It is time for global networks of advocates for social change to find new ways of working together, says the head of justice programs for the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
“We need to find ways for networks to respond to social and financial inequities that will have concrete impact on the lives of people who are suffering because of injustice,” says the Rev. Dora Arce-Valentín, a minister in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba.
The Cuban justice advocate and pastor made her comments at WCRC’s offices in Geneva, Switzerland prior to leaving for a global forum in Johannesburg, South Africa. Representatives of social justice advocacy networks in more than 15 countries from seven regions are gathered at Willow Park Conference Center from March 3-8. The objective is to draft a joint plan of action for the coming years.
“We want to do something real,” Arce-Valentín explains. “We want to meet the challenges of doing advocacy at the global level.”
This is the second gathering of the OIKOTREE Global Forum that is sponsored jointly by the Council for World Mission, World Council of Churches and WCRC. OIKOTREE’s network includes groups whose work ranges from planning alternative tourism trips in the Middle East to defending aboriginal rights in South America to promoting women’s rights in Tanzania. Fifty people are expected to gather for the six-day meeting.
The Global Forum’s agenda includes a review of activity since the group’s first global gathering in Arnoldshein, Germany in 2010. That meeting proposed a strategy for common action to address what OIKOTREE terms “dominant systems that continue to deny life.” Participants at the gathering in Germany committed to creating opportunities for dialogue about key issues such as climate change and inequities in the world’s financial system that are creating extreme poverty and provoking domestic and communal violence.
“Now we are seeking to learn from what has happened since then,” says Arce-Valentín. “In planning for the future, we must also take into account OIKOTREE’s reduced financial resources. WCRC will tell the meeting that though we have limited financial means, we can share our gifts as a world movement of churches in 108 countries: we can identify and connect skilled and committed people.”
Forum participants will spend a day and a half in “immersion” visits to groups in the Johannesburg area that are involved in working for social change The immersion experience is focused on giving the international group an introduction to what is happening in post-apartheid South Africa. OIKOTREE participants will be briefed about ongoing challenges and how churches and religious movements are helping to meet them.
OIKOTREE member organizations in Europe and in Korea have arranged for youth activists and young theologians to attend the consultation.
“We want these young people to become more aware of justice issues and how to respond theologically,” says Arce-Valentín. “We are aware too that their knowledge of communication systems and of organizing events will help us draft new approaches to advocacy.”
The World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) represents 80 million Christians in 108 countries. Through WCRC, member churches engage in ecumenical dialogue, promotion of church unity, theological study and worldwide initiatives addressing climate change, economic and gender justice and church mission.