[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The next World Mission Conference of the WCC will take place in Arusha, Tanzania, in March 2018, it was announced last week. The decision was one of a number taken by the ecumenical body’s Central Committee on a myriad of themes during its recent meeting in Trondheim, Norway.
More than 700 Christians from churches around the world are expected to gather around the theme “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship” at the event which will be hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
The WCC has held World Mission Conferences roughly once a decade since the first one was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. The 2018 conference will be the first to be held in Africa since the 1958 event in Ghana.
“Much has changed in Christian mission work during that 106-year period. From the early approach to mission that focused on conversion to Christianity, church practice has evolved to focus on work with people living in conflict zones, in regions affected by climate change, and in situations where economic survival is threatened,” the WCC said in a statement.
Like the Anglican Consultative Council’s recent ACC-16 gathering in Lusaka, the 2018 World Mission Conference will focus on discipleship.
“Increasingly, churches are using the word ‘discipleship’ to describe a form of mission work that involves following closely the example of Jesus as he reached out to people who had been rejected by society or who were living in poverty,” the WCC said. “This means being open to being changed (‘transformed’) in response to what churches learn from the people at the margins of society with whom they are working.”
In other business, the WCC Central Committee issued a call for the world’s nations to “honour the letter and spirit of their obligations under international law, including human rights and refugee law and especially the right of asylum”.
In a statement, the WCC encouraged the work of churches and specialised ministries that are responding to the refugee crisis and acknowledged the “fear and uncertainty felt by societies, communities and churches in countries receiving large numbers of new arrivals.”
Human Trafficking and People Smuggling
In a related item of business, the Central Committee said that human trafficking and migrant smuggling was “modern-day slavery”. It urged its member churches to “join this challenge, and inspired by the Gospel, to contribute to the awareness and prevention of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in each of our areas of mission.”
It said that the “commodification” of human beings meant that “people are abused and deprived of their liberty. They suffer daily sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, organ trafficking, and the sale of their children.”
The WCC Central Committee members also called on the US Congress “to enact a rescue plan urgently” in response to the “dire financial situation of Puerto Rico”, a US territory in the Caribbean.
“Puerto Rico is facing a serious financial and economic crisis and currently has a debt of more than US$70 billion that it cannot afford to repay,” the WCC said. “The current crisis has been years in the making and is not limited solely to the public debt overhang.
“At the core of the current predicament is a deteriorated development model and economic institutions that have hindered sustainable growth. The financial crisis is affecting millions of people and causing schools to close, and placing basic needs such as healthcare and other public services at risk. Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the consequences of colonialism, racial disparities, inequalities and poverty.”
Israel and Palestine
In a “Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Peace Process,” the Central Committee asked for the convening of an international ecumenical conference in 2017 “to reaffirm and strengthen ecumenical witness for peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians.”
It called on member churches and ecumenical partners to “listen and respond to the voices of Palestinian Christians” and to “to take “active steps to encourage a continued robust indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Religiously Motivated Violence
The WCC adopted “peace-building in the context of religion and violence” as its theme for 2017, as part of its emphasis on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. It is asking churches to study and adopt “the principles and practices of active nonviolence” and to “encourage and engage in forms of dialogue which address difficult questions in inter-religious relationships, including the possible link between religious ideologies and violence, and the undervaluing of the contribution of women in some religious traditions.”