Many say they discovered unexpected connections and insights
December 12, 2017
The 2017 International Peacemakers, who spent four weeks speaking across the U.S., have returned to their homes. But the impact of their visit is still being felt by presbyteries, churches and communities where they spoke.
Several hosts recently discussed their experiences with Carl Horton, coordinator for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. The hosts said they were personally moved by the stories and experiences of the 15 Peacemakers.
West Virginia Presbytery hosted Ebun James-DeKam from Sierra Leone, who discussed recent flooding and mudslides in the city of Freetown, where thousands of people are believed to have died. Tina Vial of Davis and Elkins College, a Presbyterian-related institution, says students could relate to those affected by the floods.
“About 25 to 30 students attended and asked good questions. So many students haven’t been out of West Virginia and were quite moved by Ebun’s story,” said Vial. “Because of recent flooding in Sierra Leone, it was a way that the students could connect because of the flooding here last year.”
Vial said school leaders are hopeful they will be able to schedule their own trip to Sierra Leone in the coming year.
Sheila Clever of Lehigh Presbytery hosted Samuel Javaid Akhtar of Pakistan.
“I challenged Samuel to conduct a Christian/Muslim dialogue. Samuel answered questions from the Christian viewpoint, and an Allentown [Pennsylvania] man answered for Muslims,” said Clever. “It was nice to have both of them converse with one another. A Syrian Christian asked pointed questions about Islam, and it was interesting that both men joined to talk about peace. It was very moving to see the two of them address this together.”
Clever says Akhtar’s personal accounts gave her audience a better understanding of his life and challenges.
“It was really nice listening to how Samuel talked about his own country. We did some reading ahead of time and provided some background on Pakistan for students in attendance,” said Clever. “What we got out of reading was minimal compared to what Samuel shared with us. It was a totally different story on how he viewed Pakistan. Incredibly insightful.”
“Seeing a person from another country at our church is invaluable,” said Sandie Hanna of Missouri River Valley Presbytery. “Nora Carmi’s presentation on life in Palestine brought a lot of people to Sunday school, and we ended up moving the presentation to the sanctuary to accommodate the crowd.”
Vial says people often have a stereotypic view of other countries.
“There were a few things Ebun talked about that not only highlighted the equality of humanity, it also showed how far ahead the people are in Sierra Leone,” she said. “There are many things they do better in community than we do here today.”
Barbara Chalfant, West Virginia Presbytery associate presbyter for missions, agreed, saying she traveled to several communities with James-DeKam during her visit.
“Ebun said that in their country, there is no word for aunt, uncle or cousin and that everyone is called mother or father,” she said. “It pulls your neighbors closer in terms of how you see them. It is common for a child on the street to approach you as mother or father. I found it interesting the way vocabulary is used to pull each other together into community rather than to push them apart.”
“We were expecting to hear about the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, but Samuel Akhtar had a different story of how Christians and Muslims get along and how they’ve lived in peace for a long time,” said Denee Stevenson of Beaver-Butler Presbytery. “That was a different viewpoint than what we were expecting.”
“I’ve worked with this program for many years from national staff and in the field. Every single time there is some connection across the world that doesn’t happen otherwise,” said Vial. “It makes our world smaller and more personable and relational in today’s climate.”
International Peacemakers have been speaking in the U.S. since 1984. During that time, more than 300 have traveled to U.S. communities.
Rick Jones, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: 2017 International Peacemakers
Let us join in prayer for:
West Virginia Presbytery Staff
Ed Thompson, General Presbyter
Rockland Poole, Financial Administrator and Treasurer
Maureen Wright, Stated Clerk
Barbara Chalfant, Associate Presbyter for Missions
Susan Sharp Campbell, Associate for Educational Ministry
Nellie Howard, Resource Center Director
Amy Robinson, Office Administrator/Communications
Mark Miller, Bluestone Camp and Conference Center Director
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God of love, thank you for modeling true compassion and peace. Fill us with your love so that we perceive and understand others the way you do. Use us to make an impact on our communities and churches, and to achieve a world of perfect peace. We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.