A spiritual Gulf stream for the Nordic North by IofC Sweden
Early in 2016, Harry Månsus, an author and Baptist pastor, initiated an idea to arrange a weekend event in Stockholm to profile the work of IofC – Initiatives of Change. He was inspired by IofC’s ‘Hope in Järva’ programme, working to bridge racial and cultural differences in Stockholm, and wanted to research more about IofC. After a visit to Caux, IofC’s world conference centre in Switzerland, Månsus and his wife Lea concluded that the impact of IofC, formerly the Oxford Group and Moral Re-Armament – MRA, on the life of Scandinavia, was underrated and he wanted to profile IofC in a new light.
The event was planned by Månsus and a team from IofC Sweden, IofC-S, and held in different parts of Stockholm. Spiritual leaders and IofC representatives were invited to this five-day international and interracial event held at St Eugenia Catholic Church, Tensta Mission Church and Kista folk high school in the Järva region of Stockholm. Interfaith work has been important in bridging differences in what is often a polarised society. Kista folk high school, an Islamic folk high school, was for instance mentored at the beginning by the Baptist folk high school and is now mentoring the start-up of a Jewish folk high school in Kista.
An Indian Diwali festival of light welcomed over 40 international and local guests, with the traditional lighting of candles to symbolize hope in dark or difficult times. Food was prepared by friends from India, Afghanistan and Palestine and was held at the home of IofC-S in Stockholm.
The theme of the event at St Eugenia Chruch was ‘A spiritual Gulf Stream which has given life to the Nordic North’. In his opening address Månsus told how AA – Alcoholics Anonymous had been inspired by the Oxford Group and that presently 1,000 AA-related group meetings take place in Stockholm every month.
The work of the Oxford Group continued meanwhile as MRA and is now known as IofC. To describe the basics of MRA/IofC and its outreach, Månsus had invited two guests from Norway: Camilla Nelson, a member of IofC’s International Council, and her father Jens J Wilhelmsen, a veteran with experience from MRA/IofC’s work on four continents. Among other speakers at the event were Pater Rainer Carls S J who spoke about ‘My encounter as a Jesuit with the 12-step programme’ and Torbjörn Freij from the Celebrate Recovery movement in Sweden.
Meanwhile Rob Corcoran from IofC’s ‘Hope in the Cities’ in USA, met with a group of business leaders from Stockholm to tell his inspiring story of catalyzing ‘Hope in the Cities’, a programme that has helped transform inner cities in the USA and build trust in the heart of community. Several participants want to contribute towards realizing similar work in Sweden. This event was hosted by Per Hörberg, a coach and facilitator for Swedish business leaders, who in the past has worked in senior positions for companies like Ikea.
Later in the day, a two-hour seminar on IofC was led by Ingrid Franzon and Harry Ferngren, during which many people shared how the work of the early days with the Oxford Group is now being continued internationally through IofC and 12-step work, contributing towards building trust and peace locally and globally. They shared what IofC has meant to them and how the tradition of trustbuilding and reconciliation is active world-wide as represented by participants from Somalia, Zambia, Pakistan, Denmark, Norway, USA and Britain.
The weekend also included two events in Järva, a region that more than 60,000 people from 140 countries call home. This part of Stockholm is perceived by many Swedes to be remote, geographically and culturally, and a lack of listening to local citizens has led to complex social issues, riots and criminality. ‘Hope in Järva’ is a programme, process and strategy from within that has been introduced in this region, modelled on IofC’s ‘Hope in the Cities’ in the USA. The goal has been to help everyone take a look at what needs to be addressed in order to create a more peaceful everyday family and school life.
An intergenerational festival was held at Kista folk high-school on Saturday 22 October. Rob Corcoran introduced ‘Hope in the Cities’ honest conversations, healing history and wounded memory which prompted lively table discussions among the 65 participants. There were many participants from Somalia and Eritrea, who highly appreciated the methods that were shared. Victoria Ahlman played the guitar and led a group who sang amongst other songs ‘Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins’. Following an intergenerational lunch everyone took part in several interactive trust games facilitated by Kjersti Webb and Nik Dahlström. The event concluded with a quiet time and an open working space dialogue led by Per Hörberg.
The spirit of this moveable event continued to the Tensta Mission Church Sunday service where Cai Berger preached about how his compassion for people from other faiths has grown through his friendship with Hassan Mohamud, co-founder of ‘Hope in Järva’. This was followed by Camilla Nelson’s presentation of trustbuilding within her family and a panel discussion on intergenerational trustbuilding. Some of the young people shared the challenges of being young immigrants and growing up with issues of stereotyping.
Rounding up the events of this weekend, the Spånga–Tensta district government (stadsdelen) hosted a dialogue focussed on learning about how the healing work of ‘Hope in the Cities’ has led to major policy changes and transformation of structures. Corcoran shared the following four pillars of trustbuilding:
- Self-awareness: understanding bias, white privilege, prejudice, and the need for self care.
- Healing history and wounded memory: walking through history together and listening to the sacred stories of all communities.
- Dialogue and honest conversation: using census data.
- Sustaining long-term relationships: beyond projects
Some of the challenges that were shared by the Spånga–Tensta regional government were how structural discrimination is reflected by the fact that 50% of children living in Tensta live in poverty. And contrasted by people who are rich or well off in the region feeling neglected. So trust needs to be built by several organisations operating in the region.
This week has been inspiring and many feel that the work initiated by ‘Hope in Järva’ is relevant in today’s context of the refugee crisis. We in the Nordic countries would like to continue to collaborate and work on social cohesion and trustbuilding across institutional, generational and ethnic divides.