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Churches must focus on world's brokenness, new exec says

10/28/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

A head-and-shoulders photograph of the Rev. Samuel Kobia is available.

By Linda Green*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
World Council of Churches logo, Photo number W03068, Accompanies UMNS#513
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The newly elected top executive of the World Council of Churches says the organization's most critical task is helping humans respond to the brokenness affecting most of the world today.

"We live in a world ... where people feel insecure (and) ... are suffering because of poverty. Part of the vision is to bring about the fullness of life or the abundant life to all human beings," said the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a member of the Methodist Church of Kenya.

Anything that causes individuals to feel less than whole is an issue the World Council of Churches should address as the ecumenical advocate for justice and peace, he said.

Kobia said examining the "relational dimensions of the way humans live" will be one of his first objectives when he takes office in January. He wants to assist the council in promoting relationships and reconciliation to alleviate pain, insecurity and strife throughout the world.

Currently the council's special representative for Africa, Kobia was elected to the top post last August. When he succeeds the Rev. Konrad Raiser, he will become the first African head of the 55-year-old association.

Based in Geneva, the World Council of Churches is a fellowship of 342 churches in more than 120 countries. The United Methodist Church is a member and major supporter.
The council's governing assembly meets every seven years.

"It is a very unique organization in the world today," Kobia said of the organization.

Born in 1947, Kobia holds degrees and diplomas from academic institutions in his native Kenya and the United States.

In promoting Christian unity, the council seeks to address the divisions that have arisen in Christianity throughout history and to help people meet their needs, he said.

"We feel that the time has come for churches to work together and unite," he said.

In a statement following his election, Kobia talked about strength. "To gain the capacity to inspire the world we need inner strength. Our strength lies also in our unity. As we reiterate that the WCC is first and foremost a fellowship of churches whose primary purpose is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, and 'to advance that unity so that the world may believe,' we must work together and be seen to be working together."

Kobia said he will have three priorities in his new role.

The first is to alleviate violence in all of its forms. He wants the council to continue working within the framework of its "Decade to Overcome Violence," a focus through 2010. The effort calls for Christians to empower those oppressed by violence and to act in solidarity with those struggling for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

In the United States, the council is focusing on resourcing churches and movements working for peace, encouraging a commitment to mutual accountability, and deepening the churches' understanding of issues such as power, militarism and community-building. "I would like to put a lot of effort into that," Kobia said.

Interreligious dialogue is the second part of Kobia's vision. "The council believes very strongly that faith could unite people," he said. What is needed is an emphasis "to turn around the different faiths that have sometimes been used to divide people," he said.

The commonalities and shared values among faiths today can be used as a basis for dialogue and collaboration in dealing with practical groundwork issues, he said.

The final priority addresses wholeness and health. "We live in a broken world," Kobia said. "There is a lot of poverty that I really feel many people are living under unnecessarily."

The greatest health crisis facing the world today, especially in Africa, is HIV/AIDS, he said. "I believe there is no other problem that Africa is facing that is as devastating as HIV/AIDS, whether we look at it from the political, economic or social point of view."

If the council is to be an effective champion of peace and justice, it must deal with the problems that make it difficult for the majority of humans to experience fullness of life, Kobia said.

"Jesus Christ said, 'I came so that humans may have life and have it in all of its fullness.' I think we are very far away from that when we look at the way the world is suffering today."
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*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

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