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June 2010

Christian Conference of Asia strives for unity, justice

Conflict between states in Korea and Kashmir, human rights abuses, and the ravages of globalisation are among the issues Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) will give priority as it seeks to build communities of peace.

In April the CCA held its 13th General Assembly in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. CCA holds Assembly every five years to celebrate the unity of the Church in Asia and set its general direction.

Representatives of several New Zealand churches took part in the Assembly and the pre-Assembly forums that present issues for the full Assembly to consider. Several NZers were appointed to the committees that will carry on the work of the CCA between Assemblies.

Rev Diana Tana and Rev Prince Devanandan represented the Methodist Church of NZ at the Assembly. Prince also took part in the pre assembly session on people’s forum.

Prince Devanandan with former Trinity Methodist Church Diana Tana (left) and women from different parts of Asia gave
Pakuranga parishioner Christopher Chan in front of the the report by the Women’s Group.
Petronas Towers skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur.

In their report on the Assembly Diana and Prince say it was an honour and pleasure to be part of the life of CCA. They believe the Methodist Church has an important role in helping CCA achieve more gender equality and better decision making.

They report that the worship, Bible studies, lectures and discussions at Assembly "informed us and highlighted at times the ignorance and lack of interest many people in Aotearoa New Zealand’s mainline churches have regarding the numerous burning issues in Asia."

Prince says among the issues the people’s forum discussed was the impact tourism has on the people, economies and ecologies of the region. While, tourism is touted as an economic boon that creates jobs, the CCA says the net effect is negative. Asians, particularly women, are exploited as cheap labour, and hotels and resorts are often built on land taken unfairly from local people.

The people’s forum also examined critical issues in several countries. These included Indian churches’ peace initiatives in Kashmir, human rights violations in the Philippines, and initiatives to reunify South and North Korea.

"We heard personal testimony from several people including Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines who was abducted, tortured and detained by government-sponsored militant groups.

"The discussions on Korea and Kashmir were very important because both conflicts involve states with nuclear weapons. Korea is of interest to the ecumenical movement because in three years the World Council of Churches will hold its own general assembly in Pusan, South Korea," Prince says.

Delegates to the people’s forum also discussed the tendency for the ecumenical movement to become an empire in its own right rather than the voice of the people at the grassroots.

"There is a concern that the CCA has become techno-bureaucratic. The people’s forum called upon the CCA to find ways and means to work with the oppressed, the excluded, and the people victimised by globalisation," Prince says.

HIV Aids, domestic violence, climate justice, and the trafficking of women and children are other concerns that the pre-conference forums brought to the general assembly.

Diana says the forum on women addressed the issues facing women both in society and in the Church.

Among the proposals the forum brought to Assembly was that the CCA and its member churches should develop and implement sexual harassment policies and initiatives to give women better representation.

Diana says another important report came from the forum for indigenous people and minorities. Most of the world’s indigenous people live in Asia. They are exposed to many forces including displacement, militarization, colonization, injustice, humiliation, and loss of land.

"The forum challenged the CCA and its members to stand in solidarity with indigenous people and minorities, initiate programmes to address their issues, and network with faith based organizations on these issues," Diana says.

Prince and Diana say one of the issues CCA Assembly addressed is the decline of ecumenism in Asia. Aotearoa-New Zealand was identified as a notable case in this regard.

In his report the out-going CCA general secretary Dr Prawate Khid-Arn stated that when Churches become lukewarm towards ecumenism it is often based on ignorance or to avoid the path of the cross. He encouraged church people to overcome the false dichotomy between ecumenism and evangelism and work with people from the evangelical churches.

Christian Conference of Asia at a glance

The CCA was established in 1957. Today it represents more than 55 million people who belong to more than 100 national churches and 19 national councils. Member church bodies come from 23 different countries in the region (all except China and Vietnam).

The role of the CCA is to promote cooperation among the churches and national Christian bodies in Asia within the framework of a wider ecumenical movement.

The ecumenical movement strives to unite the different branches of the Christian Church but does not insist on making all Christians the same. It recognizes and celebrates the differences that exists between Christians and calls for mutual understanding and co-operation in worship and service.

The CCA is committed to the equal participation of women, men, youth, clergy and laity in church and society.

CCA seeks to build communities of peace through Christian unity, service and witness.

The vision for the next five years is that the Church in Asia should participate in God’s mission by building of communities of peace based on justice, healing and reconciliation.

At its 2010 Assembly, the CCA welcomed five new member churches: the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in Iran, the Oikoumene Christian Church in Indonesia, the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney, Australia, and the National Christian Council of Bhutan.

Key people at CCA Assembly 2010

Among the task of CCA Assembly is to select its leaders.

The year’s Assembly achieved a milestone by selecting its first woman general secretary. Rev Dr Henrietta Lebang of Indonesia will lead CCA for the next five years.

Henrietta has served in many senior positions both in Asia and internationally. She is a member of the committee co-ordinating relations between the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.

Three Kiwis will take prominent roles in CCA over the next five years. Rev Diana Tana will be the moderator of the CCA’s programme cluster on Ecumenical Formation, Gender Justice and Youth Empowerment; Rev Prince Devanandan will serve on the CCA’s General Committee; and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of NZ, Very Rev Pamela Tankersley will be a member of the programme cluster on Faith, Mission and Unity.

Two of the keynote addresses at CCA were of particular note, New Zealand delegates say. Anglican archbishop of Perth Rev Roger Herft gave the opening address, and the DT Niles Memorial lecture was given by DT’s son Dr Preman Niles.