[ACNS] A scheduled meeting of the bishops of East Asia has been cancelled, so that the budget can be spent instead on a gathering of young people from the region – such was the effect of the young people’s participation in the Full Assembly of the Council of Churches of East Asia (CCEA) last week.
The youth delegates gave a message of hope as the CCEA Assembly drew to a close in Manila, Philippines. The focus of the Assembly was on serious and weighty subjects of poverty, conflict and migration including human trafficking; and the young church activists had participated fully in the whole proceedings. “We face many problems,” they said “but the church gives us hope of a positive future.”
East Asia is a region that is characterised by extremes. The Assembly was reminded that while millions in the Philippines live on under the government-set poverty line of $1.25 a day, some individuals in the region have personal wealth that is beyond imagination.
Bishop Dixie Taclobao (Central Philippines) said “the wide gap between the rich and the poor is obvious and a scandal.”
Many of the provincial presentations focused on unprecedented levels of migration. Across the region people are fleeing conflicts not only in Syria and Afghanistan, but also in places that rarely hit the international consciousness such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In addition, people vulnerable to human trafficking are taking great risks in search of a better life due to economic collapse in places such as Nepal.
The story of the peoples of the Philippines – the venue of the Assembly – constantly reminded the delegates that the problem is real and solvable. The islands have immense resources in both minerals and in human ingenuity, but economist Dr Sammy Africa demonstrated that poverty was not an accident and not inevitable, it was the result of unjust social systems.
Archbishop Abibico challenged the churches to partner in mission with God who says: “Behold I make all things new.”
Filipino migrant workers are spread across the region, from Singapore to Australia and the delegates were able to gain valuable insight into the forces driving the mass movement of people and the pressures such movements create. The young people from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia gained insights from their Filipino sisters and brothers on the economic realities that drive mothers and fathers to seek work abroad to feed their families.
Mr Joseph Liew from Singapore said “there are many migrants in Singapore and so learning more about their reality here will help us in our mission to them when we return.” There will be a need to share insights and contacts so each church can be more effective in its mission.
Bishop Moon Hing (West Malaysia) spoke of the huge number of migrants entering Mayalsia and how the Church was ministering to them, even though its membership is such a tiny minority in the whole population. Among the migrants are Christian pastors and they have the ability to offer effective leadership within the communities. Bishop Moon Hing spoke of the way they can be supported and nurtured for the good of all.
The Assembly also acknowledged the ongoing tensions in the region with old conflicts re-emerging in tensions between Korea, Japan, and China as well as increasing radicalisation of Islam. Canon Dr Phil Groves offered insights from across the Anglican Communion on conflict transformation, emphasising the link between conflicts in society and in the church. He spoke of how all effective conflict transformation was an image of the reconciling death and resurrection of Christ.
Although it was not a theme of this Assembly, almost every presentation carried some reference to the shocking and obvious effect of drastic climate change. The greed that is creating poverty and migration was also seen as a root cause of the denigration of the environment.
Despite such weighty subjects the Assembly was full of hope and laughter, not least because of the presence of youth delegates from every diocese. They outnumbered bishops and archbishops and engaged positively throughout. As a response the bishops have forgone their next scheduled meeting and have allocated the budget to a gathering of young people who will focus on the Five Marks of Mission. They believe the young people are vital agents of mission and that the relationships formed will be vital if they are to be fully effective.
Archbishop Paul Kwong (Hong Kong) handed over the chair of CCEA to the Rt Revd Moon Hing, Archbishop-elect of South East Asia; while Archbishop Stephen Myint Oo, the Archbishop of Myanmar, will be vice-chairman. The two primates will be supported by an executive council of lay and ordained people.
The young people declared the Assembly a success in resourcing all delegates for the task of mission across the region. All are returning home with fresh energy to proclaim the gospel in an unjust world.
The Primate of Australia's reflections on the Assembly
The Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Revd Dr Philip L Freier, has offered his reflections on the CCEA Full Assembly:
The Council of Churches in East Asia Assembly happens each four years and its meeting between 7 and 12 October has taken advantage of the context of its meeting in Manila, Philippines to explore the Church's response to poverty, migration and human trafficking. We met together at a time when heavy clouds of smoke were engulfing Singapore and Malaysia from forest fires in Indonesia and all were aware of the growing regional tension in the South China Sea.
Despite the apparent prosperity in some parts of Manila evidenced by enormous retail malls and high rise condominium development the reality of poverty is otherwise visible.
More than 15 million Filipinos work overseas and their remittances back to family in the Philippines are vital part of the domestic economy. Communion partners the Philippine Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church have active programs to ameliorate poverty and support workers overseas and spoke with warm appreciation of the partnership with the Australian Board of Mission in these aspirations.
With a membership from Korea and Japan in the north, Myanmar in the west and Australia in the south; the span of the Council of Churches in East Asia covers a diversity of very different social and religious contexts. We were helped in our understanding by reports from each of the member churches, some at a diocesan level and others from the perspective of the ecclesiastical provinces.
Meeting together in this way as lay, clergy and bishops strengthens the communion we share across our different contexts. We are increasingly linked together by the people movements which have happened in the last quarter of a century. Australia alone has nearly a quarter of a million people who were born in the Philippines.
While we heard about the problems brought about by human inequality and economic injustice we also lived with the promise that all things are made new in Christ using the text of Revelation 21.5 as our point of reflection for action and future hope.
Grace and peace in Christ Jesus.