International peacemakers from 10 different countries were at the PC(USA) headquarters last week before embarking on a month-long trip to speak on and interpret peace and justice issues to Presbyterian congregations across the country. The group arrived last Tuesday and participated in a comprehensive two-day orientation session in which the agenda included meeting PC(USA) staff, worship and presentation practice before departing Friday to visit their first hosts.
Three of the peacemakers took time out of their busy schedule to speak to a class of divinity students at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary about their Christian mission experiences. They will tour the country Sept. 25 – Oct. 18. In all, 43 presbyteries, five colleges and theological institutions, and two mission networks will be hosting the peacemakers.
The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program sponsors the Peacemakers initiative, making it possible for peace and justice leaders from overseas partner denominations and organizations to visit Presbyterian churches and congregations. One of the program’s main goals is to engage Presbyterians with first-hand personal stories and experiences of peace and justice work around the world.
“In some ways it exposes Presbyterians to stories we need to hear, and in some cases it serves to correct narratives that we get from our own media,” says Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “In many cases these individuals tell hard stories of struggle, oppression and injustice, yet these are places where God’s spirit is alive, people are strong and faith is evident. Our hope is that Presbyterians’ hearts and lives will be touched and their spirits strengthened by the connections we have in Jesus Christ around the world.”
Over the past 30 years, Presbyterian churches have hosted nearly 300 Peacemakers from 57 different countries. This year’s initiative focuses on five major areas:
- Addressing the root causes of poverty, particularly its impact on women and children
- Healing and reconciliation in cultures of violence
- Sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ
- Responding to natural and human-caused disasters
- Advocating for God’s vision of a just and peaceful world
The 2015 International Peacemakers, and their respective countries, are:
- Berthe Nzeba – Democratic Republic of Congo
- Edelberto Valdés Fleites – Cuba
- Sushma Ramswami – India
- Hendrik Shanazarian – Iran/ Armenia
- Rami Al Maqdasi – Iraq
- Ashraf Tannous – Palestine
- Jerome Bizimana – Rwanda
- Deon Snyman – South Africa
- Saman Perera – Sri Lanka
- Vartkes “Kass” Kassouni – Armenian Diaspora
As people who work on reconciliation projects, engage in conflict resolution and are evangelists in the field, these peacemakers are a mobile group accustomed to travel. Nevertheless, a month away from their families, communities and work is a challenge. According to Horton, the program provides Presbyterians the opportunity to offer hospitality to these guests, who he calls brothers and sisters in Christ. And giving them an opportunity to share their stories among Presbyterians will be energizing to each peacemaker.
“They view this opportunity to tell their story as a gift,” says Horton. “We feel like they are giving to us, but they feel like we’ve given them a gift by inviting them, and they are so appreciative of being here.”
The International Peacemakers agenda is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering. Peacemaker visits are available to mid-councils and Presbyterian colleges and theological institutions through the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. For a list of presbyteries or organizations hosting individual peacemakers, and their proposed itinerary, click here.