Three stories illustrate the ways PC(USA) partners are serving as Christ’s hands and feet
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Anthony was dealt a bad hand in life. Looking intently into the eyes of the Rev. Charles Harrison, pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church in Indianapolis and president of the board of the Indy TenPoint Coalition, the young man visiting from Chicago made his tearful confession.
“I was living in a community that was so violent, it was forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do but felt like I had to,” he said. “But TenPoint gave me hope that I didn’t have to be the victim of my circumstances. There were enough loving and caring people that I could become what God designed for me to be in life.”
And that, Harrison said, is exactly what the faith-based nonprofit that he has led since 1999 attempts to do. “We try to give people an opportunity to fulfill their God-given purpose,” he said.
The Indy TenPoint Coalition — with its “boots-on-the-ground” approach to reducing violence, increasing employment and enhancing educational achievement — caught the attention of Leslie Olsen, chair of the mission team at Faith Presbyterian Church.
Olsen, a former television crime reporter in Indianapolis, immediately connected Faith Presbyterian’s participation in the Peace & Global Witness Offering with Indy TenPoint.
“Our supporting them wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” she said. “It was kind of a new concept to me that these volunteers — these incredible people who are just like you and me — would be willing to put their lives on the line every night or as often as they did it. They were out patrolling our streets, which were becoming more and more dangerous. They were doing God’s work in a spiritual, faithful way, and I was just really inspired by that.”
Like many congregations taking part in the Peace & Global Witness Offering, Faith Presbyterian Church is committed to the work of peacemaking at all levels of church and society. The offering is unique in that half of it is directed to efforts at the national church level for peacemaking and global witness work around the world, while 25% is retained by congregations for local peace and reconciliation work, and 25% goes to mid councils for similar ministries on the regional level.
One of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s four Special Offerings, the Peace & Global Witness Offering is traditionally received on World Communion Sunday, which this year falls on Oct. 2.
“If we’re going to get people to stop selling drugs and to put the guns down, then we have to provide an alternative for them, such as job training and job placement,” said Harrison. “In partnering with area churches, we try to be the light and the voice of Christ in addressing the violence that disproportionately impacts young men of color.”
During the past six years, Indianapolis has experienced record-breaking violence; but in the areas where TenPoint has been active, there has been a drastic reduction in homicides.
“That’s the impact of this model,” Harrison said. “We cannot stop the violence, but we are able to reduce the level of shootings, stabbings and homicides.”
The Rev. Charlotte Lohrenz, pastor of Faith Presbyterian, agrees that the results TenPoint gets are remarkable. “It’s like the movement of the Holy Spirit is provable,” she said.
A shared humanity
An ocean apart from Indiana, Fatima wandered the streets of Athens with two small children in tow and nowhere to turn. Left homeless following a massive fire that closed the Moria Refugee Camp in 2020, the native Afghan was arrested and imprisoned after unknowingly becoming involved with drug dealers.
Devastated and alone in a Greek prison — her two little ones sent off to a shelter for unaccompanied children — Fatima felt invisible until her case found itself in the hands of Lesvos Solidarity, a migrant justice organization on Lesvos Island, Greece. Members of the organization not only listened to Fatima’s story, but also sought to restore her dignity.
“Injustice must not become invisible,” said Efi Latsoudi, one of the founders of Lesvos Solidarity. “If refugees are seen as a threat coming to invade your country, then people don’t see their human faces. People are afraid; and ultimately, we fear the stranger.”
Dedicated to the work of peacemaking, Lesvos Solidarity, a PC(USA) global partner, runs educational, psychosocial and medical programs for refugees as well as a strong advocacy program for refugees’ rights. Registered in 2016 as an official nongovernmental organization, it works to bring people together — refugees, locals and global citizens — to understand their shared humanity.
“It’s not for refugees only, but also for us,” said Latsoudi. “We need to feel that the person next to us has access to rights and to dignity, because otherwise how could we continue our life? What our work is trying to highlight is that these are human beings who need to have access to human rights and basic support.”
In its mission to advocate for a more just society, Lesvos Solidarity embodies the aims of the Peace & Global Witness Offering, which encourages the church to cast off anxiety, fear, discord and division, and embrace God’s mission of reconciliation.
Welcoming the stranger
No one spread a mat for Ms. Selai. Born and raised in the first Fijian community that was forced to relocate due to the impact of climate change, Vunidogoloa Selai felt unwelcome in her new home.
Although situated a mere two kilometers inland from the village where her loved ones were born, raised, married and buried, the new site might as well have been a world away.
“When I walked into the house, I did not find my mat,” she said, referencing the Pacific Islanders’ custom of welcoming family members and honored guests alike to sit at the same level on mats on the floor. “It felt like I don’t belong here,” she added.
Since 2014, the island nation of Fiji has had roughly four such relocations. According to Frances Namoumou, the Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice program coordinator for the Pacific Conference of Churches, the churches of the Pacific have envisioned worst-case scenarios in which an alarming number of communities will have to relocate if the effects of climate change are not mitigated. The catastrophic impact of the Pacific Islands’ cyclone season is a further contributing factor to the mounting number of necessary relocations.
While community members will do whatever is necessary for their survival, including relocation, faith-based organizations like the PCC are stepping in to assist displaced families, influence government policies, foster collaboration among agencies and raise awareness of the devastating impact of the world’s ecological crises.
Part of the PCC’s work includes walking alongside such families as Selai and her husband, who were already well into their 80s in 2014 when their entire village was relocated away from the coast’s rising sea levels.
“It is our calling both as a people — and as Christians — to take care of Creation and our impact on this planet,” she said. “It’s not like peacemaking is some foreign flower that was introduced to us so that we can see the connection between us and the environment. It has always existed in our culture and traditions.”
The personal stories featured in this article — changing the lives of at-risk youth in the U.S., meeting the needs of global refugees and helping relocate storm victims — are only three of many ways that donors to the Peace & Global Witness Offering become the hands and feet of Christ to serve a hurting and needy world. Join these efforts by giving to the Peace & Global Witness Offering in 2022.
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Categories: Special Offerings
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