New Beginnings

New Beginnings

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.

Eccl. 3:1

I’ve been working with San Gabriel Presbytery (SGP) for over 17 years as the Mission Advocate for Hunger, Poverty, and Peacemaking Issues, so you might ask why I titled this column New Beginnings. As it turns out, last Monday (1/16) I began a new job for you all. I am now, in addition to being the Mission Advocate, the Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer (IAO) for SGP. I am looking forward to this addition as I see it meshing very nicely with what I am already doing. Immigration and immigrant/refugee ministries have been part of my very broad job description as the Mission Advocate, but now I will have the opportunity to go more in depth in these areas. It also means I will have the opportunity to more closely work alongside and support our churches that are directly supporting immigrants and refugees in various ways.

I want to hear your stories, learn how your church and church members are caring for/advocating for/supporting immigrants and refugees, and work together with you to form a plan of how I can support your church and its unique situation. I want to stress this point. I believe that each of our churches is living out a unique call of how to care for its community, which often includes immigrants and refugees, so I need to hear from you and learn from you. I hope your church will reach out to me to set up a meeting in the coming months or invite me to a mission committee or immigration team meeting. My contact information is below. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll be calling.

The IAO position has several facets. Besides working directly with SGP churches, I will also be collaborating with other presbyteries and community organizations. Some of what we will be doing together is education and capacity building. The SoCal Region Presbyterian Immigrant and Refugee Task Force (IRTF) meetings offer quarterly updates on immigration policies, the immigration situation in our region, and advocacy opportunities. Our Living Waters for the World team is exploring opportunities for water purification system work in the Tijuana area through Via Migrante. Via Migrante is a sister organization to Via International, which hosted our virtual border trips in 2021. I also continue to support the Baldwin Park Administrative Commission as it works with San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity to build affordable and immigrant housing on the Baldwin Park church property.

I’ve already met with my colleagues in Pacific Presbytery, Heidi Worthen Gamble and Anita Chombeng, and there is a lot of excitement about what we can accomplish together. We plan to offer at least one study trip to the U.S./Mexico border this year. We are also talking to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) about the possibility of opening an immigrant/refugee welcome center in Los Angeles. This would be done utilizing a broad coalition of faith groups and immigrant support organizations.

If immigrant accompaniment and immigration justice are ministry areas that you want to learn more about or are already passionate about, I recommend you to get yourself on the email list for updates from the IRTF by emailing Heidi at and telling her you’d like to get the IRTF emails. Also, look for updates periodically in the SGP Monday Morning Update. And please reach out to me directly.

Cell phone: 626-376-6912

There is a lot of exciting, faith-led immigration justice work going on in our Presbytery and throughout Southern California. I hope you will join me in some of our future efforts and I look forward to serving alongside you in this new role!

In peace,



A Faithful Voice on Hunger and Climate Justice

A Faithful Voice on Hunger and Climate Justice

Last week, our own Wendy Gist represented the PC(USA) at a “Convocation on Climate and Hunger” in Nairobi, Kenya. The convocation, which gathered Christian leaders from Africa, Europe, and the United States, was organized by Bread for the World and hosted by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC-CETA). The organizers of the event believe it is the first to bring together Christians from the three continents to address climate change and its impacts on hunger.

At the close of the convocation, Wendy and all participants signed a statement committing themselves to stand together and “seek public policies that yield measurable results and meaningful change for those disproportionately affected by hunger and climate change.” Through this convocation and statement, the leaders hope to unify and amplify a global Christian voice on the need to address climate change to end hunger in advance of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), which will be held next month in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Wendy Tajima

As Christians from Africa, Europe, and North America, we share a fierce resolve to stand and work together to end the hunger crisis made worse by climate instability, to renew God’s creation, and to bring our planet into balance, forming a beloved community in which all of creation can thrive. Climate justice is our means for furthering this resolve.

The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

We lament:

  • that many of us experience hunger, loss of shelter, loss of livelihood, poor health, environmental injustice, forced migration, fear, and distress due to climate shocks;
  • that healthy diets are unaffordable for almost 1 billion people – 40% of the world population;1
  • that more than 100 million people are forcibly displaced – 1 person in every 78 on Earth;2
  • economic systems that exploit the land and vulnerable people in mostly low-income communities for the benefit of the few;
  • a planet that is wildly out of balance, with the number of weather and climate related disasters increasing fivefold over the last 50 years3: supercharged hurricanes, severe drought, prolonged and intensifying waves of heat, massive floods, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and polar ice caps, and rising seas;
  • the creatures and life-systems that have been and are being decimated, and the web of life that is unraveling before our eyes.

We confess:

  • that the extreme patterns of living and livelihoods of some of us cause the extreme suffering of our brothers and sisters: 10% of the world’s wealthiest individuals are responsible for around half of global greenhouse gas emissions;4
  • that some of us experience the impact of these extremes more than our brothers and sisters do: namely, people disproportionately affected by historic inequities that are also racialized, women and children, and those living in the Global South;
  • that Christianity has too often been complicit in the exploitation of the Earth and our fellow human beings and that we have repeatedly ignored the fact that Biblical justice and righteousness are central to our identity as Christians;

1 The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022:
2 UNHCR data in displaced populations: forcibly-displaced.html
3 WMO news report 31 August 2021, increase-over-past-50-years-causing-more-damage-fewer
4 SEPTEMBER 2020 Stockholm Environment Institute & Oxfam The Carbon Inequality Era: An assessment of the global distribution of consumption emissions among individuals from 1990 to 2015

  • that too many Christians have ignored the findings of climate science, have failed to recognize how climate-fueled extreme weather severely harms our brothers and sisters and increases hunger, and have failed to recognize the urgency to act and address the climate emergency.

Prayer for Repentance

O God, our Creator, turn us away from the patterns of this age that include patterns of domination, overconsumption, individualism that ignores the common good, commodification, exploitation, and othering. May we heed your wisdom and the wisdom of our ancestors, our bodies, and your whole creation. Give us strength to turn toward ways of love, trust, reconciliation, justice, and grace. Amen.

To address the hunger crisis made worse by climate change, we draw from the wellsprings of our Christian faith. We affirm the intrinsic goodness of the world that God created (Genesis 1). We recognize that the first task that God entrusted to human beings was the responsibility to care for God’s creation (Genesis 2:15). God’s love embraces not only humanity but also the rest of creation (Genesis 9:8-17).

Jesus gave his life for the whole world, so that all things could be reconciled (Colossians 1:15-20;

Ephesians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 2:19). The power of God’s Holy Spirit renews the face of the Earth (Psalm

104:30) and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Jesus taught us to find him among “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). We recognize Christ’s suffering presence in the communities hurt first and hardest by climate change: those without adequate means to flourish, the historically underserved, and those least likely to have a voice at the table where policy decisions are made – the very people who suffer disproportionately even as their contribution to global emissions is almost negligible. We also recognize Christ’s liberating, life-giving presence in the individuals and communities who refuse to settle for a killing status quo and who rise up to affirm the dignity of all people and the sacredness of Earth.

Guided by the Spirit given to us in Jesus, we regard the climate emergency as not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but fundamentally as a spiritual and moral summons to all people of faith and good will – including Christians – to participate in the growing worldwide movement to restore reverence and justice for Earth and all her communities – human and other-than-human.

Before God, we commit ourselves to share in Christ’s mission to reconcile us to God, each other, and the rest of God’s creation.

Prayer of Commitment

Gracious God, we pray for people who benefit from – and people who suffer from – unjust systems that exploit human labor and plunder the Earth. Make us bold to stand together as Resurrection people.

Empower us to step out of fear, despair, and inertia and to join – and lead – the joyful, justice-seeking, Spirit-led, unstoppable movement to make a swift and just transition to clean, renewable energy, to support vulnerable communities, and to safeguard the world that you entrusted to our care. Amen.

Call to Action

African faith leaders have invited faith leaders from high-income countries in Europe and North America to come alongside them with policies that align in establishing climate justice and ending hunger.

Together, we seek public policies that yield measurable results and meaningful change for those disproportionately affected by hunger and climate change. We recognize that high-income countries have historically been the highest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and have strategic roles to play in ending the dual hunger and climate crisis. This informs our demands for the following actions:

For All Parties at COP27

  • The Adaptation Fund, and other climate justice funding mechanisms, must conform to evidence on gender and accessibility and embed Locally Led Adaptation Principles in their
  • Stop the politicization of climate change discourse, which is killing people around the world; accept the moral urgency of addressing the climate crisis with ambition, equity, and resolve.

For Governments and Decision Makers in the North

  • Fulfill all milestone commitments made by those responsible for polluting the planet and invite the initiatives that build on these commitments.
  • Fulfill the promise to mobilize $100 billion annually to fight climate

For Government and Decision Makers in the South

  • Environmental policies, action plans and Nationally Determined Commitments should be formulated in ways that guarantee economic and ecological justice and should be fully
  • Create a policy and legislative environment that enables smallholder farmers to fully utilize all available climate change adaptive measures to address food insecurity.

For the Private Sector

  • Prioritize community and environmental health and sustainability in all its practices and move beyond a rigid focus on profit-making.
  • The private sector must be responsible partners in addressing the climate crisis and loss and damage, and must advance practices that heal, rather than perpetuate, historic inequities.

For Young People of Faith

  • The time for action is now! Young people will inherit the Earth that older generations bequeath them. We urge older generations to leave a healthy, habitable planet for those who come
  • We celebrate youth leadership in climate activism, and we call for ecumenical unity as old and young stand together to advocate for a safe and healthy world.

For Church Leaders, Faith Communities and Faith-based Actors

  • Biblical teachings, guided by church teachings, inspire, empower, and motivate us to love each other and creation with passion and to prioritize environmental action in our faith communities and our everyday lives.
  • As Christians who confess and lament our past unfaithfulness and who are determined to seek climate justice for God’s whole creation, we urge all Christians and all people of faith and good will to join us in taking bold action to restore the Earth.

Embracing the Matthew 25 Invitation and Acting On It

Embracing the Matthew 25 Invitation and Acting On It

San Gabriel Presbytery has become a Matthew 25 Presbytery, which means we pledge to encourage 20% or more of our congregations to become Matthew 25 churches and embrace these areas of focus:

  • Building congregational vitality
  • Dismantling structural racism
  • Eradicating systemic poverty

This year I have had the pleasure of working with Presbyterian Mission Agency staff, several Mission Co-Workers, and a number of Presbytery staff from around the country to come up with resources for churches and presbyteries to address the Matthew 25 focus area of Eradicating Systemic Poverty. I will give you links to those helpful resources at the end of this column, but for now let’s focus on why and how we should take action to eradicate systemic poverty and live into our Matthew 25 commitment.

From scripture we receive fairly strong messages about how we as Christians are called to take care of and protect the poor and oppressed. And it’s clear we are called to take action. Matthew 25:35-40 tells us that by taking care of the “least” of society we are also serving Jesus. But, providing material needs is not where our call as Christians ends. In Isaiah 1:17 God instructs “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” And in Proverbs 31:8-9 a king “belonging to God” receives instructions that are understood to be from God. He is taught to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

I recently read through the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Fall 2022 PHP POST. This edition’s theme is Eradicating Systemic Poverty. The front-page article by Andrew Kang Bartlett shares some wisdom from the founders of the long-time PC(USA) partner Bread for the World. He shared that David Beckmann, former president of Bread for the World “often preached an important message: We can’t food bank our way out of hunger; ending hunger requires political will.” Andrew also writes about Bread’s founder Rev. Art Simon, who frequently said, “It’s better to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom,” meaning “Let us tackle hunger’s root causes.””

It seems to me our instructions are clear. We not only need to take care of the basic needs of people living in poverty, but we also need to work to correct unjust systems that keep people in poverty by speaking up. Speaking up can take many forms (i.e., letters, emails, phone calls, visits, and marches) and can have many audiences (i.e., city councils, state legislators, federal representatives). We’re lucky. There are a lot of faith-based organizations that are doing great, ongoing research into what specific root causes of hunger and poverty are locally and globally. Often these same organizations offer excellent guidance regarding what we can do to help correct unjust systems, and they are happy to have us partner or participate with them. I have known Christians who are uncomfortable being what they perceive to be political, but I think we all must acknowledge that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, wasn’t afraid to act and speak out in the public square. He held leaders to account and corrected those who were acting unjustly towards others. He spoke up! He called on those in power to do better! He advocated for the poor and oppressed! As disciples of Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same?

Advocacy may seem scary or complicated or too time consuming, but it’s really quite simple and usually takes only a little time. There are easy ways to get involved in advocating for the eradication of hunger and poverty. The Presbyterian Hunger Program, Bread for the World, LA Voice, and CLUE-LA, just to name a few, give us specific messages to speak up about and sample letters when we’re writing to someone. They can also connect us to others who are called to address root causes of hunger and poverty. I urge you to give it a try!

I promised I’d give you links to resources, so here they are.

If you’d like to read more of the Fall 2022 PHP POST, go to:

The new PMA resources that I worked on to help us as we follow our call to eradicate systemic poverty can be downloaded as a complete packet all at once or individually as desired. Here are the links.

The Matthew 25 Eradicating Systemic Poverty Resource Packet includes:

I would be honored to support you and your congregation as you ACT to bring about a just world. I can also connect you to organizations already engaged in this work. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at

The peace of Christ be with you,

Wendy Gist

Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:17

I have known Merilie Robertson since the early 1990’s when our paths crossed as my husband and I were gearing up for PC(USA) mission service. Little did I know that our paths would continue to cross for the next 3 decades, but I’m sure glad they have! I have been blessed to know her and be inspired by her. She moved into Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena in Feb. 2019 after spending many years (when she was in the U.S.A) living in Canoga Park, CA. If you don’t know Merilie already, I hope this article gives you a glimpse into why I feel so blessed to have worked alongside her in both San Fernando and San Gabriel Presbyteries for a number of years now by giving you a brief look into just a few of the adventures in justice she has lived.

Merilie was born in Simi, CA, in 1928 and grew up on a ranch that grew mainly oranges, walnuts, and grapes. She characterizes her family as adventurous, and she remembers many a summer camping trip in Baja California. She has many happy memories of growing up.

It was while earning her teaching credential that Merilie first considered that her calling might be to the mission field. She got her teaching credential; taught science, math, home economics, and P.E. for two years in a small town; earned a Masters in Religious Education at seminary; and then applied to the PC(USA) Board of Foreign Missions. In 1957 after missionary orientation in New York, she boarded the USS Flying Independence (a freighter) for a two-month trip around the tip of Africa to Karachi. She lived in Lahore, Pakistan, for 11 years teaching at the Forman High School for girls. Forman High School was a Christian school for Muslim girls. Merilie started the science department and taught mainly physics and chemistry in the Urdu language. Her next assignment which started in 1969 was teaching school at the Community School in Tehran, Iran. It was a very diverse school both religiously and ethnically. Merilie came to love Iran – the beauty of the country, the cultural treasures, and her students. In 1979 the U.S. Embassy was taken over, and then the Community School was taken over by the revolutionary guard.

Merilie and some other teachers stayed one final school year teaching at a new site in northern Tehran before the government closed all foreign schools and she came back to the U.S. in 1980.

That year, at General Assembly, a 5-year study that produced a document called “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling” was received. This little booklet had a profound impact on Merilie, and she says “it was a life-changer for me.” It helped her put many things together and cemented her call to be a peacemaker.

Merilie states that her love for justice started in Iran and grew from there. In the 1980’s Merilie really became an activist. She went on Witness for Peace delegation trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia. She learned about issues affecting Latin America and worked to raise the awareness of U.S. citizens and elected officials so as to effect change in U.S. policy toward Central America. She participated in acts of civil disobedience. It was an important time for her.

As I mentioned, I met Merilie in the early 1990’s before my husband and I went to Nicaragua as PC(USA) mission workers. In Spring 1994 we landed in Managua to begin our assignment. Then in the fall of 1994 Merilie arrived in Nicaragua with the Presbyterian Reconciliation and Mission Program. Merilie was 66 years old (the next oldest participant was 35 years old), and she was sent to the Atlantic Coast to the town of Puerto Cabezas. She was assigned to work with the Moravian Church’s Women’s Association and it was through that group she met many amazingly strong women who inspired her.

One such inspiration was a Miskito woman named Edrina. Edrina was extremely poor, but she was passionate about starting women’s associations at Moravian churches in the region. Edrina’s passion led to Merilie accompanying her to some very remote communities, and Merilie told me of one such trip.

Edrina had set up visits to several remote communities north of Puerto Cabezas, so one late afternoon Merilie walked to the port and boarded a 20 foot or so long sailboat along with Edrina. The boat carried quite a lot of people and freight, and they sailed on the ocean all night up the coast. When they got off the sailboat the next day they walked to a Moravian pastor’s house where they stayed for 2 or 3 days. Each day they walked to different communities and met with church women to talk about starting women’s associations. The return trip was via inland water passages and ended with them wading from waist deep to shore. This was just one of many interesting and adventurous experiences Merilie had while in Nicaragua.

Not one for twiddling her thumbs, Merilie felt called to travel back to Central America shortly after returning to the U.S. from Nicaragua. She went to Guatemala in the fall of 1995 where for two months she accompanied Pastor Lucio Martinez who was receiving death threats. Her time in Guatemala was very significant for her. Accompanying Lucio every day whether he went on a pastoral call in a community or to a meeting in Guatemala City or to work in his corn field gave Merilie a glimpse into and a better understanding of the lives of indigenous people. On community visits she would hear discussions about relevant issues. During Bible studies Lucio would read a passage and those in attendance would bring their experiences to the Scriptures in ways Merilie had not heard before.

Accompanying people like Edrina and Lucio gave her insight into how important it is to listen and especially listen to indigenous people.

Since leaving Central America she has continued to tirelessly do what she can for oppressed peoples. She spent parts of 3 summers along the U.S./Mexico border with “No More Deaths,” sleeping on the ground and carrying heavy water bottles around in order to assist migrants in the desert. At 78 years old she decided she had to stop that activity. But she realized that she could still work in aiding immigrants without traveling into the desert. She’s done a lot of advocacy work and about 7 years ago she started learning about detention centers and realized that people from countries she had visited or volunteered in were in some of these facilities. She started visiting detainees and listening to them, so she could then share their stories and struggles and better advocate for them. Then in time she began to train others on organizing and making visits. One local group she helped train is now way beyond just visiting detainees, and that makes her happy. During this pandemic she is still writing to a few detainees or released immigrants and she is reading to continue learning.

“See life as an experience that educates you,” said Merilie. Well, with all she’s experienced I’d say Merilie is a very wise woman.

In peace,

Wendy Gist





I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

God calls us to love one another, and while sometimes this commandment leads us to do good things for others, at other times it leads us to do good things in partnership with others.  This is a constant issue we struggle with in the broad area of mission – doing for or doing with.  While I believe that there is a place and actually a need for both, I tend to gravitate toward opportunities that would fall under the “doing with” heading as that can lead to empowerment and self-sufficiency of the individuals or groups we are working alongside.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) is a perfect example of an empowerment model.  SDOP makes it possible for us to financially support the programs or projects of disadvantaged communities through grants.  This may sound very familiar – grants for programs or projects in disadvantaged communities.  But, SDOP grants come with criteria unlike most other grant programs we may be familiar with.  First, the project must be presented, owned, and controlled by the group of disadvantaged people who will benefit from it.  This first criteria makes it impossible for the project to be one where some group is “doing for” others.  Second, the project needs to address a long-term correction of conditions that keep people bound by poverty and oppression.  This second criteria leads directly toward empowerment and self-sufficiency of oppressed people.  There are other criteria that include being sensitive to the environment; not advocating violence; and describing, in detail, goals, objectives, the roles of direct beneficiaries, and the methods used to achieve goals and objectives.  However, the first two criteria are what set SDOP apart and make it harder to find grant recipients sometimes.

The churches in our Presbytery have lots of good programs and connections to organizations with good programs that help poor, oppressed, and marginalized people in our communities in a myriad of ways.  We are very good at “doing for” others and know of lots of organizations that run on that model.  However, are you aware of groups in your community that are working to lift themselves out of poverty and oppression and make their own lives better?  I would encourage all of us to open our eyes and ears and search out the groups of disadvantaged people in our area that are working to empower themselves.  They are both exciting and inspiring!

As a reminder, our Presbytery is part of a joint SDOP Committee with the Presbytery of San Fernando.  This committee has grant money available every year to support the work of groups that meet the SDOP criteria.  If you know of a community group that meets the SDOP criteria and has a project or program that could use some financial assistance, please contact Wendy Gist at and visit for more information.