For a short time in June, eight mission co-workers will briefly turn their attention from their work with global partners to serving the greater church as Mission Advisory Delegates (MAD) for the 224th General Assembly (2020).
For the first time in history, GA will conduct its business virtually. The docket has been abbreviated to address only critical business during the global pandemic.
MADs are, like other advisory delegates, selected to attend in an advisory role, so the assembly is assured of hearing and taking into consideration their special viewpoints. They are assigned to assembly committees as voting members, but committees will not meet this year because of the special circumstances.
When certain issues come before a GA plenary session, advisory delegates may be polled prior to the vote of commissioners to seek their advice.
MADs for the upcoming assembly include Douglas Dicks, Israel-Palestine; Martin Han, East Asia; Josh Heikkila, West Africa; Sarah Henken, Colombia/Andean Region; Tracey King-Ortega, Nicaragua/Central America; Esther Shin, Egypt; Michael Weller, Ethiopia; and Marlene Van Brocklin, South Asia. The group ranges in experience from Weller, who has served in Ethiopia for 26 years, to Han, who will be traveling to his host site in Asia when travel restrictions have been lifted.
Douglas Dicks is an Associate for Ecumenical Partnerships in Israel and Palestine with St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem and other partners in the region. In his role as facilitator for education for justice and peacemaking, he connects PC(USA) congregations and councils with indigenous Christians in Israel and Palestine. He volunteered to be a MAD since he planned to be in the U.S. on interpretation assignment. When travel restrictions were enacted, he was not able to return to the U.S. He is now sheltering in place at his home in the Middle East.
“Serving as a MAD is an honor, and it really gives one the opportunity to participate in the inner workings and decisions made by the church,” Dicks said. “When we are in assembly, we ARE the church. Our vote is only an ‘advisory’ one, but still, we get to weigh in on the decisions that the church (would have normally) debated in committee, and that come before the plenary for the final vote.”
Josh Heikkila serves as regional liaison for West Africa with a home base in Ghana working to build congregational and presbytery relationships with six church partners in West Africa. He also provides support to PC(USA) mission personnel and helps connect partner churches with PC(USA) churches that want to be involved in ministry in the region. He has served as a MAD before.
“Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) re-established connections with the Presbyterian Church of Liberia after about a 100-year lapse, and in celebration of this, the moderator of the PCL had been invited to attend the General Assembly in Baltimore,” he said. “There was also an overture to work more closely with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana, for our denominations to establish joint congregations for Ghanaian immigrants in the United States. I was going to be in Baltimore to serve as a resource.” Both of these are now on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michael Weller, along with wife Rachel, serves with Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) training future church leaders. He teaches in Gambella, Ethiopia as a teacher at the Don McClure Bible School and the Manpiny Theological College.
“I accepted the invitation to be a MAD this year because I sense there are many transitions ahead of our denomination and I am hoping to lift up the global relationships as an opportunity to go deeper into the experience of partnership through relationship in the context of being part of the body of Christ,” he said. “What does that mean? It means that we are in a position to dump American exceptionalism in mission practice and enjoy mutual encouragement, fellowship, worship, and position ourselves to become listeners in ways that we as Western Christians can hear the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of all our siblings in Christ..”
Marlene Van Brocklin and husband Gary are mission co-workers serving in South Asia. She served as a MAD at GA 223 (St. Louis) and stepped in for another mission co-worker who was not able to serve during the upcoming virtual assembly.
“As MADs we are able to give a global perspective to GA proceedings,” she said. “In our globalized milieu we need to keep in mind the views and needs of our sisters and brothers in other countries and situations and to consider how our decisions affect people and structures around the world.”
Esther Shin and Noah Park have been Associates for Ecumenical Partnerships in Egypt since 2016, serving with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, Synod of the Nile.
“This is my first time to participate in GA meeting as a MAD,” said Shin. “I volunteered to experience the body of the Christ, seeking Christ’s will within the faith community of diversity and unity. I hope to bring a different voice from my own lived experience of working with Egyptian Christian brothers and sisters in relation to the missional vision and perspective of PCUSA.”
The theme for GA 224, the first totally online General Assembly in the denomination’s history, is “From Lament to Hope.” For more information, click here.