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Saturday, Dec. 30, 2006

Women of faith celebrate 50 years of fellowship

Like much of the rest of the world toward the tail of the year end, Talia McCray is busy, busy, busy.

News photo
Talia McCray (above), who will speak in January at the 2007 Women's Conference in Izu, poses with her mother, Pensal McCray, at a fundraiser for Bennet College in Greensboro, N.C., this past fall. Below, Talia (far left) gathers at the same event with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey (center) and members of Bennett College's board of trustees.
News photo

"I'm swamped with work (grading), advising on final projects, organizing a forum for 100 people tomorrow," she mails from the States. "Attached is my resume. Let me know what else you need."

Talia is assistant professor of transportation planning in the College of Business Administration at Kingston's University of Rhode Island.

At the end of January, she will be in Japan to offer one of two keynote speeches at the 2007 Women's Conference at Amagisanso on the Izu Peninsula.

In addition to speeches and discussion, participants can choose between a large range of workshops that include taiko drums, creative writing, harp and hospice ministry, Christian noh and Japanese dance, women in the Bible, Gregorian chant, as well as the issues of domestic violence in Japan.

In between there will be hiking, a meditation labyrinth to walk, and onsen hot springs in which to unwind. Everyone is welcome.

The Women's Conference began as a gathering of missionary wives in 1957; now it has grown to embrace all women of faith from around Japan and sometimes Asia, making the weekend ecumenical and international.

This year, women in Japan are invited to set aside the weekend of Jan. 26 (Friday evening through to Sunday evening) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this unique fellowship retreat tradition.

The organizers have turned to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, in which "jubilee" was a concept of liberation: freeing slaves and forgiving debts, so that a new era could begin.

Together with Rev. Mariellen Sawada Yoshino, a third-generation Japanese-American minister of Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose, Calif., Talia has composed her own keynote speech under the banner of the theme of the conference: 50 years of Gold and Purple.

According to conference organizer Judy Newton, gold can be God or golden opportunities or whatever is most precious to you. Purple may stand for women or sacrifice or meditation or service.

Born into a family of achievers, Talia's five-page resume is both impressive and slightly daunting. She sits on the board of trustees at Bennett College, which is a historical black college for women in Greensboro, N.C.

"I, as well as my two sisters and mother, attended Bennett. Oprah Winfrey did a fundraiser for Bennett College last fall."

The oldest of five children, she grew up in Denver, Colo. "Before moving to Denver, my family was stationed in Misawa, Japan, for 3 1/2 years. My father is an optometrist, and was in the air force in Japan.

"Both my brother, Dr. Christophe L. McCray, and my baby sister, Dr. Rispba McCray, were born in Misawa. My sister Dr. Monique McCray and I went to preschool on the base in Misawa."

Talia's other connection with Japan is that when she was a senior in high school, she spent two months here with a group of young people during the summer and taught English at Nagoya High School and Takayama High School with Denver Sister Cities International.

She has worked over the years for Mobil Oil in Colorado, IBM in Minnesota, and AT&T Bell Laboratories in Colorado. She was trained as an electrical engineer, and modeled the mechanical aspects of the cochlea to determine acoustic phonetics for her master's thesis.

Later on, she changed directions and used her engineering background in the field of transportation planning and technology. Her Phd. training at the University of Michigan culminated in designing a mathematical model to address health-care access in South Africa.

Her research primarily focuses on transit dependent populations, and travel by car. "I study where individuals go, how they get there, how much time it takes to get to their desired destinations, who participates in the activities with them, and how they view their activities."

Right now she is heading a $200,000 grant. This involves a multidiscipline team of researchers to study the travel patterns of teenagers in Providence, R.I.

At the conference on Izu at the end of January -- with travel still much in mind -- she will talk about who provides direction in life, and about how to navigate the journey of life with purpose.

She'll be using a number of verses from the scriptures in preparation for this, including Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see." Also, John 14:27: "Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Family and tradition mean a lot to Talia. Her small nieces are already being told by their mother, aunts and grandmother that they too will become Bennett belles when it is their time to go off to college.

For more information about the 2007 Women's Conference, please access: yokohamaunionchurch.org/womensconference2007. Or send e-mail to registrar Ikuko Chujo: amagi2007@yahoo.com. The deadline for conference registration is Jan. 15

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