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Big Tent hosts African leaders’ pre-conference gathering

African ministries bring new life to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Individuals attending the African pre-conference at Big Tent in Baltimore joined in a Spirit-filled worship service Tuesday. (Photo by Gail Strange)

BALTIMORE — Leaders from 11 African countries now serving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 22 states and 20 presbyteries across the United States gathered for the African Leaders Pre-Conference, sponsored by the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries at Big Tent 2019.

Conference participants were welcomed Tuesday by Princeton Abaraoha, field staff for African Intercultural Ministries, followed by greetings from the Rev. Lemuel Garcia, associate director of RE&WIM.

The Rev. Raymond Bonwell, corporate secretary for the Board of Pensions, shared with the attendees the board’s need to gather data from the caucuses and councils of color. That helps the Board of Pensions learn how it can better serve congregations of color and the church at large.  “This information would complement the data that is available through ‘Living by the Gospel,’ a guide to structuring ministers’ terms of call as authorized by the 223rd(2018) General Assembly,” he said.

“The board’s explicit goal is to serve more to serve better and to serve the church,” said Bonwell. “We want to recognize and serve the diversity in the kingdom and the church.”

Bonwell encourages Presbyterians of color or individual who know Presbyterians of color with backgrounds such as pensions, investments, health care design or actuarial sciences to contact him to learn how they can serve and learn more about the process of becoming involved with or being nominated for the board of directors of the Board of Pensions. Contact Bonwell at

During a Spirit-filled worship service, the Rev. Jane Kagia preached from Luke 10:38-42. In her sermon, Kagia said, “We are living in very dangerous times, but Jesus is inviting all of us who are worried and distracted by many things to sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and strengthened for service.”

“As leaders,” Kagia said, “we need to slow down and sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ just to listen.”

Rev. Ekram Kachu, pastor of the First Arabic Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa, and the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, who attends Beechmont Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., made a presentation on the plight of South Sudan and the ways their individual congregations are involved in ministry with the church in South Sudan and with Sudanese people in their communities and congregations.

Braakasma, the Africa area coordinator for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s World Mission ministry, said her congregation, Beechmont Presbyterian Church, has integrated practices from the tradition of the Sudanese worship and American Presbyterian worship into its service. She said the integration of both traditions hast truly enriched and blessed the congregation.

She also noted the World Mission ministry works in partnership with the nine mission networks in Africa. She says accompaniment on the ground, disaster service, and advocacy are the ways the PC (USA) works in partnership with the church in Africa.

While there is a strong and ongoing partnership with the church in Africa, the Rev. José Luis Casal, director of World Mission, pointed out the need for more African American and Hispanic mission co-workers.

Abaraoba led a session on Why African ministries are important to the PC(USA), saying, “Africans are important because we a part of the new thing God is doing in the PC(USA).” Referring to Isaiah 43:19 from the New Living Translation: For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland, Abaraoba said this: “As long as the PC(USA) continues to be engaged in building vital congregations by challenging people and congregations  to deepen their faith; dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color; in eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people of color, the PC(USA) needs African Ministries.

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