UCC delegates and visitors to General Synod may fly thousands of miles, and they may find themselves in a setting where the business occurs in a language they do not understand. They remain, however, in their own country and in their own church, in contrast to representatives from overseas partners. They travel even farther to a more foreign place, bearing witness to the power of shared ministry over the decades and over the seas.
For Dr. Mira Rizeq, national general secretary of the YWCA in Palestine, General Synod provides a superb opportunity to share the stories of those whom she serves. “I’m coming here to represent the voices of the women and the children we don’t hear from very much,” she said. “We are living in very difficult times. What we suffer from is injustice.”
Her agency seeks to mitigate the hardships with a wide range of programs for women and children: education and vocational training, services in refugee camps, psychosocial counseling, youth programs, and more. The YWCA also advocates strenuously for the rights of women in the region.
Cheryl Dibeela works with five denominational organizations over eight countries as regional secretary for the African Region of the Council for World Mission, helping the organization implement its programs for children and youth, advocating for women, fostering economic and environmental justice, and confronting issues with national governments. “I love the workshops [of General Synod],” she said, “the ability to network with people engaged in similar ministries,” which gave her the opportunity to speak with a teacher from the Central Atlantic Conference.
It also brought her the ability to invite people to return her visit. “We really want people to experience southern Africa,” she said. She invited groups to contact the Council for help facilitating their trips, where they can really engage with African culture and problems.
The Rev. Dr. Moiseraele Prince Dibeela is general secretary of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), one of the members of the Council for World Mission and a church with a long relationship to the UCC. Founded in 1799 through the London Missionary Society, it began receiving American missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1826. The ABCFM forms a part of today’s Wider Church Ministries.
“Sharing of people is at the heart of the partnership,” he reflected, with the exchange going both ways. “Being here is the embodiment of the partnership, when people can see and hear and embrace you.”
Beyond the greetings, Dr. Rizeq hopes to build coalitions that will end the cycles of violence and oppression for the Palestinian people, an effort she describes as a moral and ethical responsibility. “This is what the partnership is all about,” she said.
Dr. Debeela of the UCCSA found new ideas for ministry at General Synod. When he saw Global Ministries’ Congo Initiative display, he thought to himself, we are closer to the Congo, and wondered how the UCCSA could participate in the struggle. Without his trip to Synod, “I wouldn’t have seen it.”
The financial support of Global Ministries makes a number of programs possible in the UCCSA: HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, schools for children who have lost their parents, after school care in Soweto. Dibeela plans to energize his churches back home to contribute more as well. “The partnership,” he said, “is about reciprocity.”
But the difference in resources is palpable, part of the “north/south” divide that separates much of the world’s wealth. Dibeela envisions a movement in which people from all over the world can work together to bring peace and prosperity to the Congo, Palestine, and Haiti. “Until we deconstruct this north/south relationship,” he said, “we are not going to be any different from the International Monetary Fund.” Here at General Synod, he observed, the Church is trying to model “how God’s children are supposed to relate.”