The original version of this article focused on the concern that funds designated by donors through a particular mission network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) were not reaching their intended designation in a timely manner. Therefore, that mission network — the Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network (SLPN) — is now requesting that donations be sent through the United Church of Christ instead of the PCUSA because of unacceptably long processing times by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The article is being updated with related concerns about the pace of distribution of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) funds to the same partners in Syria-Lebanon.
The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) is now operating in an environment that is not only dominated by another religious group but is in the midst of a civil war and related refugee crisis. Aid to Christians who have been led to Christ by Presbyterian missionaries since 1823 through PCUSA’s nearly century-long (1920) partner, NESSL, should be free-flowing and immediate. It is not.
There are several avenues of funding for NESSL from the PCUSA according to the denomination’s website:
- through the World Mission budget via acct E340202,
- through the Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network via acct EO52155,
- through PDA’s Syria link via acct DR000081, and
- through PDA’s “Gift of the Heart Kits” via acct DR000151.
Postings related to Syria and Lebanon via PCUSA.org are myriad. There is information being supplied by World Missions, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Office of Public Witness, and yes, the Syria-Lebanon Partnership Network. With so many people and entities involved maybe it’s no surprise that there are bureaucratic complications. However, the people on the other end of the relationship, our partners in Syria, do not have the luxury of time to waste.
According to the Director of Communications, Kathy Francis, PMA is aware of the problem, is making efforts to “balance speed with good stewardship.” They are “working to find a fix.”
The problem rose the attention of outsiders in mid April.
The April 15 email header read:
From: Syria Lebanon Mission Network of the PCUSA
It contained ministry updates of partners in the region, information about a delegation traveling to the region, requests for prayers for the people of Syria and Iraq and then there was this:
Due to internal policies and procedures, Presbyterian Mission Agency offices are not able to transfer relief funds to our mission partners in Syria in a timely manner. Anticipated turnaround time is more than two months, and possibly more than six months. For this reason, the S-LPN will be coordinating the transfer of relief funds through the United Church of Christ. Please make out your checks to the United Church of Christ, and continue to mail them to our treasurer, Phil Hanna, at 800 Page Street, #108, Columbia, KY 40202. He will forward them to the UCC Offices of Peter Makari. Turnaround time is about one week for the UCC!
Yes, a mission network of the PCUSA is currently directing supporters to send their contributions through another denomination due to the unacceptable length of time it currently takes to process funds through the PCUSA.
Identifying the questions is not nearly as difficult as finding the answers. Why has the processing of funds for urgent ministry, like relief in Syria through a long-time and highly trust partner denomination, ground to a near halt? What should take days now takes months. What can be processed and transferred within a week by the United Church of Christ (UCC), a much small denomination with a much smaller national staff, takes the PCUSA ten to 25 times as long. Why is that and how can it be fixed?
The Syria-Lebanon mission partnership of the PCUSA expects that the processing of donations will be able to be routed through the PMA in the near future. The email concludes:
This is a temporary arrangement. When the PCUSA process is more streamlined, we will return to sending relief funds through the PCUSA.
Pauline Coffman, the contact person listed on the PCUSA website for the Syria Lebanon Partnership Network, confirmed in a telephone conversation on Thursday, May 28, that until further notice, the SLPN will be routing donor designated donations for NESSL through the UCC. It is Coffman’s ardent hope that the issues at the PCUSA will be resolved quickly. It is the Network’s intent and desire to restore the routing of funds through the PCUSA but the delay of months to partners with emergent needs is unacceptable.
A case in point. In November an urgent appeal was issued for funds to enable NESSL to supply blankets for the winter through its network of local congregations. People contributed generously. However, the PCUSA did not transfer the funds to NESSL until February, after the coldest part of the winter had already passed.
The experience of the mission network led me to wonder if similar obstructions were being experienced by funds designated for NESSL through PDA.
The answer received via email from Kathy Francis read in part:
In February 2014, PDA had approximately $100,000 in donor funds, and during a visit with partners in the NESSL, consulted with the Synod about potential projects. Many different projects were under consideration by our partners in Lebanon and Syria as they sought to address vast needs for refugees and returnees. In the Fall of 2014, our partners in the field decided the best use of the funds was to restore permanent infrastructure within the country, and the grant application process was initiated. The money was targeted for approximately 40 homes in Homs, Syria. In April 2015, PDA disbursed $50K for the first phase of the Homs rebuilding process. The second phase $50K will be disbursed once PDA receives a report on the initial disbursement, which follows PC (USA) grant policies and best practices.
PDA believes the release of funds during crisis should be as expedient as possible. But the extensive damage, government policies regarding funding being provided in sanctioned countries and conditions in Syria slowed the process.
Being accountable to our donors and partners in the field is of utmost importance to PDA. We are committed to finding the most effective and efficient ways of providing emergency funds, building long term disaster response capacities with our partners and supporting development in collaboration , while ensuring our donors’ contributions are maximized to their fullest potential.
We understand there are frustrations, and embrace our responsibility to balance compassion, expediency and good stewardship. Internal discussions are set for next week to look for ways to improve the efficiency of our current system.
If you or your church have given money to the PCUSA for distribution to a designated ministry or mission in the past six months, I encourage you to call the PMA and ask for an accounting of the particular EO account to which you contributed.
In a comment to this article we are reminded that another Presbyterian funding stream is available:
The Outreach Foundation continues to receive gifts for our Presbyterian partners in Syria/Lebanon and Iraq, funds which they are using in relief efforts to show and share the love of Jesus as they care for Muslim, Yazidi and Christian neighbors who have been displaced by the violence of ISIS and others. We send the funds quickly and directly to Presbyterian partners in the region using secure accounts. We welcome gifts for this work in the face of the continuing violence and need. For updates about these dear brothers and sisters who are bearing heroic witness to the Gospel, please visit http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org.
The April 2015 Syrian Relief page of The Outreach Foundation can be found at: http://www.theoutreachfoundation.org/updates/2015/4/16/syrian-christians-need-our-help