Presentations focus on the interconnection of justice and solidarity
by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian World Mission’s Office of the Middle East and Europe brought together representatives from global partners in Southern Europe virtually Tuesday to discuss the interconnections of justice, solidarity and mutual ministry.
Presentations of creative ministry and advocacy within each individual context were shared from global partners in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. After the presentations, three representatives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), including the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), responded to common threads identified between the work of partners and the priority foci of the PC(USA).
“The Mediterranean is one of the crucial regions of the world with many geopolitical implications and we know our partners, small, minority reformed churches and NGOs active in their societies to promote peace with justice,” said Luciano Kovacs, coordinator of World Mission’s office of the Middle East and Europe, who moderated the webinar.
Dimitris Boukis, secretary of the executive committee of the Evangelical Church of Greece, said the church takes seriously its prophetic voice for the sake of the gospel.
For the past 25 years, the church has taken an active role in working with refugees and immigrants, opening the first center for people in need in downtown Athens. After first addressing the immediate needs of food and clothing, the church went on to create shelters and offer language classes, medical care and legal advice. The work is done by a church community of just 5,000 people throughout Greece.
“It is not always easy,” said Boukis. “We are not always successful, but as long as we see even one or two people have found a new life and new opportunities, we feel well.”
Boukis told the participants that their work would not be possible without partners from around the world who have supported them with prayers, financial help and, most importantly, their presence.
“We are grateful for Nadia Ayoub, mission co-worker in Katerini, who works in one of our large refugee centers,” he said. “In her, we see all of you. We know we cannot do much, but with a family behind us with a common desire to serve the gospel of Jesus Christ, we feel stronger and have the power to continue what we are doing here in Greece.”
Human rights activist Efi Latsoudi, one of the founders of Lesvos Solidarity, talked about the current situation in Lesvos, after the government closed the Pikpa Camp she helped found for some of the island’s most vulnerable refugees.
She said there is a desperate need for decent refugee accommodations, with many living in terrible conditions. Even though the camp has closed, they have started a new center for women and families. They are also working with a local network to help people find jobs.
“We try to send the message that we can all live together, that the solution is not to keep people out but to try to address this as a society and to find solutions the human way,” she said.
Representing Mediterranean Hope, Paolo Naso, a member of the Waldensian Church of Italy, one of the smallest Protestant churches in the world, has created a global and inclusive approach to refugees despite the church’s small numbers.
“We have evidence of hundreds of people dying because there is no safe route for the asylum seekers,” said Naso. “We don’t have land borders or deserts as you have in the U.S. We have the Mediterranean. And this wonderful sea, instead of being a bridge of communication among cultures and people, is becoming an immoral cemetery for our generation.”
The church has focused its efforts on creating legal ways to find refuge in Italy. Through advocacy, lobbying and political campaigns, they have convinced the Italian government to develop a humanitarian corridor for refugees and hope others can learn from their success.
He talked about the Bible passage recounting the resurrection of Lazarus.
“These people were dead. Their bodies were dead. Their hopes were dead. Their fantasies were dead and their dreams,” he said. “But through the actions we started, we have seen people taking back their lives, their dignity and those who were dead start to live again and live in richness with hopes and dreams.”
Claudio Paravati, director of global partner Confronti Magazine and Study Center in Rome, said their development of Confronti magazine (now available in English) is a role they can play in the global conversation.
“Our challenge is to speak in the public sphere in Italy, not as a religious publication but as a cultural, political economic paper speaking from our sensitivities,” he said. “We can bring ideas into our society. This is what we can do.”
The magazine is set to publish a new issue on the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Pastor Sandra Reis, general secretary of the Portugal Presbyterian Church, who also led the morning worship with pastor Maria Eduarda Titosse, vice president of the national council, said her church is the oldest Protestant church in the country, and has suffered persecution.
“Against all odds, here we stand,” she said. “Our DNA was a forged as a marginal, resistant, minority church always engaged in diaconal work.”
“We know we have a mission,” she said. “We are fighting the good fight. We have a huge family praying and walking with us. We are working in God’s mission from the margins without human certainties, by faith, not by sight.”
The Rev. Alfredo Abad, the president of the national council of the Spanish Evangelical Church, said Spain also faces immigration challenges and the country grants refugee status to only 5% of asylum seekers. He said that during the global pandemic, three times as many people were looking to the church for food and support.
“We were born in the struggle for rights and religious freedom, and we are still struggling for rights and dignities for all people,” he said.
The Rev. Katherine Cunningham, a member of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, said she represented the grassroots voices in network building in the PC(USA) through partnerships created through World Mission. She answered a submitted question about the use of Christian symbols in the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“The use of those symbols is woven into the long history and the recent growth of white nationalism and white supremacy,” she said. “Those symbols are part of the larger issues of Christian Zionism, which were not so prominent at the insurrection, but part of the movement attached to it,” she said. “The rise of white nationalism seeks to use the very symbols that were planted in the land to justify white supremacy. The PC(USA) strongly opposes both the dynamics of white nationalism as well as the hijacking of religious symbols to justify that movement.”
The Rev. Christian Choi, associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, said COVID-19 has shifted the church’s focus to the lives of the neighborhoods where it can make a difference. They have undertaken efforts to save the lives of the homeless population.
“We asked, ‘What can the church do to share the love of each and every person who is part of God’s Creation, not within the building, but outside the building?’”
Moffett wrapped up the webinar with a message of welcome and solidarity for the global partners and a message about the Matthew 25 invitation and the re-envisioning process under way at the PMA.
“We are reimagining how to create a new narrative of what it means to be the presence of Christ on this side of heaven,” she said. “We are seeking to bring about a new understanding, a new clarity of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”
She said the Gospel of Matthew 25 (verses 31–46) gives a glimpse of the judgment at the end of the age. “He will judge every nation on the systems we create that marginalize people and then how we respond to those people, both with compassion and with advocacy,” she said.
Those interested in finding out more about a Southern European Mission Network should contact Kovacs at email@example.com.
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Categories: Advocacy & Social Justice, World Mission
Tags: Christian Zionism, claudio paravati, Confronti Magazine and Study Center in Rome, Dimitris Boukis, Efi Latsoudi, evangelical church of greece, illinois, israel/palestine mission network, lesvos solidarity, matthew 25, Mediterranean Hope, National Council of the Spanish Evangelical Church, paolo naso, Pastor Sandra Reis, pikpa camp, Portugal Presbyterian Church Pastor Maria Eduarda Titosse, Presbyterian World Mission’s Office of the Middle East and Europe, Rev. Alfredo Abad, rev. christian choi, rev. dr. diane moffett, Rev. Katherine Cunningham, Waldensian Church of Italy, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Springfield, white nationalism, white supremacy
Ministries: World Mission