Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ecumenical Worship, Congolese Religious Leaders and the Politics of Nutrition: First Impressions at the United Nations

Boy, I've had an absolutely amazing first couple days interning at the Lutheran Office for World Community, the office that connects Lutherans worldwide with government missions, non-governmental organizations and other church bodies at the United Nations in New York.  Working on behalf of both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran World Federation, the office gathers information that guides churches in implementing humanitarian responses, discerning public policy responses and other activities.  Outside of typical "first day at work stuff" like setting up emails, getting ID cards and going on a tour of the place, most of my first day was dominating by a visit to the UN by a delegation of religious leaders from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The delegation brought with them heartbreaking stories about ongoing violence in the eastern Kivu provinces of the DRC at the hands of the newly formed militia M23, a group the religious leaders alleged to be armed by neighboring Rwanda's government.  While their message decidedly oversimplified the issue, neglecting to recognize the DRC government's own failings to foster security in North and South Kivu for instance, I did find it extremely empowering to see pastors and other religious taking a leading role in bringing global awareness to horrible situation that gets little press attention, especially in the US.  For a more nuanced treatment of the subject, check out this article.

Yesterday I attended a Working Group on Food and Hunger meeting.  While I definitely realized I have a lot of catching up to do on food and hunger issues, especially in their global manifestations, there was one particular part of the discussion that greatly humbled me.  As an American, I of course think of the concept of "nutrition" as good thing... it means folks not only getting enough calories to eat but the getting the right type of calories.  From the perspective of some folks from developing countries however, we gain the insight that trying to insert more "nutrition" language into this year's upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on food security might look like a code word for Western companies to cash in on things like increased vitamin exports.  According to some in the Global South, using terminology such as "diet-diversification" would make more sense.  While it might seem like a minute detail, it was really interesting for me to hear how at a place like the UN, folks really are working together to foster greater understanding across languages and cultures.

I've also realized how important of an ecumenical function the Lutheran Office for World Community plays... this morning I had a chance to help lead worship for a group that included folks from the Methodist Church, the Mennonite Church, the United Church of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church and the Salvation Army (I may have missed some others).  I was pretty nervous not to offend anyone, but we ended up having a great discussion on Romans 2, singing and worshipping our Creator together.  I definitely had never led such a diverse service before, and thus it was a great learning opportunity for me.  Even more importantly though, I can't help but think worshiping together in such a manner each week could greatly contribute to greater ecumencal understanding at all of our respective churches.

Well there you have it... my first impressions at the UN.  Now I'm off to hear deliberations on a small arms treaty and later today I'll attend a meeting on human trafficking... I'm very, very blessed to have such an amazing opportunity for learning at the Lutheran Office for World Community.

God's peace,

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin really likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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