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Ecumenical background guides staff to connect

Marijke Fakasiieiki serves as The Fig Tree's development and editorial associate.

Marijke Fakasiieiki came to her role as development and editorial associate with The Fig Tree after years training in interfaith and ecumenical consulting with nonprofits and working to hone those skills internationally with the World Council of Churches (WCC).

When she was 11, she went with her mother Mary Stamp, then living in Tekoa, to the WCC sixth Assembly in 1983 in Vancouver, B.C. She also joined Mary at the seventh assembly in 1991 at Canberra, Australia, while studying at the University of Oregon, and in 1998 to the eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, marking the 50th anniversary of the first assembly in 1948 in Amsterdam, which her grandparents had attended.

In 1996, Marijke studied with the graduate program of the WCC at Bossey in Switzerland with 40 people from 30 countries before going to seminary at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where she graduated in 1998.

Marijke later raised money for The WCC Women's Theological Fund and worked as a justice and peace intern with the national United Church of Christ in Washington D.C.

She returned to work in the Bay Area with interfaith councils, organizing educational events and raising funds while her husband, Ikani, who is from Tonga, completed a doctoral degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

"When I came back to Spokane and worked with nonprofits, it was in the back of my mind that I wanted to help continue the legacy my mother started in 1984," said Marijke. "I worked with some agencies that The Fig Tree newspaper and Resource Directory cover."

When the development associate position opened part-time, she applied. Not only did her skill sets match the needs, but also she had the ecumenical and interfaith understandings needed.

In academic settings for more than 20 years, she had helped international students edit and write papers, theses and dissertations.

"Journalism is a different style, so I have been learning AP style," she said. "For ecumenical journalism, the main thing is to learn how to listen with eyes and ears to help people communicate their stories to the world in an authentic, respectful manner."

She spends time listening to people and then helps translate their stories in The Fig Tree to communicate with a broader audience.

"We look for people who are not covered in the general media, people who are living out their faith and values," Marijke said. "There are people in the community stepping out of their comfort zones every day to make a difference—people of faith and people with humanistic values.

"My framework is local but I understand that our community is a microcosm of the world's different cultures, religions and races," she said. "We hear so much about hate groups that we forget about the transformative power of love in the community."

Marijke told of interviewing Doresty Daniel from the Marshallese community that was impacted by nuclear testing in the South Pacific, learning that many Marshallese have come here to find a safe place to live and work. Their presence has an impact on lives here.

"As we hear their stories, we realize we have something in common. We can understand that our stories are their stories, and their stories are our stories," she explained. "It's not just storytelling for the sake of the story. It's for the sake of empowering and transforming lives."

Marijke also interviewed Luc Jasmin Jr, a Haitian immigrant who is pastor of Maranatha Ministries, a multicultural church, gaining insights into the struggles in Haiti.

Doresty and Luc exemplify Marijke's awareness about the intersection of the global and the local.

"The global framework of understanding local issues helps us know we're not alone. We are doing works of caring, justice and faith in solidarity with others throughout the world," she said. "We're not isolated."

Because of her connections, The Fig Tree is bringing a global faith leader as keynote speaker for its 40th Anniversary Gala on April 28 at St. John's Cathedral. Karen Georgia Thompson is a member of the WCC's Central and Executive committees.

She is a national and global church leader who reads The Fig Tree stories about people here.

Beyond their global scope, Marijke's tasks require attention to details, problem solving and quick thinking—maintaining databases, networking, selling ads, building relationships and keeping track of people as they move to different organizations.

"As people move, it's an opportunity to build relationships with other organizations," Marijke said. "That's why my role is called 'development' as I seek to build a solid base of support with individual and organizational sponsors, advertisers, community partners and grants."

With its 40th anniversary, Marijke is also helping The Fig Tree explore establishing a long-term investment fund to help expand staff and create new media.

Marijke nurtures relationships not only over the phone but also by meeting people in coffee shops, attending events, offering information at displays, and going to congregations and nonprofits to preach and to share The Fig Tree story.

"While we focus on faith, we are not just interviewing people in faith communities. We also interview people in businesses," she said. "We highlight people in different racial and cultural communities, women and LGBTQIA+."

Marijke frames ecumenical and interfaith work in the words of former WCC General Secretary Phillip Potter, who described ecumenical leaders as those working toward bringing unity among the diverse peoples of the world. He said ecumenical leaders need to have a sense of humor, an open mind and a willingness to take risks.

"Those traits keep me going when dealing with the harsh realities of the world. To have a sense of humor is also to understand other people's humanity and to move forward in solidarity with them," she said.

"An open mind means we are open to learning things from other people. When we ask questions, we're asking out of respect and deep interest, longing to learn about a person at the soul level," she continued.

"Taking risks means we know that forces in the world seek to divide people, and even threaten journalists for telling stories. There is a risk to being a journalist, but it's important for people around the world to know what is happening to millions of people who are oppressed, displaced or living on the edge, so others will care and act.

"It's important to share stories to build hope that empowers people to make a difference," Marijke concluded.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April 2024