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Volunteers Make a Difference at LWF Tenth Assembly

Hundreds of Unpaid Helpers Make Global Lutheran Gathering a Success

WINNIPEG, Canada, 30 July 2003 - It is a trip halfway around the world from Queensland, Australia to Winnipeg, Manitoba. But thatís the journey Paul Smith made to be a volunteer at the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Smithís wife Heidi is one of two Lutheran Church of Australia representatives attending the July 21-31 Assembly. Smith, although an ordained Lutheran pastor, is not one of the 380 delegates from churches with full membership in the LWF. His church is an associate member of the Federation. But he came along anyway and promptly applied to volunteer at the Assembly.

Standing 188 centimeters tall and weighing 120 kilograms, Smith was assigned to Ė what else? Ė security - at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, where the Assembly is being held. And he is enjoying every minute of it.

"Canadians are doubly friendly to Australians," he remarked.

Smith is one of about  800 volunteers without whom the LWF Assembly could not function. Volunteers, wearing the bright yellow bibs which identify them, have been everywhere Ė transporting people to and from the airport, billeting guests, managing traffic, assisting with translation, and performing dozens of other tasks to make the LWF gathering a success. There are 825 participants in the Assembly including 380 delegates from LWF member churches.

Local organizers had originally hoped for 500 volunteers.

The LWF staff is astounded at the outpouring of service from this small army of helpers working for free. "Theyíre just amazed at the volunteer program," said volunteer coordinator Ron Heimbecker.

The majority of volunteers are from Lutheran congregations in and around Winnipeg. One of them is Harold Granke of Grace Lutheran Church. He has been helping to staff the Canadian Lutheran World Relief booth, which is doing a brisk business selling hand-made wooden and textile articles manufactured by disadvantaged people overseas.

"Anything I can do to help with the church, I will," said Granke. "Itís where my heart is."

Granke said some volunteers are so keen that they are doing double shifts, even though they are only supposed to be working part-time. "Itís just amazing."

Remarkable too, is the extent to which volunteers are willing to make a special effort. He said a group of 22 volunteers arrived from Swift Current, Saskatchewan July 28 to help transport delegatesí luggage to the airport when the Assembly ends July 31. The reason they deliberately came late is that they knew the early volunteers would be tired and wanted to relieve them, said Heimbecker.

Not all the volunteers are Canadians. About 20 percent are Americans who drove or flew up to Winnipeg to help out after learning about the Assembly through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Web site.

Nor are they all Lutherans. Heimbecker said volunteers from Winnipegís Anglican community have also done yeoman service. Canadaís Lutherans and Anglicans today share full communion, following a joint declaration signed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Anglican Church of Canada. This makes the Assembly a truly ecumenical event, according to local church officials.

Although the Assembly ends tomorrow, volunteers have forged links with each other that will last a long time, Smith predicted.

"Iíve met Canadian Lutherans and international Lutherans who I now know by first names. And I trust that God will bless us with the opportunity of meeting again as first-name friends," he said.

"Thatís my reflection as a volunteer."

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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