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A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala

 July 1, 2010

Photo of three women and a men sitting at a round table

The Rev. Dr. Loida Gaffaro de Valera of Venezuela, Dr. Vilma Yanez Ogaza of Colombia, Bety Cifuentes of Guatemala and Helis Barraza Diaz of Colombia.

A big church family party. That’s how the final message for children described the Uniting General Council (UGC). People came from east and west, north and south to gather in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from June 18 to 26. This meeting brought together the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). The new organization has 227 member churches in 108 countries.

What a privilege to be together with sisters and brothers from around the world! I was at the UGC as part of the language services team. I had also served on the language team for the WARC General Councils in Debrecen (1997) and Accra (2004). I spent the two weeks in Grand Rapids interpreting and translating to facilitate the full and active participation of Spanish-speaking delegates. Among those delegates were the three people representing the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG):  Bety Cifuentes, the moderator of the national organization of Presbyterian women, Benjamin Yac, the pastor of the church in Pachaj, Cantel, and Milton García Meza, from the national youth organization. Though many participants spoke English as their second language, others learned Spanish or French after their mother tongues.

Photo of several people on a lawn; some are wearing Native American dress

World Pow Wow Photo: Erick Coll/UGC.

On the opening day the UGC participants were welcomed by representatives of the Three Fires Alliance — the Odawa, Ojibwa and Potawatoni tribes. The organizers had worked for two years to build relationships with the Native American community in Grand Rapids. On a beautiful sunny Tuesday the Three Fires Alliance hosted a powwow they called Enigokamicak, the World Powwow, in Ah-Nab-Awen Park, a beautiful spot on the Grand River where tribes met for trade and celebration many years before white settlers arrived. After a worship service UGC participants were invited to join with local dancers in the Great Circle to the sound of traditional drums. We also feasted on fry bread and Indian tacos.

The theme of the new World Communion of Reformed Churches is “called to communion, committed to justice.”  We in the Reformed family are still a long way from living in full communion with one another. Yet we are called to nothing less by the one who prayed long ago on the night before his death that all of his followers might be one (John 17). The new organization will be a space to continue learning from one another and building stronger relationships within this part of Christ’s Church.  The WCRC will also continue to encourage churches in their work for justice, especially economic and ecological justice. As the final message of the UGC stated, "We recognized that this communion is for the sake of the world's transformation. We heard that our identity as God's people commits us to the work of God's justice."

One form of injustice was evident at the UGC due to the absence of many delegates. A total of 71 participants in the UGC, including 46 voting delegates, were denied visas by U.S. consulates around the world. Many of these delegates were the youth representatives named by their churches. The missing delegations were more than 10 percent of those entitled to vote. Their voices and their concerns were excluded.

I am sure that all who participated in the United General Council left Grand Rapids with a larger view of Christ’s Church and God’s mission in the world. Yet few people have the opportunity to experience such a gathering of Christians from around the world. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has relationships with many of the churches represented in the WCRC, relationships forged through decades, in many cases more than a century, of walking together in mission. Through Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission, we are connected to sisters and brothers throughout the world.

Photo of two woman sitting at a table with a microphone. A man stands between them

Karla (right) in the interpretation booth with Hartmut Lucke and Bettina Wille. Photo: Erick Coll/UGC.

In Grand Rapids I heard many testimonies about the work of PC(USA) World Mission. One evening I spoke with the Rev. Dr. Jerry Pillay, a pastor in the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa who was elected the first president of the WCRC.  Pillay, a missiologist, has worked for reconciliation in his own country as well as other nations in southern Africa. He talked to me about how important the witness of the PC(USA) had been in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Later I met Rev. Manuel Nzoh Asumu, the general secretary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish-speaking church in Africa. A young woman from this church, Pamela Khotte Idjabe, is among the students I have taught at the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica. Mr. Nzoh spoke of Andrés García and Gloria Salazar, PC(USA) mission co-workers who served in Equatorial Guinea for several years. “They made my work much easier,” he told me. 

 That’s a lot of what being a mission co-worker is all about, walking beside sisters and brothers, helping to bear their burdens and amplify their voices as we all strive to be faithful in God’s mission. We are ambassadors from one part of the church to another, working to strengthen ties within the big church family.

 In Christ’s service,

 Karla Ann Koll

 The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277