“The signs of the times” – report from School of Ecumenical Leadership Formation in Cambodia

January 26th, 2017 9:02 am

Krista Autio a Finnish Theology MA student at the University of Helsinki. Krista have been the Global Networking Coordinator for WSCF-Europe since October 2015.

WSCF-Asia & Pacific Region organized a School of Ecumenical Leadership Formation (SELF) for young ecumenical students in Siem Reap, Cambodia October-November 2016. The theme of the training was identity and diversity, focusing particularly on sexual diversity. This training also included sessions on feminist theology, eco-theology, human rights and human trafficking; exposures to the local context; and worship together. The speakers of the sessions are friends of WSCF-AP and are highly regarded in the ecumenical field. These included professors, pastors, human rights professionals, bishops, employees of the Christian Conference of Asia, and previous employees of WCC. I consider myself extremely lucky for being able to learn from them.

Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

One important goal of ecumenism in general is to raise peacemakers. Having the training in Cambodia was a touching experience regarding peace work. The signs of the wars from the 1970s drew a grave picture of the horrors of warfare and its nature with no glory and greatness. The war was still visible in the demographic development of the population of Cambodia, since the majority of the population were young people. The war was visible as a human tragedy: six million mines caused displacement and physical suffering to the people of Cambodia. All around in nature, the pits in the ground were a stark reminder: the USA dropped more bombs in Cambodia in few months than what was dropped in Germany during the whole of WWII. At our venue, Metta Karuna Reflection centre in Siem Reap, the crucifix commemorated those disabled by the war: Jesus on the Cross with only one leg reminded people that Christ is with those who suffer, and also reminds us of the long lasting consequences of cluster bombs and land mines.

But Cambodia has also got beyond the wars and Vietnamese occupation. From the 1990s the country has been rising from the ashes. The international presence has been vast: through institutes and NGOs working with (for example) the archaeological site of Angkor Wat temple, the infrastructure, and local people. During our two day long exposure we visited a few of these NGOs, who work with different social questions in both urban and rural areas. This gave us a better understanding of the context which different groups of people were facing in Cambodia.

Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

I was at SELF representing WSCF-Europe. Many of the topics discussed at SELF were familiar to me due to my BA and MA studies in Theology, but one particular session had a huge impact in me. We were talking about contextual theology and what the Bible guides Christians to do in a contemporary world. The name of the session was “The signs of our times”. Our speaker, Professor George Zachariah from India, used the story of the birth of Christ as an example in a new and fresh way. As the Wise Men in the story got signs from God, so we as followers of Christ can too. In the story the sign was the star of Bethlehem. The story told how the Wise Men decided to follow the star to find a new king announced by an angel. First they went to the source of earthly power and authority, and went to see King Herod in vain. After this setback the Wise Men chose to follow the star instead of earthly powers and they saw the King of Heaven. The lesson of the story was not to simply follow what is expected in our societies, but to follow God, who shows us the right way if we choose to see it. The visit the Wise Men made to King Herod’s palace also caused a tragedy, since according to the story, it led to killings of innocent young children in the region. The story was applied to our time: we are also getting called by God and God sends us signs to follow. These signs may occur in unexpected ways, but the story encourages us to follow with courage. God invites us to make a difference, eradicate injustice and be with the oppressed, poor or needy in the contemporary world.

Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

This lesson of the story is also the ultimate goal for WSCF in its life, work, and witness. In Asia & Pacific Region this is spoken and sang out loud. The SCM Solidarity Song starts with the words: “The song we sing not for ourselves, for those who are oppressed and chained: build up a new society, let’s share and feel with them.” The chorus continues: “Come SCMs: unite, be one; pull out injustice from this World; live with people; build together. One day we will reach a new just world”. I found this song extremely moving. These are the songs young Christians should sing across the world. Where is the spirit of making a difference? Where is the sense of creating the change? This Spirit is what inspires young Christians, gives them hope and the tools to achieve change. All WSCF Regions have their own context and reality where they live and work. That is why it is so important for SCMers to travel and visit other Regions, to get a grip of the wholeness of WSCF and how the Holy Spirit works in our time.

Photo by Natalie Nathanielsz Gomes

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