From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Draft report urges support for Africa

Date 21 Jun 2002 16:13:10 -0400

Note #7322 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Draft report urges support for Africa

PC(USA) urged to step up efforts against war, disease, poverty

by John Filiatreau

COLUMBUS, OH - Presbyterians interested in mission to Africa gathered on June 19 to discuss a resolution on the troubled continent being prepared by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) in consultation with the Africa offices of the Worldwide Ministries Division (WMD).

The resolution, intended originally for submission to this year's General Assembly, was not presented because of its considerable financial implications; the authors are hoping to bring it before next year's Assembly in a better financial climate.

The document, still under review, focuses on "the health, education and development challenges facing the people and the churches of Africa," and calls the Presbyterian Church (USA) to "a deeper understanding of and a more effective witness to contemporary Africa."

Anyone who wishes to obtain a copy of the document or comment on it is invited to contact Belinda Curry, the General Assembly Council's associate for policy development and interpretation, by phone at (888) 728-7228, ext. 5813, or by email at

The resolution's rationale relies heavily on WMD's concept of "partnership" in mission, which the report says "requires a two-way relationship of giving and receiving."

One person on hand for the consultation, the Rev. Livingstone Buama, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, warned against laying "the heavy hand of paternalism" on Africans, as has happened often in the past. As an example, he cited the International Monetary Fund, which he said "will give you a cup of water, but will have to tell you how to drink the water."

Buama advised the PC(USA) to represent "the theology of the populace  a much more genuine kind of 'God talk,'"  and to serve the people of Africa in an "incarnational" way: "Give an expression to their cry, rather than crying the cry for them."

Doug Welch, WMD's coordinator for west and central Africa, said the resolution is "something that's going to help us continue to hold something up before the denomination." He said its authors are seeking "as broad an output as we properly can."

Welch told his audience of about 30: "People tell me, 'But we had our Year with Africa; why are you still talking about it?' ...  They tell me, 'Been there, done that.'"

Bob Schminkey, who runs a Philadelphia charitable trust called Reinvest South Africa, noted: "I wonder why none of these recommendations has been presented (already)? The first one under 'health ministries' is really a gangbuster." 

That is a proposal that, for a five-year period, one-quarter of the PC(USA)'s annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering be used in support of mission in Africa. "I hope serious consideration is given to doing exactly that," Schminkey said. "Of course, I tend to be on the impatient side."

The participants, many of whom were seeing the draft document for the first time, had some specific criticisms:

Cynthia Holder Rich, a mission worker in Madagascar, pointed out that it makes only "a couple of mentions of women  no mention of family planning whatsoever" and "nothing about the rights of women or the rights of families."

Another participant urged more attention to Africans' access to potable water, saying: "The people of Africa will tell you that their number-one priority is water. You cannot live without water." Others pointed out that water in Africa is being treated increasingly as a commodity, rather than as an essential human need.

One part of the resolution, which calls on the U.S. government "to take a stronger and more active stance on the lamentable situation in the Sudan, even supporting armed intervention on the part of the UN and all African states if found necessary as a last resort," drew an objection from Raafat Zaki, a native of Sudan who works in personnel services for the National Ministries Division: "I don't think you're asking the United States to send troops," he said.

In response to a suggestion that the authors "make some of the recommendations more reciprocal," and to observations that most of them "involve giving and giving and giving," Jon Chapman, coordinator for east and southern Africa, said, "We really have been intentional about consulting our partners" in Africa.

The report ends with a quotation from Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, to the effect that the continent's future rests in African hands: "We have a new generation of leaders who know we must take responsibility for our own destiny, that we will uplift ourselves only by our own efforts, in partnership with those who wish us well."

Among the other recommendations in the report, which PC(USA) officials emphasize has not been finalized:

* That the PC(USA) "expand the current mission study and engagement program to include no less than 500 Presbyterian Church leaders per year, one-third of whom should be African American Presbyterians";

* The development of a denominational study guide on Africa;

* The creation of a "Presbyterian Africa Corps" serving "at the invitation of African partners" that would make available health-care personnel, business administrators, agriculturists, educators and other specialists for periods ranging from one month to several years;

* A deeper commitment by the PC(USA) to the international effort to fight diseases endemic to Africa, especially those identified by the United Nations as "diseases of poverty" - principally malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS;

* That the PC(USA) "add its voice more boldly" to those who advocate human rights in Africa;

* That the church work for "relief of all victims of war," especially those in southern Sudan; and,

* Support for fair-trade policies and a continued commitment to debt relief for impoverished countries.
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