An important feature of General Assemblies, this year’s ‘Listening to the Global Church’ was simply entitled ‘Hearing the Heart’ and involved listening to representatives from the Gujarat Diocese of Church of North India, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and the Hungarian Reformed Church – who spoke of the situation in Ukraine. There were also opportunities for quiet reflection and prayer.
Introducing the session, Rev Dr Liz Hughes, Convener of the PCI’s Council for Global Mission said, “This is the seventh year that the assembly has included a session on listening to the global church. This year we are emphasising the importance of that listening, listening to God’s heart first and foremost - even as we hear the heart that lies behind the stories that are shared, stories of living with conflict, or fleeing from conflict, stories of people on the move and of those who make them welcome, stories of economic struggle and food insecurity in the wake of Covid.
“There are stories of gaining and losing young people to the life of the church, stories of being part of a small Christian minority, yet reaching out with the gospel in a context of vast numbers of people. If we are truly listening these stories from the heart of our sisters and brothers should call on us to respond from our hearts ….at the very least we will pray for them as we have never prayed before.”
Dr Hughes talked of partnership in Global Mission, saying it is part of PCI’s DNA and comes right out of the New Testament, as the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:9 writes about being partners working together with God. “A strong understanding of Partnership protects us from the kind of colonial attitude that thinks churches overseas and within other cultures should somehow be more like us. We are blessed in PCI to think of our partner relationships as mutual giving and receiving, listening and learning and being open to hear what God is saying to us through the ministry of our Global brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said.
The conflict in Ukraine was brought close to home when those in the Assembly Hall heard first hand of the conflict, and the refugee crisis that followed, from Prof Zoltan Literaty. While a minister in the Hungarian Reformed Church, one of PCI’s partners, his congregation is in the suburbs of Budapest, but he was born and raised in a village in Transcarpathia in the far south-west of Ukraine. Professor Literaty hasn’t been able to return to see his family since the Russian invasion of his country in February of this year.
During the presentation he was interviewed by Rev Richard Kerr, Convener of PCI’s Global Concerns Committee, who studied with Professor Literaty at Union College 21 years ago. Describing the situation as ‘not very easy’, Professor Literaty told Members of Assembly that the population of Transcarpathia was about a million people with upwards of 500,000 coming in to the province from different parts of Ukraine. “Many mothers with children have left with the villages halved,” he said.
“Lots of people from eastern and southern Ukraine found their safe place in Transcarpathia, as there is no war there at the moment, it is a safe place and hundreds of thousands of people have arrived in the region. You can imagine one day you see familiar faces in the village and the next day half of the village has escaped and different people have come, so it is a challenge,” he said.
In the early stages of the conflict Professor Literaty took members of his church in Budapest to the Hungarian border with Ukraine to help. “It was totally new experience for me, working for 24 hours with no or little sleep. Every four hours a train from Ukraine brought thousands of people. Can you imagine that after days or weeks of journey, arriving in a country where they couldn’t speak the language was like? We tried to help these deeply traumatised people,” he explained.
As part of Listening to the Global Church, members of assembly also watched a three minute video greeting from their brothers and sisters in Christ in Myanmar. Following last year’s military coup, which overthrew the government of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, PCI has maintained contact with colleagues in the church in Myanmar. Members of Assembly also heard of how the members of the church in Myanmar are continuing to reach out with God’s love, despite being caught up in fierce fighting, their homes being damaged by shelling, and some of their members being injured and killed.
Two and a half thousand miles to the west of Myanmar is the Gujarat Diocese of Church of North India. PCI has had a long association with the church in Gujarat – sending to India two ministers at the request of the very first General Assembly in 1840. Percy Patrick, from the Gujarat Diocese, and like Professor Literaty, an overseas delegate to the Assembly, talked of the challenges facing the church which is a very small Christian minority within a minority of those who are not Hindu.
The Assembly also heard from overseas delegates Rev Edwin and Anne Kibathi. Interviewed by Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to the Council for Global Mission, Edwin is a minister of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, and as a result of PCI’s collaboration with PCEA, the Kibathi family have been serving initially in chaplaincy and now church planting work in East London, better known as PCEA’s UK Outreach.
Members of Assembly also heard from Dr Károly Czibere, President of the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid and the support that they had been able to provide. Through the Moderator’s Appeal for Ukraine, which was launched in March, Irish Presbyterians have been able to support its Hungarian partners’ relief efforts.
Photos: (1) Prof Zoltan Literaty a minister in the Hungarian Reformed Church addressing the Assembly (2) left to right Percy Patrick of the Gujarat Diocese of the Church of North India with Rev Richard Kerr and Rev Dr Liz Hughes (3) Rev Edwin and Anne Kibathi with Rev Uel Marrs.
The 2022 General Assembly opens on Wednesday, 22 June and closes on Saturday, 25 June. You will find the business before the Assembly here and the Reports that will be discussed here. You can follow proceedings live via Twitter @pciassembly using the hashtag #PCIGA22 for all public sessions, which will also livestreamed from this website. You can also watch from the public gallery in the Assembly Hall.