Bingham, Seiler attend conference in So. Africa

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MAJOR CAROL SEILER interacts with children at The Salvation Army Family Shelter in Cape Town South Africa.

Cape Town, South Africa, was host to the 29th International Conference of the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) convened recently. Major Carol Seiler, Cascade Division director of women’s organizations, and I were privileged to join some 35 other Salvation Army delegates representing all global zones.

We were part of approximately 500 delegates from government and non-government organizations and educational institutions. Remarkably for this conference, North Americans were a very small part of the total; South Africa itself had the largest delegation.

The conference theme was “Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Development: Challenges for the 21st Century.” The challenges are hardly new to this century; looked at in the light of the emerging global economy, however, new approaches may be possible. The issues were examined mostly from a “macro” perspective of economic and government policy. Cape Town itself provided provided dramatic and highly visible examples of the contrast of great wealth with subsistence-level existence.

Salvation Army delegates were housed at the Army’s hotel in the suburb of Fish Hoek. The commute by train to the conference venue in the city center afforded opportunity to experience some of the daily life of Cape Town. It is a beautiful city, and gateway to the magnificent cape peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic at the tip of the African continent. It is an area of incredible beauty where both the optimism and the tensions following the dismantling of apartheid can be seen and felt in many ways.

Our conference experience concluded with two days of visiting Army programs and corps. These included an addiction treatment center in a rural area, reminiscent of our Lytton ARC and, like Lytton, ironically located in the midst of “wine country.” In a contrasting urban area, the Army operates a shelter for domestic violence victims. It is a place of refuge where the pride of the staff in the program and the benefits to those served are clearly evident. One leaves the campus with a mix of optimism and sadness, for mixed with the stories of success is the reality of many who will leave with no option but to return to former circumstances.

On Sunday evening we split into “teams” to visit many of Cape Town’s corps. All returned with reports of warm-hearted, enthusiastic Salvationism spanning the spectrum of South Africa’s racial hues and ethnic backgrounds.

I saw only a small part of South Africa. It is an area probably more like Southern California, in topography and social dynamics, than the remainder of the country, but the conference also provided insights into the issues facing the African continent and other areas of the world.

As I stop to remember the experience, two images come to mind: The first is the presentation of a woman representing the ministry of social services of Rwanda, looking for hope and a way forward for a people devastated beyond our imagination by genocide and national disruptions. The second is the Army officer from Korea singing the words of General John Gowans at the Sunday service at the Army’s addiction center: “…His love remains the same, He knows you by your name… God plans for you in love for he still cares.” For people around the world seeking healing, hope and justice, including those of us in the Western Territory, those simple words remain the key.

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