Faith and International Development Conference

A group of 11 Covenant students and one professor traveled to Grand Rapids on Feb. 9 to attend the 12th annual Faith and International Development Conference (FIDC), a three–day gathering of community development professionals, advocates and academics held at Calvin College.

This year’s theme was the power of hope. “People are suffering—and still image bearing,” said junior Joanna Kolkman. “And you don’t have to be a certain major at Covenant to learn about that.”

Community Development Professor Russell Mask began leading the annual trip from Covenant ten years ago, only a year after students at Calvin held the conference for the first time in 2006. Since then, Calvin has hosted 300-600 students and 15-20 developmental organizations from across America each year, providing a faith-based environment for professionals to teach and discuss hot-button issues with college students.

The conference hosted seven keynote speakers this year—a group of developmental professionals experienced in fields as diverse as economics, international study, agriculture, environmental biology and social work. Interspersed break-out sessions gave students the opportunity to ask more questions and discuss individual issues.

Senior Dorrit Zeigler, who attended the FIDC for the second time this year, said she was able to see the skills she’s learned cemented into a larger context. In particular, she was challenged and encouraged by the theme of advocacy: “I’ve always liked the concept of advocacy. I believe it is one of the most important things college students can do, because it’s something that they can do.”

Zeigler enjoyed hearing from Dr. Bruce Wydick, professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, who emphasized the importance of stewarding resources shrewdly and discussed the process of analyzing poverty interventions through randomized control trials. Wydick—who will be speaking in chapel next month—is required reading in Professor Mask’s Research Methods class and recently talked to the class via Skype. 

Sophomore Chris Carter enjoyed talks by Jenny Yang, Daniel Jean-Louis, and Rick Burnette. “It’s all interconnected,” said Carter. “We are all talking about the brokenness of human nature, the curse. Climate change impacts poverty, the refugee crisis impacts what’s going on in developing countries and microfinance and agriculture and poverty alleviation. This isn’t a competition. We aren’t trying to one-up each other in ministry here. It’s that we’re giving a holistic view of what the Lord is doing… I think that was the coolest part for me about the conference.”

The group got the opportunity to meet with executives and representatives from groups like International Justice Mission, World Renew, Poverty Cure, FARM STEW International and Hope International. The atmosphere was personable and down-to-earth, according to Kolkman. “It was valuable to know that there are people in these programs who care about people who are interested in similar things,” she said. “They’re not going to bite your head off…you can even call their office if you’re really curious about something.”