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World church council trip: journey of transformation

The Rev. Bobby Musengwa, co-pastor at Maximo Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, recently attended the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Musengwa, who is originally from South Africa, was one of 3,000 church leaders and ecumenical representatives from Christian denominations around the world at the gathering. He has been sending daily e-mails about the conference, which ended Thursday. Portions of Musengwa's e-mails follow:

Feb 17, 10:08 p.m.

The day started in anticipation of President Lula Da Silva's address to the assembly. Security was mighty tight! Lula came, spoke passionately, and was very well received. Unfortunately because I did not have access to the headphones, I did not have the translated speech. He spoke in Portuguese.

Fortunately, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, was more accessible. In the afternoon he gave a spectacular speech on Christian identity in a plural world. I hope the speeches will be available on the WCC Web site.

I had lunch with the Archbishop of India in the Syrian Orthodox Church. I asked him to tell me more about his church. He is a renowned church history scholar, who has written 65 books, and has once taught at Oxford University. He said the oldest of his churches was established in 38 A.D. in Iran, and it is still standing.

Feb. 18, 9:52 p.m.

Today I was in the same Bible study group with Jill Tabart, the author and architect of the consensus model in the Uniting Church of Australia. I would not have recognized her had I not just bought her book, Coming to Consensus, minutes earlier.

A powerful presentation was done as a mid-point assessment of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence. Speakers from as far away as northern Uganda and Palestine made their pleas to church leaders to help end violence in their regions.

I am excited to hear that Archbishop Desmond Tutu will join us next week. Also on our list is Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous Guatemalan who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

Tonight we fall back, as we change our watches for Daylight Saving Time. The weather has been absolutely beautiful, exceeded only by the generous hospitality of the Brazilians!

Feb 19, 11:43 a.m.

We had a wonderful worship service at the local Presbyterian Church. It was a contemporary service, with guitars and a praise team leading worship.

Representatives from around the world brought greetings to the congregation. Our very own Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the Presbyterian Church (USA) stated clerk, who is also the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (75-million member organization), brought greetings. The pastor then opened the microphone to other world leaders, and yes, they were happy to come to the microphone, lots of them.

Today will be a much longer day because we will not finish with our activities until late at night.

Feb 20, 10:29 p.m.

In the celestial galaxy of church luminaries, Archbishop Tutu's star continues to shine the brightest.

Today, Tutu thanked the delegates for their prayers, support and moral leadership during the dark days of apartheid.

I found Tutu to be truly magnanimous, even amidst the clamor for his attention. Tomorrow, he will be leading a march against violence.

As I close, I am reminded of the archbishop's words from this morning's presentation. He reminded the assembly that we as human beings were bound together as one. He said to truly succeed as humans, we must work together. God's love INCLUDES ALL people, of all religions and orientations, including gays and lesbians, and the so-called straight. He urged us as Christian leaders to stop expending valuable time trying to figure out who we should exclude, when God has indeed chosen to love and include all people.

Feb 21, 10:31 p.m.

There is plenty of adrenaline still coursing through my bloodstream right now. I have spent the evening at the March for Peace in downtown Porto Alegre. I walked alongside Archbishop Tutu, talking to him in Sesotho, amidst a sea of Portuguese and many other languages all around us.

Ahead of us was a large band of percussions, drums, etc., playing music, as if we were in a carnival. Tutu called for Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the Nobel Peace laureate for 1980. We walked for quite a distance, I asked how his legs were doing, and he replied that his were the legs of an old man, and he laughed. Nevertheless, he walked and showed fortitude, determination and faith.

More has happened today, but I am now too exhausted to continue writing. I bid you good night, or good morning, or whatever time it is when you read this message! May God bless you greatly!

Feb 22, 7:51 a.m.

I am reaching the end of my journey here in Porto Alegre. Tomorrow is our last day, but the logistics call for my departure early in the morning. So, I am wrapping up and closing shop. I write this message from the Pontifical Universidad Catolica, the nerve center of our activity and meetings, the ground zero of the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, and the first one in the 21st century.

In this Pontifical University, full of scholars, bishops and potentates, the irony is that the pope is conspicuously absent. It amazes me that the organizers of the March for Peace last night were able to get at least two Nobel Peace Prize winners to lead the march.

Feb 23, 2006 8:07 a.m.

This is my last journal entry from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Porto Alegre means Port of Happiness. It was indeed a port of happiness for me and countless other participants of the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches.

Zero Hora, the statewide newspaper of Rio Grande del Sul, made me a celebrity for a day yesterday. It published an unflattering photo of me next to Archbishop Tutu, who was wiping sweat from his brow, during the March for Peace. In the picture I looked terribly worried, which was a true reflection of how I felt then. His words, "Stay close," and subsequent words of the Bishop of Mozambique, who tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Be strong!" will guide me for life. "Stay close. Be Strong."

This may be the end of the Ninth Assembly, but it is also a beginning of a long journey of transformation. As we pray to God to help us transform our lives, our witness, our churches, our homes, our communities, and our world, I urge you all to heed the message, "Stay close. Be strong."

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