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Calvin Students Plan Second Development Conf.

December 12, 2006

The second annual Faith and International Development Conference will be held at Calvin College Thursday through Saturday, February 1-3, 2007.

The goal of the conference—which aims to draw 600 students from around the U.S. and Canada (twice the number of last year's attendees)—is to take a deeper look at the issues surrounding faith and development.

“I'm really excited that there's so much interest with students about these topics, but they don't always have the knowledge base to get involved,” says junior Andrew VanStee, this year's conference chair. “We're hoping to provide a place where people can move beyond saying, ‘I care about this. This is important to me,' and move into this area and do so knowledgably.”

The 2007 conference—sponsored by the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee; the Mennonite Central Committee; Bread for the World; and Calvin's Lilly Vocation Project—is structured around the themes: “Do justice/ Have mercy/ Make peace/ Take care.” Each theme targets a key area of international development: peace building and reconciliation; global health; environmental care, and economic justice.

The keynote speakers who will address these issues represent a range of backgrounds.

“We want them to say, ‘How does my tradition and how does the way I approach the gospel inform or influence my practice of development? What does it look like, especially in those areas where there are difficult moral and ethical questions?” says VanStee.

Peter Okaalet, an Anglican pastor and physician from Uganda is the Africa director of MAP International, a Christian medical assistance group. Okaalet was named a 2005 Global Health Hero by Time magazine for pioneering a more compassionate response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa .

“He can give us is a practical theology about global health work,” says VanStee of Okaalet.

Reverend Celestin Musekura, a Baptist minister from Rwanda, is the president and founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM, Inc.). Rev. Musekura, who specializes in communal and tribal forgiveness and reconciliation, has worked to reconcile the Hutu and Tutsi tribes following the Rwandan genocide.

Augusto de la Torre is the World Bank senior regional financial sector advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“He's going to talk about the role of Christians in an institution like the World Bank,” VanStee says. “Why would he be at an institution that takes such criticism? He'll tell us why something like the World Bank is important and what someone with a background in economics and banking and finance can do in development.”

Roy Berkenbosch is the campus minister and director of interdisciplinary studies at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada .

“He's a pastor with development experience,” says VanStee. “He can tell us how you approach development from the Reformed tradition.”

The breakout sessions for the conference will also hone in on the chosen themes, a deliberate response to feedback from the 2006 event.

“A number of people who were here last year hoped the next conference would focus on the ‘hows,'” says Roland Hoksbergen, a Calvin economics professor and conference mentor.

As with the 2006 event, students will stay in Calvin dorms with student hosts.

The Four Corners Café, located in the chapel undercroft and serving fair trade coffee, will provide students with a social hub. Various development organizations will sponsor booths at the conference, allowing students the chance to explore internship and career possibilities in development.

The Faith and International Development Conference remains a student-run event, partnering the International Health and Development organization with several other student organizations.

“Working on this is a good opportunity for students,” VanStee says. “To give a student so much responsibility, so much trust, is very humbling and very inspiring too.”

Hoksbergen turned the praise back to the student organizers.

“God has blessed us with students who have tremendous motivation to see a difference in the world and making Christ relevant in their day-to-day lives. They're saying, ‘Help us understand how to make a real difference.' And that's the sort of request, when students make it, we want to be there for them.”