Tom Getman

Thomas Getman is president of a private consulting group that specializes in international, United Nations and Non Governmental Organization affairs and university seminars and workshops on UN Reform and humanitarian interagency partnership building.  He was World Vision’s executive director for international relations with tenure until March 1, 2009.  In this role, he managed World Vision’s liaison activities with the UN and the World Council of Churches and was responsible for diplomatic relations with UN government member missions in Geneva and with countries on sensitive tax, staff and protocol negotiations.

He served until 2009 on the board of principals for the UN Deputy Secretary General for Emergency Relief in the UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and as chair of a premier NGO consortium the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).

From 1997 to 2001, Getman was director of World Vision’s programs in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip where he was responsible for a staff of 30 and $5-8 million a year in relief and development projects in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and advocacy for peace with justice.

Previously, Getman served for 12 years as director of government relations and special assistant to the president of World Vision United States at which time he founded WV’s office in DC. Getman interpreted U.S. government policy, pressed for needed foreign assistance, and advanced human rights, relief and development concerns with Congress and the White House.

From 1976 to 1985, as a Congressional legislative director for Senator Mark Hatfield his primary assignments were African foreign policy and social justice, human rights and welfare issues. His most notable legislative contribution was to participate in the drafting team for the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1985 (Law of ’86) after participating in the legal sanctions against Rhodesia and Uganda.   Getman helped negotiate protocols with the presidents of Uganda and Zambia and encouraged warring African factions in their peace negotiations. In the mid-1980s, Getman played a central role to persuade the South African Foreign Ministry to cease support for the Mozambican rebel group Resistencia National Mocambicana (Renamo).    He also was an adjunct speechwriter for other regional and national political figures, including President Gerald R. Ford.

Getman served 1963 to 1976 as Young Life area director in Philadelphia and regional director in New England, where he established field education programs for university and seminary MA youth ministry programs.  Notably his team participated in the training and encouraging of city government and education officials in the desegregation of Boston schools.  

Getman holds a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College (Illinois) and a master’s in theology (equivalency certificate) from Fuller Theological Seminary.  He serves on a number of boards including Global Priorities, Sojourners, and Refugees International.  Formerly he was a board member of the Ramallah (Palestine) Friends School, The YMCA (West Jerusalem) and Bread for the World.  He was based in Geneva, Switzerland, with his wife Karen from October 2001 to March 1, 2009.  The Getmans are presently resident in Washington, DC where they are active in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church-Washington Diocese, and social justice advocacy with Members of Congress.  They have three grown children, Andrew, Eliza and Tim, and five grandchildren.  Andrew is a Russian and French scholar, bibliophile and book-store manager, Eliza a PhD ordained Anglican priest - chaplain in Durban, South Africa, and Timothy a notable regional stage actor.  

Articles By This Author

Traveling with South African 'Ex-Cons' to D.C.

by Tom Getman 06-10-2015
Photo by Tom Getman

President Kgalema Motlanthe, Jim Wallis, and Denis Goldberg. Photo by Tom Getman

I was privileged to co-host with former colleagues the visit of former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, an ex-convict from the apartheid era. He served 10 years in prison for the “treasonous” act of standing against the Afrikaans Nationalist regime, along with Nelson Mandela and 1000s of others who spent many years on Robben Island or in Pretoria Central Prison. Many died in the process. President Motlanthe was accompanied by Denis Goldberg, who was convicted along with Mandela and served 22 years. Nicholas Wolpe, the facilitator of the trip, is a cousin of the late Congressman Howard Wolpe. Nic’s father would have been one of the Rivonia accused at the trial in 1963-4 but for having made a daring famous escape with several other comrades.

What One Person (or Two) Can Do in Transition Cultures

by Tom Getman 04-16-2015

Photo by Tom Getman

Not many people traveling in southern Africa consider Venda in the northern Limpopo Province a worthy touristic or project partnership visit. For years visitors to the South African Development Community have seen this more isolated, beautiful mountainous area of northern South Africa as a shortcut to Kruger National Park or to/from Pretoria and Johannesburg en route to the wonders of the 1,000-year-old Great Zimbabwe ruin or majestic Victoria Falls.

Perhaps a quick stop was worthy on the Musina-Beitbridge border to photograph the “great, green, greasy Limpopo River” made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s “How The Elephant Got His Trunk.” Not much else would interrupt the dash on the N1, similar to America’s own Route 1 from Canada to Florida.

Big mistake! As I found out when saying ill-advisedly to our travelling companions that “there really is nothing to see or stop for in the area … and we do have an important dinner appointment in Pretoria.” The twofold result was a serious late night ”domestic” with my more adventurous and intuitive wife, Karen, and secondly, a necessary, more open-minded review of the unexplored albeit minimalist pages on the Venda Region section of the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guidebooks. Alas the travel guides seemed to have the same misperception as my 30-year-old wisdom.

'Keep on Walking' to Justice

by Tom Getman 04-12-2015
Bishop Rubin Phillip. Photo via Diakonia Council of Churches on Facebook.

Bishop Rubin Phillip speaks at the Good Friday service. Photo via Diakonia Council of Churches on Facebook.

“Come to the living God … Come to stand alongside those who suffer
Come to those who seek freedom … Come to resist all that offends God’s justice
Come to Jesus as He hangs on the Cross … Come to the living disturbing God.”

DURBAN, South Africa — A precursor to Easter sunrise and call to commitment is the now 30-year ritual Good Friday packing of the International Exhibition Center with 3,000+ ecumenical congregants participating (with dance, choir, prayers, and prophetic preaching) in the call to “Arise – Act for a Just Society.” Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip set the scene with a moving historical reminder of the reason for the 1985 first march to the central prison. It was to protest the silencing of the 16 Durban “treason trialists” (including congregational deacon Archie Gumede, and Frank Chikane, post-apartheid member of the first multiracial Assembly, Apostolic pastor, and future President Nelson Mandela staff chief). Family members of the incarcerated and current elected leaders carried a cross to city hall, calling all to love mercy and act justly. We paused to give thanks for their courage at the one remaining wall of the prison now in the front plaza of the iconic convention center. When the first march 30 years ago stopped to sing and pray, “voices were heard from inside the prison joining in the singing of Good Friday hymns.”

A Refusal to Hate: Tent of Nations Family Responds to Destruction of Farmland

by Tom Getman 05-26-2014
Photo via Tom Getman

Photo via Tom Getman

This week’s “10 Best Stories” missed an important news item from Palestine — not about Pope Francis but rather a family that practices what the pope preaches.

Tent of Nations, in the Occupied West Bank, has become a sign of hope over the otherwise fruitless last decades of peace negotiations. Interlocutors have nibbled around the edges of a “two state solution” since the early 1990s with the result that Israel has been able to confiscate vast areas of Palestine. The Nassar family, represented by Daoud and his parents and siblings, have built on their 100 acres a veritable garden of peace. This luxuriant vineyard is 15 minutes from Manger Square, Bethlehem. It has been owned by the Nassars since Ottoman times, and “Tent” has illustrated, what is declared on a stone at its entrance – non-violent action in its most faithful form. More than 7,000 visitors from around the world along with children in summer camps, as well as both Israelis and Palestinians, have been buoyed by the Nassars' 100-year commitment to living peaceable amidst turmoil by expressing biblical principles of loving neighbors, forgiving those who oppress, and peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.

Early on May 19, military bulldozers destroyed 1,500 fruit trees nearly ready for harvest in the valley below the Nassar dwellings. There was no warning of the impending destruction of the trees and terraced land, left in a state of rubble with no hope of being replanted. Daoud said the family was awaiting word on an appeal submitted after military orders to stop cultivation; bulldozers came before a legal response.

Anti-Apartheid Action In South Africa and Abroad

by Tom Getman 03-20-2014
Courtesy South Africa Council on Churches

Courtesy South Africa Council on Churches

Oppressive poverty, like corruption and unfettered crime, is a human condition to be addressed and mitigated by principled choices to alter societal structures. This is particularly illustrated in South Africa with the ongoing historic challenge of the lingering old apartheid effects of legalized separation of races and tribal groups. Attitudes and demographics are still entrenched. The marginalized suffer most. Escalating crime is still in large measure black on black, but all sectors of society live with corruption and hear in the media the drumbeat of violence — and not only when there is a high profile feeding frenzy trial such as for Oscar Pistorius.

In a meeting with Kairos Southern Africa leaders, a senior ANC party executive acknowledged, “We have failed in service delivery and turned a blind eye to corruption … please help us make the changes necessary.” To be true to the liberation pledges, Kairos members are mobilizing civil society to act accordingly, along with an informed electorate and principled politicians, to address the residue of years of oppression both here and abroad.

A public way in which religious leaders from across the theological spectrum participated in this regard was in a solidarity conference called by the South Africa Parliament “portfolio committee” on International Relations and Cooperation. Consensus for action was not automatic on the apartheid-like oppression in Israel and Palestine. But respect for those of differing theological and political understandings was for the most part encouraging and enlightening.

Citizen Action Making a Vital Difference in South Africa

by Tom Getman 03-03-2014
South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic / Shutterstock.com

South African flag over human face, Aleksandar Mijatovic / Shutterstock.com

In the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, Baphumelele Respite Care Centre and Clinic serves abandoned children as well as ill adults. The staff faces daily the anguish of caring for babies and older children with serious congenital alcohol and drug syndrome or HIV/AIDS complications. A compassionate professional team and scores of volunteers provide education and rehabilitative residential care for countless patients and support to child headed homes.

A nurse friend on the staff gave witness to the disparity between day-to-day realities when faced with the inadequate response by government and societal leaders. It is stunningly the case in South Africa in the post-Mandela era. The clinic was started in 1989 by the local founding-director Rosealia Mashale, “Rosie,” who could not abandon vulnerable children to the trash heap.

Even with more than 25 similar agencies active in the sprawling location of mostly substandard housing and services there are thousands still in need.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, a trusted commentator in South Africa and author of We Need to Act, reminds citizens to leave their comfort zones and contribute to righting the wrongs of society

Pax on Both Their Houses

by Tom Getman 12-12-2013

Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East. North Atlantic Books.

The Peace Process

by Tom Getman 10-18-2013
Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

What do you do with critical information on intractable justice issues when reputation, methods, or prevailing propaganda make it difficult for people to believe the truth? How does one find ways to strengthen the fragile line between democracy and the lurking dark social disorder? Limiting or reversing anarchy in the U.S. and abroad may depend on finding ways to persuade and protect the common good.

A current question is in regard to the 20-year Oslo peace process (which was to be completed with separate States after 5 years). When it failed, its successor peace plans promised to bring flourishing democracy and a just peace that would hold back the winds of war and be good for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

The strategy of negotiations with prolonged periods of stalling has only widened the occupation and allowed Israel to strengthen its hold on Palestinian property. It has been conquest by a 1,000 cuts on people (1,500 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians dead), as well as uprooted trees and bulldozed property. Less than 10 percent of 1967 war land area of Palestine is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is as though a volcanic cloud blocks the sun. Even with Secretary of State John Kerry’s vigorous efforts to diminish the rumblings and forestall an eruption, those who assure us there are signs of hope declare time is growing mercilessly short.

Meeting Madiba — An Unlikely Encounter with Nelson Mandela

by Tom Getman 07-18-2013
South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday.  I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years.   Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare? 

In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa. 

Lessons in Creating Ubuntu

by Tom Getman 07-01-2013

Conversations in Transition: Leading South African Voices. David Philip Publishers

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