Under the theme ”Lord, send Your Light and Truth to lead us”, the Asian Ecumenical Youth Assembly (AEYA) opened in Manado, Indonesia on Saturday. For six days, around 350 youth from all over Asia will reflect on the challenges facing them in today’s globalized society and how religion and ecumenism can play a vital role for peace and stability.
The opening worship became a colourful and unmistakably Asian event, where the IAKN Manado Choir and Orchestra, and the Tari Kabala and Kolintang Ensemble sang and danced the audience into a spiritual mood.
In his opening remarks, Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) moderator Bishop Dr Willem T.P. Simarmata, warmly greeted the youth as ”not only the flowers of the church, but also the planters of new, beautiful flowers”. He vividly recalled his own student years as an eager activist and praised the youth for continuing to be agents of change, peace and light.
”You are the hope and you must speak loudly to governments and other authorities against injustices. Your neighbor must know that you are a disciple of Christ”, Simarmata concluded.
Dr Pricilia Tangel, chairperson of the Youth Commission at the Evangelical Christian Church in Minahasa (GMIM), thanked the city of Manado and gave praise to Jesus Christ for ”enabling us to come here”.
In his welcome speech and introduction to AEYA, CCA general secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara, went on to underline what a vital part young people always have been in the ecumenical movement, and how crucial it is to involve them early on. Currently, several youth programmes, aimed at engaging youths and fostering tomorrow’s ecumenical leaders, are included in CCA’s priorities in the coming years.
”AEYA provides a platform for youths from different countries to come together to address pertinent issues and evolve ecumenical responses for effective Christian witness. In the midst of today’s complex realities, we need divine guidance and that is why we have chosen the theme, ‘Send your light and Truth to Lead Us’, which is in the form of a prayer”, Chunakara explained.
Another sign of how important the youth are, not only to the ecumenical movement, but to society as a whole, was the presence of distinguished guests on the opening day of the assembly. The governor of North Sulawesi, Olly Dondokambey, officially welcomed the participants to Manado and thanked CCA for letting the city host the assembly.
At a national level, Indonesia’s Government was represented by Cecep Herawan, director general of Information and Public Diplomacy at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
”As a pluralistic nation, Indonesia stands for tolerance, dialogue and moderation, which are key components in building peace and harmony. But we shall never take peace, growth and stability for granted. It can’t be built for you, but rather by you. You must continue to spread the message of tolerance and peace”, Herawan encouraged the young audience, before formally inaugurating AEYA by striking a tetengkoran, a traditional Minahasa bamboo bell.
A specially invited and very distinguished guest was Bishop Dr Soritua A.E. Nababan, an ecumenical legend in his own right, who became the first youth secretary of the CCA back in 1963. He later served as president of CCA and in other high-level positions in the ecumenical world.
”Once you are in the ecumenical movement, you will never be the same again. We are marching in the light of God towards the end”, he said.
And in that spirit, the first day of the AEYA continued with thematic sessions on challenges to Asian youths, emerging issues and dialogues.