World Council of Churches (WCC) deputy general secretary Isabel Apawo Phiri offered a keynote speech on ecumenical diakonia during the Africa Diaconia and Development Conference.
The conference was held under the theme “Diaconia, Community and Development: Exploring New Theories for Social Justice and Inclusion.”
Phiri’s address hinged on a joint document, “Called To Transformative Action: Ecumenical Diakonia,” developed by the World Council of Churches, ACT Alliance and Lutheran World Federation.
Diakonia is an imperative for the church on local, national, regional and global levels, Phiri said. “Churches continue to engage in diaconal action over the centuries. Understanding and practice differ from time to time and from context to context, but diakonia carries always the marks of kenotic service and embodied practice for justice and peace.”
Both a theological and biblical understanding of diakonia is well-articulated in the 70 years of work on diakonia by the WCC, Phiri noted, yet even as the WCC gathers feedback and comments on the most recent diakonia document, our understanding of diakonia must be shaped by the changing world situation.
“Diakonia immerses us in the brokenness and suffering of the world,” she said. “Diakonia cannot be detached from peace, justice and transformation.”
Prophetic diakonia must challenge the faith community to develop concrete contextual strategies to fight against the roots of individual, structural and cosmic suffering, Phiri continued. “Diakonia rejects a false dichotomy between service and justice,” she said. “This unity of service and justice seeking is clearly seen in life and ministry of Jesus.”
We attend to the direct needs of people in a way that empowers them to be agents of change, Phiri reflected. “Our diakonia of direct service must be transformative and dignifying to those with whom we serve,” she said. “Our actions must form part of a cycle of empowerment which places the affected people and communities at the centre stage, acting as their own advocates and acting as agents of their own development and service.”