Dear future steward,
This is our letter diary to you. It is a reflection on the WCC 11th assembly and our part in it. The stewards' program embodies the first step towards the future of Unity, Reconciliation and Justice between persons of the Christian faith and the body of Christ. The stewards programme offers the opportunity for true friendship able to last a lifetime. Let me tell you about it.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”
My first step towards the flight in South Africa and Dubai, my first step on the trains and trams, my first step in Karlsruhe, and Our first step towards ecumenism. Oh, how we were in for a journey.
With excitement in our spirit and hope in our hearts, we arrived in Frankfurt, sweat dripping down our bodies, from South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, Indonesia and Zimbabwe, all experiencing the European heat for the very first time. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, we desperately needed to find a currency exchange and sim cards to use here in Germany. Dashing through the airport hallways we finally found what we needed, rushed back and off we were, en route to Karlsruhe. Our hearts lit up as we saw other stewards arriving, looking at each other while leaving on the train as if we needed each other to know we are here, finally and we are ready for whatever may come. We took our first step in Karlsruhe. Ecumenically, our journey started, together.
Introduction and preparation
The first morning everyone rushed through the door of their hotels as very few knew exactly where to go. Google maps has become our trusted and valued friend. For how else would we know where to go, which train or tram to take and, most importantly, where the nearest gelato place is?
We headed towards the Leonardo Hotel to meet and greet one another. The six-month preparation has materialized. The excitement was exuberating. The reality of us being here started to sink in. WCC staff greeted us, and introductions began. We sat down and prayed for one another. Space was created to share our different stories about how we got here: some missed flights and some had waited in the Airports for 10 hours. The uncertainty and perplexity we have been carrying with us as we prepared slowly began to melt away.
The following days were filled with prayers for the Assembly and participants. The heart of the stewards was that everyone would feel included and accepted and that the gathering may pave the way for its member churches to put decisions into action back home.
The days became filled with preparation including packing assembly bags, printing tags and setting chairs. The Assembly was underway, and we had to be ready. We were divided into our working teams which determined the role each would play during the assembly. The staff welcomed us graciously and made us feel that we belonged there. One thing that they kept highlighting was that the stewards are the heart of the assembly and an active approach to growing in ecumenism.
The days of the assembly were filled to the brim, from stewards shopping for the most important commodities – which of course would be snacks – to setting up the plenaries, being trained at the accreditation desks, leading worship, getting ready for the catering times for scanning badges, and guiding participants who are living with disabilities.
The Nancyhalle became our haven from the craziness of the assembly. As stewards, these are the days we became the experts, from finding the bathroom to guiding persons living with disabilities. Being able to help participants in their distress was fulfilling. Break times meant naps, snacks and Zoo trips. Learning to work hard and play hard was the game plan going into this assembly.
Being our first time abroad we were bound to make the most of it. We took care of each other, laughed and cried together. My heart is filled with gratitude. Moreover, through the conversations we were able to have, many have gained access to talk to their church leaders and to make their voices heard. Protesting for climate justice and against displacement of people, racism, and sexism. We were allowed to comprehend systems and structure within the WCC which are invaluable knowledge to possess as we grow as young church leaders.
The End is Near
There are a few days left now and reality has begun to sink in. Highs and lows start to balance one another out. Emotions are high and energies extremely low.
Some stewards have already left for home and saying goodbye to one another is difficult. We don’t get to say, “See you later” or “See you soon” – we may never see each other again.
While work as a steward continues, we are seizing the moment as we will be leaving Karlsruhe in a few days. Reflecting on our Ecumenical Youth Gathering discussions, our protests, our discussions and learning, our nap times and ice cream times, the times we got lost on the tram and the times we made our way safely to the waterpark, the times we fell on the floor when taking a seat in the tram, the times we laughed together. All these experiences have bonded us. They are memories we will cherish forever.
Some voices from stewards
Being a Steward is…
“the beautiful demonstration of how service to humankind in service to God” – Moishen Phom, India
“It is being part of a larger body that recognizes and celebrates our differences, while still affirming the love of Christ that glues us all together. It is giving of myself, time, voice, and effort, doing my part in the Ecumenical Movement” – Tia Phillip, Caribbean
“knowing everything about the assembly and knowing nothing about it at the same time” – Anna Berting, Germany
"is my liminal moment"-John Joseph Antonio, Philippines
What was your happiest moment?
“With the stewards, sharing stories, culture and different languages, companionship and the relationships we fostered over the three weeks” - Petero Lalagavivi, Figi
“Finally arriving and fellowship” - Monde Mchunu, South Africa
“Coming together in common purpose, sharing theology and learning from one another’s perspectives” - Jonah Ojjala, Uganda
“the opportunity to gain experience and grow as young pacific woman also meeting new youth from various parts of the world, and becoming genuine friends” – Akanesi Seinileva Tolu, Tonga
Your saddest moment?
“It will be when we embark on our journeys back home” – Jodene Louw Masebe, South Africa
“The day before the start of the assembly, we were working hard and I was all aching” (said laughing) – Jonah Ojjala, Uganda
“Meeting people who are unsure about the way forward for building bridges in times of war and climate justice.” – Pia Dieling
Your most fulfilling moment?
“Finally, being able to help people in need” – Anna, Germany
“The culmination of what we built in preparation now finally coming together” – Petero Lalagavivi, Figi
“Everyone worked together to move past our cultural and language barriers” - Jodene Louw Masebe, South Africa
“It helped me strengthen my faith in God knowing that people in this world have the same faith and learning different methods of worshiping from different denominations” - Akanesi Seinileva Tolu, Tonga
Dear future stewards, our journey brought us to Karlsruhe Germany but who knows where your journey might lead? We hope you have the best time.
Wishing you the best journey,
many blessings -
Madre Arendse, South Africa, Steward of the 11th WCC Assembly
Photos: Ela Simson, India, steward of the 11th WCC Assembly