Thank Offering plants seed for Birthday Offering project

February 16, 2016
Children of Barranquilla

By Jane McGookey

The Holy Spirit touched those attending the dedication of the 2013 Thank Offering at Oxford (Ohio) Presbyterian Church, inspiring them to nominate their partner church, Seventh Presbyterian Church in Colombia, South America, for the 2015 PW Birthday Offering. Seventh Church has been running a community center to help displaced women and children fleeing brutality related to the drug trade.

The “Colombia Partnership” was started in 1995 when the Presbytery of the Miami Valley and the Presbytery of the North Coast in Colombia formed a partnership covenant. As part of this covenant, Miami Valley churches were paired with churches in northern Colombia. Oxford was paired with Seventh Presbyterian Church in Barranquilla, Colombia. Seventh Church is a mostly female congregation since many of the men have disappeared due to the violence. Seventh is served by a female pastor, attendance is between 100 and 200, and they have two women’s circles. The covenant is primarily relational, a commitment to form lasting friendships north and south, to communicate needs and prayer concerns, and to support each other in ministry.  The congregations pray for each other every week and have even had joint worship services via Skype.

A group of five women and two men traveled from Ohio to Colombia in June of 2013. Deanna Maxwell, one of the participants, described the visit. “While we were there we visited one of their outreach programs, Bethesda Community Center. The center is located in an area of Barranquilla that is full of displaced people from the war with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and drug lords. Most of this community is made up of women and children, mostly because the men are rounded up and killed. The women and children are also victims of domestic violence due to a prevalent machismo attitude in Colombia that our sister church is working hard to change. At the community center our sister church tries its best to retrain the women to find jobs, to feed them and the children, help the children go to school (the school system in Colombia is free but books, school uniforms, and food are not), help children with homework, and counsel the women and children. That is a lot to try to accomplish in this very small building where there are live wires hanging from the ceiling, no refrigeration, no bathroom, the roof is caving in in some areas, there is water under the foundation and the playground is a slab of cement.”

Oxford Presbyterian learned that, to qualify for the Birthday Offering, their project must have a clearly defined purpose that meets basic human needs and provide a form of aid that relates directly to the people being served. Since the center is located in Colombia, it was critical for the Colombian congregation to be fully committed to the project. In January 2014, two Colombian visitors arrived in Ohio, where the collaboration was discussed and agreed upon. Oxford Presbyterian would serve as grant writer and Seventh would provide statistics, project planning and a budget. Communication between continents was facilitated through Facebook and translators on both ends. The proposal was submitted in May 2014.

Deanna Maxwell says, “Someone said to me once that Facebook limits our interaction with people, but I strongly disagree. Social media expands our world so much. I have made lifelong friends in other parts of the world that otherwise I would never have been able to meet. I think keeping in touch through social media with friends from our sister church and their wonderful work has helped our church in so many ways. We have learned about compassion, humility, sacrifice and the wonderful spirit of people in situations we could never even imagine.”

Nearly one year passed from the initial idea to Oxford Presbyterian’s learning that the project had been selected for the 2015 Birthday Offering. Oxford Presbyterian Church PW Moderator Susan Wilson conveyed the excitement felt when the Birthday Offering promotional materials were released. The project received funding of $100,000,  $50,000 less than the requested amount but the U.S. dollar is strong in Colombia so construction should begin soon. Additional land has already been purchased for outdoor activities. Susan said the Oxford is anxious for the completion of the project but realizes things move slower in other countries. She says, “We know God is guiding the entire task.”

For more information contact Susan Wilson or Deanna Maxwell.


Jane McGookey is synod representative for Synod of the Covenant to the Churchwide Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA).