Now in its ninth year, the presentation was organised by PCI’s Council for Global Mission. Welcoming people to the session, Council Convener, Rev Stephen McCracken said, “I have always found this part of the Assembly refreshing and inspiring and our prayer is that what you hear today may lift your hearts beyond our own challenges and debates to the fact that we are part of a global family.”
“This year we have taken Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12.12 as our theme when he says, ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ This verse is Paul’s encouragement to the Church in Rome to stay the course. It is also to be joyful in the future hope that Jesus will bring, to exhibit patience and endurance when tribulations come, and to give themselves to be faithful in prayer that both of these may come to pass as we listen to our global Church family and hear their stories of joyfulness, patience and faithfulness.”
The Assembly is meeting in PCI’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast, where Mr McCracken welcomed, Rev Dr Mwawi Chilongozi from Malawi, General Secretary of the General Assembly of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, who is also a parish minister. He also welcomed a senior leader of one of the churches in Myanmar.
While those gathered in the Assembly Hall heard first-hand what was happening in both churches in Malawi and Myanmar, in a special video from Northern Syria they also heard from Rev Ibrahim Nseir, the minister of Aleppo Evangelical Church. PCI’s partner, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, has forty Presbyterian congregations spread throughout the two countries, of which the church in Aleppo is one.
After the video former Moderator, Very Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, spoke about his visit to Beirut last month, where he met Rev Ibrahim Nseir. Still in the Middle East, Rev Ivan Steen, minister of Windsor Presbyterian Church in Belfast, interviewed a member of his congregation, who became a Christian in Iran, about the challenges of living out his faith in the Islamic Republic and why he had to leave.
The fact that the General Assembly’s livestream had to be turned off for Rev Ivan Steen’s interview and the presentation from Myanmar was, perhaps, an indication of the sensitive situations in both countries. Interviewed by Pip Forit, PCI’s Mission Support Officer for Partnerships, she asked about the situation in Myanmar and the church there.
“The fighting happens from time to time in the middle of the town, among the civilians. We have been hearing the gun firing and mortar shelling sounds almost every night…Moreover, at night-time there is curfew, which has been in place since the declaration of Marshall Law. We need to remain indoors. When a health emergency happens, people find it very difficult. So, in short, the situation in Myanmar is not good,” he said.
Talking about some of the challenges in his local area, he continued, “There are situational challenges in our country which my church could not refuse to give responses. Because of the unrest situation in my place, bombing, shooting happens time to time. Therefore helping refugees, taking care of the injured people and even comforting the bereaved families are undeniable ministries our church has been doing for months.”
In terms of mission, the church continues to reach out, sharing the Gospel. “God has blessed the work of the church that more than 300 lost souls have been found each year,” he said.
He also spoke of one of the biggest challenges facing the church, and it was declining numbers, but not for the reasons denominations in the West face. “Because of war, people need to leave their homes and towns and flee to a safe zone for their safety. There are abandoned villages among the church family because of that reason. Such villages had been once very active in our church activities. So, it has some negative impact on the life of the church. Moreover, so many young people left our country, we have been losing our younger members day after day,” he explained.
Towards the end of the interview, he was asked about how he has seen God working in his church’s situation. “The invisible God is visible through our partner churches around the world. We have been receiving moral and financial support since the hardship started.
He continued, “God has many instruments for helping the needy in our church. We have been experiencing the presence of God amidst the suffering. God is with us. He is working with us and working in us. God has shown his power to us that nothing is impossible with Him. He is a God that makes impossible possible. Therefore, we can follow the advice of Apostle Paul, which is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that ‘we give thanks to Him in all circumstances for we know that this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.’ We know that God wants us to keep smiling. So we keep smiling!”
At the end of Listening to the Global Church, the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, prayed for PCI’s visiting brothers and sisters in Christ.
The General Assembly is livestreamed on here on this website. All public sessions will be livestreamed until the Assembly’s close on Saturday, 24 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 #PCIGA23.