Peacemakers made strong, faithful connections with diverse audiences
By Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Tired and weary-eyed from four weeks of travel, strange food and nonstop itineraries in a foreign country but bolstered by their faith and a powerful sense of accomplishment, the 2018 Peacemakers gathered together one final time at Laws Lodge on the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary campus. Seven of the 10 peacemakers met for two days of conversation and a debrief session to talk about their experiences with congregations, students and other organizations over the past month before heading back to their respective homes.
All agreed that their experience positively impacted their work and would enrich it when they continued their mission upon returning home. Dr. Mary Mikhael, who represented the Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and has been to the U.S. numerous times previously, found a receptive audience even though many of the places she visited lacked up-to-date information about Syria, Lebanon and their church partners.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to inform many churches and groups about the situation in Syria and ask for prayers and support to end the human tragedy that has been going on for eight years there. The whole world has been involved, we describe it as an international war on Syria ‘in’ Syria,” she said.
The Rev. Manolis Ntamparakis, of Greece, has devoted much of his pastoral work to the spiritual transformation of young people. Most recently, he has been working with Syrian refugees in Greece. He visited several universities in his travels.
“Having an opportunity to be in a class with college students was very exciting. The class subjects ranged from nursing and sociology to political science and foreign affairs,” he said. “I think for many they saw for the first time that the church is more than just preaching from the pulpit but can be active in social initiatives. My audiences were very eager to know what was happening to address the refugee crisis in Greece.”
A two-time International Peacemaker, the Rev. Jerome Bizimana of Rwanda works with genocide survivors. He was grateful to the church for the invitation to share his story again, even though those familiar with Rwanda’s history were taken aback by specific details such as 1 million Rwandan deaths in three months.
“The message I shared this time and three years ago as a Peacemaker was the same, but it’s also new because I met different people,” said Bizimana. “And for myself I’m also learning from my audience when I’m talking to them. I’d recommend this experience to any colleague.”
The Rev. Perline Cooper, of Madagascar, was a last-minute replacement to the Peacemaker roster. She had to overcome perceptions of her country that aligned with the film “Madagascar,” an animated movie featuring an array of exotic animals. Cooper has three ministries she preaches to due to a lack of pastors in Madagascar.
“I was able to open some minds about what can be done to help Madagascar. It was powerful because every time I finished my presentation the participants would gather around and pray for me, my country and my ministry. That was the biggest thing people did for me during this experience.”
Cooper garnered a meeting with former New Jersey governor and former EPA director Christine Todd Whitman at one of her presentations. The former governor was inspired to learn more when she overheard a 15-year-old girl approach Cooper during a coffee break and asked how she could help the kids of Madagascar.
“I got a lot of encouragement,” said Fabienne Jean of Haiti. “My experience with this program has given me more strength to go back and do my work.” Jean works with the Hands Together Foundation of Haiti serving her country’s impoverished population.
“The way people received my message helped me feel more confident about doing my work in Haiti. They understood that Haiti needs more than just money; that we need people to accompany us and be with us to truly understand the situation and the work that we do,” said Jean.
Although she isn’t a Peacemaker, mission co-worker Cindy Correll is accustomed to traveling and speaking to churches around the country. She accompanied Fabienne Jean as a translator.
“What a huge honor it was to hear firsthand the stories from around the world and to watch my friend and colleague stand up in a foreign country and tell her story with passion and connect with people who don’t know the geography of her country. If anyone in a Presbyterian church has a chance to see an International Peacemaker, they need to go — it’s a rare and wonderful experience.”
The Rev. Roceni Bakian, a full-time pastor with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, left her country just days before Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed the island nation in September. It was her first time visiting the U.S. and she thanked the PC(USA) for the opportunity.
“It was a very enriching learning experience. I learned a lot about Presbyterians, and they were all kind and generous. I presented information about my church and country and the audiences were inspired by my work as a pastor. To become a pastor is to fulfill and obey a calling, not a profession, but a vocation to be faithful in the calling that we have.”
The Rev. Michael Muot Put, of South Sudan, found his hosts to be welcoming and generous. So generous, in fact, that when his computer accidently downloaded a virus that rendered it useless, Trinity Presbytery in South Carolina bought him a new computer.
“The great problem in South Sudan is war, conflict and insecurity. But I learned that even the U.S. has problems and even this country needs peace. The people of the world are suffering in many ways. My audiences promised to pray for peace to come in South Sudan, which will enable us to continue the work in my country.”
The International Peacemakers Program is made possible by your generous gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering. Since 1984, more than 300 International Peacemakers from more than 50 countries have participated in the program.
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