic systems of exploitation and exchange them for life-giving opportunities and education, while tending to the healing of peoples’ bodies and spirits,” Cathy says.
Cathy and Juan discovered each other and their enduring passion for mission in 2002 while serving in Egypt as young adults. Cathy was working with the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, and Juan was serving with Chrétienne en Orient (Christians in Action in the East), a mission agency supported by French Protestants.
“In Egypt, we started dating and dreamed about the possibilities of serving in mission together,” Cathy says. A long engagement ensued, with Cathy returning to the United States and eventually attending seminary, and Juan returning to France to begin a career in social work.
They married in 2008 while Cathy was a pastoral resident at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania. In 2009, Cathy became associate pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan. In Michigan, Juan resumed his social work career, serving as a site supervisor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region. Yet their call to international mission persisted.
“When we discovered this new position in Presbyterian World Mission, we sensed God was providing an answer to our prayers and search,” Juan says.
Juan and Cathy bring to mission service deep experience in bridging cultures. Cathy grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the home of Korean immigrant parents. Juan was born in Chile, but his family moved to France when he was a child.
Forced migration, a reality experienced by many victimized by human trafficking, is found in the family histories of both Cathy and Juan. Several of Cathy’s relatives fled North Korea for South Korea and later came to the United States. Juan’s family’s move to France stemmed from his father’s opposition to the Chilean government. France accepted Juan’s father as a political refugee.
The couple is inspired by Genesis 12:1-3, where God called Abram to go “to the land that I will show you.” They identify with Abram not because their families have experienced exile, internal displacement, and immigration. Instead, they look to God’s promise to Abram that all families of the earth would be blessed through him.
“Out of God’s desire to bless all the families of the earth, we also desire to serve as a channel of God’s blessings for many families of the earth,” Juan says.
Prior to entering the YAV program, Cathy was a consultant for Accenture, a multinational management consulting and technology company. She received a bachelor’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University in public policy and management and economics (double major) and a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon in public policy and management. Her theological degree is from Princeton Seminary. She is a member of Lake Huron Presbytery.
In France, Juan was a social worker with Foyer de l’ Enfrance Charles Frey (Hearth of Youth Charles Frey) in Strasbourg. He holds a master’s degree in sociology from Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg, France. He is a member of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan.
Cathy and Juan are the parents of a daughter, Aurélie Chang Lopez, who was born in 2012.