Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories about the more than 50 Presbyterian mission workers and international peacemakers who are speaking in more than 150 presbyteries in the coming month as part of World Mission Challenge. — Jerry L. Van Marter

DENISON, Iowa – From the outside, Sri Lanka is beautiful.
The tear-drop shaped island nation, about the size of West Virginia and located off the southeast coast of India, is a wonderful place, with its mostly tropical climate, beautiful beaches and national parks, an array of wildlife and a diverse landscape that ranges from lowlands to hills to its highest peak above 8,000 feet.

But it’s been an island of tragedy in recent years. The Christmastime tsunami of 2004 killed thousands and a vicious civil war terrorized the island for decades until it came to an end this spring.

Both events, the tsunami and the civil war, displaced thousands of island residents from the land. Some economic development, wildlife intrusion, other natural disasters and tenured land ownership also contribute to the serious displacement problem on the densely populated island of 21 million.

Alleviating the misery of those displaced from the land has become the mission of Chenoa Stock, a mission worker of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Sri Lanka.

Stock is a network builder with Joining Hands, a Presbyterian Hunger Program-related program that aims to restore God’s creation and heal society across faiths, races and cultures. She works with fishermen, farmers, laborers and women’s groups, to combat injustice and seek sustainable change through advocacy.

Speaking at United Presbyterian Church here, Stock — one of the more than 50 PC(USA) mission workers and international peacemakers  spread out across the United States during the PC(USA)’s Mission Challenge ’09 this month — said Joining Hands’ effort in Sri Lanka goes far beyond a short-term mission.

“We look for the root and systemic causes of hunger and poverty, and we ask the ‘why questions,’” she said. “Why are there poor? Why are there hungry?”

For Stock’s network, called Praja Abhilasha — or People’s Aspiration — the issue is land. Without land, poverty and hunger will continue be serious problems for many thousands in Sri Lanka.

Stock said there have been “little victories” as the people in her network strive to address displacement issues, and at the grassroots level, the work is in organization, education and the search for solutions.

When she returns, the challenge will be in the answer to her rhetorical question: “How do we tread softly but still with force and with power?”

Stock, who has been in Sri Lanka since 2006, described her network as “multi-faith, multi-cultural” and an “island-wide effort.”

“There’s something very moving about working for justice in Sri Lanka. ... We’re all people of God, how ever you define God,” she said.

As part of Mission Challenge ’09, Stock is looking for PC(USA) partners for Praja Abhilasha. She challenged those at United Presbyterian to think about the “mutual transformation” in mission — a transformation that takes place on both sides of the mission field.

She visited four presbyteries through Mission Challenge. In addition to her stop here in Prospect Hill Presbytery, she visited the presbyteries of Northern Plains, Twin Cities Area and Glacier.

For Stock, Sri Lanka is her third overseas mission assignment. Her first was as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer in Leosotho when she was a junior in college in 2003. After college, she served as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Kerala, India, teaching conversational English.

Her first two experiences led to her current mission. “You put yourself in a different context and you really see who you are and you grow within that,” she said.

After her YAV service, she returned to the United States for a year before being contacted by the PC(USA) about the Joining Hands position in Sri Lanka. She knew it was a call she had to accept.

Stock grew up in Pittsburgh, Penn., the daughter of the Revs. Carleton and Elinor Stock, both PC(USA) pastors. She earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ill., in 2004.

Duane Sweep, associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.