When Annette Potgieter, a 26-year-old theology student from South Africa, saw a Facebook post about serving as a steward for the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee meeting, she decided to apply.
A member of the Dutch Reformed Church, she is in Geneva June 30-July 9 along with 24 other stewards representing 20 different countries. As these young people help to facilitate the meeting of the WCC’s governing body, they also are pursuing a collective pilgrimage of their own.
Potgieter said she sometimes grows tired of working solely with ideas in her life as a doctoral student. “For me, it’s important that things be active.”
She plans to keep a blog about her experiences in Geneva, and already sees herself as a pilgrim who will return home with a new sense of ecumenism. “I love the idea that you don’t all have to be the same to work together as people of faith,” she said.
“To me, this is really inspiring, especially from my South African context,” Potgieter added. “Sometimes in my country, I ask myself how we can have hope when we have such struggles. But I see people of different faiths working together here, and I have hope again.”
Moments of spiritual connection
As the formalities of the WCC meeting commenced July 2, the stewards found spontaneous moments to learn about the faith traditions of their peers from across the world. B.D. Sang, a 26-year-old Methodist social worker from Upper Myanmar, is in Europe for the first time.
“In my country, I haven’t met that many people from an Orthodox faith tradition,” she said, “but my roommate here is from an Orthodox church, so now I have new knowledge of the history and traditions.”
The young people gather in the hallways, exchanging Facebook friend requests and e-mail addresses, working to stay in touch.
Joshua Gewasa, 26, is grateful for the global connection. “This is my first time traveling out of my country of Papua New Guinea,” he said. After studying physics at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, he now works for the information technology department of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“I am trying to create better communication for the church through the rugged mountains of my country,” he said.
Gewasa and the other young people are quietly planning to return to their home countries carrying new ideas and a stronger resolve to strengthen their churches and communities.
Kelvin Sutherland-Ocnacuwenga ― an 18-year-old Jamaican who smilingly refers to himself as “the baby of the stewards” ― is on a break from his studies in structural engineering. From the Moravian tradition, he said he has already realized that he wants to do more ecumenical work when he returns home. “I don’t think my youth group has done enough to branch out with other churches.”
Sutherland-Ocnacuwenga has also realized that he can bridge his scientific studies and his faith. “One of the key things my engineering teachers tell me is that you can't think of anything as impossible. I think that philosophy is true for both science and faith. For me, it’s a link between the two.”