From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Group plans mission-education network

Date 31 Jan 2003 07:53:39 -0500

Note #7577 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Group plans mission-education network
January 29, 2003

Group plans mission-education network

Idea is to rally support for PC(USA)-related schools overseas

by John Filiatreau

LOUISVILLE - A dozen Presbyterians who are passionate about educational
missions gathered here last week to take the first steps toward forming a
"network" to support the educational efforts of the overseas partners of the
Presbyterian Church (USA).

	The idea was to create a new organization to focus on the educational
component of international mission, as the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship
and Outreach Foundation support evangelism and the Presbyterian Medical
Benevolence Foundation promotes health ministries.

	However, the group - composed of pastors, missionaries, retired
missionaries, lay volunteers and presbytery and synod representatives -
decided against becoming a validated mission support group structured like
those foundations, at least for now. It also passed on the idea of trying to
become an official PC(USA) advisory group, choosing instead a "program
network" model, whose purpose would be to identify needs and marshal PC(USA)
resources to address them.

	The participants' commitment to the cause is shown by the fact that
they paid their own way to Louisville for the two-day brainstorming
discussion at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

	They ultimately planned several other trips - to countries in Africa,
the Middle East and South America, to identify successful models of
educational mission to be promoted by the group, which hasn't chosen a name,
but seemed to be leaning toward OPEN (Overseas Presbyterian Educational

	Participants agreed to meet again in late summer or early fall, and
in the meantime to recruit other education enthusiasts in the PC(USA).

	David Maxwell, coordinator for global education and leadership
development in the Worldwide Ministries Division (WMD), said the idea of
forming such a group has been "festering" on his agenda for some time. He
said its purpose will be to "guide, steer, nudge, push" the denomination to
step up its efforts on behalf of international education missions.

	Maxwell's office spends about $500,000 a year in support of more than
200 schools and literacy programs around the world.

	Will Brown, WMD's associate director for ecumenical partnership, told
the participants that education is one of the things that differentiates
Presbyterian mission efforts from those of other Christian groups. "If
there's one thing our denomination knows how to do, it's education," he said.
"We have a capacity and we aren't using that capacity."

	Marian McClure, the WMD director, found time in her busy schedule to
drop in to make "a quick little speech of support" of the organizing effort,
which she called "the culmination of at least seven years of dreaming."

	Educational mission takes in literacy programs, primary and secondary
schools, teacher-training and leadership-development programs, colleges and
universities, and seminaries.

	Maxwell said "it makes sense for a Reformed church" to strongly
support education because of its conviction that people everywhere "have a
right and responsibility to read and write and be part of their churches and
communities," and because of the central importance of enabling people to
read scripture. He noted that many Presbyterian missionaries who established
churches in foreign lands "often started a school right next to the church."

	The envisioned network would include congregations, presbyteries,
synods and "individual Presbyterians with a passion for mission" who want to
be involved in the overseas educational efforts of the PC(USA).

	Participants would: share information and experience; work out common
strategies; coordinate educational efforts; facilitate communication; and
"maximize" contact with international partners.

	Organizers passed out a WMD paper, Guidelines for WMD-Related
"Mission Networks," that says in part: "We would hope to assist in the
gathering of those with like interests and ... help in the whole of the
PC(USA) in the organization and funding of the platforms necessary at
national and regional levels for responsible, transparent, accountable and
invitational mission work."

	Maxwell wrote after the first day of meetings: "On the one hand, we
want to build a network that is not restrictive (much like the country
networks), but rather a gathering of everyone doing everything. On the other
hand, we see the need to create at least two programs that currently do not
exist that would be more uniform and centralized that can engage individuals,
congregations and presbyteries and synods."

	One idea that seemed to have a lot of support was an "adopt-a-school"
program in which PC(USA) individuals, Sunday schools and churches would
support a particular school of a partner church.

	Several participants spoke favorably of scholarship programs to make
schooling accessible to children whose families cannot afford to pay even
minimal tuition and expenses.  

	Jeff Boyd, a PC(USA) mission worker in Cameroon now on a visit to the
United States, said the problems educators in many parts of the world face
are primarily: lack of access to schools, a particular problem for the poor
and for girls; poor teaching, the result of "undertraining" and a scarcity of
educational materials; declining, poorly maintained school buildings and
other infrastructure; and isolation from the outside world and its resources.

Don Mead, of Glen Arbor, MI, a former missionary, proposed that the network
begin by identifying "a couple of platforms and a couple of programs ... in
places where we have good, solid relationships" that can serve as "models to
be replicated elsewhere."

The group tentatively planned "exploratory" trips to Congo, Cameroon,
Equatorial Guinea and Malawi, and identified other countries that might be
added to the list, including Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Colombia
and Venezuela.

When Peggy Owens, associate general presbyter the Mid-Kentucky Presbytery,
asked the awkward question, "Who's financing these trips?", Maxwell admitted,
"At this point we have no budget." He said he may approach PC(USA) entities
for financial backing, and expressed confidence that Presbyterians will
support the new network and its purpose.

"Let's let the word out in the denomination and see what comes up," Maxwell

Mitri Raheb, of Palestine, a mission partner in residence at the Presbyterian
Center, is a Lutheran who runs a Christian school in Bethlehem. He said many
in his country appreciate American-style education, which emphasizes
"critical thinking and creativity" over the rote learning prevalent in many
cultures. He said his school also imparts "Christian values" to its students,
half of whom are Muslims.

The participants agreed that the timing is right for such an effort.

Several said it is important that the network involve "the grass roots of the
church" and be "owned" by people across the denomination, rather than
becoming just another office in WMD.

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