The importance of learning from each other and making personal contacts were the major themes that emerged when moderator Rev Sharon Hollis met with a delegation of visiting church leaders yesterday at synod offices in central Melbourne.
The visiting delegation consisted of Rev Dr Anthon Rumbewas and Rev Josina Wospakrik from GKI-TP church in West Papua, Rev Dr Mery Kolimon from GMIT church in West Timor, Rev Helena Maplani and Rev Lorenso Dos Santos from IPTL church in Timor-Leste.
On Sunday the group worshipped with the newly relocated Indonesian congregation at St Andrew’s Uniting Church Gardiner in Glen Iris, but the main purpose of their visit is to attend a conference on post-colonial theology being held at the Korean Church of Malvern, which concludes today.
The visit has been facilitated by Rev Dr Ji Zhang, who is manager of church partnerships, Asia for National Assembly agency Uniting World.
“Our ecumenical partnership with UCA is a long-standing partnership and we hope to work with you in the future,” Ms Kolimon told Ms Hollis during their meeting.
“We want this partnership to be a mutual one so that we can learn from each other. In the old time you send missionaries to Timor but now that we live in this global society every church has its own struggle but we also have some common struggles. So how can we learn and inspire each other in our ministry.
“For example, in Timor in Indonesia we have a lot of experience living together in a multicultural context and we have experience with women in ministry.”
Ms Hollis said the church in Australia needed to adopt a humble mindset.
“We have much to learn from each other. I think we need to be much more in the learning space because we have been more used to being in the teaching and giving space. It requires a huge spiritual discipline from our church to sit back and to listen,” she said.
She said that interfaith dialogue was something the Australian church could learn.
“We’re beginners in that field in this country and it’s the source of some tension in our culture at the moment,” Ms Hollis said.
The meeting heard about the importance of building partnerships between Australian and Indonesian churches.
“How to build relationships is the foundation rather than a missional agenda,” Dr Zhang said.
“The strategic direction that I want to see happen is more community connection to exemplify what that means to be in the universal body of Christ.”
The Uniting Church at Ringwood has established an ongoing relationship with Hosana Church, in Dili, Timor Leste, which has included providing support to help build a training centre.
“They provided a ceiling for our youth (centre) – we hope for the future this will continue,” Ms Dos Santos said.
“It is a good way to build the relationship, learn from each other and bless each other.”
Ms Hollis said this relationship had been important in informing Ringwood’s advocacy in urging Australia to relinquish drilling rights to oil and gas in the Timor Sea.
Ms Hollis and the church representatives had a wide-ranging discussion that also touched on the delicate situation of the church in West Papua, where demands for self-determination have been strongly resisted by authorities and some within the commnunity.
Dr Zhang said personal contact, such as yesterday’s meeting, was vital to congregations and church leadership gaining a better understanding of the rapidly changing Asia/Pacific region.
“One of the good things in this type of relationship is we begin to understand what the real life is like, people’s struggle,” Dr Zhang said.
“Previously we all read on the news and we all imagine what it is like but overall the representation of Indonesia is not positive. The media does not give a very good representation.
“In the midst of their struggle, we also see their deep joy emerging from the depth of their faith.”
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