Rev. Paula Cooper, Mission Co-Worker in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia and PC(USA) regional liaison for East Central Africa.
As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. Paula provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region. She assists PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries to promote healthy partnerships with our Christian brothers and sisters in East Africa. Despite minimal budgets, the PC(USA) partners in East Central Africa are thriving denominations with over 7 million members - that's far larger than the American membership of our church!
These African churches work hand in hand with national governments to address issues of poverty and disease and improve quality of life through the hundreds of schools they support; the hospitals and clinics they maintain; and the micro-enterprise and agricultural programs they implement. All of the churches struggle to find funds to send students to theological institutions, and pastors — traveling by bicycle — are challenged with congregations consisting of prayer houses in multiple geographic locations. Responsibility for preaching and visitation often falls to laity.
When Paula Cooper entered Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS) in 2006 at the age of 50, she didn’t fit the profile of the typical matriculating student. Paula’s decades of life experience that had brought her to this stage of her journey had also endowed her with a unique perspective on what it means to follow God and serve alongside her brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paula served in a variety of ministries in her home church, Holy Trinity-Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia — as ruling elder, youth director, Christian education chairperson and worship committee chairperson, among others. She also worked in the “urban mission field” of the Logan community of Philadelphia as the executive director of Youth Projects and as a community organizer for Logan Olney Family Support Services. Paula’s work in Philadelphia prepared her for mission work in Africa with its focus on relationship-building and listening to community stakeholders’ voices.
In her work as regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula emphasizes the necessity of “collaboration between God’s people and their gifts for ministry.” She strives to support and equip fellow mission co-workers, international partners and U.S. congregations as they “educate and galvanize church members in addressing issues that interfere with God’s desire for people ‘to have life and have it more abundantly.’”
Paula received her Bachelor of Arts at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and her Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In addition to her work in mission, she was a hospice chaplain, and from 2014 to 2017, she served as designated pastor of Curby Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
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