Speaking before the first hymn, Dr Bruce said, “What is going to follow is really very special… where we take time to pause the business. To do this depends so much not only on listening to stories from other places, but opening ourselves as an act of discipleship to hear…so that we are not merely passive observers… but entering into the warp and weft of the stories of our brothers and sisters, engaging with them.”
‘Cocktail of crises’
Introducing the alternative presentation, Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to the Council for Global Mission, said that he had been reflecting on the resilience of his brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world, not just in terms of how they have handled the Covid pandemic, but as just one in a whole ‘cocktail of crises’
“Many times, when resources are few, what shines through is an assured faith that Jesus can be relied upon completely, that ultimately God is faithful and will provide. That ability to trust, find hope in Christ, is evident in much of this session…” he said.
Members of Assembly and those watching on line heard from three partners, Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Zambia Synod, Evangelical Christian Church of Timor, (Gereja Mashehi Injili di Timor – ‘GMIT’) and SAT-7, a Christian satellite television network that broadcasts across the Middle East and North Africa in Arabic, Persian and Turkish.
Challenges…and God’s goodness
Rev Sevatt Kabaghe, CCAP’s General Secretary of its Zambia Synod shared how the Church there has continued its work and witness during the pandemic, despite the challenge of floods, widespread poverty and lack of resources. “…last year we have experienced many challenges, but at the same time have experienced God’s goodness in our everyday lives,” he said.
Talking of the pandemic, the General Secretary said that the Church would “continue to advocate that people get the vaccine if they can…” given the fact that out of a population of 18 million Zambians, only 300,000 had received the vaccine, so far. Talking about Climate Change, he said that the country had recently experienced changes in weather patterns that had brought floods and caused great uncertainty for farmers during the planting and harvesting season. There were also practical challenges in addressing the issue.
“The Church is now encouraging members to plant trees and be responsible for God’s creation. Zambia has a very high rate of deforestation as we use wood for cooking and for making charcoal. Of course this is detrimental to the environment, but there are no other options in most rural areas,” Rev Sevatt said.
In his recorded message, he also thanked God for the recent peaceful handover of power following the 2021 presidential election in the country. He concluded by saying how the Church ‘treasured’ its relationship with PCI, “…and for sending Diane Cusick, global mission worker who serves as CCAP’s early childhood co-ordinator, working with children and the teachers in the Synod of Zambia.” Following the presentation, Rev Ben Walker, Chaplin to the Moderator, prayed for Rev Sevatt, his Church and Zambia.
50 year partnership
PCI has a long history of global mission partnership and engagement and currently has over 20 active partnerships with churches and mission organisations around the world. One such longstanding partnership is with Evangelical Christian Church in Timor. Rev Dr Liz Hughes, Convener of the Council for Global Mission, explained that this year was the golden anniversary of the partnership with GMIT, Indonesia’s second largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia.
“It’s now fifty years ago since Rev Ken Newell went out to serve with the church in West Timor in 1971. We are especially delighted to have a message from the Moderator of GMIT Rev Dr Mery Kolimon. She is midway through her second term of four years. I have met with her on two occasions when visiting Indonesia and before lockdown we had been hoping that she would visit with here at this year’s assembly. We could never have imagined in our tentative planning that Timor would have been hit so severely by both the global crisis of the pandemic and the local impact of Cyclone Seroja, which caused so much loss of life and destruction in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning.”
Rehabilitation & reconstruction
In sharing the church’s experience of the pandemic and Cyclone Seroja, Dr Kolimon described them as ‘layers of disasters’, telling the General Assembly that Indonesia had had two waves of Covid, of which she had become a victim. Speaking from Kupang, the capital of the Indonesian southernmost province of East Nusa Tenggara, she said that the cyclone had killed many members of the church. She also explained how the country was entering into a ‘rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.
“Your support enabled us to offer help to congregation members and even other communities of faith in our society…At GMIT we learned that a community of faith that even though it was down, was not easily destroyed. We are equipped with wisdom, and other gifts from God to seek and find ways to keep the Church present in the midst of humanity’s struggles engaging with God for God’s life-affirming and restoring mission.”
Before Rev Niall Lockhart prayed, the General Assembly heard from Rev Elsye McCroskery, who was in the Assembly Hall. Married to Barry McCroskery, PCI’s minister of McCracken Memorial in south Belfast, she was a minister in the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor before coming to Belfast.
In an interview with Dr Hughes, Rev Elsye recalled hearing about the cyclone on Easter Sunday morning and the affect that it had on her community. She said that thankfully, her family was all well, even though the cyclone passed near to Kupang, where they lived, “Which was a really difficult moment for me…” she said. Having been able to contact them in the morning, by the end of the day all communications, including the internet, was down.
“I grew up in a fairly strong Christian family. Since I was young I know that prayer is the first place we should go.” Having prayed, searching for answers as to how God could have let this happen, she read in Mark 4 and Matthew 8 about Jesus and his disciples encountering a storm while crossing the Sea of Galilee - and how although his disciples were afraid, Jesus slept.
Rev Elsye explained that having looked at the verses in detail, she found that the Greek word used ‘seismos’ for storm, portrayed something similar to the cyclone that Timor had experienced. She said in those verses she had found her answer, because “Together with Jesus, no matter how big the storm you face in life, you can have peace and sleep well.” She also said that the midst of tragedy that her community experienced that Easter Sunday, her niece had a baby boy, who they called Noah.
Following her interview, on behalf of GMIT’s Moderator, Rev Elsye presented Dr Bruce with a selendang, a traditional Eastern Indonesian hand woven cloth. The special gift, which she draped over his shoulder, carries special significance in demonstrating honour given, and also the strong bonds of friendship between the giver and recipient. There is a large variety of traditional designs and colours used, depending on which island the cloth is from. The one presented to the moderator was from the island of Timor.
The final part of the session gave the General Assembly the opportunity to hear about the situation in Afghanistan from Mikael Tunér, producer of SAT7 Pars, the broadcaster’s Persian Channel to the Christian community in Afghanistan. In a separate video, members also heard Iranian children from Christian families praying for their Afghan sisters and brothers.
Mr Tunér, who grew up in Afghanistan, talked on the video about the recent dramatic changes in the country saying, “We have these ethnic groups and we have religious minorities who are being oppressed, who are being discriminated and harassed and sometimes even killed,” he said.
In encouraging Christian believers in Afghanistan Mr Tunér said that it was important for “…SAT7 to give them hope, show them that we are praying for them, are there for them and we are giving them advice on how they can find that hope in the Bible and the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.”
He also relayed a message from a family who had become Christians two years ago. Having been able to freely share the Gospel, he said that they could no longer do that and could no longer witness for their own safety. Having received death threats, they were looking at ways they can escape the country. “Some of my childhood friends cannot leave because they are too poor, for example and they are also ready to become martyrs for their faith. Sadly that is the situation” he said.
In closing, Uel Marrs said, “In this session we are all about listening to the global church. My personal take-away is from what lies behind the heartfelt prayers of Christian children from Afghanistan’s neighbour, Iran.
“Forty years ago an Islamic revolution in Iran was followed by much suffering and martyrdom. Yet today Iran has probably the fastest growing church in the world who are praying confidently for the small community of Afghan Christians to be strengthened, to be salt and light, to see the unseen. That now is the time when Christ is building his church in Afghanistan, and nothing and no-one can stop him.”
Christ is our hope in life and death
Reflecting on what she had heard in the afternoon’s session, Dr Hughes said, “The picture I have in my mind is of the church in West Timor and its surrounding islands, on that Easter Sunday when the Cyclone hit, exhausted people searching through the mud for family and friends, in some cases pulling out bodies and then finding their way to what was their church building…and begging their Pastor to hold an act of worship, to acknowledge and welcome the Easter message of the risen Jesus, recognising his presence even in the midst of the horror around them. I hear their testimony coming to us right out of the heart of their shock and their sorrow and their suffering. Christ is our hope in life and death.”
You can download the whole presentation or videos from it below:-
Full presentation – Listening to the Global Church – Christ our hope
Zambia – Video of Rev Sevatt Kabaghe, General Secretary Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Zambia Synod.
Indonesia – Video of Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator, Evangelical Christian Church of Timor
Afghanistan – Interview of Mikael Turner, Producer of SAT7 Pars (Persian Channel) by Dave Mann, SAT7 Partnerships Executive
Sat-7 Video of Iranian children praying for Afghanistan
Images: (1) Rev Sevatt Kabaghe speaking in a recorded message from Zambia (2) Rev Dr Mery Kolimon via video from Indonesia (3) Rev Elsye presents the Moderator with a traditional selendang (4) Mikael Tunér, producer of SAT7 Pars talks about Afghanistan.