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Changing the Conversation

A letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

September 2017

Write to Jed Koball
Write to Jenny Koball

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It´s been twenty years now since Esther Hinostroza first heard the cries. It´s been twenty years since she heard the complaints of scratchy throats and itchy eyes from her fellow citizens in the mountain town of La Oroya. It´s been twenty years since something changed in the Andean air she breathed.

Indeed, it was twenty years ago in 1997 that the metallurgical smelter that sits near the heart of the town was sold to St. Louis-based Doe Run Company, a subsidiary of the New York-based holding company The Renco Group, Inc. Upon sale of the smelter twenty years ago, the emissions levels in town increased substantially, and the people noticed. The people felt it on their skin, their lips, their insides and out. They felt it in their bones. Esther felt it, too. And so it was that twenty years ago, Esther Hinostroza, director of Filomena Tomaira Pacsi — a member organization of our global partner, the Joining Hands network in Peru — helped orchestrate the first study to measure the health impacts of the emissions from the smelter. And, twenty years ago, she helped make it evident that the people — her friends, her family, herself — were being poisoned by lead, arsenic, cadmium and more.

Twenty years.

Not long after, the Presbyterian Church (USA), through the presence of former mission co-worker Hunter Farrell, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Joining Hands Network in Peru, began to walk alongside Esther and the people of La Oroya. Working together, they executed more environmental and health studies; they raised awareness at the international level; they pressured the company to comply with environmental standards; and they pressured the State to enforce those standards. They told the story. They invited others into the work — perhaps some of you. But above all, they continued to walk with Esther and friends in La Oroya. And, by 2009, Doe Run Company lost is operating license and filed for bankruptcy.

It was January of that year — 2009 — that I arrived in Peru. The smelter was still operating at full capacity, emitting 2,000 tons of toxins into the air every single day. Six months later when it shut down operations, the difference in the air was remarkable. For many, it was the first time in their lives they had breathed clean air — or at least cleaner air. The residual waste left in the earth over so many years of operations was still stirred up in the gusty winds, leaving all passers-by vulnerable. But even if the air was clearer, what was even more clear was that the work was far from over.

While the emissions from the smelter were at the root of the problem, simply shutting it down was never going to resolve the issue. The economic interests to start it up again are too great. The health risks and impact on livelihoods are too overwhelming. We had to pave a new way forward. Together we had to imagine a new future for all of God´s children.

It was a few years later in 2012 that our partners got a regional ordinance passed that would require not only specialized health care for all people impacted by heavy metals poisoning in La Oroya, but also secure environmental measures both to clean up the mess already made (as much as possible, anyway) and to prevent it from happening again.

Such change does not happen overnight. Today in 2017, we work closely with local authorities, impacted communities, churches and civil society to lay the groundwork for the full implementation of the Environmental and Human Health Ordinance. Just as significantly, we are in conversation with national authorities to initiate such a program nationwide. And, internationally, we continue to press forward in protecting the sovereignty of nations like Peru to implement norms that protect the health of its people. For a country whose economy has grown tremendously over the past decade due principally to mining activity that often impacts the health of people and the environment, such advances are nothing short of miraculous. In effect, what we are doing together is changing the conversation.

What good is wealth creation if it depends on the destruction of God´s Creation? What good is making money if it has to be spent on health care and funerals? Is that really prosperity? Can we really call that development? Is this progress?

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was with Esther in La Oroya. She´s getting older now and is soon to retire. But by her side was her daughter Sherley, ready to take over the reins. Together they were speaking with my friends and colleagues from Joining Hands networks in other countries who had come to Peru to share experiences and strategies in our common work in different corners of the world. Esther noted that over the past twenty years many other organizations who once allied with us in La Oroya left due to the threats against their lives and the challenges to find financial support. In fact, she and Sherley are among the few activists who continue to stay put in La Oroya despite the many risks involved. When a colleague asked why they stay, Esther responded, ¨We continue on because the work is not done. And we know we can continue on because you walk with us.”

As Presbyterians, we have walked with Esther and friends for nearly twenty years, and Jenny and I and our Joining Hands partners are prepared to walk for at least twenty more. Whatever it takes, because the journey is not in vain. The work we share is paving a new way; it is changing the conversation. And, may you know without any doubt that it is your voice, your prayers, your gifts and donations, your accompaniment from afar that makes this journey possible. It is also your accompaniment that makes the journey not only bearable, but joyful, too! And so, for all that and more, we give you thanks, and we humbly ask — will you continue to walk with us? Will you join your hands with ours?

Gratefully and in the Solidarity of Christ´s Love,

Jed and Jenny Koball

Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,

What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.

After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.

I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.

Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.

Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.

In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?

With gratitude,
Jose Luis Casal
Director

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!


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