Interview with Leon Spencer, executive director of the Washington Office on Africa

( [email protected] ) Mar 08, 2004 06:51 PM EST

Washinton D.C. -- Over 500 representatives from across 42 states gathered for the second annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global Peace with Justice conference, March 5-8, at the capitol. The event brought to light the many humanitarian concerns that affect Christians around the world, especially those occurring in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Participants chose from among six tracks: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Jubilee and economic justice and Nuclear disarmament. Each track held different events and workshops to build solidarity among the faith communities working toward peace.

On March 8, Christian Post staff members were able to get an exclusive interview with the Rev. Leon Spencer, the executive director of the Washington Office on Africa, an Episcopal priest, and organizer/planner for the track on Africa.

What was the most exciting and energizing part of the three-day conference?

What was exciting to me was that the Rev. Samuel Kobia, the secretary of WCC gave our keynote address. As a Kenyan, Rev. Kobia really affirmed our voice here and our call to be working together. He encouraged us in a very thoughtful way.

The energy of the participants was also a great part of the conference. With over 500 participants, representing 42 states, there was a great seriousness and enthusiasm.

What was the main focus of the whole event and the tracks?

“Each track had its own message. So instead of all of the participants going to all the tracks, each representative went to their designated fields. The track on Asia, for example, talked about the issue of peace, especially in North Korea. Nuclear disarmament was a separate track, but it went together with the track on Asia while they covered North Korea.

What was covered in the Africa Track?

The main emphasis of the Africa track this year was on international debt cancellation. There was a major view that after Jubilee 2000 people felt that that issue was already dealt with, so we wanted to let them be more engaged and more aware on what’s happening.

The Africa track also connected specifically on AIDS, calling on the US to stop establishing barriers for people to gain access to medical assistance. We are urging congress members to not be supportive of a trade agreement with Southern African customs if those customs make it more difficult to provide medical assistance.

What did you conclude Christians and Christian groups had to do to help this cause?

We haven’t made any formal decisions, yet. Since these events actually attract people from the progressive wing from the Christian movement who are already involved in making a change, there was a great solidarity among those gathered.

However, the emphasis was placed on how [those gathered] can convey their message, to let their message be heard and empowered. There were recognitions that these advocacy groups needed to speak more effectively to others who are not yet engaged.

There was also a specific workshop on this issue in the Middle East Track.

Was there any difference between this year and last year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference?

The greatest simply, or one of them at least, was simply the size. There were many more tracks this year as opposed to last year, when we focused only on Africa. Also, there were many more attendants this year, many of whom returned from last year. However, in terms of the spirit, there was not much of a difference.

Do you have any idea as to when and where the next conference will be held?

We are working that out and nothing has been settled yet, but I’m convinced that the event will take place once again in Washington D.C. because of the opportunities the city offers.