NEW YORK (PNS) — Doreen Alefaio was on the grounds of the United Nations checking messages on her phone when she realized what was happening back home in New Zealand.
Tears started to flow as she saw reports of the attack on two mosques in Christchurch that we now know took the lives of 50 worshipers attending Friday prayers on March 15. A woman who is Muslim approached her and asked where she was from and took her hand when she said, “New Zealand.”
“For the next few moments they held hands and cried together at the United Nations, worlds apart but united in grief for the events taking place,” Steph Redhead, Alefaio’s fellow New Zealand delegate to the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), wrote on her blog, reflecting on being more than 9,000 miles from home when senseless tragedy put her country in a rare global spotlight.
Redhead quoted Alefaio on her blog, saying the woman’s “warm words flowed with sympathy as she gently held my hand to say we will get through this together as I gurgled out apologies for the devastating actions of one, in the land that is known for diversity, peace and aroha, love, alofa, sarang, ofa … it’s where I’m from, Aotearoa, it is my people but the single act of terror is not me, is not us … Her presence represented the 49 that were gone, her scarf covered her head, covered her neck but all I could see was the 49 beings, the 49 families of a community, in my community, in our community.”
Just one day earlier, Alefaio, Redhead and six of their fellow Presbyterian delegates to the CSW were reveling in the global fellowship of their faith, joining in morning worship at the UN Church Center, which includes the offices of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations (PMUN), attending discussions and events and taking in the global experience of the annual commission.
“A lot of what’s discussed here are social and global issues,” Alefaio, who is from Auckland, said in an interview following a dinner presented by Ecumenical Women at the Church Center on March 13. “So, applying your faith to what’s going on is why I wanted to come. I used to teach theology, so teaching values, teaching Christian principles … it’s not just about going to church. It’s wider issues and venturing out into the communities we live in.”
And it was quite a venture as most of the participants endured two- and three-leg, 24 hour-plus journeys to get to New York for the commission. Though New Zealand is a nation of 4.5 million people and is roughly the size of Colorado, some delegates did not meet each other until they arrived in New York.
The eight-person group is something of a combined delegation of Presbyterian and Methodist Women, a union that has existed in various forms since 1985. By pooling their resources, the group — six Presbyterians and two Methodists — have been able to take on projects outside of their country in places such as Africa.
By definition, the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand is not the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But the two have sought to work together, as PC(USA) does with many entities outside the United States.
Asked about working with the New Zealand delegation, PMUN director Ryan Smith wrote, “I’m reminded of Romans 12: 4-8 when Paul writes, ‘For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.’
“It is so exciting for us, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women Aotearoa New Zealand to be bringing our gifts together to advocate in the name of Jesus for women’s rights around the world.”