Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB) members today (April 23) heard more about  a stirring new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) initiative to provide quality education to 1 million children worldwide by the year 2020.

The board initially approved the effort in February.

The initiative ― which will be presented to the upcoming 221st General Assembly in June for its endorsement ― grows out of conversations with the denomination’s global partners about Presbyterian World Mission’s “critical global issue” of poverty alleviation, said Frank Dimmock, World Mission’s “catalyst” for the poverty issue.

“Education transforms lives,” he said, “empowering girls and women particularly … for leadership … for economic opportunity … for better health.”

The children who be reached by the education initiative “are children of God and our children,” Dimmock said. “Providing them a quality education is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

The task at first might seem daunting, said PMA Executive Director Linda Valentine, but Presbyterians have a way of responding to compelling need, as evidenced by the success of the “1001 New Worshiping Communities” initiative launched by the 2012 General Assembly.

“We didn’t start it,” Valentine said, “but we organized it and created a logo for it and have put resources into it and its taking off.” In less than two years, she said, “there are now more than 223 new worshiping communities, in 98 presbyteries. “Half are racial ethnic and a quarter of them are young adults.”

Even more remarkable, Valentine added, “is that we were starting just 8-10 new churches prior to ‘1001.’

“For more than 176 years Presbyterians have been going to the ends of the earth in mission,” she continued. “This new challenge comes from global partners who tell us education is the key and goes to the heart of what it means to be Presbyterian.”

“We know that education is a key to alleviating poverty and that poverty is the key barrier to achievement in education,” said Sara Lisherness, director of PMA’s Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries. “We have this beautiful and rich history as Presbyterians on the forefront of providing education worldwide and in this country.

“What’s less clear is in what ways can we have the greatest collective impact in reaching this goal,” she said. So as World Mission staff have listened to global partners, now the PMA “is going to enter a ‘Season of Listening.’”

“Rather than launching an initiative that presumes PMA knows how to facilitate this amazing change,” Lisherness said, “we’re going to spend the next nine months engaged in research and conversations around the church to figure out where we and our congregations can have the greatest collective impact.”

The question, said World Mission Director Hunter Farrell, is: “What would it look like to gather concerned people in your area to address the question, ‘What would it take to provide quality education where we are?’”

Valentine is sure the goal can be met. “Two years ago we heard the voices of those who would never darken the doors of traditional churches, tapping us on the shoulders, and the ‘1001 Worshiping Communities’ initiative took off.

“This year our global partners are calling us the same way, tapping us on the shoulder, and calling us to provide quality educational access to 1 million children worldwide by 2020.”