Faithful Mission: Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations
A bimonthly online column by Linda Valentine
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
Nearly three years ago, we joined our prayers of hope and thanksgiving with those of the people of South Sudan as they jubilantly celebrated the birth of their new county.
Over 100 years ago, Presbyterian mission workers planted seeds of the gospel and began church relationships that have extended to today.
The church played a vital role in bringing about peace in that war-torn country and in supporting the self-determination of the people of South Sudan. Peace seemed—at last—to be at hand. But it did not last. And now we join a watchful world in its cries of anguish at the escalating violence and the death and displacement of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are caught in the cross fire.
In the weeks since the violence erupted, as South Sudanese immigrants such as Gai Ajak Riak—a member of Starmount Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina—have grown increasingly anxious about the possibility of civil war in their homeland, the Presbyterian Mission Agency has continued to work with our South Sudanese church and ecumenical partners to provide humanitarian assistance and trauma care for those affected by the conflict.
And through it all—and in the many tumultuous years leading to the new nation’s birth in 2011—the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, a ministry of Compassion, Peace, and Justice (CPJ), has consistently provided a witness and a voice toward hastening God’s peace and justice for the people of South Sudan.
Since the creation of the United Nations, the Presbyterian Church has demonstrated our unfailing commitment to a ministry of presence in the UN community, putting us in a unique position to share and advance the gospel of peace around the world.
“One major advantage that we have being here in New York at the United Nations is that we have access to the Security Council and other decision makers,” says Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. “Whenever a humanitarian crisis or a political conflict arises, we have the opportunity and the ability to be sitting in the room with the people who are making the decisions on the international level.”
Mark says that all advocacy work—one key component of our ministry at the United Nations—is relational, and that our relationships with the UN’s permanent missions and programs as well as other faith-based and secular nongovernmental organizations open critical doors.
One such door was opened when Ryan Smith, our Presbyterian representative to the UN, traveled last November with a group representing Presbyterian World Mission, CPJ, and Presbyterian Women to meet with and hear the concerns of our partners in South Sudan.
“Our visit helped to open a door with the US Embassy in South Sudan,” Ryan says. “We were able to meet with the US ambassador to South Sudan and the US consul general for over an hour in a private meeting. The ambassador said that she didn’t know that Presbyterians were at the UN and wanted to learn more.”
Ryan explains that this connection helped when we had to evacuate our mission coworkers from South Sudan in December. “We had a direct line to the US Embassy in South Sudan to help ensure the safety of our mission personnel,” he said.
I have experienced such powerful connections firsthand. In my frequent travels, I have been privileged to encounter Presbyterians whose involvement with mission reaches back decades as well as newcomers to the work of Presbyterian World Mission and the advocacy efforts of our many mission networks.
For the specific needs of South Sudan, the Sudan Mission Network and the Sudan Advocacy Action Forum—in partnership with the Africa Office of World Mission, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and other ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency—are best able to identify the ways Presbyterians can help.
The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations’ Swords into Plowshares blog—jointly written with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program—contains a wealth of information on a variety of issues, as does the office’s e-newsletter, Discipleship in the Global Community. We also encourage concerned Presbyterians to sign up for and receive updates and alerts from the Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC, also a ministry of CPJ.
Presbyterians have been partnered in ministry with Sudan for more than 100 years, and with God’s help we will continue to be a presence there, at the United Nations, and wherever God calls us to be a witness to the nations of the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
“In Christ we are called to be ambassadors, to witness to the good news of God’s grace and love, God’s intention for us to live in peace, and God’s vision of justice and wholeness for the entire creation,” says Mark. “Within the United Nations community, I’m privileged to serve as an ambassador for Christ on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and witness to that vision and intention that God proclaims and seals in Jesus Christ.”
One of the most famous sayings attributed to the great Reformed theologian Karl Barth is that the faithful should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Barth’s wisdom—within the rich history of our Reformed tradition—resonates powerfully with our ministry at the United Nations, a Presbyterian presence where we daily live out our faith through social justice advocacy, political action, and public service on a personal and a global level.
“It is an honor for me to serve in my position as a representative of the PC(USA), knowing that the church has been around longer than most governments and—God willing—will be there longer than any of these conflicts or trials or tribulations that the world sees,” Ryan says. “For us to be able to be a voice about the breadth and history of Christian communities here in the US and around the world within the United Nations system with world leaders is just a phenomenal opportunity that I’m thankful for every day.”
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For additional perspectives on South Sudan, watch Brooke Baldwin’s January 24 CNN interview with Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, mission coworkers in South Sudan. Shelvis and Nancy were home in the United States for the holidays when the most recent violence broke out and were unable to return as a result.
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