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An SCMer’s Reflection on Empire

by Eloise Wright, Australian Student Christian Movement

Participants of this year's WSCF Inter-Regional Programme held in Nairobi, Kenya
Participants of this year's WSCF Inter-Regional
Programme held in Nairobi, Kenya

From July 31 to August 9 this year, a WSCF Inter-Regional Programme on the theme of Empire was held in Nairobi, Kenya. This programme brought together 22 participants from 19 different countries for the purpose of critical analysis, theological reflection and action-planning on this topic. I attended as an Asia-Pacific delegate, along with Freddy Pandiangan from GMKI. Here are some of my reflections on the programme:

As well as input sessions from guest speakers, each region contributed a presentation and discussion session on the impact of Empire in their contexts. This meant that, as a group, we were able to share intellectual resources to enrich our critical analysis. I found this experience of cooperative learning very valuable, because it facilitated an atmosphere much more conducive to the sharing of different viewpoints than my university setting. As an individual attempting to analyse the structures and ideologies that form part of imperial power, I have in the past been very conscious of the limitations of my own knowledge and abilities. I found the opportunity to do this as a part of such a diverse group very liberating, as it increases my confidence in our collective ability to identify and unmask the structure and ideology of Empire on a global scale. The Bible studies and worship conducted daily throughout the programme were essential to framing and focussing the process of reflection, and to building the community where that could take place. I felt the Bible Studies in particular enabled us to orient ourselves as a community in a way that drew together many of the disparate threads of the discussions. The extent of the interaction of our faith and our conversations developed over the course of the programme. The opportunity to explicitly allow faith and analysis to inform each other was very encouraging for me, as I am rarely able to do this in such a formal way. I also valued the sense of being part of an ongoing ecumenical process of engaging faith with the issues of the contemporary world.

We participated in two exposures; the first involved a visit to some youth community initiatives in two of Nairobi's largest slums, Korogocho and Kibera. We met many young people who have a strong love for their communities. Their clear understanding of the realities of their situation, as well as of the potential of their communities to overcome political, social and economic obstacles pointed to a great hope for the future. The other exposure involved a visit to the Utooni Self-Help Group in the village of Kola, 90 km south-east of Nairobi, and an overnight stay with families in the village. This group was initiated within the local community about twenty years ago, aiming to facilitate a collective response to the problems of water shortages and erosion in their area. Living and working with these people really helped our group to refocus our discussions and move towards producing ideas for action which can be grounded in the specific daily lives of communities.

One of the main means of resisting Empire that we identified is the construction of communities based on just economic and egalitarian social relationships. We concluded that these constitute the continuing process of the realisation of God's basilea (the kingdom of God) on earth. Towards the end of the conference, many of the participants shared that the community we had developed with each other over the ten days was a manifestation of this in their lives. In particular, the sense of solidarity between people from many different cultures, and many different positions within the global Empire was very strong. As someone whose country and society benefits more than they lose, in a material sense, from the current system of Empire, I had been unsure how I would be able to contribute to the overall discussion. I was encouraged and strengthened by the support we were able to give each other in our diverse struggles to resist Empire in our very different contexts.

Overall, I learnt a great deal, and am very honoured and grateful for the opportunity to represent WSCF AP at this event.