INSiGHT - June 2021

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June 2021

June 2019 | 8

June 2021


A Good Place: Farewell and Reflections by the General Secretary


Member Church News


Church and Society: Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters and Righteousness Like a Mighty Stream


Navigating the Mission Course


The Constitutional Crisis in Samoa Some Reflections from a New Zealand-born Perspective


Serving God Inside the Belly of the Empire: An Interview with Rev Dr Jack Sara


Religious Diversity, and the Spirituality Political Conflict, of Liberation


The Suffering and the Resurrection: An Overview of COVID-19


The Colonial Oppressiveness of the Biblical Concept of Hospitality


“I’m an African” Poems




The Oldest Technology


A Good Place

Farewell and Reflections by the General Secretary T

ime flies when one is having a good time, a true testament of my sojourn as General Secretary of CWM, since 1 January 2011. It has been an intriguing journey and one from which I have learnt a great deal about the church, about the ecumenical movement, about people and myself. My life has been immensely blessed by this journey, and I thank the entire CWM family for the generosity of spirit and goodwill that characterised my experience over these years. CWM has come a long way over this past decade. We have accomplished much together and there is much to celebrate. We have been inspired and have inspired others to dare to dream of a different world, which, in itself, is hope alive - discontent and determination combined, to resist the forces of death and destruction and to rise to life with the risen Jesus. CWM has been on a daring path – dare to dream, dare to hope, dare to be – radical, subversive and resistant. This is another way of saying we are disciples of Jesus, committed to obediently walking the Jesus way.

CWM is at a good place. We have settled location considerations with three offices registered on three continents to weather immigration storms that we might face clearly defined strategy framework, revamped governance and management structures to clearly define the role of Members and that of Board of Directors, and to strengthen our engagement in the contexts of our members renewed ecumenical collaboration for greater mission engagement and influence strong financial standing with a capital base that has held strong through recessions and now the pandemic clearly stated values, focused justice agenda, deepened appreciation of the place of member churches in the mission strategy of CWM, a Board of Directors, with an effective committee support network and a staff team of professionals, committed to the mission of CWM

These are among the distinctions that define CWM at this time. This is a very good time to hand over the baton of leadership and I do so with deep gratitude for the opportunity and privilege of having been CWM’s General Secretary over such a remarkable decade. By the time of this writing, my colleague, brother and friend, Jooseop Keum has been named as the incoming General Secretary of CWM. He is no stranger to the family of CWM; in fact, he is part of the family – an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and former staff of CWM. He is passionate about justice, committed to the strategy of working through member churches and deeply grounded in the ecumenical movement. His spirituality of resistance, coupled with his capacity for negotiating spaces for convergence within diversity, are strengths that will serve CWM well in this next phase of our journey. I commend him to you wholeheartedly; I pray with you that his will be a purposeful, fruitful and fulfilling tour of duty.

Collin I. Cowan


INSiGHT | June 2021

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AT A GLANCE | MEMBER CHURCH NEWS AFRICA (UPCSA) Moderator discusses challenges of the church nearing the end of his term Rt Rev Dr Peter Langerman has described challenges facing the church in his second last letter as Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) Moderator. These include sexism and misogyny, natural disasters, and gender-based violence.

Induction of Rev Dr Peter Langerman as the Moderator of UPCSA on 8 July 2018. Image by UPCSA.

He recounted how their women leaders had objected to a plan to “celebrate” four decades of women ordination during the 2018 Assembly, as the experience had been painful for them. Through this anecdote, he shared that he “long(ed) for a day when we will acknowledge our cruel ministerial gender stereotypes and our entrenched patriarchy, truly repent of it, and shatter the glass ceiling that prevents more women from entering leadership positions in our Church.” As for the gender-based violence, he stressed the men’s responsibility to call out abusers they are aware of, and that the church should provide temporary places of safety for abused women and children. He concluded with observations on capacity building, saying: “One of our greatest tasks is the 04

empowering of the Presbyteries to enable them to be the places of healing and wholeness they were always intended to be.” The Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (UPCSA) Moderator’s final letter Among Rt Rev Peter Langerman’s reflections in his final letter as Moderator of The Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (UPCSA), were his observations on how congregations have been faring recently. The Moderator commended congregations for rising to the challenge of COVID-19, ministering to and providing for the hungry and poor in their communities in areas where governments were simply overwhelmed or unable to do so. At the same time, he reiterated the importance of vaccines, and for senior church leadership to lead the way by getting vaccinated early and making that known in public and on social media.

United Church of Zambia (UCZ)’s conservation farming programme officially opens A Conservation Farming programme in Chisamba District, Central Province was officially opened by the Provincial Permanent Secretary Bernard Chomba in early May. In this joint venture, First Quantum Minerals shared conservation farming expertise with Chipembi College of Agriculture, the United Church of Zambia (UCZ)’s agriculture training institution for un-employed youth, retirees and more.

Image by UCZ

Image by UCZ

He also referred to their financial difficulties as a one with a spiritual root, stemming from a lack of respect and obedience towards “God-ordained authority structures” and urged them to address this issue for the survival of the church in future. INSiGHT | June 2021

Compared to conventional farming, the Conservation Farming system uses simple, sustainable methods to produce higher yields so that subsistence farmers can sell surplus for profit, a step towards and alleviating poverty and malnutrition. The week-long programme also trained participants from several provinces in Village Banking management and how to make environmentally-friendly charcoal as an energy source.



Continue to develop mission from the margins, says Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) General Secretary

Church of North India (CNI) Calcutta Diocese’s Project enables small-scale businesses

In the second of a series on future challenges and opportunities of Hong Kong, the HKCCCC General Secretary Rev Dr Eric So emphasized Mission to the Poor, a mission strategy that has been pursued by HKCCCC churches for decades.

Referring to earlier mission statements that highlighted the need to engage and serve under-privileged and marginalised communities, he voiced his hope that mission in the community would continue, and all HKCCCC churches would work closely on developing mission from the margins.

Nabokoli’s Beauty Parlour. Image by COB.

Amiya Mondal who received help from Reverend Paritosh Canning, the bishop of the Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India, at Bishop House. Image by Gautam Bose.

The Calcutta Diocese of the Church of North India (CNI) has carried out its “The Neighbour” project to help at least 175 families whose livelihoods have been hard hit by the pandemic. Launched earlier this year, each family received seed money to help them start small businesses. These included cycle vans or kiosks for small food businesses, and sewing machines and accessories for tailoring units. Bishop Paritosh Canning of the Calcutta Diocese expressed that they initially tried to meet immediate needs of food, clothes and money during the pandemic lockdown and Cyclone Amphan, followed by deliberating over how to support them through skill development thereafter. If successful, there are plans to continue this project beyond a year in a different format.

Image by HKCC.

Rev Dr So also offered some reflection questions for HKCCCC leaders, such as how HKCCCC and churches in Mainland China can mutually share insights in mission and ministry to continue effective Christian mission in both areas.

acquire skills to support themselves. It has continued operating within safety guidelines during the pandemic.

Equipping youths in Church of Bangladesh (COB) The Nabokoli Beauty Parlour is a Church of Bangladesh (COB)’s Christian Ministry to Children & Youth (CMCY), which assists female teenage dropouts to

Nursing students. Image by COB.

Also in the Church of Bangladesh (COB)’s latest newsletter issue was Bollobhpur Hospital's Nursing Training Centre in Kushtia Diocese, where another batch of students have completed their examinations and training. PACIFIC Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) resource on COVID-19 vaccinations As part of the pandemic response, the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) have released a resource covering biblical reflections on vaccination, its rationale, and common questions and information on COVID-19 vaccines. Mindful of the influence and role of religious leadership in communities, Fijian and Tongan church leaders were pictured receiving the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Additionally, it includes a call to religious leadership of all faiths 05

to build trust, debunk myths and misinformation in their communities, and contribute to decisions accepted in their own contexts. View and download here: Pacific youths challenged to envisage future and work towards building a dynamic Pacific During the opening of the Regional Youth Ecumenical Council (REYC), Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) General Secretary Rev James Bhagwan encouraged youths to adapt, evolve and grow while retaining what was good and true from their indigenous spirituality and culture.

PCC’s prayer appeal for those affected by St Vincent volcanic eruption Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) General Secretary Rev James Bhagwan has written to Pacific church leaders seeking prayer for affected communities following the La Soufrière volcanic eruption in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This came after he received a request for prayers of solidarity from the Caribbean Council of Churches’ General Secretary Gerard Grenado.

Image by PCC.

Image by PCC.

In his speech, Rev Bhagwan challenged them to envision a future for the Pacific region and collaborate to build a dynamic Pacific, where culture is evolving without limitations placed on it. "How can we leapfrog from pre-modern to postmodern, from pre-contact oral culture – where we sing, we dance, we weave, into a world where we are now coding?” he asked. He recommended thinking critically and creatively about inherited ideas and conventions, and considering how to take indigenous knowledge, ancient principles and wisdom into the future.


Government officials from neighbouring Caribbean countries had pledged support, especially in receiving evacuees from St. Vincent, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also expressed its readiness to assist. At least 6,000 people had been evacuated, with some received by private citizens of other Caribbean countries who opened their homes.

ones and their homes and for the continuing generosity of spirit and action by Caribbean states who have manifested the practical love of neighbour. Challenging Patriarchy in the Pacific Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) General Secretary Rev James Bhagwan has lauded the critical role and contribution of women’s organisations in challenging patriarchy and holding male leaders in churches and faith communities accountable. He was speaking at a Pacific Women’s Triennial Conference on gender-based violence (GBV), where he highlighted the efforts of national members of PCC in this issue. “Our role is to support their work such as addressing the ordination of women, bringing GBV into theological training. Our gender team is working on ensuring there is good decision making and working with church leaders on addressing the cultural and traditional drivers of patriarchy,” said Rev Bhagwan.

Image from Reweaving the Ecological Mat (REM), a project undertaken by the Institute for Mission and Research based at the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji.Image by PCC. Image by PCC.

In his letter, Mr Grenado appealed for prayer for the safety of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for those who have lost their loved INSiGHT | June 2021

Also in the pipeline are plans to support development of Pacific Women Theology and collaborations between feminists and women theologians, he added.



The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI)’s healing ministry for children

United Reformed Church (URC) releases new collection of praise songs and protests for George Floyd anniversary

For close to a century, UCJCI has embraced children-at-risk through its ministry of Pringle Home for Girls, and Mount Olivet Boys’ Home, where individual cases arrive through Jamaica’s child protection system.

Galvanised into action by COVID-19 and George Floyd protests, retiring United Reformed Church (URC) minister Rev John Campbell wrote new hymns and songs of protest, partly to express the emotions of his 95% black congregation.

Pringle Home for Girls. Image by UCJCI.

With the aim to develop faith, restore hope and transform the lives of hurting children, Mount Olivet Boys’ Home nurtures and provides for 40 boys in a secure, family-oriented environment. In the Pringle Home for Girls, their holistic development is facilitated by professional intervention in counselling, social skills training, education and recreation.

Seeing a handmade bouquet of sunflowers and thistles outside Tottenham Police Station during a BLM protest, he thought that sunflowers stood for the creative, underappreciated spirit of black people, and the thistles represented the struggle to ensure that Black Lives Matter.

Image by URC.

Mount Olivet Home for Boys. Image by UCJCI.

The charges in both homes are also nurtured spiritually, and integrated into the life of the Church. In addition, they are involved in farming for sustenance and for sale, joining employed farm hands in planting crops and rearing livestock.

Image by URC.

His work enabled the URC to release “Sunflowers and Thistles”,

a new collection of praise and protest songs for this first death anniversary of George Floyd. This booklet of songs can be sung to the tunes of well-known hymns, and includes audio and video files, as well as sheet music and PowerPoint slides that can be downloaded free at: URC among faith groups urging Home Secretary to rethink new immigration plan The United Reformed Church (URC), together with several Christian faith groups, have signed a joint letter urging the Home Secretary to rethink the government’s New Plan for Immigration (NPFI). While they welcomed the new UK Resettlement Scheme (UKRS) and looked forward to resettlement targets to be announced in future, they felt that it could not be done at the expense of an asylum system that offers protection to those who need it.

In the statement, they called for principles of welcome, protection and integration to be embedded into government policies, and said that to penalise people who have no choice but to flee their homes is to abandon the very principles of international protection.


Instead of reducing the plight of asylum seekers to a statistic, they should recognise common interests of family, community and faith, and embrace the diversity which makes communities dynamic and vibrant. #CandleOfJustice initiative for death anniversary of George Floyd A year since George Floyd’s tragic death, Churches Together in England (CTE) organised a “#CandleOfJustice: a moment of action” initiative on 25 May. Churches and Christians were encouraged to light a candle, pray for racial justice at noon, as well as commit to take steps towards racial justice.

There was also an evening church service of reflection by senior church leaders from Britain and Ireland, and The United Reformed Church (URC) were among churches participating. United Reformed Church (URC) among global faith leaders calling for equitable vaccine distribution The United Reformed Church (URC) is among faith leaders around the world urging for global vaccine equity and an end to vaccine nationalism, where wealthier countries gain first access to and hoard 08

vaccines, and people from poorer countries go un-vaccinated.

In a joint statement issued through Christian Aid, over 140 faith leaders called for a “people’s vaccine” – referring to People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of organisations campaigning for a COVID-19 vaccine that is patent-free and widely produced.

Emphasizing a joint responsibility to care for one another, they said: “we can each only be well, when all of us are well. If one part of the world is left to suffer the pandemic, all parts of the world will be put at ever-increasing risk.” United Reformed Church (URC) among founding members of campaign coalition “Together with Refugees”

Two in every three women and children that the UK accepts as refugees now, would be turned away in future under proposed INSiGHT | June 2021

new government rules, according to Together With Refugees, a new campaign coalition that aims to inspire hope and win deep change in the UK’s approach to refugees.

The campaign coalition consists of more than 100 national, local, refugee-led and grassroots groups including The United Reformed Church (URC). In a statement, they said that this different approach ensures “people can live in dignity while they wait to hear if they will be granted protection, and empowering refugees to rebuild their lives and make valuable contributions to their communities.” Simeon Mitchell, URC Secretary for Church and Society, added that during a time of hostility towards immigrants, it is important to set out a positive alternative vision of a better approach. “How we treat people seeking refugee protection is about who we are. By being part of this campaign, we are saying that we stand alongside those seeking safety and sanctuary in the UK, and want to them to experience respect, fairness and kindness,” he said. For more information, visit

Open Letter to G7 Leaders on Quick and Equitable Global Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines

Image by AFP.

At its Annual Members’ Meeting, held electronically on 15-17 June 2021, Council for World Mission (CWM) reflected on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peoples and countries around the world, with particular attention given to vaccine distribution. We issue this open letter out of deep concern for a more just and globally coordinated response to the pandemic, in general, and to the vaccine distribution, in particular. CWM notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has, more than ever, exposed the inequalities within and between nations. Our own global community has witnessed an increase of deaths on the margins, due to shortage of medical infrastructure and supplies, governmental corruption, unemployment, fanaticism, mental health crises, fear, profiteering from the crisis, decisions about who should be left to die, hunger and so much more that we do not yet know. In an agreement at the June 2021 G7 summit, hosted in the United Kingdom last week, leaders committed to sharing at least 870 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine directly, to deliver at least half by the end of 2021. They also reaffirmed their support for the COVAX scheme as “the primary route for providing vaccines to the poorest countries.” The G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – have so far purchased over a third of the world’s vaccine supply, while making up 13% of the global population[1]. Governments in these wealthier countries, including the UK, are already planning for the booster doses that are needed for their own populations to remain protected. The COVAX scheme hopes to distribute enough vaccines to protect at least 20% of the population in 92 low- or medium-income countries, starting with healthcare workers and the most vulnerable groups. Even if COVAX meets these goals, they would fall far short of the level of immunity that experts say is needed to end the pandemic. The WHO has suggested that figure is at least 70%. Its initial goal was to provide two billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021, and 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer countries by early 2022[2]. COVAX has so far shipped 87 million COVID-19 vaccines to 131 participants[3] (including G7 nation, Canada[4]). UNICEF – a major partner in the COVAX scheme – suggested that as many as 1 billion doses may be available for donation by the G7 countries by the end of 2021, without significant delay to current plans to vaccinate their own adult populations[5]. This pledge, therefore, to deliver 435 million doses by year-end falls far short of this capacity. More than two billion doses of coronavirus vaccines have now been administered globally, in over 190 countries. While some countries have fully vaccinated a large proportion of their population, however, many more have only just begun, and in some cases are still waiting for their first doses to arrive. The Council for World Mission notes the words of World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, following this pledge:

Many other countries are now facing a surge in cases – and they are facing it without vaccines. We are in the race of our lives, but it’s not a fair race, and most countries have barely left the starting line. We welcome… announcements about donations of vaccines and thank leaders. But we need more, and we need them faster. [6]


In the words of WHO, “nobody wins the race until everyone wins”.[7] We also note our concern regarding the necessity for multilateral development banks to urgently release funding to help countries prepare their health systems for a large-scale rollout of vaccines in the coming months. We would hope that this release of funds does not take the form of further debt for already pressurised economies. In the light of these facts, and the continuing inequitable distribution of vaccines globally, and in line with its core values, the Council for World Mission respectfully urges the United Kingdom and other G7 nations to: 1. radically rethink their financial contribution and sharing commitments towards controlling this pandemic • avoiding buying more than their own populations require • avoiding profiteering at the expense of life 2. use the COVAX scheme, rather than distributing vaccines directly, to ensure proper process 3. where relevant, reinstate their commitment to a UN foreign aid budget target of 0.7% of GDP Council for World Mission is a worldwide partnership of Christian churches comprising 25 million Christians in 50,000 congregations in 32 member churches in over 30 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, East Asia, Europe, the Pacific and South Asia. The 32 member churches are committed to sharing their resources of money, people, skills and insights globally to carry out God’s mission locally. Our core values are justice in relationships, mutuality, equality and interdependence, generosity of spirit and unity in diversity. We are committed to seeing people thrive in life-flourishing communities. Signed: Rev Lydia Neshangwe, Moderator Rev Dr Collin Cowan, General Secretary

Members of Council for World Mission Church of Bangladesh (COB) Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) Church of North India (CNI) Church of South India (CSI) Churches of Christ in Malawi (CCM) Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa (CCCAS) Congregational Christian Church in Samoa (CCCS) Congregational Federation (CF) Congregational Union of New Zealand (CUNZ) Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (EKT) Etaretia Porotetani Maohi (EPM) Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia (GPM) Guyana Congregational Union (GCU) Hongkong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC) Nauru Congregation Church (NCC)

Presbyterian Church in Myanmar (PCM) Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) Presbyterian Church of India (PCI) Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) Presbyterian Church of Wales (PCW) Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) United Church in the Solomon Islands (UCSI) United Church of Zambia (UCZ) United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa (UCCSA) United Reformed Church (URC) Uniting Presbyterian Churches in Southern Africa (UPCSA)









INSiGHT | June 2021

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Church and Society

Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters and Righteousness Like a Mighty Stream By Collin Cowan, Council for World Mission


he conversation regarding the relationship between church and society has always been a contested space. The differing theological perspectives tend to centre around two broad categories - locating the church either as a separate community within the wider community of humanity or as an integral part of community with responsibilities, obligations and rights. The position one takes will determine the nature of the church’s contribution to civil society. The question is whether the church contributes to the ‘common good’ or functions as a ‘counter-culture’, whether the church’s prophetic and priestly roles serve to engage with society or stand in sharp contrast or in opposition to society. There is inextricable intersectionality between Church and society that is both inevitable and necessary. Society is a composition of all peoples – races, religions, cultures and communions; and the church is made up of people drawn from society. The church’s interest in the affairs of society is bound up in the church’s understanding that it is part and parcel of society, drawn from but belonging to society. According to the Church of Scotland: The Church and Society Council’s remit is to engage on behalf of the Church in the national, political and social issues affecting Scotland and the world today. This includes a huge range of issues including human rights, asylum, ethics, science and technology, concerns about gambling, climate change and education issues. It aims to do this through the 12

development of theological, ethical and spiritual perspectives when formulating policy and by effectively representing the Church by offering appropriate and informed comments.1 The Minnesota United Methodist Church, following the Wesleyan tradition, states it this way: As United Methodists, we are called to invite people to enter into a community of faith responsive to a vision of justice ministries that is biblically and theologically grounded, and to invite United Methodist congregations to play a prophetic role in bringing God’s vision to reality. Our mission is to advocate the gospel of Jesus Christ in the church and society.2 The Diakonia arm of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) embraces social engagement as part and parcel of its mission mandate. It makes a very vital link between evangelism and social action, claiming that they are inseparable. Stek – ‘Stad en Kirk’ - is a foundation in which the City Council and the Church combine efforts in response to a range of social issues affecting people on the social margins of society. Stek has as its mission the following, which links faith to justice: Stek – foundation for city and church – is The Hague based organisation targeting and supporting the less INSiGHT | June 2021

privileged in society. The foundation is inspired by the vital power of Christian faith and dedicates itself to improving social harmony, quality and vitality of life in the city. Historically, the tension has really never been so much between church and society. The real tension has been between church and power, the political and financial power structures that conflict with the theology and values of the religious community of which the church is a contender. Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformist, was ex-communicated from the church because of his discontent with the corruption in the church and his attempt at addressing the issue through the posting of his 95 theses. What followed was that other reformers, including John Calvin, contributed to his work and even “broadened the scope” to include all “worldly systems or institutions… (that) did not represent God’s justice and truth”. St Augustine, for example, defines hope’s twin cousins as anger and courage, in which he sees hope as being expressed in anger at the condition of the world and courage to do something about it. Hope so defined is the church at work. Systemic and structural power is a political arrangement, designed to control the masses and to serve the economic and social interest of the few. Empire defines power constructs, enshrined in systems and ideologies, with clear lines of demarcations that serves to divide and destroy. Notwithstanding, how the church responds to empire, with all its destructive vices, remains a contested

“ The real tension has been between church and power, the political and financial power structures that conflict with the theology and values of the religious community of which the church is a contender.” territory. There is the view that the church, by virtue of its identity and calling, has vested interest in how such power constructs affect the well-being of society as a whole; and as such, has a prophetic responsibility to speak truth to power. And there is the counter position that the church is ‘called out from among…’ (1 Peter 2: 9; Rom. 12: 1-2) and, as such, should distance itself from any such involvement in the affairs of society and pray instead. In the ministry of Jesus, such a distinction is blurred. Jesus was concerned with the totality of human existence and conducted his ministry to show this holistic connection. In Luke 4: 18-19, Jesus read from the prophecy of Isaiah, what has come to be considered his missional manifesto – concern for the plight of the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed; and committed to their freedom. However, it was his exposition of the text (Luke 4: 23-27) that caused the community to become angry at him, to the point of driving him out of the synagogue and wanting to throw him over the cliff (Luke 4: 28-30). In his reflection on the text, Jesus called the religious community to examine itself against the callousness and complicity of its ancestors, as his own entry point to addressing the plight of

those named in the text. From this early beginning of his public ministry, Jesus made it clear that his would not be a conformist ministry. In Jesus’ first teaching discourse, in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 5-7), he outlined for the first disciples the essentials of his mission and that to which he called them – a combination of piety and praxis. And in the prayer, he taught his disciples, Jesus caused them to see how they are connected with God, with themselves and with the world around them. “our holy father… give us this day our daily bread… and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors…”. In his encounter with the crowd, which followed him after he left the vicinity of Herod’s palace, where the nobles and officials gathered for Herod’s birthday party, Jesus requested and required the disciples to feed the crowd, a requirement that shocked the disciples as much as it centred them (Mt 14: 1-21). Jesus demonstrated care and concern for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of society, practised and modelled an alternative community to the Roman

empire and invited his disciples to embrace this alternative as the hallmark of their discipleship. There's a scholarly debate around the question of call, its meaning and purpose. For example, what was the purpose of Abraham, and by extension, Israel's call? Was Paul converted or called to Christianity; and if called, to what end? So the discourse is really about being called ‘for’ rather than ‘from’ the world (society). This calling ‘for’ is about vocation rather than status. In the words of Jesus, it is being light and salt, an inextricable connection between being and doing, identity and vocation. The church, as the movement called into being by Jesus, is meant to mirror the mission of Jesus. "As the father has sent me, so send I you" (John 20: 21). Accordingly, the church cannot be isolated from society, if it were to be its light and salt (Mt. 5: 13-16). My topic is drawn from the words of the prophet Amos in his confrontation with power in the northern province of ancient Israel, more particularly, Bethel and Samaria (Amos 5: 24). Amos is not from the North; he is from the South and from that social location he experiences the impact of injustice. For him, justice is turned in to bitterness and righteousness is cast to the ground (5: 7). He talks about those who hate the one who upholds justice and detests the one who tells the truth (5: 10). He confronts those who oppress the innocent, take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts (5: 12). He 13

points to the downfall of the oppressive forces and calls them to repentance, noting that their festivals and ceremonies mean nothing to God in and by themselves (5: 14-23). Amos’ prophetic uttering is clear and undiluted: “Let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream” (5: 24). Centuries later Dr Martin Luther King Jnr picks up the same message of Amos; and offers it to his beloved country, the USA, at a time of intense struggle for civil liberties for all of America, particularly those who were denied justice by the system: We must forever continue our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people -- for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realise that their destiny is inextricably tied up with our destiny. They have come to realise that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone, and as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights: "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied so long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.3

The relationship between church and society is embedded in this statement – “We cannot walk alone” and the insatiable desire for justice as the connecting link, holding us all together in a spirit of community – “We can never be satisfied until…”. The Church, as a Jesus movement, encapsulates the rich tradition of the religious community of Israel, called into a faith journey with the God of life, committed to the salvation of all families of the Earth. A cursory glance into that historical journey reveals that our mothers and fathers were faithful to living the tension of being part of society; but radically opposed to the power constructs that serve only to divide the community, with ideologies of supremacy and control. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah – lived by the values of their faith and faithfulness to the God of life and defied the orders of Pharaoh (Ex. 1: 15-21). The mother and sister of Moses – danced with the Pharaoh in securing their right to take care of their son and brother at the expense of the empire (Ex. 2: 1-10). The four Hebrew boys, Daniel, Hananiah, Michael and Azariah (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) – remained faithful to their convictions even in the face of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den (Daniel 1, 3 and 6). Elijah and Nathan – confronted and spoke truth to power despite their awareness of the cost (1 Kings 18, 2 Samuel 12). Amos, Hosea and Micah– called Israel to account with the message of justice and love (Amos 5, Hosea 12, Micah 6) Peter – refused to obey the dictates of the religious hierarchy of his day and declared loyalty to God alone John – encouraged the church of Asia Minor to remain faithful in the face of the threat of death by the Caesar, assuring them of their vindication


INSiGHT | June 2021

John Smith, LMS missionary – defied the wishes of the slave plantocracy and participated in the liberation of the slaves through education, even though it meant the death sentence George William Gordon – denied a place in the North Street Congregational Church in Jamaica because of his radical views on freedom for the slaves Paul Bogle, an elder in the Baptist Church in Jamaica – executed by hanging for his part in the Morant Bay rebellion in search of freedom for slaves Martin Luther King – assassinated for being a freedom fighter against white supremacy and in search of community for blacks and whites alike. King says “we shall never be satisfied until justice rolls down like the rivers…”. This spirit of discontent that gave form and content to King’s mission is the very spirit that fuels and propels the church to action today. The church is part of society, with the eyes of the heart open and alert to the death-dealing and life-denying issues of the day. And like MLK, Jnr, the church should never be satisfied until justice…”. And in the words of John Calvin, “The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.” As a mission organisation, committed to mutually challenging, encouraging and equipping churches to share in God’s mission, CWM claims that justice is at the heart of faith; and, therefore, contends that the church is duty bound to advocate for justice as a core function of its calling. The church cannot sit by and watch society disintegrate while taking a neutral stance. Elie Wiesel is right - “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim”. This is where church meets society in what the Presbyterian Church in the Netherlands calls connections and co-creation, a coming together of interests, convictions and even rage and a common agenda to courageously confront power, challenge systems of injustice and call for an alternative. Joining the tradition of John Calvin, we assert that: “All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbours”. Our identity and vocation are wrapped up in an epistemology of praxis – acting and reflecting, reflecting and acting as God gives light. Wayne and I were inspired by our visit to the Hague as well as Rotterdam and to witness the work of the church in community, making this vital connection between church and society. Like the church in the Hague, the St Paul’s Kirk in Rotterdam lives by the principle that “everyone who has a need is welcomed” and that “there is a place for everyone who is interested”. Their mission which includes focussing on the plight of persons living in poverty, undocumented people (refugees) and migrant workers, is intertwined in the theology that all of life is God’s domain, that God, as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, is concerned about the whole person and all of creation. In our conversation with the leadership of these communities of faith, we were helped to appreciate that humanitarian response to the socially disadvantaged was only a partial response; and that they were committed to advocacy for justice and the transformation of systems that serve the needs of the few at the expense of the many. This, for me, is central to the question of the relationship between church and society; and I offer this as my perspective on the subject.


As a live and practical example of church meeting society, I call attention to the work of a Christian young woman, who has shown considerable interest in the economic empowerment of African Americans. My interest in this work relates to CWM’s present attention on exploring the legacies of slavery through a series of hearings as we retrace the journey of the transatlantic trade of African people. In our journey, we have wrestled with the story of our own complicity as a missionary organisation, how even the very treasurer of the London Missionary Society himself owned 300 slaves in Trelawny, Jamaica. We have agonised over the story of how we have allowed ourselves to be co-opted into the web of the slave trade to the extent that our evangelism and education of the slaves was to make them better slaves, obedient and subservient. And we have accepted the sordid story that even after the abolition of slavery life remained extremely difficult for black people while the slave owners were compensated for their loss of income on account of the abolition act. I have come here from the USA, where the fourth hearing on the legacies of slavery took place; and there we are reminded of the intense fight for civil rights in the 1950’s and 60’s; the many who suffered and lost their lives in the fight; and the continued struggle for freedom, justice and peace to this very day.

admiration. The black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self-refuelling and self-generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands…. It is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us (whites). They must love, respect and trust only us. Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them…. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful of each other.4 This is a power construct, designed around an ideology of racial supremacy, that uses a theory of mental subjugation and a strategy of divide-and-conquer to maintain control. It is this power construct that locates the church in confrontational theology and praxis; because with such a power construct in operation, there is a clash of values and principles, calling the faith we profess into question. In closing, I suggest that: there is an inextricable link between church and society that is both inevitable and necessary; inevitable because the church is part and parcel of society and necessary because the church’s engagement with society is bound up in its very identity and calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Lakesha Womack, in her book, UnLynched (2018), offers a perspective on the power dynamics in society, locating systemic racism at the root of underdevelopment of black people in America, whether in education, economics or family life. In an attempt to problematise the gravity of the plight, she calls attention to a slave owner, Willie Lynch, who proposed mental enslavement as being far more profitable to the slave trade than physical brutality. His last name, now used as a verb, bears the lasting legacy of his successful indoctrination. In my bag here, I have a fool proof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least three hundred years. My method is simple…. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves and make the differences bigger. I use fear, distrust and envy for control….

That which gives credence to the church’s contribution to society is its theology, ethics and values, informed by and grounded in the Word of God and the collective discernment of the community of faith. Systems and structures that serve to divide and destroy ought to be vehemently opposed by the church, not because the church is anti-society, on the one hand, or irreligious on the other, but because of the Church’s duty to society. Scripture speaks more poignantly that we ever can. Listen to these words of scripture and consider them: “Then I will restore your judges as at first, and your councillors as at the beginning. After that, you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city. Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.” (Is. 1: 26-27)

Take this simple list of difference and think about them. On top of my list is “age” but it’s only because it starts with an “A.” The second is “COLOUR” or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations and status on plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, coarse hair, or is tall or short…. I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy stronger than adulation, respect or

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile; and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” (Jer 29: 7)

1, accessed on 1 July 2018

2 and society, accessed on 1 July 2018


I have a Dream by Martin Luther King, Jr; August 28, 1963


This speech was delivered by Willie Lynch on the bank of the James River in the colony of Virginia in 1712. Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. The term "lynching" is derived from his last name. Full text on


INSiGHT | June 2021

Navigating the Mission Course By Faithlyn Stephens, Partner In Mission (PIM) in Guyana Congregational Union (GCU)


hen I discerned God’s call on my life to serve outside of congregation ministry, I had no idea what this service should be. However, I prayerfully sought His divine guidance and took the relevant actions to ascertain the response. Mission service in Guyana! “Hello, God, Guyana is certainly not a place that is anywhere near my radar; nonetheless, if You say so, I will go.” And I went. Facilitated by Council for World Mission (CWM), I landed on the shores of Guyana under the clear skies of a brilliant Sunday night, to serve in mission at Guyana Congregational Union (GCU). In spite of being duly briefed on the content of my assignment, I was unaware of the nature or extent of the task which awaited me. I quickly learned that church is a creature of its culture and context, so I first and foremost had to adjust to serving in a ‘different kind of church.’ After diligently assessing the terrain, with a blank page and pen in hand, I presented myself at God’s throne of grace in fervent prayer and commenced my work. In my role as Administrator/Executive Assistant, I helped GCU to upgrade the church’s administration and operations functions, as well as, trained the Administrative Assistant to assume the role of Administrator/Executive Assistant at the end of my tenure. An integral component of the assignment comprised coordinating capacity development training for leaders and members in the church’s various areas of ministry. I also identified and highlighted the critical need for the church to embark upon a programme of transformation of the clergy and its mission focus, and actively encouraged this change. I am currently engaged in a new role as Programme Coordinator for GCU’s Mission Support Programme (MSP), funded by CWM. The aim of the programme is to transition GCU from operating in the mode of maintenance ministry to ‘missional congregations.’ This encompasses delivery of

leadership capacity development training for the whole people of God for holistic mission, as well as, managing the logistics for construction of a new secretariat and renovation to the retreat centre and Clarkson Congregational Church. Giving oversight to mission projects which fall within the ambits of the MSP and ensuring that the entire programme is completed on time and within budget are also elements of my work. Mission service is a journey – God prepares you, equips you, calls you, sustains you. No journey is without its challenges; but, each test along the way has further strengthened my spiritual resolve and relationship with my God. Zechariah 4:6 is a constant source of comfort and encouragement for me: It is not by human might or power, but by His Holy Spirit that God accomplishes His purpose. God is forever faithful, so long as His children remain obedient to Him. This mission engagement has truly exemplified the concept of partnership. My sending church, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI), has supported me in my mission engagement in Guyana through many different modalities. UCJCI has, also, been accompanying GCU in various ways, as the church treads the path of transition from maintenance ministry to ‘missional congregations.’ GCU has been personally supportive of, and cooperative with, me as I serve, while CWM facilitates the relationships among the partners. To God be all the glory! May our Creator, Redeemer, Friend continue to bless and sustain the CWM family, member churches, mission partners, ecumenical partners and support partners as together we serve in His earthly vineyard, towards a world of life-flourishing relationships among all human beings. May each of us seek to personally experience the Almighty with a fresh perspective during this unprecedented pandemic season, so that when it shall have passed, we will rise to new life “In His Service.”

GCU Developing Missional Congregations Resource Team – Faithlyn is fourth from right

“Mission service is a journey – God prepares you, equips you, calls you, sustains you.”


The Constitutional Crisis in Samoa

Some Reflections from a New Zealand-born Perspective By Rene S. Maiava – MTh programme at Pacific Theological College, Suva


o all my Samoan family and friends and those of Samoan ancestry, tulou lava fa’amolemole (please excuse me). What follows is my New Zealand-born Samoan perspective on the constitutional crisis in Samoa following the elections on 9 April 2021. For those readers unfamiliar with our region, Samoa is an independent island nation in the South Pacific Sea. Its motto is Faavae i le Atua Samoa (Samoa is founded on God) and nearly 90% of its 200,000 population identifies as Christian.1 Since independence in 1962, a Westminster parliamentary system of government has been in place with the unique Samoan feature that only those who hold chiefly titles can be elected. There are 51 seats in the parliament of Samoa. As a theological student based in the Pacific, Suva at present, I have been keenly following the elections through online news feeds, interviews with experts and social media. I write with the prayerful concerns for the homeland of my ancestors and birthplace of my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. It is in this spirit that I watched the political strategising presenting to the world a side of Samoa that is unfortunate. This political episode does not accurately represent the character and strength Samoan leaders can have and do action. The Prime Minister elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa of the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST; in English: "Faith in the One God of Samoa”) party gives us an example. In making that statement, I am imagining the 18

the previously elected government supporters to have disengaged. And, I do understand, a prominent characteristic of Samoan people, my people, is our loyalty to those we believe in and have relationship with. Growing up in West Auckland, I would overhear my elders speak of politics in the homeland, not understanding the words as much as intuiting their body language. The two cultures my siblings and I were part of meant we were children of two worlds, like that of most diaspora communities. We knew in part and were partly known. Samoa, we came to know in part, the distant Pacific homeland of our parents. Through them and our relatives, we identified ourselves as Samoan, ‘plastic’ to some and ‘coconuts’ to others, but nonetheless, that was our biology and understanding of how to be in relationships and in the world. My parents and elders modelled the loyalty that Samoans show towards those they love and believe in. It is how I can make sense of the political allegiance many Samoans are showing to the previous Prime Minister who has had the position for 23 years and his political party, Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), that has been in power for nearly 40 years. To give a brief overview of what transpired post-election, the results had FAST, the newcomer at less than a year of being registered, and HRPP tied with 25 seats each. The one independent decided to commit to FAST, giving them the electoral victory. Much INSiGHT | June 2021

political wrangling occurred for HRPP to try and put in place an extra seat based on the minimum number of women required within parliament. The Supreme Court became heavily involved with petitions being made by both sides. On 17 May the Supreme Court voided the extra women’s seat giving the election victory to FAST, with 26 seats. Under the constitution, parliament must sit within 45 days of an election, the last day was 24 May. With the Supreme Court’s decision, it seemed that all would be well now. I sat back and imagined the new era Samoa was entering into with its first female Prime Minister-elect Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, she would also be the first female Polynesian Prime Minister. It could be a new dawn for women in positions of power within the Pacific, the gender disparity in leadership roles could be closing in Samoa. These were exciting thoughts to behold. As we all came to discover, sadly, that was not the end. The previous PM and HRPP were not ready to relinquish power. The Head of State, who holds the power to dissolve Parliament in certain circumstances, two days prior proclaimed a suspension of parliament until further notice, with no reasons provided. The FAST party responded the next day with an urgent call for the Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the Head of State's new edict, which the court ruled as unlawful. It should have been that parliament sat the next day.

Previous PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

“It could be a new dawn for women in positions of power within the Pacific, the gender disparity in leadership roles could be closing in Samoa.”

This too did not come to pass, instead what live streamed across the globe was the Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese, the elected PM and the FAST party attending parliament house to find the doors locked. The obvious desire to keep power was on full display with many of us watching on from distant shores in disbelief. Unrelenting, the elected PM named her Cabinet on 24 May, and the ceremony was held in a large marquee tent erected on the parliament grounds. The days that have passed has not dismissed the ad-hoc ceremony despite the HRPP party not being there, or the Judiciary, the Speaker, or the Head of State and with the appointed clerk of parliament part of FAST's main legal counsel. In the 3 weeks that have passed, who is leading Samoa is still uncertain. Many have fasted and prayed for there to be a peaceful transition of power, and for it to happen soon. We are continuing to wait as the previous PM and his party, HRPP, will not concede. It is my observation, that the current constitutional crisis has at its core the wilful disregard for the process that allowed the previous PM and his party to hold power for those many years. Experts in politics around the globe are desirous for the rule of law to be upheld, which is, in my amateur translation, for the elected Prime Minister and her cabinet to act in their rightly appointed positions of leading the Samoan nation. For the newly elected leaders to be unhindered in carrying out their roles and responsibilities. Certainly, the global political climate, of late, has seen outrageous political manoeuvres to benefit those in power. This cannot be the rising trend political and national leaders choose to follow when they have lost their positions of power. It leads me to question the way biblical principles are being interpreted by the people of God going against ‘authorities’ or the rule of law. Particularly, as they are disregarding the welfare of the people in doing so. It is distressing for me as a Samoan and Christian in diaspora to witness the tug-of-war for power that appears unnecessary. I can only imagine what Samoan citizens living there and overseas must be experiencing as the nation continues to wait for an official resignation from the party that did officially lose the election. If the previous PM is unwilling to step down as a result of the election results

The new Prime Minister, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mataafa. She signs in as Samoa's seventh Prime Minister and first female PM for Samoa. Image by Fast Party.

reflecting the voices of the Samoan people, perhaps world leaders endorsing the elected PM in her new role will convince him? Until the new government is in place, my prayers continue for Samoa to be found as, founded upon God. What an amazing testimony it would be, having a peaceful transition of power after so much politics. Samoa as a nation could emanate to the world the love of God the Father in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit through the peaceful resolve of this current constitutional crisis. Amen. 1

According to 2016 Census, Samoa Bureau of Statistics:


Serving God Inside the Belly of the Empire An Interview with Rev Dr Jack Sara By Hadje Cresencio Sadje

Photo taken during the 72hr ceasefire between Hamas and Israel on 6th of August 2014. Destroyed ambulance in w:Shuja'iyya in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Boris Niehaus.


he latest news of Israel continued colonial violence in Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip has become one of the featuring top stories from around the world. Sadly, disinformation and misinformation have represented by various pro-Israel Western media platforms that generates confusion to mislead its readers without providing a proper framework. The end result is, readers received false information and inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian people. But this pro-Israel Western media tactic is not new. Since there are various competing views on the conflict between Israel and Palestine, many scholars, individuals, and concerned groups argue that the facts and truth about this long-running conflict were buried in the mountains of misinformation, particularly in various types of mass media (Uddin, 2021; Daoudi and Zeina M. Barakat, 2013). Many critics contend that the use of problematic media language distorted or replete the ground realities. Often, mainstream West media’s coverage misrepresents or obscures the truth about Israel and Palestine conflict. Using euphemism, gobbledygook, inflated language, and jargon, it de-emphasizes and minimises responsibility of Israel hostility against Palestinian people (Diwakar, 2021). For instance, Branko Marcetic observes that Western media depict the conflict between Israel and Palestine describes as “nebulous clashes” (2021). According to Marcetic, “Once again, the media are trying to depict the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians as a round of meaningless violence from “both sides” of an equally matched contest — the reality on the ground be damned” (2021). Likewise, many critics argue that the use of “both sides” or “clashes” obscures the nature of the violence taking place and the narrative descends into what has been colloquially referred to as “bothsideisms”. (McDonald, 2021). Aside from this term, the use of conflict, property dispute, extermist, terrorist, Islam, Zionism, Arab, and Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa are forms of discursive normalisation of Israel violence against Palestinian people, including pro-Palestinian Jews (McDonald, 2021). Except the word Zionism, however, I agree that all these terms are whitewashing that attempt to conceal incriminating facts about the Israel brutal colonisation of Palestinian territories (Zureik, 2015). In fact, this can lead people to have misunderstanding, complexities, and refusal to acknowledge Israel’s criminal actions. In his article titled, “There’s Nothing Complicated about What’s Happening in Palestine” (2021) published in Jacobin magasine, Asia Khatun describes how pro-Israel groups tried to make things complicated or blurring the ground realities. He writes: The normalisation of colonialism begins where it always has: in language. These language choices, be they irresponsible or just ignorant, reinforce the notion that this is a conflict in which both sides have the means to be equally violent toward each other.


INSiGHT | June 2021

But the fact of the matter is that Israel is one of the most militarised occupying nations in the world, backed with billions of dollars and weapons from the United States. The power dynamic that Western society at large believes in simply does not exist, and the lack of understanding is a consequence of decades’ worth of conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, which deflects the conversation away from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine (2021). One of the unheard voices of minority group in the Middle East are Palestinian/Arab Christians, particularly in Occupied Palestine territories (Sadje, 2017). Sadly, Christian churches around the world are not aware (and misinformed) that strong Christian minority group exists in East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza Strip. In fact, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Christians, Muslims and Jews peacefully co-existed. However, when such disinformation and misinformation persists, Palestinian people will continue to suffer such injustices (Sadje, 2017).

As Israel’s colonial project continues, Palestinian people are suffering from hunger, poverty, conflict, and above all, the impact of the global pandemic, therefore, educating the world of what is really the truth behind the conflict between Israel and Palestine is more important today (UN report, 2021). With that, I decided to interview Reverend Dr. Jack Sara - a Palestinian Christian, ordained Alliance minister, and incumbent president of the Bethlehem Bible College, West Bank/Palestine, to get his perspective on the curent conflict in the Middle East, and what it means to live and serve as a Christian Palestinian in such a volatile environment.

From left to right, protest signs read: "From the river to the sea Palestine will be free", "End the occupation", "End apartheid." Image by Raya Sharbain.

Hadje Sadje Hello Rev Sara, it’s been a long time since we met in Alliance Church Old City Jerusalem. How are you and your family? Rev Dr Sara Hello brother Hadje, yes it has been a while, it’s great to connect with you and share some news about our region and how Christians from around the globe could pray in behalf of the Palestinian people. My family are doing well, both my wife and I are in ministry between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, pastoring in our church and serving at the Bethlehem Bible College, West Bank. HS What its like to be Christian Palestinian and a pastor under de facto Israeli control? Rev Dr Sara The honest truth is not easy. You see! I grew up in the Old city of Jerusalem to parents who became refugees as a result of the loss of their houses and land during the first Jewish occupation to our land in 1948, that was called the Nakba (great catastrophe) for my family and the Palestinian people at that time. Over 750 thousand people became refugees and so were my family. They moved to the old city of Jerusalem and again when Israel continued to occupy the rest of the country in 1967 they became under the Israeli rule. So they became residents of Jerusalem under Israeli rule. Please note that many of the people that were part of the refugees that lost their house and lands during the wars were Christians, many left the country and many stayed and became internally displaced people (IDPs). Of course since that time two generations are already born and people are more now, there are almost 7 million Palestinians nowadays, they live all over the Holy Land now, but in different conditions. The Palestinians who live in the areas that were occupied in 1948 were able to receive Israeli citizenship and they can have Israeli passport and move around the country and abroad freely. The Palestinians who were in the areas that were occupied in 1967 are split in three categories, Jerusalem residents, West Bank and Gaza strip. Each of those groups face the Israeli occupation injustices in different levels, Gaza being the worst scenario case. In each of those areas there are Christians and churches and they face the same challenges and injustices similar to their own people the Palestinians.


Image 1 (Source: “Judaizing Palestine,” Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, (2021).

“So we are talking about a conflict that is less than a 100 years old, based on the occupation of people to other people’s land and creating an unjust situation for millions of people now.”

HS Let me ask the big question: what are the roots of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”? How do you see the future of your people? Rev Dr Sara For some this might be a complex question and they might say that the conflict is old from thousands of years and relate this to biblical stories and other futuristic apocalyptic interpretation, which are all nonsense if you read the Bible right and know that in the NT (New Testament), the Holy Land is no longer the promised land nor the place where God wants to build a temple in it, there is no need a temple anyway. The conflict is only from the 20th century, after the colonisation of many parts of the middle east and `North Africa by European powers and to solve some of the problems of the Europe the question of what to do with the Jews was on the table, together with that an awaking of the Zionist movement with the aspiration to bring the Jewish people to a land which some of their ancient ancestors lived in it. Once this movement happened together with the infamous Balfour Declaration of promising the land of Palestine to the Jews, right after that and the permission for Jewish groups to settle in the Holy Land the conflict began. So we are talking about a conflict that is less than a 100 years old, based on the occupation of people to other people’s land and creating an unjust situation for millions of people now. The crux of the matter: Land grab and displacement of people and stripping them of their right to live in their land freely and in dignity. HS Thank you once again for accomodating me. It’s good speaking with you. Rev Dr Sara You are welcome brother, always honoured to communicate with you.

Reverend Dr Jack Sara was born and raised in the Old City of Jerusalem. He is an ordained minister with Evangelical Alliance Church in the Holy Land where he maintains an overseeing role with the leadership of the churches. He has worked extensively in the areas of peace & reconciliation. He also holds the office of Secretary General for the Middle East and North Africa region of the World Evangelical Alliance (MENA-WEA). He studied at Bethlehem Bible College, West Bank after committing his life to Christ and his teachings, and soon became a member and leader in the ministry of the Jerusalem Alliance Church. He earned his Master of Divinity degree at the Alliance Biblical Seminary in the Philippines, and went on to study at the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the United States where he earned his Ph.D. in Missions and Cross Cultural Studies. Hadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Centre for Palestine Studies – SOAS University of London, UK. Sadje obtained his MA in Theology and Religious Studies at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium and has been working with various professional and faith-based organizations, including Christian Peacemaker Team, Caritas Brussels, Peace Builders Community Philippines, and the Foundation University – Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


INSiGHT | June 2021

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Search “council for world mission” on the above social media channels to find us!


Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness. ” ~ Baha'u'llah


INSiGHT | June 2021

4 June | International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression





INSiGHT | June 2021

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” ~ John F. Kennedy



Religious Diversity, Political Conflict, This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of INSiGHT.

There is no other region in the world, where religion and politics interact, collide, and conjoin like in the Middle East. The region I come from, called the Middle East, is on the one hand the cradle of three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is on the other hand a region of diverse ethnicities, religious minorities, and multiple identities. Add to that the fact that the modern history of this region has been marked for over a century by colonial history, conflicting imperial interests, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and regional instability. In this paper I will analyse three different contemporary case studies that will show the use and misuse of religion in contexts of political conflicts. In the first case study I will look at the latest debate at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israeli Settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In a second case study I will look at the interaction between religion and state in the Arab World in relation to power, and in the third I will look at the role Christian Zionists play within the current context. While the first case study will focus on a Jewish Israeli case, the second will look at a case within the Arab-Islamic region, and the third is an intra-Christian western case. After analysing these case studies, I will try to draw three important conclusions from a liberation theology point of view. Religion in the context of Occupation The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the longest ongoing conflicts in modern history. 28

This conflict, however, has its roots not in the Middle East, but in nineteenth century Europe. It was exactly 100 years ago, on November 2nd 1917 that the British Lord Arthur James Balfour promised the land of Palestine to another British-Jewish Lord Rothschild. It wasn’t the Lord God who promised the land to the Jews of Europe, but Lord Balfour. This was not done out of religious convictions, but rather part of British Imperial expansion policy on the one hand, and of interior political necessity on the other. On the one hand the European Jews were to colonise Palestine and to settle there serving British Imperial expansion and interests. On the other, the sending of the European Jewish community to Palestine was supposed to solve an interior European issue, the integration or non-assimilation of Jews in Europe. Nonetheless, religion played indirectly a role behind this declaration. For many Zionist Christians in Great Britain the restoration of the Jewish people was a precondition for the second coming of Christ. A subtle anti-Arab and anti-Muslim theology was the other side of this coin. The Balfour declaration was issued at a time when the British army, stationed in Egypt, were ready to storm southern Palestine. The plan for a National Home for the Jewish people was thus one of the deals and outcomes of the WWI. This plan was made possible in the aftermath of WWII. It was in this context that in 1947 (70 years ago) the United Nations adopted the partition plan to divide Palestine into two states. A year later the State of Israel was established. The new state chose a biblical name “Israel” for itself.

INSiGHT | June 2021

The branding of the Israeli state as “biblical Israel” accelerated after 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights (50 years ago). The name chosen for the war “Six days” had a biblical connotation: like God who finished creating the creation in six days, Israel was able to finish its job by occupying the rest of Palestine and before they can rest. 1967 didn't bring rest neither to the Israeli nor to the Palestinians. On the contrary. When the international community and the political leadership of both peoples failed in achieving a just peace, people started turning more and more to religion searching there for answers. The longer the conflict remained unsolved with human intervention, the more it started getting religious connotation. The outcome of the 1967 war gave a boost to Jewish religious nationalism and to “messianic” extremist Jewish groups within Israel, who started settling in the West Bank claiming it as ancient “Judea and Samaria.” Judea and Samaria was not so much a geographical description but rather a religious claim with a clear political agenda. The Iranian revolution and the petro-dollar that flooded the gulf region gave a boost to certain forms of political Islam. Christian Zionism experienced a revival and their followers started celebrating Israel victory as a direct Divine Intervention. After Oslo and when political leaders were ready for a political compromise, the opposition utilised religion to empty that peace agreement. Rabin was killed by a religious Jewish Israeli person, and Hamas started a series of suicide attacks on Israeli targets.

and the Spirituality of Liberation by Rev Dr Mitri Raheb, President, Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, Palestine

Expanding Israeli settlements in the Palestinian land became a tactic of the Israeli government who have been subsidising the building of settlements through soft loans, tax exemptions, and a modern infrastructure. This is just the background for the first case study I would like to analyse. On December 23rd 2016 the UN Security Council met to discuss the expansion of Israeli settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A resolution 2334 (2016) was adopted by 14 countries in favour and a US abstention. The resolution reaffirmed the Security Council stand that Israeli Settlement have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Internal Law. The full text reads as follows: “The Security Council, “Reaffirming its relevant resolutions … “Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, “Reaffirming the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and recalling the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice, “Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem,

including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions, “Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines, “Recalling the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap, endorsed by its resolution 1515 (2003), for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth”, and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001…”i I was watching the debate live and listened to the 14 council members talking about the fourth Geneva Convention and International law and how important it is to abide by them. The US representative explained the decision to abstain rather than veto the resolution by saying that settlements are undermining Israel’s security and eroding the prospect for a two states solution, thus peace and stability. Once all 15 Security Council members were given the floor, it was time for Danny Dannon, the Israeli representative to the UN to address the council. This is what he said: “Mr. President today is a bad day for this council…This council wasted valuable time and efforts condemning the democratic state of Israel for building homes in the historic homeland for the Jewish people. We have presented the truth time and again for this council and implore

you not to believe the lies presented in this resolution. I ask each and every member of this council who voted for this resolution: Who gave you the right to issue such a decree denying our eternal rights in Jerusalem? …We overcame those decrees during the time of the Maccabees and we will overcome this evil decree today. We have full confidence in the justice of our cause and in the righteousness of our path. We will continue to be a democratic state based on the rule of law and full civil and human rights for all our citizens and we will continue to be a Jewish state. Proudly reclaiming the land of our forefathers, where the Maccabees fought their oppressors and King David ruled from Jerusalem.” And just before ending his speech, something interesting happened that captured my full attention. Mr. Dannon pulled a Hebrew Bible, lifted it up in his hand, and said: “This holy-book the Bible contained 3,000 years of history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. No one, no one can change this history.” It wasn’t a surprise for me to hear such rhetoric from an Israel politician, but what struck me was the act of raising the Hebrew Bible at a UN Security Council with the aim of undermining International Law and the Geneva Convention articles. It is interesting to see the words and language Mr. Dannon uses in his speech. Mr. Dannon is convinced that he owns the truth: “We have presented the truth time and again.” He is convinced of the justice of his cause and the righteousness of his path.


He uses words like "historic homeland" and "eternal rights." He kept shifting between biblical Israel and the state of Israel of today as if they were one and the same: “Proud live and reclaiming the land of our forefathers, where the Maccabees fought their oppressors and King David ruled from Jerusalem.” And “This holy-book the Bible contained 3,000 years of history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. No one, no one can change this history.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political conflict over land and rights. The UN Resolution clearly refers to international laws applicable in contexts of occupation. Mr. Dannon doesn't address this issue. He avoids it on purpose because there is no human excuse to it and there is no way that one can excuse their colonial expansionist policy. The last resort to defend the Israeli settlement policy is God. Mr. Dannon is basically saying this: “We don't adhere to international law, we do not abide by the Geneva Convention, we don’t care about the bill of human rights, because we possess divine and eternal rights.” Religion is here used to avoid a political solution and to religiously legalise what is politically an aggression. I asked myself: How did we arrive at a situation today where divine rights trump human rights? Is it possible to violate the human rights in the name of divine rights? Is it possible to use the biblical text to white wash military occupation and the oppression of whole nations? Can religious convictions lead to a severe violation of international law? The matter here is not about religious convictions, but rather how religious convictions are instrumentalised for political ends. And how Divine rights are utilised to allow for the violation of human rights and to avoid solving a political conflict. And while Jewish Israeli are given land to occupy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinian towns and villages are being striped of any possibilities for expansion or natural growth. This situation is a clear case of discrimination, segregation, and apartheid and can't be defended by modern international standards thus the resort to the Bible as the last resort and legitimising tool.


Graffiti in Tel Aviv, Israel - March 2009 (Photo by David Miller)

Christian Zionism as a tool of the Israel Lobby The third case study I want to focus on is an intra-Christian debate. During an international conference commemorating the 30th anniversary of Kairos South Africa on August 20th. 2015, a delegation from Palestine was present. One of the members of the delegation was Rev Dr Robert O. Smith, at that time he was serving as the Program Director of the Middle East and North Africa at the ELCA and co-Moderator of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches. Dr. Smith is the author of “More desired than Our Owne Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism,” which is his doctoral thesis at Baylor. During the conference, Smith and two other Palestinians were invited to speak at an evening panel organised by one of the South African Palestinian Solidarity groups. In his short input, and after describing himself as a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the displaced Chickasaw Nation, and as a current resident in Jerusalem, Robert wanted to talk about the responsibility of international Christians to the Christians of Palestine, and raised the question about why the Christian community in the world react to the suffering of the Palestinian community the way they do and why do they allow Israel to behave the way it does. He mentioned three reasons: First, “I would say that the Christians in the United States and I assume also in South Africa often do not know that Christians are present in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and within the State of Israel. They have a false imagination of what Israel is and what Palestine is. They falsely assume that Israel is made up solely of Jews and that the West Bank is made of solely of Palestinian Muslims but this is not true INSiGHT | June 2021

and even if it were true it does not excuse the actions of the State of Israel. Secondly Christians in the United States and in many other places have negative conceptions of Islam and Muslims. They operate out of a fundamental fear of Islam and Muslims along with the false understanding that the conflict is at its foundation religiously formed; that it is a conflict between Islam and Judaism. This is so far from the truth; it is a conflict over land; it is a political conflict over resources; it is a political conflict over self-determination and decolonising principles. It is not first and foremost about religion although the continuation of the political conflict brings us closer to very dangerous religious conflicts. And finally Christians in the United States and in many other places and I’ve heard many South African friends this week tell me are influenced by the Imperial theology known as Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism is first and foremost political activity. It is not really a theology; it is not a commitment to doctrines and principles of faith; it is a political ideology that supports Jewish control over the land that now contains Israel and Palestine...It is essential that all of us understands that the Israel of the Bible, the ancient Israelites, are not linked in any substantive or material way to the contemporary modern Israel. The biblical narrative of Israel has almost nothing to do with contemporary Israel other than the intentional manipulation of sacred texts to justify a political project. We must reject the theological justification for the present acts of the State of Israel and we must instead draw from our sacred texts the Quran the Torah the Tanakh as a whole and the Christian scriptures to instead inform resistance to empire that is faithful to our traditions.”ii

This presentation was tapped as many other presentations. Suddenly on April 4th 2017 Robert Smith became a target for a social media smear campaign orchestrated by an American Christian who describes himself as a media analyst, his name is Dexter van Zile. The smearing campaign uses a quote from Robert Smith presentation in South Africa that reads: “The biblical narrative of Israel has almost nothing to do with contemporary Israel other than the intentional manipulation of sacred texts to justify a political project.” In any debate about any Christian doctrine, theologians can speak their mind, critic almost everything. One can question the existence or non-existence of god, the divinity of Christ, the historicity of any biblical story, but dare anyone question anything regarding the State of Israel. There are watch dogs who watch every word, watch every YouTube, follow every tweet, and every post. It seems that when it comes to the issue of Israel, neither religious disagreements are allowed nor diverse political opinions are tolerated. Even worse, every credible Christian theologian or researcher who dares to question the religious Hora of the State of Israel becomes a plausible target for all kind of Israeli Watch dogs groups. The Israel lobby is very clever. They don’t want to be at the front of such attack, so they hire Christian Zionists to do the dirty job for them.

The message is not debated here but rather the messenger is targeted. Killing as well as character assassination in the name of God becomes a religious duty. After looking at these three case studies allow me to add three theological conclusions: Divine rights and Human Rights In contexts of conflicts, as in the Middle East, groups often utilise divine rights to deny others equal human rights. We find these groups within all three monotheistic religions. These are not only Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, but also Jewish groups in Israel as well as Israeli politicians. These are also Christian Zionists, who keep attacking fellow Christians who dare to challenge the Israeli Occupation.

All people are created equally in God's image. In fact, all three monotheistic religions could agree on this. As Christians we believe also that in Christ and in Bethlehem, God became human so that all human lives are sanctified. Such a theology of liberation is essential in our region today. But in today's world we adhere to the universal declaration of human rights that clearly states that "All Human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." It should not be acceptable by religious or political terms to violate human rights in the name of divine rights, or to play God against humanity. Groups who do that are misusing the scriptures for their own political ideologies. The scriptures and the Human Rights charter are there for one and the same reason: to defend the meek, protect the rights of the weak, put limits to those in power, and to make sure that the state adheres to the laws. Both religion and state have to ensure that the power of law and not the law of power prevails. No religion or human legislation is entitled to give the Israelis more rights than Palestinians, Muslims more privileges than Christians, or men higher wages than women. Equality is something we cannot compromise on neither religiously nor secularly. The Cross as the ultimate critique of state and religious terroriii

A graffiti by the street artist Banksy on the Israeli West Bank barrier.

Dexter van Zile is one of those hired in 2005 by Charles Jacobs to be the director of Christian Outreach and to oversee an initiative called the Judeo-Christian Alliance at the David project. A year later, Dexter moved to another watchdog group called CAMERA “The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.” He does the dirty work of targeting Christians. If one follow the smear campaign done over two days one would notice the following: the campaign is intended to scare Robert so that he starts censoring himself. By mentioning Notre Dame University, Robert’s employer, in the campaign, the university is dragged into the issue and will either exert pressure on Robert or even fire him. One religious or political view on Palestine can therefore cost people their job, their reputation, and comes close to a character assassination. And last but not least, there is no room for dialogue or diverse opinions or academic or political disagreement.

Two forces are currently violating the human rights in our region: so-called "security states" who don’t allow people to move, to have an opinion, to publish controversial books, to question policies, or simply to think critically; and religious movements who leave no room for people to choose their beliefs and to breathe freely. Both forces create systems based on fear. The fear of the state and the fear of God become two sides of the same coin. A society that is based on fear rather than on freedom kills the soul and spirit of its people, their innovation and their creativity. There will be no future for the Middle East until we break out from the bondage of the security state as well as of oppressive “religious laws” to a wide open space where human lives and security is protected, where freedom is free to blossom, and where human rights become sacred. For us as Christians, a spirituality of liberation is a spirituality of creation and incarnation.

For too long we have tried to spiritualise the notion of liberation in the Bible. We replaced liberation with salvation, and the cross became nothing but an atonement. We have to put the cross in its original context of political and religious violence. Jesus was one of the many who experienced on his own body the violence of both state as well as religious terror. The cross is a permanent reminder of the millions of people who are persecuted either by the state or by the religious establishment because they raise their prophetic critique to an unjust ruler or to corrupt forms of religion. The cross is a reminder of all those innocent killed in the name of God. There is an urgent need today to discover this dimension of the cross. The fact that Jesus died on the cross by a combination of state and religious terror is of utmost importance as a critique to both powers. The cross becomes the ultimate critique of state as well as religious violence. 31

The cross becomes a mirror that shows God’s vulnerability and the cruelty of political and religious behaviour. For the peoples of the Middle East, who are living either in contexts of the Israeli occupation, or in the context of political despotism, or affected on daily basis by religious extremism, this dimension of the The Gaza Strip after eight days of bombing by Israel. (Photo New York Times/HH) cross is of utmost Alexander and Company had the importance. Both religion and the ambitious plan to pour all tribes and state must be under the rule of law as groups into one gigantic melting pot. a mean of protection from political The outcome of this forceful unification despotism on the one hand, and from was utter confusion. The empire fell tyrannical and repressive religious apart and dissolved. The Romans tried extremism that bans what it dislikes the same experiment and were no more and legitimises what suits its successful. The Byzantine emperor, ambitions, on the other. The role of Constantine, thought that by forcing one the state is to safeguard the rights of creed at Calcedon he could unite his all its citizens. On the other hand, empire behind one emperor and one religion has an important role to faith. The Oriental identities and inspire its followers to be expressions of faith were thus declared compassionate. Securing human heretical and were persecuted. dignity and the well-being of the people is at the core of religion and the The Arabs tried to push their language ultimate raison d’être for statehood. on to the Berbers of North Africa and on There is a dire need for a prophetic central Asian countries which led to the and dynamic faith that does not run opposite effect-of less identification with away or hide from the challenges of their empire by those tribes. This issue is the society but instead engages the central for a Middle East which is society for the good of all citizens. The pluralistic in nature. No single empire alternative to state and religious terror has been able to force the region into is a society based on civil laws, uniformity. There was never a single freedom, compassion, and equal Catholic Church that monopolised the citizenship irrespective of one’s Christian faith in the Middle East but religious convictions, cultural identity, rather national churches: Copts, Syriac, socio-economic status, or race. Marinates, Greeks, etc., each worshipping in their own native A vision for a world marked by Diversityiv language and possessing, as they do today, a distinct cultural identity. The The story of Pentecost in the Book of same is true for Islam. It too has Acts (2: 1-13) is imperative to different expressions according to understanding the spirituality that is different regions: Shiite, Sunni, Alawite, needed in the Middle East because it Druze etc. All efforts to forcefully unify provides a counter narrative to the them have come to naught. The Middle logic of the oppressive regimes. The East continues to be one of the most narrative of oppressive regimes is diverse regions in the world with found in Genesis (11: 1-9) in the story multiple ethnicities, religious of the Tower of Babel, where a mighty affiliations, and plural identities. For any empire with a strong economy reaches empire this was and is both a challenge to heaven and with one language holds and an opportunity. A challenge because the empire together. This is exactly the region resisted all attempts of what Alexander the Great and the forceful inclusion. But an opportunity Greeks tried to do with imposing because the empire was forever keen to Greek and Hellenistic culture on their play one group against the other and conquered peoples. ensure that the region remained

i ii iii iv


preoccupied with internecine fighting so that the empire’s job of control was easier. This is part and parcel of colonial history in the Middle East. In this context, the story of Pentecost shows an alternative vision of the region by reversing the story of the Tower of Babylon. Jerusalem becomes the counter narrative of Babel. Here various nations and cultures meet. They don’t speak the language of the empire, but rather their own native languages. Their identities are respected and embraced. The Spirit provides the software for communication so that they understand each other. In this story the rich diversity of the region is embraced and celebrated. It is regarded as strength rather than a deficiency. The multiple identities of the region are viewed not as contradictions, but as a treasure to save. In Jerusalem the people from the whole oikumene “stood” on equal footing, "Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrdne; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs". The moment Pentecost was taken out of its original context it became a nice story without any particular significance. It became a tale about speaking in tongues, and thus lost its contextual relevance. The Church born in Jerusalem was meant to counter the empire; not by creating another but by providing a new, ecumenical vision. The spirituality so urgently needed today, more than at any previous time, is one that embraces diversity and celebrates it as strength. A Christian spirituality of liberation is a crucial contribution not only to the survival of the Christian community as such, but is crucial for the future of the Middle East at large ensuring that human rights are protected, prophetic critique is raised, and diversity is celebrated. Robert Smith Jerusalem World Council of Churches: For more, Raheb, Mitri & Watts Henerson, Suzanne, The Cross in Contexts: Suffering and Redemption in Palestine. Maryknoll: Orbis, 2017. Raheb, Mitri, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes. Maryknoll: Orbis 2014, p. 110-112. INSiGHT | June 2021

This article first appeared in the June 2020 issue of INSiGHT.

The Suffering and the Resurrection

An Overview of COVID-19 by Imliyanger Jamir

At this juncture we as Christians approach a time to

commemorate the suffering of Christ and Resurrection. Let us be reminded that Christ had to go through all sorts of sufferings i.e., physical, mental, spiritual in order to fulfill God’s will before the resurrection. This was the goal of Christ coming into the world, fulfilling the mission successfully by redeeming the human race eternally. I wish to write this article from the context of people presently suffering due to Novel Corona virus (covid-19) around the globe and Christ’s redeeming hope for humanity and how churches are adjusting their churches’ services. Are we willing to submit this suffering to God, like Christ did (Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42) so you and i can be redeemed and fulfill God’s plan? What is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?

‘WHO’ has stated that Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. This virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well-informed about the virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently and not touching your face. The sad part is that there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.1 The whole world is in dilemma. Seeking professionals and scientists to acquire a cure for this virus at the same time, while people are suffering directly and indirectly. Rumours, fake news are everywhere; people are in a state of utmost fear. Food, medical utilities like masks and sanitisers etc. are all out of stock, with a huge hike in price on the available materials. It is not getting any better. The respective governments are trying their best to handle this situation to contain the virus and producing enough supply for their people. People are in anticipation that this will blow over soon. On the other hand, those in poverty are in a pitiful condition, and are most affected by the coronavirus, around the globe. Suffering Eric Cassel said that suffering can be defined as a state of severe distress associated with events that threaten the intactness of the person. It can occur in relation to any aspect of the person in the realm of his social role, his group identification, his relation with self or body, or in relation to family or relation with a personal or transcendental source of meaning.


Suffering never affects only one part of a person but it affects the whole being; i.e. physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects.2 Further, suffering or pain, in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm to an individual. It is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. Suffering is often categorised as physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.3 The global economy is suffering and it will take years for it to come back to normal but those who are most affected are the poor, the homeless, and their families. Most countries are in a total lockdown and due to shutdown of factories, shops, small and big industries, labourers working there are told to go back to their hometown. However, with transportation shut down, some families had to walk for days to reach their respective villages. Countries with high population have to undergo many aspects of suffering. India has been put in lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. People have been told to stay indoors, but for many daily-wage earners this is not an option. Ramesh Kumar a construction labourer said that he knew “there won't be anybody to hire us, but we still took our chances.” He further stated, “I earn 600 rupees ($8; £6.50) every day and I have five people to feed. We will run out of food in a few days. I know the risk of coronavirus, but I can't see my children hungry.” Millions of other daily-wage earners are in a similar situation. However, not everybody could afford to travel back to their villages. Kishan Lal, who works as a rickshaw puller in the northern city of Allahabad, said he had not made any money in the past four days. “I need to earn to feed my family. I have heard that the government is going to give us money - though I have no idea when and how," he said. His friend Ali Hasan, who works as a cleaner in a shop, said he had run out of money to buy food. “The shop shut down two days ago and I haven't been paid. I don't know when it will open. I am very scared. I have a family, how am I going to feed them?" he asked.4 At least 90 percent of India's workforce is employed in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organisation, working in roles like security guards, cleaners, rickshaw pullers, street vendors, garbage collectors and domestic help. Many are local migrant workers, which means that they are technically residents of a different state from the one where they work. Then there is the problem of the floating population: people who do not live in any state for a long period as they move around to find work.5


Thousands of people, mostly young male day labourers, as well as families, fled from big cities in India after the Prime Minister of India announced a 21-day lockdown that began on 25 March 2020 and effectively put millions of Indians who live off daily earnings out of work. But thousands of India’s most vulnerable fear dying not of the disease caused by the new virus but rather of starvation. Moreover, their house owners were told to hike the rent. Therefore, they decided to head back to their respective native places. On the other hand, people around the world who were infected by this virus and were cured face discrimination from their neighbours and communities. It has become a stigma to have been infected with the virus. In some other nations, people who reside abroad are blamed for bringing this virus to their country when they are air lifted back to their home country. With all these, people are tortured mentally, leading these persons to suffer psychologically. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the suffering people are facing. It can be collectively stated that only the poor people are suffering in physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects. New perspectives in conducting of Church devotions After COVID19 began to spread, radical changes have been made in church settings, especially in devotion services, as the government has stated several regulations that religious groups are required to follow in order not to spread the virus further. They are: Shifting from onsite worship to online worship. The Church encourages members to follow the Sunday worship from their home. However, those wanting to go to church are not stopped. Anyone can do so, but with precautions adopted such as maintaining a sitting distance, putting on the mask at all times, sanitising your hands before entering the church building and being required to provide your personal contact information before entering the church. In case any positive cases arise, they then need to be contacted for further check-ups or to be quarantined. After the church service, get-together meals are all suspended. Holy communion is conducted according to the congregation’s convenience. Church encourages a fellowship gathering at a house while the pastor can lead the communion through live broadcast. Due to the impact of coronavirus, some church pastors now give permission to the leader of the house to administer Holy Communion independently, preparing bread and wine or juice, to serve household members. If they are in church, they will be served ready packs of wine or juice and bread.

INSiGHT | June 2021

The shift from offerings traditionally done in-person to using barcode/QR code or online offerings, especially for those unable to participate on worship. While collecting offering the church, the helper will be required to go to each member present instead of passing the offering bags around, so as to prevent the handle of the offering bag from being the medium of transmitting the virus. These are some of the changes happening in and out of the church services globally. God cares for suffering people The bible is a symbol of the presence of the God of life with them and a resource in their struggle for survival, liberation and life.6 God is always there with the suffering people. Without suffering there is no life (James 1:12). Suffering is inevitable in human lives. It is evident that the world is full of suffering. Physical, emotional and spiritual pain has been and will be an intrinsic part of the human experience. The archetypal example of our suffering was Jesus Christ, who was persecuted and crucified by the Roman officials (1 Peter 3:18-19). Suffering will indeed come, but God can give us grace and power to overcome every trial and to fulfil our purpose and mission in His kingdom. God cares for the suffering people and assures His help to overcome the pain and suffering. The Bible gives counsel on the meaning of suffering and how we can best endure it (1 Peter 3:14). Further, the compassion of God is with persons who are without power and protection.7 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ though he was rich, yet for human sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). God is with the suffering people. God is with the people who are infected with Coronavirus. God is with those who are suffering directly and indirectly because of Covid-19. God is with migrant workers leaving their workplace due to total lockdown. God is with those suffering all around the globe. God announces judgment upon those who abuse power and deny justice to the poor. Jesus too challenged unjust systems and practices and called the powerful and privileged who benefit from such, to repent and be transformed by the values of love, sharing, truthfulness and humility.8 Resurrection week Social distancing gives various measures for people to be removed from public life. It is the time to be at home with family members. Don’t we think that it is a very good time to be together with family and God? Is this what God has in mind for us in this season of Passion Week? The coming together to celebrate the resurrection week has to be changed due to this pandemic situation. Modification and restriction are meant to contain this virus and the adjustment of celebration should not mean that we have less of a relationship with God, but rather, we should follow the government’s regulations in obedience to preserve humankind and understand that this is the will of God for this time (Rom13:1-5). There are various reasons which makes the writer feel that the resurrection week has become more central to human being (homecoming).


Firstly, the chief purpose of Christ’s resurrection is to redeem humankind (Mark 10:45). Jesus knew what this mission, ending on the cross, was all about, and it’s fundamentally about laying down Jesus’s life as a ransom payment for many. Therefore redeem this precious time with family and sacrifice your big group worship gatherings and narrow it down to family worship time. Secondly, the Church’s encouragement for families to get together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper during the resurrection week. This brings us back to the house church during Jesus’ time on earth and after that, where the house church was most common among the believers (Acts 2:46-47). It is indeed a very good time to be intimate and know more about each other. Sharing, praying together and be part of the Christ fellowship. Thirdly, the drastic changes which led people to stay home. This we can take it in a prophetic manner of family oneness, which is a very important part in God’s kingdom. God cares about families. Jesus talks about children and parents most of the time. (Matt 19:14-15; Exodus 20:12; Eph 6:1-2). Therefore, this resurrection week, let us submit to God together as a family. Having the celebration together and learning more about Christ suffering and resurrection. Final Thoughts Suffering is inevitable. It is part and parcel of life as Christ suffered in order to achieve the goal. We humans need to accept this reality. The good news is, God is always there in our midst both in good and bad times. We are assured that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut.31:6; Heb.13:5). We just need to submit all our worries, cares unto God (1Peter 5:7). God’s help is always there for those who trust in God. This Covid-19 pandemic situation - which has led to several unprecedented changes in spiritual, physical, mental and social realms - has affected people and environment around the globe. On the other hand, it has done a great deal in alleviating pollution. Mother Earth can take a rest due to fewer vehicles on the road, and factories are closed which has led to a cleaner environment. Do we need lockdown every year to spend time indoors together as a family and give the environment a rest? Let us take this situation as an opportunity to commemorate the suffering of Christ and celebrate His resurrection in our homes. The church building has changed into a house and congregation to family members. Let us take this opportunity to get closer to God together as a family. Finally, we need Diakonia; diakonia is a way of living out faith and hope as a community, witnessing to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Diakonia involves actions of care, relief and service, but goes further and addresses the root causes of injustice embedded in oppressive systems and structures. At this juncture, there are lots of people needing help. We as Christians together as church should come out and help those people in need: old people, persons with disabilities, stranded workers unable to return to their native villages due to lockdowns and so on. They require help and provision of shelter, food, protection, encouragement and counselling. It is to be reflected in all the different expressions of being Church: in worship and proclamation, in practices of hospitality and visitation (Hebrews 13:1-3), in public witness and advocacy. Every Christian is called to be a witness to God’s transforming grace through acts of service that hold forth the promise of God’s reign. To practice diakonia is to heal relationships, and nurture partnerships for the sake of God’s good creation. It is bringing people and communities’ together. Diakonia stands out as a reason for unity and as such also needs to be seen as its instrument. As a part of the conclusion I wish to state some prayer points and request readers to remember in your prayers: Pray for people/nations affected with the pandemic Covid-19. Pray for nations to be generous towards poor people suffering in their communities. Pray for frontline workers, who are sacrificing their lives to save many lives. Pray that nations will stop using biological weapons. Not to take lives but to save lives, nature and wildlife. Pray for scientists, researchers and those involved in looking for a cure to this Covid-19. Pray for churches and NGOs around the globe serving people in their physical and spiritual needs. Pray for leaders of the nations that they listen to God and take courage and release people from this situation. Pray for the churches once again as we commemorate the suffering and resurrection of Christ to be more enlightening and discerning to the will of God. Pray against and rebuke the evil principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). May the good Lord be with each and every one of us as we come together to remember the suffering and resurrection of Christ. God bless us all.









Gerald O.West, The Academy of the Poor: Towards a Dialogical Reading of the Bible (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications, 2003), ix.


Felix Wilfred, Margins: Site of Asian Theologies (Delhi: ISPCK, 2008), xi.


INSiGHT | June 2021

This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of INSiGHT.

The Colonial Oppressiveness

of the Biblical Concept of

Hospitality by Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre

On 21 June 1960, although still a toddler, I received an affidavit from the U.S. government demanding my immediate departure. Hospitality was not to be offered to me nor my family. The legal form received in the mail declared I was in violation of Section 242 of the Immigration and Nationality Act; in other words, I overstayed by tourist visa. At the time, I was living with my parents in the infamous Hell’s Kitchen. Although a trendy neighborhood today, back then, these were the slums which housed broken lives, on which the blockbuster musical Westside Story was based. We were living on the fourth floor of a rat and roach infested one-room apartment with no toilet. The bathroom was communal, shared with the other four tenants on the floor. We did not self-deport, becoming, what derogatively is called “illegals.” The irony of the situation is that I found refuge in the very country responsible for my expatriation in the first place. Our presence within the belly of the empire was not due to our desire to seek liberty, equality, or freedom. We did not leave our homeland in Cuba in hopes of chasing the so-called American Dream of achieving economic opportunities. Personally, I would rather have spent my days on my own land, among my own people, immerse in my own culture, speaking my own language. But for almost sixty years, I have been separated from the land which witnessed my birth, and have no doubt my bones will eventually be placed to rest in a foreign and alien land. Constructing the “Illegal” Those, as I once were, who find themselves within U.S. borders without proper documentation are labelled “illegal.” But the term used to describe their existence is neither neutral nor innocent because it connotes criminality, marking the one called illegal as inherently dangerous. Lacking proper documentation should not characterise one as a threatening or unlawful; nevertheless, the term “illegal” is insisted upon by the media and politicians because it constructs a moral framework which masks Euroamerican racism and fear of brown bodies. The Oppressiveness of Hospitality The biblical concept of hospitality has meant more than simply inviting a stranger to share a meal. Refusing to provide hospitality to the stranger could prove deadly for the sojourner passing through, for protection and benefits were tied to land and landownership.


A stranger, having no claim to land, was exposed – think of the two angels visiting Sodom. For this reason, Jews are reminded of their patriarchs Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, all of whom were aliens and thus vulnerable. Jews are constantly reminded of the hardship experienced in Egypt were once offered hospitality turned to slavery. Our responsibility to the alien among us is reinforced in the New Testament where followers of Jesús are called to show hospitality toward strangers, for some unwittingly entertained angels (Heb. 13:2). The biblical term used for “sojourner” or “stranger” connotes the hardship which today’s undocumented face. The word captures that in-between space of neither being native-born nor a foreigner. The stranger, the sojourner, the alien – then and now – remains vulnerable, only now that vulnerability is at the hands of those who profit off of their labour. For this reason, several faith institutions, i.e. the Catholic Church, choses to tie the plight of the immigrant with the salvation of nations which hosts them. Hospitality is thus based on three biblical assumptions: 1) Once the Jews suffered oppressed at the hands of the inhabitants of Egypt (Ex. 22:21), therefore immigrants require protection; 2) God always sides with and intervenes to liberate the oppressed (Ex. 23:9), therefore God sides against their oppressors, even when those oppressors are chosen; and 3) God’s covenant with Israel is contingent on everyone benefitting, regardless if they are Jews or not (Dt. 26:11). I argue that the employment of hospitality is damning to the cause of immigration justice.

Hospitality assumes the “house” belongs to the one who gets to offer the virtue of hospitality. Because they are good and generous Christians, they willingly and unselfishly share their resources with the less fortunate. Hospitality assumes the one receiving hospitality, the one who does not belong, has no claim to what is being offered for what is offered is a gift freely given. The only appropriate response is “thank you.” Missing is the colonial consequences of house ownership. This “house” which the dominant culture is willing to provide a room for the undocumented was built using the stolen natural resources and cheap labour of those now forced to leave the countries of origins. They leave due to a century of conquest known as Manifest Destiny and a century of imperialism known as Gunboat Diplomacy. They leave chasing after their appropriated goods. Hospitality masks complicity with empire building. Manifest Destiny, Gunboat Diplomacy, Banana Republics, and trade agreements like NAFTA is what made building the house possible in the first place. My sugar, my tobacco, and my rum built this house - and I want my d**** house back. Keep your hospitality, I am demanding what is due to me. You are doing me no favors by giving back what is mine. Rather than calling for the virtue of hospitality, our commitment to liberative justice would be more accurate by demanding the dominant culture wrestle with their responsibility concerning restitution (De La Torre, 2009:9-14). Maybe rather than calling the faithful to a virtue of hospitality, we should be asking what do we owe those who today we call “illegal” for over a century of invading, regime change, pillage, and rape. Miguel A. De La Torre is Professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology, a religious scholar, author, and an ordained minister.


INSiGHT | June 2021

These poems first appeared in the February 2019 issue of INSiGHT.

CWM recognises that young people are full participants and contributors in God’s mission and are vital to the ministry of Jesus. As a process for leadership formation and nurturing, youth initiatives have been planned in the regions, as a platform for young people within member churches in the regions to come together, to grow and to contribute in addressing the challenges they perceive Empire poses; and God sends to address in mission. Two young poets performed at Groutville Congregational Church during the Youth Initiative in CWM Africa region last September.

Not because I’m black. But because my heart warms And tears run down my face When I think about Africa. I’m an African, Not because I live here, But because the African Sun lit my path. Because the air that I breathe Is for these majestic mountains. That air nurtured me Growing up. I’m an African, Not because I can speak Swahili, shona, zulu or xhosa. But because my heart is Shaped like a question mark, Just like Africa. I’m an African, Not because I’m black, But because my umbilical cord Is buried under the majestic Mountains of Africa.

by Miss Amahle Ngcobo, a member of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) Groutville Circuit.


I’m an African child from the dusty streets of mother Africa, an African child who owes his loyalty to the people of Africa and their struggles. I’m an African child who hates seeing our beautiful God-given continent portrayed as a charity case by the rest of the world. As they call it Africa I call it home, a home which continues to bleed heavily, although the population gets younger but our problems get older. I’m an African child who will continue to fight for the interests of my fellow African brothers and sisters who face major problems, I’m an African child who’ll continue showing the rest of the world how beautiful our continent is, you might not see the beauty of Africa on TV but the beauty lives within each and every single one of us African children. I’m an African child who will never give up no matter what, an African child who first accepts that I’m African not only because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me. I’m an African child with rough hair and dark eyes, I might not have blue eyes and blonde hair that some perceive as “beauty” but I’m African and proud of it! I’m an African child who will one day travel around the world and have to answer silly stereotypical questions about my home (Africa). I’m an African child and there’s no one in the world I would rather be than to be African. When an African boy sees an African girl he sees a sister, and when an African girl sees an African boy she sees a brother.

by Miss Nosipho Ngcobo, a member of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) Groutville Circuit. 40

INSiGHT | June 2021


I Am A Girl A coming-of-age documentary where we get to experience the stories of 6 girls, all from different countries spread across the various continents in the world, to witness their cultural diversity and what it means to be a young female, growing up in their part of the world. Discrimination is still very much alive in this day and age, but these young and strong women show us their strength and courage as they cling on to hope and determination and have found ways to face the ugly reality of an unbalanced system which women still face largely today in their daily lives.

In My Blood It Runs Dujuan is a 10-year-old boy belonging to the Arrernte Aboriginal family in Australia. The film allows viewers to look into the life of his and his family, facing the daily discrimination of a largely white community in Alice Springs. The face of colonialism is an ugly and difficult one to confront as he is subjected to and forced upon whitewashed versions of colonial history taught in school which avoids much of the truth, and the biasedness faced due to everyday racial profiling.

MLK/FBI MLK/FBI is an insightful exploration of the declassified documents on the investigation and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. by the FBI. Viewers are given the opportunity to witness and understand the struggles of MLK and the civil rights movement which came to inspire and influence many, and also exposes essentially, the roots of white supremacy in America.

On the Record A controversial documentary that gives us a look into the allegations towards a powerfully influential hip-hop music executive in America on the sexual abuse and harassment of over 20 women in his career. Considered a mogul in his line of expertise, Russell Simmons had the willing support of many from the industry. In an industry which normalises and condones the belittling of women, black women folk are expected to unconditionally support the male counterparts of their own race, tends to silence the victims from speaking out.

For Sama In the midst of war in Syria, a young mother documented her journey of survival alongside her new born, Sama, and her doctor husband, as they struggled to stay alive as the incomprehensible violence and carnage unfolded around them. With hundreds of thousands Syrians murdered in the war while more than 10 million being displaced by it, the raw footages from the film provides us with in-your-face reality towards of the situation.


Salam Neighbour Two American film-makers made camp with Syrian refugees in Za’atari to provide viewers with an intimate glimpse at what heartbreak and hope amidst the chaos look like in the most pressing humanitarian crisis the world has ever witnessed. Through the eyes of five refugees and their families, the experiences of personal loss, overcoming cultural differences, shortages of basic necessities, first-aid, food and water, and the many challenges thrusted at them – while they recover from displacement and rebuild familiarities of the lives they’ve once had

Seaspiracy Seaspiracy is a documentary by Ali Tabrizi, a film-maker and environmentalist who is passionate towards the eco-system and marine life within our oceans. The film aims at exposing the ugly truths of the fishing industries globally and the unethical practices committed by most, and without any legal ramifications.

The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files Imagine living in a country your entire life, from childhood to elderhood only to one day, be suddenly stripped of your citizenship and cast as an illegal immigrant due to a new regulation drawn up by the government, resulting in the loss of status, employment and savings, and facing the stress of the high possibility of deportation to a country so distant and unfamiliar to you – how is this fair and humane? 3 Windrush generation citizens shares in this film the discrimination and hostility they’ve faced in this ordeal. Life in a Day Film-makers from all around the globe contributed video footages of themselves within the day of 25 July 2020, to a time capsule to be showcased to future generations to come; capturing the diverse yet shared humanity of the population on the planet. How different our lives are yet how similar they can be, and how some are able to thrive in chaos while others struggle in peace.

CodeGirl “Women and technology don’t mix”, such socially unequal driven and biased notions are rampant when it comes to business and tech. This film presents a group of entrepreneurial girls who devised the winning application by creating awareness on the contamination of their source of water in the area, breaking from all negative stereotypes and proving that women are equally capable at holding their own and taking a slice in the digital industry.


INSiGHT | June 2021




By Owain Llŷr Evans

The computer has been switched off and I have been staring silently for some minutes at the machine’s blank screen. We’ve been close recently, the machine and me, and I’ve made less use of the faithful ink-pen of late. It is the pen that now links word to word at this precise moment, as I search for memories regarding the paradox of our faith. There is no-one like Ann Griffiths for expressing that very paradox: Rhoi awdur bywyd i farwolaeth/ A chladdu’r atgyfodiad mawr …; Byw i weld yr Anweledig,/ Fu farw ac sy’n awr yn fyw. (Putting the author of life to death / And burying the great resurrection ... Living to see the Invisible / Who died and is now alive.) I admit that it is a total paradox to read on the computer screen a reproduction of these few comments that were written in reality, using that cooperation between hand and ink-pen, and that smooth touch upon clean white paper, rather than the usual tap-tap-tapping on computer keys. I do this in a totally intentional way, in order to reveal that paradox that is at the heart of our faith. It is ancient, but as new as this morning’s dawn. Our faith is universally current and constantly new. It is the answer but an answer that has a question mark clinging to it every time. The ink-pen works fine. We two understand each other completely; old things are good and the old ways of understanding and accomplishing things work just as well – they work very well – still, but Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are beneficial also, these new ways or fairly new ways of understanding also work well, they work very well. The old and new together, the one and the other, both are needed. So, do we need a church website? No, we do not. Do we need a Twitter account? No we do not. Do we need YouTube and Facebook? No. Are these things beneficial in the church’s mission? Yes they are. Are these media helpful in getting in touch with people anywhere? Yes they are. Is Zoom a blessing? Yes it is. But I believe that it is content that is most important. If we prepare a presentation for Zoom, or broadcast a sermon on YouTube or prepare a letter with a stamp or an e-pistle, if we tweet or shout, then we should ensure that the content is worthy. It is the quality of the content that is important, the content is more important than the mode of delivery. We could be in possession of all the devices and technology available, but without the content of our message being worthwhile, then all is lost. We might as well acknowledge, that without the quality of content, there is not one reason why an individual should choose to come and worship or listen to a sermon, or to follow any @whatever. What drives people towards a certain kind of content is quality, and relevance. The essence of our ministry is to create and uphold content of quality that is relevant and real. Of all the challenges facing the church, this is the biggest one, to ensure that our creative energies are channelled into creating relevant content that will strengthen our testimony and promote the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst we are getting to grips with this, there is no matter, in truth, if the medium we use is the ink-pen or computer, snail mail or Zoom.

Owain Llŷr Evans: father; minister of Minny Street Congregational Church in the Cathays area of Cardiff since 2002. The eleven years previously he served a mix of Congregational and Baptist churches in the Wrexham area of north Wales. Cricket not rugby; dogs not cats; red not white; letter not email; jazz not blues; growing old not growing up; the main things are the plain things; all knowing begins with knowing God.



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