Left Justified: A Bishop visits Afghanistan

Left Justified: A Bishop visits Afghanistan

By By Stanley Campbell

The local United Methodist bishop is a pretty liberal guy. They all are. I’ve gotten a lot of support at the episcopal level for RUM’s projects since I started working for Rockford Urban Ministries. Whether it’s rehabbing boarded-up houses, setting up a needle exchange, closing a pornographic bookstore, protesting gambling, or buying back guns, the United Methodists have been right behind me.

This bishop, though, is in front of me. C. Joseph Sprague of the Northern Illinois Conference just returned from Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission for the church, and he’s coming to Rockford to talk about it. You see, many

of the mainline denominations spend tons of money on worldwide refugee relief (it’s written in the Bible—gotta help somebody). It’s usually the churches, then the Red Cross, then the government agencies that come in to help during

international disasters. So when an opportunity arose for some of the religious leaders to survey Afghanistan’s troubles, Bishop Sprague was the first to volunteer. He’d

spoken out against war and called for restraint on the bombing of civilians, but that didn’t prevent him from going to Afghanistan. Bishop Sprague volunteered for the first interfaith delegation to Afghanistan, mainly to be “a presence of peaceful intention” in that war-torn country. He wanted to educate himself as much as possible to speak on behalf of peace with justice, and speak for the voiceless in Afghanistan. One of the goals of the trip was to build relationships between the mosques and religious groups in Afghanistan and American Christian and Islamic congregations here.

These trips don’t come easily; you can’t just go into your local travel agency and ask for a tour of the war-torn Mideast. There are a few nonprofit groups that specialize in these types of tours. Global Exchange, Inc. is one (in my opinion) of the best. They made all the arrangements and set up a very busy itinerary. (I’d visited occupied Palestine, Vietnam and Cuba under the aegis of Global Exchange and found them excellent.) Bishop Sprague and his delegation were ensconced in Kabul near the US embassy. They visited a number of the refugee camps run by the various agencies. In fact, they visited some that were supported by our own CROP Hunger Walk that many Rockfordians sent money (Church World Service relief operations is the official title).

The bishop got to observe land mine removal operations, of which there are a number. That will be one of the first and toughest of the jobs, making the landscape safe for children and farmers. Bishop Sprague visited schools

for women that were underground during the Taliban’s reign. These heroines will be honored with special support from the church. And, of course, the tons of government figures.

You are welcome to hear about this wonderful trip 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 30, at Christ United Methodist Church, 4509 Highcrest Road. This is a free and open program. If you need any more information, please give me a call at (815) 964-7111.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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