On February 19-29, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) conducted the Asia Anabaptist Diakonia Conference in Central Java, Indonesia. The participants came from Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia (Central Java and Papua), South Korea, India, China, Japan, and Nepal.
Peacebuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI), Coffee for Peace, Inc. (CFPI), and the Integrated Mennontie Church (IMC) represented the Philippines. Each organization presented what “diakonia” means in their context, and how they respond to diakonia in their communities.
Diakonia is a Greek word meaning “care or service”. During the conference, all the participants contributed towards strengthening a theology of diakonia in the Asian context. There were six Asian Values for Diakonial Ministry that were formulated:
- Proclaim the Gospel of Peace by following Christ’s example in the way of peace, doing justice, bringing reconciliation, modeling unity, and practicing non-resistance even in the face of violence and warfare.
- Show our love which is inclusive of all races, gender, faith, background with a preference for the “least of these”, through transformative diakonia by valuing relationships between people, empowering them also to do diakonia with others.
- Encourage volunteerism and networking among churches and people of different faiths without diluting our core Anabaptist values.
- Value transparency and integrity in what we do by giving our best and quality service to others.
- Be sensitive at all levels and adaptive to culture and social changes in the communities we serve.
- Be simple and humble in our approach by using what is already existing in the community, using indigenous and locally available materials in ways that care for Creation and which are sustainable.
As the Asian churches shared their own experiences, there were several common themes that surfaced among the countries. These themes include:
- Conflict and trauma- India, Papua in Indonesia, Philippines, and Nepal have current situations of violent conflicts. Although there is not a current violent conflict, China, Japan, South Korea, Java in Indonesia, and Vietnam continue to deal with the impact of historic violent conflict and trauma.
- Disasters- Natural disasters are a common theme connecting all of the Asian nations.
- Ethnic diversity and religious pluralism are common themes across all participant contexts. A number of the Asian nations are dealing with religious radicalism and conflict that is blamed on religions although its source may be much more complex.
- Poverty is also a shared theme. Although the GDP and HDI indicators are relatively high in some of the participant nations, much church work is focused on the areas of poverty as churches give priority to the most marginalized.
- In many of the contexts, the church is small, or a minority, or oppressed, or under suspicion and yet continues to reach out to serve. The church has the capacity to have a big impact on communities and also on other churches of other Christian traditions. Results are not measured by growing numbers of church members.
- A shared concern was for youth to plan and implement diakonial ministry. In some places, the youth are ready and eager to serve, but have not been given the freedom from older leaders to get out and work. In other places, the youth have left the church and leaders are concerned about how to motivate and welcome the participation of young people for diakonia.
As the Anabaptist churches in Asia shared about their diakonial ministry, it is very interesting to note that most Asian Anabaptist churches work with other Christian churches towards serving people in their community, and serving people of different religious groups.
In the Philippines, it is a challenge for the Christian churches to work together and embrace the ministry of Peace and Reconciliation as a Diakonial response to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Being able to hear and see that the situation in the Philippines has many similarities across Asian countries, it becomes much more encouraging to strengthen the Christian church, regardless of religious affiliation, to work together for the ministry of Diakonia, for the benefit of the Filipino people- Christians, Muslims, or Lumads.