It has been six months since Jeff and I left Cameroon for what is called an “interpretation assignment,” wrapping up our current three-year mandate with a prolonged itineration to visit churches in the U.S. followed by some months of study leave in preparation for our next term.
Besides the joys of sharing with our Presbyterian base about our respective ministries in Central Africa, I had the opportunity to participate for the first time in the annual Presbyterian Congo Mission Network (CMN) meeting.
On a monthly basis I’d let Jeff withdraw into the small office space of our home in Yaoundé to join conference calls of the various subgroups of the CMN, and I'd seen him off to attend their gatherings in the U.S. Now I finally got to meet and be part of this community face-to-face myself!
And a sublime experience it was! With a program meticulously put together by the CMN steering committee of individual Presbyterians from all over the U.S. and logistics impeccably ensured by members from different congregations of the hosting Presbytery of New Castle, I found myself for three days surrounded by over 100 mostly Presbyterian folks passionate about the Congo.
As mission agents in the PC(USA)’s partnership with the Presbyterian communities in the Congo and their affiliated institutions, they each in their own way are involved in ministries for church growth, education, health, community development, vulnerable children, and peace.
In addition to this core group of CMN members, invitees included mission co-workers as resources to share expertise and present context from the mission field, and colleagues from the World Mission and Compassion Peace and Justice ministry areas to provide the denominational framework for Presbyterian missions.
This was also the first time that other U.S. denominations were invited to the CMN to bring their experiences to the table, as well as a number of faith-based nonprofit organizations and members from the Congolese diaspora in the U.S., who offered their insights as agents from civil society.
Last but certainly not least, the guest of honor for the event was the Rev. Mulumba, general secretary of the Presbyterian Community in Congo (CPC) as the voice of the PC(USA)’s partners in Congo.
The rich diversity of participants and the great variety of speakers made for a fascinating program that helped everyone expand horizons, extend connections, and deepen understandings. Thematic small-group sessions allowed for sharing and learning in specific fields of interest, while plenary settings gave participants collectively the opportunity to be nurtured, inspired and equipped.
The particular beauty of Presbyterian mission networks like the CMN is the opportunity it offers for participants to discover common concerns, grow solidarity, and build a platform to address overarching issues that go beyond their individual mission initiatives.
I have for 12 years been involved in the Joining Hands initiative, which was conceived by the Presbyterian Hunger Program to do exactly that: create synergies to address root causes of poverty and hunger in a globalizing world.
At the time, however, the networking concept among Presbyterian stakeholders had not yet emerged as such, let alone the idea to collaborate on overarching systemic issues despite the potential to do so within the PC(USA) as a connectional church. With a few exceptions, partnerships were pretty much solitary undertakings by presbyteries and congregations with little ties to others within the denomination.
The embrace of Joining Hands [Against Hunger] was a breakthrough for the PC(USA) in that respect, a cutting-edge denominational initiative of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and programmatic staff to coordinate a shift from a project-based, donor-recipient model of financial support to collaborative, long-term strategies and advocacy campaigns for peaceful change. But without an existing framework, the Presbyterian Hunger Program had to create among participating entities the needed platforms, generate interest and energy, and nurture solidarity among Presbyterian networks in the U.S. and overseas counterparts alike.
What has evolved within the CMN is in that sense different. Through their initial mission endeavors, those participating in the network became receptive to the disparity between the misery in their partner communities and the country’s natural wealth and grew aware of the connection between mineral exploitation and abusive wars.
Moving beyond their ecclesiastic and institutional partnerships, a synergy transpired around advocacy initiatives over and above individual mission projects for the sake of all of the Congolese people. Assuming ownership of the process, network participants sought to be equipped and accompanied by mission co-workers and staff from various ministry areas of the PMA and civil society to be the most effective possible, together.
This is how, 10 years into its existence, the CMN agreed to dedicate its 2012 gathering to the theme of “Advocacy.” The steering committee set aside a block of time for a plenary workshop on community organizing for advocacy, which was led by a representative from the nonprofit organization Enough, while Catherine Gordon of the Presbyterian Office for Public Witness in Washington and Ryan Smith of the Presbyterian Ministry at the U.N. in New York highlighted denominational advocacy efforts as stewardship of influence. Both offices represent the Presbyterian voice among U.S. legislators and international policymakers as they follow up on PC(USA) policies outlined in overtures and resolutions adopted by the General Assembly.
Advocacy for Congo was further discussed in small-group settings, resulting in a list of suggested action points that in future can guide Presbyterians who collectively seek to express their solidarity with the Congolese people.
The Congo Mission Network theme of advocacy culminated in a session in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Newark, Del., with U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, and an elder at First Church.
The highlight for me was the moment when Rev. Mulumba as the head of the Presbyterian Community in Congo addressed the U.S. senator about the ongoing conflict in the east of the country and the role the U.S. government could play in halting the insurgencies by using its leverage on the culprits and those supporting them.
How far has Presbyterian World Mission come since the early mission era, when Rev. William Sheppard as a Presbyterian missionary from the U.S. stood in the courts of the Congo Free State to defend his advocacy efforts against atrocities committed by colonial powers exploiting its human and natural resources, to one century later the head of the autonomous Presbyterian Community of Congo vocalizing concerns and calling the U.S. government to responsible regional politics for the sake of his country!
Coordinated and led by ordinary yet remarkable Presbyterians, mission networks like the CMN nurture synergies for those who seek to build within the PC(USA) a multidimensional community with global partners, mission co-workers and their colleagues from World Mission and other PMA ministry areas — a community of witnesses to the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ, taking on root causes of poverty with the plight of women and children at heart, reconciling relations amidst cultures of violence, and proclaiming justice against violations of human rights.
Jeff and I are thankful and excited to be part of this new era of Presbyterian World Mission. Besides our ministries with the PC(USA)’s global partners, as mission co-workers we increasingly serve as bridge builders between them and our Presbyterian mission partners back in the U.S. like the Congo Mission Network.
You are invited to join the endeavor, not in the least through your financial support of mission co-workers like Jeff and me. Collectively, Presbyterians like you can help sustain the dimension mission workers bring to the plate of the multifaceted Presbyterian mission enterprise.
Christi Boyd is a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Cameroon, with her husband, Jeff.