Sep 9 2011

Higher

As we begin another year at Candler and welcome 177 new students to this incredible community, a few second year students offer this deep reflection.

- Patrick Littlefield, Kristoffer Park, & Alex Thompson


Aug 5 2011

Living History

Neo-Assyrian soldiers stretch out naked foes on the ground, preparing to flay them alive. Captive children witness the gruesome display.

One of the highlights of my trip to Israel this summer was visiting the site of ancient Lachish, about thirty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem. This Judahite city was the last to fall to the mighty Neo-Assyrian army before it set its sights squarely on Jerusalem (701 B.C.E.). King Sennacherib was so proud of this conquest that he had scenes from the siege of Lachish etched into the walls at his palace at Nineveh. Now displayed in the British Museum in London, these reliefs depict (among other things) the execution and torture of Judahite soldiers and dignitaries as well as the forced migration of the city’s inhabitants.

Neo-Assyrian troops impale citizens of Lachish on long poles while archers and soldiers armed with slings ascend the siege ramp.

Neo-Assyrian troops in a siege engine attack the fortified gates of Lachish. Torches and boulders rain down on the attackers, but to no avail.

I visited Tel Lachish late in the afternoon on a scorching day in July. Except for the birds and the occasional lizard that skittered by, I was completely alone at the site. It was eerily quiet. And as I stood atop the tel, I let my historical imagination run wild.

One can still see very clearly the huge earthen ramp that the Neo-Assyrians built to surmount the city’s walls. It is massive and an impressive feat of engineering even now. I imagined the dread that the citizens must have felt looking down from the walls to see below the greatest fighting force that the world had ever known. As Sennacherib’s troops slowly assembled the siege ramp rock by rock, the city surely knew what was coming. Once the ramp was finished, there could be no repelling Sennacherib’s raiders.

Remains of the Neo-Assyrian siege ramp leading up to the city walls.

Sennacherib resting comfortably on his throne in his camp outside of Lachish.

As I saw this historical drama playing itself out before me, I could picture the Neo-Assyrian soldiers in full armor, with a taste for blood and a lust for loot. I imagined a smug Sennacherib munching some grapes in his plush camp just out of range of Lachish’s archers. Why did he have to come all the way from Nineveh to wreak so much havoc here? Looking down on the site of Sennacherib’s camp, I had the urge to utter a curse against those damn Neo-Assyrians. And suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I felt a new kinship with old Jonah, who certainly had no love lost on these people (cf. Jonah 3-4). The memory of violence, even violence from thousands of year ago, can still have profound and disturbing effects.

Another very different highlight of my trip was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. I wasn’t really planning on visiting the church, intending instead to focus on the numerous Old Testament “places of interest” in and around Jerusalem (like Lachish). Yet when I happened upon the church, I just couldn’t resist going in.

I have to admit that once inside I found the people far more interesting than the architecture, relics, and this or that shrine. As I navigated the various holy sites within the church, I realized I was walking alongside people from all over the world. It struck me powerfully that millions of Christians over hundreds of years had travelled to this very building and had walked on these very stones.

Why had we all come? Was it curiosity? Devotion? Adventure? And who were we exactly? Pilgrims? Or tourists? Or worse, crusaders? Or were we something in between, some mixture of all three? I couldn’t tell, but walking through the church gave me the sense that I was participating in something that was far bigger than me. To be sure, that something was very messy and complicated and rife with contradiction, but also somehow profoundly true.

Crosses etched into the walls by pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Of all the images from the church that day, what most struck me was seeing the thousands of crosses cut in the stone blocks on the stairway down to the crypt of St. Helen. Those simple etchings testified to the presence and faith of so many who had come before me. Even in the few minutes I stood at the steps there taking it all in, scores of new pilgrims walked by.

- Dr. Joel LeMon

 

Dr. LeMon is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Candler and will be teaching OT501 this year.  His research focuses on the Psalms, Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry, and (as you can tell) ancient Near Eastern history, literature, and art. He is the author of Yahweh’s Winged Form in the Psalms (Academic Press, 2010) and the co-editor of Method Matters (with Kent H. Richards, Society of Biblical Literature, 2009). LeMon is an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.


Apr 26 2011

Brian Green on the JD/MTS Program

Ever wonder what types of issues are discussed within joint degree programs at Candler or why student choose to pursue two graduate degrees simultaneously? Here Brian Green talks about his experiences within Candler’s MTS program, the JD program at Emory University School of Law, and Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion:


Apr 6 2011

Lenten Meditation #2

During a Candler chapel service known as “Songs and Prayers for the Lenten Journey,” several students shared spoken word reflections.  For the next few Wednesdays we will share some of these reflections with you.

This week’s reflection is from 1st year MDiv student Marques Harvey.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Psalm 121 Lenten Reflection

By: Marques Harvey

March 2011 (Copyright pending)

‘I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

In this season of Lent, my time is being spent discovering that this God of Israel- IS REAL and I mean that environmentally. For God is stretching me to break- fast from traditions of seeing God just as some ‘cosmic sugar Daddy’, this Agape poppy, who whenever I need a blessing I just send a praise up, and my blessings come down.  But this time around, in this season of Lent, less time is being spent craving the obesities of life. You know the fat ride, with the extremely large house, even though it’s only occupants are you and your spouse. All those things which contribute to this energy crisis- in which the inflation in the prices- has got us wondering just where Christ is.     So like the Psalmist, we lift up our eyes to the hills, only to discover they aren’t there anymore.  Cause the country’s economic plan of mountain top removals has crossed the burning sands and Mt. Zion is being converted into a mole hill – things are getting REAL in Israel.

In this season of Lent, my time is being spent discovering that this God of Israel – IS REAL – and I mean that sociologically, God is really challenging me to break-fast from traditions of simply fasting the sweets, treats and meats in my diet.  Moving from Daniel’s fast to a fast so REAL Isaiah encourages everyone to try it.  It’s a fast that’s not about just me, but with just-us.

It beckons that us who too often fuss with us, would begin discussing trust with us so that God would no longer find disgust in us…where the words of one KRS & the One Christos help remove the proverbial planks from our eyes until we realize that this God of Israel – IS REAL – and I mean that ontologically.  God is awakening us to see that Israel is not just a man, not just some ancient land, not just the daughters of the dust but Israel is in each one of us.  I ask you, from where will my help come when the earth’s hidden faults cause disasters in the land, when impenetrable levees can no longer stand? You responded our help comes from the One who made heaven and Japan, from the One who made heaven and Iran, from the One who made heaven and Sudan.  For the God who keeps Israel is the One who will not sleep nor slumber. For at times like these, we no longer have to wonder.  All we have to do is take notice and know this – that this God of Israel – IS REAL.

Marques holds a Masters in Public Health from the Morehouse  School of Medicine and is a graduate of Benedict College.


Feb 25 2011

For the MTS student- Cultivating spiritualities

Allow me to begin this post with a necessary disclaimer. I am in the Master of Theological Studies program, but I certainly do not represent every student in it. My peers hail from quite a diverse number of religious traditions and denominational backgrounds, possessing an equally diverse number of theological sentiments. So it would be a disservice to them and a gross generalization if I wrote about the spiritual life without dissolving the implication that we share these notions in common. This is, however, one of the treasured attributes of the MTS program at Candler. It allows students to shape their own academic/research paths with an impressive degree of flexibility and individual tailoring.   Thus, we contribute an extensively plural and multivalent number of personalities, intellectual perspectives, and spiritual/religious orientations to the Candler community (and to the larger university as well). Because of the program’s embrace of individually crafted academic paths and lack of a more rigid structure (the kind one might encounter in a program like the MDiv), the personal responsibility to maintain and cultivate the spiritual life becomes a challenging and pertinent task.

I came to Candler after completing my BA at a small Pentecostal university in central Florida. The unflinching chapel attendance requirements, my involvement in spiritual formation and mentoring, and residing in a primarily on-campus residential school made spiritual cultivation a largely inevitable event. This strict, yet enriching experience ended in the Spring of 2010 and a much more open-ended but equally promising journey began at Candler in the Fall. I discovered that the Cannon chapel services offered the kind of diverse, ecumenical liturgical opportunities for which I had hoped. But apart from these worship settings, where tangible religious gestures are conveniently facilitated, the MTS student will inevitably discover opportunities for spiritual activity and reflection within the less explicitly worshipful classrooms of the CST (Candler School of Theology) building.

In my Luke course with Dr. Holladay last semester, I found new ways of thinking and meditating on episodes of Christological profundity in sacred texts. Thanks to my 1 and 2 Thessalonians Greek Exegesis course that I have with Dr. Kraftchick this semester, I am working with texts and developing exegetical skills that foster many Christian virtues . . . especially patience. I must say though that nothing has quite met the degree to which I am being spiritually challenged in Womanist Theology and Narrative Identity, which is taught by Dr. Andrea White. Every Monday, we (a couple dozen students of distinct racial, ethnic, gender, and religious identities) meet to engage in reflection on Womanist scholarship and the questions pertinent to the hermeneutic of Black women’s lived experiences. As a white male in the course, I have found the quest for accurate theological thinking, justice, and insight into a social and intellectual location with which I had not previously engaged to be a daunting, humbling, but infinitely rewarding spiritual endeavor.

Precisely how you will integrate spirituality into your life at Candler is not yet a realized dynamic. As I wrote above, the students in the MTS program all construct distinct and unique approaches to their religious lives, both within and outside of the school of theology. The process is open-ended and depends a great deal on the spiritual identity that you bring with you to the program. But I can assure you that Candler and the MTS program are optimal spatial and intellectual locations for that process, both effulgent with multitudinous opportunities for spiritual maturation and growth.

- Justin Rose

Justin is a 1st year MTS student from Navarre, FL and a Student Ambassador


Feb 14 2011

Noise

As I entered Cannon Chapel, I was greeted by noise.  Several students were spread throughout the Brooks Commons foyer and up the staircase towards the Chapel.  They were reading, praying, meditating in unison.  I was surrounded by sound, but it was not the unpleasant sound of large crowds or chatty groups.  It was the sound of God ushering his children to worship, leading them towards Himself with His words.  I felt guided up the stairs, almost as if I was being moved forward by the nudge of scripture and praise.

The diversity of worship life at Candler allows for many different student groups and denominations to lead worship throughout the semester.  This week, the Black Student Caucus led of large group of students, faculty, and staff in yet another unique style of worship to help celebrate Black History Month.  Noise is of course a component of every worship experience in Cannon Chapel, but the noise this week had a certain power and force to it, as I noticed before I even entered the space of worship.  The noise seemed to move.  It moved in and out of mouths and ears, up and down walls and ceilings, over and around bodies and clasped hands.  It not only moved throughout the space, but forced the space to move with it.

The service began with singing.  An organ, a saxophone, a piano, a drum set accompanied rich, vibrant voices.  There were not words to read from a hymnal or off a screen.  The words of the song were on repeat, it seemed.  Everyone joined in, participating in the repetition of noise.  Some shouted the noise out of joy and happiness; others whispered it out of reverence and humility.  Different tones, different inflections floated around the chapel, offering themselves up to God in their diversity.   The variations of the noise became unified, for each distinct sounds moved in the same direction.  Upward.

Singing rarely involves just the movement of the mouth.  Arms, legs, and heads were moving, too, adding to the rhythm of the noise being created in the space.  The whole chapel was noisy with movement, from the swaying of hips to the raising of hands.  Bodies became instruments as they harmonized with the notes being played and sung.  Every single body participated in the song as it reacted to the noise.  Each person added their own personalized notes, creating a song that God had never heard before.

A time of prayer was sandwiched between the sounds of song.    Individuals approached the middle of the chapel floor one by one, uttering words of both praise and sorrow.   The Candler community gathered around these bodies and their noise as a petition to God, a petition to grow them closer and more unified.  Working to tear down boundaries and to end habits of division were the words of these few, but the cry of all.  The noise of both verbal and silent prayer rose, again, upward.

The loudest sound of the whole service was indeed the footsteps exiting the chapel – the sound of God’s noise moving out into the world.

-Sara LaDew

Sara is a 2nd year MTS student from Greensboro, NC and a Student Ambassador.


Dec 31 2010

Partners in Education: Pitts Theology Library

Happy New Year’s from Candler School of Theology!  As you are making your New Year’s Resolutions, you might want to think about the many ways Pitts Theology Library can help make your 2011 successful.

How can a library impact your theological education?  Theological education engages with the past and present, with contemporary issues as well as the thought of the ages.  We at Pitts Theology Library would like to encourage you to consider the ways that a library serves your educational and vocational goals:

Pitts CirculationWhile in Pitts Theology Library, one of the largest theological libraries in North America, you can access over 560,000 items.  You also have access to the more than 3.4 million items held by all of the Emory University Libraries.  Hundreds of online databases and thousands of electronic resources are available to you on and off campus.

During the semesters, you can learn tips for effectively using these resources by attending 50-minute Wednesday Workshops during the lunch hour (and we provide lunch, too!) Topics include: using BibleWorks software; resources for exegetical research; locating and using images; and highlights from our special collections.

Contact a reference librarian by phone, email, chat, or stop by our desks to ask questions and get a jump start on your research projects.  Online Research Guides are always available when you are ready to embark on your research.

Durham Reading RoomTwo credit-bearing courses are designed to help you build useful skills: Technology for Ministry focuses on theological reflection and practical skills regarding the use of technologies in ministry, while Research Practices provides guided practice with the stages of research, allowing you to take an assigned project in another course or a topic of interest and apply the principles and practices considered in class.

As you consider Candler for your theological education, please think of the library staff as your partners in education—we delight in your learning, and want to help you engage with the rich resources here throughout your Candler education and beyond!  As a Candler graduate, you will have access to the Candler Alumni Portal, which includes the full-text article database ATLAS for Alumni as well as a selection of useful online resources.  Library staff also can help you determine the best options for obtaining theological materials wherever your post-Candler years may lead you.  Please let us know how we can help.

-Tracy N. Powell

Tracy is the Head of Public Services and Periodicals Librarian at Pitts Theology Library; she is always willing to help library visitors and regularly hosts workshops and teaches classes for Candler students.


Dec 24 2010

Walk in the Light

Luke 2:8-11
2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 2:9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 2:11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Shepherds

Classes at Candler School of Theology recently ended for the semester. Finals are over, grades are in, and students and faculty have emptied the hallways for now. We have worshiped together during this Advent season as a community with expectant hearts.

It is always interesting to read the story of the birth of Christ, especially in Luke’s account. This year I am struck by images of light and the request from the angel that the shepherds not be afraid. Equally attention-grabbing is the setting of the story – shepherds living and working in the fields, a census to further support Rome’s war, and God coming into this world as a helpless newborn who was laid in a feeding trough. This was not at first glance a splendid night.

Imagine an ordinary day. Darkness abounds amid our humanity. Life is hard. And all of a sudden there is so much light that instead of happiness to be have light in our lives, we are scared out of our minds. This was the kind of night in which God became incarnate.

And so it is the case today. Christmas is not always a glowing moment of joy and peace for so many. Rather, it is a time of profound loneliness and sadness. There appears to be nothing but darkness – broken relationships, unemployment, underemployment, aloneness, uncertainty about our calling, and the like. But yet, this time it is about the light that is shone all around us – even amid the perceived darkness (The darkness is showered with brilliance as the people who wait in darkness see a great light – Isa 9:2). We get a glimmer of it, but yet we may be afraid to walk in that light and to respond to the angel’s beckoning, “do not be afraid!”

Nativity

One of my favorite hymns is Walk in the light. I recall one of my very first Christmas Eve’s as a new Christian. It was at a candlelight service that a friend insisted I attend. It was there that the song spoke to me and encouraged me to pay attention to the gift of light, no matter how big or small. It was that night that I allowed myself to be privy to the Glory that shone all around me and in that moment I was no longer afraid. The lyrics are simply:

Walk in the light,beautiful light,
come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
Oh shine all around us by day and by night,
Jesus is, Jesus is the light of the world;

This Christmas, let us embrace the light as it comes. It may come in the face of another, or the kindness of a stranger, or even the words of a hymn that penetrates our hearts in new ways. No matter how it comes, step into it. Receive it. Walk in it. For the gift that is greater than all others is the coming of the One who is the Light now and forever – Jesus Christ.

Let us pray-

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.
Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright © 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress.

-The Rev. Shonda Jones

Rev. Jones is Associate Dean of Admissions and Student Services at Candler.  She is involved in recruitment, admissions, financial aid, and student life. In addition, Rev. Jones provides vocational guidance, financial advisement, and crisis management for students. She is an ordained elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. Her areas of interest include the HIV/AIDS pandemic, anti-racism, womanist theology, ethics, culture, and studies in church and society.

All images copyright John August Swanson. They can be viewed at Candler on the second floor outside of room 252.


Oct 27 2010

Posthuman Theology

As a first-year MTS student, I have the privilege of meeting each week in a colloquy session with Dr. Kraftchick (the program director) and the other students in the program. In general, our discussions this year relate to the various intersections of technology and theology. More recently, we have broached the topic of the posthuman future and what it means for faith. The next few paragraphs contain some of my disparate, although not entirely random thoughts on the matter.

I am interested in the implications of the transhuman agenda for the doing of Christian theology and, equally, its implications for faithfulness to Christian confession.  The possibility of humankind co-opting the bio-evolutionary process and implementing advanced technologies for the purpose of enhancing and transcending the human experience seems nearly inevitable, given the significant progress in regenerative medicine, nanotechnology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Futurists predict that in a short time (considering the telescoping nature of technological and cultural evolution) humanity will be able to dramatically prolong human life, reduce mortality, and even eventually transfer human consciousness to non-organic, computing entities. In the sphere of virtual reality, it is being realized more and more that reality itself is a construct of patterns of information. The ability to manipulate and transform these patterns into other patterns is increasing exponentially. This suggests that the limitations of human experience (physical laws, natality, mortality, and sensory dynamics) are more permeable than ever imagined.

The horizon of the post-human emergence is then, in fact, quite proximal to us. The human species, for the first time, faces extinction, not because of predation or cosmic catastrophe, but because of its own self-willed transcendence into something physically, cognitively, spatially, and temporally superior. This is cause for great concern among today’s religious ethicists and theologians. The protest(s) go(es) something like this: If humans can, by their own design, bring an end to suffering as they have experienced it since their advent after mutating from their ancestral hominids, then the long-standing moral institutions of charity, compassion, empathy, and care will no longer be needed by them. Suffering and mortality provide the foundation for the maternal and paternal instincts of nurturing and care. If the (post)human can live indefinitely in an un-embodied state and in a space where manipulated patterns of information provide limitless and timeless realities, then the need for progeny itself will be terminated. Among those existing entities, physical pain, morbidity, and death will be non-existent metaphysical categories. Thus, there is no longer a need for the Christian ethos of love, care, and compassion. Additionally, the Christian theological paradigm, which is predicated on embodied (incarnate) life in need of salvation from God’s eternal enemy (Death) will cease to be relevant to anyone: an outdated historical artifact from humanity’s violent and unstable past. Therefore, according to these rightly concerned members of theological academé, fidelity to the Christian cause demands resistance to the transhuman agenda. This manifests itself in objection to public funding for stem cell research and other scientific ventures that push the limits of human ability and experience.

While I do not altogether disagree that the self-willed extinction of the human species presents daunting ethical and religious challenges, I also cannot fully endorse the feelings and actions of those who resist it. And this hesitancy arises precisely from my my theological sensibilities. While the Christian tradition does speak to those who have an embodied existence, I believe that Christian proctology and eschatology call for participation (or, as some theologians have put it, co-creation) with God in the revision and reconstitution of conscious life into something that radically affirms creativity, unending life, and a just-peace. The capacity to project oneself into multiple virtual constructs at once, to constantly reinvent environments for the betterment of those entities that exist in them, and to think at such a level as to appropriate the very fabric of the universe (or multiverse) through cognitive enhancement is an actualization of the Christian hope. It is not some far-fetched utopian dream, but a dynamic, gradual process whereby people can rise to new levels of harmony and productive engagement. Additionally, it does not remove (post)humanity from dependence on God, but radically reaffirms our need to rely on the source of life and energy itself for our happiness and future.

- Justin Rose

Justin is a 1st year MTS student from Navarre, FL and a Student Ambassador


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.