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Reflection by Jørgen Thomsen, DanChurchAid, at WCC Round Table Meeting 2012

"God of life – lead us to Justice and Peace" Reflection for Prayer at WCC Round Table Meeting , 10 May 2012

10 May 2012

Reflection for morning prayer at WCC Round Table Meeting

by Jørgen Thomsen, DanChurchAid

When we pray 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace' it reflects what we know, that peace is not only absence of war. There is much more to it. Peace is life in dignity; life in relationships that are fair, equal and just. And if peace is not only absence of war, then that also means, that the opposite of peace is not only war, but injustice. Where there is injustice, there is no peace.

They know that very well in the Myanmar Council of Churches – in Burma/Myanmar. We in DanChurchAid are developing our partnership with the Myanmar Council of Churches. Part of that is an invitation to all the Lutheran congregations in Denmark to include Myanmar in their Pentecost worship services – in prayers, in sermons and in collections.

So when I was asked to contribute a reflection on the Assembly theme to this morning prayer from my perspective, I said that my perspective reflects what I do these days – so what I say will include Myanmar and Denmark.

To be led from justice to peace can be a painful transformation. Myanmar knows that. And I realized it when I visited the country 3 weeks ago around the election. Let me therefore give you just one example of the suffering that 5 decades of harsh military dictatorship has resulted in.

The example comes from villages we work with around the Inle Lake in the heartland of Burma/ Myanmar. It comes from people who are still nervous about discussing their support to Aung San Suu Kyi. For a very good reason. Only three months ago it could get them into prison. They are farming people in simple, worn-down bamboo huts, who hope for day-to-day employment. Because they never had any farmland. Or maybe they had, till the day they were told to get lost and disappear now, because somebody with close ties to the generals wanted their land, to build a tourist resort on the lake. These are people who go to bed hungry on off-season days when they are not employed, because the rice is too expensive to pay for – even if Burma is rich on rice. So they belong to the 600 million people in Asia who still starve. They are people who for 5 decades have been denied access to education, decent food and health-care. Just because a small elite group of armed forces and their business cronies have monopolized the enormous riches of the country: oil, gas, gold etc. Many of these people at Lake Inle see no option but to leave home behind – flee the poverty and migrate for work as so many millions of Asians do. 2 million Burmese live in Thailand alone already.

I left that region of Burma/Myanmar with an experience I thought I should never have in DanChurchAid: I met a village constructed for people with - leprosy. And I talked to two old people whose fingers and toes had been eaten by the disease and had made one of them blind. In a country that earns 120 billion US $/yr on oil export alone.

Together with our Christian sisters and brothers in Myanmar we will soon celebrate Pentacost. Celebrate how the disciples, who were afraid of the powerful in the country overcame their fear and took to the street to speak out what they believed to be true. Celebrate, how the disciples, who could see no future, were liberated by hope and started believing in the old promise, that "your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams"!

And we will celebrate how the disciples, who sat behind closed doors, left the safety behind and took hold of the public sphere and practiced a new fellowship. A fellowship that cared for everyone's needs and therefore attracted people and built community. (Revisit Acts chapter 2 tonight when you have time).

And it is all happening again in Myanmar these days!

50 years after the military coup-d'etat in 1962 people in Myanmar stand up, speak out, see visions and have dreams! 50 years after – in the jubilee year - they reclaim what was taken from them: the public sphere, influence, land and solidarity. They thank God for peace, because they know it is ultimately God's gift*, and yet they know it is also their fight.

So they fight: Already last year in October – when it was still risky business – the Council held a conference and sent a letter to president Thein Sein. In this letter they underlined, that peace and democracy can only be build on justice and human rights, including the right of poor peasants to farmland. They were heard. And old church leaders are presently monitoring government peace-talks with ethnic resistance leaders. They do it because they are trusted by both sides. And they do it, because they believe that by doing so a way forward can be found. By building trust, and by giving and taking seat at the same table. And only so!

So it IS happening in Burma. The God of life - IS leading people to justice and peace.

Is it also happening in Denmark? I see signs of it. I see signs of a new spirit blowing. Of willingness to leave old paradigms and embrace new ones. Let me mention just a few:

After 50 years of Western dominance, political scientists say to us: “Get used to the fact that the world isn't uni-polar, but fundamentally is an arena to be shared!”

One of them participated in a seminar on Religion and Development in DCA last week and said: "Get used to the fact, that people whom you want to support in development, are religious! We from secularized donor countries may forget this. But exactly because religion is sometimes part of the problem, then – by definition – it is also part of the solution and must be acknowledged and brought on board in any development effort".

"And do also remember, that you as FBOs can help people in the West understand why hurt of religious feelings can stir up counter reactions; why a rigorous 'Freedom of Speech' agenda can create a cartoon crisis".

And after a decade of insane consumption, people are beginning to say 'enough-is-enough':

Out of nowhere we have suddenly had a public discussion on household-waste-of-food and how to prepare leftovers for new meals. Not motivated by an economic crisis, but by the scandal of waste.

And my diocese just celebrated that congregation no. one hundred has been certified as 'Green Church'. Not motivated by savings on energy and pesticides, but by a sense of urgent concern for the climate.

So it IS happening in Denmark. The God of life – IS leading people to justice and peace.

Let us therefore, like the birds in the Assembly logo, leave the safety among the branches - and fly out and sing.

Let us heed the affirmation of the risen Christ to all fearful behind closed doors: "Peace be with you!". "Fear not!". "For I will be with you - always, to the end of the age".

* * * * * * * *

*At the beginning of the morning prayer we prayed this prayer from the Myanmar Council of Churches:

We are here, Lord, because we believe in peace. It is your gift, and our struggle. Help us change the injustices and inequalities that destroy true peace.