Posted by: Titus Presler | April 10, 2014

Reflexive mission in two devotionals by people dear to me

Today I share brief recent Lenten devotionals written by two parishioners at Grace Church on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City, two people who are very dear to my wife Jane and me. 

Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Monday in the 5th week of Lent, April 7
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…   (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 31* 35 Exodus 4:10-31 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 Mark 9:30-41

[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35)     + + +

I spent three formative years of my childhood in Zimbabwe, Central Africa, living at St. David’s Bonda Mission, a small, rural outpost where my parents were appointed missionaries of the Episcopal Church and my father Priest-In-Charge at the mission church.  As the only white students at the local Christian primary school, my sister and I were often exempt from the menial chores and corporal punishment our fellow students had to endure, leaving us feeling oddly excluded and inappropriately “privileged” in the post-colonial context of the time.  During the first year, my closest school friend Tabitha Pomo insisted on carrying my water pail to and from the student garden because, as she pronounced matter-of-factly, “You are white and I am black.”  I was both shocked and relieved when, in my last year of school, I lined up with my classmates and opened my palm for a solid thwack with a ruler, standard punishment for poor quiz grades. When I knelt down to polish the cement floor of our classroom on the final day of school, side-by-side with other students, Tabitha smiled with surprise and recognition. Wordlessly, she slowly applied the polish in practiced circular movements, nodding for me to mimic her and seamlessly join in.  I had the most profound and confounding Christian welcome in Zimbabwe that I may ever experience. And when I reflect on Jesus’ exhortation to servant leadership, I can’t think of a better example than Tabitha Pomo. –Emma Presler

Thank you to today’s author, Emma Presler.  At Grace Emma co-chairs the committee that plans the Sunday Forum.  She met and married her husband, Steven Lee, at Grace.

Today’s Collect: Be gracious to your people, we entreat you, O Lord, that they, repenting day by day of the things that displease you, may be more and more filled with love of you and your commandments; and, being supported by your grace in this life, may come to the full enjoyment of eternal life in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.   Amen.  


Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Wednesday in the 1st week of Lent, March 12
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…  (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 119:49-72 & Psalm 49; Genesis 37:25-36; 1 Corinthians 2:1-13; Mark 1:29-45


In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39) + + +

Jesus went out to a deserted place in order to speak to his Father. Do we have a favorite place we go, when we need to talk to God?  I remember reading this passage with my students at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility. We started to talk about Jesus’ prayer life in the wilderness. One inmate got really animated in the discussion. I later found out he just been released from 30 days in solitary confinement.  “This is my wilderness,” the inmate said. “I don’t need to go to any deserted place to pray. I pray right inside here.” He tapped his heart.  I think about that man whenever I find myself too distracted, too busy, or too tired to pray. I try to pray as he did. From the heart. – Steven Lee

Thank you to today’s author, Steven Lee. Steven is a student at The General Theological Seminary, on field placement to Sing Sing prison.  He is writing on Augustine’s pastoral theology and its implications for prison ministry, our concepts of community, and Church as the Body of Christ.


Today’s Collect: Bless us, O God, in this holy season, in which our hearts seek your help and healing; and so purify us by your discipline that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Collect for Ash Wednesday: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Emma Presler is our daughter, the eldest of our four children, now a longtime resident of Manhattan, where she manages the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. I have often said and written that our years as a family in mission in Zimbabwe during the 1980s were formative for all of us as we participated in the vitality of African Christianity at Bonda. Written almost 30 years later, Emma’s vignette demonstrates that.  She also brought Africa into her art. In one impressionistic painting she depicts with contagious energy a group of villagers dancing in their kraal. In another a group of Bonda school girls in their violet uniforms clump together with their backs to the viewer. Much later she researched the design processes of women’s sewing cooperatives in Peshawar.

Steven Lee is our son-in-law. Getting to know him has been a great joy. Originally from California, he has made his home in the East for many years and had a background in finance before turning to immigration work, which he  continues, and then to seminary. Emma and Steven were married at Grace Church in October 2013.

Evident in both devotionals is the reflexive movement of mission. We go out to give and in the process we receive. What goes out, comes back enhanced. Emma was a child, but she was very aware of the mission in which we were engaged. The servant leadership that is most vivid to her now is that of Tabitha Pomo. I recall Tabitha vividly as having an intense and powerful personality, which make Emma’s recollection of her kindness all the more striking.  It was good to see her again in 2000 on one of our journeys back to Zimbabwe.

Steven is teaching, serving, giving out. Mission is ministry in the dimension of difference, and he is certainly on mission in Sing Sing Correctional Facility – from where, by the way, I picked him up after his class one night last fall. Steven is good at catalyzing discussion, so I’m sure that everyone left edified by the conversation about Jesus going out to pray alone. Yet what Steven highlights is not what he himself said, but what an inmate said, especially from the perspective of 30 days in solitary. And what he shares now is how he harkens to that inmate when he has trouble praying.

By reflexive mission I mean – out from the self, and back to the self. Like reflexive verbs. We often use the word sharing about interactions with groups, and it’s a good word in mission. The whole interaction is a shared interaction, multi-directional with gifts given and gifts received by all.

To say that I am touched by all this within our own family does not begin to describe it.




  1. Emma and her sister were my junior at St David’s Bonda Primary School. I remember how my fellow schoolmates and I felt pity and sorry for the two white girls in our midst. We could not comprehend why whites could be our school mates. It was later in life that I learnt that their presence in our midst was a living testimony that in the eyes of God there is neither Jew nor Gentile. It reminds me of their father’s favorite song ‘Ngariende vhangeri'[‘May the gospel go forward’]. (Am now teaching Divinity and History at St David’s Girls High School at Bonda and I wish the Presler family would come and see the transformed Bonda community. I will try to connect Emma to Tabitha Pomo and some of her primary school teachers. You may contact me on +263771756763 or

    • Dear Kuziva Michael ~ Thanks so much for your reflection, which means much to me. I’ll pass along your greetings to our daughters, who will be glad to be in touch. You may recall that Charlotte returned in the mid-90s while she was teaching at Shamva and Emma visited with us in 2000. We will surely get back to Bonda at some point. Greetings to Tabitha Pomo and to our many other friends. God bless, Titus

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