More than 600 "justice lovers" from across the globe have gathered in Texas, USA, to celebrate practical faith in action and to renew their spirits at an international conference sponsored by The United Methodist Church.
"My goal tonight is simple: to encourage you in your justice-making ministries," said the Rev Elizabeth Tapia, an ordained elder from the Philippines. "We need to encourage one another because at times justice making can be a very lonely, unrewarded, risky endeavour."
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society sponsored the "Living Faith, Seeking Justice" conference at the beginning of November 2007. Participants included 53 international participants from 16 countries.
"The conference is opening the whole world to us," said the Rev Lloyd Nyarota, a pastor in Zimbabwe, Africa. "Hearing so many different issues, different challenges ... prepares you to face your situation and to remobilize your energy for a new day."
It was the first such conference held by the church's social action agency, and the response was overwhelming, said design team members as they scanned a conference room packed with people of all ages, colours and cultures.
"This conference was more than I even dreamed of," said the Rev Hilde Marie Øgreid, pastor of Bjolsen United Methodist Church in Oslo, Norway, and a member of the design team. Øgreid brought 10 young people with her from Norway, all of whom worked to raise the money to attend.
"I saw the topics we were going to discuss here were many and good," said Audun Westad of Norway. "I think we need to be aware of all these topics to be an alive church today. I like the sermons. They are very different from what we have in Norway. It is good to experience something different and something new."
Bible studies, plenaries, worship services, visits to local churches and workshops all reinforced the mission of the conference to resource local churches for global justice ministry.