Many beautiful things happened during the summer months of 2017. First, we feasted for almost two weeks as we celebrated probably the best annual EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum under the leadership of its cofounder Justin Kagin. Forty young professionals, from more than 12 countries gathered in Fuzine, Croatia at the end of July to embrace the principles of healthy business and economy shaped by the teachings and example of Jesus.
Our next newsletter will bring you a more detailed report on the impacts of EDI 2017 on its participants. However, at this moment we would like to focus on the 2017 ROM - Renewing Our Minds Gathering of young leaders that took place in the weeks following EDI 2017, namely between 11th and 27th August, in Fuzine, Croatia too.
ROM 2017 was an international group of seventy young and seasoned leaders from fifteen countries who lived and grew together for more than two weeks in an intentional learning community. Among them were political and social activists, community leaders, founders and directors of various non-governmental organizations, professors, journalists, artists, faith leaders, students eager to make a positive contribution to their societies, and a group of refugees from distant and conflict ridden countries seeking a new home.
Most of us came from the Balkan countries (Southeast and East Europe) like Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Moldova. Some came from more distant places, such as Iran, Afghanistan and South Africa. A few came from more sophisticated places, such as Norway, UK and USA. We all came to wrestle together with hard issues that are hurting and dividing our countries, communities and the world.
We talked in our small groups about the rise of nationalism, fascism, hatred, and intolerance. We wrestled with the sins of modern day slavery, ethnic and religious discrimination, and increasing threats to human rights, freedom of conscience and religion, and to the peace in the world. Through it all we focused on Jesus as the source of healing, personal and social, and the answer how to uphold the dignity and integrity of human life. We discussed at length on how to become the agents of forgiveness and reconciliation in our communities.
What distinguishes ROM (its umbrella organizations Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation and its sister project EDI) from numerous other leadership development initiatives, is that we believe that the only humanism, social engagement and entrepreneurship that make a lasting difference in the world are those sanctified by the transformative power and example of Jesus Christ. The underlining understanding behind the ROM philosophy is that only those leaders whose lives are moved and instructed by the power and example of Jesus, who through the cross embraces the whole world into His forgiving and healing embrace, are able to spread their hands in the loving embrace of our fellow men and women. Consequently, only the people with their minds renewed by Jesus Crist are capable of being the true ambassadors of genuine renewal in the world. Romans 12:2. Hence the ROM motto “Ambassadors for a Better World”.
If one is to single out the most powerful and transforming moments at ROM 2017 it would be hard to do justice to the abundance of powerful moments that made this ROM Gathering stand out. We ought to mention a few, however: Agape Dinner, a welcoming dinner at the beginning of ROM; Refugees Morning and the Persian Night – special moments when refugees shared their stories and cultures; Empathy Night, a powerful evening that opened our eyes to the hurts of others; and the feet washing moment at the end of ROM that powerfully demonstrated the power of being a humble leader. However, the most individually transformative times at ROM 2017 were the afternoon small group activities.
Asked in the survey what they were taking home from ROM 2017, most of the participants said: “a genuine demonstration of love and service, friendship and transformation, a fresh understanding of leadership, powerful human stories, motivation to be deliberate in serving and loving others, better understanding of the centrality of Jesus, and of how one’s faith in Jesus informs one’s actions in society.”
A special gift to the ROM 2017 generation were the seven refugees who attended the gathering from the beginning to the end. Two refugees joined the ROM 2017 summer team. The other five attended ROM for the first time. One of them, a professional taekwondo sportsman from Iran, recently received the residence status in Croatia. The other six are caught up in a lengthy and tiring process of waiting to receive the final decision about their legal status in Croatia. Three of them, Christians had to leave Iran due to religious persecution. Two of them, Muslims from Afghanistan, left their country due to ongoing tribal discrimination and persecution. All of them are beautiful young people whose life stories, their attitude of service and gentleness have moved and enriched everyone attending the Gathering. All of them were also profoundly moved by the kindness, acceptance and love they received from everyone attending ROM 2017. “To us you are not refugees. You are our friends, brothers and sisters. We are your family, and you are our family,” those were the words of encouragement they often heard at the ROM 2017 Gathering.
To summarize this report one needs to say that the center of everything we did, taught or practiced at the ROM 2017 leadership and reconciliation gathering was the person of Jesus, and our objective to encourage everyone attending to follow Him and emulate Him. One of the participants said a few days the ROM 2017 was over: “I was worried I would get depressed in the days after the gathering. But I did not because I see myself now as a person on a mission”. Another participant wrote: “A broken hearted and frustrated girl turned into an inspired, happy and full of hope person. The best gift I am taking from ROM 2017 are many friends who share the same values and love for Jesus.”
That ROM is much more than just another event to be quickly forgotten is demonstrated by the intensity of interactions between the new friends who now think alike in the days following a ROM gathering. Debora Salgau from Romania wrote on her Facebook page a few days ago: “There were participants from many countries, of different backgrounds and different age groups. They slowly became my friends, and all my walls came down, and my prejudices were gone. So now, countries like Afghanistan, Iran or Serbia are more than just a point on the map”.
Violeta Altmann blogged: “I came to the (ROM) table hungry, dehydrated, discouraged, and then I was served clarity, encouragement and wisdom in the most unexpected ways. What I loved the most about ROM 2017 is that not every attendee was a Christian. If we don’t dine with the nonbelievers, when will we witness to them? I loved the way there was room for respect and conversation, understanding and love at the table.” You must read the entire text of her blog for a profound ROM 2017 story.
Let me complete this report with the words of William May from Houston, TX who attended the 2017 ROM Gathering with a group of four representatives of the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. He shared at the ROM 2017 Closing Banquet: “The words can never suffice to explain the profound impact of ROM and the need for this ministry to grow in the world. We need ROM in the US too.”
It is very hard to explain the passion and transforming impact the Renewing Our Minds ministry has on everyone who comes in contact with it unless you’ve seen it and tasted it yourself. The main reason I have myself stayed at the helm of the ROM leadership for so many years (since 2001) is that I am continually witnessing the work of the transforming power of God in the lives of the hundreds of young people who have allowed their minds to be renewed through its ministry.
This is why I am finishing with the line many of you have heard many times before: Please, help us move forward. We still have some bills to pay to cover all our current expenses. And we have the next season to plan, and the seasons ahead of us. ROM is a kind of ministry that is continuing to be increasingly needed in the world in distress.
Thank you and may the Lord bless you.
Renewing Our Minds, Director