One might wonder what a missionary working in development was doing at the Global Baptist Peace Conference in Rome, Italy in early February. I must admit that the same thought ran through my mind when my wife first suggested that I consider attending. But, with one look at the information on the web site, I was set to go! Why? Because of one seminar which was listed: Do No Harm: Development Assistance and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict. Great, something to do with development! Right up my alley, even if I don’t live in a conflict area!
After participating in this daylong seminar I knew I had made the right decision by attending. We were able to talk and share about ways in which development can, and often does, create more barriers and problems than it removes or fixes. We learned about, and worked with, a program called Do No Harm that uses a methodology which encourages aid workers and agencies to really look at the issues and items that both divide and connect communities. By looking at these ‘dividers’ and ‘connectors’, and the context in which the work is being done, steps can be taken to insure the development or aid project does not harm the community. Although I work in an area that one would not think of as a conflict area, many of the principles can be applied to my work in Bulgaria, and indeed the work of all missionaries in whatever capacity they serve. The workshop provided me with tools to look at issues and situations which could potentially divide a community in which I am working. At the same time, I can use the process to identify situations which could also bring the community together.
The Do No Harm seminar was just the beginning of a wonderful week. I was also able to attend four half-day workshops on various topics dealing with peace, justice and compassion. One workshop that really got me thinking was entitled Human Trafficking and War. I decided to attend this workshop because of Terry’s interest in the area of human trafficking and thought I might be able to gather more information for her. The biggest surprise of this workshop was that it was a group of seven men—no women were in attendance! We discussed the influence conflict has on human trafficking, which is that it dramatically increases the incidence of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. Wherever there are troops stationed in a conflict or as peacekeepers, unscrupulous “businessmen” will find ways of trafficking women in to fill the demand for prostitutes. For example, the war in the Balkans and the situation in Kosovo in the 1990’s, dramatically increased the business of trafficking in Eastern Europe, with many of the trafficked women coming from Bulgaria. Our conversation then turned to what we as Christian men can, and should, be doing to face this issue. The issue of demand must be confronted in dealing with human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. While not an easy task, it is one we as men of faith must face to help eliminate this modern form of slavery.
Yet, as great as the conference was, the greatest gift I was given is one I did not know I needed. Through the worship, the music, the workshops, the opportunity to reconnect with International Ministries’ colleagues and to meet other colleagues for the first time, God has refreshed and rekindled my Spirit in ways I cannot describe or explain. One evening as I reflected on events of the day, the following verses from the Gospel of Matthew came to me and spoke words of encouragement. May you, too, find encouragement in the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt.11:29-30 (NIV)