Samuel Felderman


First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue

special to the Bellevue Herald-Leader

“It’s still amazes me that what started out as a request to change a simple habit would end up leading a group to Capitol Hill,” says Pastor Shannon Witt of First Presbyterian Church (FPC). “The Lord works in amazing ways.”

That feeling of amazement is not hers alone. Many of the congregants of First Presbyterian feel the same way. On April 14, the first coffee tasting was held after worship in the basement of First Presbyterian Church.

The mission was a simple one, find a coffee that had come from a fair trade company that had committed to ethical sourcing of its products to serve at fellowship time after service. While this may come as a shock to many people, it is estimated globally there are close to 40 million people held in slavery, a quarter of whom are childern. These slaves are used in many industries, but prominent among those are coffee and chocolate.

“There is no way around the fact that if you are drinking coffee or eating chocolate that is not specifically marked as fair trade, you are coming into contact with products that may have been harvested by slaves,” says Kim Ethington, a local resident and employee at First Presbyterian.

As understanding of the situation grew in the congregation and more education was done in the church, the issue of human slavery became more important. Soon, a variety of fair trade items were made available through the church office including a wide variety of chocolates, coffee blends, baking supplies and dried fruits and nuts.

In mid-September, the International Justice Mission (IJM), one of the organizations FPC had been learning about, sent out a memo that they were hosting a summit in Washington, D.C. and invited people to come and show support. Church members knew they needed to be there.

Led by Samuel Felderman, a group of seven community members left for Washington, D.C. Oct 19. After a day of training, the group met with congressional leaders to discuss ‘The Central American Women and Children Protection Act, S. 1781.’ This is a bipartisan bill to help strengthen the justice systems of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, three countries that have seen a huge increase in violence and exploitation of women and children in the last few years.

“No matter who you are or where you are from, you deserve to feel that your family is safe,” says Mark Felderman, a Bellevue native who joined the group to D.C.

Now back from their adventure, the people of First Presbyterian hope to continue their mission for justice by continuing a relationship with IJM and providing fair trade items at its events. “We are a diverse group of people at First Presbyterian with every stripe of political affiliation you can imagine represented. But when it comes to slavery and violence we can all agree that everyone should be able to live in freedom and security,” says Michelle Taylor, one of the delegates to D.C.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of International Justice Mission, or would like to purchase fair trade food items through their office, contact the First Presbyterian Church at 563-872-4853.