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Welcoming the stranger

Synod of the Covenant hosts international exchange program for nearly 30 years

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Jozef Hehanussa from Jogyakarta, Indonesia, hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh [Michigan] adds his country to and image of the world painted by a member of the congregation. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE — For nearly three decades the Synod of the Covenant (Michigan and Ohio) has continued to participate in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Mission to the USA program. The synod began participating in the effort which links congregations in the synod with mission partners including international church leaders as well as both clergy and lay leaders in 1989.

Each host congregation helps the mission partner become fully immersed in the life of the local church. Mission partners and congregations spend three weeks together working to break down cultural barriers while allowing the mission partners and members of the host congregations to become brothers and sisters in Christ. Mission partners and congregation members share worship, Bible study, pastoral care, meals and much more.

“This effort was started by the national [PC(USA)] church quite some time ago,” said Eileen Best, resource center director for the Presbytery of Lake Michigan and program coordinator for the past three years. “However, the Synod of the Covenant is the only synod that continued its participation. This program is great because it allows individuals to become fully engaged in the life and day-to-day activities of the host church. That helps to build long-lasting relationships that develop into partner relationships.”

Each year of participation is themed around significant issues related to the life of the church. Past focus areas have included topics such as the Belhar Confession. In 2013 Mission Partners from South Africa were invited to the synod to share their experiences. For the past three years, the focus was the Middle East. In 2016 congregations in the synod hosted five mission partners from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.

“The focus for the next three years [2017 to 2019] will be Muslim/Christian relationships in countries where the population has a Muslim majority,” said Best.

This year’s program focus was mission partners from Indonesia. Six churches in the synod hosted five mission partners including four pastors wfromPresbyterian churches, and a university professor.

“We invited church leaders where there is a Muslim majority because those church leaders have lots of experience working in an interfaith situation in their home churches and we hope that they can bring that experience here and share that with us,” said Best. “The main purpose of doing this is to build a relationship with church leaders from other countries. Our hope is that by inviting people from a Muslim majority country is that they would help understand better how to work in an interfaith situation.”

First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Michigan, of the Maumee Valley Presbytery, hosted one of the mission partners.

“We had such a wonderful experience with the first mission partner we hosted that we signed up to host another one this year,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Cathi King. “However, this was a different experience for us.”

In 2015 First Presbyterian Church Tecumseh had sent a team to Palestine and met the mission partner who would later come to their church. “We knew the person, we knew about his homeland and so it was very easy for us,” said King. “We met him in his home country and knew him before he arrived.”

King says the experience in 2017 was somewhat different. She describes Tecumseh as a small rural town without much diversity and says hosting an individual from Indonesia gives the congregation an opportunity to participate with the global church. She says her congregation had two very different experiences. This time, they did not know the person or the part of the world where their guest called home.

According to King, it was very enriching for her congregation to have someone with them in Bible studies, preaching and in community conversations with a different cultural context yet sharing the same faith.

“Both times when our mission partners engaged in a Bible study with us they opened up a different way of looking at the scriptures based on their cultural context in a way we would have never thought of,” she said.

“This is a fantastic program and I really do encourage congregations to get involved,” said King. “It helps congregations realizes we are a part of the global church.”

Participating churches Included:
Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church, Dearborn, MI
North Westminster Presbyterian Church and Mt. Hope Presbyterian Church, Lansing, MI
First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, Tecumseh, MI
First Presbyterian Church, Mineral Ridge, Mineral Ridge, OH

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