Thursday, July 12, 2012

True Hospitality

Published in the Fiji Times, Thursday 12th July, 2012

Last week, my fellow international graduate students at the Methodist Theological University and I had the privilege to attend the 7th Congress of Asian Theologians. It was an opportunity to listen, to meet and discuss with some of the current leading lights of Asian theology over 4 days of plenary sessions, panel discussions and thematic group sharing.
Participants at the 7th Congress of Asian Theologians

It may seem like "boring academic stuff" but with the theme, "Embracing and Embodying God's Hospitality Today," the Congress was anything but as 24 women and 46 men involved in the study of Christian religion engaged with the issues of Migration and Multicultural Society; Christian Unity; Interreligious Relations; Ecological Justice; Peace and Conflict Resolution; Gender.
Sharing ideas at CATS VII

I had an opportunity to participate in one of the morning devotions, offering an intercessory prayer for the people of Oceania- struggling for self-determination, facing the challenges of climate change and seeking sustainable democracy and lasting just and peaceful societies. Together the congress not only joined in prayer for the entire region but remembered individual island-nations, including Fiji negotiating these winds of change.

Sharing the Pacific context
While New Zealand and Australia were represented at the Congress, as the lone small-islander (referring of course to the small islands we come from - I was one of the biggest people there of course!), I took the opportunity to share some of the regions issues in terms of the ongoing search for visible unity among the churches, ecological and economic justice issues and the challenge of the church to engage in the issues of gender.

Above all though, it was an opportunity to listen. Listen as someone from a region whose natural inclination for hospitality has many times been taken advantage of, and someone who has expereinced what happens when people practice selective hospitality.

In a powerful statement issued at the culmniation of the congress, participants of the Seventh Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS VII), called for "a serious commitment to recognizing God’s hospitality and embodying it in churches, between churches, among religions and in the midst of creation":  

Affirming the belief that God is the ultimate host of the whole creation, and that as “recipients and agents our hospitality is simply an overflowing of God’s abundant hospitality and our joyful and thankful response to it”, the participants spoke of a hospitality in a theological and moral sense, which is, spiritual, just, warm and welcoming, beyond mere physical comforts and financial considerations. Regretting that Christians have not necessarily been the ideal and just hosts in the past and present, they urged the churches to embrace God’s hospitality and become effective witnesses in a discordant world.
Panel Discussion

The message from the participants of CATS VII challenged churches to take up a prophetic role in the advocacy for:
·        justice and human dignity of all individuals, especially the marginalized, the indigenous and migrant workers;
·        shedding assumptions of superiority and embodying God’s gracious hospitality to the richness and spiritual treasures of other religions;
·        pursuing the role as peace builders through active theological and spiritual engagement, dialogues and conflict resolutions;
·        a  serious commitment to ecological justice and environmental theology; and
·        confronting gender discrimination, and all kinds of violence against women and children in society and churches;  

The message mentions a special remembrance of the re-unification efforts in Korea. It also expresses the hope that the recommendations would be translated into action in order to witness to God’s hospitality.

CATS VII recorded deep gratitude and appreciation of the local Korean churches and congregations, as well as the faculty, staff and students of the Methodist Theological University, for their wonderful hospitality. “Theirs”, they wrote, “was the setting and nourishment for our reflections and conversations.” The international students’ demonstration of hospitality was in the form of hosting a cultural entertainment programme with songs and dances from Asia, Afria, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as a “flash mob” performance of “I Wanna Taki taki” led by the only Fijian there!

The message ended with the following expression of humility and hope:
“The hospitality of the Triune God, which we are to embrace and to embody, is the supreme expression of self-emptying and self-giving, as manifest in the incarnation, ministry, cross, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our message of hospitality, which we declare here and carry with us as we journey back to our many nations and churches, is one of courageous vulnerability and faithful gift of ourselves to our neighbors and to one another.” (see

Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim
Reflecting on the Congress, I recall the words of Korean contextual theologian Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim who summarised the theme of “Embracing and Embodying God’s Hospitality Today,” in Asia by asking the following question on the opening day:

“What would Jesus do to strangers and others in Asia if he came in this age of migration, globalisation and science today? What would he do and how would he welcome immigrant workers, multi-cultural marriages, refugees, the disabled, prisoners, people in other religions, other beings on this susceptible planet, possible extraterrestrial (ET) guests from outer space, beings which come into existence by manipulations of science and technology, and so on?

This is a question on which I believe everyone in Fiji, regardless of their religion, needs to reflect. It is my belief that hospitality (reciprocated or not)is a way of life in Fiji, and key to Fiji once again being the way the world should be.

The challenge as Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim puts it is a shift in the way we understand and practice the universal Golden Rule of “Doing to (or Loving) others as we would have done to us (as we would be Loved) to move from “loving others in our own way” to “loving others in their own ways!”

That is true hospitality.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


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