Friday, 10 August 2018

Sharing Stories of Hope

I had the joy of participating in the South East Asian Regional Workshop hosted by UnitingWorld and the Protestant Christian Church in Bali from July 22-25, with a focus on Gender Justice Theology.

It was wonderful to reconnect with Dr Debora Murthy, who is the UnitingWorld South-East Asia Regional Coordinator. I first met Debora when she addressed the 2014 UnitingWomen conference in Sydney. She spoke about God’s call on her life to work in ways that alleviate poverty and build healthy communities where people can flourish. It was inspiring to see and hear of Debora’s continuing ministry in these areas.

Along with Debora, UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe and Associate Director Jane Kennedy designed the workshop in collaboration with our partner churches to explore the Biblical and theological foundations that shape our Christian communities and relationships toward gender justice.

Participants came from our partner churches in Papua, West Timor, Timor Leste, Maluku, the Protestant Christian Church in Bali and the Philippines, and the church in West Java.

Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll shared her insights from the theological research in gender justice in the Pacific and the collaboration with theologians in that region.

During the formal sessions we listened to stories of the cultural and ecclesial contexts in which these church leaders are seeking to shape mutual partnerships of women and men in ministry and mission. There were strong echoes with the Uniting Church’s focus on every member ministry - encouraging women and men of all ages to offer their gifts and fully participate in God’s mission of justice, hope and healing in the world.

We spoke of the challenges that arise in contexts where women struggle to have their voice heard and the ways the diminishing of their voice and gifts prevent the full flourishing of our churches and societies.  

We heard reflections on Scripture and God’s narrative of hope from Rev. Dr Henriette Lebang, the Chair of the Christian Conference of Churches in Indonesia, Rev. Dr Meri Kolimon, the Moderator of the Evangelical Church of West Timor and Rev. Cordelia Gunawan from the West Java Synod of the Indonesian Christian Church.

In table groups and over meals we listened to and heard one another’s stories of faith, deepened our understanding of our ministry contexts and strengthened our commitment to work together as a global communion of churches.

As we spent time looking forward, small groups identified key themes and issues that had emerged over the past three days together:

  • A renewed understanding of women and men in leadership, church and society.
  • Creating opportunities for women, including in theological education
  • Renewed understanding that gender justice is important.
  • Developing partnerships of women and men.
  • Modelling equality in relationships in family, church and society.
  • Pastors as agents of change.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak to the gathering about the recent resolution of our 15th Triennial Assembly on Domestic and Family Violence. Our partner churches shared their stories of ways they are addressing domestic and family violence in their contexts, shaping communities and models of relationships that are marked by mutuality, respect and dignity. We have much to learn from one another.  

Alongside the workshop program, I had the opportunity to meet with our partner churches and hear more about their ministries and UnitingWorld’s collaboration with specific projects. They spoke of challenges they face and ways they are compassionately embodying God’s liberating hope through pastoral support, health, education, child protection, agriculture, clean water projects and sanitation.

Thank you to UnitingWorld staff and the Protestant Christian Church in Bali for organising and hosting this inspiring and challenging workshop.

I encourage Uniting Church members to continue to support our partner churches through UnitingWorld and pray that as we work together as the Body of Christ that we might be bearers of God’s transforming love and healing in our world.