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Mission Connections
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Gary Payton

Mission co-worker serving as regional liaison for Russia, Belarus,
     Ukraine and Poland from his home in Sandpoint, Idaho

Gary ended his mission service with the PC(USA) in March 2013.

About Gary Payton's ministry
Gary was appointed as a mission co-worker in 2000. As regional liaison for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland he works closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Russian Federation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States, the Reformed Church in Carpath-Ukraine and the Evangelical Reformed Church in Poland.

In his role as a regional liaison Gary serves as a “bridge” between partner churches and other mission co-workers in the region and all those pieces of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) engaged in mission in the four countries: individuals, congregations, presbyteries, synods, the General Assembly Council staff and mission support groups. His responsibilities are to enhance the four pillars of PC(USA) engagement in the region: (1) congregational partnerships or “twinning” between Presbyterian and Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian or Polish congregations; (2) support of theological/Christian education; (3) support to churches seeking to spread the good news to peoples who have not heard the good news; and (4) diaconal projects such as support to children and orphanages, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, medical outreach, etc. He also provides assistance to the PC(USA) mission personnel living and working in the region. To perform these responsibilities, Gary is home-based in Sandpoint, Idaho, and regularly travels to the four countries and across the United States.

Regional context
Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were part of the former Soviet Union until the collapse of the communist regime in the late 20th century. Poland was under Soviet domination until 1989, when a decade-old democratic movement led by the trade union Solidarity was successful in its demands for free elections. The region has experienced dramatic changes with the institution of market economies, free elections, and greater human rights guarantees.  Belarus is considered the least reformed country in the region with its authoritarian regime subjecting opponents to harsh penalties. Christianity has long been the region’s major religion, but churches were repressed during the Soviet era. Democratic reforms have opened up new opportunities for witness and ministry, and the PC(USA) has joined the region’s historic Protestant traditions (Baptist, Lutheran and Reformed) and Orthodox churches as they seek to share Christ’s love. Our partners are committed to being faithful witnesses in an era of incredible change and religious ferment.

About Gary Payton
“God has called me,” writes Gary, “to use the knowledge developed for war during the first half of my life for the ends of peace and reconciliation during the second half of my life. It is an exciting and a humbling responsibility.

“I started studying Russian in the eighth grade in a program spurred on by fear of the Soviet Union. For the next 30 years I followed the political, economic, and military activities of a closed society. Today I can freely visit these countries in an effort to deepen the connection between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Christians across the region.

“As the people of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine struggle to overcome the legacy of over 70 years of communism, the rebirth of the church brings hope to millions of people. Many of our Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran and Reformed brothers and sisters are eager to connect with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Where in the depths of the Cold War, we viewed each other as ‘the enemy,’ we now have the opportunity to join hands in our spiritual journey and work toward peace, reconciliation and the growth of the Body of Christ.”

Gary spent three weeks in September 2005 in Mississippi helping with disaster relief. Read his dispatches from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In August 2006 Gary served as a co-leader of a Young Adult Travel Study Seminar to Russia called “Terrorism in the World Today: the Response of the Church and State.” The seminar was sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Interchurch Partnership in St. Petersburg.

Prior to his responsibilities with the World Mission unit of the PC(USA), Gary was coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program from 1996 to 1999, a program area of the Congregational Ministries Division. In this position he was involved with the production of Bible studies and special resources on peace, conflict and violence issues, annual peacemaking conferences, travel study seminars to places of conflict in the world, visits of international peacemakers across the church, public policy advocacy training, and the Presbyterian United Nations Office in New York. With a special interest in disarmament, he led seminars in the Campaign to Ban Landmines at conferences and congregational gatherings. Gary was an active participant in the working group that produced the 1998 General Assembly “Resolution on Just Peacemaking” and the subsequent Ecumenical Consultation on Just Peacemaking at the 1999 General Assembly. He attended the World Council of Churches' eighth Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 1998, organizing PC(USA) presentations and visiting a Zimbabwe National Army mine-clearing operation. Most recently he served on the working group that produced the “Resolution on Violence, Religion, and Terrorism” adopted by the 2004 General Assembly.

For 24 years preceding his work with the PC(USA) Gary was an officer in the United States Air Force and was stationed in Turkey, Germany, England and a variety of locations in the United States.

Gary graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with a double major in international affairs and Soviet area studies. He received an M.A.S. in management from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and an M.A. in Russian area studies from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Gary is an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He is married to Rev. Dr. Nancy Copeland-Payton and they have three sons, Ian, Adam and Graham. They reside in Sandpoint, Idaho, where Nancy is a spiritual director, retreat leader and writer.

Birthday - May 25

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