Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries Consultation meets in Taiwan
Participants challenged to become ministers of reconciliation in a broken world.
Participants at the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries Consultation, held June 6-10 in Kaoshiung, Taiwan, were challenged to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in the context of cities of the United States and throughout the whole globalized world and become ministers of reconciliation in a broken world and a broken church.
“It is not an accident that almost all the churches and ministries of Asian Americans are located in the cities and urban centers,” the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, officer for Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries (EAM), said. “God has purpose for the Asian Americans and other ethnic Episcopalians in the city.”
The consultation featured keynote speakers Canon Soh Chye Ann of the Church Mission Society and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who addressed the 160 Asian American leaders, representing Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Southeast Asian convocations, diocesan representatives and their guests from Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The consultation opened with a welcome from the Rev. Dr. Fran Toy and thanksgiving to the host Diocese of Taiwan, led by diocesan Bishop David Lai. The EAM ministries extend to all Episcopal Asian churches in the United States including Micronesia (Guam and Saipan) and Taiwan, which is part of the Episcopal Church’s Province VIII. The decision to hold the EAM consultation outside that mainland U.S. was made upon the invitation from Lai and in order for Asian American Episcopalians to reconnect with their roots in Asia.
At the Opening Eucharist presided by Lai, Vergara preached and challenged the congregation to “stay in the cities” and excel in ministry and witness in the midst of its ambiguities. “It is in the city where you find the Avenue of Hope as well as the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, where you can walk to the hallways of opportunity or tread the alleys of depravity,” Vergara said.
“But it is also in the city where you see the face of God hidden by the flash of the neon lights; where you hear the voice of God muffled by technology; and feel God’s heartbeat amidst the city’s noise and haste. When Jesus saw the city he was filled with compassion for they were like ’sheep without a shepherd.’ God has placed us in the cities so that we too will sense the burden and burn with compassion to seek the lost and free the oppressed,” Vergara said.
Vergara also challenged EAM to “move from the margins to the mainstream of the American Church life and mission, to pray for revival in spirituality and mission and to be instruments in the ministry of reconciliation for the healing of a broken world and a broken church.”
“Biblical prophets often come from the countryside moving into the cities. They were tough persons who dressed the sycamores like Amos or eat locusts and while honey like John the Baptist,” Vergara added. “They enter into the mainstream of society, challenge the status quo and prophesy of justice like free-flowing waters and righteousness like cascading streams.”
Among the bishops concelebrating with Lai were: Anglican Archbishop Francis Park of Korea, Bishop Stephen Kim of the Diocese of Seoul, Suffragan Bishop of Virginia David Jones, Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles Sergio Carranza, Suffragan Bishop of Olympia Nedi Rivera, Retired Bishop of Hawaii Richard Chang and Retired Suffragan Bishop of Ohio Arthur Williams.
Offerings for all eucharistic services in the consultation were donated to the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) for its work for the relief of the victims of calamities in Asia, particularly the recent cyclone in Myanmar and earthquake in mainland China.
During the plenary, Vergara introduced Canon Chye Ann Soh as a friend and trail-blazer in the area of mission and evangelism. As Asia director of the Church Mission Society (CMS), Soh oversees the work of mission in many Asian countries. He was formerly chair of the Department of Mission in Singapore, pastor of mega-church St. John’s-St. Margaret’s, evangelist in South Africa and currently founder-CEO of MAGI Enterprises, a venture combining theology and business in doing church for the 21st century.
In powerful speech and PowerPoint illustrations, Soh painted the canvass of globalization as the context of mission, Jesus as the content of mission and the Church as the conduit of mission.
Citing the works of futurist Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”) and Thomas Friedman (“Flat World”), Chye Ann regaled the audience with fascinating facts about the speed of globalization and the challenge of “pax globala,” a highly interconnected global village, which will usher in religious revival and reawakening. Chye Ann presented a “Christology of mission” under three headings.
“First of all, Jesus must be the heart and head of mission,” Soh said. “You can change systems, you can re-structure, you can set goals and frame vision statements, but if Jesus is not the heart and head of mission, they will be vanities and a striving after the wind.” There have been many so-called “decades of evangelism programs” in the past but they missed the point because Christ was not the center.
Secondly, Soh said, incarnation is the best model and strategy of mission. “No greater cross-cultural mission can ever compare with Jesus emptying himself of God, becoming human like us, taking the form of a servant and being obedient unto death on the cross. Whenever I think of my inadequacy of my cross-cultural knowledge, I am strengthened by the fact that it is in our weakness that the power of Christ’s humility comes through.”
Thirdly, Soh said, “The church as the Body of Christ is the hand and feet of mission.” If the church is to carry out the mission of Christ in the world, she must bear witness to the supremacy of Jesus, not the superiority of the church. Mission is not about us, has nothing to do with us, with our structures, systems, etc. It has to do with Jesus. If we are superior, He does not need us, because more often we cause more trouble than good. This is another way of saying that ministry is doing what God is doing and getting out of His way"
Soh also narrated some of his personal experiences as a missionary in South Africa during the era of the apartheid and in Rwanda during the genocide. “In South Africa, I told a black boy, ’God loves you,’ and he answered, ’I know God loves me but I don’t feel it.’ That changed my life. I realized that words, even right words, can be cheap unless you feel the burdens of people in your own soul,” Soh said.
“In Rwanda, I was there at the aftermath of the genocide, the smell of death encircled our camp, and people were walking like zombies; everyone had lost someone or hurt or killed someone. One newspaper headline said, ’there are no more devils in hell, they’re all in Rwanda.’ For my part, I could not speak. I just wept and wept and wept. I did not know where the tears were coming from and I felt that God was crying too.”
Episcopal Asiamerica Ministries is among the growing edges of the Episcopal Church and is considered the most diverse culturally, linguistically and ethnically. Participants gathered in plenary and subdivided into ethnic convocations where they share and discuss common issues in ministry.
Following the ethnic convocations, gatherings of women, men, young adults and diocesan representatives were held and a whole day was also devoted to various workshops designed to equip the participants with skills for ministry and with resources in their parishes and missions.
On Sunday, June 8, the delegates were welcomed in various parishes of the Diocese of Taiwan, noted for its joyfulness and superb hospitality. “Everywhere we go, we are warmly welcomed by the people of Taiwan and feted with many feasts and lots of food and mementos. EAM consultation in Taiwan is probably the best consultations I ever attended,” said Canon Raynald Bonoan, one of the delegates from the Diocese of Southwest Florida which will host in 2009 EAM Consultation.
Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori expressed her appreciation for the work of the EAM and related the life and mission of St. Columba, the Celtic monk from Iona.
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