Matt Tyne, Associate Director for Relief and Development for UnitingWorld, provided the welcome and introduction to four international church leaders. Each was invited to share stories about the history and current landscape of their church, and how the church is responding to conflict in their locality.
Rev. Sungjae Kim was the first leader to speak. He is currently the Vice Moderator of the Korean Christian Church in Japan (KCCJ) and will become Moderator of the KCCJ in October this year.As a prelude to his presentation, Rev. Kim shared a confronting video which demonstrated recent racial violence against Korean people in Japan. There is a strong history of animosity between some sections of the Japanese and Korean communities. Rev Kim indicated that the 580,000 strong Korean community who currently reside in Japan go to great extents to avoid discrimination.
The KCCJ was formed in 1945. Since its inception, the KCCJ has placed importance on assisting the marginalised and providing a voice for the weak.
Rev. Kim said that the church was determined not to close their eyes to injustice but to remain dedicated in assisting minority groups. The KCCJ is organizing an international conference to inform and share what has been occurring in Japan against racial minorities.
The second speaker, Rev. John Ruhulessin, is the Moderator of the Protestant Church of Maluku, a province in Indonesia. His presentation began with a brief recap of the history of violence between Muslim and Christian people in Maluku. He focused particularly on a bloody riot that took place in and around Ambon in January 1999. As a result of this riot and other violence, over 1,000 people were killed, and houses and churches were burnt down.
The Protestant Church of Maluku (PCM) has responded by working on ways to rebuild trust and support communities, particularly between Muslim and Christians. The PCM has also worked on ways to break down barriers between different religious groups, and change their theological mindsets. Focussing on education and dialogue has been key in this process.
In closing his talk, Rev. Ruhulessin commented on the impact UnitingWorld has had in the Maluku province. Community programs supported by UnitingWorld have worked to empower the capacity of women to make change by providing financial assistance in the form of loans. UnitingWorld’s programs have also helped to educate community members, Christians and Muslims, to live and work with each other.
The third person to speak was Mr Jan Rumbrar, the Secretary of the Department of Partnerships and Ecumenical Relations, who connects the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI-TP) with overseas church partners. He provided an update on the landscape of Papua and the GKI-TP.
Mr Rumbrar stated that the GKI-TP has been living in difficult times for 52 years, beginning in 1963 when the Papua province was incorporated into Indonesia.
“Some people want West Papua to be independent, some want it to remain part of Indonesia” he said.
Mr Rumbrar provided a brief history of West Papua’s struggle. He also outlined the recent positive actions taken by President Joko Widodo since his election last year. President Widodo has promised to visit Papua three times a year to look at economic development projects, and has made changes that include allowing foreign journalists to visit Papua and the release of political prisoners.
GKI-TP supports the people of West Papua through programs that assist with capacity building, legal assistance and trauma healing. The Uniting Church, through UnitingWorld, has supported a number of these initiatives. Mr Rumbrar said the church remained hopeful about the future, but knew that genuine dialogue with Indonesia was needed to move forward. Mr Rumbrar closed by quoting Galatians 6:1-9.
Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy (Bunu), the Moderator Church of North India (CNI), was the last international church leader to speak.
Bishop Samantaroy provided information about the community violence against religious minorities in India, which includes Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities, amongst others. Hinduism is the largest religion in India with 827 million people, or 80.5% of the population, identifying themselves as belonging to this group. Christians make up a much smaller percentage of the population, and the CNI has a current member base of 1,250,000 people.
Established in 1970, the CNI is a united and uniting church – its formation brought together six denominations, covering a large portion of India.
Despite the massive diversity of cultures and languages in India, Bishop Samantaroy said that many people lived in harmony – and have done so for many years.
However, there have also been some right-wing Hindu groups and organisations who have aimed to “re-covert” Christians in India. Bishop Samantaroy said although the current Indian government is secular, they have done little to stop violence towards minority religious groups. He noted that there have been attempts to “saffronise”, or homogenise, Indian society. He said this has largely taken place through the renaming or usurpation of Christian festivals, and the rewriting of school history books to reflect and incorporate distinctly Hindu perspectives.
Bishop Samantaroy closed by commenting on recent violent acts against religious minorities. He said that the CNI responded to these acts with protest marches and candlelight vigils. They also focussed on networking with people of other faiths (including Hindus), working with civil society organisations, discussing Christian unity, encouraging grassroots mobilisation, and working on dialogue with the government.
Bishop Samantaroy said that despite these challenges, the CNI is growing stronger every day.
All four church leaders spoke with passion and conviction, providing valuable insight into the conflicts and trials their churches and countries are facing. There was also a strong, positive focus on the work UnitingWorld and dialogue with the Uniting Church has contributed to past challenges and their hopes for future partnerships.