What Was Being A Prepcom Member Like?
After attending a WSCF conference as a participant two years ago, I kept my eyes open for any way to participate in future events. However, perhaps my eyes were not open enough as I seem to have missed the call for Preparatory Committee (prepcom) members when it was first announced, or perhaps I thought that I did not have enough knowledge about, or interest in, the topic of human trafficking. After meeting Hans, the WSCF Europe regional secretary at an SCM Britain conference,he mentioned to me that the prepcom was short of one member, and he subtly hinted that he would like it to be someone from a Western European country, for example Britain, and it would be even better if that hypothetical person was male. After I finally saw through the delicate Hans’ understated allusions, I began to think about what it would entail. An expenses paid long-weekend spent planning in the beautiful Alps with fellow WSCFers for company, away from Manchester’s post-industrial gloom and the infamous British weather? After considering the offer for an Augenblick, as the Austrians would put it,I accepted his offer.
I started packing my bags a few days later, having done some preliminary reading on the topic. Human trafficking is not only a very serious and depressing topic,but also a very concrete one. It offered an alternative to my theoretical university studies, and was a real problem in the real world, as opposed to most of those studied in theology courses. I didn’t know much about how we could stop it, but I thought that being on the prepcom would be a great opportunity to learn.
After a long journey, to my own surprise, I arrived on time to St Gilgen, the conference location. I seemed to have absorbed some of the Austrian Pünktlichkeit, of which our contact at the hostel was so fond of reminding us. On the same bus were Miro, the WSCF staff person who insisted on calling me “comrade”, and Marti, the Gender and Solidarity co-ordinator who took the lead in organizing the conference, despite being distracted by the muchachos of Tenerife during the summer.
We walked around the beautiful central European town of St Gilgen nestled in between mountains, by the still lake to find our hostel. Once my jaw finally returned to its normal position, we began talking and waiting for our other prepcom members to arrive.
There was a great harmony between us; we all had very different skills that we could bring to the planning of this conference. Gaya, the Armenian daydreamer, was not only artistically talented but musically gifted. Aga, the hyperactive Pole, brought her infectious laughter and an unmatched love of embarrassing games perfectly suited to lighten the atmosphere of such a serious conference.Marti brought a groundedness to the project that keptus on track through our difficulties, and Miro brought the expense forms. This difference in focus rarely led to disagreements, and instead helped us compliment each other’s work.
That first weekend was a valuable time in getting to know each other and the surrounding location- could we organise walking trips? What about the excursion day? As a prepcom member you have a lot of freedom in planning the experience of the participants. We thought that as this topic was so serious, it could overwhelm the participants with stress if they didn’t have a chance to relax or participate in a more active way. Marti suggested that she could get a friend of hers to lead a dance workshop to help people express their emotions, and Aga planned icebreakers that would help people get to know one another. Whatever your skills you can bring them to the role I planned a number of Bible studies based around the topics of gender and sexual slavery, based on a talk I saw by Rev Raj of SCM India.
Despite the fact that we were spread across the continent and busy with our own lives, we had regular Skype meetings throughout the summer, planning, talking,and sometimes worrying. Things went wrong, and some of them went wrong in the week before the event! But things also went right. In fact sometimes things that we weren’t sure about went really well.
Do not worry if you do not feel you are the right person to organize a conference… you are not doing it alone! If it gets too much for you, there are other people, valuable team-members, for you to talk to. This is not to say that it is easy- it requires commitment and hard work. There are difficulties that you will not expect (Visa problems, the weather), but it is also a lot of fun, and it is a really inspiring experience to be able to look around you at young people from across Europe learning and interacting, and be able to say that you helped organize it.
Particularly with the topic of human trafficking, there are a lot of misconceptions and damaging media stereotypes around trafficking victims, migrants, and sex workers.It was amazing to see these ideas confronted, and see people wrestle with the difference between what they had been told and the facts. You get to know the participants as well as the prepcom members and, as anyone who has been to a WSCF conference can attest, it is quite ane xperience gathering together with a group of other young Christians from other cultures. In the UK some people have a hostile attitude towards Europe, and see the separation between ourselves and mainland Europe as a lot wider than the 32km of the English Channel,but personally I found the experience of collaborating with fellow European students to be very interesting.Of course we exchanged jokes and stereotypes from one another’s countries, but also by working together we saw what it meant to be in solidarity
Although we were not really able to get as much input from human trafficking victims as we hoped, we heard from a former sexworker who is now a sexworker’s rights activist about the legal problem of providing rights, and from an NGO officer about the importance of transparency and scepticism towards statistics and figures. We co-operatively designed t-shirts, created stop-motion videos and produced an ecumenical prayer, which I will post below:
Dear God, who created the heavens and the earth.
You created humanity in your own likeness. Let us not forgot that each person reflects the divine image, and we thank you that you teach us to recognize this. We thank you for our own safety, and for those who have so far been saved from the evil of human trafficking. We thank you for the strength you have given to people who are fighting against this corruption of your image.
As you led your children out of Egypt, we ask you to lead victims of all kinds of slavery and exploitation to freedom,
both spiritual and material.
We ask that you give peace to the souls of the victims,that they can escape the circle of violence and we ask for justice in your infinite wisdom. We ask for the exploiter sto recognize their sins, and to change their ways through your grace.
We pray for the awareness of society at large and ourselves, and that we can recognize the roots of injustice in our own actions and inactions, as Moses did when he saw when his Israelite brother was being beaten by an Egyptian slavemaster.
We have been taught in the Epistle to the Galatians that there is no more slave nor free, and yet through our own ignorance and cold-heartedness we have failed to recognize the exploited as our brothers and sisters, as Jesus showed us. For this we pray for forgiveness.Together we pray, that you send the mercy of your spirit onto the whole of humanity, we who are your children.