Guest post by Courtney Hemmelgarn, Administrative Assistant for the Office of the General Assembly- Churchwide Ministries
When I found out in October of 2018 that I had been chosen to join Presbyterian Peace Fellowship on their January 2019 Delegation to Colombia, I was overjoyed. At the time, I was finishing up my last class for my degree in International Studies, and the timing was perfect. I had been to Colombia once before with my home presbytery, Miami Valley, when we went to Cartagena and Barranquilla to visit our sister churches within their presbytery and to renew our relationship with the Presbiterio de la Costa. This trip would be different, however, since we would travel to 14 different communities in 11 days, learn about climate issues and implementation of the Peace Accords, and share the stories of those we met.
After taking in how great of an opportunity this trip would be, I started looking into what kind of help I would need to fund the trip. The trip organizers suggested a fundraising page, so I made one and promptly began sharing it. I am very blessed to have such supportive family, friends, and church family from Central Presbyterian Church in Dayton, OH, and the page quickly gained momentum. I was getting more and more excited as I prepared to take part in such an educational and eye-opening experience (I think I was packed and ready to go in early December).
When I was about half way to my fundraising goal, I received an email from our church secretary saying that the Session had voted to donate the congregation’s 25% of the Peace & Global Witness Offering to help fund my trip. This was entirely unexpected. Many people from my church had already given to help fundraise my trip separate from the offering, so it was even more amazing for the church as a whole to give their portion of the Offering. Overall, my small home church that has watched me grow up provided over half of the cost of my trip. When I returned, I was elated to lead a Sunday School discussion, sharing stories of the people I met and all I had witnessed.
“Peace & Global Witness” could surely have been the theme of the trip as we spoke with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) ex-combatants, those displaced by violence, police officers, representatives to the United Nations, and FARC political party representatives. We learned how the Peace Accords should be working, and how they were either succeeding or failing. We heard stories of fear, anger, frustration, and division, but also stories of hope. The most emotional experience I had during the trip was following a discussion at the presbytery office that included FARC ex-combatants, campesinos (farmers who are so often affected by the violence), Presbyterians, and many social justice advocates. A campesino woman just a year older than me began crying as she expressed her fears for her future. She said she hopes for peace in her country, and that she believes our generation will be the generation to make it happen. I empathized with her hope and fear. Afterward, the members of the delegation were given bracelets made by women from one of the local churches. This young woman gave me my bracelet, which hangs at my desk as a reminder of all I witnessed while in Colombia and as a motivation to continue to work for peace in the world.
I am so very grateful to the members of Central Presbyterian Church for being so loving and supportive throughout my life and for this trip, which was made possible in part by the Peace & Global Witness Offering.
Individual congregations are encouraged to utilize up to 25% of this Offering to connect with the global witness of Christ’s peace. Mid councils retain an additional 25% for ministries of peace and reconciliation. The remaining 50% is used by the Presbyterian Mission Agency to advocate for peace and justice in cultures of violence, including our own, through collaborative projects of education and Christian witness. Click here to learn more.