|Student federation combines faith, action|
Ken Guest, outgoing chairperson of the World Student
Christian Federation, participates in the opening worship service of
the federation’s general assembly in Montreal. A UMNS photo courtesy of
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
August 12, 2008
Prosper Munatsi, of the Student Christian Movement
of Zimbabwe, was detained by police in June. A UMNS photo by Juan
Michel, World Council of Churches.
When a presidential runoff election was scheduled for the end of June in Zimbabwe, the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe was among those informing youth about their voting rights and responsibilities.
On June 10, police raided the movement’s offices at the Ecumenical
Centre in Harare, confiscating computers, laptops, digital cameras and a
minibus. They also arrested five staff people, including a woman who
had her 7-month-old baby with her.
The five were soon released without charge, but the movement said it
considered the arrests and detentions “part of the broader campaign of
intimidation orchestrated against defenseless citizens.”
Since then, the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe has continued
to speak out. And it has been backed by more than 100 similar movements
around the globe that together form the World Student Christian
Federation. Most participants are 18 to 35 years old.
Federation representatives, meeting Aug. 1-9 in Montreal for their
general assembly, squarely aligned themselves with the Student Christian
Movement of Zimbabwe and expressed “deep concern” about continuing
human rights abuses there, especially as directed against women and
“In this regard, we condemn the closure of the Student
Christian Movement offices,” they said in an assembly resolution. “We
urge the global community (to work) for an end to violence and a return
of democracy and restorative justice. We seek to support any student
activities that would contribute to the promotion of peace and justice
Bible and newspaper
Ken Guest, a United Methodist from New York who has served as the
federation’s chairperson for the past four years, noted that such action
is part of the group’s tradition of holding “the Bible in one hand and
the newspaper in the other.”
Christian students are encouraged not only to focus on personal piety
and salvation but to learn “to understand the message of Jesus for us in
our contemporary world,” he said.
Representatives of more than 100 student Christian
movements across the globe gather for opening worship. A UMNS photo
courtesy of WSCF.
After his detention, Prosper Munatsi, who leads the Student
Christian Movement of Zimbabwe, urged the international community to
intervene in Zimbabwe’s crisis. He called for peace monitors when
opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai decided to withdraw from the runoff
The World Student Christian Federation then issued a June 24
letter with the World Council of Churches, asking the United Nations,
the South African Development Community and the African Union to
increase efforts to address the "rapidly deteriorating situation in
Zimbabwe." It has continued to speak out on the situation as President
Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai try to negotiate a power-sharing agreement.
“One of the fundamental characteristics of the WSCF is supporting
students who are exploring the combination of their faith and social
action,” Guest explained. “It was really wonderful, at the general
assembly, for the students from Africa who are concerned about the
situation in Zimbabwe to be able to meet with students from Asia-Pacific and, specifically, the Philippines, to discuss their concerns for democracy and human rights.”
Delegates at the assembly said they “strongly condemn the
killings of members of the clergy, church workers, activists,
journalists and ordinary citizens coming from the ranks of the workers,
peasants, professionals and youth in the Philippines.”
Since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the
presidency, there have been 903 victims of extrajudicial killings in the
Philippines, including 20 during the first quarter of 2008, the
federation’s resolution stated. "We affirm
that no person should be subjected to repression because of political
beliefs. Those who are active in social, human rights issues and
concerns including being critical of the Arroyo government should not be
Play an active role
The United Methodist Church is among the denominations pursuing
the issue of human rights abuses in the Philippines. The federation
asked churches around the world to sustain the pressure on the
Philippine government and churches within the country "to
lead and sustain the investigation of the killings and other human
rights violations. We ask you to play an active role in the pursuit for
justice to the victims and their families."
Other resolutions adopted by the assembly condemned the Aug. 8
military invasion by Russia into parts of Georgia and touched on human
rights issues in Burma (Myanmar), Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian
territories, and Lebanon.
The World Student Christian Federation and the allied student movements "have
always provided an opportunity for United Methodist students to begin
their ecumenical journey and to move beyond their own denomination and
their own country in understanding how God is at work in the world," according to Guest.
Faith leaders participate in opening worship.
During the past four years, the federation has stabilized both
financially and programmatically, reclaiming its identity as a trainer
of ecumenical leaders on an international level, he said.
In a message to the 34th General Assembly, His All Holiness the
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew noted that nearly a century ago, the
1911 World Student Christian Federation Conference in Constantinople
“was an event of major ecumenical significance,” enabling leading
Protestants to become acquainted with Orthodox leaders of the East.
Despite periods of difficulty over the years, "the
federation continued serving Christian youth with coherence and
perseverance, by encouraging them to draw from the unfailing source of
their faith inspiration and strength, in order to fulfill their tasks as
agents for reconciliation and renewal in our world," the patriarch said.
More information about the assembly can be found at http://ga.wscfglobal.org online.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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