The long-anticipated Conference on World Mission and Evangelism opened on 8 March in Arusha, Tanzania, with African rhythms, almost thousand participants, storytelling, and a spirit of sharing that set the stage for the rest of the week.
The conference, organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) with the theme “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship,” has gathered representatives of mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and African-instituted churches.
Dr Agnes Abuom, is the first woman and the first African moderator in the history of the World Council of Churches from the Anglican Church of Kenya, welcomed everyone in the Gathering Service. “The CWME conference on “Moving in the Spirit: called to Transforming Discipleship” is situated within the broader and global WCC celebration of its 70th anniversary by the ecumenical fellowship of churches.” Abuom added “ We will engage therefore with the theme of this conference within the backdrop of celebration, commemoration and lament.”
Abuom underlined “ We look back with gratitude to the Almighty God for the vision of our ecumenical men and women ancestors; their commitment, courage and determination to pursue the call for unity of the church and unity of humankind at a time in history when the world was divided and ravaged by war, inhabited by fractured communities and broken relationships.”
In his opening remarks, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit reflected that this conference is a milestone in modern church history. “ I believe that God is reminding us particularly in our time of what is the force driving the mission of church.” Tveit added “It is the love of God, expressed in the love of Jesus Christ through his life, crucifixion and resurrection, bringing salvation and reconciliation to the world. We should be stamped by the words of the Apostle Paul: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).”
He continued: “In our reflections these days about where the Spirit is moving us as disciples of Jesus Christ today and tomorrow, we see ourselves in a world in desperate need of peaceful and just patterns of living together as one humanity in the one, vulnerable creation of God.”
Keynote speaker Rev. Dr Mutale Mulenga-Kaunda, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said she was honored to be part of the ecumenical gathering, particularly since it opened on International Women’s Day.
After sharing her personal story of struggle, conversion and hope, Mulenga-Kaunda spoke about the unique African perspective that will be shared by those attending the conference. “I wrestled with prayers that seem to go unanswered. I struggled with understanding how God’s life-giving Spirit would guide my path into an unknown future,” she said.
“Africans are indeed ecumenical by nature, as we float in our indigenous/traditional, Islamic and Christian worldviews easily in order to find meaning in life and in death,” she continued. “The church, especially within the African context, has to serve as a missional resource for all people that live on the margins of their society, who are seeking to overcome forces that bequeath death.”
Responses to the keynote remarks reflected on how Mulenga-Kaunda’s story has deepened the conference theme and set the stage for profound dialogue.
Rev. Dr Upolu Lumā Vaai, head of theology at the Pacific Theological College in Fiji, spoke of how we are meant to exist in an eco-relational household. “In such a household, despite being different in race, gender, and identity we are all diversely connected through an ‘ecological reference’,” said Vaai.
Prof. Emeritus Néstor O. Míguez, Argentinian theologian, said Mulenga-Kaunda’s insights allow us see how life prepares us for mission. “The wisdom that can be gleaned from these stories, together with the wisdom developed by critical thinking guided by the Spirit of God, are the indispensable strength of transformative discipleship,” said Míguez.
In a video message to the conference Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said "Despite all of the past challenges and hardships experienced by the African continent, we find ourselves today surrounded by a vibrant African community dancing and singing in the joy of the resurrection, marching onward on the rythm of the Holy Spirit in celebration of Humanity`s emancipation"
The Most Reverend Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, presented Pope Francis' message to the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism "Your Conference is taking place in Tanzania, within the African Continent. Having heard the Good News, Africa proclaims the Word in its own distinctive way: in joyful solidarity with all, especially with those on the peripheries; in the richness of its family values; and in its commitment to care the creation. In particular, the young people of Africa, moved by the Spirit, can be the "transformed disciples" who in turn can help to "transform the world" in truth, justice and love."
In a video message to the conference, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said there is no question about the importance of world mission and evangelism. “Everybody is talking about transformation,” he said. “I know in my own life the biggest transformation is to be born again. That’s the truth. It’s the Holy Spirit moving who does that. We are made to be the people that God wants us to be. “
Conference on World Mission and Evangelism a “meeting point" between different faiths (WCC press release of 2 February 2018)
At mission conference, “let us tune ourselves to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit” (WCC press release of 8 February 2018)