Across the UCC: Global partnerships enhance UCC members' faith journeys
Written by Carol L. Pavlik
June 2003

Carol L. Pavlik

Across the UCC, Conferences, Associations and local churches are partnering with churches in other countries. Whether it's a youth exchange in Germany or a global partnership in India or the Philippines, participants strengthen their faith by working together.

A church school class meets beneath a mango tree in the Arakan Valley in southeast Mindanao, the Philippines, during Barbara and Glen Herrington-Hall's visit. Barbara and Glen Herrington-Hall photo.
For 17 years, the UCC's Minnesota Conference has been in a Global Church Partnership with the Southeast Mindanao jurisdiction of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The churches in Mindanao, the large southern island of the Philippines in the midst of a painful civil war, find themselves in survival mode, aiding the tens of thousands of evacuees forced from their homes.

Here in the States, being a partner to a church in such dire need can be a challenge. "[In the United States,] we're used to sending money to solve problems," says the Rev. Glen Herrington-Hall, associate pastor at New Brighton (Minn.) UCC. "It's another way of thinking for us." Herrington-Hall has acted as the head of the Partnership Task Force for the conference since 1997.

It begs the question of why a church, specifically New Brighton UCC, often ranked among the top three in mission giving for the Minnesota Conference, can't send money to a church in need. Herrington-Hall explains: "It makes it more difficult for them there, if one church is getting all the goodies that nobody else is getting. Resentment, confusion, anger, all kinds of things happen. They end up getting isolated as a result." Herrington-Hall says that the UCC/Disciples Global Ministries has aided in strengthening the partnership, finding creative ways to foster a more mutual relationship.

"We hold them in prayer, as they hold us in prayer," says Herrington- Hall. "And we try to share their story. For a people who have felt forgotten and isolated for so long, knowing there are people here who are listening and care about them is a big bonus." Being the home of UCC-related United Theological Seminary affords the conference a unique way of reaching out to the Filipino people. Since UTS offers one-year scholarships for international students, many Filipino students have been welcomed by the Minnesota Conference, especially by the New Brighton parish, located just a mile from campus.

"We befriend them," Herrington- Hall says of the students. "They have a community already built in that's waiting for them."

Herrington-Hall says the Global Church Partnership with Mindanao has strengthened his congregation's commitment to mission giving. "[The partnership] has put a name and face on Our Church's Wider Mission and One Great Hour of Sharing dollars," he says. As the relationship grows, the connections grow stronger. "We have so much to learn from them about how to be the church and how to live on limited resources and how to care for each other," he says. "We have a lot to gain as well as a lot to give."

ÔHalf the fun is getting to know the people from India'

On an afternoon in April, Dorothy Berry, a member of Seabrook UCC in Topeka, Kan., excitedly marks the clock, noting when a delegation of four from Kerala, India, is landing at the airport. It is the sixth such delegation to visit since the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference's Global Church Partnership began 10 years ago. Dorothy was in the first of four delegations to visit Kerala at its start.

Berry says that half the fun of hosting the delegations is getting to know the people from India that they've come to know and admire. "[The Madhya Kerala Diocese is] such a mission-oriented church," says Berry. "It's been a fun adventure to see what the church could be if we took mission seriously."

During the 1990s, Berry and her colleagues in the partnership realized just how serious Kerala was about mission. For the decade of 1990-2000, Kerala's Bishop, Sam Mathew, set out to eradicate illiteracy in the state. Church-run schools began an intensive campaign to teach all children the three languages of Kerala: Hindi, Malayalam and English.

Berry marvels at the three languages, each with its own alphabet. "I don't know whom to be more admiring of," she says, "the children who learn it or the teachers who teach it." With that goal met, Bishop Mathew set a new goal for this decade: to eradicate abject poverty in Kerala. This time around, Mathew challenged the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference to set the same goal for itself.

"We didn't have the courage to say we would eradicate poverty, just that we would work on it," says Berry. "So now we are partners, remembering each other in prayer and sharing ideas on the whole subject of poverty, we in Kansas-Oklahoma, and they in the state of Kerala."

Together, the sister churches have opened a computer technology school in Kerala, another vision made real by Bishop Mathew with the help of his American partners.

The Global Church Partnership with Kerala has brought countless lessons of faith to the churches in the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.

"Their whole focus is not what they do inside the church," explains Berry. "They go out and do in the community."

Youth learn from each other in exchange program

The Young Ambassadors program, an offshoot of the UCC's Indiana- Kentucky Conference-Church of Westphalia (Germany) Partnership, has facilitated three-week youth exchanges since the early 1990s. Mary Anna Speller, a member of Prince of Peace UCC in Bargersville, Ind., and chair of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference Partnership Committee, says that the program is centered around intensive faith discovery. Each group of German and U.S. youth stay with host families and work at such places as community centers and Native American reservations. Visits and interactions with local church families round out the time spent on the exchange.

Even if the high school-aged ambassadors come back seemingly unaffected by the experience, Speller knows better. "We have reunions, and they spend their time talking about where they've been in the world," she says. "Their world view is changed."

Speller adds that of the Young Ambassadors alumni, several are either in seminary or contemplating the ministry. Another teaches in the Czech Republic, and yet another works in a program that aids world hunger.

Speller regrets that some American youth miss out on the experience because of lack of funding or inabilty to miss work. Consistently, more German students take part than U.S. students. In Germany, subsidies are more readily available, and affordable universities result in fewer German high schoolers taking on jobs while in school.

Speller stresses the significance an exchange program can have on a young person.

"The experience has changed people's lives," she says, "and in many ways their direction in thinking."

Want to help forge a global partnership? Here's how.

The Rev. Ana Gobledale, former executive for local church relations, Global Ministries, likens Global Church Partnerships to the companionship found in the scripture describing the Road to Emmaus.

"They're walking together as strangers and don't recognize Christ. They invite Jesus to their home and break bread together with this stranger," says Gobledale. "When they sit down together, they know one another, and see Christ in the face of a stranger."

Sixty-eight UCC Conferences, Associations and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) regions are seeing Christ in the face of a stranger through Global Church Partnerships. The longlasting friendships, facilitated by Global Ministries, aren't based on financial supportÑjust sharing ideas and God's love across the miles. And Gobledale says setting up the partnerships through Global Ministries assures that the partnerships will continue, unharmed, even when changes at the Conference, Association, or even local church level occur.

To find out more about Global Church Partnerships, contact Global Ministries' area offices:

Africa, 317-713-2552; East Asia and the Pacific, 216-736-3226; Latin America and the Caribbean, 317-713-2563; Middle East and Europe, 216-736-3227; and Southern Asia, 216-736-3228.

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