World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Reference group meeting, Thailand

16 March 2003

Reference Group meeting

15-16 March 2003
Royal Benja Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

MEMBERS PRESENT

  1. Samuel Kabue
  2. Gordon Cowans
  3. Kathy Reeves
  4. Arne Fritzson
  5. Ying-Bo Joseph Tsai
  6. Lee Ye Ja

AGENDA

  1. Prayer/ Devotions
  2. Overview since 2000 Reference group
  3. Changes in WCC and the future of EDAN
  4. Outstanding issues and events leading to the next General Assembly
  5. Theological reflection process
  6. Strategic plan 2003 - 2005
  7. Methodology and evaluation process of EDAN
  8. Any Other Business

INTRODUCTION

This reference group was planned to coincide with the Asia Consultation on Ecumenical Agenda of Churches in Solidarity with Differently Abled Persons. The Consultation had been jointly organized by EDAN and the Christian Conference of Asia. The two EDAN members based in Asia Ying-Bo and Lee Ye Ja participated in the reference group meeting. The Consultant informed the meeting that Roel Aasbasberg of ICCO had been invited to attend the Asia Consultation and the Reference Group meeting as a friend and a donor representative. The idea in inviting him was that he could help us in thinking through the future of our financial situation. He had been unable to come as he was in bad health. He had, however sent his greetings and good wishes to the Reference Group. It was agreed that he should be sent a get well message from the Network. Aruna too had sent a message of good wishes, as she too was not in a position to participate in the meeting. The meeting received her message with thanks.

REFLECTION AND PRAYERS

The EDAN consultant started this session by referring to Psalms 121 that says the Lord shall be the source of our hope. He mentioned that there were many issues at the moment that are taking place globally, which are not pleasing. Looming war and general economic recession are very worrying. However, in the midst of all things, we should look up and realize that our help comes from the Lord. He further emphasized that the work of EDAN is something that the members have a commitment to which they know that whether there is money or not, the fire will keep burning as the commitment that was there at the very beginning is still very vibrant.

Arne said that every time he goes to an EDAN meeting, he remembers all those people with disabilities who live very frustrating lives and encounter barriers through out their lives. This is what gives him the motivation to continue in the pursuit for a just world. Noting the struggle to keep the disability work going, he expressed the feeling that probably a time has come when those fully committed to the course of EDAN may need to explore new ways of refocusing on our work and maybe a possibility of doing things independently.

Kathy in her reflections gave the story about the transfiguration when the disciples saw Jesus with Elijah and Moses standing by his side. Then the disciples realized the power of God on Jesus. God was sending a message that Jesus was His beloved and in that we can draw strength in our faith in him and know that the rest are with us in our journey. EDAN has to keep going but the relationship with WCC needs to be clarified because persons with disabilities always feel as if they are not taken seriously as there is always the issue of money and resources in regard to their work at WCC. Just like the disciples, God is with EDAN and the movement will grow. We still need to Network with or without finances.

Ying-Bo gave a preview of the situation in Taiwan and how everything is progressing on well. The first lady having been on a wheelchair has given them a very big boost and he has encouraged persons with disabilities and given them a ray of hope, as she is involved in most of the projects that deal with disabled people. He felt that his work as EDAN coordinator has been difficult and complicated due to the fact that he is not an ordained pastor and most churches insist on working with ordained people. He felt that the members present could help him pray and give him some support regarding this work.

Gordon during his sharing reiterated the message of Psalms 121. He reflected on the aspect about the Hills and Valleys. It is clear that we are on a journey. A continued struggle is our purpose and we are looking back to the hills that we have crossed and the ones that we are facing. The hills are a reminder that we are on a journey. God has been faithful in the past and He will continue to be faithful in the future.

Lee Ye Ja informed the members on her inability to do much in her region i.e Pacific Region. She had not even visited the area as she has been unwell in the recent past. She felt that the work of EDAN should spring from the grassroots. She shared her experience when she was the Consultant at the persons with disabilities desk in the WCC. Ye Ja talked about her dissatisfaction while working with the staff task-force that had been appointed to help her in her work since at the end of it, they had not managed to put a disability component in the other programs of WCC. Regarding the funding situation, she stressed that it was very disheartening to observe that whenever there is a crisis at WCC it is always the work of persons with disabilities that is the first to be axed.

This reflection section was concluded by a chain prayer mainly on the work of EDAN and WCC round the table.

OVERVIEW SINCE 2000 REFERENCE GROUP

There has been a lot of issues that have taken place and therefore a need to keep in mind what has happened in the last 2 years. The reference group has met twice since its inception. There has also been one meeting that brought together the Reference Group and the Regional Coordinator at Catigny, Switzerland. This present Reference Group meeting in Bangkok was scheduled to have taken place in December last year in Nairobi but a decision was reached to postpone it to this time to enable members to also participate in the Asia consultation. One other meeting which would have brought all the EDAN members including the Reference Group and the Regional Cooordinators together was to be organized to coincide with the Stockholm Consultation in May this year but this will not be possible. The Consultant highlighted some of the activities that had taken place since the Catigny meeting in the Regions.

1. Stockholm Meeting

The Chair informed the members about the postponement of the said meeting due to lack of funds. Arne reported on the preparations that have gone on especially among the Stockholm Ecumenical Movement and how disappointed they were to learn that it had been postponed. After deliberations in this issue, it was proposed that the Swedish churches being some of the Key donors to the WCC could be approached to finance this global event which will be held in their country. Arne promised to talk to his church regarding the issue of funds with a hope of holding the meeting next year.

Resolution 1 The Consultant to write a letter to Aruna informing her that EDAN is fundraising for the Stockholm Consultation and Arne will take lead on this.

2. European Year of the Disabled and European Consultation

The Consultant reported that Pal Gado who is the EDAN Regional Coordinator for Europe and Simone Poortman who is also a member of the Network have convinced the European Churches to hold a European Consultation of Persons with Disabilities from 10th to 13th October, 2003. The consultant suggested that EDAN piggy back on this consultation to hold a meeting of the Reference group and the Regional Co-ordinators. Such a meeting would make up for the EDAN global meeting, which was to take place alongside the Stockholm Consultation. It would be a time of sharing, fellowship and planning as was the case in the October 2001 meeting in Cartigny. He informed the members that the people from Europe attending the consultation will pay for their own travel expenses. EDAN will in this case have to meet both travel and maintenance expenses for the members of the Reference Group and Co-ordinators who are not from Europe.

Resolution 2 The European Consultation be attended by the EDAN Reference Group Members and the Regional Coordinators and funds be sourced to enable those who are not from Europe to attend.

CHANGES IN THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES AND THE FUTURE OF EDAN

The Consultant briefed the members on the changes at the WCC that has resulted to some programmes being classified as "Core" while others have been classified as "Specific Expressions". The financing of the Core programmes will be through the WCC core budget. Programmes under the specific expression category will be run through funds specifically raised for them. EDAN was categorized under the specific expression programme and as such, its continuation depended on the possibility of raising specific funding for it. It was only after the Central Committee where these changes were made that Aruna managed to persuade the authorities to include the basic administration expenses for EDAN in the core budget. This had however to be done through making cuts on other areas of the JPC core funded budget.

Arne felt that it was not right for the WCC structures to make drastic decisions about EDAN without either consultation or involvement of the Reference Group. Decision on the stability of the programme should not be unilaterally made by people other than those involved in it. He suggested that maybe it is a high time that EDAN treaded alone in fund raising for its planned activities. Gordon felt that the responsible authorities should have noted that in the whole of the WCC structure, EDAN was one of the most cost effective programme as it had made significant impact despite having operated on a shoe-string budget. WCC should not just cut budgets without considering areas, which require some affirmative action as they have been ignored in the past.

Kathy suggested that since the Newsletter is a very important tool for EDAN, all efforts should be made to keep it going. It could be sent over the Internet to cut down on costs. The Regional Cordinators could be requested to get some donors to help in printing it cheaply and to have it distributed locally. The idea of using electronic means for distribution was floated. However, the meeting felt that though this idea is good, it could not be feasible as a lot of the people reached by it may not have access to electronic mail services. The Newsletter in hard copy was also useful in Libraries as a resource.

Resolution 3 (a) Do all that is possible to keep the newsletter going even if it means going flat out to fundraise for it. (b) Put an article in the next issue about the problem.

Resolution 4 Make the January to March issue the last to be printed in the current form and to be distributed widely if no funds are realized to run it.

1. Changes in the Nairobi EDAN Office

The Consultant informed the meeting that he had opted to take an early retirement from his regular job with the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and that he would now concentrate on EDAN WORK. EDAN will still operate under the auspices of NCCK as per the current WCC arrangement. However, its offices have been relocated from the Council's Headquarters to Limuru Conference and Training Centre, another NCCK property thirty kilometers away from the City. The Consultant's remuneration for the time being is pegged on the 40 per cent for his salary which was previously going to NCCK as compensation for time spent on EDAN work. Angela has moved with the programme under the same terms as she was. NCCK is paying for a driver and the programme is using the same car that he used in NCCK but the maintenance will now have to be borne by the Programme.

Noting that these changes have come at a time when WCC has made very drastic changes in its programme financing, this information was received with surprise and somehow mixed feelings on the part of some of the members. Although the meeting was assured that the decision for the Consultant to opt out of the NCCK job had been taken as a commitment very consciously and after the necessary consultation at family level and with WCC, Kathy Reeves cautioned that the Consultant should nevertheless be open to other possibilities for a job elsewhere.

2. Week of Meetings

The meeting was informed that the week of meetings in WCC is scheduled to begin on May 3rd, 2003. Attendance to this important event in the Ecumenical Center calendar was doubtful as the only funds available to EDAN is for basic administration expenses. The Reference Group noted that many contacts were made during the last week of meeting that was attended by the Consultant leading to a number of activities being funded through other programmes of WCC. Cases in point included the Latin America Blind Indigenous Consultation through the Latin America Desk, Asia consultation on Ecumenical Agenda on Churches in Solidarity with the Differently Abled by the Asia Desk and involvement of Caribbean Regional Coordinator in the meeting of the National Council of Churches of the Caribbean Region.

Resolution 5 The Consultant was urged to use any available resources to enable him attend the week of meetings and thereby make any possible contacts that could lead to working closely with other programmes.

Resolution 6 All efforts should be made to establish contacts with the regional desks and the entire relations team during the week of meeting.

Resolution 7 Explore the possibility of setting up meetings with possible funding agents in the countries in close proximity to Switzerland to be combined with the trip to Geneva to attend the week of meetings.

Resolution 8. (a) The Consultant to seek for an appointment through Aruna with the staff in charge of organizing the next General Assembly to discuss EDAN'S representation in the organizing committee.

(b). Aruna be informed about EDAN's interest in participating in the Women and youth Pre-assembly meetings.

The meeting noted that contact with the Conference of European Churches has fallen back. It was felt that our Europe Co-ordinator and the other EDAN team members in that Region have not worked or even been in touch with what is happening in the Conference. It was felt that these contacts will need to be renewed and that EDAN will need to be more proactive in this regard. Arne informed the meeting that the Conference was organizing a major meeting to take place in Norway sometimes in Summer this year. A request for EDAN to participate in that event could be a good entry point to resume our contact.

Resolution 9 Set up a meeting with Rev. Dr. Keith Clements the General Secretary of the CEC to lobby for EDAN's participation in their meeting to take place in Norway in June.

Arne informed the meeting that he had been invited to participate in a Bossey seminar on human sexuality to begin on 5th April. He will not be able to participate in that meeting because of other commitment. It was the feeling of the members that opportunities to take part in various WCC organized events and meetings should not be lost whether they have come to a member directly or through EDAN. WCC should be encouraged to as far as possible channel such invitations through the EDAN office to ensure that if a particular individual invited is not able to make it is replaced. Though late, it was suggested that an attempt be made to find out whether Arne could be replaced By Rev. John Naude of England in this Bossey seminar.

Resolution 10 Write to Allan Falconer concerning the meeting that Arne has been invited to on "Human Sexuality" to inform him about Arne's inability to attend and suggest Rev. John Naude to attend as a representative of EDAN in this meeting.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES AND EVENTS LEADING TO THE NEXT GENERAL ASSEMBLY

  1. The Risk book: It was agreed that Arne and Samuel take the responsibility of writing the Risk book before the end of this year as decided in the 2000 Reference Group meeting.
  2. In view of the financial problems and therefore the likely danger to discontinue the Newsletter, the meeting recommended that ways be sought on how EDAN could submit articles to any periodical that might still be in existence. The consultant was therefore requested to find out whether the EEF ministerial Formation magazine and the Ecumenical Review are still in existence and whether EDAN could submit articles to their publishers.
  3. The Reference Group was reminded that it had resolved to collect informational materials on Theology and disability to form a reference resource. This task had been assigned to Gordon Cowans but no report had been received on the progress. In reviewing this matter, it was felt that collecting hard copy materials may not be applicable as they may eventually require too much space and those needing them may not access them if they are kept in EDAN OFFICE. It was therefore agreed that a bibliography of such materials which would be placed in the office with a possibility of being sent to those who may need it be prepared. Gordon will take lead in this exercise. Arne offered to assist.
  4. Prof. John Hull had been nominated by the Cartigny October 2001 meeting to participate in the Theological Anthropology meeting in Jerusalem organized by Faith and Order to represent EDAN. There was no information as to whether he had attended the meeting. The Reference Group meeting requested the Consultant to find out whether he did participate and if he did, he be requested to submit a report on the relevance of the subject of Theological Anthropology to EDAN work.
  5. Theological Discourse in the institutions of learning: The meeting noted that there had not been much progress in the idea of the Tripartite exchange of ideas by Stockholm School of Theology, St. Paul's Limuru Theological College and United Theological College of the West Indies muted at the 2000 Reference Group meeting. The plan was to bring together select members of staff from these institutions together with EDAN for a brain storm session on how best to introduce and interest Theological institutions on disability as a subject. The current financial situation will not allow these arrangements in the near future. It was agreed that the Consultant discuss with Dr. Nyambura Njoroge of EEF on new strategies to achieve this objective. Consideration could be given to the idea of inviting the appropriate staff persons from Saint Paul, Limuru and West Indies Institutions to the Stockholm consultation if it will materialize. An institution in Asia Region should be included in this plan and Dr. Nyambura Njoroge should be requested to assist in identification of a suitable. One.
  6. The Reference Group observed that there has not been much information from Micheline Kamba who is a member of the Women Advisory Group. It was agreed that she should be challenged to champion the issue of Women with disabilities in the advisory group and to highlight the need for a wider participation of women with disabilities in the Women Pre-assembly meeting.
  7. The Reference Group noted that EDAN has not as yet made any impact in the Pacific Region. It was agreed that Lee Ye Ja who is the Acting Regional Co-ordinator for that region be facilitated to travel there to help establish contacts with the Regional Conference and other support groups that we could network with.
  8. The meeting was also informed that not much is happening in the Middle East Region. Our Co-ordinator there Mr. Elie Rhabani seem to be having difficulties in either making EDAN visible or establishing a network of people who could work with him. This may partly be attributable to the fact that he also seem to have a lot of personal problems. The meeting observed that a visit there to meet with him and with the Conference of Churches to discuss this will be necessary. The Consultant was requested to plan to make a visit there.
  9. Noting the sentiments expressed by Joseph Ying-Bo on the difficulties he has in respect to his role as a Regional Co-odinator, the meeting agreed that letters from both EDAN and the Conference of Churches in Asia be written to the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan introducing him as the EDAN Asia Regional Coordinator requesting that he be assisted in any way possible to play that role.
  10. The Reference Group was informed that EDAN had an invitation to participate and make a presentation in a Conference organized by the disability church groups in conjunction with the Council of Churches in New Zealand. The theme of the Conference is "Disability, culture and spirituality". Although EDAN had even made a financial contribution towards the planning of the Conference, the Consultant will not be able to participate in it because it will be taking place at the same time with the week of meetings. The meeting recommended that Joseph Ying-Bo Tsai the Regional Coordinator for Asia be facilitated to represent EDAN and to make a presentation. This was considered an important opportunity for EDAN to make new contacts in that part of the Asia Region.

INTERIM THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT DRAFTING PROCESS

The Consultant gave a preview of the process of the drafting of the theological statement following the 2000 Reference Group meeting and the October 2001 Cartigny meeting. Allan Falconer received write up presentations as agreed in the Cartigny meeting. The small drafting committee met in Geneva in April 2002 as planned to discuss the presentations and to begin the drafting process. The work of putting together the draft document was left in the hands of Allan who circulated the draft to all those who had attended the Cartigny meeting for comment before the Bossey seminar which was scheduled for November. This seminar was however, cancelled owing to lack of funds. Faith and Order through Allan agreed to finance a very small group which met in November 2002 in Geneva to incorporate the comments received and fine-tune the document. During the September Central Committee meeting, there was a Padare offering led by Gordon and Arne, which was a part of the Interim Theological Statement development process. The next event in the process was supposed to be the Stockholm consultation in May 2003 but this will, as already mentioned, not take place owing to financial difficulties. The meeting was reminded that this process is expected to culminate in a 90 minutes Plenary Session at the next Central Committee meeting in which the Theological Statement will be presented as the key document for discussion. Details on how the plenary will be organized were not available and members expressed concern that this has been left too late. Arne told the meeting that Aruna had told him informally that there may be some change in respect to the disability plenary presentation. He said that there is a probability that there may not be a plenary devoted to this issue on its own as expected but he did not have details. The consultant told the meeting that he did not have any information to that effect. Members wondered what the genesis of such a change would have been and why the consultant should not have been informed.

Resolution 11 (a). A letter be written to Aruna to enquire more about the plans for the presentation at the Plenary. This should include the expectations and the guidelines of a plenary.

(b) A small team to include some of those in the drafting team be invited to help in the planning just before the Central Committee and to participate in the plenary discussion in order to make the presentation make an impression.

COMMENTS ON THE THEOLOGICAL STATEMENT DRAFT

Arne Fritzson who has accompanied the drafting process all through introduced the document to the group by making a highlight of its content. He informed the meeting that the document was still in a draft form and that there were sections that he was not quite comfortable with. Members noted that although there was a version sent out for comments in February, it had not been received by some. The version that EDAN had prepared for circulation had been sent in January and had been improved on in the February version. It was agreed that Arne who had received the February version forward it to those who had not received it on return home. Each member was requested to go through the document and send his or her comments directly to Allan within a week to enable any amendments to be made before it is taken for translation.

A number of general observations were made arising from questions raised by those who had not been in the small drafting team. The principle of these included:

Whose statement is it?

Who is the intended audience for the statement?

What is the purpose of the statement?

Arne and the Consultant led the group in reflecting on these questions as has been understood through the drafting process. They started by giving a highlight of what the April 2002 draft team had observed about these same questions. The Reference Group, like the drafting team concluded that the final product of this process whose leadership has been in the hands of EDAN and Faith and Order will be a WCC statement. The principle audience will be the member churches and church related organization. The purpose of the document is two fold. In the first place, it is aimed at promoting disability awareness and to provoke a discourse on the disability agenda in the church. Secondly it will be an advocacy document for churches to be more inclusive.

Reacting to these ideas, Gordon felt that the document in it's present form was too long, difficult to follow and also too theological. Whereas this longer version after the necessary improvement may be retained for higher theological discourse, a summarized and easier version to go out to member churches will be desirable.

STRATEGIC PLAN 2003 - 2005

The Consultant informed the members that this 2003 to 2005 was the second strategic plan for EDAN. Members were taken through the planning document as submitted to WCC last year. The meeting was however informed that there were serious changes in WCC resulting from shortage of funds and as such, it cannot be said with any certainty whether EDAN will receive any programme funds for the planned activities. The meeting noted that an EDAN pre-assembly meeting will be very important. However, should there be a possibility of organizing one, it should take place early enough to enable members to also participate in the Women and Youth pre-assembly meetings.

Resolution 12 The Consultant should immediately find out if there will be any possibility for a Disability pre-assembly meeting as one of the planned activities.

The meeting was informed that relationship with DOV had been established as proposed in the Cartigny meeting. Razaka from Madagascar had already been accepted as a member of the DOV committee. She attended her first meeting as a representative of EDAN in June 2002 with very promising prospects of good working relations. The Consultant had already begun negotiations for DOV to finance some EDAN activities relating to research on violence against women with disabilities and the question of effects of wars on persons with disabilities. However, the changes brought about by the financial problems of WCC have worked against all the agreements reached last year. These changes have affected the DOV staff in such a way that those with whom these discussions had been held are no longer in charge. It is not even certain whether the Committee is still there and if it is, whether EDAN is still represented.

Resolution 13. The Consultant should write to the relevant authority to express EDAN's interest in the DOV activities and request for our continued participation.

The Consultant briefed the members about the financial status of EDAN for the year 2003. He informed the members that the only funds that have been set aside are Fifty Thousand Swiss Franks (Ch 50,000). This was very worrying since that only catered for the administration costs of the office. There are no funds at all for any aspect of the programme work. Members were very disappointed about this state of affairs. One of them wondered what an office in Nairobi was for if it had no funds to implement any programe activity. The Consultant, however, informed the meeting that there were some left over funds from previous years which amounted to no less than Thirty Thousand US Dollars ($30,000) which we will be able to use in programme work this year. These funds had been saved mainly through one activity planned for the Caribbean Region, which had not taken place, and savings on the Regional support budget lines as some regions had not made use of this provision. There were also a number of budget lines that had not been utilized as such costs had been taken up by the Consultant's NCCK office. A case in point in this category is office entertainment and local travel expenses.

Members discussed how they can improve the financial status of EDAN. Some of the viable suggestions included

  • Approaching a celebrity who has a disability to release a record for sale. Proceeds from this would go to the programme funding. In this regard the following personalities were proposed: Stevie Wonder from USA; Lina Marie from Sweden; Andre Bottelli an Opera singer from Italy; Doleres of the ‘touched by an Angel' fame

  • Approach other high profile people like Oprah Winfrey a TV host to host a programme on persons with disabilities and ask her to talk about EDAN.

EDAN EVALUATION

The idea to carry out a self-evaluation arose as a result of an experience during the evaluation of the WCC programmes session that was held in Geneva last year. EDAN participated in that exercise and this was only because the Consultant happened to be there at that time. Questions included in this process included:

What is the relationship between our programme and other programmes of WCC?

Who are our constituents?

Are there opportunities for their input into the programme planning?

How is feedback received from our constituencies?

The Consultant was of the idea that the Reference Group should stat thinking about this self-evaluation process.

It was agreed by the members in consensus that the wider EDAN's views are also very important on this issue as they deal with the networks at Regional and Sub-regional level and are better placed to gauge EDAN's performance. It was felt that apart from the Reference Group and few Regional Coordinators, the rest did not know what is happening at the secretariat. This should be done before an Evaluation of EDAN is done.

Resolution 14. The Consultant to write a brief report on what has been happening since the inception of EDAN to be circulated to all the EDAN members.