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Justice lovers gather for international conference

The Rev. Elizabeth Tapia welcomes more than 600 justice lovers to "Living Faith, Seeking Justice," a conference sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 12, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)

More than 600 "justice lovers" from across the globe gathered in Texas to celebrate faith in action and renew their spirits at an international conference sponsored by The United Methodist Church.

"My goal tonight is simple: to encourage you in your justice-making ministries," said the Rev. Elizabeth Tapia, an ordained elder from the Philippines. "We need to encourage one another because at times justice making can be a very lonely, unrewarded, risky endeavor."

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society sponsored the "Living Faith, Seeking Justice" conference Nov. 1-4. Participants included 53 international participants from 16 countries.

"The conference is opening the whole world to us," said the Rev. Lloyd Nyarota, a pastor in Zimbabwe, Africa. "Hearing so many different issues, different challenges ... prepares you to face your situation and to remobilize your energy for a new day."

The Rev. Hilde Marie Øgreid of Norway greets participants to the international justice gathering.

It was the first such conference held by the church's social action agency, and the response was overwhelming, said design team members as they scanned a conference room packed with people of all ages, colors and cultures.

"This conference was more than I even dreamed of," said the Rev. Hilde Marie Øgreid, pastor of Bjolsen United Methodist Church in Oslo, Norway, and a member of the design team. Øgreid brought 10 young people with her from Norway, all of whom worked to raise the money to attend.

"I saw the topics we were going to discuss here were many and good," said Audun Westad of Norway. "I think we need to be aware of all these topics to be an alive church today. I like the sermons. They are very different from what we have in Norway. It is good to experience something different and something new."

Bible studies, plenaries, worship services, visits to local churches and workshops all reinforced the mission of the conference to resource local churches for justice ministry.

The 'sweet spot'

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., said when evangelism and social justice merge, the result is the "sweet spot."

"People need to know about the bread of life, but they also need to know their lives matter,"
says the Rev. Adam Hamilton.

"Sometimes evangelists forget about social justice, and sometimes justice seekers forget to tell people about Jesus," he said. "People need to know about the bread of life, but they also need to know their lives matter."

Hamilton said many unchurched people want to start with mission. He said the emerging generation longs for a gospel that pursues justice. "I see generations hungry for the Methodist way. God's grace is a call to holiness, a call to be the heart, head and hands of God," he said.

"If we care about the poor, we know their names," said activist Shane Claiborne, a founding member of The Simple Way, a community in inner-city Philadelphia working with the poor.

Claiborne recounted traveling to Calcutta, India, to spend time with Mother Teresa before she died. She told him that "Calcutta is everywhere."

"I learned so much from her, but especially that change starts with one person at a time," said Claiborne. "We can know all the right answers and still be mean. If we don't have joy or love then no one is going to want what we have."

Transforming experience

Cynthia Rives, a layperson from Stephenville, Texas, was inspired by the international participation.

Jim Winkler sings praises along with
more than 600 advocates for social justice.

"To be with the central conference members (who live outside of the United States) is very important to me because they speak a story I don't hear in my local church. But their story compares to mine so we are in solidarity and I am reminded of that when we are together," she said.

Albert Aruna Trye, a music director in Sierra Leone, Africa, said he was "elated and touched" by the acceptance he felt.

"It is good to feel accepted and appreciated, especially when we have suffered rejection and oppression during our 10-year rebel war," he said. "It is a motivation to be with Christians who can make you feel part of them."

Jim Winkler, chief executive of the Board of Church and Society, said the conference experience was about growing together and growing stronger. "I will walk with you because I need you to walk with me," he said in a sermon.

At the close, Winkler called people "to recommit to Christ." As pastors lined the front of the hotel ballroom, participants streamed forward to receive prayers and words of encouragement.

"Even though we are different from one another, we are one in faith and mission," said the Rev. Connie Semy Mella, a pastor from the Philippines. "After listening and experiencing this wonderful conference, we could not help but be transformed. We will never be the same again."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


The Rev. Lloyd Nyarota, Zimbabwe, Africa: "Sharing of experiences give you strength."

Cynthia Rives, Stephenville, Texas: "They speak a story I don't hear in my local church."

Albert Aruna Trye, Sierra Leone, Africa: "It is good to feel accepted and appreciated."

Jim Winkler: "We must help the church find healing."

Jim Winkler: "God offers us joy."

Shane Claiborne: "I caught another dream for the world."

Shane Claiborne: "Jesus is not safe but he sure is good."

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Living Faith, Seeking Justice

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

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