People came from across the world to attend the GCF gathering in Manado, Indonesia.
Here is collection of experiences from ‘ordinary participants’in an extra-ordinary gathering.
Stories by Liza Lamis
MAJOR SASMOKO HERTJAHJO - The Salvation Army, Indonesia
The Salvation Army is in 22 of the 32 provinces of Indonesia, with membership of 70,000. We are a part of a loose organization of churches where we talk about social problems, relationships and our role in society for social progress, as we are meant to be ‘salt and light of the world’.
I am excited about GCF. This is where we can work together as one and to build stronger relationships towards unity and respect of each other in each church’s tradition. Here I come to know the Mennonites, Lutherans, learned about the situation of Christians in China, and that there are Christians in the Middle East too. Indonesians think all people in the Middle East are only Muslims.
I am impelled to share with other church leaders about GCF, and that we must strengthen our ecumenical relations and collaboration. We are one in God, one in baptism and in the Spirit. Traditions must not be barriers.
My church so far has not experienced being attacked since we have good relations with the Muslims. The Muslims respect us as we have worked together in responding to the tsunami that devastated Indonesia years ago. We also have a humanitarian mission to Iraq.
Our motto is ‘Heart to God, hands to man.’ At the end of the Eid al-Fitr in August, the Salvation Army was welcomed by the Muslims in offering food and water to the Muslims. I think it is because we are more open, and we do not mean to convert, we must go out to the world to serve.
We have a vibrant inter-faith cooperation with the Muslims. In fact, some of the young people who helped ensure peace during the GCF opening worship at the local church came from the Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). At the church that was bombed in late September in Solo, central Java, every Sunday a group of young Muslims volunteered to ensure peace in the area.
DR. ESTHER KOOYIP - Minister, Assemblies of God, Peru
My church is a conservative one, and the word ‘ecumenism’ is a ‘bad word’ for us. Peru has 30 million people who are predominantly Roman Catholic, with one million as members of the Assemblies of God. I was not supposed to come, and my church leaders told me, “when you come back, keep a low profile.”
I am a fighting woman I cannot keep a low profile. My church leaders were concerned about the presence of the Roman Catholics here. I myself wanted to see the ‘devil’ face to face here.
What is important is the result for churches to fulfill their mission as churches. The GCF is a great venue for open discussions, meet people, know how they think, and to include more colors in ‘my picture’ of Christianity in the world. Here is a truly different environment, because in my country there is a big void between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and there are no Orthodox or Anglicans and other churches. To talk to these people is very enriching.
My vision has been expanded, and I love the simplicity and the humility of participants, the human element and relationships established. The expositions are enlightening. I am looking for depth therefore it is a challenge to keep on searching.
BISHOP EINARS ALPE - Latvia Evangelical Lutheran Church, Latvia
This is my first time to come to Asia. When we came together in bus from Manado airport, everybody was happy to meet each other – sisters and brothers from other countries. I felt at home like being in a big family of God.
At the opening worship I saw people from the local church and I saw the future of the church in Latvia in its local congregations. The church’s future is not in its organization but in local congregations when they stay true to God in preaching the gospel.
GCF gave us the opportunity to come together. Without GCF it is not possible to see brothers and sisters from other continents and it is a very beautiful experience for me. We need an organization like this at this time. I realize that we are not alone but together. Language is not a problem. I came here not as a tourist but to listen.
Rev. Eileen Steward-Rhude, Dr. Elizabeth Leelavathi Manasseh -
World Evangelical Alliance Commission on Women
We are both very positive about women’s representation and participation in the 2nd GCF. There are more women now than the first. Women are adequately represented in the GCF Committee, they are active as presenters and they also actively participate in discussions.
The GCF has allowed WEA Commission on Women’s Concerns the space for more interaction and to network with other women beyond the Evangelicals. We have done networking before with the World Council of Churches’ Women and the Greek Orthodox Church, and we are conscious in connecting with the Catholics and other Orthodox churches.
Though now we have not yet met those having the same concerns as ours e.g. on the issue of human trafficking, we remain committed to world evangelization and are open to work with others. WEA also commits to work with all women, regardless of their faith affiliation.
Overall we are optimistic but we can do better to accommodate more women at GCF towards strengthening women’s leadership and participation. We can make GCF vital, visible and viable in each of our own countries.
REV. FR. PETER LEUNG - Chairperson, Diocesan Ecumenical Commission
Roman Catholic Church, Hong Kong SAR, China
In Hong Kong the Catholic Church works together with the Protestant churches on the level of inter-faith cooperation. For example, we conduct joint worship services on Pentecost Sunday or exchange choirs.
I am invited by the Hong Kong Christian Council Committee of Ecumenical Affairs to its meetings as chairperson of the Roman Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Commission. However, we have not yet reached the level of working together in responding to social issues.
I am very positive about this gathering because here I get to meet the Pentecostals and the Evangelicals. Openness to one another is the one big gift I find in this forum.
Christian unity is the Lord’s work but we are ready to do our part. I am open to deeper ecumenical involvement which I am glad to do when I return home. Organizing a GCF type of gathering or group in Hong Kong would be expensive and difficult, but we can do it.
BISHOP JOAQUINA NHANALA - United Methodist Church, Mozambique and South Africa Area
I come from Mozambique, a country of 21 million population and predominantly Roman Catholic. It is peaceful and one of the poorest countries in Africa with lots of resources. Infrastructures are being restored after years of civil war.
The Methodist churches are spread out all over the country. Illiteracy rate is high especially among women and many are People Living with HIV (PLWH) ageing from 15 to 45 years old. Stigma is rampant against PLWH. Unemployment is a big problem.
However, Mozambique is a vibrant country, people are hopeful and they keep going. The churches are responding to these social problems, as well as doing peace advocacy work. We have Pentecostals, the Orthodox and the Charismatics, and we work together through the national Christian council.
Unity in diversity is seen here at this gathering. Indeed we can live and work together within different traditions for the common good. This is an opportunity to meet people we have not met before, to share and exchange reflections and experiences, and to fellowship.
This is the time to appreciate what others are doing, what God is doing outside my own denomination through sharing. GCF is an organization still in the making, we should decide the way forward.
I bring home my enriching and learning experiences from here. As vice president of the Mozambique Council of Churches I am challenged to encourage those who are not yet part of the council to join. My church also helps the Independent Churches with no intention to absorb them.
We will continue and strengthen our work together.