Consultation on ecumenical ministry in post-tsunami situation
Thirty-three participants from 14 countries gathered in Sri Lanka from 26 to 30 January 2005 for a Christian Conference of Asia-initiated consultation on the theme “Ecumenical Ministry in Post-Tsunami Situation.”
Among the participants were representatives from the countries devastated by the December 26 tsunami: Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Through this consultation, the ecumenical movement offered its solidarity and support to the churches and communities that have suffered so much.
One month from the date of the tsunami, CCA initiated a conference on the Ecumenical Ministry in Post-Tsunami Situation. The conference was an urgent response to an unimaginable disaster that has affected the whole world. Never before in recent history has a catastrophe of such magnitude been experienced. The consultation was called to look into the whole situation of what impact the tsunami had on the lives of the people, the initiatives from the onset until the present and also to see the implications of an ecumenical ministry in such a situation-a ministry of both people in the situation and other partners not directly affected.
The themes of the conference highlighted Eco-health, life and peace and emergence of alternate communities as unique/nontraditional sectors for interventions.
After listening to actual situations, a field visit, and discussions we found that:
Through reports and a field visit we witnessed the severe devastation wrought on the live and livelihood of people, its affect on the economies of the countries directly affected and on the ecosystems.
We learned how the tsunami has created serious psychological trauma for the survivors and how they are struggling to keep their lives together, particularly in the context of many thousands still unaccounted for and listed as missing.
The humanitarian response has been more than what can be comprehended.
The role of churches and Christian organizations in the neighborhoods, as well as that of the ecumenical community and NGOs, was spontaneous, rapid and positive. We affirm the rapid and effect response the ACT has made to the tsunami affected areas.
In many situations an interfaith response was evident and welcome.
After one month, considerable cleanup has already been accomplished, but much still remains to be done with regards to removing debris, resettlement policies, social security and reestablishing livelihoods.
The possibilities of people going back to their previous livelihoods seems to be doubtful in some areas. This may be because they are fearful about returning to their original homes by the sea or they may be alientated from their work locales through relocations.
In the present situation, many people are still living in relief centers while being encouraged to move into temporary shelters and family situations.
There is a need for coordination of all implementing bodies involved in responding to the tsunami crisis.
People and government from many countries have offered help in the form of materials, civil and military personnel and finance.
Apprehension and fear concerning continued foreign presence in the form of military and/or aid personnel was discussed as a serious concern.
There is a concern that the response to the tsunami may undermine peace initiatives and people’s struggles for justice and life in the affected countries.
Suggestions from the conference
With regard to policy, it was suggested that:
All involvements be people-centered.
People-Centeredness exist at all levels of planning, working, and evaluating.
Projects with the people be based on fairness, transparency, and integrity
Projects be inclusive to insure that people of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings are treated with equal respect.
Preferential options be given to the most vulnerable
Life-Centeredness be a focus to insure integration between ecology, health, and development
All work be contextual as well as religio-culturally, and ecologically sensitive
Interdependency among people and with the earth be strengthened
We should work for spiritual empowerment: From conflict to solidarity to healing and reconciliation
With regards to strategy, it was suggested that involvement should:
Empower local people’s decision-making, implementation and monitoring processes through village meetings and committees
Mobilize ‘Asiatic’ resources, both personnel and financial, for promoting local wisdom, local eco-system, and local culture-based projects through Asian ecumenical networks
Promote mutual transformation experience through people’s inter-local and inter-contextual encounter affirming the spirituality of the poor and the spirituality of kenosis
People should be treated as the Subjects of their own reconstruction – in planning, implementing and monitoring all aspects of the processes
In exploring possibilities of assuring a livelihood to the disposed people, every attempt should be made to explore possibilities of employment creating labor-intensive opportunities.
All involvements should be done in ways to address peace issues in civil war or ethnic conflict areas.
Communities must be encouraged to move closer to nature and live more in harmony with their environment.
Drawing from the spiritualities of different religious traditions in helping each other in coping with crisis will be stressed.
Raise the issue of the speedy withdrawal of foreign personnel and the issue of the presence of foreign military personnel.
Highlight the danger of the unobstructed flow of foreign capital into tsunami-hit countries.
Raise the issue of keeping up the momentum of ongoing peace talks and conflict transformation initiatives
Before the Tsunami is forgotten, we should take steps that would eventually help the revitalization and transformation of ecumenical movement in Asia so that we can better work together for the Tsunami affected people and possible future disasters.
Revitalization and transformation of ecumenical movement requires:
-Revival of ecumenism in the churches by becoming people oriented
-Rebuilding of relationships between churches and ecumenical/specialized agencies for meaningful and effective mission through interdependent relationships.
Initiatives such as the following would help to achieve the transformation. The leading concept is “people-centered life enrichment”.
– Periodical publication at regional level: CCA will publish reports, stories, reflections from the Tsunami affected countries that are collected by local churches and NCCs.
– Facilitation of mutual visitation among churches
– Workshops at national / regional level to bring churches and agencies together
– Facilitation of theological reflection on the Tsunami experience
– Promotion of inter-faith cooperation, learning from the post-Tsunami situation
– Meetings with evangelical churches that are using relief for conversion to urge them not to undermine the ministry and witness of local churches and Christian institutions in a religiously plural context.
– Joint advocacy for the marginalized people (migrant workers, persons with disabilities, children, women), proper funding., conflict resolution, problematization of military involvement
These initiatives should be process oriented rather than structure-creation oriented.
It is expected of the representatives from tsunami-hit countries to take these findings and suggestions to their fraternity and explore possibilities of coming up with a comprehensive program of ecumenical intervention. This can be discussed further in subsequent meetings and possibly taken up as a specific ecumenical ministerial interventions of the entire Asian ecumenical community.
It is hoped that this will revitalize the mobilization of Asian resources, both material and spiritual in formulating an Asian response to Asian realities which will be culturally sensitive, contextual and appropriate in the present geopolitical realities of the region.
Finally the participants affirm the positive role of the CCA in taking the lead and coordinating the ecumenical ministry in post-tsunami Asia.