The 4th School for Ecumenical Leadership Formation (SELF) program was held from September 2 to 22, 2007 at the Ecumenical Institute for Spirituality and Development (EISD) in Colombo, Sri Lanka. With the theme “Young People Working Towards Wider Ecumenism in a Pluralistic Society”, the three-weeks intensive training was participated by young people coming from the member movements of WSCF Asia-Pacific (WSCF AP) and youth groups of the member churches and national councils of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).
The SELF 2007 program objectives were to enable young people to: (1) sharpen their awareness and analysis of the social, political and economic setting of the world in the context of Asian societies and challenge to the churches through sharing of experiences, exposure, studies and reflections. (2) articulate the biblical and theological perspectives on the global burning issues such as globalization, militarization/war on terror, justice, peace, ecology, feminism, etc. (3) trace the history of ecumenical movement in the national, regional and global levels, identifying convergence, challenges and possibilities. (4) search alternative approach to communicate and advocate ecumenical witness among students and youth in the concrete life of the peoples. (5) strengthen ecumenical partnership in their ecumenical journey and aspiration.
The SELF Program were participated in by thirty-six (32) young people from 17 countries in Asia-Pacific. The participants were: Mr. Saw Kuku, Myanmar; Mr. Suganuma Shinichiro, Japan; Mr. Jahartap Yustin Pasaribu and Ms. Ikhana Indah Barnasaputri, Indonesia; Mr. Antonio Bernardo Schunemann da Silva and Mr. Admin Vasconcelos, Timor Leste; Mr. Park Byung Chul and Mr. Nam Ki Pyung, Korea; Ms. Lau Kim Ling, Hong Kong; Mr. Ham Kim Houn and Mr. Mey Navy, Cambodia; Mr. Milton Mondal and Ms. Elora Antonia, Bangladesh; Mr. Mohsin Zia and Ms. Arfa Andleeb Qaiser, Pakistan; Ms. Abigail Peter, Malaysia; Ms. Rachel Halina Soja, New Zealand; Ms. Tanya Rose Richards, Australia; Ms. Dianne Asuelo and Ms. Karla Joy Everette G. Mercado, Philippines; Ms. Lin,Chia-Hsun and Ms. Lin, Huie-Yen, Taiwan; Mr. Boonyarid Promsuttipong, Thailand; Ms. Abenla Ozukum, Mr. J. Abraham and Mr. Arun Raju, India; Mr. Thimothy Pathung Kumara Thunghe, Mr. Krishan Ignatius, Mr. Newton Yesuwadian, Ms. Sathiasobana Sathianathan, Sri Lanka. The participants were also joined by members of the Local Host Team and WSCF Staff Team.
The SELF participants and guests were welcomed by the sounds of traditional Sri Lankan drums played by the St. Thomas College Eastern Band and were presented with beetle leaves and garlands by the members of the Local Host Team as symbols of their warm hospitality and well wishes for the success of the program. This was followed by the opening worship focusing on the theme of the SELF program and a 30-minute video presentation about the history, people, culture, religions and contemporary life in Sri Lanka.
The SELF program was divided into five different modules, beginning with the module on “Building an Ecumenical Community” aimed at enhancing community participation and understanding in a context of an inter-cultural learning environment. The sessions led by the members of the SELF 2007 Steering Committee, included personal introductions and expectations by the participants, gender sensitivity workshop, men and women caucuses and personal history as social history. Participants were also grouped in Working Committees such as Bible Study and Worship, Community Life, Documentation and Steering Committee to enable them to participate in the day-to-day running of the program.
The module on “The Ecumenical Movement” was led Dr. M.P. Joseph, lecturer at the Tainan Theological Seminary in Taiwan. He started with the historical and biblical understanding of Ecumenism and the concept of Unity, where he emphasized two biblical traditions, first, the Moses trajectory, where unity is the communal and tribal desire to free themselves from oppression and bondage, and second, the Monarchial trajectory, where unity is an imperial project of domination and subjugation by the monarchs.
With this background, M.P. Joseph concluded that the concept of Ecumenism and the experience of the early movement for church unity have been influenced by the political agenda of the colonial elite and therefore, must be reclaimed. With the onset of the modern ecumenical movement beginning with the First Missionary Conference in Edinburg 1910, the Ecumenical Movement went through a period of profound changes characterized by the social themes in the succeeding missionary conferences and the gradual participation of church leaders from colonized nations. Dr. Joseph’s historical input was followed by presentations by Moumita Biswas on the history of CCA and its current work, and by Necta Montes Rocas of the history of WSCF, its vision, mission and work. The inputs were followed by small group discussions on the following questions: What is “Ecumenism” for you today? What do you know about the Ecumenical Youth Movement in your country? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ecumenical movement?
The module on “Defining the Signs of the Times” had 3 major topics, which included the topic on the geopolitical situation of the Asia-Pacific Region, Conflict and prospect for Peace in Sri Lanka and Inter-faith Dialogue.
The topic on Geo-political Situation in the AP region was presented by Ms. Carmencita Karagdag, Coordinator of Peace for Life. In summary, the geo-political situation of Asia-Pacific region remains volatile, where the US “Empire” is using its military and economic power to dominate and control majority of the countries in the region. The Asia-Pacific region is still a principal battlefield for geo-political and geo-economic hegemonic domination by the Empire. Her presentation was followed by sub-regional discussions and plenary on the following questions: Identify major social-political and economic situation of the country? How people are the people affected? Who are the victims? How does Empire manifest in your country’s situation?
The session on Conflict and Prospect for Peace in the Sri Lankan Context was presented by Rev. Bishop Duleep Chikera, bishop the Anglican Church of Colombo. He said that the root cause for any kind of conflict is greed or Thanhawa, and in order to satisfy this greed for power, one must eliminate or assimilate. He also added that conflicts arises from historical inability of the people to live together as equals and share political power as equals. He enumerated the following as the essence of the conflict in the Sri Lankan society; (1) social suspicion and polarization; (2) intra-ethnic conflict; (3) majority-minority complex; (4) historical grievances; (5) paradox between devolution and war; (6) corruption and rising cost of living. He also proposed several ways in which the conflict can be resolved or how to move forward: (a) develop a national Sri Lankan identify (b) recognition of historical grievances; (c) role of religion and civil society as middle voice; (d) change in political culture; (e) Education; (f) Tamil language should be given its rightful place; (g) Investigation in the issue of human rights; (h) Serious program of poverty. And finally on the question on what should the church and the ecumenical movement do in helping resolve situations of conflict, he proposed the following: prophetic voice and prophetic ministry; Reconciliation toward peace and justice; and keep hope alive.
The topic on Inter-faith Dialogue were led by Rev. Dr. Lawrence, vice-chancellor of the Theology College of Lanka and Dr. Marshal Fernando, Director of EISD. In their separate presentations they emphasized that dialogue, conversation or discussion is the key in understanding Inter-faith Dialogue. It is a two-way process of listening, understanding and in the process building trust amongst each other to remove misunderstanding, grievances, and rectify historical injustices. Dr. Lawrence gave a historical background of the Inter-faith Dialogue from the Christian perspective and experience, he noted the important roles played by ecumenical bodies such as WCC and other ecumenical institutions in this process. Marshal Fernando reminded the participants of the difficulties, challenges and realities of Inter-faith Dialogue. He said that all religions claims uniqueness of their world view and the messianic dimension of religion create tension in societies, such as the experience in Sri Lanka. He also noted that in today’s context, Interfaith Dialogue is going through some difficulties due to aggressive Pentecostal conversions and imperatives of US foreign policy vis-à-vis Islam.
The module on “Reading the Signs of the Times”, had 3 major inputs, Feminism and the Feminist Movement, Neo-liberal Globalization and Economic Justice, and Human Rights.
Feminism and the Feminist Movement was presented by Ms. Yong Ting Jin, Coordinator of Asian Women’s Resource Center (AWRC). Ting Jin began her session with an activity identifying the conceptual difference between Gender and Sex. In her summary, she emphasized that while sex cannot be changed, gender roles and relations can be changed and is in fact changing. She added that Gender is a sociological concept and a social construct, but it is also reinforced and sanctioned by religion; by Christianity and bible; religious practices and traditions. She also identified the problems, factors, and gave critical analysis on these two concepts.
In her input on the topic Feminism, she noted that feminist is not a gender or biological term, but rather a characteristic of one’s socio-political position for change and transformation for women’s liberation. She also mentioned that there are 2 trends in the feminist movement in various countries in the so-called Asia, e.g. China, India, Philippines, Korea and Japan. The first trend was mainly an integral part of the social and political reform movements happening in several Asia countries. Male scholar reforms and male reforms took the lead in such debates and reforms. The second trend in the Feminist Movement in Asia emerged as part of the ongoing reform but coupled with spirit of national struggle for National Democracy against foreign domination and colonialism.
The topic on Neo-liberal Globalization and Economic Justice was presented Mr. Chan Beng Seng, director of Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA). He divided his presentations into 3 parts: First, structural injustice and poverty, where he discussed global structures and systems that have been the historical basis for poverty and economic injustice, which included the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization. He also shared about the so-called “irony of aid” and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG), purportedly created to alleviate global poverty, but in reality aggravating poverty among poor nations. The second presentation was on the WTO, its history, aims, rules and orientation, and the main agreements of WTO. He further explained why despite the seemingly noble aims of the organization, it fails miserably. In conclusion, he said that we should continue to resist WTO because it is undemocratic, the agenda is corporation led, it will not reduce poverty, it will increase hunger. His final presentation was the problem of Third World Debt. He provided some historical background and statistics about the debt problem in the poor countries and the human cost of these debts.
The topic on Human Rights and Justice Issues was presented by Mr. Roah Ediringhe, Director for the Center for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka. In his presentation, he outlined the importance of the national constitutions in protecting the rights of the minorities, rather than the majority. He made this introduction to emphasize the point that although Human Rights is a universal concept, it needs to be translated into national laws, which are sometimes conflicting. After his presentation, the participants were divided into 3 workshop groups to discuss the following thematic areas: (a) Human Rights of Migrant Workers; (b) “Unethical” Religious Conversions; (3) Are Human Rights Universal?
The last module was devoted to learning and unlearning some skills and frameworks that the participants can use in their work in the national ecumenical groups and organizations. Yong Ting Jin led the session on Learning Theologies and Biblico-Theological Skills. She said that the bible is the site of people’s struggles for liberation and transformation. The “Holy Bible” is not the inspired “word of God”. It is written by educated elitist and powerful men with male interest in its authorships, but it is a tool for liberation and transformation of subjugated/marginalized, women and men and people.
She helped the participants understand four paradigms of biblical interpretation introduced by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a feminist theologian, which are widely used in churches, seminaries and schools. She also suggested effective alternative tools that will help the ecumenical movement grapple with theological questions that is truly reflective of its vision. According to Schüssler Fiorenza, the four paradigms of biblical interpretations used today are: (1) Doctrinal-Revelatory Paradigm; (2) Scientific-Objectivist Paradigm; (3) Hermeneutic-Cultural Paradigm; (4) Rhetorical-Emanciptory paradigm.
Tingjin encouraged the participants to study and use alternative approaches such as the Rhetorical-Emancipatory Paradigm because it reflects the real aspirations and experiences of marginalized people. She noted that the Rhetorical-Emancipatory Paradigm is a fundamental shift and break from traditional paradigms presented in 1, 2, and 3. Paradigm four is a model for Ekklesia, and it begins with the subject of the text, which is “the one who is inter preting the text.”
The topic second topic in this module was on Servant Leadership and Movement Building was presented Mr. Lesley Capus, the youth secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). He outlined his presentation in the following: the meaning of Leadership; Debunking Some Leadership Myths; Some Leadership Theories; Servant Leadership; Other Types of Leadership; Characteristics of a Good Leader; Conclusion and Challenges.
In his presentation, Lesley defined Leadership as a process by which a person (or group) influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership attributes such as beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge, and skills.”
In the session on “Jesus the Organizer”, the concept of community organizing is commonly understood as bringing together comparatively large number of youth and students to define for themselves and confront the forces that are undermining their individual lives, families and communities. Their goal is to reduce and resolve their problems by taking common action that holds accountable and transforms social, political, and economic institutions and relationships. Lesley also outline 10 steps in organizing for youth and student organizing, comparing it to how Jesus in the New Testament organized his disciple and his movement. This includes understanding the following process or steps: (1) Why Did Jesus Organized; (2) Whom did Jesus Organized; (3) Organizing a Core Group; (4) Knowledge of Social and Cultural Milieu; (5)Grasp of Geographical Terrain; (6) People In Need As Priority; (7) Mass and Popular Education; (8) Training Program for the Core Group; (9) Jesus and the Religious and Political Powers of His Time; (10) Challenges and Risk.
Bible Studies session were organized every morning throughout the whole duration of the program. These sessions were led by Bible Study leaders from the participants and invited resource persons. The theme of the Bible Studies reflected the topics or thematic discussion for the day. Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, WSCF Chairperson led three biblical reflection on the topics of Ecumenism and the Ecumenical Movement, Nature and Worship from the book Genesis 1, and Charity and changing the structural oppression from Luke. Rev. Muthiah Selvaraj, Methodist pastor and lecturer in Sri Lanka, led 2 bible studies on the topic of Healing and Reconciliation (John 5:1-9). Moumita Biswas, CCA Staff led one Bible Study on Re-reading the Bible through Women’s Eyes from the book of John 4:4-28.
Daily worship were organized by the Worship Committee reflecting the diversity of culture and the different experiences and ways of worship. The experience of daily worship in the SELF community inspired them to share and teach songs of praise and other cultural expressions of worship in their own languages. Participants also experienced Sunday worship in the local Sri Lankan congregations. They were divided into small groups to join Sunday worship in the different denominational congregations in Colombo.
Three Cultural Evenings or Solidarity Night were organized by the Community Life Committee. These were held on the 7th & 17th and 23 of Sept 2007. Participants from each country were divided according to sub-region & presented their traditional dances, songs & national anthem. They wore their traditional dresses, shared their folk stories and brought traditional snacks to share to everyone. At the end of the SELF Program a meaningful closing worship was organized, where participants shared their reflections about SELF and their commitment to continue their work with students and young people in their own countries.
One highlight of the SELF was the exposure programs organized in 3 different provinces in Sri Lanka. Each province provided a unique opportunity for the participants to learn about the situation of the people and the issues that they are confronted with. These issues were: (1) Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs), in Puttalam; (2) Tea Plantation Workers, in Kandy; (3) People affected by the Tsunami in Dehiwala. The objectives of the Exposure program were to: draw some insights and reflections from inputs that has been given by the resource speakers; learn about the community’s struggle and their situation; learn more about their culture; experience to live with them.
The participants were divided into 3 groups. The schedule of each exposure group were the basically the same. Each group will meet people in the community, discuss and exchange ideas with organizations and NGOs working with the people, stay overnight with the families. The first group that went to the Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Puttalam, met with the Muslims who were internal displaced by the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government in 1992 from Jaffna, in the Northern province of Sri Lanka. The group learned about the history of the war and how the people were victimized by the conflict. They also learned about the problem that the IDPs and the cooperation work between Christians and Muslims to help the IDPs.
The group that visited the upcountry of Sri Lanka, learned about the contrast between the beautiful scenery of the hill region and the reality of poverty and hardship among the women who were working in the tea plantations. Tea export is the major income in Sri Lanka, along with Textile and other agricultural products. But despite its contribution in the Sri Lankan economy, the tea plantation workers remain poor because of their meager salaries.
The Group that went to visit the people who were affected by Tsunami was divided into two small group and went to live in two different places. They interviewed families and listened to their stories on how they survived the tragic event. The people told stories about their struggles as fisher folks, and their everyday living. The groups also interviewed NGO and learned about how they helped the victims, their plans and the challenges they face as NGO workers. While on the exposure site, the group experienced panic an disorientation as an actual TSUNAMI alert was issued by the government following a big earthquake in Indonesia.