Two weeks from now, eleven Pullen pilgrims will leave for a ten-day visit with our partners in the Republic of Georgia. Technically, it’s ten Pullenites and Paula Clayton Dempsey, staff member of the Alliance of Baptists. But since Paula was ordained here, she feels like one of us. Although various Pullen people have traveled to Georgia over the years, this is our first group to go to Georgia to spend time with our friend Malkhaz Songulashvili and the good people of that nation.
Adventures like this connect us in sometimes surprising ways to the lives of people whose settings, concerns, and language are quite different from ours. For example, the Russian incursion and subsequent unrest in Ukraine feels to the Georgian people like “déjà vu all over again.” It was in 2008 when the Russians did a similar thing in Georgia. One strong opinion is that it’s happening in Ukraine because there was no worldwide uproar and penalty for Putin’s activities in Georgia.
Several in our pilgrim group are spending time in Turkey on the way over or on the way back. All of us will layover at the airport in Istanbul before traveling on to Tbilisi. In yesterday’s news we learned about the horrible fire in a mine in Soma, Turkey, an accident that has turned out to be the worst mining accident in that nation’s history. At last count, nearly 300 lives have been lost. In response, the President of Turkey said, “Accidents happen,” a remark that has sparked riots and a widely circulated photo of the president’s aid kicking a protester. It will be interesting to see the political ramifications for him as a result of his callous response to this huge tragedy.
As I write this, our Cuba pilgrims are preparing to board a plane to Matanzas to celebrate the 115th anniversary of our partner, First Baptist Church. In addition to representing us at the anniversary celebration, one of their tasks is to garner information we need to continue preparation for a two-week visit from at least eight of their church members in September. That four potential guests were denied visas by the U.S. Government for “insufficient ties to Cuba” reminds us of the troubled relationship between our country and theirs. That our older youth are able to make the journey to Cuba this summer to learn in person from the wisdom of our friends there reminds us of how privileged we are.
I am always hesitant to use the phrase “we are blessed” because the idea of blessing as some kind of divine favoritism is rampant in Christianity today. So I’ll just say that it is a gracious gift to us to be partners with the people of Georgia and Cuba – and Zimbabwe and Nicaragua and Coventry. It’s a hectic time at Pullen because there is so much international coming and going this year. But it is also a fruitful time as we try to learn from friends across the globe what it means to be faithful witnesses to God’s love and justice. Thanks be to God.