Milwaukee Presbytery travels with Diaconia to Ukraine and Moldova

From May 8th to the 18th, Diaconia Connections will be taking four members of the Milwaukee Presbytery to Ukraine and Moldova to visit with partners there. Prior to the trip, the Milwaukee Presbytery published a small interview where our director, Jeremy Ault, spoke about the upcoming trip! His responses are below. 

Jeremy, please briefly describe the purpose and parameters of the trip.

Diaconia Connections has invited a group of four individuals—Rev. Dee Anderson, Sarah Rand, Rev. Jim Rand, and Rev. Nicole Blanks—to travel with us to Ukraine and Moldova. The purpose of the trip will be to meet with our mission partners to learn about the ways in which we as an American Church can be of service and support to them.  

We will be visiting 4 to 5 mission organizations. Each organization will expose our group to a different example of on-going mission work in that region of the world. We will be visiting ministries that care for the elderly, for orphans, and survivors of human trafficking; and we will also have the opportunity to visit two economic development groups. One of the groups, BIOS, works to strengthen the livelihood of rural farmers in Moldova, while the second, Habitat, engages in cross-cultural exchanges, business development, and peace interventions in Eastern Moldova, where the country has experienced both political and cultural tensions with the Russian-speaking minority who live there.

What are the collective goals for the journey? What are your personal goals?

One of my personal goals is to be reminded of the power and importance of global mission. For me, it’s really easy to forget how much impact we Presbyterians in Milwaukee can have across the world.

Images of suffering, of violence, of hopelessness, can easily breed within all of us a feeling that our work, our donations, and our mission don’t matter in the big scheme of things. And I want this trip to challenge that narrative. I want this trip to showcase the multiple ways churches in the United States and across the world have partnered together to stand up to violence, injustice, and apathy.

For every story of suffering, there is a story of living. For every image of violence, there is an image of love. I want to find those stories on this trip. And, in turn, use that narrative to encourage greater mission action and service in Milwaukee and abroad.

How will this be of benefit to your congregation? To the Presbytery of Milwaukee?

For the past year, Diaconia Connections and the Milwaukee Presbytery have been discussing ways in which our two organizations can work together to promote mission and service. There are a lot of exciting opportunities.

One of our foundations as an organization is what we call our “Global-Local” articulation of ministry. We believe that a church grows when it looks beyond its own walls. And we believe that the Global Church is the most powerful catalyst for promoting peace and justice.

I believe that we have a lot to learn from our sisters and brothers in Moldova, in Ukraine, in Syria, in Nigeria, and in every other country on this earth. They have a lot to teach us about ministry, about what it means to be Christians in service to “The Kingdom.” They can provide insights into our own local circumstances. They can help us think creatively about racial injustice. They can help us develop actions to fight human trafficking. They can give us strategies to promote literacy and job readiness in some of our region’s poorest communities. They can introduce us to new models of farming that strengthen small, rural communities.

There is just so much that benefits our congregations by engaging in global mission…

What will be the challenges in meeting with people who live a different culture from your own?

Global travel is always fraught, of course, with the potential for misunderstanding. The two countries that we will be visiting have experienced a lot of political upheaval. They are two former soviet states and are heavily influenced by Russia. Navigating the political and economic realities of those two countries can be a challenge.

And I personally want to always be cognizant of how we as Americans are understanding and perceiving their stories. Ukrainians and Moldovans have a lot of pride and history, and I want to be respectful of that. It’s always important for me  (as an American) that when I  go on a mission trip, that I do so with humbleness, understanding, and respect. I would never want my good intentions to take away the self-respect or agency of any individual.

 

Jeremy Ault