(Photo: The Christian Post)
WASHINGTON – Faith-based communities are a critical part of overseas aid and development, government officials declared at an event praising those efforts.
At the opening event for the multiday U.S.–Africa Leaders Summit, leaders in the government and faith-based organizations spoke about the efforts to aid development in the African continent.
The Friday morning opening breakfast event was hosted by Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Shah said he believes "it's critical that faith communities are involved in Africa."
"Christian communities, Islamic communities, Jewish communities, they are all deeply, deeply engaged," said Shah, who previously spoke about the importance of faith based international aid at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
"Their engagement is across the board towards the purpose of serving often the most vulnerable and the least fortunate amongst us. And the way they carry out their mission is with real compassion."
Shah also told CP that "it's an honor for USAID to be able to partner with faith communities" and that they are crucial especially on matters like reaching "tens of millions of the world's poorest and most vulnerable children."
Held at the Pavilion Room at the Ronald Reagan Building, the kickoff event for the Summit was titled "Faith Works: Honoring the Contributions of the Faith Community to Peace and Prosperity in Africa."
The event featured numerous prominent speakers that included members of Congress, federal government officials, and faith leaders.
There was also a musical performance by the contemporary Christian band Jars of Clay, which has been active in charity efforts in Africa.
There were two panels presented, one via satellite from Kigali, Rwanda and another at the Pavilion room that included a brief question and answer from the audience.
Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, gave the introductory speech for the event.
"Across the continent of Africa, you have cared for the least of these and literally saved lives," said Rogers to those gathered.
"You have beaten swords into plowshares and in countless ways you have brought good tidings to the afflicted and bound up the broken-hearted."
U.S. Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey was one of the speakers during the event and spoke about federal legislative efforts to include faith groups in the aid and development process.
Smith told CP that he considered it "an honor" to be invited to speak and added that "I work with virtually every one of the faith-based groups in this room."
As with his remarks before those gathered, Smith talked about the need to include faith-based groups in the development efforts overseas, including with regards to combating the HIV-AIDS pandemic.
"If you want to end the pandemic of HIV-AIDS, you have to include faith-based entities," said Smith, who noted that for a time aid from religious groups was rejected by the government.
"In the 1990s under the Clinton Administration, one faith-based group after another was shown the door when it came to AIDS."
For the 2003 legislation known as The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), it was Smith who sponsored a "conscience clause" for religious groups who may object to providing some of the services under the legislation.
"I think we need to grow out and do more faith-based support. There are still laggards in some countries where they've been excluded for a long time," added Smith.
"Faith Works" was the first of several events for the US – Africa Leaders Summit, with other gatherings taking place next week at various locales in the District of Columbia.
Purportedly the first Summit of its kind, the US Africa Leaders Summit is meant to build off of the summer 2013 trip President Barack Obama made to the continent.
"Specifically, the August 4-6 Summit will advance the Administration's focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlight America's commitment to Africa's security, its democratic development, and its people," stated the White House.
"At the same time, it will highlight the depth and breadth of the United States' commitment to the African continent, advance our shared priorities and enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership. At its core, this Summit is about fostering stronger ties between the United States and Africa."