It has been a joy to be with our mission workers for several days here in Maputo. They connect and engage us with partner churches and provide helpful interpretation of issues and dynamics based on years of experience living and working in the region. They rarely walk alone, as people from all over Africa seek them out to engage in conversation and fellowship. The respect and friendships that they have developed are evident in their many encounters. As PC(USA) mission worker, Ted Wright, said, “If Presbyterians in the States could see how much the PC(USA) is appreciated here in Africa they would be amazed.” With me are:
Ted and Sue Wright, regional liaisons for East and Central Africa, from Zambia;
Frank Dimmock, Africa Health Liaison, from Lesotho;
Jeff Boyd, regional liaison for Central Africa, from Cameroon (who has also been speaker and on the writing team for health issues);
Janet Guyer, HIV/AIDS coordinator, from South Africa;
Phyllis Byrd, who although working officially with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa also relates to a number of other organizations. She also serves as coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) site in Kenya;
YAVs: Leslie Fuller, Shelvis Smith-Mather and Blair Moorhead, a YAV from last year's group, 2007-2008 academic year, for whom the AACC requested that her time be extended, since she has been so vital in the organization of the AACC gathering. (Read her most recent letter.)
During our layover in Johannesburg on the way back home, we went out for dinner and had the delight of celebrating the 4 year old birthday of happy and adorable Jack Dimmock, along with three of his seven siblings, his parents Frank and Nancy, and new mission workers from Malawi, Paul and Darlene Heller - more fellowship and inspiring stories of our mission workers witnessing to Christ’s love in the world.
AACC General Assembly:
The All Africa Conference of Churches General Assembly takes place every 5 years, bringing together church and faith leaders from all over the continent, joined by partners like the Presbyterian Church (USA), European mission agencies, the World Council of Churches and World Alliance of Reformed Churches, although the Africans are by far in the majority here.
The theme of the Assembly is “Africa, Step Forth in Faith.” Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-Nku, President (and moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon), and Rev. Dr. H. Mvume Dandala, General Secretary, describe the theme as “a ringing call to the Church to assist Africa more determinedly to reverse the misfortunes of the past and move forward to a bright future that God has in store for Africa. We therefore meet here in faith and in a spirit of hope.”
That spirit indeed was present, even as harsh and often horrible realities were confronted in presentations, workshops, reports and resolutions covering a range of topics critical to the continent of Africa, including HIV/AIDs; gender equity and women as agents of peace, reconciliation and development; moving from political liberation to economic liberation; Zimbabwe; the environment; youth; urban mission and human rights. Hearing the experience and perspectives of Africans on these issues is enlightening. There were frequent, ringing calls for the churches of Africa to step up, speak out and engage as active participants on these issues with individuals, communities, societies and governments in Africa, as well as with church partners on other continents.
In the opening speech, HE Lawrence Broleph, Minister of Information and Culture, brought on behalf of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, called for practical solutions to problems and for transparency and accountability by governments. Citizen participation is crucial, he emphasized, and the churches play a vital role, especially when they join together ecumenically to address matters of justice and peace, poverty and environment. These sentiments were voiced throughout the days of the assembly. More reports and pictures on the assembly can be found on the Website and on various blogs.
Worship has been a highlight. Led by PC(USA) mission co-worker, Phyllis Byrd, who enlisted the help of Claudio Carvalhaes, a Brazilian professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, each day lifts up a theme important to the African continent. One particularly moving worship focused on violence against women.
All eyes were focused towards the front of the room, when from behind came the resonant voice of Shelvish Smith-Mather, a pastor and Young Adult Volunteer in Kenya. As he walked down the aisle singing sonorously, “There is a balm in Gilead,” voices joined in, first softly then rising in moving intensity.
Women of the Presbyterian Churches in Africa:
Four women who participated in last year’s Tumekutana women’s gathering in Kenya greeted us warmly. They are Beatrice Ngeh, Presbyerian Church of Cameroon; Veronica Murchi, Presbyterian Church of East Africa; Bridgett Eli Adzo Ben-Naimal, Presbyterian Church of Ghana; and Mercy Akapama, Presbyterian Church off Nigeria. Tumekutana was organized as a conference for women, sponsored by the PC(USA), that brought together women from our church partners from across the continent. Veronica spoke about - and I paraphrase here - how important that was for them: “We didn’t know each other before. Now we pray for each other, and reach out to support each other. When we had trouble in Kenya last year, I could feel the other women pray for me. When trouble broke out in Congo, we reached out to women there. We started a project, called the Tabitha project, to provide feminine supplies to women in refugee camps. When I learned about this conference, I told women in other churches, and several of them are here because of that.” Tumekutana was transformational for these women leaders, and they are already making plans for the next one. Some of them plan to attend the 2009 Presbyterian Women’s Gathering in Louisville in July, to continue to deepen our relationships.