Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Historic Peace Churches Asia gathering is held in Indonesia.

Representatives of the Historic Peace Churches gathered in Solo, Indonesia, on Dec. 1-8, 2007, to focus on the theme of “Peace in Our Land” through the interrelated topics of injustice, religious pluralism, and poverty. These churches include the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

The Brethren were represented regionally by 17 representatives from the Church of the Brethren in India, which has roots in the mission efforts of the US church to India beginning in 1895. Present on behalf of the Church of the Brethren in the US were Stanley Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board; Mervin Keeney, executive director for Global Mission Partnerships; Donald Miller, emeritus faculty at Bethany Theological Seminary; and Scott Holland, seminary faculty for peace and cross cultural studies. Miller had served on the planning committee on behalf of the General Board’s Global Mission Partnerships office. David Sollenberger also was present to photograph and film the event.

This was the third in a series of regional conferences of the peace churches, invited by the Decade to Overcome Violence program of the World Council of Churches. Previous gatherings had been held in Beinenberg, Switzerland, in 2001; and in Kenya in 2004. Each gathering has been funded and planned by the peace churches themselves.

This gathering included participants from Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US. Representatives came from a wide array of backgrounds in professions and industry in addition to church work. Presenters told stories of the poverty and injustices of their specific contexts, and how the church was responding. Christians are small minorities in many countries in Asia, so in every case religious diversity was a factor. Poverty also is a dimension of these societies that undermines peace. The Church of the Brethren group observed that a government role can be relevant in peace building, sometimes as an instrument of fairness and inclusion and at other times fostering injustice and conflict.

Some of the stories of struggle gave cause for hope. The loving and courageous actions by the churches in very difficult settings were a challenge and witness to all listeners. It was reported by some that Christianity in the East often is seen as foreign religion, and is associated with the worst aspects of the West. This perception creates a credibility challenge for Asian churches.

In addition to speakers, plenary sessions, and small group discussions, the conference integrated visits to Indonesian churches, and also included colorful cultural events and short trips that helped to ground discussion in the local reality.

Differences within the region had surfaced by the end of the week. The activist approach of the Australian and New Zealand participants, who felt free to speak out and to confront their governments, contrasted with the real risk of such expression in some nations. As a result, a slower, relationship-building approach to peacebuilding is used by most Asian churches within their communities and nation.

Darryl Sankey, a Church of the Brethren member from Valsad, India, served on the planning committee. He reflected on the event at its conclusion: “As the Church of the Brethren in India, we have learned what the Historic Peace Churches actually mean. For the last several years, we have felt left out of this process, of relating to other churches. This (was an) opportunity to participate in an international conference where we, as a peace church, have realized the importance of being a peace church. This has been a very great learning experience, not only for me, but for everyone who has been part of this delegation…. I think this could be a revival for our church.”

--Mervin Keeney is executive director of the Global Mission Partnerships of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

Source: 01/02/2008 Newsline

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