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LWF Consultation on Diakonia Opens in South Africa

Nov 06, 2002 03:00 AM EST

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – More than 80 participants of Lutheran churches and worldwide partner organizations will examine the role of church services in its national and international context, as they gather for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) global consultation on diakonia.

Professor Simon Maimela of the University of South Africa opened the conference with his sermon on identifying the underlying causes of poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS.

“Like a good doctor, churches should look at the causes of the illness of poverty. Root causes of poverty should be identified, only then can strategies be put in place,” he stressed.

This conference will also focus on the role of diakonia – church social services – in resolving the continuous challenges posed by violence, poverty and AIDs.

Maimela’s emphasis on the underlying, rather than the proximate causes of these problems was supported by Louis Sibiya, the presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa.

In his official welcoming statement, Bishop Sibiya stated, “Poverty is man-made,” he said, “and it is important that the root causes of suffering are arrived at and addressed. Speaking as an African Christian, it is important that we now engage in a dialogue with government to be serious with the democratization of the continent. A lack of democratic development has been accompanied by a lack of economic development, social upliftment and human growth.”

The ELCSA bishop commented that South Africa is an appropriate place for an international consultation on diakonia because both the first and third world exists there.

“The technological advances associated with the first world are all here, but there are also the conditions, which are typical of the third world. I believe that even during your short stay you will have seen what I am talking about,” he said.

The participants of the conference are scheduled to visit different diaconal institutions in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Ms. Agneta Ucko, LWF Deputy General Secretary, considered these visits as a good start for the conference. She called attention to the theme of the 2003 LWF Tenth Assembly “For the Healing of the World,” in relation to diakonia. Ucko hopes that these consultations will provide new messages for the ministry of the churches.

Mr. Robert Granke, Director of the LWF Department for World Service (DWS), noted the interdepartmental efforts involved between the LWF, DWS, and the Departments for Mission and Development Theological Studies in making this consultation possible.

Granke expressed her expectation of the conference to “reconfirm diakonia as a fundamental dimension of the identity of the mission of the church and to articulate a renewed understanding and vision of prophetic diakonia - one that leads us to more effective responses to the critical challenges facing our church and societies as a whole.”

By Pauline J.