Sewickley, Emsworth Presbyterians team up to host panel on refugee crisis

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 | 7:33 AM


Two local Presbyterian churches are teaming up to host an internationally esteemed peacemaker on Oct. 13.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sewickley and Emsworth United Presbyterian Church are doing so as part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

According to the Presbyterian Mission Agency website, the program allows leaders from partner organizations around the world to visit the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and speak about issues of peace and justice.

Manolis Ntamparakis, who is visiting the Sewickley region this fall, works with refugees in the Thessaloniki area of Greece. His visit as a peacemaker comes at an opportune time, when immigrants and refugees are on the forefront of everyone’s mind, said the Rev. Charissa Howe, who serves as pastor at both churches.

“Just when people stopped talking about the Syrian refugee crisis as much, people started talking about the U.S-Mexico border. We have children coming to Pittsburgh, even, from the border crisis here in the United States,” Howe said.

On Oct. 13, St. Andrew’s and Emsworth Presbyterian are hosting an interfaith discussion panel on refugee needs and services, featuring Ntamparakis as the keynote speaker.

Representatives from local resettlement agencies and people who came to the U.S. as immigrants will also speak on the panel, according to a media release from the two churches.

“We’ve got a great lineup of people who are going to be coming and sharing experiences and opening up the discussion about, as Christians and good neighbors, how we can be passionate and loving to everyone who is here, without judgment of how they got here,” Howe said.

The panel starts at 3 p.m. in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian.

Panelists include Sister Linda Yankoski, president of Holy Family Institute; Saleem Ghubril, executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise; Gisele Fetterman, founder of 412 Food Rescue; Aweys Mwaliya, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh; and representatives from Jewish Family and Community Services and the Northern Area Multi-Service Center.

Certain speakers, like Mwaliya, plan to share personal stories. Mwaliya grew up in a refugee camp during the civil war in Somalia. Eventually, he took refuge in the U.S. after obtaining security clearances and going through the interview process.

“I know other people that are going through the same type of situation that I went through. Since I am a refugee, I came here as a refugee, this is not a story that is coming from a third party or second party, it’s coming from someone who went through the process, who went through the interviews,” Mwaliya said.

Mwaliya also said he will talk about the history of the Somali Bantu community in the U.S. He noted that the U.S. has resettled more Somali Bantu refugees than any other ethnic group from Africa.

Ghubril, born in Beirut, Lebanon, will also share his personal experience as an immigrant.

Recently, Howe has noticed growing concern for the needs of immigrants and refugees in the Pittsburgh area.

Members of both of her congregations have inquired about how they can help their neighbors who come from other countries, Howe said.

Although she acknowledged the divisive political climate surrounding immigration, she stressed that the panel will focus primarily on how people can serve those who are already here.

“It just seems like such a great time to get people who are working with (refugees) to talk about the needs and services that are available for refugees and all immigrants in our area,” Howe said.

Sam Bojarski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.