The gravity of the situation, and the challenges the Christian churches in Asia face in today’s extraordinary context, were on top of the agenda when church leaders from all over the continent convened online in connection with the WCC central committee meeting.
The Asia regional meeting, which is a recurring event at every WCC central committee meeting, was the second of its kind held online. Representatives from across Asia shared their perspectives on an array of pertinent issues, where the common denominator was the pandemic.
Under the moderation of WCC president for Asia, Rev. Prof. Dr Sang Chang, updates from different countries were shared and deliberated upon.
Thailand representative Dr Prawate Kidarn who participated on behalf of the general secretary of the Church of Christ in Thailand, brought up three developments of particular significance. First, the digitalization of worship services which is a direct result of the social distancing mandated by the pandemic.
“Many people, particularly youngsters, have gotten accustomed to this and are now in favour of online services. Offering online alternatives is fine, but it challenges us to maintain person-to-person meetings in the church, where people can worship together,” Kidarn explains.
Second, the military coup in neighbouring Myanmar, which has driven thousands of refugees across the border to Thailand, and third, the increased poverty gap caused by economic recession and unemployment.
“When poor people struggle even harder, global and regional bodies must work side-by-side with local churches to a larger extent, Kidarn concluded.
The need for a more unified approach was also echoed by Roma Ann NIsha Prodhan from the Church of North India, who shared the concerns about increased poverty and urged all to “stand up together with the oppressed.”
The crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, where more than one million Rohingyas live under extremely difficult conditions, continue to be a priority for churches in the region.
“This is a very bad situation; we must help Bangladesh,” said Joyanta Adhikari from Bangladesh Baptist Church Sangha, while also expressing concerns over increased domestic violence, child abuse, trafficking and increased corruption in his country.
Participating on behalf of Bishop Willem T.P. Simarmata of the Protestant Christian Batak Church in Indonesia, Rev. Dr Andar Parlindungan, executive secretary for training and empowerment at the United Evangelical Mission, expressed profound concerns about increased interreligious tensions and continued human rights violations in Papua. He also raised insufficient medical infrastructure and unfair distribution of COVID vaccines as acute challenges.
Amidst such bleakness, there is always also hope, Rev. Dr Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang of the Toraja Church in Indonesia, pointed out. She shared observations of increased collaboration over denominational borders with people helping each other, regardless of faith.
“The heath crisis we are enduring has brought people together in prayers,” she concluded.
While churches in Sri Lanka also experienced strengthened interreligious dialogue across denominational borders, manifested in exchanges of prayers for the victims of the pandemic, the political situation in the country has gotten from bad to worse.
“The government has failed to cope with increased corruption and as a result the poor people are victimized, explained Rt Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Anglican Bishop of Colombo in Sri Lanka.
In a country where military tension flares up regularly, Rev. Dr Hyunju Bae, from the Presbyterian Church of Korea, underscored the significant role of the ecumenical movement as a peace facilitator. The Peace Appeal Campaign, aiming at collecting signatures of 100 million people globally until 2023, which marks the 70-year anniversary of the Korean armistice agreement, is one example of a viable interreligious initiative, involving several global organizations, including the WCC. She also highlighted a re-energization of the ecumenical movement in Korea by mobilizing the younger generation. “We need to revive the general spirit of ecumenism from the ground,” she said.
China Christian Council, represented by WCC central committee members Rev. Dr Manhong Lin and Baoping Kan, shared hopes for an assembly where people can meet in person and where the WCC can continue to be a platform for bringing churches together in unity, promoting peace in the world.
This was echoed by Bishop Renta Nishihara of the Diocese of Chubu, Anglican Church of Japan, who also took the opportunity to announce the consecration in April of the first female Anglican bishop in Asia.
Dr Franscina Yoteni from the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, Indonesia, expressed her appreciation of the attention the WCC is paying to the situation in West Papua, where human rights are abused.
“I pray for the WCC to be the channel of God’s love to the people,” she concluded.
The Asia Regional meeting was attended by 30 members of the central committee, advisors, stewards, and staff members. The meeting was a platform for sharing the experiences and deep insights from the lives and times of churches and communities in Asia.
“Amidst the enormous challenges Asia faces, we see signs of hope. Unity and solidarity are key in recovering from the pandemic and coping with today’s severe problems,” moderator Rev Prof. Dr Sang Chang concluded.