“A Child Shall Lead Them”: HNGR symposium addresses youth mobilization

Last week, Wheaton welcomed guest speakers and performers for the 12th annual Symposium in Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR). Wheaton started the symposium after receiving a grant in 2005 and has since welcomed activists and church leaders from around the world to engage faculty and students in thinking critically about how to address barriers to global development.
The symposium events took place over the course of three days and included a musical performance, a lecture from David Kasali, rector of the Bilingual Christian University of Congo (UCBC) and president of Congo Initiative, and Friday morning chapel led by the 2016 HNGR interns.
Alicia Casas, a medical doctor who works to prevent child abuse in Uruguay, Zac Niringiye, a pastor and activist in Uganda, and Kasali also gave breakout sessions Friday afternoon as part of the symposium. All events were open to the public, with the exception of workshops on Friday afternoon given by Kasali, Casas and Niringiye, which were only open to Wheaton College faculty and staff.
The symposium began on Wednesday, March 15, with a musical performance entitled “Hunters in the Church: African Musical Bows and Worship.” The performance featured students who spent their spring break at Honey Rock for the African Immersion Week workshops, led by David Dargie, an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of the Xhosa people of South Africa.
The students had made their own bows during their time at Honey Rock, replicating those of the Xhosa people, who use their hunting bows as a basis for these musical instruments. They led the audience in worship songs of the Xhosa people, inviting them to stand and dance around Coray Gymnasium with them.
Junior Anna Brooks, who attended the event, said that the audience participation was her favorite part of the performance — “inviting every member of the audience to join the celebration!” Freshman Deborah Vandervort agreed, saying that “despite any previous hesitance to participate, everyone had a wonderful time filled with smiles, laughter and worship.”
The following day, Kasali gave the opening plenary address. He began by speaking on the violent conditions in present-day Congo, calling it the “global capital of rape.” He shared that after having a conversation with other Congolese Christian leaders, they concluded that Congo’s corrupt and violent history might not be rooted in political failure, but in “fundamental theological and ecclesiological failures.” He argued that the church had failed to “intentionally prepare and develop Christian minds … to address local issues and give appropriate holistic responses in the here and now, as well as for the world to come.”
Kasali spoke on the importance of empowering young people in Congo to create what he called “transformational witness communities.” These communities, Kasali explained, are groups of people who share the same “Christ-like qualities and beliefs” and the same vision to establish God’s kingdom as well as “challenge and interrupt the system in place.”
He called on Western Christian universities to join this community and partner with schools like UCBC in effecting transformation. “We in Africa do not wish to remain the object of study,” Kasali said. “We wish to become fellow participants in global transformation community … in order to transform together.”
Wheaton’s HNGR internship program allows students to experience this type of cross-cultural learning and engagement. HNGR intern Katie Robinson experienced the power of mobilizing youth during her time in Mpumuza, South Africa last semester. She said that she was amazed by the work her organization, dlalanathi, did with youth to address sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“I saw youth groups mobilize to challenge abusive leaders in local schools, lobby local clinics to be open during hours that school kids could stop in, and form vital partnerships with counseling services addressing drug abuse and gender-based violence. The youth I was privileged to work with were resilient, hopeful and inspiring,” Robinson said.
Other HNGR interns had the opportunity to share their similar experiences during Friday’s chapel and told stories of mourning, community and friendship. Although every intern had a different experience, each of them were confronted with the challenges of being part of a community in an unfamiliar, and often less privileged culture.
“We all brushed up against the brokenness of humanity in new ways, and often wondered if our hope could hold up under the weight of that brokenness,” Robinson said about the shared experiences of HNGR interns. “We learned to trust the power of small acts of love that happen in relationships, which serve as the most visible sign of the reign of Jesus Christ now.”

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