Oct 1 2010

Spirituality as a Source of Sustainability

Each summer Candler students intern with International Relief and Development (IRD) along with graduate students from the Rollins School of Public Health.  This article is a “success story”  and reflection from one student’s time working with a grant to decrease infant mortality through increased education on nutrition.

To avoid the heat, the ceremony began early.  The rented red plastic chairs were full and the babies were pacified with dried noodles.  Rising to speak was the village chief; behind him a man in orange robes came into view.

Cambodian Health TrainingThe presence of a monk at a Child Survival Program event is uncommon.  The target of International Relief and Development’s USAID funded grant is to decrease the morbidity and mortality rates of children in the struggling Teuk Phos district of Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia. IRD’s scope of work is not focused on the impact religious leaders have upon their communities.  But should it be?  The relationship between religious figures and the masses in Southeastern Asia has historically been strong and is currently one of the major elements keeping this rural region hopeful.

The pagoda, the road side shrines, and the daily chants all help to add color to the life of a Cambodian village.  And for most villages involved with the CS Project, this distinct religious atmosphere appears to be segregated from the work IRD is doing.  IRD hosts training meetings to help villagers care for their bodies; Buddhism offers blessing ceremonies to help villagers care for their souls. While it would seem that health and religion have separate aims, they are actually two sectors of the local economy that are beginning to become further integrated.

It may be true that health and religion are very distinct disciplines, but IRD’s work has been greatly strengthened by employing the help of local religious leaders.  Within this particular community, health and religion have one major thing in common: education.  IRD seeks to provide villagers with nutritional training so that they may become more healthy and self-sufficient.  Faith practitioners hope to see villagers gain an increased passion for study so that they may become more informed about and active within their own spirituality.   Partnering with the local religious community is a highly beneficial way to ensure that IRD continues to serve as a vehicle for education.

Cambodian PagodaVillagers themselves have voiced excitement over such a partnership.  In 22 interviews conducted with local villagers within the Teuk Phos district, it was nearly unanimous that the aid of monks, achars (village elders), and nuns would be a helpful addition to the work IRD is currently doing.  Sorn Chankoy, a 24 year old mother of one, lives too far from a pagoda to attend religious functions regularly.  When asked if involvement between IRD and the local religious community would be positive or negative, she claimed that “Monks have a lot of experience teaching. Monks are the model. They are respected.”

Thirty year old Pach Sopheap echoed Sorn’s sentiments, expressing enthusiasm over the connection between IRD’s education and the education provided by religious leaders.  Pach lives near a pagoda, so she is accustomed to receiving teaching from monks.  In fact, monks already “help educate about feeding and hygiene” in her community.  “They help to remind us,” she said.  By providing formal training on nutrition and health to local monks, their role of “reminding” is only fortified.

So far, IRD has provided training to 8 monks.  While the monks continue their religiously focused work such as performing blessing ceremonies and being present for village visitors at pagodas, they now incorporate health based messages within their work as well.  Since religious and nutritional messages are disseminated together by an educated and respected member of the community, IRD’s educational aims reach more people and are likely to be more widely adopted. The monks also submit monthly reports to IRD detailing the impact of their health messages.  According to IRD’s second quarter report from January – March of 2010, religious leaders have reached over 3,250 individuals at 56 ceremonies.  Ranging from weddings and funerals to birthday celebrations, religious leaders have been persistent in spreading health messages on immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, diarrhea prevention, and the importance of clean water.

Mother and ChildBy providing local religious leaders with formal training in health, IRD taps into a source that is able to meet needs for sustainability.   Individuals who are already committed to meeting community needs are the perfect population to receive increased training.  While their technical skills may fall short of IRD’s health practitioners, their values and passions don’t.  Taking on the responsibility of ensuring that village health issues continue to be addressed is a fitting task for the religious community, for religious leaders are strongly committed to being advocates for the well-being of their villages.  The level of trust and confidence villagers place in religious leaders is high, so nutritional based messages are more likely to be positively received.  Also, because religious ceremonies are held year round, health messages will be heard year round.  The mobility of monks allows them to reach more individuals than IRD volunteers are able to reach, for they continually travel from village to village performing ceremonies.  Religious figures are more than qualified to teach and advise on nutrition and hygiene; their impact and influence is far reaching.

Religion in Cambodia is not going anywhere fast.  IRD’s Child Survival Grant, however, is. Ending in September of 2010, the project is phasing out and local volunteers will tackle the task of ensuring that what IRD begun is continued.  In an effort at being sustainable, what better than religion to take the reins?

The stitching of this country’s social fabric has been, at times, a little jagged.  Regimes have risen and fallen.  Dictators have invaded and evacuated.  Atrocities have hit and demolished.  But religion has been a uniting and encompassing thread, holding the broken pieces together.  Religion has provided a steady presence of peace and hope. In these times of sickness and disease and death, religion is capable of providing life; if not with the needle of a doctor, then with the word of a teacher.

-Sara LaDew

Sara is a 2nd year MTS student from Greensboro, NC and a Student Ambassador. Last summer, she spent two months in Cambodia as an intern with International Relief and Development through a partnership with Candler.


Oct 5 2007

Life is a Journey

One of the long term, lifelong goals I set for myself a few years ago is to fill all the pages of my passport with stamps from various travel destinations before the passport expires. I received my current passport in the spring of 2001, before a six-week trip through Southeast Asia. While I did get a number of stamps and visas from that trip alone, I still had many pages to fill and countries to visit before attaining that goal. Luckily, passports are issued for ten years; therefore, I knew that as I entered my 20’s, there would likely be other travel opportunities in my future.

After college, I collected a few more passport stamps and memories as a photographer on a trip to South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (STAMP). However, it was not until I got to Candler School of Theology at Emory University did my goal of filling my passport seem more attainable and at such an early stage of my life. Journeys both near and far abound for students at Candler.

Two of the most amazing and eye opening trips of my life were through Candler and happened within months of each other during the summer of 2006, between my second and third year of seminary. Only days after completing my final exams and even before Candler seniors graduated, I departed on the Middle East Travel Seminar, or METS as we call it. METS is a three-week intensive travel seminar with seminarians from various other divinity schools in the southeastern United States, as well as several lay people. It is a political and archeological tour through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Greece, that Candler has participated in for many generations of students. We rode up Mount Sinai on camelback to watch the sun rise (STAMP); we toured religious, interfaith sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem (STAMP); we visited Damascus and Corinth, making Paul’s letter come alive (STAMP, STAMP); we floated in the salty Dead Sea and went through Israel checkpoints (STAMP). We had challenging, enlivening theological conversations every step of the way, and my faith and commitment to ministry in God’s broken world were strengthen and affirmed all along the way.

The summer of 2006 was book ended by the METS trip in late May and a trip to Seoul, South Korea in late July (STAMP). Candler School of Theology has a unique relationship with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, which takes students and church leaders on evangelism seminars all over the world twice a year, in which Candler students can receive three class credits for the trip. In fact, United Methodist students can fulfill their Evangelism class requirement for ordination by attending one of these seminars. What was so unique about this seminar in particular is that it was in conjunction with the 19th World Methodist Conference, which is a global conference held every five years, in which all Methodist and Wesleyan denominations and movements come together for worship, celebration, workshops, and dialog. Recently, World Methodist Evangelism Institute Seminars have traveled to Singapore, France, and South Korea, with plans to travel to Latin America and South Africa in 2008.

While traveling domestically will not earn me stamps in my passport, I have also been on a few trips regionally with other Candler students. After the devastation of hurricane Katrina, Candler sent a work team of students down to New Orleans during spring break to clean out and gut homes. Doing hands-on mission work with fellow seminarians was such a powerful experience of living out our call to ministry in both the church and the community. That week in New Orleans, we literally lived part of Candler’s mission statement, “…to educate—through scholarship, teaching, and service—faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries in the world.”

I’ve only mentioned a few of the life changing travel experiences and adventures I’ve been on through Candler School of Theology, but there are so many more ways to enhance your theological education through travel seminars and exchange programs. Candler has ongoing exchange programs with Göttingen University in Germany, the University of Melbourne in Australia, the Wesley House at Cambridge University in Great Britain, St. Andrews in Scotland, and Uppsala University Theology School in Sweden. In January, Dr. David Jenkins, Co-Director of Contextual Education and program director for Faith and the City, Church and Community Ministries Certificate, and CPE, will lead a Borderlinks trip with a class, “The Church on the Border” to the U.S. and Mexico border to examine the realities of border life, immigration policy, the history of border relations and immigration vis a vis the life of the church on the border, as participates stay with Mexican families and in community centers. Not only will Candler take you to the border’s edge, but it will also facilitate you in doing further study with other great theology schools in the U.S. Candler often has students participate in the National Capital Seminar for Seminarians at Wesley Seminary, which is offered every spring semester. During the semester in Washington D.C., students participate in hands-on learning and intense study of ethics, theology and public policy, with the nation’s capital as your primary resource. Seminary is designed to be a journey of discernment and discovery, and Candler provides students with options that will rock the world and rock your ministry.

The familiar saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” can also be said about Candler. Theological education at Candler School of Theology is a journey with God, your fellow students, and yourself, and if you allow it, will also be a journey to Israel (STAMP), South Korea (STAMP), Geneva (STAMP), New Orleans, and to the boundaries, borders, and edges of the life you knew before seminary. Candler will push you to adventure beyond your known world and into a life of service to God’s creation that may require you to carry a passport.

What study abroad and travel seminars have you enjoyed participating in or learning about? What destinations and international experiences would you like Candler to explore and offer? What has been one of your most meaning journeys?

If you are interested in getting more stamps in your passport and going on a theological journey, you should consider Candler a destination for your adventure. Please contact us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu, call us at 404.727.6326, check us out online at www.candler.emory.edu/admissions/ and look for my profile on Facebook, named Candler Intern-Theology, and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.