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Partners across borders

Plenary session focuses on mission in the Americas

October 28, 2009

Cincinnati

At the Oct. 23 morning plenary session, attendees of the World Mission Celebration here learned about theology and evangelism work being done by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its partners in the Americas.

Presenters spoke of the importance of building relationships in mission work, especially when differences can sometimes seem more important than similarities.

“Divisions are not just personal,” said Dennis Smith, a mission co-worker in Guatemala. “They are built into the structures, the very fabric of our society.”

Smith spoke of extractive industries in Latin America, which harvest goods like nickel, bananas and coffee, often at the expense of the people living in the area.

“Is the profit worth the poisoned lives?” he asked.

But Smith said he has also seen people stand up against violence and injustice in his work.

“Here, ordinary people reflect on being the people of God,” he said.

That kind of bravery and partnership is also evident on the U.S.-Mexico border, said mission co-worker Mark Adams.

Adams works with Presbyterian Border Ministry and is the U.S. coordinator of Frontera de Cristo, a bi-national ministry. Adams presented with the Mexico coordinator, the Rev. Angel Valencia of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico.

More than 5,000 people have died trying to cross the border into the United States, Adams said. Frontera de Cristo works to bring together Christians from both sides of the border, holding prayer vigils and working with the Just Coffee cooperative. 

“In the face of death, they’re demonstrating the life-giving power of God,” he said.

The Rev. Pablo Feliciano-Cruz, a 2008 international peacemaker with the PC(USA) and a member of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico, spoke about another partnership in which students from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary come to Mexico to work in the state of Chiapas.

“The students that are able to click together, they will have a long-term understanding of both countries,” Feliciano said. “What we are really doing is tearing down the walls that are being built ... Our God is the same, even though we speak different languages.”

Relationships are also seen in Colombia, where the PC(USA) and the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (IPC) have worked together for more than 150 years. Among the problems in Colombia is a violent drug trade and guerilla warfare.

In the past five years, that partnership has taken shape in a new way through an accompaniment program in which two short-term volunteers are sent from the United States to Colombia every month to provide a personal presence with church leaders in the embattled country who may be subject to threats.

“This project of accompaniment would not be possible without the support of the whole church,” said Sarah Henken, coordinator of the program, which is operated by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Presenting with Henken was the Rev. Diego Higuita, with the IPC. Speaking in Spanish, which Henken translated into English, he said, “In Colombia, we do not have mission. We have brothers and sisters who join with us in building a road of peace and hope and joy. May God bless and direct us in responding to this call for our people.”

Wrapping up the plenary was John Winings, executive director of the Haiti Fund. Based in North Carolina, the fund administers and seeks support for ecumenical projects in Haiti. One of its projects is planting trees, which is especially important in a country that is 90 percent barren of trees, Winings said. The fund works under the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti — the PC(USA)’s long-term partner in Haiti — in areas like disaster relief and hygiene.

“There’s no ending to this story,” Winings said. “God has been there long before we American problem-solvers have begun to arrive.”

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