The WSCF Inter-regional Leadership Training Program was held from December 1 to 12, 2009 at the Lotus Hotel in Chaingmai and the Student Christian Center in Bangkok, Thailand. The theme on “Identity, Diversity and Dialogue,” was further divided into thematic topics, Ethnic and Cultural Identities, Religious Diversity and Inter-faith, Sexual Minorities and LGBT Issues. The Program was attended by 16 people; Ms. Sita Tou, Ivory Coast; Ms. Jean-Marie Mbonyintwali, Rwanda; Mr. Romeo Mitra, Bangladesh; Ms. Gayeon Lee, Korea; Mr. Ton Areeyat, Thailand; Ms. Katarina Babikova, Slovakia; Mr. Mikheil Songulashvile, Goergia; Ms. Monica Aguirre Andrade, Ecuador; Ms. Hind Farahat, Jordan; Ms. Bre Woligroski, Canada, and Ms. Nickie Moreno, USA. WSCF officer and staff who participated in the program were Mr. Michael Wallace, General Secretary; Ms. Janejinda Pawadee, Vice-chairperson; Ms. Necta Montes Rocas, AP Regional Secretary; and Mr. Lucaino Kovacs, NA Regional Secretary. Kendra Dunbar from the United Methodist Church (UMC) GBGM and Michael Blair from the United Church of Canada (UCC) came as guest and resource person respectively.
The IRL Program aimed to analyse the social, political and economic contexts of Identity, diversity and dialogue around the world; to bring awareness of the liberation claiming identities can have; to bring awareness of the manipulation of identity to create conflict; to exchange experiences on identity, diversity and dialogue from a student perspective; to understand the cultural and socio-economic implications that influence identities and dialogue; to analyze the role of the church and Christians in responding to diversity and dialogue; to motivate international analysis and solidarity on actions about identities and dialogue among the SCMs in the Federation; to train grassroots leaders in dialogue, reconciliation sand peace-making; and build links with networks and organizations that work on identity, diversity and dialogue.
The participants was welcomed by Dr. Prawate Khidarn, General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), mentioning the origins of Chiangmai as a place where people from varied ethnic and tribal communities live. He also emphasized that WSCF and SCMs exemplified models for diversity and dialogue because of its ecumenical nature. In his keynote speech, Michael Blair brought to fore the multiple layers of identities as he shared his personal story and experiences living as a black gay minister in Canada. He also explained that diversity is an intrinsic part of one’s identity as individuals or groups.
Hope Antone, Joint Executive Secretary for Faith Mission and Unity of CCA led the session on Introduction to Bible Studies and Methodologies. In her input she gave some challenging and helpful ideas in studying the Bible. First is engaging in our prejudices, widening our horizon through encounter with the biblical text, widening our horizon through encounter with others, risking our prejudices, and fusing of horizons.
In the exposure program, the group travelled from Chiangmai to Maesot, a border area between Thailand and Burma to learn about the issue of Burmese refugees and migrant workers. The group met with Pastor Robert Htwe, leader of the Karen Refugee Committee who gave a historical overview of the Burmese refugee situation in Thailand. At the Burma Issues office, the group watched a video on the situation of ethnic villages inside Burma, as they flee from military harassment and persecution. Before returning to Chiangmai, the group went to Mae La Refugee Camp to observe the situation of the refugees living inside the camp.
In Bangkok, the group visited the Research Center for Peace Building of Mahidol University to learn about religious conflict and inter-faith cooperation especially in Southern Thailand. Following this visit, the groups learned about interfaith from the perspective of a Muslim woman, Zarah Kathleen Alih, Regional Program Coordinator of the Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN). In her sharing, Zarah talked about the problem of the limited and literal interpretation of the Shiara Law, causing difficulties especially to Muslim women in some countries. In the evening, the group went for exposure in Bangkok’s Red Light District called Phat Phong to understand the situation of women and problems related to women’s identity and sexuality.
Another highlight of the Program was the thematic session on Sexual Minorities and LGBT Issues. Rev. Paddy Noble, SCM senior friend from Aotearoa working in Cambodia began this session with playback story-telling of his life and experience as an Indigenous gay man living in Cambodia. Paddy chanted using his Maori language to express his deep feelings in re-telling his story, “Aue, Aue taukuri eee (I am full of sorrow and pain), Aue taku Manawa (my heart beats for the uncertain), Na te Atua e paopaongia ia au (has God abandon me?) E te Atua aha ai? (Why God?) Ka kino au? (am I bad?), He taumaha taku ngakau (my heart weights heavy on me). The Program ended with the group developing an action plan for WSCF and the SCMs on the theme of the Program. To celebrate the success of the program, the group went to a Karaoke Bar to belt-out their favorite songs, experiencing a truly Asian way of having fun.