Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taking Pasifika to the World Council of Churches practicing during a break and with an audience at the Youth Pre Assembly…

Greetings from Busan, on the South East Coast of South Korea!

I am here as a “matua” or Pastoral leader for Pasifika Oikoumene, a group of 21 young Pacific-islanders attending the World Council of Churches General Assembly. The World Council of Churches, is a fellowship of 349 churches with 17 member churches from the Pacific.   This is the WCC’s 10th assembly. The assembly’s theme “God of Life – Lead us to Justice and Peace” is a call for greater ecumenical relations to be heard amidst a world full of uncertainty, dwindling resources and growing injustice.

Pasifika Oikoumene practicing in Seoul
A collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Pacific Conference of Churches, this hold a three-week programme, offers the young Pacific islanders and opportunity to learn and share experiences in stewardship, service and social justice; learn about the global, regional and local ecumenical realities; learn and exchange in the diverse and different cultural arts present in the Pacific and to empower participants to implement actions on social justice issues in their contexts.

The programme is the brain-child of Faautu Talapusi, the Programme Executive for Youth in the Ecumenical Movement & Pacific Regional Relations at the World Council of Churches. Her concept was to use the Assembly as an opportunity for these young Pacific men and women to develop a deeper appreciation of the fears, hopes, strengths and faith of youth according to issues they face and to exchange and learning of the diversity of Pacific arts and culture.

On another level the experience also provides leadership development in the spiritual and ecumenical life and formation of the church and greater knowledge and awareness on governance and the leadership roles of the youth in the church and society they belong.

“Young people in the Pacific still play an active role in the churches.  In many Pacific churches, young people make up more than half of its members.  They are facing many challenges, such as unemployment, poverty and climate change to name a few.   The church in the Pacific is in a perfect position to engage their young members in the issues affecting their communities, their churches and contexts and engage them in ecumenical discernment and action.  Building the capacities of young people in the church will enable and empower them to speak, advocate, act and lead on social justice issues facing them,” she said.

A week before our departure to Seoul the group converged on Natalau village in Sabeto on Western Viti Levu for an ecumenical formation programme that engaged them in prayer, dialogue and discernment as a community of young ecumenists (Christians working together).  The week provided a space for them to discover their similarities, their differences and the journeys their churches have taken together in the ecumenical “vaka.”  They spent time reflecting on the important and common issues young people in the Pacific are facing in relation to the WCC Assembly theme of “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.  

Choir practice at Gaepo Church in Gangnam, Seoul

The group are also taking part in a regional cultural learning and exchange process. Coming from different countries and are representative of the three sub-regions of the Pacific – Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia the youth  have been mutually teaching and learning Pacific dances and songs with fellow participants.  This would not only foster the understanding of the diverse church contexts in the Pacific, but the experience is also intended to deepen their own understanding of the cultural diversity they belong to.

From this week group is participating the pre-Assembly programme for young people and the Assembly proper.  The group will be exposed to different realities, contribute and participate in the life of the Assembly by joining in the prayers, bible studies, plenaries and workshops provided.

Pasifika Oikoumene practicing during a break and with an audience
at the Youth Pre Assembly prior to the World Council of
Churches General Assembly in Busan
At the same time the songs and dances that they have shared with each other will be performed through the Assembly. The responsibility for shaping these young people and their items has been the challenge given to Apisaloma Toleafoa, a first year theological student at the Kanafou Theological Seminary in American Samoa.

As the “matua” responsible for the cultural performances, he has been moulding this group of young people who two weeks ago did not know each other or their different dances into a dance performance group. The dances and songs performed thought the Assembly will have the common theme of climate justice and be weaved into the theme of the Assembly “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”.

As you read this column, the group will be about to, in the middle or just finished their first day of performances, with two performance sets in front of thousands of people. This is their opportunity to not only showcase the culture of the Pacific but also to raise the profile of the Pacific and the issues of climate change and justice and peace from our perspective.

More from the Pasifika Oikoumene group and the Pacific experience in the 10th World Council of Churches General Assembly next week.

“Simplicity, Serenity and Spontaneity”.

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