Global partnerships offer strong, lasting friendships
The Illinois South Conference's global partnership with Ecuador is thriving.
Only five years old, the partnership now includes six agencies from Ecuador, and the Conference has half of its local churches participating. Roseanne Franke, a member of Eden UCC in Edwardsville, Ill., has devoted her retirement to being chairperson of the Ecuador Partnership committee.
"I tell [churches], 'This partnership has something for everybody,'" says Franke. "You can sponsor a girl to go to high school for a year, or buy a sheep. It doesn't take a big church to be involved."
Partners in Christ
An important element to the success of the partnership, says Franke, is due to the fact that the agencies in Ecuador take their job so seriously. "We have strong, committed partners," she says. "They work very closely with us. We couldn't do this without them, or without email!"
Fedice, a program to help women high in the Andes Mountains was started by Vi and Victor Vaca, Global Ministries' UCC/Disciples missionaries. Franke says that many women there are raising their children alone, since the men have left to find work. Many women have been abandoned. Fedice assists the women with crop and pasture management, accounting, and health care for animals.
Chuquiragua Club provides scholarships for young women to attend high school. Currently, the Illinois South Conference is sponsoring 20 girls. "These young women are blossoming," says Franke. "When we first met them, they were like scared little rabbits. Now, they are assertive. They know now that women have value." Seven of the girls that have graduated are moving on to study at the university.
Funedesin provides high school education to students in the small, remote villages of the rainforest. This experimental program runs the Yachana Lodge, rated one of the best ecolodges in the world. Students stay in dormitories and attend both traditional and hands-on courses in agriculture, ecology, forestry and tourism.
Habitat Ecuador provides housing for families in Ecuador living below the poverty level. One home was built by a delegation from the Illinois South Conference in 2005; two more will be built this summer.
The Integrated Family Service Center provides counseling in violence prevention. Franke reports that the first session of the program had a fantastic response. "We spent time with students, and the kids just opened up, and talked about their life."
Advent/St. Nicholas Lutheran Church recently joined as a partner with the program. This church hopes to provide immersion experiences for pastors from the United States, for a first-hand experience with another culture.
'We need them desperately'
"We started this thing thinking, 'Here are a group of people who need us, and we're going to go down there and try to help them,'" says Franke. "What we found out is, we need them desperately; their lifestyle, their values, their faith in our Lord and how they express it is something we need. We take that back with us, every time we go there."
Franke says she knows people from the Conference who have gone down two or three times to visit Ecuador. "They can't get enough of it," she says. "It's remarkable how these people look at life, how they deal with adversity. It was God's gift to send us down there."
Indiana-Kentucky maintains long-distance friendship with Sri Lanka's Jaffna Diocese
The Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC started their partnership with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India in Sri Lanka back in 1992. From the beginning, says the Rev. Paul "Chip" Jahn, pastor of Trinity UCC and St. Peter's UCC in Lamar, Ind., the partnership was greatly driven by the urge to assist in achieving peace in a region ravaged by a brutal civil war between the majority Sinhales Government and an insurgency group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam.
"Since 2002, there's been a peace process," says Jahn, who describes progress as both halting and sporadic. In order to aid that process, Jahn says the partnership involves keeping open lines of communication with international organizations such as Amnesty and United Nations, as well as doing advocacy work in Washington D.C.
But until peace is achieved, Jahn and his colleagues know that, as in any war, children suffer the most. That is why a centerpiece of the partnership has been assisting the Jaffna Diocese in their ministry of child advocacy.
Jahn says most churches in the Conference participate in the partnership through the children's ministries done by the Jaffna Diocese, namely its educational programs. "We sponsor a girl's home, which is not just for orphans, but for girls who are sent there to get a better education, a better life," he explains.
When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka the day after Christmas in 2004, the Indiana-Kentucky Conference sent a delegate to survey the damage within the week. Last fall, Jahn and some others went back to see how things had progressed.
"We were most interested in how [the devastation caused by the tsunami] was affecting the peace process." The Conference continues its efforts to aid in Tsunami relief for Sri Lanka.
Although he says the story of Sri Lanka is "an involved political" story, Jahn says the partnership committee does its best to keep churches in the Conference abreast of the situation at Conference gatherings and through monthly mailings.
Christ's Church is Global
Whether it's the Pacific Northwest Conference's ties with East Seoul Synod of the Presbyterian Church of South Korea, the New Hampshire Conference's ministry with the UCC in Zimbabwe, or even the Wisconsin Conference's juggling of 10 global partnerships, the UCC's Conferences and congregations are building and strengthening relationships with its formal partners around the world. "Partnerships make mission more personal. They are a vibrant and faith-filled opportunity for the church to share its life as a global family," says Jan Aerie, Global Ministries' executive for mission education and interpretation. "Partnerships enable Conferences and congregations to join hands and walk together with our sisters and brothers around the world."