Since its establishment in 1895 as an ecumenical student movement, the WSCF has articulated its ecumenical vision and commitment on ecumenical student ministry throughout the various forms of works. In particular, the General Assembly, as the most representative expression of the WSCF’s life, has been a critical venue to consolidate the life of the Federation at national, regional and global level.
According to the Constitution of the WSCF, the function of the General Assembly shall be:
The 33rd General Assembly is situated at a critical juncture not only in the life of the Federation, but also in the life of global community.
We are faced with many serious threats and challenges in our world today. The September 11 and its subsequent events, the war in Afghanistan, tensions over Kashmir, the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, and a possible war in Iraq are festering sores. The many wars of elsewhere in the world have brought a great suffering to the people especially on women and children in the South. Globalization, the newest manifestation of the Western colonial expansion, is accelerating the problems of poverty and injustice of the world and is becoming more intense and destructive. Furthermore, there is HIV/AIDS, threatening to bring an incomparable global catastrophe. All of these vividly negate life in God’s creation.
In the Gospel of Mark 5:41, we are confronted with the most crucial call to our faith: the call to arise from death to life! We are challenged by the fact that Jesus Christ calls us to come out of death and to hear the voice of life. How can we hear this voice? And how can we rise up from death to life?
Guided by the theme “Talitha Cum: Arising to Life in Abundance,” (Mark 5:41), the 33rd General Assembly of the Federation will critically reflect the Kairotic significance of the “Life” and articulate life-centered vision and mission of the Federation. The 33rd General Assembly will continue to elaborate the faith-based perspectives on globalization and related issues as ongoing mandates of 32nd Lebanon Assembly: namely, education, ecumenism, economic justice, partnership between men and women, HIV/AIDS, and peace issues, and to explore life-centered alternatives.
The 33rd Chiang Mai Assembly which meets on August 5-14, 2004 will gather about 150 students, 50 senior friends and partners from across the world, to worship, to fellowship, to celebrate, and to take responsibility to proclaim life through all their programs and projects over the next four years.
Besides traditional business of the General Assembly, the following programs will be highlighted at the Assembly:
The issue of higher education is naturally a constant challenge for a student organization. In recent years WSCF has followed-up UNESCO and NGO work on higher education, particularly from the perspective of the South, a focus area which partly overlaps with how higher education is being affected by economic globalization. This is no longer an issue where WSCF should have only a theoretical approach, as the majority of students in higher education who are actively involved in our Student Christian Movements are directly affected by the economic changes brought about by globalization. At the 1995 CCA-WSCF Consultation in Bangkok, it was clearly highlighted that “the higher education has become an instrument of the global market economy…. Further, increasing tendency of privatization and commercialization of the higher education jeopardizes the very goals of education such as pursuit of truth and the common good.”
The General Assembly needs to give direction to WSCF’s future involvement in the struggle to improve the quality of higher education as well as making it accessible for all. In addition, comes the challenge of finding strategies for upholding the important voluntary work done by SCMs all over the world, which is now highly challenged by time limits and economic pressure on students. Last, but not least, the General Assembly needs to find concrete ways of renewing the WSCF mission among students and in the academic community, by basing it on a proper analysis of the spiritual and concrete needs of today’s students.
In the last quadrennium, WSCF has been an active participant in the Ecumenical Coalition on Alternatives to Globalization (ECAG). The WSCF has also conducted several regional programs on globalization related to different issues, e.g. “globalization and economic justice”, “globalization and its effect on women”, “globalization and higher education”, “globalization and HIV/Aids”, “globalization and migration”, etc.
WSCF students live in an interesting paradox. On the one hand, they benefit from and are being educated by means of globalization, and on the other, hand they are being challenged by effects of globalization. As a global network of SCMs connected to the ECAG and the wider ecumenical community, the General Assembly will take on the task of singling out particular areas related to globalization. The GA will focus on the following areas: 1) where students and SCMs are particularly challenged and 2) where WSCF and the SCMs with their many student volunteers not only can function as a useful global network but also to contribute their expertise certain areas can to the wider community.
The spread and the threat of HIV/AIDS is a concern growing from local SCMs into an increasingly more serious concern for the global Federation. Analyzing the situation, WSCF Africa points out the fact that main problems of the spread of HIV/AIDS evolve around social and economic management, lack of political will and individual attitudes and behavior, lack of knowledge in terms of taking care of patients and insufficient resources to provide for even basic health care. HIV/AIDS is no longer an issue for the few, and it has become a task for the Federation to develop mechanisms analyzing these factors and addressing the root causes for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. In itself this task involves many of the issues WSCF traditionally has been, and still is, working on such as economic justice, empowerment of women, men-women partnership and basic education.
There is a range of issues the SCMs have already found important to deal with, such as education and awareness building on sexual issues, traditional gender roles, issues of pastoral care, isolation or community and the role of the churches and Christian communities around people directly and indirectly affected by HIV or Aids and many more.
Currently a huge HIV/AIDS banner is being circulated among the regions to raise awareness on the HIV/AIDS issues and to awaken solidarity among students all over the world. The banner will have visited all regions by the time of the General Assembly, where it will be displayed throughout our meeting. The WSCF Commission on HIV/AIDS will present a document to be discussed in a working group on HIV/AIDS at the General Assembly.
Women and Gender issues continue to be of major importance to WSCF, and the General Assembly will reflect it in several ways. The GA will receive and discuss reports from the regional and inter-regional work on women and gender issues that will include conferences and leadership training programs. Based on thematic inputs and programmatic reporting a working group at the Assembly will discuss future direction of WSCF work. This includes work on more traditional issues, such as equal rights to education and work, issues on migration, sexual exploitation, women in leadership and women and theology. A special task for the General Assembly will be to analyze women’s situation in the context of globalization and look into concrete programmatic proposals that ensure women’s participation in socio-economic areas, particularly looking at their role in developing, sustaining or challenging current economic models. Another concrete task for the Assembly will be to discuss and present models for partnership between women and men, both within the Federation and in the wider community.
The General Assembly in 1999 strongly recommended that the next Assembly start with a Women’s Pre-Assembly. This later led to the decision of having both a Women’s Pre-Assembly and a Men’s Pre-Assembly. In addition to preparing the Women’s Pre-Assembly, the Women’s Commission has put special effort into making sure that keynote speakers and resource persons at the Assembly itself are women. As the Assembly is being held in Thailand, special focus will be given to women’s situation in Asia.
During the General Assembly there will be daily Bible Studies and worships focusing on the theme (Mark 5:41): Talitha Cum – Arise to Life in Abundance! The theme was chosen for two purposes—to explore the stories of the Gospel that will empower students facing so many challenges in their daily lives, and also for the Assembly itself to reflect on the richness of the SCM Community.
Daily worships will be an important part of the Assembly. A special Worship Committee will see to that confessional representation and ecumenical spirit are being reflected in the worship liturgies. The assembly will start and close elaborate and creative worships that are being planned and organized by students from the Asia-Pacific Region. Material for the worship book will include songs, poems and prayers that are presently being gathered from SCMs all over the world. In addition, the liturgy from Universal Day of Prayer for Students 2004 will also be used.
The WSCF Theology Commission is currently working to publish theological reflections on Christian spirituality and Theology. This book will try to respond theologically to the issues such as poverty, gender, conflicts and war, ecumenism and dialogue. The book will also reflect the theological works that are being done locally, regionally and inter-regionally in SCMs and in the WSCF.
Many SCMs live and work in a daily situation of political and/or religious conflict or war. Several SCMs and regional offices are run programs to analyze this situation, to find root causes for concrete conflicts, and discuss possible solutions. But religious conflicts involving the same religion do not always find the same solutions. When the Federation brings together students living and dealing with conflicts, it is important to include sharing of the different experiences and a search for common grounds, in order to find direction for our work in and with conflict situations.
Although the value of peace is difficult to measure, students continue to work for peace from the viewpoint that a peaceful future matters! This point of departure is important not only for students, but because students have their own approach to the concept of future, their input becomes of special importance.
The General Assembly represents a unique possibility to bring these students together for the sake of sharing experiences, educating each other and building awareness on around difficult issues, analyzing causes for conflict and working together on developing mechanisms for overcoming conflict.
Date: August 5th (arrival) to 14th (departure), 2004
Venue: Chiangmai, Thailand
Representative: one student (or senior friend) from all movements,
staffs, officers and senior friends