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Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 42 November 2008 Secretary: John Roberts


Getting back in touch with Melanesia

Most of the time our focus in the Pacific region is on the Polynesian countries, yet the region also includes the Melanesian and Micronesian countries. In terms of historic mission relationships the New Zealand Methodist Church has strong long term links in the Melanesian countries of the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Most of the land mass in the Pacific is in Melanesia and most of the people of the Pacific live in Melanesia - 86% of them. Melanesian countries have the highest levels of poverty and account for most of the conflict in the Pacific.

A Melanesian Symposium was organised by the New Zealand NGO the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, and held in Wellington 29-30 September, with the theme Tok Talanoa: Pathways to the Future for Melanesia and New Zealand. Given the significance of Melanesia for our country and our church, I thought it worth attending. It is helpful to get a wider perspective on what is happening in countries where we have ongoing relationships both at government and church levels.

The symposium was opened by Minister of Pacific Affairs, Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, who spoke on why Melanesia matters to New Zealand. She said Melanesian people are our neighbours and our kin and the countries are rich in resources and biodiversity. Yet they face many challenges: rapid population growth; increasing youth unemployment; poverty; lack of access to educational and health facilities; the emergence of HIV and AIDS; land tenure issues; food security concerns; internal conflicts; climate change and widespread corruption. Melanesia is now the main focus for New Zealand’s aid and development initiative. It is important we work together on these issues.

In his opening keynote address to the symposium, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, a former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, said that New Zealand’s assistance to Melanesian countries was appreciated; that national development is a priority for the Melanesian countries; and that corruption at all levels of society must be stamped out. He spoke of the significant contribution New Zealand has made to peacemaking in Melanesia, referring to its role in resolving the conflict on Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, as well as its involvement with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. Needs he identified included: facilitating economic growth and developing technical and academic skills. He recognised the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as a significant forum for Melanesian countries to address common issues.

Sir Albert Palmer, Chief Justice of the Solomon Islands, said that ties with New Zealand go back a long way, in particular to missionary links. Today, he said, it is important to identify the root causes of instability in Melanesia and build trust and confidence in democratic institutions. Sir Albert affirmed the ‘Pacific Way’ where the emphasis is on talking together in order to find a common goal without outside interference in the internal affairs of a country. Ties between countries are important; Melanesian countries need each other and need a body such as the MSG, that is attractive to join and difficult to leave, he said. The way forward for Melanesia, according to Sir Albert, is for it to build on its strengths, and the strength of Melanesian countries lies in what they can give to each other. The future, he said, is promising for Melanesia.

Political instability in Melanesia was a major issue identified by Dr Alumita Durutalo of the University of the South Pacific, Suva, the only woman speaker at the symposium. Conflict in Melanesia from 1987 to 2006 has affected the security as well as the political and economic wellbeing of Melanesians. The conflicts go back a long way in time, she said, are multifaceted, and security now needs to engage all sectors of society. There is a need to build more inclusive Melanesian societies, where women, youth and the indigenous populations are fully engaged.

Dr Greame Sem, who works as a consultant to Pacific governments on climate change issues, said that climate change is a bigger threat to the world’s future than terrorism. Climate change will affect agriculture; result in ocean acidification; see more tropical storms of greater intensity; and produce an increase in rainfall levels. All of which will have a negative impact on human systems. Adapting to climate change will be difficult for Melanesian countries as they either lack or have a low adaptive capacity.

The importance of social capital in Melanesia was identified by Dr Ropate Qalo of the University of the South Pacific. According to him social networks form the basis of social capital in Melanesia These networks provide opportunities for developing cooperative enterprises that are task oriented, build on sustainability, self esteem and the ability of people to do things for themselves. Microfinance schemes are important in this regard.

Bernard Narakobi, until recently High Commissioner of Papua New Guinea to New Zealand said that Melanesia was a small, self reliant and independent civilisation built on wood and grass. It relied on oral tradition, had no police force or judicial system, and had no sovereign power, yet the people lived on. It was a civilisation founded on spiritual values that guided the lives of the Melanesian people. Mr Narakobi identified the importance of relationships between people where life goes on, even beyond death, where it is not a case of going up if you are good, or down if you are bad, but of still being present though in a different way.

Some proposals to emerge from the symposium included: the provision of transit visas for Melanesians traveling via New Zealand to other destinations; educational exchanges at tertiary level; increased literacy training; learning from iwi in New Zealand; providing support for the emerging Melanesia New Zealand Partnership for Development.

John Roberts


Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 41 October 2008 Secretary: John Roberts


“Bottom up” social entrepreneurs


In these days of business turmoil and restructuring there’s a fair bit of despair around. Workers are feeling they are at the mercy of directors and managers who pay little attention to their interests. Within our churches there’s now much debate about structures, with an emphasis on separating out governance and management, and putting new structures in place. Where all this will lead us in the long run I don’t know, but I do feel uneasy about it.

When I read much of the leadership and management literature I don’t come away particularly enlightened or enthused. Leadership seems to focus on outstanding individuals, and management on layered structures. But then I read an article in the The Business Herald of 18 July that really did get me excited. Amongst all the traditional business news that differs little from week to week, was an article reproduced from the The Economist in Britain. It was about the dabbawalas of Mumbai in India. I read it and thought, I want to know more, because I think in our present economic and management settings we could learn from these people. When I mention the dabbawalas to others I usually get a blank look. Nobody here seems to know about this remarkable group of people. So let me tell you a little about them.

Dabbawala is a Hindi word which means “one who carries a box”. The dabbawalas of Mumbai collect freshly cooked Indian food in tiffins or lunch boxes from the homes of people who work in offices in the city, deliver them to the workplace, and later return the lunch boxes to the homes from which they came. The service originated under British rule when the colonial workers, who didn’t fancy Indian food, wanted lunch brought to them from their homes. The dabbawalas came into being to provide that service. Now the service exists for Indian office workers and the food is distinctly Indian.

Mumbai is a huge densely populated city with a lot of traffic congestion. Instead of going home for lunch or eating out, many office workers choose to have a meal delivered from home. For a monthly fee the dabbawalas collect the food from the workers’ homes, take them to a designated sorting place where the lunch boxes are sorted into groups, which are then put on trains with markings to identify their destination. At each train station the boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala who delivers them. The empty lunch boxes are later collected and returned to their homes. Some 5,000 dabbawalas carry 200,000 lunch boxes across Mumbai in this way each working day.

There are some quite remarkable things about this service. It’s essentially lowtech. Raghunath Medge, President of the Mumbai Tiffin Box Carriers Association (MTBCA), the governing body for the dabbawalas, says, “Our computer is our head and our Ghandi cap is the cover to protect it from the sun or rain.” The dabbawalas are semiliterate men (and a few women) going about barefoot and using bicycles and trains to deliver their lunch boxes. They are divided into groups of 15-25, each with four mukadams or supervisors. The dabbawala structure is distinctly flat with its governing council, mukadams, and dabbawalas. The mukadams are experienced old-time dabbawalas responsible for the logistical side of the operation. They play a critical role in resolving disputes, maintaining financial records, and taking care of marketing. In this structure there are no employers or employees. Each dabbawalla considers himself a shareholder and an entrepreneur in the operation. There are no managerial layers or explicit control measures. One dabbawala, Sambhaji, says “We do not work under anyone, we are partners.” Dabbawalas and mukadams all receive the same rate of pay. Directorships are honorary and without pay. And the error rate is extremely low. It has been calculated that the dabbawalas make only one mistake for eight million deliveries. That’s a 99.99% success rate. Dabbawalas who earn up to 6,000 rupees per month, pay 15 rupees to the MTBCA for the benefit of the community, to make loans available, and to provide concessions for the hire of marriage halls. The key to all this is strong teamwork and strict time management. Meals must be ready and collected at precisely 9am. They have to be delivered by 12.30pm and must still be hot. The empty lunch boxes must be returned to their homes by 6pm. And business grows annually by ten percent.

The dabbawalas have captured the attention of the international business community. Harvard Business School has produced a case study of the dabbawalas, urging its students to learn from the organisation. Firms both Indian and foreign are similarly curious. Tata (an Indian car manufacturing company), Coca-Cola and Daimler have all invited dabbawalas to explain their model to managers. Paul Goodman, a professor of organisational psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, says, “Most of our modern business education is about analytic models, technology and efficient business practices. The dabbawalas by contrast, focus more on human and social ingenuity.” The dabbawalas are seen as paragons of “bottom up” social entrepreneurship.

Manish Tripathi, an honorary director of the MTBCA was recently invited to speak to the Dubai chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He told his audience, “Our work revolves around a few beliefs – the most important ones are sticking to time and believing that work is worship. Annadan is mahadan (giving food is the greatest charity). We dabbawalas have a strong belief in god. & You worship god by ensuring that people get to eat their food on time.” He went on to say, “Every dabbawala is a stakeholder in the system. That is the single most motivating factor. Nobody is an employee, which is why there has not been a single record of strike action in our business.” Summing up his presentation Tripathi said, “Zero percent reliance on fuel, zero percent use of modern technology, zero percent investment, zero percent disputes, 99.99 percent performance rate, and 100 percent customer satisfaction.”

In 2005 the MTBCA entered into a health communication partnership with the Maharashtra Health Department. On the 1st of December, World AIDS Day, those receiving their lunch boxes from the dabbawalas, on opening their box found an AIDS prevention message inside. The dabbawalas wore the AIDS red ribbon on their shirts that day. The health department said, “The commitment we have from the dabbawalas’ association to raise public discussions about HIV and AIDS will help stimulate discussion at the workplace.”

The dabbawalas show us a very different way of doing business. Their flat non-hierarchical management structure, their team work, their time management, their commitment to every dabbawala being an entrepreneur, their attitude to work as a form of worship, has everything to do with a 99.99% success rate.

It’s not just the business community that could benefit from taking a close look at the dabbawalas. The Church too could learn from them in the way it organises its life and work. Thank God for the dabbawalas and the example they set for all of us.

John H Roberts

Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 40 April 2008 Secretary: John Roberts


People before patents: What cost AIDS treatment?

At the present time, one in three people in the world are unable to get essential medicines. In the poorest parts of the world, this rises to one in two people. When it comes to medicines to treat HIV and AIDS, the figure is even more alarming. More than five out of six people who need antiretroviral drugs do not have access to them – that is 5.5 million people.

The cost of treatment

People’s access to medicines is affected by many factors, but the most crucial is that many are just too expensive for people to afford. This is certainly true when it comes to HIV and AIDS. The cost of a year’s supply of antiretroviral drugs is said to be at least $10,000 per person. Ninety five percent of people with HIV or AIDS in the world live in developing countries. But they have the poorest access to drugs developed in the industrialised world. The average income in developing nations is just a few hundred dollars a year.

The impact of debt

The indebtedness of developing countries to the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the wealthy nations that finance them, is a significant contributing factor. In assisting indebted countries to repay their loans, these international financial institutions insist on structural adjustment programmes which require governments to make cuts to their expenditure. This particularly affects the health sector. Resources that could have been used to tackle HIV and AIDS are no longer available. According to the Jubilee 2000 coalition which

has been seeking the abolition of debt for developing countries “It is no coincidence that the AIDS crisis has exploded most dramatically in highly indebted countries.”

The WB has also been encouraging the privatisation of the health sector in developing countries and this has reduced access to health services by the poor. Increasingly health care delivery is becoming a private commodity rather than a public service. Successfully responding to the spread and treatment of HIV and AIDS requires strong public health care facilities that are well funded.

Compulsory licences and generic drugs

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is another player that has in the past restricted access to pharmaceuticals. An Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual property rights (TRIPS) signed in 1995 protected patents filed by pharmaceutical companies. However in 2001 the WTO at its Doha meeting agreed to allow governments to override international patent protections and produce generic versions of drugs at a fraction of the price charged by the big pharmaceutical companies - $300 a year compared to $10,000 per person. The agreement relates to compulsory licences, which make it possible for the government of a country to impose the use of a licence on the owner of a drug patent in the event of an epidemic or when prices are excessively high. These licences allow the non-commercial manufacture, import and sale of cheaper generic versions of patented drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies

Pharmaceutical companies have consistently opposed compulsory licences, claiming that they will bring about the end of drug research and development. They say drugs are expensive because of the years of research and trials that go into making a successful drug. However, they do not tell us that up to fifty percent of these costs are met by the public sector. A huge amount of drug research and development is funded by governments and universities. But when putting a figure on research and development costs, the companies include these public sector costs as if they were their own. This inflates the stated cost of research and development and provides an artificial justification for extremely high prices.

There is also the threat of retaliation from drug companies. Last year one US company (Abbott Laboratories) stopped plans to introduce new drugs, including those for AIDS in Thailand, in a bid to force the Thai government to reverse its decision to ignore the patent on one of its drugs.

Protecting pharmaceutical companies

The US and other powerful nations are known to have put pressure on developing countries through trade representatives, political lobbying, and attempts to tie them into free trade agreements, all in an effort to undermine their use of compulsory licensing. It has suggested restricting the number of countries that could benefit from the Doha agreement by strictly defining what constitutes a poor country. They have also proposed a series of economic tests that would determine which countries could legally import or export generic drugs.

In current trade negotiations between individual countries, which take place outside the WTO’s multilateral framework, rules are being included that go beyond TRIPS and the Doha agreement. These rules negate some of the agreed safeguards. They are usually referred to as TRIPS Plus. In response to pressure from domestic industry the US is trying to extend intellectual property protections. It has pressured trading partners to agree to provisions in regional and bilateral trade agreements that mandate even higher levels of intellectual property protection than those of the WTO. Developing countries are required under these trade agreements to include in legislation very high levels of protection for US pharmaceutical companies. This has grave consequences for their public health delivery, especially when it comes to treating HIV and AIDS. If these countries show an unwillingness to comply with US demands they face the imposition of trade sanctions.

Engaging with the issues

It has been said that “Solving the AIDS crisis will require something that governments, international lending institutions and multinational companies often lack: compassion and the ability to see beyond profit.” (Tamara Straus, The Moral Calculus of AIDS. AlterNet, April 2001)

I recently received a copy of the Christian Conference of Asia draft policy on HIV and AIDS. It calls on member churches to advocate and act on the issues of HIV and AIDS including universal access to treatment. One sentence struck me quite forcefully. “Unfortunately many countries that have low prevalence [and Aotearoa New Zealand is one of these] do not see the point in engaging with the issue, and this needs to be addressed.” So let’s engage with this issue. As Desmond Tutu has said, “We have the skills, expertise and resources [to confront HIV and AIDS]. So for goodness sake stop fiddling.”

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance based in Geneva suggests we urge governments: to make full use of the flexibilities available in the TRIPS Agreement; to issue compulsory licences for essential medicines when there are problems of access to these medicines due to patent restrictions; not to enter into TRIPS Plus agreements or to impose TRIPS Plus agreements on other countries; and to join the movement to find alternative frameworks for supporting research in medicine that achieve a better balance between property rights and public health.

Methodist Mission & Ecumenical
Occasional Paper No. 39 March 2008 Secretary: John Roberts


Making a difference together - then and now

World Council of Churches 60th anniversary

Celebrating a 60th birthday for some is a milestone marked by visions of retirement - celebrating achievements and dreaming of new endeavours. The World Council of Churches (WCC), however, on its 60th "birthday" in 2008, does not want to rest on past feats as it looks ahead to the challenges of the 21st century. The largest, most inclusive fellowship of churches in the world, and the pre-eminent face of 20th century ecumenism is grappling with a very different world today - politically, economically, religiously - than the one it faced following the second world war.

The WCC came into formal existence on 23 August 1948 in Amsterdam, where the delegates of 147 churches from 44 countries met to participate in the first and founding assembly. While the gathering was impressive for its unprecedented diversity, with representatives from Anglican, Old Catholic, many Orthodox and nearly all Protestant churches, the inauguration was also notable for the absence of the world's two largest churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church.

In practice, the WCC already existed. In 1938 a provisional committee had been formed by church leaders to establish a structure for the new body and organize its first assembly set for 1941. But the outbreak of war had scuttled those plans. Instead the provisional committee had served to maintain links between churches on both sides while assisting prisoners of war and refugees and preparing for post-war reconciliation and aid.

At the Amsterdam assembly, the experience of war set a tone that was both humble and defiant as the world's tragic disunity called for radical reconciliation. Willem Visser 't Hooft, the first WCC general secretary, spoke to the fear of creating a "superchurch" and announced the vision of making a difference together: "We are not forming this Council in a spirit of ambition and in order to join in any struggle for power. We form it in a spirit of repentance for our failure to be the Church together and in order to render clearer witness together to the Lord who came to serve all."

In many ways the witness of the WCC over the past decades can be clearly enumerated - tangible contributions to the formation of the United Nations and the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; landmark theological work on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry and significant contributions to missiological reflection; prophetic work on issues such as sustainable development, racism, interreligious dialogue and climate change before they became popular platforms.

Few achievements came without controversy. During the 1970s, many evangelicals distanced themselves from the Council over what they considered weak efforts regarding mission and evangelism. Meanwhile, the Programme to Combat Racism was a lightning rod for criticism in the face of its unflinching support for the anti-apartheid movement in Southern Africa. But when the WCC celebrated its 50th anniversary at its 1998 assembly in Harare, Nelson Mandela, one of the programme's "beneficiaries", spoke of the programme as an expression of "true solidarity" that was "not merely the charitable support of distant benefactors, but a joint struggle for shared aspirations. &.. To us in South and Southern Africa, and indeed the entire continent," he said, "the WCC has always been known as a champion of the oppressed and the exploited."

Yet, talking to those touched by the WCC over the years, its greatest achievement has not been a particular issue, programme or publication, but the fact that despite all that could have torn it apart, the member churches have held together, maintaining the fellowship they share through the Council. As an Asian ecumenical leader says: "The relationships built between churches are the WCC's finest accomplishment. It's not unity in the strict sense, but in building a knowledge of heritage and customs and awareness - like a family."

And the WCC is growing. It now brings together 347 churches and denominations in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world. The Russian Orthodox Church joined in 1961, and the Roman Catholic Church works closely with the Council in many programme areas and is a full member of the commissions on Faith and Order and on Mission and Evangelism.

The growth of the WCC is a sign of success and a challenge to the future, as it demonstrates the changing face of ecumenism and Christianity itself. Most of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, although churches from other regions were also amongst them; today most members are located in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific.

The breadth of its membership creates the living challenge of ecumenism - connecting, assessing, changing to more truly reflect unity. Intensive dialogue between Orthodox churches and other traditions over the past ten years allowed the fellowship of churches to realise that some practices comfortable to most Western members felt unfamiliar and disempowering to many others. Significant changes in how the WCC conducts its business followed, notably with the introduction of consensus decision-making.

Setting programme priorities for the WCC's work does not come easy, as member churches face different realities in their own contexts. Yet a common thread emerges that builds upon the essence of the WCC from its formation. As one European theologian states, "The WCC's role is to be the one place where Christian voices can be unified."

Within that common space, churches are addressing together some of the challenges they face today: responding to threats to life like poverty, climate change and HIV and AIDS; exploring traditional and newer dimensions of spiritual life; promoting interreligious dialogue and cooperation; reaching out to Christian traditions long sceptical of ecumenism; re-envisioning ecumenism in the 21st century.

As the 60th celebration theme underlines, Making a difference together is not about the anniversary of an institution, but a fellowship, a movement and a vision. Six decades ago in Amsterdam, the participants confessed, "We are divided from one another not only in matters of faith, order and tradition, but also by pride of nation, class and race." While this reality persists, so does the ecumenical vision. "But Christ has made us his own, and he is not divided," the Amsterdam message continued.

The WCC is not just celebrating a birthday, but the visible and viable commitment of the churches, which despite all their own and the world's divisions reclaim the 1948 affirmation: "We intend to stay together."

Sara Speicher WCC News Feature 28 January 2008