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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Joining Hands: Twenty years of perseverance


Program addresses long-term needs and root causes of deep issues

June 9, 2020

Joining Hands challenges systems that contribute to hunger, poverty and injustice. It helps build synergies in communities and support networks made up of various organizations. (Photo by Joe Tobiason)

From advocating for the people La Oroya in Peru to fighting for farmers’ rights in Haiti, Joining Hands has been an international force for change for the past two decades.

The initiative, which is part of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, grew out of a desire to go beyond small acts of charity to address long-term problems in communities around the world, said Valéry Nodem, an associate for international hunger concerns for PHP.

While grants to address community needs are important, “there’s no way with a grant of $10,000 you’re going to tackle complex issues like corruption” in a given country, Nodem said. Joining Hands is a means by which “we can take the time and really study what’s happening” how policies and corporate practices are “affecting people’s lives overseas and in the U.S.”

Over the years, Joining Hands has been active in about 10 countries and currently has a presence in seven: Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Peru and Sri Lanka.

Rather than dictating to indigenous communities, “it’s a ministry of listening and discerning and hearing what’s needed,” said the Rev. Ellie Stock, a retired pastor who collaborates with Joining Hands through the St. Louis-based Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy. “It’s not that we don’t have suggestions, or things like that, but we’re not doing a Lone Ranger, ‘We have all the right answers,’ kind of thing at all.”

At its heart, Joining Hands challenges systems that contribute to hunger, poverty and injustice. It does this by building synergies or connections in communities, and supporting networks, consisting of various organizations, to harness their collective power.

These are “churches, nonprofits, local community groups in the same country coming together and forming a network,” Nodem said. “When you do that kind of work — when you’re questioning and challenging — it’s better to come together than to come as one single organizations.”

Very often, the Presbyterian Hunger Program and World Mission will send a mission co-worker in the countries where Joining Hands is active facilitating dialogue, relationships and action between Joining Hands networks and congregations in the United States.

Nodem, who grew up in Cameroon, first became involved with Joining Hands in 2003 when the Network to Fight Against Hunger (RELUFA) was beginning.

Working with RELUFA gave Nodem the chance to start traveling within his country and to see how rural people were suffering — as a result of governmental and corporate practices — despite living in communities that were rich in natural resources.

“Working with Joining Hands was really an eye-opener,” Nodem said.

The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy has had a relationship with the Joining Hands network in Peru (Red Uniendo Manos Peru) for 20 years.

“I think it (Joining Hands) needs to be celebrated as a way of trying to address so many of the issues,” including some related to climate change, said Stock, the retired pastor.

In the United States, “we’re going to be dealing with the same things here, whether we want to or not, and we need to have the wisdom from people all over the world, working on these things together,” she said.

The Missouri presbytery and Joining Hands have worked in collaboration with various partners to tackle environmental, economic and human-rights issues in Peru. Addressing pollution from mining activities has been a major focus in the town of La Oroya.

“The network has worked a lot to document contamination of the water, soil and all of that for so many years, working with the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy,” Nodem said. Also, the presbytery has “sent people down and they have brought partners here (to the United States) as well.”

The presbytery is organizing a trip to Peru in August that essentially will be “a pilgrimage to celebrate 20 years of Joining Hands and what we have been able to achieve so far,” Nodem said, adding that “this ministry is calling the church to come together and unite forces with our brothers and sisters around the world to work together to tackle issues that affect all of us. If we do it together, we’ll do it better.”

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Joining Hands Network in Peru

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Michael Fallon, Board of Pensions
Margaret Farmer, Administrative Services Group

Let us pray:

Holy God, thank you for the privilege of planting and watering the ministries that you give to us. We marvel at the growth you provide. Give us a hunger to live in the fields and to bend down low to gather the fruits of the Spirit you provide as we move in Jesus’ name. Amen.