Called to be Advocates

Last week I had a happy opportunity to participate in a conference of the theological schools of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, hosted by the Danish Mission, in the city of Antsirabe.

All of the lecturers from the Bible schools, seminaries, and post-graduate theological school were invited to attend.  In the first three days of the week our focus was on “Advocacy”!

A guest speaker from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Rev. Anicet, came to present to us about the value of advocacy in the Church.

Rev. Anicet being introduced by Danish Mission representative, Mr. Simon.

We talked about the definition of advocacy for our context and time together, describing it as, “organized efforts to effect systematic or incremental change.”

  • It must involve citizens who inform and work with the group for whom advocacy is being done.
  • It must be directed towards specific and identified disadvantaged groups. (By contrast, the prophetic voice is general; advocacy is specific and direct)
  • Advocacy, then, as it is practiced, is “a systematic, democratic, and organized effort by (any player) to change, influence, or initiate policies, laws, practices, and behaviour so that disadvantaged citizens in particular or all citizens in general will be benefitted.”

Any group in business, government, or society can engage in advocacy!!

In describing the need for advocacy, our speaker used this illustration:  He said, “There is a man at the top of a hill tossing babies into a river.  At the bottom of the hill two women are retrieving the babies from the water.”- he noted that this is often our action as the church; we adapt and adjust, trying to compensate for actions by those in power that mistreat others. (for example, a government stops providing funding for education, so the Church builds schools).  Instead of pulling the babies out of the water, it would make more sense for the two women in the illustration to go up the hill and intervene with the man tossing babies into the river.  This is the work of advocacy.

Our speaker talked about the needs for advocacy at local and national levels.  He stressed most that advocacy is about really engaging and listening to the needs of the people for whom you are advocating- not speaking out “for” others when you haven’t engaged in deep listening to that group of people’s needs.  As such, advocacy is always done in coordination with those who are being negatively impacted by some issue that needs awareness and change.

One of the entertaining parts of the week has been the discussion of the word “advocacy” itself.  As there is no word in the Malagasy language for “advocacy,” our speaker put it to us as a challenge this week to come up with a word for “advocacy.”  Some of the variations have been very creative!  Examples (translated to English again): “me coming to you with the words of my friend”; “speaking words listened”

In the ELCIC we often use the phrase “In Mission for Others.”  These presentations and discussions last week struck me as being largely what mission is to be all about!

After an inspiring workshop, the rest of our week and into the weekend was spent together in dialogue about the future of theological education for the Malagasy Lutheran Church.  The more than 60 participants were divided into groups by department/faculty to discuss the needs of the institutions and how those needs would be met in the classroom.  With Bible schools, regional seminaries, and one post-graduate theological institution (SALT), spread around Madagascar the leaders of these educational facilities wish to ensure that their programs flow smoothly as students pass from one school into the next.  The gathering of lecturers, deans, seminary presidents, and church leaders provided an opportunity to review curricula, engage in discussion, and hear what is happening around the country.

While it was not easy for me to leave my placement site and be away, the Lord works in mysterious ways!  This last week proved to be very good!- it was interesting and informative, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from around the country who are so passionate about theological education.

I’ve always known that education is particularly important to Lutherans and I am delighted to find that to be true internationally!

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