Letter from Gyumri: Faith into Action
Epifania Amoo-Adare, a former UCLA graduate student in Education and staffer at the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa, writes about her work in the South Caucasus.
Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2007
In Georgia, parishioners speak of how PSM has strengthened or begun to mend relationships between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
A former staff member at the UCLA Globalization Research Center–Africa, Epifania Amoo-Adare is currently an International Development Fellow with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). As a Tbilisi-based Fellow, she is gaining exposure to a broad range of CRS activities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and managing the Parish Social Ministry and Volunteerism (PSM) in the South Caucasus project.
By Epifania Amoo-Adare
MY DECISION to work with Catholic Relief Services through its International Development Fellow program was rooted in my adherence to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching that guide the organization's emergency and development work. What I wasn't prepared for was the real force of "faith in action." It is the reason why I am up at 3:00 a.m. for the second night running at the Berlin Guesthouse in Gyumri, Armenia, lying in bed scribbling the day's thoughts into my journal, torch in hand because I don't want the bedside lamp to jar my half-sleepy eyes. I should obviously return to sleep, but the impact of the past few days of data collection for the Parish Social Ministry (PSM) and Volunteerism in the South Caucasus project won't let me.
As a fellow, one of my organizational mandates was to carry out the mid-term evaluation of the PSM project—sterile words to describe the life-changing experience that I am having as I talk to people about how faith and Christian principles of love, dignity, and justice have informed their struggles for social and economic development. Parishioners voluntarily develop and implement small-grant projects based on participatory needs assessments of their community’s issues and on trainings they receive from nine stellar national "animators" who work for Armenian Caritas, Caritas Georgia, and the Roman Catholic Community of Baku.
Through the evaluation, I find that PSM is blossoming in the minds, hearts, and actions of the various parish communities in the South Caucasus, volunteer communities diverse in their representations of age, gender, and ethnicity. The spirit of volunteerism talked about by the various parish animators, leaders, volunteers, as well as the beneficiaries of their small-grant project efforts, is that of Christian love that inspires each and every one to work hard and selflessly for others in their community. More specifically, parishioners in Azerbaijan speak of how PSM has provided a rock of principles from which they can support the volunteerism that they have practiced since the Catholic church opened its doors in Baku, the capital. In Gori and Tbilisi (Georgia), parishioners speak of how PSM has either strengthened already existing relationships between Catholics and Orthodox Christians or begun to mend an age-old rift between these two groups, as parish volunteers work to enrich the elderly and local children's lives out of principles of dignity and solidarity. Similarly, in the village communities of Bavra and Saragyugh (Armenia), parishioners are united in their selfless use of minds, hands, and meager finances to reconstruct parts of their villages' infrastructure, not solely out of duty but because doing unto and for others ultimately means doing for oneself and one's children's children.
So after yet another day of talking to PSM leaders, volunteers, and beneficiaries, the earnestness of their words won't let me sleep. I can feel my mind churn over the honest toughness of their hard lives and how PSM is making some differences in their way of thinking and doing for each other, in order to improve their difficult circumstances. A very small taste of which I experienced today when our car got stuck in the snow and we had to trudge almost one kilometer to Saragyugh village. Freezing but grateful for my mittens, wool scarf, fur-lined coat, felt hat, and a decent pair of winter boots, I realized how privileged my own existence is. The proof was in the tired faces of the schoolchildren walking the long distance home, whom we passed on our way back to the car.