Diakonia is central to what it means to be the church and fulfilling the church’s mission and witness as servants. Diakonia is a core component of the gospel and is not an optional but an essential part of discipleship. Diakonia is a gift of the Holy Spirit and a manifestation of practical love for human beings. As such Diakonia reaches out to all persons, who are created in God’s image. While Diakonia begins as unconditional service to the neighbor in need, it leads inevitably to social changes that restore, reform and transform as well as challenges the structural injustices for which God calls prophetic witness by all God’s people. In a situation where the world is becoming more broken, where sin of injustice abound, God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit calls the church to gather God’s people of communities.
God’s mission warrants Diakonia as it is deeply interrelated with kerygma (proclamation of the Word) and is witnessing through deeds. Diakonia is not the strong serving the weak, which can often lead to paternalism. The gospel values envision and affirm that Diakonia is part of the calling of all churches regardless of size and all Christians regardless of wealth, because we believe that all of God’s people, individually and as communities, are blessed with gifts to share in different ways as we are called to take seriously the suffering in the world, a world afflicted with poverty, violence and injustice and environmental degradation. We are also reminded to challenge all theological interpretations that do not take seriously the systems, structures, and powers that foster, or even benefit from poverty, violence, and injustice, and environmental degradation. In the incarnation, God’s identification with all of humanity, indeed with all of creation, compels us to identify with all of our sisters and brothers, and the environment in which we live. Christ’s suffering on the cross compels us to identify especially with those of our sisters and brothers who suffer today, moving beyond politeness and pretense, breaking the silence and risking speaking truth to power, even when this threatens the established order and results in hardship or persecution. This is the heart of the prophetic diaconal calling and witness.
Prophetic Diakonia affirms the essential value of prophetic witness which affirms and reminds the Old Testament traditions commenting, critiquing and challenging unjust social norms and structures and speaking truth to the powers in leadership. Prophets spoke the truth to the people with strength and power received from God, regardless of how their message was received. They called the attention of the governing powers, religious powers and society at large, to an alternative awareness, reminding them of the direction which God sought for God’s people, but from which they had strayed. Justice, rights, truth, reconciliation and healing amidst brokenness were the essential themes of the prophetic witness and call for action. Christianity has traditionally referred to these ministries and has adopted an understanding that the church has the divine right and mandate to speak out against that which it considers in contradiction to the ‘Will of God’. Jesus’ incarnation, life, teaching, death and resurrection created for the church an understanding that it was part of and working towards the Kingdom of God in its present reality. Modern society does not function in the same way as the world we encounter in the Scriptures and prophetic witness as exercised by the prophets of old might not be acknowledged or received positively in a world which demands diversity, complexity and tolerance.
Today this task of being a prophetic witness falls on the church, which has a greater chance of facilitating advocacy for change through its influences at grassroots level. In this context, prophetic Diakonia calls for churches’ collective actions for justice and dignity through prophetic witness. As the prophetic witness involves acts of justice and kindness and its main aims are to shatter deliberate ignorance and willful blindness to the sufferings of others and to expose cleverly concealed injustice, Asian churches also have the responsibilities to rediscover its calling to work for the poor, the outcast and the marginalized. The church has to practice introspection in silence and reconnect with the gift of prophetic witness; interact with people who suffer; merge the pastoral with the prophetic ministry and combine prayer with witness. Such actions will require coordinated advocacy.
Advocacy is a way for raising voices by speaking out on behalf of all those partners and people or causes we stand with. It is a means of witnessing our belief in the reconciling love of God for all creation found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through such acts of advocacy we work to address the root causes of injustice having a political and public dimension, and make efforts to seek the achievement of universal human rights and the integrity of Creation, awareness building, development and human rights education, popular campaigning and public events, policy research and analysis, and the production of materials to support these different styles of advocacy. The Asian churches need to undertake these tasks and demonstrate their responsibilities in various areas of advocacy actions as part of their prophetic role. In this context, ecumenical advocacy focuses on political, economic, cultural and social issues by churches and their members, church-related agencies and other organizations which aims to influence policies and practices of those in positions of power and influence in order to bring about a more just, and sustainable society. Advocacy cannot be seen as the work only at national or international levels. The ecumenical actions should reflect at congregations, community ministries and individual members. This work begins with the experiences and stories of local churches and among people who should be equipped for advocacy. The CCA needs to empower its member churches to build skills and resources to be excellent advocates and spokespersons for public policies that reflect our Christian commitment to justice dignity. Asia today with its growing economic, political, social and ecological crises has imposed on prophetic witness an urgent mission for Asian churches. Churches have to proclaim the reign of God, which has social, political and economic dimensions.
Asia region is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, international security, and the world’s collective efforts to advance human development. Yet, despite gains, many Asian countries today confront crucial challenges that will determine whether they will continue on a sustainable path to prosperity or fall victim to economic stagnation, social unrest, and political instability. Among these challenges are widening income disparities, persistent poverty, widespread corruption, and growing ethnic and religious conflicts. Asia’s vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, the unequal status of women and weak legal protection, human trafficking and human rights violations, add to the range of potential threats to the region’s future growth and development.
Asia continues to face significant challenges. Some issues are specific to individual countries, while others span the region. The Asian churches are called to live out their Christian witness both at local and larger as well as personal and levels. This has to be reflected in all the different expressions of being church – in worship and proclamation; in practices of hospitality and visitation; in public witness and advocacy which involves actions of care, relief and service and further addresses the root causes of injustice embedded in oppressive systems and structures. This program aims to empower Asian churches to be competent in responding to emerging crucial issues through acts of prophetic witness at times of brokenness and human needs; and to coordinate and facilitate ecumenical advocacy at regional and global levels on emerging issues in Asia while expressing solidarity as well as upholding human rights for human dignity.
The following issues and themes will be addressed as part of this program area during the period 2016-2020 through various specific activities in each year
Responding to Emerging issues in Asia: Regional and Global Advocacy
Human Rights in Asia and Ecumenical Advocacy at the UN
Rights of migrant workers
Human Trafficking and Statelessness
Marginalization of indigenous and vulnerable communities
Upholding the rights and dignity of children
Health and Healing
Program to Combat HIV and AIDS (PROCHA)
Asian Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (AEDAN)
Ecumenical Solidarity Accompaniment and Diakonia in Asia
HIV and AIDS has been a special focus of the Christian Conference of Asia’s programme priorities. Several skill building and advocacy programmes have been initiated by CCA to address the concerns, as well as efforts to build HIV-competent churches and communities in Asia.
In order to effectively respond to HIV and AIDS with the member churches and councils, CCA is continuing on its journey of building the capacity of its members to become inclusive and relevant for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV) through the Action Together in Combating HIV and AIDS in Asia (ATCHAA) programme.
Asia and the Pacific is the region with the second highest number of people living with HIV in the world—an estimated 5.1 million in 2015 (UNAIDS 2016 The Prevention Gap Report).
In order to contribute to the initiatives of global, national, and local bodies to combat the alarming increase in the number of HIV-affected people, CCA will join together with governments and UN agencies such as UNAIDS. The CCA is engaged in working with and through its member constituencies in Asia at national and local levels.
- To build the capacity of CCA members by training facilitators at regional, sub-regional, and local levels;
- To scale up the advocacy initiatives among its member constituencies targeting member churches, governments, and UN agencies;
- To strengthen existing faith-based networks and initiate new networks with of faith-based groups in Asia in order to address the consequences of HIV and AIDS;
- To play a role in the effective, efficient, responsible and sustainable way of addressing the spread of HIV and AIDS.
- CCA programmes make significant contributions towards the global HIV and AIDS goals of ‘getting to zero’: zero new infection, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths within Asia.
- CCA member churches and councils work more actively in solidarity with interfaith partnerships in advocacy for addressing care, support, and treatment, including anti-retroviral therapy.
- CCA member churches and communities will be more competent in responding to HIV and AIDS and related issues, including human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), and reproductive health and human rights, based on faith values and inclusive principles.
- Capacity-building of facilitators within the CCA network.
- Self-assessment of churches' inclusiveness by using appreciative inquiry methods.
- Exchange of learning and sharing of resources within CCA and inter-faith networks.
- Addressing factors governing HIV vulnerabilities, including human sexuality and gender.
- Documentation of good practices and building resources for models of intervention within the network.
- Motivating youth as change agents.
- Specific advocacy related to prevention, care, support, and treatment to global and concerned organisations, development agencies, and government, regionally and locally.
- Dissemination of learnings and lessons at national and international forums based on first-hand research.
- Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS (AINA): strengthening regional and national interfaith networks for the exchange of learning, expertise, and linkages or care and support within faith-based communities and organisations in Asia.
The churches and communities in Asia need ecumenical accompaniment at various levels in their day-to-day struggles. The history of the ecumenical accompaniment in Asia testifies to the witness of Asian churches in each and every context where people strive for peace with justice, human rights and human dignity as well as reconciliation and healing.
Natural disasters and human made calamities have been features of many Asian countries. Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, China, Japan, Nepal, Cambodia and Philippines constantly face such calamities. Philippines is one of the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change in the world. Inadequate mitigation mechanisms make Asian countries even more vulnerable to these disasters. As a result, millions of Asians are affected every year.
These days, Asians face the question, in emerging Asian contexts, of how to develop effective ways and means to accompany the struggle of millions of Asians. Various situations and conflictual contexts in Asia call for a coherent approach in churches’ engagement of Diakonia and solidarity of ecumenical accompaniment with better coherence and coordination. In 2015 CCA took the initiative to respond to the needs in the post-earthquake Nepal by mobilizing Asian churches. An Asian ecumenical platform facilitated by CCA helped several churches in Asia to express and demonstrate their solidarity and diaconal commitments. In the coming years, CCA will initiate more concrete steps to ensure the evolution of an effective mechanism of Asian Ecumenical Diakonia for solidarity.
An annual Asian Ecumenical Solidarity Accompaniment forum is planned to assist the Asian Churches to reflect on theological imperatives of solidarity and accompaniment with the struggling peoples and communities in Asia; and to equip them to respond to the emerging needs through Asian Churches’ Diakonal assistance through coordinated ecumenical action.
Asia is earth’s largest and most populous continent and has historically been home to 60% of the planet’s human population. In spite of strong economic growth and advancement in human development, it has the largest number of poor, undernourished and vulnerable people in the world. The extent of widespread human deprivation contrasts with the large armies, modern weapons, and expanding military budgets. Human security in Asia is threatened and hampered due to various factors, such as increasing poverty, inadequate health care, economic exploitation, exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation; armed conflicts and violence; militarization, arms build-up, nuclearization, spread of small arms and light weapons; domination and intervention of major powers from outside the region as well as within the region; ethnic and religious conflicts, political unrest and violations of human rights in various forms. Armed conflicts and violence, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and armed insurgency have taken the lives of hundreds of people in Asia. The influx of small arms and narcotics are also major concerns in the region. Growing tendencies of ethnic solidarities, identification with rising religious fundamentalism and ethnocentric cultural aspirations destroy national unity and integration in several Asian nations. Over the years governments in Asian countries have used religion, ethnicity and caste to strengthen their base and to maintain their power, resulting in discrimination, and feelings of insecurity and fear among the minorities. Much of the state machinery and economy is spent in policing and maintaining law and order, which affects the quality of life and freedom of all citizens. Freedom of expression and the democratic space in Asia is disturbingly shrinking. In the name of security, legitimate dissent and protest is suppressed, including those raised by minorities, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, even opposition political parties, thus shrinking political diversity. Attacks on whistleblowers, journalists and human rights activists continue to shock the world. Many nation-states have aggressively asserted their roles while the participation of citizens and civil society organizations in the political process has diminished.
Asian churches and the ecumenical movement have a responsibility to address these realities in Asia. It is important that churches take keen interest in its search for mission and witness in all kinds of emerging situations and work together to envision a new paradigm for collective action. CCA has been regularly deliberating on the emerging trends in Asia and the sub-regions. More needs to be done and during the next five years CCA has to keep a close watch on all the aspects that affect the fabric of life and reclaim its prophetic witness and advocacy. The CCA will encourage member churches and councils to analyse and understand the emerging Asian issues and evolve ecumenical responses, and facilitate collective ecumenical action as part of the prophetic witness of Asian Churches at the regional and global levels. Activities include training in advocacy at national, regional and international levels on emerging Asian Issues for church workers and reflections on theological imperatives on advocacy and prophetic witness of churches.
Despite some positive developments in 2014, including elections of some governments that have promised improvements in human rights, the overall trend in Asian countries has been regressive due to impunity, continuing discrimination and violence against women, ongoing torture and further use of the death penalty, crackdowns on freedom of expression and assembly, pressure on civil society and threats against human rights defenders and media workers. There were alarming signs of rising religious and ethnic intolerance and discrimination, with authorities either being complicit or failing to take action to combat it.
Common concerns include unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression; impunity for serious human rights violations including torture; the treatment and poor legal protection of undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; human trafficking; and discrimination against women, persons with disabilities and persons living with HIV and AIDS. Existing civil society organizations continue to find it difficult to win ASEAN’s recognition to become part of the decision-making process at the regional level; in some States, they face censorship and restrictions on their freedom of expression.
The South and West Asia sub-regions host a diverse set of human rights challenges. Countries like Afghanistan and Nepal are in the midst of post-conflict transitions but face significant problems of insecurity, exclusion and lack of transitional justice. Democratic institutions and the rule of law are on the brink of reforms. Conflicts persist in several countries, with resulting human rights violations and displacement. Though well-established legal systems exist, implementation and enforcement of the law is weak, and impunity is still a problem. The barriers against accessing the justice system are formidable for many people, reflecting the impact of social and religious traditions on women and other groups. Poverty is at the root of many human rights violations and contributes to specific problems, such as child exploitation and human trafficking. The list is never-ending and violations will continue as long as poverty, greed for wealth and power, and corruption exist in various Asian countries.
The church is called to be engaged in Prophetic Diakonia and Advocacy by raising its voice to demand justice and advocate for better policies and legislative action, help build awareness of human rights situations, and create an ecumenical platform from where a strong united ecumenical voice, response and call for action can be heard. CCA has been active in creating awareness on human rights, not only the rights of individuals, but also the rights of the communities that are traditionally marginalized and suppressed. CCA sees the need for a sustained effort in pursuing the human rights program in the future in order to contribute to improving human rights situations in Asia.
CCA has been accredited with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2003. The special consultative status of CCA enables CCA to facilitate the advocacy of Asian Churches in various areas of their concerns through regional and international platforms such as the UN Human Rights Council Sessions, Universal Periodic Review of UNHRC, UN General Assembly, Security Council, UNESCAP, UNEP, UNDP, etc. In the coming years CCA will facilitate various advocacy initiatives of Asian churches in response to their requests and accredit the participation of Asian church representatives at various UN events in the region and also at three different UN Centers – New York, Geneva or Vienna depends upon the needs and requests of Asian churches.
This program will focus on identifying and addressing human rights concerns in Asia based on Biblical and theological foundations and assisting the Asian churches in demonstrating their prophetic voice in dealing with human rights violations in Asia. Activities will include Human Rights Advocacy Training and facilitating the participation of Asian churches at the United Nations Human Rights Council and Universal Periodic Process.
Unemployment and rampant poverty have made Asian countries turn into major migrant-sending countries without adequate protection of migrant workers’ rights. Migrant workers from Asia have become victims to unscrupulous people in the global labor market and are subjected to many forms of violence, abuse and sexual exploitation. The number of migrants crossing borders within Asia and beyond the borders of Asia in search of financial opportunity and human security is rapidly increasing. In 2013, the number of migrants rose to 59.4 million in Asia and the Pacific, accounting for roughly one-quarter of the world’s total population of migrants. Intra-ASEAN migration is very significant, amounting to 3.9 million migrants compared with about 12.9 million moving to the rest of the world. Therefore, about 31% of the international migration within Asia is intra-ASEAN migration. Other main destinations of migrants from South and Southeast Asia are the Arabian Gulf countries and the European Union. More than 9 million Filipino’s Diaspora currently live in Asia and other countries. From Indonesia alone, about 700,000 migrant workers leave their homes every year to seek work abroad. Approximately 75 per cent of all documented Indonesian migrant workers are women, with the vast majority working as domestic workers. Bangladesh, over a period of 33 years, has sent through regular channels alone, more than 6.26 million migrant workers mostly to Middle Eastern countries. Regarding Sri Lanka, recent estimates suggest that over a million migrants work abroad while the annual reported outflows are about 200,000 persons. Over two million Nepalese men and women work abroad in countries other than India. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from India are in various Arabian Gulf countries. Malaysia has a total of 1.9 million registered migrant workers, constituting approximately 21 per cent of the workforce, making Malaysia the largest importer of labor in Asia. In addition, there are an estimated 2-3 million undocumented migrants.
There is a troubling paucity of examining the plights of Asian migrant workers with regard to health care which is a basic tenet of human rights. Migrant workers go through enormous emotional and psychological trauma on account of being away from their families and of their loneliness often in sub-human living conditions. They are not able to be joined by members of their families for several years; not able to travel back when their family members are sick of dying because their passports are confiscated by their employers; not able to travel because they have to pay back loans borrowed to pay the agents who facilitated their travel. They are forced to work long hours without rest or relaxation with little or no contact with friends or local community. Of all the migrant workers, women are the worst victims. Thousands of Asian migrant women are working as domestic workers, in inhuman living conditions, in different Asian countries and in Arabian Gulf countries. It is estimated that over 55% of Asian migrant workers are women. Most of these are domestic workers, often exposed to sexual abuse and harassment, harsh treatment, lack of health care and with little or no contact with anyone outside their work places. There were several cases reporting that workers find suicide to be their only escape from their desperate circumstances. Many Asian governments and their economies benefit a great deal from the foreign exchange remittances by the migrant workers. However, hardly any of these governments do anything to protect and support the rights of migrant workers. The government should have a systematic implementation policy to at least decrease the number of agencies that deceive, recruit, and exploit workers and improve their conditions, giving migrant workers regular access to medical care both in the receiving and sending country.
The given context warrants Asian churches and CCA as a regional organization to take concrete steps to raise their voices for the vulnerable groups and advocate for their rights, dignity and safety through relevant forums as well as through governments. The CCA plans to have regional and sub-regional consultations on the rights of migrant workers and ecumenical responses; solidarity visits to Asian migrant worker’s labor camps in the Arabian Gulf countries; and campaigns for ratification and implementation of international convention of rights of migrant workers and their families. It is expected that these activities will alert the Asian churches and ecumenical councils on the plight of the migrant workers in sending and receiving countries and mobilize them to organize, together with civil society organizations, national campaigns to ratify and implement the international convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families.
Human Trafficking or trafficking in persons is unfortunately thriving in the form of modern day slavery. Asia is not an exception to this reality. The 2014 Global slavery Index (GSI) shows that there are nearly 36 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, of which, 23.5 million, nearly two thirds, are from Asia. The UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimates 2.5 million people are in forced labor including sexual exploitation, of which 1.4 million are in Asia and the Pacific. The majority of victims of trafficking are between 18 and 24 years of age. Total profits from worldwide forced labor and sex trafficking could be as high as $150 billion annually. According to the GSI India, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Thailand are in the top 10 countries with the highest number of trafficked victims in the world. Individuals may be trafficked and exploited in a variety of ways. The trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation has been the most commonly recognized form of trafficking. Yet, many, if not more, men, women and children are trafficked for such forms of labor exploitation as work in factories, in agriculture, construction, fisheries, textile, and mining industries, and for domestic servitude and care services. Traffickers frequently target children for begging, domestic servitude, adoption, removal of organs and petty street theft. Poverty, unemployment, war, natural disasters, gender inequalities, discrimination, gender-based violence, desperation, cultural and social frameworks are good predictors of vulnerability to being trafficked. However, those who fall prey to traffickers may also be relatively wealthy, relatively educated and from urban areas. While international trafficking is often in the spotlight, people who are trafficked may be transported internationally, regionally or, as is the case with many trafficked persons, within their own national borders.
The trafficked people or victims of human trafficking are first and foremost human beings and hold their undeniable human rights and human dignity. Their rights and security require specific and special protection in all circumstances, which are often denied. In this challenging situation the churches unarguably have a crucial role to play especially in providing support and assistance to victims of human trafficking particularly women and children and advocating for their rights by raising awareness of issues and mobilizing necessary support for appropriate arbitration. The ecumenical family has been engaged in global advocacy on uprooted people for a long time. CCA knowing its theological conviction based on the principle of love of Christ for the stranger and the vulnerable and acting to its prophetic call, has conducted several programs addressing the concerns of migrants and migrant workers crossing the borders of their home countries. However, in the Asian context, the issue of human trafficking has not been addressed adequately through ecumenical platforms except that of an international consultation the CCA had organized jointly with the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches in 2014. These consultations shared the work and experiences of churches in combating and eliminating this modern day slavery. The Churches are called to discover the plan God pursues for victims of human trafficking and forced migrations. Churches need coordinated action to create public awareness and build the capacity of vulnerable groups and professionals working in the field of anti-trafficking; provide support and assistance and advocacy among civil society organizations, faith based organizations, policy makers and legislatures to address the concerns and issues related to human trafficking, forced migrations and luring people for migration leading to human trafficking. Asian churches also are not adequately involved in any advocacy on ratification of existing and relevant international instruments by their respective governments. For example, international instruments introduced to combat human trafficking such as UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons; the Convention on the Rights of Children; and the Optional Protocols thereto on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography ; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and other related instruments that are crucial for protection of trafficked persons and migrants who are vulnerable to being trafficked.
These instruments and their practical applications contextually need to be made aware among the public for which Asian churches can play a major role in several countries. It is in this context that the CCA will initiate concerted efforts to address the concerns of human trafficking through regional and national programs focusing on building the capacity of Asian churches to combat human trafficking. The CCA will also facilitate advocacy networks and build ecumenical alliances and collaborations to help prevent vulnerable people from being trafficked and provide assistance and support to the victims of human trafficking.
It is estimated that there are about 260 million indigenous people in Asia. Although, Indigenous Peoples have unique, distinctive cultures, languages, legal systems and histories and share a strong connection to the environment and their territories, across Asia they are the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized people.
Like in other parts of the world, in Asia too, the Indigenous people face problems of widespread land confiscation, negative environmental, social, and health impacts, and threats to traditional and sustainable livelihoods. Removal and control over traditional lands and natural resources for development projects such as dams, eco parks and military bases in indigenous people’s territories is driving violent conflict and related human rights violations in several parts of Asia. Indigenous people and communities in Asia remain among the most persecuted of all minorities, facing discrimination not only on the basis of their religion and ethnicity but also because of their indigenous identity and their socio-economic status. Militarization, displacement, oppression and the struggle for their right to self-determination are issues faced by the Asian Indigenous Peoples.
A major challenge for Indigenous people is to see action from States to implement their international human rights commitments in national laws, policies and programs. The struggle of Indigenous people and other vulnerable ethnic and caste groups due to discrimination in various forms continue to be a pervasive phenomenon in different countries in Asia. Myanmar is still seeing serious human rights violations in different areas of the indigenous ethnic communities. Military offensives in Kachin and Northern Shan states, a lack of significant legislative and institutional reforms, and persecution of Muslim Rohingya in Arakan State are specific examples. The struggle of the Indigenous ethnic people in West Papua has a long history of their ongoing demands for their rights. The discriminated Dalits in India and other South Asian countries due to their caste identities and centuries old caste based discriminations deny their basic human rights and dignity. Though the world sees indigenous and vulnerable as disgraced and powerless, God is always present in the struggles of those unjustly pushed to the margins of society. God hears the cry of the oppressed and accompanies them in their journey towards liberation (Exodus 3:7-8). Marginalized people resist injustice and oppression in their own ways and through their struggles for life, justice and dignity and rights for themselves and for all, unveil the presence and power of God in their lives.
Keeping in view the increasing number of marginalized communities and their serious concerns, Asian Churches are called to accompany indigenous, Dalit and other vulnerable communities in their struggle for justice and equality and overcome the culture and practices that discriminate and dehumanize people and advocate for the dignity of life for all. Specific activities include ‘Advocacy on the Land Rights of Indigenous People’s in Asia and their struggle against land grabbing’ and ‘Advocacy for abolition of manual scavenging by Dalits and caste discrimination in India’.
In Asia, millions of children continue to be victims of the most appalling forms of exploitation, violence, abuse and neglect. Children are sold outright or forced into bondage to work off family debt in several Asian countries. There are hundreds of thousands of children in different Asian cities and towns living on charity, household refuse and on prostitution and delinquency.
From the Christian perspective, we affirm and acknowledge that children are bestowed with special rights due to their special and unique needs. We recognize our responsibility to uphold their rights, especially their inalienable right to protection. Out of our deep theological convictions and spiritual reflections we understand that it is our calling to build safe environment, in our families, churches and communities, where men, women, children and adults, including those who are hurt and suffering, may find love, care, healing and wholeness. It is therefore our mission to be engaged in enabling children who have suffered from abuse to lead their lives with dignity in a safe environment.
CCA has been actively involved in programs that uphold the rights and dignity of children. However, as child abuse is increasing rapidly in gigantic proportions, more needs to be done to engage Asian Churches for advocacy against child labor and sexual exploitation of children, and to affirm and uphold the rights and dignity of children.
Faith, health and healing are central to God’s divine grace and purposes for humanity. Health is more than physical or mental well-being of a person, and healing is not primarily an outcome of only medical care or treatments. This understanding of health coheres with the biblical-theological traditions. This message is embodied in the life, acts and message of Jesus Christ. Health, in the sense of wholeness, is a condition related to God’s promise. Wholeness is not a static balance of harmony but rather it involves living-in-community with God, people and God’s entire creation. The Bible recounts many instances where Jesus healed persons with various infirmities but, equally importantly, he restored people to their rightful places within the fabric of the community. Healing in the broad sense is the central part of Jesus’ mission. Healing is more about the restoration of wholeness than about correcting something perceived as defective. This may include various meanings and aspects of healing – physical, spiritual and social wellbeing. Healing was not only a central feature of Jesus’ ministry but also a feature of his call to followers to be an inclusive community integrating people of all ages, of all states of health, of all physical and mental abilities
There are many ways in which churches can be, and are, involved in health and healing in a comprehensive sense. They create or support clinics and mission hospitals; they offer counseling services, care groups and health programs; local churches can create groups to visit sick congregation members. Healing processes could include praying with and for the sick, confession and forgiveness, the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and the use of charismatic spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12). But it must also be noted that inappropriate forms of Christian worship, including triumphal healing services in which the healer is glorified at the expense of God, and where false expectations are raised, can deeply harm people. This is not to deny God’s miraculous intervention of healing in some cases. Church-based health care services still matter in modern societies but there is a strong need to reflect on their program and to strengthen the spiritual dimension of Christian health care services. The healing ministry of the church relates to all dimensions of human life: body, soul and spirit. Thus, Christians are called to holistic health care as an essential dimension of their faith. Consequently, Christians have almost always been engaged in healing, caring for the sick and establishing institutions of charity for the poor and needy. At one time, Christianity and hospitals became almost identical, in particular where mission hospitals used to serve the poor communities. Although mission hospitals could never cover the entire population they were an essential element of the health care sector in most regions of the world particularly in Asia. The majority of Christian health care institutions in Asia once were built in rural areas where majority of the poor people lived. People could also benefit from the spiritual dimension of health care provided by the health workers and their spiritual co-workers. Their love, dedication, faith and trust determined whether Christian health care providers really made a difference. Today we experience more commercialization in such places of church related medical institutions. The new situations require spiritual leaders along with Christian health care service providers. This raises the cardinal question of how the local faith community of Christians could be a space for health and healing of minds and bodies.
The role of churches and the ecumenical movement in Asia to be creative agents of health and healing ministry has much more significance in today’s Asian situations. A vast population of the developing as well as developed countries in Asia require substantial care for their bodies and minds today. As per the World Health Report, over 450 million persons are reported to suffer from mental or neurological disorders in Asia and a large number of them are from developed countries in East Asia. Although the exact causes of most mental illnesses are not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, environmental and socio-economic factors. However, the most worrying example is to be found in public health systems of Asian countries including in the developed countries. Mental depression is an increasingly common illness and at its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Asia accounts for about 60% of an estimated 1 million suicides every year in the world, with China, India, and Japan accounting for about 40% of those suicides. It is a serious public health problem and every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Many deaths of elderly people in Japan are reported to be due to suicide. The good news remains that people with a serious mental illness today are not beyond the healing power of Jesus Christ. God still reaches them with peace, guidance, support, healing, and love. It is because each human being is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
In a similar way, most Asian countries are now unable to handle the explosion of dementia patients. Most governments had nothing in terms of long-term planning to address this growing problem as they swept the problem under the carpet for so long and it has become a monster which is now threatening the social fabric of Asia. As Dementia diagnosis and treatments were not priorities of various governments it would cost now an incalculable amount both in monetary and social terms. The need in most Asian societies is to set a priority to look after the concerns of dementia patients especially the medical and social support sectors to collaborate and set up a system where diagnosed patients can transfer easily from the hospital to the services they need in the community. There are a growing number of middle aged and old people losing the physical strength to work and needing greater care if they are to survive. Industrialization and urbanization have destroyed the traditional bonds of supports between generations. Most Asian societies now seek for alternative forms of care for elderly people in order to dignify the last years of their lives.
Jesus’ response of compassion which healed broken bodies and minds and broken ties to the community reminds us that we are called to attend to the bodies, minds, and community ties of all God’s children. CCA in future will be making its constituencies competent to respond to the need of the people seeking special care and be a channel of social transformation and empowerment. Many Asian churches have pioneered their health ministry through establishing Christian hospitals and serving people and communities by providing health care over the decades. Still, in many countries in Asia the Christian hospitals provide specialized services to the poor and the needy in society as part of their diaconal ministry. However, commercialism also has affected Christian medical services in different parts of Asia which is against the Christian values. In the context of the emerging trends of declining health and healing service ministry of churches in Asia in the midst of commercialization affecting the original purpose and mission of Churches in health ministry, the CCA will initiate a program of motivating the Churches in Asia to equip their mission hospitals to initiate health and healing mission centers in every Christian hospital in Asia with facilities to provide care for the aged, people affected with mental health, as well as centers of family counselling. This program will make a concerted effort to accompany churches in Asia to actively engage in support of Christian health ministries; facilitate the sharing of best practices that promote health and healing as well as emphasize the responsibility in participation of holistic health care with optimum care and effective use of resources. Activities will include Capacity building Training on Mental Health and Trauma Healing based on Theological Foundation; Disaster preparedness Training and Advocacy on Refugee problems; develop guidelines and tools on Pastoral Care & Counseling, and Trauma Healing; enhance knowledge and awareness on Palliative Care, Terminal Illness and the Elderly; and advocacy to establish counseling centers.
Since the 1980s the world has been confronted with HIV and AIDS, which has grown into a global crisis rapidly and is still spreading throughout Asia. According to UNAIDS figures (2013-2014), there are presently 35 million BROSLIH (Brothers/Sisters Living with HIV) worldwide, 4.8 million of whom are in Asia and the Pacific, the vast majority living in poorer countries. 2.1 million new infections worldwide were reported, of which 350,000 new infections are in Asia Pacific. Though this figure has declined by 6% from 2005 to 2013, the new infections in Indonesia have risen by 48% since 2005. In Asia 250,000 people are reported to have died of AIDS. Although representing a decrease of 27% between 2005 and 2013, India accounts for 51% of all AIDS-related deaths in the region. In 2013 12.9 million BROSLIH were reported to have access to anti-retroviral treatment (ART) worldwide, yet in Asia Pacific only 1.6 million had access to it, and an estimated 3.1 million adults were not receiving ART. Only Thailand and Cambodia have more than 50% BROSLIH currently on ART. HIV has widespread consequences as it not only affects individuals, families, communities and societies including churches, but also national economies and social systems.
Many girls are forced into prostitution in order to earn the means for living or for education. Another cause of HIV infection is rape and sexual violence. Wherever Human Rights are disregarded, HIV spreads easily, e.g. when women are marginalized and denied equal rights; when children are violated; when people are exploited and when violence and poverty become almost a way of life. In many countries there are harmful cultural practices that underline violence against women and children. There are a growing number of orphans and vulnerable children who need special support and attention in order to be raised to a life in dignity. As part of the body of Christ and part of the suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26), we should try to understand and take action to break the silence and to share as best as we can, care, love, forgiveness and healing with BROSLIH. Lord Jesus preached the good news of salvation for all, forgave sins, and healed the sick without any distinction or condition (Mark 1:32). He reached out to the totally rejected and stigmatized (e.g. the man with leprosy, in Mark 1:40-42). In fact He was criticized for keeping company with the socially ostracized people of His day –the tax gatherers and sinners- to which he replied: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick” (Mathew 9:10-12). He did not exclude, marginalize, or judge people. We recognize that our churches are called to the ministry of healing – and we acknowledge that our churches, with their structures and cultures, are in need of healing themselves.
The role of the Church in addressing the widespread problem of HIV and AIDS can be at different levels: overcoming stigma, addressing social determinants, sharing effective practices among countries and regions, and serving the needs of persons living with and affected by HIV for prevention, care and support. There hasn’t been any major collective ecumenical strategy or action in relation to addressing the HIV and AIDS in Asia except that of CCA’s limited involvement in this area of work for the past few years. Based on these experiences, CCA is now developing a comprehensive ecumenical advocacy programme that will cover most parts of Asia with the full participation of churches and ecumenical councils.
One in every six persons in Asia, that is about 650 million people, has some form of disability. This number is expected to rise over the next decades due to ageing populations, natural disasters, conflicts and war, chronic health conditions, road accidents and related injuries, poor working conditions and other factors. Despite the constant increase in their number, persons with disabilities tend to be unseen, unheard and uncounted. They are often excluded from access to education, employment, social protection services and legal support systems, and are subject to disproportionately high rates of poverty and sexual abuse. They continue to face both barriers in their participation as equal members of society. Disability affects hundreds of thousands of families in Asia. The two-way link between poverty and disability creates a vicious circle. Poor people are more at risk of disability because of lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation, as well as safe living and working conditions. Once this occurs, people face barriers to the education, employment, and public services. In many contexts, churches also have not properly recognized people with disabilities in their congregations or communities. As they face isolation from friends and family members as well as members in their communities, they suffer due to discrimination and exclusion they continue to face. Such exclusion even isolates them from active involvement in the spiritual life of the Church which should be a “caring and inclusive” community. The disabled persons are even unable to enter into church buildings or church relate institutions in most Asian countries as many church buildings are still inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Jesus loved, cared and protected the people with disabilities in his society. Jesus strongly disputed the connection between sin and blindness, saying, ‘It was not that this man or his parents but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” (John 9:3) Then Jesus healed the blind man but first Jesus gave him dignity and self-respect. All people with or without disabilities are created in the image of God and called to be in an inclusive community in which they are empowered to use their various God given gifts. Persons with disabilities have great capacities and gifts to be shared in the household of God, which should be a “caring and inclusive” community. The church community is called by God to embrace persons including those with disabilities exercising their spiritual gifts to be “disability – sensitive”, caring and inclusive.
This activity will aim at initiating and facilitating an Asian Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network (AEDAN) which could begin in every Asian country with the participation of Asian churches. In order to reach the goal, CCA will organize consultations and programs at national and regional levels which will help churches to participate actively in ecumenical advocacy on disability to promote and uphold the dignity of the disabled people of God’s creation.