|Source: Presbyterian Mission|
In light of the pandemic, a group of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission leaders, World Mission staff, and mission co-workers gathered on Zoom Wednesday night to discuss how they can safely travel when visiting global partners.
Christi Boyd, a mission co-worker living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared that it is important to approach partner visits with a high level of intentionality by discerning the meaning, purpose, and desired outcomes of the journey.
“This process starts well ahead of making travel plans and evolves in consultation with our receiving counterparts. It also includes identifying any necessary preparatory work to be done to be mindful of our intentions. During the visit itself, we would as thoughtful travelers develop a greater awareness through our sensory perception of the context, our mental and spiritual reflection on the experience, and our prayerful and conscious effort to adequately respond to situations that can seduce us to unintended but still harmful acts,” she said.
Rev. Elmarie Parker, regional liaison for Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon urged group members to get vaccinated, take any necessary medications with them on the trip, and refrain from traveling with anyone who has significant health or mobility issues.
“Our hospitals in the area will make way for Westerners. That is one of the ways in which we are privileged in this world. And the challenge with that is that it means that local people who have no other options for medical care are pushed aside,” Parker said. “So that is a way that we can be considerate, also, to simply not travel if there’s any risk that we may be taking medical care away from local people.”
Rev. Jed Koball reminded the group that Peru has one the highest Covid fatality rates in the world and that the responsibility of a good traveler is to take the time to listen to people when they want to share what is on their minds and hearts.
“I think now more than ever we should be prepared to listen, because the emotional impact, the mental health impact over the last couple of years has been severe. We’ve all gone through a trauma,” Koball said. “And while we’ve all gone through the same storm, we have not all been in the same boat.”
Speaking to the group from Honduras, Rev. Dori Hjalmarson said that constituents who make regular annual trips to visit partners should understand that their partners have likely gone through a transformation since the pandemic began. Consequently, partners are rethinking their dependence on that group for their medical needs. Hjalmarson said that some of these transformations were already taking place, but were intensified by the pandemic.
“I think in the long run, that’s a good thing to have a time to look back, reflect on what your relationship has been like, and how the pandemic in the years of no contact has affected your ministry,” she said, “what new needs there might be and what old needs may have fallen by the wayside.”
Another point that was made came from Hyeyoung Lee, a mission co-worker in South Korea, who said that what you call the group also has an impact. She said naming the journey something that implies learning can shape the mindset of the participants, helping them understand that they are going to the country to ultimately learn from locals.
“So a lot of cases that we do have a close contact with the people who like to come to Korea for short-term travel, that we would have a year-long process of getting to know the group and then providing all the resources and reading lists so that before they even come to Korea, they have a knowledge about what’s happening in Korea in terms of especially U.S. and Korea and the relationship between the two,” Lee said.
The topic of in-person versus virtual visits was raised. Regional Liaison for Central America, Tracey King-Ortega, said that global partners have become better at navigating the virtual world.
Randy Simpson, co-convener of the Cuba Partners Network, said that every fourth year the group meets in Cuba. He also said that network members are always worried about putting stress on the limited resources of the partners. However, they want as many Americans as possible to come there.
“I think our experience is that, generally speaking, they want that relationship, you know, yes, they have the relationship, they want that physical contact. And it means so much to them when we take the time to do that.”
Rev. Leslie Vogel, regional liaison for Guatemala and Mexico, reiterated that it is increasingly unlikely that partners will be able to visit the U.S. because of immigration laws.
“I was just in a conversation last week with a new partner for one of the entities here in Guatemala,” she said. “And the very friendly folks in the U.S. were so excited and said, hopefully this partnership, we’ll not only go to see you, but you’ll come to see us. And you know, I kindly interpreted those words knowing that it’s probably not going to happen that Guatemalans will get a visa to go visit the United States.”
As the call concluded, the group committed to future dialogues that allow for missionaries and congregations to engage in conversations as the plan future missions trips.
Source: Presbyterian Mission