How much racism is there in Jamaica

Ecumenical Peace Convocation Jamaica

The World Council of Churches held the International Peace Convocation of the World Council of Churches in Kingston from May 17th to 25th. About 1,000 delegates from the member churches of the WCC had come to the capital of Jamaica.

Pastor Verena Hoff took part in the convocation for the Evangelical Reformed Church. Here you can read her reports that she wrote during the convocation.

May 25th: what's next?

The day after. In the morning after breakfast, hundreds of participants stand with their suitcases in the small square in front of the dormitory, waiting to be flown by a minibus to the airport and then home. Little by little it becomes emptier. Almost everyone is leaving today. The stewards stay another day to help clean up. A few, like me, stay a few days longer. All over?

The topics of the peace convocation still haunt me. In the afternoon I go to the beach with others. The bus driver drives us to a very touristy area, the entrance to the beach is 15 US dollars. Lot of money. And then suddenly it occurs to me that one of our group is from Uganda. Can he even pay for that? After thinking about it, I go to him and ask him if I can invite him. I realize that it's uncomfortable for both of us. And at this moment I am ashamed of this unjust world into which I was born as a white man in a rich country by chance ...

Later on, I'll take a few more photos on campus. Then the barbed wire catches my eye again. We are already on the secure grounds of the university and yet the individual dormitories are still separated from each other with barbed wire ...

One thing has become very clear to me here in Kingston: There is no alternative to peace. To me, fighting for it is an inseparable part of faith, even if the way there is associated with many resistances and setbacks. What injustice and violence we experience all over the world compels us to oppose God's vision: a world in which money is distributed fairly and in which barbed wires no longer separate us: a world of peace.

May 24th: Convocation ends

A very beautiful, full and moving day is behind me.

Today was the last session in the plenary, in which the final message of the peace convocation was to be adopted. A preparation team had already worked for days and presented the first version to all participants in the morning. Then everyone had the opportunity to propose changes.
As soon as it was announced, a long line formed behind the two microphones. In the end, over 70 people actually spoke! The session dragged on well into lunchtime. Nevertheless, I thought it was very good because it showed how much passion the participants bring to the subject of "just peace".

The brave preparation team then skipped their lunch break and presented the changed message in time for the afternoon meeting. Everyone got up spontaneously and applauded loudly and long. In fact, in a short period of time, they had managed to accommodate many of the concerns and at the same time to present a legible paper.

Here is a passage that is particularly important to me: "We recognize that Christians are often complicit in violent systems. We ask God to forgive us our sins and transform us into advocates of justice and just peace. We appeal Governments and other groups no longer use religion as a pretext to justify violence. [...] We are united in our belief that war must become illegal. "
The full text is here: IEPC message.

During the last song of the closing service, "Glory to God and peace on earth", the theme song of this peace convocation, I hear a full, happy and somehow relieved singing. You can feel how moved and inspired everyone is by this peace convocation. I as well! I am very grateful for everything I have learned and experienced and I come back to Germany with lots of thoughts and ideas.

May 23: Peace between the peoples

There is no such thing as a just war - that is the clear and unanimous vote on that day. And even if military means are used in the very last resort, the governments, countries and people involved are guilty. But the step towards just peace must go further: Can we not come to condemn war completely? The way there will be long and difficult, but we as churches have to go it.

There were lively discussions on current issues in international politics on the podium today and in the audience. Dr. Lisa Schirch from the USA, professor of peace research, called for the concept of national security to be overcome. Instead, churches must stand up for the security of people and peoples worldwide. In the Christian understanding, security can only mean building trust among peoples. The principle "Love your enemies" from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is not only a moral, but above all a strategic advice for dealing with one another.

Today I have Dr. Met Magdi Gendi, representative of the Reformed Church in Egypt. He very much emphasized how glad he is that Christians and Muslims protected each other during the revolution. At the same time, he is very worried that fundamentalists will now gain more power and thus jeopardize the good cooperation. He asked us to continue to support his country and to pray for them.

May 22nd: Peace Sunday

Today we celebrated Peace Sunday with Caribbean sounds and rhythms - like so many churches around the globe. The Baptist Burchell Taylor preached on the verse, "That evening Jesus said to them, Let's go over." This is the first verse of the story of the calming down of the storm (Mark 4.35-41). Jesus asked his disciples to go to the other side of the Sea of ​​Galilee. This is also an invitation to us to overcome the limits of our life and the world, to separate people from one another and to prevent peace. With Jesus' accompaniment, we are then also able to weather the storms that are coming our way (i.e. power interests, economic interests, our own resignation, etc.).

Incidentally, the melody of a song sounded quite familiar to the 100 Germans who took part - and not from church circles: it was the melody of the German national anthem. The Jamaican pastor Hugh Sherlock apparently liked this melody so much that he turned it into the hymn "Lord, we come with hearts o'erflowing" ...

May 21st: Peace in the economy

Much has been thought and said about the unjust distribution of goods in the world. But how does it feel to experience it first hand? That was the topic of the morning prayer today. For once she was before breakfast and everyone came with growling stomachs. And then breakfast packets were distributed with sandwiches and drinks. But only for about one in four. All the others came away empty-handed. That was a strong sign: Those who had nothing noticed how paralyzing it is when the bag of food passes by and there is no chance of getting it. And those who had something didn't want to touch any of it in this situation. The stewards could hardly get rid of the last bag because everyone shook their heads and preferred not to have any of it.
Sometimes it takes a direct experience of injustice to wake up ...

In the plenary contributions, however, too little came up on this topic. Terms like "empire" were used indifferently. We ourselves have come further with our partner church in South Africa with "Together for another world" and have not overcome further accusations. It is probably now time to plan concrete steps: How can we use the mechanisms of the market for a fairer world? But which market regulations are absolutely necessary? Who can we partner with to achieve our goals?
I think that our important results from "Together for a different world" could still be made more visible to the outside world.

Incidentally, I would like to refer to the - in my opinion - very good blog of our sister church from Hanover: http://vision-gerechter-friede.de

May 20th: Peace on earth

What does environmental protection have to do with peace? It goes without saying that it is important to deal with climate change and the protection of the earth. But it became very clear to me here that this is also absolutely necessary for peace in the world.
In a workshop, a committed teacher from Kenya reports on the situation in her country: 80% of Kenya's economy is dependent on natural resources, which are increasingly being exploited. Hunger, flight, conflicts over food and land are the result. In her project, she teaches women to use their piece of land sustainably. She plants trees with children. She speaks to young people about the connection between waste and health. It explains: We can only survive if we live in peace with the earth, so: find peace ourselves.
She asks: "How is it with you?" - I am thinking of our nuclear debate. We not only pollute our environment with nuclear waste, we are already creating conflicts for future generations. Environmental protection - that means making peace!

May 19th: Peace in the community

The working days of the peace convocation begin today: in the morning at eight o'clock it starts with a morning prayer and in the evening it ends with an evening prayer. In between there is a tight schedule with lectures in plenary sessions, seminars, workshops and exhibitions. And all of this at over 30 degrees. The air conditioning in the tent hardly keeps up.
Today is the first topic: Peace in the community. Peace begins on a small scale: with myself, in my family, in dealing with people around me. The "great", worldwide peace presupposes that we also deal with forms of violence in our own community. In the plenum I hear Martin Luther King III. urge us to continue fighting to overcome injustice, hatred and racism in our communities. He refers to the work of his father. You can feel history in his words. Many are moved. He is arguably the most photographed person today.
Peace in the community - at least here in Kingston you can feel something of the fact that people can meet each other peacefully (i.e. friendly and affectionate), sometimes even down to the smallest detail: Today I got lost on the big campus on the way to a workshop . From behind I hear a voice calling: "Hello? Miss? Can I help you?" From a distance I see a committed, extremely friendly steward hurrying up. I am relieved and am happy about so much peace on a small scale!

May 18: The convocation begins

From one day to the next, the picture here on the event site has changed completely: All around 1000 participants of the convocation have now arrived and the accommodations, the canteens, the paths are filled with people and a lively hustle and bustle floods the whole area.

The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation officially begins today. But before that we got the opportunity to visit a peace project here in Kingston. I visited "Woman Inc", the only women's shelter in Jamaica. There are 9 places here for women who have been victims of domestic violence. In addition to supporting women, "Woman Inc" primarily provides educational work with women, men and children and addresses the public and the government for the rights of women and families.

The convocation was officially opened this afternoon. The list of speakers included the peace activist and Quaker Paul Oestreicher. I am just mentioning him because he impressed me the most with his speech. Although the day was long and a few speeches and greetings had already been made, his personality and his very clear words managed to attract attention: "If we do not change, if the church does not become the alternative community that unconditionally says no to war, then we will have thrown away the contribution that the teaching of Jesus could make. The abolition of war is possible."
His speech made it very clear that a look back at past, successful peace projects is not enough for this convocation, but that it is precisely now that we Christians are required to look ahead and unconditionally stand up for peace.

With a lot of thought about what has been said today, and above all with a feeling of joyful hope for the peace work, the day comes to an end for me.

May 17th: preparation for the convocation

The second and last day of the youth meeting was all about preparation for the convocation. We dealt with the four topics of the convocation "Peace in the community", "Peace with the earth", "Peace in the economy" and "Peace between peoples" and discussed very lively and controversial. When so many young people from so many different countries, churches and traditions meet, there are of course very different views. And once again I was able to experience that the global and interdenominational exchange on these topics enriches me a lot and broadens the horizons of my own thoughts and views.
Otherwise I met a lot of friendly and open-minded people again today. When eating (mainly rice with chicken) it is easy to get into conversation with a wide variety of personalities. I am very curious to see what and who I will meet in the next few days.

May 16: The youth assembly begins

The second day also began with "just wait a minute", which for us was connected with a few transport difficulties to the venue. I've become a bit more patient today.
And after a few more minutes it could actually start. Around 80 young people between the ages of 18 and 30 came together, all of whom are interested and committed to peace issues in their churches. We have been briefed on the past decade to overcome violence. I was particularly impressed by the personal report from the young Australian native Georgia, who reported on the recent discrimination against Aborigines, which in parts of Australia even led to the abolition of anti-racism paragraphs.

In exchange, we talked about various forms of violence in our countries. My table neighbors came from the USA, Sweden, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. I was very pleased that the atmosphere in the discussion is very open and that everyone is very critical of the circumstances in their own countries. The path to a more peaceful world is inconceivable without the willingness to accept external advice and criticism.

Also, for the first time in my life, I witnessed an earthquake today. It was only a small one, but on the 18th floor of a hotel you can get different ...

May 15th: Arrival in Jamaica

After more than 20 hours of travel, tired and exhausted, I was happy to arrive in Kingston at 8:25 pm local time and immediately saw a sign saying “International Ecumenical Peace Convocation” with friendly faces behind it. Participants of the convocation quickly gathered there, so that the opportunity arose here to get to know people from all over the world and from the most varied of denominations.
The Jamaican, rather relaxed form of preparation and organization "just wait a minute" took some getting used to for me. But in the meantime the most important things have been settled, I have a bed and I know where to have breakfast tomorrow ...