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International Peacemakers with the PC(USA) reflect on their visits to the US

Participants gain from two-way learning experience with Presbyterians from across the country

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

This year’s International Peacemakers gathered at the Presbyterian Center on Oct. 11 to reflect on their travels throughout the church. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

LOUISVILLE — When the Rev. Fursan Zu’mot became an International Peacemaker for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he thought he would be the one doing the blessing.

“Since I came from the land of Jesus, I came with the perception that I will bring Jesus to people and talk about Jesus and act as a Jesus for people in so many ways,” he explained.

But he himself received a blessing when he saw homeless people streaming in for a Sunday meal at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in the Presbytery of Lake Erie.

“Seeing all these homeless people, I really met Jesus, and the Holy Spirit touched my heart to a point that I was unable to stay one single second,” said Zu’mot, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. God was making it clear that “’I will show you and reveal myself to you,’ and that is the idea that Jesus is not exclusive to Palestinians. Jesus is everywhere.”

The Rev. Fursan Zu’mot discusses his visit to churches and mid councils in the United States. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

That was one of many stories shared by International Peacemakers who gathered at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville recently to reflect on their 2022 visits throughout the PC(USA).

Over the course of a month, seven Peacemakers made 30 stops to churches, presbyteries, universities and other locations to share their stories and lift up issues affecting their home countries, from civil conflicts and climate change to human trafficking and HIV.

“It was a learning experience and a very memorable time,” said the Rev. Julie Kandema, deputy president of the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda, who taught U.S. Presbyterians about reconciliation among ethnic groups in her country and recalled memorable experiences in the U.S., such as getting to visit an aquarium and the sea.

The Rev. Julie Kandema is interviewed by the Rev. Carl Horton, who coordinates the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

The Rev. Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, interviewed each of the Peacemakers about their journeys and impressions before they headed back to their home countries.

The Rev. Nta William Nche, a pastor and peace builder in Cameroon, recalled being warmly welcomed and treated in a respectful manner.

“Even when they disagreed with something, they would use a very subtle approach and this gladdened the heart,” said Nche, who’s part of the Presbyterian Church in his country. This approach “makes society whole, and this is what I carry back in Cameroon. It should not just be something you learn in class. It should be a culture that we can develop. Then we can have a more peaceful society.”

Kandema, who lives in a country that has experienced genocide, noted that some Americans were eager to ask questions about how to bring about peace in divided U.S. communities. “When we speak about the successful stories from back home, they did want to learn more,” she said. Being a Peacemaker was “a wonderful and successful experience.”

Carmen Elena Diaz Anzora, a member of the executive committee of the Calvinist Reformed Church of El Salvador who was accompanied by mission coworker Joseph Russ as her interpreter, noted that she encountered people with concrete ideas about collaboration. For example, there was a group in Kansas that wanted to do virtual Bible studies together and there are people in Iowa planning to send pastors and seminarians to learn in El Salvador. She said it also was meaningful to spend time with families and engage in sensitive conversations and feel their hearts open up to her.

Fellow Peacemaker Maina Talia, a climate activist and student from the South Pacific, recalled encountering people who listened not only with their ears but with their hearts when he talked about environmental issues, such as a drought in his country and the dangers of sea level rise. While talking with Horton, he urged the PC(USA) to continue to work to combat climate change and help their neighbors.

“The concept of neighbor really connects who we are as human beings,” Talia said. “It is no longer a neighbor that lives next door to you. Neighbor goes beyond that. It’s a geopolitical neighbor and it’s a concept that should be the central focus of what it means to be in the church.”

The Rev. Dennis E. Testerman, Stewardship of Creation Enabler for the Presbytery of Charlotte, said, “As Maina shared with church members and university students about the existential threat of a rising sea level to his Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, his visit served to underscore the reality that real people are already being impacted by climate change.”

Helivao Poget, a national chaplain for marginalized people within Madagascar’s FKJM church, recounted meeting Native Americans for the first time at Guadalupe Presbyterian Church in Arizona and encouraging them to exercise their rights to vote. “I was so happy to meet those people,” she said.

Poget, who was accompanied by interim coordinator for the PCUSA’s Africa Area office, Douglas Tilton, also spent time with a task force on human trafficking in Alabama. Since that’s one of her signature issues, she appreciated learning how it affects the U.S. and beyond as a big business.

When asked by Horton about Matthew 25, she noted that it would be good to speak more about the “political area” because “we need to touch our leaders to change and to do more things to improve the life of people.”

Fellow Peacemaker Jonathan Vumu of Malawi said, “To me, Matthew 25 means helping your brother” and that is a form of working for God.

He encountered that spirit during his time as a Peacemaker when a community member proposed teaming up with a presbytery to send goods to Malawi. “They saw that there is great need and they had the urge to help,” said Vumu, executive director of the Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme.

Vumu also spoke about the transformative effect that being a PC(USA) Peacemaker had on him. “I’ll do more service to humanity than ever before,” he said. Also, after being so warmly welcomed into people’s homes, “I’m looking forward to receiving more visitors at home and sharing my life with them.”

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program Coordinator Carl Horton, Maina Talia of Tuvalu, Julie Kandema of Rwanda, Fursan Zu’mot of Palestine, Jonathan Vumu of Malawi, Presbyterian Mission Agency President and Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, Helivao Poget of Madagascar, Spanish interpreter Joseph Russ, Carmen Elena Diaz Anzora of El Salvador, Nta William Nche of Cameroon, Mission co-worker Doug Tilton, and Associate for Peacemaking Amy Lewis. (Photo by Rich Copley)

During email exchanges with the Presbyterian News Service, grateful hosts praised the Peacemakers. “It has been our absolute delight to host Helivao Poget and Doug Tilton as they itinerated in the United States,” said Lois Palecek, a member of the hosting team for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley in central Alabama.

Retired clergy persons Mary Gene Boteler and her husband, Rick Nutt, were among those who welcomed Zu’mot to the Presbytery of Scioto Valley. “Fursan is an extrovert; he wakes up in the morning ready to engage,” she said. “His enthusiasm was infectious and his story compelling. In his presentations and in his sermons, he shared the gifts of Palestinian culture, including the church, as well as the struggles and oppression that Palestinians face each day.”

Zu’mot said one woman cried profusely after hearing him share his story in the U.S. She explained, “I thought, and I lived all my life thinking that all Arabs are Muslims. I didn’t know that there are Arabs who are Christians, and they are suffering.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The program’s work is made possible by your generous contributions to the Peace and Global Witness Offering. The 2023 International Peacemakers will be announced on the Peacemaking Program’s website in March 2023. Applications to host a peacemaker will be accepted through June 1, 2023.

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