From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 09:00:12


                         by Julian Shipp 
BEIJING--Members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) travel/study seminar 
to China arrived at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum on Sept. 
1 -- just in time to be greeted by a deluge of rain that added to the 
logistical complications and frustrations experienced by nearly 40,000 
international delegates. 
     Although the NGO Forum (a parallel event to the United Nations' Fourth 
World Conference on Women) officially opened Aug. 30, the 35-member PC(USA) 
group will have the opportunity to pick and choose among hundreds of 
workshops, panels, congresses, tribunals, training seminars, interactive 
projects, and exhibits. 
     During the 10-day event, NGOs will go through a strategic planning 
process with the goal of strengthening the international women's movement. 
Beginning with an analysis of global forces shaping women's lives, the 
conference will shift to highlighting innovative NGO strategies and end 
with a discussion of future action agendas. 
     But the action of the day Sept. 1 was to attempt to stay warm and dry 
as Forum participants struggled to find their way around Huairou scenic 
tourist area, a site about 60 kilometers from Beijing's center, in the 
midst of a downpour. 
     Some Presbyterians were obviously better prepared than others as 
indicated by their ponchos, rain shoes and umbrellas. Others coped with the 
showers as best they could by standing under tents and trees, flocking into 
buildings, or simply resigning themselves to make the most of their 
     Even so, no one could have foreseen the collapse of a low brick wall 
near an outdoor exhibit area following a mudslide. No injuries were 
reported, but the incident snarled traffic around the area for several 
     In addition to inclement weather, there were numerous delays and 
last-minute cancellations by Forum speakers and moderators,  maps that were 
difficult to interpret, building numbers that did not coincide with the map 
locations and a language barrier comparable to the Tower of Babel. 
     "It doesn't seem like the people who planned this event had any idea 
of what 40,000 people means," said Letitia Campbell, of Mobile, Ala., in 
South Alabama Presbytery.  "We were going through metal detectors first, 
but then they later turned them off due to the overflowing crowds." 
     "The first thing that we saw when we came here were [Forum  security 
officers and volunteers] closing a gate and people trying to force their 
way through," said Christina Linhoff of St. Paul, Minn., in Twin Cities 
Presbytery. "They finally gave in to the crowd. I asked three volunteers 
for directions and they weren't able to help me. It's very frustrating." 
     Unfortunately, the rain lingered throughout the day.  But frustration 
levels lowered as participants became oriented to Huairou and located their 
desired programs. 
     Evelyn Gehres of Detroit Presbytery attended a workshop chaired by an 
American theologian that she said attracted participants from Hong Kong, 
Sri Lanka and other  countries. Gehres said the program focused on women in 
grassroots religious movements and the obstacles they encounter. 
     "I think the thing that I will always remember about the workshop is 
the gender and ethnicity issues and the importance of connecting 
spiritually," Gehres said. 
     Yvonne Mathews, of Omaha, Neb., in Missouri River Valley Presbytery, 
said she attended a workshop that focused on the struggles of women from 
all over the world. Mathews said the experience was heartfelt and she was 
astounded by the similarity of the women's lives despite cultural, societal 
and economic differences. 
     "It was amazing," Mathews said. "I expect some truly great things to 
come out of this forum." 
     "I attended two excellent workshops," said Ann Hale Johnson, of 
Washington, D.C., in National Capital Presbytery, "one on women in 
spirituality and the other on violence against women. We heard from several 
international women, and it's just mind-blowing where all these people are 
     The Forum concludes Sept. 8. During their stay in Beijing, members of 
the Presbyterian group are expected to meet with members of the Commission 
of Women's Work and China Christian Council and are tentatively scheduled 
to tour the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and 
the Forbidden City.  

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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