Reaching out in Europe and central Asia
Plenary session shares what the PC(USA) is doing in several countries
Attendees of the Europe plenary session of the World Mission Celebration here Oct. 23 were greeted with a new format — a newscast.
Acting as members of the fictional Presbyterian News Network (PNN), presenters told the crowd about mission in Europe and central Asia through a series of “interviews” and “newscasts” on stage.
First up was Gabriela Horakova, a pastor in the Czech Republic. She spoke about the work of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB), which is a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the second-largest non-governmental organization in the Czech Republic.
The ECCB has about 30 centers that offer services for seniors and adults and children with physical and mental disabilities. The ECCB also provides counseling, hospice care, classes and workshops and shelters for homeless people and domestic violence victims.
The senior care services are one of the most important contributions of the ECCB. During communism in the Czech Republic, seniors were sent to uninhabited buildings. These buildings were known as “waiting rooms for death” and stripped seniors of their dignity, Horakova said. At the ECCB’s senior centers, people are treated with respect and are encouraged to socialize.
After the interview with Horakova, PNN viewers got a report from Julia Thorne, an immigration lawyer and manager of immigration issues for the PC(USA).
With 195 million migrants in the world, people migrate to and from many places for many reasons, Thorne said. Migration is an especially hot issue in Europe, where many people migrate to. One reason for this is Europe’s aging population. With below-replacement fertility rates, there is a need for an influx of workers there.
To help manage this load of migration, the European Union should have one policy, instead of every country having its own rules, Thorne said.
“It will take all the EU nations working together to create solutions,” she said.
As for the church, members recognize that some rights — such as living together as a family — are fundamental to Christians, Thorne said. It’s also important to insist that policies treat all people with respect, not demonize them. The church can also help refugees resettle, provide them with food and clothing and welcome them to worship.
After Thorne signed off, PNN turned to Michael Parker, the PC(USA)’s coordinator for international evangelism and frontier areas. He spoke about central Asia, which consists of five countries of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Although the area is rich with natural resources such as oil and natural gas, the countries are generally poor and have high unemployment rates, Parker said. The area has also long been ruled by repressive governments and has been the site of much fighting. Today, the region is pulled between China, Russia and the United States. China is interested in the energy sources, Russia has historic ties to the region and the United States has security interests in the area.
As far as religion, the area is about 80 percent Muslim, but many of those people are nominal Muslims with little knowledge of Islam, Parker said. Since independence in 1991, there has been a resurgence of Islam. The PC(USA) began working with the region around this time. There are now a number of mission co-workers in the area who are building relationships with local communities and witnessing through community development efforts.
Other projects in the area involve the orality movement, in which stories are presented orally. Because many people are illiterate or learn better orally, this way of sharing ideas about faith can be more effective.
After Parker’s report, PNN turned to Burkhard Paetzold, a mission co-worker who works with the Roma people in central and eastern Europe. The Roma, often called Gypsies, are a large minority in Europe. About 8 million Roma live in Europe, but they don’t have a particular national territory, Paetzold said. The Roma left their homeland in northern India about 1,000 years ago and arrived in Europe in the 15th century. They were not welcomed by European Christians and churches and lived on the outskirts of towns. Travel became a survival strategy for the Roma.
The people are now used as easy scapegoats, Paetzold said. Many are dependent on welfare and are uneducated.
The church was long part of the problem for the Roma. Now, it’s important for churches to have cross-cultural literacy. The Roma also need to have a voice in church leadership, Paetzold said.
The PC(USA) has been working with the Roma since 2001, offering education and advocacy programs and leadership training.
And with the reports on Europe and Central Asia complete, PNN signed off for the evening.