Issue No 2: December 2003
Peace and greetings from Geneva !
In this Letter you will find a “Call for Common Witness in Eastern Europe”, shared by the participants of the School for Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe, held in the European Centre for Communication and Culture, Warsaw, Poland, October 9th-16th 2003, and organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in conjunction with the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
We are also very happy to share information with our readers on “The Well” project, an Asian Information and Advice Centre led by the Church of Scotland, which seeks to reach out to the Asian Communities in Glasgow, by providing information and advice in a safe, friendly atmosphere. This is a wonderful example of what we call holistic evangelism!
Furthermore we are reproducing an
article published by “Insights”, the Faculty Journal of
May the baby Jesus, the source of our inspiration as evangelizers, continue to bless us at this special time and in the coming year!
Carlos Emilio Ham (Rev. Dr.)
Issue No. 2 - December 2003
Call for Common Witness in
To the Christians and churches of Eastern Europe,
Participants in an an eight-day “School for Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe” organized by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches
We, the 25 participants of the Ancient Oriental, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed and Roman Catholic traditions of Eastern Europe have just completed an eight-day “School for Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe” organized by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. It was an encouraging time of Christian fellowship and learning, during which we struggled to understand better how to express the missionary nature of the Church by bearing common witness in our home countries.
This opportunity of meeting and learning together through sharing and listening gave us a greater understanding of each other, and of the context in which we fulfil our mission. As we looked at the social, political and economic situation in Eastern Europe, we saw afresh that all of our countries were in a stage of transition bringing new opportunities of service for the churches. The new freedom the churches have been experiencing since the end of the Communist era has weakened the strength of unity that they found in facing together the oppression of an atheistic ideology. We call our churches to support the peoples in Eastern Europe in their struggle for reconciliation and democracy.
The group saw the need to avoid competition and to seek ways to encourage closer cooperation between our churches, especially in mission and our common witness. Thus, we must struggle to understand each other better, even if our different traditions cause tension between us and strive to work together in good will wherever we can. We may do this through loving service to our neighbour because of our love for the same Christ; or it may be through our common journey of life where we are constantly seeking truth, or we may simply try to offer the example of a holy life, lived side-by-side in the midst of the world. In our meeting at times we struggled with tense moments when we realized that our different faith traditions face difficult, yet unique, situations in each country. However, we also understood that many problems and opportunities in these post-communist countries are common to us all.
As members of our churches, we want to remind ourselves that it is necessary to fulfil our Lord Jesus Christ’s Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). This imperative is laid upon all Christians and churches. We understand that this call integrates us into God`s mission, to proclaim, present and witness in love the good news of salvation which Jesus Christ offers, through the Church to all people including non-Christians and nominal believers. The aim of this mission is to transform humanity from within (metanoia) and make it new. Yet, this holistic mission of proclaiming the good news (kerygma), sharing the good news through worship (leitourgia), witnessing our faith (martyria) and service (diakonia) must always be done in a testimony of holiness. In this context we emphasized the importance of acknowledging the religious freedom of the other. God is working through his Church and in his Church, healing and reconciling the world by the Holy Spirit. Suffering communities need healing and reconciliation to be signs of his Kingdom.
The atheism of the former communist regimes is gone, but a new agnosticism of the neo-liberal and secularized world has given little time for our churches to recover, so we should unite our efforts. It is not easy, especially if we consider the ecclesiological differences in the self-understanding of our churches. However, we have already experienced common witness. We need to respond to this situation by offering the good news of God’s love in an authentic and sincere manner. One of our problems, however, is the way in which our divided witness hurts the churches’ credibility, confuses the people of our countries, and proclaims the exact opposite of the message we wish to share.
Recognizing religious freedom as a human right, we realize that one of the great challenges in offering this common witness is the problem of proselytism, which is a counter-witness that does not respect the other, but instead brings tension and division. We believe that we must keep a balance between the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20) and the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12). Our burning zeal sends us out to proclaim the Gospel, we go out in humility and love, treating each person and the local churches of the area with respect and understanding. We should never try to encourage Christians who belong to a church to change their allegiance by ways and means that contradict the spirit of Christian love, violate the freedom of the human person and diminish trust in the Christian witness of the Church. Whenever we are confronted with the painful reality of division, we should be engaged in dialogue to find ways of cooperation in Christian love.
It is not always easy for Christians from different traditions to work together. Yet it is even worse for us NOT to work together. May we strive – with humility, patience, and good will - to listen to and understand one another, as well as to love and respect the other, so that as much as we can, we offer our common witness to the glory of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in whose name we wish to share with you our prayer:
The participants of the School for
Mission: Preaching the Gospel in Eastern Europe European Center for Communication
and Culture, Warsaw, Poland
The Well Project in Glasgow
The Well is an Asian Advice Centre run by the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow. It sits in the heart of Glasgow’s Southside Asian communities in Govanhill. It opened in March 1994 following a needs survey of Asian families in the area who identified advice services as a gap in local provision.
Over 4000 people visit The Well every year, bringing enquiries on welfare benefits, housing, immigration and personal problems, many people now drop in socially. The Well has expanded its activities to include education classes and summer outings.
A recent case-study of the work has shown that just knowing The Well is nearby, is a comfort to people in need. They are reassured by the knowledge that help is close at hand and easily accessible.
The Well has its roots in a long history of the Church of Scotland being involved with the Asian communities in Scotland. This continual presence over nearly 40 years has enabled the development of trusting relationships between Christians and their neighbours of other faiths in Glasgow.
The Well is staffed by two full-time community workers employed by the Board of National Mission and jointly by the Board of World Mission and the Church Mission Society. The Well is administered by the Presbytery of Glasgow. This reflects a strong theme in our practice, of working in partnerhip with others.
Despite being a Church of Scotland project, The Well’s 28-strong volunteer team represents 5 different Christian denominations in addition to 13 Church of Scotland congregations. Close friendships have been formed between volunteers as they work together in offering a welcome and advice to those using The Well.
In addition, many of the people who come into The Well have also become friends, and volunteers have been invited to share in festivals and celebrations with them. The family atmoshpere has been one of The Well’s strengths as the staff team and centre users share each ohers’ joys and difficulties.
Remarks from people who have been to The Well: ‘I think The Well is a remarkable piece of Christian work – low profile, high value, offering accurate information and careful skilled listening to some very needy people. It is a model of Christian ministry to those from other faith communities’. Christopher Lamb, former Secretary, The Churches’ Commission for Interfaith Relations. ‘The atmosphere of The Well has been its remarkable feature. Welcoming and friendly it provides a model for churches to adopt elsewhere’. Brian Ringose, formerly Interserve Scotland.
Proclaiming the Good News Ecumenically
The greatest challenge the church faces today is to proclaim the good news of the gospel ecumenically, in dialogue, as “common witness”; to announce the gospel in collaboration and not in competition. We quote John 17:21 to stress unity, but Jesus prays to the Father for unity with mission, “that the world may believe”. Our divisions are a disgrace and proselytism is counter-productive to evangelism.
One of the first realities that we encounter is the rich diversity in theologies and practices of evangelism. You find many “historical” churches, which have become “pre-historical”, having lost the passion of sharing the gospel in a fresh way relevant and meaningful to the “post-modern” societies in which they serve. Churches, which should have a pro-active approach, have a reactive one, when they feel threatened by “aggressive” evangelists. We see the Pentecostal and the evangelical churches and the ones in the “South”, how they challenge the well “established” churches in North America and Western Europe.
Another challenge is to rescue the holistic and liberating meaning of the gospel. The good news is subversive, it seeks social justice, as Jesus says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” (Lk. 4: 18). The proclamation of the gospel has a prophetic price to pay. As evangelizers we are accountable to the “euan-gelion”, we are “angels”, we are sent to this world to announce his kingdom.
The challenge of evangelism becomes increasingly relevant, especially after 9/11, in relation to other faiths. A quotation from the 1989 San Antonio World Mission Conference notes: "We cannot point to any other salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God". Evangelism is sharing our humanity.
In our “globalized” world--of exclusion, terrorism and fragmentation, of multi-faceted and changing contexts--we acknowledge the urgency of mission and evangelism as reconciliation and healing. Inspired in this challenge we are organizing the next Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, in Athens, Greece, 12 – 19 May 2005, on the theme: “COME HOLY SPIRIT, HEAL AND RECONCILE. Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities”. Carlos E. Ham.
Article published by “Insights”,
the Faculty Journal of
A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless
you with Discomfort…
May God bless
you with Anger…
May God bless
you with Tears…
And may God bless
you with enough Foolishness…