|Shannon Trilli of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (front) visits with UMCOR volunteers in Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo. A UMNS photo by Lynne Dobson.|
By Shannon Trilli*
I am honored and energized to be participating this weekend in the annual Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, an interreligious gathering at the retreat center in North Carolina. Since the peace conference was founded in 2008, it has been a place for dialogue, reflection, and sharing. This year, the theme is “Faith, Health, and Peace: Seeking the Basic Right to Good Health for All God’s Children.”
For United Methodists, and for me as director of UMCOR’s Global Health program, the conference is a great opportunity to discuss with others the basic human right to health for all. For UMCOR, that means abundant health for all. Our Global Health work takes place all along the continuum from disaster relief to recovery and development. So when we address health needs at any point on that continuum, we want to accompany communities so that they not only survive but, ultimately, thrive.
I’m excited to learn from the impressive international panel of experts speaking at the event, including Dr. Christoph Benn of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and Joshua Dubois, former White House spiritual advisor to President Obama. I’m happy to have the opportunity to lead a workshop and share UMCOR’s global health vision and talk about the role of the church and other faith communities at that intersection of faith, health, and peace.
Health and wholeness and the human body and spirit are interconnected. When natural or political disasters or chronic lack of access to food or clean water or nutrition impede communities from maximizing their health and wholeness, UMCOR works with them to identify solutions that promote stability, a thriving life, and peace. We help communities find their own solutions and tools.
As a faith-based organization, UMCOR is cognizant of the unique role the church and other faith communities play in promoting good health and peace. In the wake of disaster or turmoil, it is often the church—which was present before the disaster and remains present throughout and afterward—that can wrap the community in a unifying social fabric. And church networks not only facilitate UMCOR’s relief and development assistance but help communities sustain change that can make their lives more stable and fruitful.
Educated church pastors and congregational leaders can go a long way to break down stigma and inequality in their communities, especially the kind of inequality between men and women that is prejudicial to a woman’s health—and, in the process, denies God’s blessing all people. Pastors are thought leaders in their communities who can inspire practices that promote respectful and healthy relationships and help to ensure safe motherhood for more women. Faith-filled congregations can reach out and host hard conversations on the attitudes and outlooks that put the health of already vulnerable women and children more at risk and place obstacles like stones in the way of stability and peace.
I look forward to sharing with and learning from the presenters and participants at the 2014 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, which runs through Sunday morning, March 30. Look for my tweets at: @ShannonUMCOR.
*Shannon Trilli is director of UMCOR Global Health.