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  1. Happy Birthday SKY!

    Our Finnish SCM, SKY-FKS, has celebrated its 120th anniversary on April 22, 2017. The General Secretary of SKY, Katri Jussila, fills us in on what SKY is all about.

    What does 120th anniversary mean to SKY?

    SKY has been involved in Church and Society for 120 years. Long history means a lot, we have been involved in many and made many new openings in the history. People’s equality, environmental issues, interfaith dialogue, and international solidarity have been sky´s themes since the 1980’s and still are. Many of the activities currently used by the Church have been spring up from SKY’s activists, including campus ministries, Finnish confirmation schools, and the first Easter walks Via crucis 1987 spring up from sky’s activists. Sky has been involved in many, and often speak out with the first ones about social justice and the related themes. It’s amazing that we are an active organization for active students to speak out about the society themes what are current of their time. Due to the long history, we are a well-known actor in the ecclesiastical field.

    How being a member of a global federation has shaped SKY as a student christian movement?

    On the global level, we have often received influences and themes what are been unknown in Finland. International influences also bring refreshing value in our activity. The global federation is a strong support that gives more power to speak out injustice and to protect the discriminated. The ecumenism of the global movement is a great spiritual asset that adds to the spirituality of the movement a valuable addition. International and ecumenical learning is also an important issue that will also be retained in the future. Providing these learning opportunities for new activists is valuable.

    Katri Jussila, Interim General Secretary

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on April 24th, 2017 9:02 am / Continue Reading »

  2. “The signs of the times” – report from School of Ecumenical Leadership Formation in Cambodia

    Krista Autio a Finnish Theology MA student at the University of Helsinki. Krista have been the Global Networking Coordinator for WSCF-Europe since October 2015.

    WSCF-Asia & Pacific Region organized a School of Ecumenical Leadership Formation (SELF) for young ecumenical students in Siem Reap, Cambodia October-November 2016. The theme of the training was identity and diversity, focusing particularly on sexual diversity. This training also included sessions on feminist theology, eco-theology, human rights and human trafficking; exposures to the local context; and worship together. The speakers of the sessions are friends of WSCF-AP and are highly regarded in the ecumenical field. These included professors, pastors, human rights professionals, bishops, employees of the Christian Conference of Asia, and previous employees of WCC. I consider myself extremely lucky for being able to learn from them.

    Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

    One important goal of ecumenism in general is to raise peacemakers. Having the training in Cambodia was a touching experience regarding peace work. The signs of the wars from the 1970s drew a grave picture of the horrors of warfare and its nature with no glory and greatness. The war was still visible in the demographic development of the population of Cambodia, since the majority of the population were young people. The war was visible as a human tragedy: six million mines caused displacement and physical suffering to the people of Cambodia. All around in nature, the pits in the ground were a stark reminder: the USA dropped more bombs in Cambodia in few months than what was dropped in Germany during the whole of WWII. At our venue, Metta Karuna Reflection centre in Siem Reap, the crucifix commemorated those disabled by the war: Jesus on the Cross with only one leg reminded people that Christ is with those who suffer, and also reminds us of the long lasting consequences of cluster bombs and land mines.

    But Cambodia has also got beyond the wars and Vietnamese occupation. From the 1990s the country has been rising from the ashes. The international presence has been vast: through institutes and NGOs working with (for example) the archaeological site of Angkor Wat temple, the infrastructure, and local people. During our two day long exposure we visited a few of these NGOs, who work with different social questions in both urban and rural areas. This gave us a better understanding of the context which different groups of people were facing in Cambodia.

    Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

    I was at SELF representing WSCF-Europe. Many of the topics discussed at SELF were familiar to me due to my BA and MA studies in Theology, but one particular session had a huge impact in me. We were talking about contextual theology and what the Bible guides Christians to do in a contemporary world. The name of the session was “The signs of our times”. Our speaker, Professor George Zachariah from India, used the story of the birth of Christ as an example in a new and fresh way. As the Wise Men in the story got signs from God, so we as followers of Christ can too. In the story the sign was the star of Bethlehem. The story told how the Wise Men decided to follow the star to find a new king announced by an angel. First they went to the source of earthly power and authority, and went to see King Herod in vain. After this setback the Wise Men chose to follow the star instead of earthly powers and they saw the King of Heaven. The lesson of the story was not to simply follow what is expected in our societies, but to follow God, who shows us the right way if we choose to see it. The visit the Wise Men made to King Herod’s palace also caused a tragedy, since according to the story, it led to killings of innocent young children in the region. The story was applied to our time: we are also getting called by God and God sends us signs to follow. These signs may occur in unexpected ways, but the story encourages us to follow with courage. God invites us to make a difference, eradicate injustice and be with the oppressed, poor or needy in the contemporary world.

    Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

    This lesson of the story is also the ultimate goal for WSCF in its life, work, and witness. In Asia & Pacific Region this is spoken and sang out loud. The SCM Solidarity Song starts with the words: “The song we sing not for ourselves, for those who are oppressed and chained: build up a new society, let’s share and feel with them.” The chorus continues: “Come SCMs: unite, be one; pull out injustice from this World; live with people; build together. One day we will reach a new just world”. I found this song extremely moving. These are the songs young Christians should sing across the world. Where is the spirit of making a difference? Where is the sense of creating the change? This Spirit is what inspires young Christians, gives them hope and the tools to achieve change. All WSCF Regions have their own context and reality where they live and work. That is why it is so important for SCMers to travel and visit other Regions, to get a grip of the wholeness of WSCF and how the Holy Spirit works in our time.

    Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on January 26th, 2017 9:02 am / Continue Reading »

  3. Joint Consultation: Being Church in Europe Today, Ecclesiology & Migration

    Pavlina Manavska, 26, living and working in Cologne Germany, WSCF Europe campaign/event coordinator.  Methodist. Macedonian

    From 8-10 of December, WSCF-Europe was invited to take part at the consultation of CCME The Churches Commision for Migrants in Europe and CEC, Conference of european Churches discussing upon the topic Being Church in Europe today, focusing on the migration and ecclesiology.

    It was a privillege to be part of this consultation, to experience how different churces from different areas with their passionate leaders who have dedicated themselfs towards a common goal,  to not hold on to what divides us, but to go forward together with what unites us as One in Christ. There were around 30 church leaders and representatives from different churches and different countries in Europe and once again all of us were remainded that Jesus Christ is our chief cornerstone and as Christ-like churches we ought to be more open for collaboration, caring for one another as we walk this journey together.

    We had productive meeting with few presentations, we got an introduction upon the document published by WCC, “The Church- towards a Common Vision” and working groups where we got to discuss and brainstorm about certain issues that different churches are facing. For WSCF-Europe as ecumenical organisation it is of essential importance to communicate with the churches in Europe, to get closer contacts and get to know the needs in order to support and join in different campaigns.

     

    Participants of the consultation on migration and churches in Europe, Copenhagen, 8-10 December 2016. ©CEC

    Read joint press release from the Conference of European Churches, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, and the World Council of Churches here.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on December 20th, 2016 9:02 am / Continue Reading »

  4. Migration at the Intersection with Racial Justice & Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

    Clare Wilkins is an Anglican Physics graduate from the UK who works in HR. She enjoys reading and playing board games, as well as playing a variety of musical instruments.

    I recently had the great opportunity of attending the 2016 WSCF Inter-Regional Leadership Advocacy Training Programme (IRLTP) as the representative for the European region. This year’s programme was focused on Migration at the Intersection with Racial Justice and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, and many of our sessions looked at the local context in Asia and particularly within Bangladesh.

    The programme began with a beautiful worship session led by our hosts at SCM Bangladesh and then we launched formally into the training. Rev Malcolm Damon from the Economic Justice Network challenged us to consider how the current world context might affect our need to support others through advocacy. He also introduced us to various platforms through which advocacy can be done.

    In the evening we attended the tenth anniversary celebration of the SCM Bangladesh Senior Friends organisation and were welcomed as guests of honour, presented with beautiful marigold garlands and entertained wonderfully.

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    On our second day we started with a biblico-theological reflection on migration from Rev Dr Aruna Gnanadason, which focused our attention on the enduring nature of migration. This enabled us to better see the context when we were then hearing about the current issues WSCF is working on from Luciano Kovacs, regional secretary for North America and Advocacy and Solidarity programme lead. In the afternoon we looked further at specific migration-related issues being faced by individuals around the world, with sessions facilitated by Mervin Toquero of Churches Witnessing with Migrants. These sessions gave us as participants the tools to begin our own action planning and work out what we can do to support advocacy in our own contexts. I look forward to sharing these ideas with you once they have been developed more fully: look out in the WSCF-E newsletter for more soon.

    We also had other incredible opportunities such as meeting migrants who had been tricked by ‘brokers’ into dangerous and frightening situations; spending time talking about the Bangladesh context with people from local churches; and talking to each other about our own contexts.

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    For me, the whole experience was a timely reminder of how as a global WSCF family we are able to come together to help make a difference to people’s lives all around the world. I will really treasure the time I had at the IRLTP and I’m sure the people I met there will be lifetime friends.

     

     

    Note from the editor: IRLTP 2016 took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 1-6. To download the concept paper of this meeting, click here.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on December 16th, 2016 2:54 pm / Continue Reading »

  5. The dignity of the human person

    Precondition and purpose of the interreligious dialogue in the teaching of the Holy and Great Council

     

    Natallia Vasilevichfrom SCM Belarus represented WSCF-E at the Holy and Great Council as a journalist. She writes her dissertation at the University of Bonn on the social doctrine of the Orthodox Church in the framework of the Holy and Great Council and pre-conciliar process.

    The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church which took place on Crete in June this year has great importance for the self-understanding of the Orthodox Church. For Orthodoxy, the documents and discussions of the Council of Crete are getting to be a starting point in the formulation of  positions and interpretations on a wide range of concerns about internal church life and general social life.

    One of the key positions noted in the Council’s documents is a courageous statement that religion per se is not necessarily something good, signalling that religions could be of very different quality. This does not mean that one particular religion is better than another or that there are more truthful confessions, but rather that within every religious tradition there are both sober constructive forces and manifestations of a morbid religiosity.

    In particular, the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council notes that the symptom of such morbid religiosity is the fundamentalism which is presented in different religions (par. 17). This is why the task of the representatives of the religious communities is to oppose the “honest interfaith dialogue” to this fundamentalism.  Religious faith is compared with oil which “must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred” (ibid.). Also in the Message of the Council it is noticed that “sober inter-religious dialogue” (par. 4) should promote the establishment of trust, peace and reconciliation because “the oil of religious experience must be used to heal wounds and not to rekindle the fire of military conflicts” (ibid.).

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    The document titled “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World” notes the potential of local Orthodox Churches to possibly contribute to the “inter-religious understanding and co-operation for the peaceful co-existence and harmonious living together in society.”  Presupposition of such inter-religious co-operation is nothing else than “the common acceptance of the highest value of the human person” (A.3). Thus peaceful co-existence and harmonious life are possible not (simply) by security or absence of military conflicts as such, but namely when the dignity of human person is a cornerstone of social life, since authentic peace, according to the document, “is the ripe fruit of the restoration of all things in Him, the revelation of the human person’s dignity and majesty as an image of God, the manifestation of the organic unity in Christ between humanity and the world, the universality of the principles of peace, freedom, and social justice, and ultimately the blossoming of Christian love among people and nations of the world” (C.1).

    Thus, the peace cannot exist without justice and freedom, and particularly without recognition of the unique dignity of human person. Inter-religious dialogue which is based solely on addressing common problems or persuading different communities of common interests not only does not contribute to the development of freedom, justice and human dignity, but even may hinder this dialogue.

    The key to constructing another model of inter-religious dialogue lies in the promotion within the frameworks of each of the religious traditions the concept of the dignity of the human person regardless of gender, ethnic or social background and religious affiliation. It must be the person which is precisely in the center of the dialogue rather than any “traditional” or “pseudo-traditional” values around the rhetoric of their protection, which is often what interfaith cooperation at the institutional level builds.

    Fundamentalist groups are appealing also to the protection of “traditional values”, considering the preservation of them under the guise of religious orders which have priority over the individual dignity and sometimes even over human’s life. Religion which is oriented to protect itself is very luckily to neglect the individual personalities. Religion which sees itself more valuable than the human person, neglecting the human person’s rights and freedoms, is exactly the kind of religion that Council calls “morbid”.

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    With the human dimension of religion it is fundamental to respect the human being. In the Message of the Holy and Great Council it is noted that today human rights are “at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state” (par. 10). Although “the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that “greatest of all is love”, as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced” (ibid.),  human rights should not be underestimated. On the one hand indeed, human rights are not completely sufficient, not absolute, but nevertheless they constitute the public and legal minimum, which cannot be violated by any institutions or communities – not by organizations, not by governments, and not by churches.  The limitation of certain rights is possible only within certain frames.

    For inter-religious dialogue and for the sake of tolerance and nondiscrimination a certain self-criticism of the religious communities is necessary, as is constant dialogue within them on the issues of the respect of the rights of human persons, and the identification, adoption and promotion within the various religious traditions of the ideas of justice, mercy, universal equality based on the belonging to the human race.  Such a dialogue should be constructed not only between the different religious communities, but also between religion and civil society. In certain cultures, the readiness for dialogue, admission of our own mistakes and self-criticism are often considered as demonstration of weakness, while ability to impose own opinion or to defend own interests is considered as a position of strength. However, the genuine criteria of maturity and sobriety of the religious tradition is its inclusiveness, diversity, the ability for dialogue with other, and above all the degree of respect for the dignity of the human person.

    The paper was presented at ODIHR OSCE seminar “Interreligious Dialogue for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination”, Baku, 10-11 October 2016.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on October 28th, 2016 5:33 pm / Continue Reading »

  6. Changing the world together

    Krista Autio a Finnish Theology MA student at the University of Helsinki. Krista have been the Global Networking Coordinator for WSCF-Europe since October 2015.

    In the middle of August I had the chance to travel to the Alps of Northern Italy. My destination was Agape Political camps, which was organized in the historical Ecumenical Centre Agape in Prali. I was surprised that the camp was much more global than I expected. Often I meet merely European participants at ecumenical meetings, but this was something else. I was fascinated how many nations were represented from Latin America to Africa and Asia, and from Northern America to Europe and Middle East. Me as a representative of a Nordic country, had truly the chance to learn about the diverse realities that people were coming from.

    krista-agape-2

    The topic of the camp was migration. The most precious thing was to actually meet and listen the true stories of migrants around the world that had come to Europe. Being born in Europe is not a privilege Europeans have deserved or earned. It is a coincidence, but we like to think that Europe is somehow ours and our ownership should be respected by others, the outsiders, while Europeans have never respected the ownership of other continent’s inhabitants to their own land and culture. We talked how Europeans or Americans have experienced “migrant amnesia”, when it comes to critical evaluation of our own social history. Europeans and Americans have contributed heavily to the world disharmony, that is often the cause of migration directly or indirectly. Europe also likes to see itself as a victim of uncontrollable “refugee flux”. Europe fails to see, that actually the conflict countries or their neighbouring countries bear the biggest responsibility of displaced people.

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    Among lectures and workshops, we also had the chance to build friendships, dance and laugh. The most unbelievable experience for me, was to walk on the top of Lago Verde. I have newer hiked in the Alps and wasn’t expecting how hard it would actually be. After the first pit stop, we started to walk up very steep path. After a while I thought, that maybe I should turn back. Luckily I was walking with two new friends of mine from Pakistan and Uganda and they kept encouraging me to continue. I must have been the most irritating person to walk with, but they never left me behind. I have never experienced such loyalty!

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    For five and a half hours we were climbing up and waiting to see what’s on the top, and we made it! The route was very difficult for me, so the feeling of reaching the rest of the group at the top was incredible. It was one of the most amazing things I have done so far and it really taught me an important lesson to never give up. This is something I will cherish in my heart.

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    The friendly and wonderful atmosphere of the whole week was full of agape. People from different ethnicities and religions truly showed the willingness to come together and change the world together.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 20th, 2016 1:32 pm / Continue Reading »

  7. We shall overcome


    13912304_285164508515744_8836719979282974212_nMinju Kim
     is a student from South Korea, currently studying Language, Culture and Communication in Hong Kong. Her lifelong challenge and adventure has always been living in a multicultural society, as from time to time she has the opportunity to live with people from different countries. Minju likes reading, writing and sharing thoughts with other people.

    This summer, I had a chance to participate in three camps in Agape Centro Ecumenico. The Center is at the top of a beautiful small village called Prali which is located an hour drive away from Turn, Italy.

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    For three weeks, I had an advantage of enjoying the magnificent nature surrounding the place. What I earned in Agape was not only this nature but also an opportunity to meet friends from all over the world. Each year during summer, multiple camps held by the Hosting Committee of Agape brings people around the world to discuss on various topics. The three camps I attended were theological, work camp and political, each one’s theme being childhood in the Bible, happiness and migrants. In each camp, I learned through many discussions and activities with other participants. I gained new knowledge and thoughts but in this short writing, I would like to talk about what I generally learned and was kept reminded of through all the camps. 

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    Despite my expectation of English being the lingua franca, I faced some language barriers with some participants as some were from non-English speaking country. It was not what I had presumed before arriving in Agape and I was more than a little surprised by this. However, as the spirit of Agape lays in voluntary work and living together as a community, I soon found a way to communicate with other people without restraint. Discussions during theological camp helped immensely in adapting into a situation like this. Through regular sessions, we were able to share our thoughts and opinions with interpreters’ help and while listening carefully to others’, I suddenly struck me that listening openmindedly comes before being too concerned about which language one was speaking. Accepting others’ viewpoints about a subject and sharing mine logically at the same time sounded like an obvious attitude of communication but it is never easy. It becomes harder when a person who has a different opinion is someone you have never come across before. It was this camp where I could practice viewing a topic from different perspectives with people who I have never met before. Overcoming the language barrier, I learned the importance of open-mindedness and understanding a concept from a broad point of view.  

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    If one asks me what I had gained other than learning how to be truly open-minded from Agape, it would be diverse cultural experience. One of the best features about Agape is pursuit of everyone’s happiness through sharing joyful spirit of each individual. Learning how to dance and sing in different languages were challenging yet giving me a rare opportunity to experience cultures of countries I have never been before. Experiencing Italian culture applied to everybody, through food, notion of time and other daily lifestyles. Traditional dances performed by friends were more than impressive, and unique snacks from diverse countries were unforgettable. Picking up some useful expressions or even knowing how to pronounce our names in different languages were short and brief experiences but it did not take long for me to realize they were chances never provided so easily if it were not for a multicultural society like Agape. I could also learn political aspects of many countries. It struck me how there were so many crucial issues regarding democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and etc in so many countries that mainstream news sometimes do not pay attention to. Meeting and making friends from many countries helped me increase my awareness of global importance. I personally took the chance to introduce an important problem in my country, South Korea. Sewol Ferry Incident which happened only two years ago in 2014, has taken away so many innocent passengers’ lives by people outside the ferry being unaware of the seriousness of the situation. It was heartwarming and even grateful to have an opportunity to talk about such a tragic incident of my country and share grief by distributing yellow ribbons which symbolize Korean people’s promise to not forget what had happened to the victims. 

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    To describe my amazing 3 weeks at Agape in one word, I would say ‘potential’. Everyone whom I met in Agape had hope deep in their minds; and also the will to carry it out in actions once they step out to the bigger world. Encouraging others’ beliefs by supporting or simply listening closely one’s view made me think that this is how we shall overcome the difficulties around the world. Appreciating one’s culture along with other cross-cultural experience could play a pivotal role in creating more peace in the world. As a participant of 2016 summer camps, I cannot wait to go back there someday and develop what I had learned there more.  

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 15th, 2016 1:32 pm / Continue Reading »

  8. Introducing Humanity Crew: A Palestinian Response to EU Refugee Crisis

    HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various professional and faith-based organisation including, PhISO, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands. 

    Social race leads to social exclusion and isolation. Today, only the strongest species survive. Our everyday life is like a rat race. Social exclusion has long formed part of human civilization and, though it seemed to go into hiding after the Second World War, now rears its head again. The mantra of social Darwinists, ‘survival of the fittest’ spread among technocrats and policy makers. For example, global corporate elites with its constant calls for free market competition leads to transform our society into a jungle zone. People are forced to be competitive in order to survive. Therefore, competition is the name of the game. Individual were cut off from the communal source of life. Not all surprising some people think that being a collectivist person is out of date.

    Photo by Hadje Sadje

    Photo by Hadje Sadje

    A famous American economist Joseph Stiglitz observes, ‘…a society in which materialism overwhelms moral commitment’ because ‘[m]arket fundamentalism has eroded any sense of community’. The advances of market principle have led to the virtue of new world order that human being are defined into ‘competitive’ and ‘not competitive’. As the world become more competitive the more people have fewer opportunities and chances to get a modest life. Obviously, the global corporate elite provides great opportunities and social benefits for competitive individuals. As we have seen that human solidarity is no longer a social principle and moral virtue, for the rest are misfits and outcasts. It is profit in particular, represented the paramount danger to human solidarity. Undeniably, everyone seems to be on their own now. Human solidarity has been replaced by commodity and competition.  

    Even so, and against all odds The Humanity Crew challenge the social Darwinist dominant culture. In 2015, when EU refugee crisis broke out, the massive boatloads of refugees and migrants to seek asylum made their risky journey to Europe and by traveling across the Mediterranean Sea. On one side, EU refugee crisis harbor different reactions and responses from European Union. The crisis evoked a sense of solidarity among Palestinians on the other. On the same year, the Humanity Crew responds to EU crisis by organizing and recruiting volunteer Palestinian doctors, psychologists, and young professionals. Reason for this, to provide psycho-socio interventions for Arab refugee children. The Humanity Crew believe that socio-cultural backgrounds of the EU refugees are one of the bloodlines of the organization. Humanity Crew notes, ‘coming from similar social-cultural backgrounds as the refugees, and communicating in the same language, Arabic, we are in a unique position to provide in-depth and sustained support’. As Dr. Essam Daod one of the co-founders narrated:

    ‘We realized that there was no one who really understood these people, understood their language. A child lying in bed after being rescued at sea, having lost his parents and having no one to speak to, having no one to tell him where he is and what is happening with him or where his parents are. A child is lying in bed as if he were dead, as if he separated his soul from his body, in order to survive.

    Many people can provide emergency medical aid, but we can give something else: we can reconnect the body and the soul, we can support and embrace. We decided to be a safe haven for them, to try and see them, to ask them how they feel, to call out for their soul to come back.’

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    Photo: Humanity Crew 2016

    By providing a psycho-social aspect, Humanity Crew is one of the prime forces in launching a humanitarian movement in Chios and Lesvos Islands, Greece.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 13th, 2016 5:02 pm / Continue Reading »

  9. What is Agape made of?

    Maria Kozhinova is a Helsinki-based long-term WSCF volunteer, and currently works as Communications Officer for WSCF-Europe. She studied Speech Communication in Jyväskylä, and International Studies in Leiden. Environmental issues, Irish dance and big dogs are among countless things that make her tick.

    Butterflies, mountain butterflies everywhere. During lunches and during workshops, creating invisible air lace; during the night, attracted by the bathroom lights, dancing next to my ear while I am brushing my teeth. These butterflies have become for me the symbol of Agape: they are not intrusive, yet they are all around you if you just look around. I felt the same with the “spirit of Agape” – it is not forced upon you, and yet after a few days, sooner or later, when you look around, you start realising why people who came to Agape once, always remember the adventure, and I guess, always want to return.

    This is how Agape church looks like - no walls to divide denominations, faiths, anyone. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    This is how Agape church looks like – no walls to divide denominations, faiths, anyone. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My experience with Agape started in spring 2016, when I decided to take the challenge and to apply for the Agape scholarship. The deadline was in March, and the application seemed pretty serious in terms of describing motivation – why should I be one of those people receiving a subsidized chance to stay at Agape? I was endorsed as a delegate by the WSCF-E Regional Office, and a couple months later I found out that I am one of the lucky ones! Scholarship awarded.

    Agape has mesmerized me right from the beginning. I was expecting to see some old mansion in the woods, with mattresses all over the floor, a mini kitchen, and meeting rooms too small for all to fit. But instead I was met by stone walls of an aesthetically mouthwatering architectural ensemble, a yummy combination of dark-grey stone and dark wood. Truly, although built over 60 years ago, Agape Centre could just as well be built yesterday. I have discovered that Agape is not just one building, but it actually consists of a number of interconnected buildings. On my first morning in Agape, the mountains have greeted the newcomers with a beautiful sunrise and a clear blue sky.

     

    Sunrise reflections. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Sunrise reflections. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    The camp I was attending was the last of the three international camps, organised every summer. The other two camps were a theological camp, and a community-serving “work” camp. My political camp was dedicated to exploring the root causes of migration through non-formal and informal methods of education, such as workshops, role plays and storytelling. For me, and probably for some others, storytelling sessions by migrants were an eye-opener. Hearing people telling their stories of travelling months, or even years, to their destination, and then later sharing a lunch or a dinner with them, or dancing side by side at legendary Agape parties, and laughing together, are the experiences which tuned my brains and my heart to a different frequency. I realised, in the words of my colleague Maria Gabriela, “we are all migrants”. This topic, as well as many other interesting thoughts, are reflected in the camp journal, which the journalist workshop (in which I took part), collected during the camp.

    All sessions at Agape were sinchronically translated to English, Spanish, Italian and French. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    All sessions at Agape were synchronically translated to English, Spanish, Italian and French. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    I loved the fact that people there were from all over the world, not just my continent. Hearing “International Political Camp” beforehand, I thought that it will be like most events I have attended so far – mostly European, with two-three participants from overseas, cherished as “special guests”. I couldn’t be more wrong: at Agape 2016 International Political Camp, there were people from all over the world – in addition to most European countries, there were participants from Zimbabwe, Cuba, Kenya, Uruguay, Turkish Kurdistan, South Korea, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Tonga, Brazil, Sudan, China, Uganda, Colombia, Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, and Cameroon! This is really rare and precious experience nowadays, because such truly global events are seldom organised due to money restraints. I very much appreciate the fact that the Hosting Committee really made an effort to invite people from Global East and -South, despite that it would be so much easier (and cheaper) to invite participants only from nearing countries. Almost all participants mentioned to me that they sincerely appreciated the genuinely global nature of the camp.  I think it is important that such platforms for discussion exist – when else could people of all ages, faiths and sexes meet and talk, outside of the usual political neo-liberal world structures? Participants brought stories about events and struggles which are not visible in the mainstream media. Some participants could lit light on such stories which are featured in mainstream media, but portrayed in a way which is not reflecting the whole situation, such as, for example, young African women’s dangerous and scary voyage on their way to Europe. Having all these perspectives and experiences on the table has enabled us to have the discussion about migration on a very deep, very special level of expertise, and has touched each of us on both informational and emotional levels.

    Hamdi, one of the young people sharing their stories of migration. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Hamdi, one of the young people sharing their stories of migration. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Agape is all about interaction and being together as a community. Even the structure of main area vs. sleeping area is designed so that it would be most easy and most desirable for people to spend time in the main area, with other members of Agape community. This is also where the best conversations happened. I am not a small talk-person, I rather stick to a small number of people and get to know them really well. I had this experience also in Agape, and I feel that connection with my new friends has a very special flavour, as it was “seasoned” by Agape experience. It also has a hint of mate flavour, as I received a very precious gift from my new friend – a mate gourd with half-kilo of best Uruguayan mate! Now I can have my Agape experience at home, as well.

    My first experience with this weird overseas grassy drink. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My first experience with this weird overseas grassy drink, Uruguayan mate! Photo by Jonathan Cornú

    There were also a few mini-gatherings of WSCF people during the camp – we were many! We shared a meal or two, and met for a few discussions on WSCF thematic work. The most interesting ones was when members of the WSCF Advocacy and Solidarity committee met and shared their ideas and views on work with migrants and refugees in WSCF. We had a special honour of sharing our thoughts and ideas with WSCF Senior Friends, Rev. Liberato Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs at the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and Dr. Katalina Tahaafe Williams from the World Council of Churches.

    Sharing a lunch with WSCF people. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

    Sharing a lunch with WSCF people. Photo by Luciano Kovacs

     

    One of my absolutely favourite experiences during the camp was the hike day. We got a chance to communicate with people, unrestricted by the schedule or thematic discussion. I was among the last people in the hiking group, and for me it was the best option! We stopped to check on interesting stones, lizards and tree shapes, and once we walked upon a stock of grazing cows!

    This is my favourite cow whom I "christened" Flavio; the guardian cow of the squadron of free-roaming mountain cows. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    This is my favourite cow whom I “christened” Fabio; the guardian cow of the squadron of free-roaming mountain cows. The bells of these wandering cows were the hymn of Agape for me – I even got one bell to take home. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Man as part of Nature, never Man vs. Nature. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    Man as part of Nature, never Man vs. Nature. Photo by Maria Kozhinova

    My camp was such a beautiful experience. Big thanks to the Staff team for excellent preparation of thematic materials, panel discussions and storytelling sessions! Also thank you for providing the translation, it must be insanely complicated to enable such a diverse and rewarding linguistic and cultural experience to almost 100 people! Finally, a big thanks to the Agape Hosting Committee, for making this International camp possible, and making it a very special, global yet individual, experience for each of us. I have never had such a pleasantly piercing international experience. On the day I left Agape, I promised myself that I will return.

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    Alvaro Soler’s “Sofia“-song was used to call people to each starting session, sort of like a bell, but better. There was also a Sofia-dance to this song, introduced to us by the Staff – every time Sofia was playing, anyone could join the dance freely. This song was like our special 2016 camp alma mater song.

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 2nd, 2016 5:13 pm / Continue Reading »

  10. The Agape Experience

    Charles McKinney is a Peace Corps TEFL volunteer in Macedonia where he teaches English in a rural primary school. When he’s not busy with Peace Corps work, he likes to explore new parts of the country and, when permitted to cross the borders, he endeavors to see as much of Europe as possible. Charles was a first-time visitor to Italy recently and a first-time participant at Agape’s political camp. Connect with him via LinkedIn.

    Tucked away in the bodacious Alps Mountains of Northwest Italy not far from the French border is found an ecumenical center by the name of Agape that has been around since 1947 when it was constructed post-World War II by a dynamic new generation of Protestant youth under the tutelage of a Waldensian pastor. Agape’s foundation and evolution to this day has been rooted in a spirit of volunteer service, communal living and diversity, equity and inclusion to all the people who encounter its atmosphere. Each year folks the world over flock to Agape to partake in the various camps it offers: political, theological, work, family, women’s (to name a few).

    This year I attended the international political camp on Migration: Breaking Down Boundaries on a Journey toward a Common Home in Prali, Italy, an hour by car from Turin (the nearest metropolis). Men and women from over 30 countries assembled for this impactful camp that explored the causes and effects of universal migration, the human rights issues associated with migration, and practical ways that we all can get involved as activists to combat injustices faced by migrants/refugees before, during and after their journeys in search of a new normal, a better way of living.

    Welcome to Prali! Photo by Charles McKinney

    We heard the powerful and heartfelt stories of migrants from Turkish Kurdistan, Somalia and Sudan, putting us up close and personal with the bona fide struggles they endure and the victories they work toward as they establish themselves in their new homeland, that being Italy (a Promised Land for many refugees escaping political, religious and/or military conflict or persecution in their native lands).

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    Personal story. Photo by Charles McKinney

    For a whole week, I had the chance of meeting, learning from and enjoying the company of newfound friends that all brought something unique to the table of brotherly love and unity. Community service remained at the forefront of this experience as everyone pitched in to prepare for each meal that we ate collectively and, likewise, to clean up afterward. The multiple interpreters present facilitated everyone’s ability to understand the guest presenters during the camp; English was not necessarily the lingua franca as I had presumed beforehand and was challenged in being able to communicate with the non-English speaking campers. Nonetheless, nonverbal communication became all the more important in this context.

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    Role play “The Challenges of Migration”. Photo by Charles McKinney

    Not only were we stretched intellectually, but also physically as many of us embarked on an intense daylong hiking adventure in the Alps on the third day. Most of the group persevered until it reached the zenith while the rest of us relished the idea of moving at our own pace, taking frequent breaks and snapshots of the breathtaking landscape before eventually eating lunch and power napping. Then we decided to make the descent down the mountain in an attempt to avoid what appeared to be a potential rainstorm. Gelati and crepes awaited us on solid ground!

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    High in the mountains. Photo by Charles McKinney

    One of the highlights for me at this political camp, especially as a Peace Corps volunteer representing both Macedonia and the USA, was when I conversed with Dr. Katalina Tahaafe Williams from Tonga. She sat on the human rights panel, discussing her work and the hardships she has witnessed by migrants in the fight against the dehumanization and discrimination that tries to impede their progress en route to a promising tomorrow. Dr. Williams told me how she was influenced by a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga and how her family even named her after the place where the Peace Corps volunteer (who was a nurse) was from in the States (Katalina Island). It was heartening to hear this educated, cosmopolitan Tongan woman applaud the Peace Corps for its longstanding grassroots work and to be connected in this way. Now I just need to keep on running, working and acting in conjunction with my convictions that proclaim the inherent dignity and sanctity of every human life, migrant or not. I remember the countless migrants stranded at the Macedonian-Greek border in refugee camps, stagnant yet hopeful they can reach their dreams, never to return to a life or country infused with violence, pollution and despair.

    Thank you God and Agape for this outstanding opportunity to live in a Utopian milieu for seven days, the prototype for how the whole world should be at its best!

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    Posted by: wscfe-editor on September 2nd, 2016 11:05 am / Continue Reading »

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The work of WSCF-Europe is financially supported by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.

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