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‘Diamond Jubilee Message’

‘Diamond Jubilee Message’ delivered on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Christian Conference of Asia, Yangon, Myanmar, 15 October, 2017 by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches

15 October 2017

‘Diamond Jubilee Message’
delivered on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Christian Conference of Asia,

Yangon, Myanmar, 15 October, 2017

by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit,
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches

Distinguished Moderator of the Christian Conference of Asia, Archbishop Willem Simarmata; General Secretary of the CCA, Mathews George Chunakara; Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon;  representatives of the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar; church leaders from all member churches of CCA; leaders from the churches here in Myanmar; representatives of ecumenical organizations and churches from the rest of the world; delegates of the Asia Mission Conference, dear sisters and brothers in Christ: I bring greetings and blessings from the fellowship of World Council of Churches, from our moderator Dr Agnes Abuom, and the vice-moderators, at this significant diamond jubilee, the 60th anniversary of the Christian Conference of Asia. You are “journeying together” to strengthen the “prophetic witness to the truth and light in Asia.” You mark the anniversary by focusing on your tasks. Celebrating an ecumenical body by reflecting on mission is a very good idea. Unity and mission belong together.


1. An anniversary is a benchmark on the road, a place to pause and to reflect, but not to stop. It is significant that your theme starts with a description of the past that also points to the way forwards. You have been journeying together, and you are ready to move forward together. This is also the literary meaning of mission: To be sent, to move forward, out there, with the people, where God is present as creator, savior, and life giver. That is where we shall reflect the light of God.

2. In the mission of God we are called to move together. The first disciples were sent (at least) in pairs, two and two. The Christian Conference of Asia was established to find new ways to pursue the mission and the unity of the church here in Asia. There is no Christian mission that is done as a private and personal enterprise, neither a business for a few specialists or somebody who has great visions for their own sake or for the ambitions of their own church only. It is not an effort to establish our own kingdoms, or our own privileges, but efforts to share more of the coming Kingdom of God. Mission is our common work, our joint witness, it is God’s mission. It is a response to the call to preach and show that the Kingdom of God is near (Luke 10:9 ). It is a journey together to live in reconciliation between God and us, between us, and to share the call to reconciliation. The qualities of these relationships are the expressions of the Kingdom of God; the relationships developed among us should carry the values of justice and peace.

3. Therefore, in mission there must be a prophetic witness to the truth and the light. There must be something and somebody who helps us – all of us, including the church – to see more clearly and to see the truth. That is also why we need mission together, mission in unity: we need the mutual accountability of sharing the light and truth with one another, reminding one another of what is the way forward. There is a truth we owe each other, so that we can witness to the truth together - in Asia, in the world. For our life together as churches and for our common witness for the truth, therefore, we need both the call to mission and to unity. Therefore, we need to renew our willingness to journey together.

4. Any ecumenical organization and institution must share this to fulfill its purpose. Therefore, it is quite proper that the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) is commemorated in an Asia Mission Conference.  The World Council of Churches and the global ecumenical family mark this occasion by expressing our deep appreciation for the witness of the CCA over the past 60 years. It is a celebration that reminds us of the historic formation of this vital heart of ecumenism in Asia, an organization which was constituted by a decision of churches, national councils of churches in Asia and Christian councils, whose representatives gathered at Prapat, in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1957. A gathering that was jointly supported by WCC and the International Missionary Council (IMC) and for which the first general secretary of WCC, Rev. Dr Willem A. Visser 't Hooft personally attended. WCC's accompaniment and support to the formation of the erstwhile East Asian Christian Conference (EACC), which later became the CCA in 1957 opened a new chapter in WCC's history, as it was the first time that the WCC would play a significant role in the formation of a regional ecumenical organization. Later on the International Council of Mission became an advisory commission within the World Council of Churches. Here in Asia you made this natural merge between unity and mission some years before the WCC. The WCC will celebrate our 70th anniversary next year, and one of the significant events next year is a Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania.

5. The 60th anniversary celebration is an occasion for both the CCA and the global ecumenical movement to celebrate our common ecumenical commitment in Asia. CCA is a vibrant and living forum continuing cooperation among the churches and national Christian bodies in Asia, within the framework of the wider ecumenical movement. You are participating in the mission of God in Asia – and you are working for the benefit of the wider world.

The modern ecumenical movement in Asia was a continuation of a long journey of Christian life in Asia. The Christian presence in Asia has been witnessing from the very beginning of Christianity, with the St. Thomas Christians in India, Nestorian Christians in China in the seventh century, with Franciscan missionaries active in parts of the Asia in the 13th century, and extensive Protestant and Catholic missions from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
Even being a minority (with a few exceptions), and often linked to the colonial history, Christianity in Asia is truly integrated as a great tradition in Asia, witnessing Christ in contexts that are both diverse in religion and culture. Asian Christians have been showing that mission means working together and serving together in diakonia: transforming society with their dynamism, willingness to integrate, contributing to the building up of society – particularly in schools and in hospitals, but also helping in challenging systemic injustices and breaking down barriers and building bridges. Christians in Asia in their unique journey in following Jesus Christ, with their agency, have taught and enriched the world greatly in many domains - to name a few: Witnessing and demonstrating a costly discipleship; promoting inter-religious dialogue and in living in harmony with other faiths;  challenging oppressive social systems and in solidarity, placing themselves in the margins of society; contributing beauty and spirituality to liturgy and worship; Asian theology is opening up new insights and horizons for global Christian theological thinking; and the presence of Christian missionaries from Asian countries, serving people all over the world.

6. Sixty years from now, how will they judge us when they will reflect back to this day? The question raised at this anniversary event is: Why must the call to mission be responded to as a call to journey together? The obvious answer is that unity is urgently needed. We know that from a Biblical perspective and our own experiences. We read that Christ prayed - and I believe he almost cried - that the disciples should be one so that there could be credibility in the witness to Jesus Christ. So that the world may believe that this is really about the truth, the truth about God, about ourselves, about our lives.  So that the world may have real light in darkness, not only an illusion. Why did Jesus pray for this? Because he knew that it is not so easy to journey together. Because we know that it is not so easy to walk together, even when the intentions are the best, and the vision and commitment is strong. Because we know that we are different, we do not always understand one another, we might be frustrated and provoked by the others. Sometimes for very good reasons, sometimes for reasons we should be able to handle.

7. The project of Christian mission, particularly in the 19th and early 20th century, was also in many ways to tirelessly share the Gospel, the truth and the light of God, with the whole world – but the implications was that this also led to the sharing of the confessional and historical divisions of the church to the whole world. The wisdom of bringing the mission movement and the ecumenical call together was realistic, constructive – and strategic, clearly expressed already in Edinburgh in 1910. Later, there have been and are many challenges to bring the mission movements and the ecumenical movements together in a common witness by the churches. We are not called to be one so that the world may see that the churches are perfect or uniformed, or that they pretend to be so. But we are called to be one so that the world may believe that we are called to love one another embracing our differences and living in repentance for our shortcomings. We are called to be one so that the love of God can transform us and the world as we reflect the truth and the light of God who calls all people to live in justice and peace. We share a truth that we are given by the Holy Spirit. This is also why we owe this truth to one another. Truth is not our private property, or the privilege of our church, confession, group, tribe, party, caste or nation. Truth is a gift of God. And therefore must be shared, with all, also with the church.

8. Dear sisters and brothers, it is possible to make further progress in bringing the quest for unity and the mission closer together. Your conference here is one excellent example of that.  I believe that we have a momentum for this journeying together in our time. This means that we search for expressions of our unity by doing together what we can do together in mission through evangelism and diakonia. This is the common service for justice and peace, and this can be the way forward towards more visible unity. We celebrate the many expressions of unity we have achieved, knowing there are many more issues to deal with that are dividing the churches. If we are able to have a stronger focus on our common tasks in the Kingdom of God and less on ourselves and our interests, the Holy Spirit can move us together towards more signs of unity – so the world may believe.

9. This is even more urgent in a time when there are so many forces dividing us as human beings, but also as Christians. We are living in an era of profound contradictions, tensions, divisions, even conflicts and wars. There are so many powers and interests that are driving us apart that are breaking down the bonds of fellowship, the qualities of relations that is given to us in the Kingdom of God and its justice and peace. The world, also here in Asia, is in great need of another vision for the future than pursuing only their own interests or building closed units based in political, economical or traditional privileges. We do not need unity that is exclusive, that makes the diversity among us walls of separation, of conflict, even a motivation for violence. Ethnic, national, political and religious identities are used to define who is included and who is excluded. We have to remember that we all have a mixture of roles, relations and identities. Our identity as disciples of Christ should be a light to others that encourages them to accept themselves as they are, and to see themselves as part of the wider human fellowship God has created us to be. Therefore we also need the truth, and the truth to be told, the truth about the human dignity and the human rights, for all, all.

10.The peoples of Asia have been and are experiencing violence and war and fear of war, often also due to the involvement of powers outside Asia.  This has been part of your history, but it is also part of your journey together today. The world is holding its breath for what might happen at the Korean peninsula. Together we are praying and working for peace, every day. Some of the conflicts today are related to scandalous economic disparity and injustice. We live in a world where eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.  The poor are becoming increasingly impoverished and rich become wealthier. Use and abuse of political and economic powers results often in flagrant abuse of human rights and the extensive infringement of civil and political rights. We live in a world that produces enough food to feed everyone, yet 815 million people – one in nine – are still going to sleep on an empty stomach each night. We live in a world with 65.6 million people forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflicts, famines and financial hardships - the highest number in human history. We live in world which continues to invest $1.57 trillion each year in weapons of war, including nuclear weapons that can destroy all of us. We live in a world contributing to climate change and destroying 7 million hectares of forest annually and destroying the planet's natural ecosystems and compromising the ability of the planet to sustain life.

11. Dear sisters and brothers, there is an urgent need for another vision of the unity with all our diversity God has given us, but also with a vision for the justice and the peace God has given us. There is an urgent need for the truth and the light of the unity that can protect all of us in our vulnerability as human beings and as one planet.

12. We are meeting here in this beautiful county Myanmar, whose government and churches have welcomed us to have these celebrations as well as have the ensuing Asia Mission Conference. This country has gone through significant changes towards democracy and shared power, and the churches have a strong ecumenical commitment. There are many challenges for this nation as it is for many tribal and religious groups here, particularly when it comes to the need for open inclusive and just communities for all.

13. Overall in the world we see that religion, ethnicity, history and the nation states are making us related to one another in our human family. That does not mean that we have the right to promote exclusion and conflict based on these dimensions of our lives. To the contrary, we should share a vision of fellowship that are giving light to those who experience darkness, those who live in the shadows of death, those who are persecuted or discriminated. The character of our Christian faith is that we believe in, worship and preach the triune God, the creator, the liberator, saviour, and the life giver. The mission of this God is to care for all, and the wellbeing, the justice and the peace of all.

14.  Journeying together means that we are not alone! We believe that we are journeying together with the Triune God who works in a world that is groaning, along with humanity, for its redemption and final fulfillment in Christ (Rom 8:22).  CCA is expressing a hope, a prayer, in your commitment to journeying together.  The World Council of Churches names this a “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace”. We are journeying together praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is also expressed in the theme for the upcoming Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, which is meeting in Arusha, Tanzania in March 2018. That theme is: ‘Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship. We are on a pilgrimage that is not only a journey identifying the problems of the world. It is characterized by giving light and hope for a transformed world of justice and peace. This happens through our constructive involvement in the life of our people, our communities, our nations, our region, our world.  This is what it means to bring a prophetic message amidst the complexities of today’s world.

15. This we have to do together. That is why we pause together, to see, to give thanks together to God, to renew our call and finding the direction forward. Together, with a shared but not yet accomplished mission.
May God grant you the grace that 60 years from now, our future generations can remark about our generation: They journeyed together. They brought truth and light to Asia, to the world. Together.

May God bless you and all churches in Asia!