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|A Time to Build Up: NCC Group Joins Habitat for
Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 in Durban, South Africa
May 22, 2002, NEW YORK CITY -- For many church people in the United States, the Republic of South Africa feels a lot closer than it looks on the world map - the result of decades of work with South African church partners, first in the struggle against apartheid and now in building a democratic society free of poverty and inequality.
That may be why the National Council of Churches easily filled all 45 places in its ecumenical, intergenerational delegation to Durban, South Africa, to participate in the June 3-7 culmination of Habitat for Humanitys Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 (JCWP). Together with Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and some 2,000 other volunteers, the NCC contingent will help build 100 houses to shelter South African families who now live in shanties and other substandard housing.
The NCCs general secretary, Dr. Bob Edgar, who will lead the ecumenical group, noted that several of his predecessors paved the way for this moment by standing against apartheid. "For everything there is a season," he said. "There was a time to protest, to tear down apartheid. Now is the time to build up, to gather stones together, or, in this case, to gather concrete blocks together."
The story of one young participant in the NCC group illustrates U.S. Christians longstanding concern for South Africa. John B. Wynn, who graduated earlier this month from Tulane University, is following in his grandparents footsteps by volunteering for the South Africa project. His grandfather, the Rev. J. C. Wynn of Baltimore, Md., a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister who was an early leader in the NCC, wrote, "My wife, Rachael, and I spent some four months [in South Africa] back in the apartheid year of 1968, in the Quaker-inspired U.S.-South Africa Leader Exchange Program. Now our grandson is volunteering to participate in the Durban project."
Ranging in age from 18 to 82, members of the NCC group come from congregations of mainline, historic African American, Orthodox and peace churches in communities in 13 states and represent a wide range of occupations in fields as diverse as the ministry, medicine, education and the construction industry.
The group also includes eight seminary students sponsored by the Atlanta-based Fund for Theological Education (FTE). The Fund offers several fellowship programs and other initiatives to encourage diversity and excellence in the churches and seminaries of North America. The eight students, who are FTE Ministry Fellows, are enrolled in Master of Divinity programs and intend to enter the ministry.
"The best young people going into ministry today carry an awareness that they are citizens of a world bigger than the U.S., a world burdened with the need for all kinds of reconciliation across racial, faith, class and wealth divides," commented Melissa Wiginton, director of FTEs Partnership for Excellence program. "This experience gives the Ministry Fellows a chance to unpack that awareness, name its components and begin to examine and practice means for being agents of reconciliation. This is critical to their formation for good ministry in this time and place."
All 45 participants plan to arrive in South Africa by May 28 to begin a four-day pre-build tour in the Johannesburg area. The tour will include opportunities to meet with representatives of the NCCs longtime partner, the South African Council of Churches; to visit a local Habitat affiliate in Oukasie Township, and to greet officials of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund. Described as "the single largest investment that the South African government has made in support of the development of young people," the Fund develops strategies to promote "the economic citizenship" of young people hampered by lack of job skills and opportunities.
The group travels to Durban on June 1 and undergoes orientation before participating in the "blitz build" of 100 houses in Durbans Sherwood area. The land on which the new dwellings will be built is now vacant, but up until the early 60s had been occupied by Indian and black South African families. The former apartheid government forcibly removed them and destroyed their homes in order to enforce racial segregation and to open the area for white occupation.
The Durban build caps a continent-wide building effort-the largest in the 17-year-old Jimmy Carter Work Project history-that will construct 1,000 houses in 18 African countries. It marks the second time that the NCC has participated in the JCWP event. Bob Edgar went to South Korea in August 2001 to join with volunteers from around the world to build decent housing for 136 Korean families.
Habitat for Humanity and the NCC have embraced a long-term series of joint ventures to eliminate poverty housing in the United States and around the world.In its first 25 years, celebrated in 2001, Habitat for Humanity built 100,000 homes worldwide, and half a million people now live in Habitat homes. Habitat for Humanity's goal is to build another 100,000 homes by 2005.
The partnership is one in an emerging network of collaborative work against poverty. Through its Poverty Mobilization, launched in November 2000, the NCC is focused on making a measurable difference against poverty over the coming decade in such areas as housing, child poverty, health care, public education, environment and public policy, including welfare and budget priorities.
A list of NCC-recruited participants in the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2002 Durban Build follows:
*Indicates members sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education.
Julian Allen, Oakland, CA - Non-denominational
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