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Presbytery of the Miami Valley, Colombian presbytery celebrate decades of mission-based connection

After spending a week together earlier this month, friendships are even stronger

by Larry Hollar for the Presbytery of the Miami Valley | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Presbytery of the Miami Valley presents a banner celebrating the 27-year-old partnership that both presbyteries will display prominently. From left, Elder Belkys Teherán, Elder Gina Zabala, and the Rev. Cristhian Gómez of North Coast Presbytery in Colombia and the Rev. Terry Kukuk and the Rev. Lynn Bova of Presbytery of the Miami Valley. (All photos contributed)

Four key leaders of the Presbytery of the North Coast in Colombia spent Sept. 7-15, in the Presbytery of the Miami Valley, working with representatives from the Ohio presbytery to strengthen and deepen long-standing relationships between the two presbyteries.

The Rev. Cristhian Gómez (presbytery executive secretary), the Rev. Vilma Yánez (presbytery moderator), Elder Gina Zabala (presbytery recording secretary), and Elder Belkys Teherán (administrative director of the Colegio Americano, a school connected to the presbytery) formed the North Coast delegation from Barranquilla, Colombia.

For 27 years, the Presbytery of the Miami Valley has developed and maintained an hermanamiento (partner relationship) with the Presbiterio de la Costa Norte (Presbytery of the North Coast) in the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia (Presbyterian Church of Colombia). Over the years this mission-based connection has included support for sister church pairings between congregations in both presbyteries; delegations and individuals traveling north and south to spend time together in worship, learning, and discernment; and equitable sharing of action and prayer for each other’s mission priorities. Listening, learning, coming alongside, and mutual respect are key elements of the shared hermanamiento. “Walking with” rather than “doing for” has characterized the decades-long Partnership.

“We know that over the years the lives of many young people — and other church members — have been transformed as a result of this Partnership, leading in some cases to vocational choices to follow God’s call to ordained ministry, and to at least one marriage!” said Ruling Elder Susan Stewart, co-moderator of PMV’s Colombia Partnership Network. “The goal of this September week together was to imagine new ways our presbyteries can do mission with mutuality and integrity, while maintaining the strong existing elements of our relationship.”

The executive secretary of the Presbytery of the North Coast, the Rev. Cristhian Gómez, touched on some of these same themes in his reflection. “During our visit to the Presbytery of the Miami Valley, we discovered the multiform grace of God working in the midst of our communities, in such diverse ways, that our faith has been challenged to discover new paths for the construction of the Kingdom of God in Colombia. This walk of almost 30 years made us understand that this Partnership is not transactional, but transformational. Hundreds of lives, families, and entire churches have been transformed by living and sharing our faith as brothers and sisters. No matter our limitations of time, space and culture, being brothers and sisters in Christ has guided us and will continue to do so for another 30 years.”

The Rev. Vilma Yánez, moderator of the North Coast Presbytery, helps lead the communion service at the stated presbytery meeting with the Rev. Mike Wakeland, pastor of the host church, Xenia United Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio.

The Colombian delegation had a busy week in the Miami Valley, headlined by engaging actively in the Sept. 12 stated presbytery meeting, meeting with the presbytery Leadership Council and Network Support and Grants Committee, visiting the Dayton International Peace Museum, and learning about justice and poverty reduction activities in Dayton and Oxford, Ohio. Other opportunities included meeting members of Miami Valley churches who have been to Colombia and sharing perspectives on Colombia’s current situation and ways the Colombian church is making a difference on peace, justice, and refugee issues in their nation. The Colombian leaders also connected with the four active sister churches in the Miami Valley: College Hill Community Church in Dayton, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Springboro, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton and Oxford Presbyterian Church in Oxford.

For most of the Partnership’s 27 years, its strength lay in strong, direct relationships as “sister churches” between individual congregations in both presbyteries, the commitment of individuals to specific projects, and youth experience exchanges in both presbyteries. Early on, presbytery executive leadership, councils, and individual congregations were engaged.  What has been missing of late for Miami Valley is a deep and wide support at the presbytery level.

“We found that our North Coast colleagues continued to have presbytery leaders at the forefront of their energy and commitment in this relationship. But recently there had not been a comparable commitment by our presbytery leaders in Ohio to make the Colombia Partnership a key element of our entire presbytery’s mission,” said Rev. Terry Kukuk, executive of the Presbytery of the Miami Valley. “That reality made us question and consider redefining in some ways the scope of the presbytery’s mission,” she added. Many of the meetings during the week-long visit were with Miami Valley leaders and groups that had not been part of previous itineraries for Colombian delegations.

Presbyterians from throughout the Miami Valley with connections to Colombia — by having visited or otherwise — came together to welcome the four Colombian delegation members early in their trip.

The Colombian leaders’ activities in Ohio had the desired effect. During and after the visit, six Miami Valley congregations indicated serious interest in exploring becoming sister churches with Colombian congregations. If that were to happen, it would more than double the total number of Miami Valley congregations joining hands with Colombian churches. At the presbytery level, the Colombian leaders presented a powerful half-hour report and helped lead worship at the September stated presbytery meeting and held productive sessions with the Miami Valley Leadership Council and with the presbytery’s committee that provides annual presbytery-budgeted funds for mission networks like the Colombia Partnership team. Before they adjourned, the Leadership Council voted to put Colombia matters on its monthly meeting docket, agreed to plan periodic Zoom check-ins with their counterparts in Colombia, and pledged to explore ways to connect around issues of peace, poverty, climate change and creative interchanges of people to explore culture and languages in each country.

Representatives of the North Coast and Miami Valley presbyteries join in celebrating 27 years of partnership with a banner that each presbytery will display prominently in the years ahead.

“I think we all came into the visit week with realistic expectations about what we’d achieve, given that we were plowing new ground. But in the end our Colombian friends all said those expectations were exceeded, and our Network team agreed,” said Ruling Elder Larry Hollar, a member of the Miami Valley’s Colombia Partnership Network. “But this is only the start. The hard tasks lie ahead as we get down to work to actually grow and deepen the relationships throughout our presbyteries.”

As the week closed, the Colombian leaders and the Miami Valley Network team jointly identified some first, doable steps forward:

  • Strengthening and expanding the sister church program, adding more rigor to the church matching process and calling for more frequent evaluations and reports
  • Identifying specific programs or projects in each presbytery that the partner would have energy and assets to come alongside and add value as a collaborative effort
  • Taking advantage of training and exchange opportunities to help prepare new youth, church, and presbytery leaders
  • Updating the foundational Covenant document that defines and guides the Partnership
  • Starting preparations soon for a grand, binational celebration of the Partnership’s 30th anniversary in 2025-2026.

“We know that surprises lie ahead. We trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us on the path to a bright new future, side-by-side and with joy in our hearts,” Hollar said.

For more information on the Presbytery of the Miami Valley’s experience working alongside its Colombian partners, contact Larry Hollar in Dayton, Ohio at

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