Although her two trips to Bolivia under the auspices of the Presbyterian Hunger Programwere unquestionably life-changing, it was a visit here from a former mission worker to Bolivia that unexpectedly changed how the Rev. Phyllis Zoon lived.
In her unique, joint role as Hunger Action and Stewardship of Creation Enabler for Monmouth Presbytery, Zoon came to the conclusion that hunger and poverty cannot be effectively addressed without also engaging environmental issues.
To raise the presbytery's awareness of the dynamics and consequences of this intimate interrelationship, Zoon had invited former mission co-worker, Bob Dunsmore — who, with his wife Julie, served nine years in Bolivia until August 2008 — to speak during Mission Challenge ’07, the highly successful initiative which sent 48 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionaries to visit 144 presbyteries in September 2007.
When Dunsmore began to explain that the glaciers in Bolivia that provide water for millions of people would be gone within ten years because of global warming, Zoon experienced a moment of remarkable insight and clarity.
“Bob told us that what we can do to help our brothers and sisters in Bolivia the most is not writing a check or even sending clothing or medicine,” she said. "Their biggest request is that we drive less. Our partners in Bolivia say that what they most want is for us to change the way we live so that we can at least mitigate the effects of climate change. It’s a whole new way of doing mission because it asks us not to give so they can live like us but to change, to transform our lives so they can live.”
Zoon’s perspective enriched and her spirit profoundly moved by the Bolivian partners’ specific request, Zoon immediately set out to change her behavior. “Their appeal that we change ourselves changed me,” she said. “I have started putting fewer pollutants into the air, I buy less stuff, and I’ve gotten more involved in local initiatives and in the environment than ever before. I’m preaching the message broadly throughout the presbytery that the small changes we can each make in our own lives can have a big impact.”
One of the programs of the PC(USA)’s General Assembly Council on which Zoon has greatly relied for resources in both making and advocating lifestyle changes toward building more sustainable communities is Enough for Everyone.
She specifically cited Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table, a curriculum designed for high schoolers and adults that aims to bring into dialogue daily eating habits, the Christian faith and the “needs of the broader world,” and The Presbyterian Coffee Project, which helps to ensure that more of Americans’ “coffee dollar” goes to the farmers who do the work.
“This is something that people can do,” Zoon said. “These are changes that we can make in our lives. We can give up the cup of coffee that we buy and make a gourmet cup of fair trade coffee at home. We can really do these things so that our lives will be changed, all while we learn the stories of the people behind the different projects.”
Because hearing the stories that connect Presbyterians in mission is critical to Zoon's ministry as well as her own spiritual growth, she is currently working on again securing a mission worker to speak at Monmouth Presbytery during the 2009 World Mission Challenge, scheduled for Sept. 25-Oct. 18 this year.
She has also been a guiding force in planning and programming an upcoming May 30th symposium entitled “Out of Africa,” jointly sponsored by the Hunger Action and Advocacy Programs of Monmouth and New Brunswick Presbyteries.
Its purpose is to lift up the exciting ministries that are currently taking place in Africa as well as the many connections that are shared with the congregations of both presbyteries.
“The symposium will also get people acquainted with important church-based advocacy efforts such as Publish What You Pay (PWYP), which calls for oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose what they pay governments for the extraction of natural resources, thereby holding them accountable,” Zoon said, adding that billions of dollars are lost each year through government corruption.
The PC(USA) endorsed the campaign and joined the PWYP coalition by action of the 218th General Assembly (2008).
Zoon sees programs like Publish What You Pay and Joining Hands, another initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, as being a critical part of creating long-term solutions toward healing the world.
“So often we give our money so people can be like us when they don’t really want that,” she said. “We think we can do things in the short term without changing our own long term behavior. But Jesus came into the world to change lives, starting with our own.”