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Conference on Faith and Development
December 15, 2005

From February 9-11, 2006, Calvin College will be hosting a major conference on faith and international development, thanks to the efforts of a Calvin junior and a volunteer committee of students and faculty.

The Faith and International Development conference is sponsored by grants from World Vision, International Aid, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) and Calvin’s Lilly Vocation Project.

It will feature three days of speakers, music and other activities designed to draw undergraduate students from all over the nation to explore issues surrounding international development.

Thanks to the sponsors the event costs just $35 per student.

But that low pricetag belies the stellar lineup that awaits attendees.

The conference features plenary speakers from every area of international development, including:

  • David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World
  • Kent Hill, recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Jacqui Patterson, a board member for Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH)
  • Jose (Pepe) Alcantara, a board member of the Mexican Association for Rural and Urban Transformation (AMEXTRA).
  • Jim Haveman, a 1966 graduate of Calvin and a former director of the Michigan Department of Community Health who recently served as a senior advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

In addition, Derek Webb, a founding member of Caedmon’s Call, and his wife Sandra McCracken, will perform at the event.

The breakout sessions for the weekend will highlight international health, global politics and advocacy, theology, and careers in international development.

Overall, the conference will take a “multilateral” approach to international development, says its creator.

“It’s not just looking at health care or clean drinking water or HIV /AIDS,” says Jackie Biltz, a religion and psychology major with an international development studies (IDS) minor who is the driving force behind the conference. “It’s about the legal side, the political side, the science side, the economic side, the healthcare side. And we want to focus on active faith and how that pertains to international development.”

Biltz hopes the conference will serve as a meeting ground for students interested in careers in missions or international development.

“It’s specifically a student-led conference for students,” she says, but she adds that conference attendees will have every opportunity to also network with the many organizations who will participate and exhibit over the weekend. “It’s extremely important to open students’ eyes and allow them to make these connections with professionals."

Biltz feels Calvin is a good place for students and organizations to meet.

“Because of the new IDS major here, Calvin is a leader in international development studies and a great launch pad for such an endeavor," she says. "Also, we’re a large college, and it’s going to be easy for us to bring people in. We have facilities like the Prince Conference Center to accommodate them.”

The idea for Faith and International Development came from student discussions following a Christian Connections for International Health conference.

Biltz says: “After we went to CCIH two years ago, we talked about doing a conference and then we said, ‘Let’s start a little smaller than that. Let’s bring these really pertinent ideas to Calvin. Let’s just get a club going.’”

Now members of that club, International Health and Development, along with students from Calvin’s Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Environmental Stewardship Coalition are working with Biltz and several Calvin faculty and staff to make the event happen. (The SJC is working on a coffee house, serving fair trade coffee and other products, to serve as a social hub of the weekend.)

“We’ve had so much support from professors and staff at Calvin,” Biltz says. “They really love it when students take a lead on something.”

Roland Hoksbergen, the director of Calvin’s international development major and a member of the conference committee, feels that this is a crucial time for Calvin to host the event.

“Many of our most thoughtful leaders today are saying that poverty and hunger continue to be the most urgent global issues we face. For a Christian college community there is no greater task than to inspire and equip young people to serve God by serving those in need,” he says.

Hoksbergen praised the student’s efforts to bring Faith and International Development to life.

“It is a wonderful and awesome thing to witness Jackie, her leadership team and a whole network of student volunteers organize and do all the work to make a conference like this happen," he says. "It will be even better if students who attend the conference are inspired by the speakers, the events and the spiritual orientation to care about what God cares about and to work towards bringing about the development of God's people everywhere.”

Conference sponsors are equally excited.

"What a great opportunity for students to get a broad-spectrum introduction to the fundamentals and issues involved in doing international development from a faith-base," says Christian Reformed World Relief Committee executive director Andrew Ryskamp. "This is an excellent venue for students to get to know some of the professionals active in international development, network with other students who have similar interests, and deepen their own faith and activism on behalf of the poor."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson