By Catherine Cottingham
Christians leaving Iraq
Two of every three Presbyterian families have left Iraq since 2003, according to an Iraqi Presbyterian pastor visiting the United States in July 2011 for the Big Tent meeting. Two of five Presbyterian churches are now closed—one in Mosul and one in Baghdad. Before the war, Christians made up 4–5 percent of the Iraqi population, between 1.5 and 1.7 million people. Now there are 600,000–700,000 Christians. The rest have fled to surrounding countries and some to the United States and Canada.
Nuhad Tomeh, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison for Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf, visited Iraq in November. He and other Iraqi church leaders expressed concern about the dwindling presence of Christians in Iraq, but a new (Assyrian Presbyterian) church is being opened in Erbil (in northern Iraq) with the permission of local officials. Read more.
A new class of Young Adult Volunteers
Sixty-six young people have begun a year of Christian service and learning as Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in eight U.S. cities and six countries around the world. The program provides opportunities for young adults (ages 19 to 30) to engage in the church’s mission in communities of need, to develop leadership within communities of faith, and to explore their relationship and future ministry to the church. The 2011–2012 YAVs come from churches and presbyteries across the country, from Wyoming to North Carolina, and one from Ireland. Ten are non-Presbyterians. Meet the new YAVs.
Dominican Republic partner aids Haiti relief
When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Marisol Baez left her family behind in the Dominican Republic and crossed the border into the afflicted country. She helped the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) organize an ambulance caravan of 120 doctors and volunteers—all Dominicans of Haitian descent or Haitian immigrants—treating wounds and saving lives. Marisol remained in Haiti teaching leadership and income-generating skills to women living in displaced persons camps, and empowering local peasant groups to lead their own rehabilitation efforts. MUDHA partners with PC(USA)’s Self-Development of People program.
Bringing the light
It seems natural that Christians are committed to bringing light to dark places without ongoing power. That’s the mission of Solar Under the Sun (www.solarunderthesun.org), a ministry of the Synod of the Sun. Its solar-powered systems are custom designed to power the electrical needs of communities that need it the most. Working closely with sister organization Living Waters for the World (www.livingwatersfortheworld.org), a mission of the Synod of Living Waters, Solar Under the Sun also powers water treatment systems installed by LWW. In two years the program has been able to get onto the ground in Haiti, and in the next year it will go into places such as Kenya and the Ukraine. Read more.
Light shed on human rights abuses in Brazil
Substantial information on torture and other human rights abuses was entrusted to the Brazilian attorney general in São Paulo on June 14, 2011. World Council of Churches General Secretary Fykse Tveit thanked ecumenical partners who gathered the court records for safekeeping, including two Presbyterians.
The Rev. James Wright and Charles R. Harper, both children of Presbyterian missionaries, spent years documenting the abuses in Latin America. Harper, World Council of Churches coordinator for human rights in Latin America from 1973 to 1992, is the author of O Acompanhamento: Ecumenical Action for Human Rights in Latin America 1970–1990 (2006).
Many have called for the establishment of a national truth commission to shed greater light on events of the past, to explore the consequences of brutality, and to ensure justice for former victims.
U.S. and Cuba Council of Churches issue joint statement
The National Council of Churches in the U.S. and the Council of Churches of Cuba have issued a joint statement calling for reconciliation between the two countries and committing to “pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit that our churches may bear witness to God’s will for justice in economic life.” The statement raises three shared humanitarian issues: the 53-year-old embargo and its hardships for the Cuban people; the sentences meted out to the “Cuban Five” (jailed for 13 years after being convicted of espionage against Cuban-American dissidents in Miami); and the incarceration without trial in Cuba of Allen Gross, an American accused of smuggling illegal telecommunications equipment into Cuba last year. “We commit ourselves,” the statement says, “to advocate, even more assertively, for the normalization of relations between our countries.” Read more.
Cuban church leader appointed to WCRC role
Rev. Dora Arce-Valentin, a leader in the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba, was appointed in November to head the Justice and Partnership program of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Arce-Valentin, who began her career as a civil engineer before switching to theology, was the first woman to serve as moderator of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba and taught at the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cuba. She began her new position in January 2012. The WCRC, which includes the PC(USA), was created in 2010 by the merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.
Northern Ireland: hope in the face of vandalism
Doug Baker, mission worker and regional liaison in Northern Ireland, shares the following story from Dr. Lesley Carroll, with whom he works closely and who has been a supervisor for PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers for the past 12 years. Fortwilliam & Macrory Presbyterian Church in North Belfast has premises that straddle the so-called “peace line” between New Lodge and Tigers Bay. The congregation has been developing a Bricks to Bridges Project that focuses on restorative practice, training leaders and apprenticing young people in that practice. Plans had included a bike workshop for at-risk young people and a cross-community football club for primary schoolchildren. Then last October thieves broke in and stole copper piping, which resulted in extensive water damage. “The insurance will pay their part,” reported Dr. Carroll, “but what are we to do in the meantime? Let the young people roam? Send disenchanted leaders home? Wait another year for the insurance and builders? We dare not!” The congregation is determined to move forward in establishing a center for reconciliation. “We know there is a sense of ‘not enough to go around’, and so communities sink to taking what they can, never mind the cost to others. We intend to address that sinking feeling that leads to despair, hopelessness and ultimate damage to self and others.”
Mission worker contributes to book
PC(USA) mission worker Nancy Dimmock contributed to Writing Out Of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (Cambridge Scholars, 2011). Born in the Congo to Presbyterian missionaries, Nancy has served with Frank and their children throughout Africa.
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