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Mission co-workers finding new ways to serve global partners

Need for connecting and support is greater than ever before

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

A Reformed congregation in Barracas, Buenos Aires, opens its building three times each week to community groups to operate a soup kitchen that feeds 80 people. (Photo by Gerardo Oberman)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian mission co-workers who serve 40 countries around the world are either back in the United States or are sheltering in place in their country of service.

But their work has not stopped — far from it.

This is the first in a series of stories letting U.S. Presbyterians know how mission co-workers continue to faithfully serve partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revs. Elmarie and Scott Parker, Lebanon

The Revs. Scott and Elmarie Parker

Scott and Elmarie Parker are separated by time and space. Scott Parker is sheltering in place in Lebanon. Elmarie was in the U.S. to attend a partner meeting when the travel ban was enacted. She is currently staying with relatives in Oregon.

Ten time zones separate me from my husband and from our partners in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. I’m used to working with this time difference while in Lebanon. My evening in Lebanon is morning-time for the USA West Coast. My mornings and afternoons while in Lebanon would normally focus on local meetings with partners, reading and administrative work, developing inter-regional programs with colleagues and partners, planning for visiting teams, accompanying visiting teams and writing email replies, articles or reports.

 Now, that entire paradigm is turned upside-down. There are days where I need to stay up late in order to catch some of our partners in the morning their time, the next day. For example, a 10 p.m. (PT) call on Wednesday is 8 a.m. on Thursday in Lebanon.

 Two months into this new reality, I’m catching my stride.  I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to continue with my liaising work through email, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other platforms.  I’m grateful to be working with partners committed to adapting to these new circumstances and committed to continuing in their work with perhaps new foci.

 In addition to digital and online communications with partners in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, colleagues in Louisville, and PC(USA) Church and presbytery partners, the remainder of a now ‘typical’ work day has gone to working with partners and PDA on COVID-19 grant requests, staying up-to-date by reading on the situation in each country and U.S. foreign policy related to each country, and writing various updates, articles, and reports.

 Scott and I are trying to stay in touch with each other every day, to coordinate our work and to nourish our now long-distance relationship.  Scott is also continuing his work, focusing on his Arabic lessons with a tutor via WhatsApp (Lebanon just reentered lockdown after a spike in cases after a couple of weeks of lifted restrictions), preparing for the day when Strong Kids can resume by taking online classes focused on trauma resiliency skills, staying in touch with his colleagues at Middle East Council of Churches, and connecting with PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries via Zoom.

 Here’s a video update from Scott Parker in Lebanon.

Dennis and Maribel Smith, Argentina

Dennis and Maribel Smith

The Smiths are in week 10 of their lockdown in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, local authorities are rolling out a measured re-opening of the economy. Now we can go out with a face mask, of course to some shops on some days depending on the last digit on our identity card. Social distancing continues in force, the borders continue to be closed and the airport is scheduled to re-open on Sept. 1.

Despite the pandemic, Presbyterian mission workers continue to serve God’s mission throughout the world. Some for a variety of reasons returned to the U.S. Many of us stayed in our countries of service. Wherever we are, our work continues: accompanying, encouraging and teaching. We go on serving as witnesses to God’s gracious presence throughout this stricken world.

Please know that today, even when so many are experiencing financial hardship, your continued prayers and financial support for our ministry are more important than ever.

Today in Latin America, we live among many whose lives are marked by hunger, uncertainty and desperation. As one of the most unequal regions in the world, millions throughout Latin America live hand to mouth, day by day. “Sheltering in place” for them is not an option.

We are grateful that Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) as well as local PC(USA) congregations have been able to provide emergency solidarity grants to several of our mission partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. These grants have permitted our partners to continue food assistance programs to vulnerable populations whose situations have worsened because of COVID-19.

As PC(USA) regional liaison for South America, one of my lockdown activities has been to accompany the other PC(USA) mission co-workers in this region. Each one is facing unique challenges and opportunities.

 Rev. Sharon Bryant, Coordinator, Christian Volunteers in Thailand 

The Rev. Sharon Bryant

There are significant challenges to my work and the ministry here in Thailand. The school year, scheduled to begin on May 1, has been delayed. Schools will open on July 1, although no one is certain what form this future classroom instruction will take. Eight volunteers graduated from our program this past year, leaving us with only four active volunteers. The five volunteers who had planned to begin serving with us in late April are still in their home countries and we do not know when they will be able to join us. There are no incoming international flights except those returning home Thailand citizens.

Obviously, we have had to adapt our work and ministry to the existing circumstances. My assistant, Ms. Atchima Wongkhiao, and I have been calling volunteers and schools to maintain lines of communication and to provide support wherever it is needed. We have initiated a weekly “check-in call” for volunteers using Zoom, so that we can see everyone’s faces and learn about challenges and changes in their many locations. Since most of our alumni are also sheltering in place and working from home, we have invited them to join our weekly calls, and it has been delightful to see friendships formed when they were serving together being renewed in this way. We have had alumni who are still in Thailand, as well as alumni in the USA, India, Australia, China, Germany and England join our call and share their stories.

No one knows how long this situation will continue or whether the coronairus may return in the fall and create a new outbreak of cases. Those of us who were planning to return to the USA to visit churches and share stories of our ministries are now beginning to plan virtual visits using some of the technology that is currently available and being used by churches for online worship and Bible studies. This involves a new learning curve for many of us. Two months ago, I had never used Zoom or participated in an international Zoom call. I had never recorded or edited a video of myself.

As all of us watch a new future unfold, it is wonderful to be able to support my Thai partners as they struggle with a landscape that changes daily. Your prayers, your letters and emails, your care packages and your contributions to World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) make this possible. And those things are needed as never before.

A video update from Sharon Bryant:

Jose Lamont Jones, Democratic Republic of Congo

Jose Lamont Jones

Jose Lamont Jones was planning to visit churches and build support for his ministry in Kinshasa, DRC this fall, but his plans have been delayed due to the global pandemic. He continues to work creatively so he can realize his call to serve.

Straight out of the gate from my on-boarding and training as a PC(USA) mission co-worker, the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place order hit. With travel all but completely shut down, my getting to know the U.S. supporters and partners of schools in Congo has been a challenge.

As we wait, we have been helping out at our local congregations with making masks, cooking and delivering meals, shopping for our senior members, and the like. Each Monday, the mission co-workers in Africa gather for prayer for each other, for family members, for friends and partners here in the U.S., and our mission countries. As things begin to appear to calm down here in the U.S., the infection rates in Africa are still in nascent stages.

We in the U.S. have a social network in place to help with the transition, but the poor are always hit most hard. Similarly, our brothers and sisters in Congo are experiencing job loss and reduced income; however their infrastructure is not as strong.

Please keep our African brothers and sisters in your prayers as fear and anxiety increase due to the instability COVID-19 has put on already fragile infrastructures. People have been laid off. Businesses have been shut down. Households must choose whether to die because they cannot get enough to eat or from COVID-19.

Meet Jose Lamont Jones at

Together with her team, the Rev. Rosemary Mitchell, senior director of Mission Engagement and Support, work to secure the financial resources for Presbyterian Mission.

“Mission co-workers embody our theology of partnership in mission,” she said. “Each one acts as a connector, an ambassador and an advocate on our behalf. Each can provide unique insights, education, and guidance on global issues.”

A list of mission engagement staff by region is available at

Those interested in extending a virtual invitation to a mission co-worker should email or call, 800-728-7228, ext. 5075. To make a gift to support the work of mission co-workers, click on

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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