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November 20, 2000
A Thanksgiving for All Seasons shares highlights from our Third International Convocation. We believe that the brief reports and stories will encourage you. We thank our supporters for their gifts and prayers that enabled us to sponsor this significant event.
The Pray for Advocates bookmark is from Ghana in West Africa. It is a token gift from us to you that we hope will serve as a reminder to pray for our network of "innkeepers" who are on the frontlines promoting religious freedom, reconciliation and the integration of their faith with their vocation.
The Giving Before December 31 brochure provides some basic information on year-end giving that we hope is helpful as you consider Advocates International and other ministries at year-end.
Our staff wants to thank each of you for your gifts, prayers, and encouragement this past year. We wish you a happy Thanksgiving as we continue...
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson
President & CEO
A THANKSGIVING FOR ALL SEASONS
Advocates' 2000 Convocation Highlights
by Samuel E. Ericsson
There is a great deal of good news to report at this Thanksgiving season. Our Third Convocation was life changing for many and, potentially, world changing. The 160 delegates from 60 nations and six continents spent ten days building relationships, strengthening their professional skills and focusing on how to more effectively integrate their faith with their vocation in law. Over 90% of the participants were lawyers, judges or parliamentarians; the remaining 10% were national leaders, including several clergy who have national, regional or global oversight for their church, denomination or faith tradition. Let me share a few of the highlights from the 2000 Convocation.
I'M NOT LONELY ANYMORE: I don't know any society where lawyers are viewed with any great love and affection. But when you add discrimination by your professional peers because of your faith it makes your daily vocation even more difficult. On the last day of the Convocation, a lawyer from Latin America summed up the feelings of many of his colleagues when he said: "It's lonely trying to be a Christian lawyer in my country. But after this Convocation, I'm not lonely anymore. I have met brothers and sisters from all over the world who are in similar situations or worse than mine and I can identify with and pray for them."
THE SIX-MEMBER KOSOVAR DELEGATION AND A TIMELY MEETING BY THE WHITE HOUSE: John Maire is a lawyer and good friend from East Lansing, Michigan. This spring, he was invited to lecture at several law schools in Kosova. In October, two law professors and two law school deans, plus their translators, participated in a conference sponsored by the judiciary in Michigan. John invited the delegation to attend Advocates' Convocation, which they agreed to do.
Needless to say, John and I were a bit uncertain how these six Moslem Kosovars would respond to a conference of lawyers and judges where they sing songs, pray together and talk about the integration of faith and professional responsibilities. Their only exposure to "Christianity" prior to the Convocation had been to the Serbian Orthodox Church and the ethnic Orthodox in Yugoslavia. During the first evening of the Convocation, it was clear that the Kosovar Moslems were cautiously trying to figure out what they were involved with. Since Kosovars' language is Albanian, I assigned our key Albanian delegate, Fatmir, to be their translator and guide during their visit.
The next day, Friday, was set aside for sightseeing in Washington, DC. The Kosovars and Fatmir walked over to the White House where they "just happened" to meet the Albanian Ambassador to the United States (Fatmir's university classmate 25 years ago) and the Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs. After Fatmir made the introductions, the Ambassador and Foreign Affairs Minister gave Advocates International the finest endorsement we could ever hope to receive. When the Kosovars returned for dinner that evening, they had a much more relaxed attitude. By the end of the Convocation, we had invitations to teach in their law schools, help rebuild their judiciary and work with them in many other practical ways. I was told that the law professors and deans purchased their own Bibles at the Christian Legal Society book table. Let us pray for them.
GOOD NEWS FROM PAKISTAN: One of the countries where Christians face great challenges to their religious freedom is Pakistan. Until this Convocation, we had the impression that there were very few Christian lawyers in this 95% Moslem nation. We made the wonderful discovery that the Christian Lawyers Association of Pakistan (CLAP) has over 70 lawyer members, many of whom are involved in religious liberty matters. CLAP sent six delegates to the Convocation. It was a delight to get to know these dedicated professionals who are on the front lines defending believers who face discrimination and persecution. Their positive attitude in the midst of their challenges was an encouragement to all of us. They went home energized and encouraged.
GOOD NEWS FROM INDIA: India is the world's largest democracy and has a population of over one billion with about 2.5% (25 million) Christian believers. India sent seven delegates to the Convocation, including one of the four Christian members of Parliament. They returned to India with a renewed commitment to organize the Christian law professionals throughout their vast country.
BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN PAKISTAN AND INDIA: The primary goal of the Convocation was to build and strengthen relationships. This cannot be done effectively in a two-or-three-day conference, so we design our Convocation to last ten days. This year we again saw the bonding of relationships among the 160 participants. One of the most encouraging developments was to see the delegates from Pakistan and India prayerfully consider how they can be catalysts for peace and reconciliation in their region.
GOOD NEWS FROM THE BALKANS: We had 21 come from the Balkans, including delegates from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosova and Macedonia. They held several meetings on how to work together in this volatile region to promote reconciliation, religious freedom and the integration of faith and profession. They asked the Rule of Law Institute in Bulgaria to serve as the regional "hub" for their future efforts.
GOOD NEWS FROM ERITREA AND ETHIOPIA: These two nations have been engaged in a brutal war over some parched desert land for several years. Tens of thousands have been killed or maimed during this terrible conflict. We had two delegates from each nation at the Convocation, including a presiding judge from Eritrea, who committed themselves to promote reconciliation within their respective nations.
THE FIRST MEETING 18 YEARS LATER: In 1982, when Finnish Lutheran Pastor Johan Candelin heard about the imprisonment of Russian Orthodox Priest Gleb Yakunin in the Soviet Union, he launched a humanitarian group called Friends of the Martyred Church. Since then this organization has helped thousands of believers behind the former Iron Curtain and throughout the world with crucial humanitarian assistance. Johan has served as the Director of the Religious Liberty Commission for the World Evangelical Fellowship for the past three years. Father Gleb has been in the forefront of the battle for religious freedom for all believers in Russia for nearly three decades. Johan and Father Gleb met for the first time at the Convocation. It was quite a "reunion" of two men who have been engaged in a joint battle for so long.
CONTINENTS ENERGIZED AND MOBILIZED: One full day of the Convocation was spent on each continent getting organized and focused for 2001 and beyond. Each region made plans for next year's conference to be held within their region, with plans to draw in as many countries as possible.
GOOD NEWS FROM MONGOLIA: We had three delegates from Mongolia, including two members of their Supreme Court. The impact of the conference on the justices prompted them to insist that Advocates International conduct its fourth judicial conference in Mongolia next spring. We hope to do so.
GOOD NEWS FOR CHINA: There were three delegates from China, including a bright young lawyer who volunteered at my first meeting with her that she had been raised an atheist. By the end of the conference, as a result of the love and care that was demonstrated by the hundreds of law professionals, I was told that she had personally made a profession of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Results don't get any better than that.
GOOD NEWS FROM BELARUS: Our delegate from Belarus, formerly part of the Soviet Union, was a 52-year-old lawyer named Alexander. He is a meek man (meek = strength under control) who had served as the vice mayor of his city. During World War II, his town of 16,000 people lost its 12,000 Jewish inhabitants to the Germans. The current monthly income per person in Belarus is less than $50. Needless to say, it is very difficult to have a private practice in Belarus since most of the people are too poor to pay for legal services. Alexander told me that the Convocation was the most significant conference he had attended in his life. He went home very encouraged. I look forward to my first visit to Belarus next year so that I can continue to build a relationship with this wonderful brother.
GOOD NEWS FROM KAZAKSTAN: We had two Christian lawyer delegates from Kazakstan, who wore their colorful national dress to several of our functions. There are less than ten Christian lawyers in their entire country where the dominant faith is Islam. Igor and Gulmira were open and eager to learn and transfer as much as possible to the Kazak setting. We hope to meet both of them again sometime in 2001.
GOOD NEWS FROM PERU: Our two delegates from Peru, Vilma and Carlos, are both law professors at the leading law school in Peru, Catholic University. Although they are evangelicals, they are highly respected in their profession. They went home excited about building a group of Christian lawyers in Peru and helping develop the Advocates network throughout Latin America.
GOOD NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA: Elenne was our first delegate from Australia, a nation she describes as "pagan." Some months before coming to the Convocation, she had launched a Christian lawyers fellowship in Queensland, Australia. Her experience in the U.S. energized her with ideas for growing and strengthening the Australian fellowship. Like so many of the delegates, Elenne is a self-starter with tremendous poise and enthusiasm for being salt and light among her colleagues.
GOOD NEWS FROM RUSSIA: The person with the most contagious smile at the Convocation was Katya Smyslova from Russia. She attended the 1999 Convocation and returned home with renewed energy in her work directing the Esther Legal Information Center in Moscow. The Center provides counsel to churches, missionaries and ministries throughout Russia. During the past year, Katya and her small staff produced a superb and immensely practical handbook and CD entitled "Legal Handbook for Church Ministers." This resource compiles all the relevant laws that ministries need on legal issues such as registration, taxes, contracts, rental agreements, banking and employment, along with practical forms and letters for pastors and ministry leaders to use. Advocates International provided the funding for publishing 3,000 copies of the book version. Currently there are about 7,000 churches that face liquidation by the Russian government unless they re-register by December 31, 2000. Katya's book and CD are the most helpful tools available to help these churches. Katya is another example seen in the lives of so many delegates that it does not take large budgets or staff to have an impact once you embrace the reality that God uses available people, like Esther, to do His work.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE CONVOCATION FINANCES: On September 8, I sent a letter informing our supporters that we expected the budget for the Convocation to be about $280,000. It appears that when all of the bills are in that our projection will be right on target. The great news is that we have received $284,000 to date --- sufficient to pay all bills. Thank you for your generous support for this historic event!!!!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? In our last meeting together we had a "graduation" ceremony where each delegate was given an attractive Certificate of Achievement suitable for framing. Many of the delegates took the opportunity to share the impact that the ten-day event had had on their lives and how they were returning to their nations with renewed energy and commitment to promote religious freedom, reconciliation and the integration of faith with their professional pursuits.
In 2001, each continent is committed to holding a regional conference with as many nations as possible participating. The goal is to knit together existing Christian law fellowships at the regional level so that they can help one another. Where no law fellowship exists, as in former communist nations, we will help get one launched as we have done in several places already. Our plan is that by the end of 2001, our network of Convocation "alumni" reaching nearly 75 nations will expand to at least 125 nations.
In sum, I can't recall a more fulfilling Thanksgiving season than this year's. We thank all who have supported us with their prayers, gifts, notes and service. Above all, we thank the Author of His-Story for allowing us to have a role in the adventure called life.