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TEAM: Conference participants head home with new friends, tools to meet MDGs' challenges

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
3/14/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  As the more than 400 participants in the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference prepared to leave Boksburg, South Africa, they knew they were taking with them new ideas for mission and new partners in their work.

Participants spent each day from March 7-14 in Bible study, worship, workshops, plenary sessions, networking and strategizing, all focused on the church's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- an eight-prong declaration that has at its core the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. On Sunday, March 11, conference participants went to worship in 13 Anglican parishes in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Near the end of the eight-day meeting at the Birchwood Conference Centre, near the Johannesburg airport, a number of conference participants reflected on their experience.

The Rev. Joanna Udal of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan said that the conference was a chance to "bring together the best experience and wisdom with the Communion on the really pressing issues facing the world."

She said that the fact that Sudan's concerns got heard "by people from more affluent parts of the world" was a good example of how the conference was all about getting the developing and developed world "engaging together."

The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga, ordained from the Diocese of Northern California and now serving in the Iglesia Anglicana en la Region Central de America, said the conference represented "a collection of the gathered wisdom" of the Anglican Communion.

She will remember "the incredible experience of being gathered with the whole Church and the whole world," including people from "countries I didn't even know existed."

Before Denney Zuniga went to the conference, she thought the MDGs represented a huge amount of work that would be hard to achieve. Now, she said she sees that the MDGs can be achieved -- and have been achieved in some places -- but she has learned that the MDGs represent a minimal set of accomplishments.

"They're really a starting point for all of us," she said. "Now I really see much more work there is to do, but that's something that's not really discouraging because we have the tools and it's what we are called to do."

Denney Zuniga, who at age 29 is one of the younger TEAM delegates, has been priest-in-charge of San Andres Apostol since her graduation in 2005 from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

"I'm going to have to process" all the information from the conference, she said, adding that she is taking home some "actionable items."

One is the seminary curriculum for HIV/AIDS developed by Medical Assistance Programme (MAP) International that she would like to see used at the seminary in her province. A more longer-term project involves investigating how the work of the Institute for Healing of Memories, which has helped South Africa deal with its heritage of apartheid, might be brought to El Salvador, a country "so deeply divided and so wounded by the history of the not-so-distant past," she said.

Speaking as a young adult, Denney Zuniga said that young people demand authenticity in life and she said that many young people will see the church's commitment to the MDGs as the church living into what it preaches -- "not just in our buildings worshipping." She predicted that the authenticity of the church's commitment to the MDGs will attract young people to the church, and will give them a place to focus their energy.

Olaposi Abiola of the One Village Foundation in Nigeria came to the conference on March 10 and spoke to participants about his organization's work in promoting HIV/AIDS awareness.

"There have been a lot of people to network with," he said, adding that he was impressed that people have been ready to talk and to ask about how they might be able to help his work.

A person told him that "this conference has really opened hearts to see places where awareness [of HIV/AIDS prevention] has not gotten into," he said.

The main thing he hopes delegates will take home with them "is your ability to act on what you heard," and to disseminate what they have learned from the conference.

He said that the Anglican Communion "should critically look beyond workshops and conferences" toward identifying and supporting projects designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Gift Chalenga, NetsforLife project manager in the Anglican Church of Central Africa, is based in Mzuzu, Malawi. He said that he had not heard of the MDGs prior to the TEAM conference, "but now I am able to see the way we are going."

"We have seen through this meeting there will be a difference," he said. "The conference was looking beyond the MDGs so as a church we're going to work on that."

His prayer for the church is that "what we have discussed in the conference should be accomplished" in a way that follows Jesus' call for his followers to heal the sick, feed the hungry and set the captives free.

The Rev. Rachel Carnegie, a priest in the Church of England who works with the TEAR Foundation, a relief and development agency, said she will go home "with a real sense of hope and radical challenge."

The conference gave her a "visible sense of the interconnectedness" of the people in a province and in the Anglican Communion.

The conference gave people a chance to see "the fantastic assets that every province has" and how they might be used in the work of mission, she said.

Carnegie said that she prays the church will put "the needs and the gifts of the most marginalized" at the center of its mission.

The conference created a place for people to tell their stories, however difficult. "We've had a chance to lament ... to lament how the body hurts in many parts" and to begin to move through that," she said.

Phillip Ogunda Ombidi of Interdiocesan Christian Community Services based in Kisumu, Kenya, said the networking opportunity during the TEAM conference has been invaluable because information-sharing is an excellent tool in development work.

"I've learned a lot and I've shared a lot of experiences with different people from different countries -- people who have volunteered to do the mission of God," he said.

When he goes home, Ombidi said he will put into practice what he's learned. "I've learned different approaches that people use to different problems," he said, adding that he's learned different methods from people who work in the same sort of organization as his. All of that information-sharing "will add value to what we are doing."

His prayer is that the church will "continue to fight poverty, to fight the diseases ... and to help the poor also participate in their own development." When church leaders support such development programs, the church can work to "free the valuable people from the yoke of poverty."
 
"I think from here we should discard church politics" and work together for development in ways that incarnate Jesus' teachings and his promise of abundant life.

The Rev. Callon W. Holloway Jr., bishop of the Southern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), attended the conference with a small group of fellow Lutherans.

"I am privileged to be a part of this and I just hope that I can use the privilege to be more effective," he said.

He said he has already written recommendations for his synod based on his experience and he flies from Boksburg to Chicago to report about the conference during a meeting of the Lutheran World Mission Division March 16 and 17.

Holloway said he was impressed by the Anglican Communion's commitment to the MDGs, adding "I'm hoping for the same for our church family."

The entire Christian community must work in service of the Gospel in "realizing the love commandment" to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and set the captives free, he said. Christians must be the "people of the Word addressing the people of the world."

"In this new missional age there's a need for new partnerships" and Lutherans need to partner with others, Holloway said, but they also "need to find our Lutheran voice in this witness."

Holloway said he is excited about the prospects that a commitment to MDGs might be attractive to young people. "I think this is something that can energize a new generation," he said.

Noting that the ELCA has lost 15 to 20 percent of people 25 and younger in the last five years, Holloway said young people are "expecting tangible results" from what the church preaches. He hopes that churches' commitment to the MDGs will show results that will attract young people and help them "find their place within that mission."

Holloway said he prays that such work by the churches can also "help the new generations find a moral center for their lives."

His prayer for the church is "unity and faithfulness -- unity in the Gospel, faithfulness in the mission" and that the church will use these "new opportunities to focus on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us."

He said his prayer for the world is for "justice and wholeness -- not just an absence of problems but a flourishing and blossoming of something that will provide wholeness to the human spirit."