“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(Feb. 1, 2008) — The leadership of Christian mission agencies gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 6-12 for an annual gathering with Church World Service (CWS) executive director John McCullough. This is the first time the group has met outside the US. The location in Thailand was chosen to engage the humanitarian situation in the region, and to hear from the church leadership of Myanmar (Burma).
Mervin Keeney, executive director of Global Mission Partnerships for the Church of the Brethren General Board, joined McCullough and mission heads from five other denominations. “As a forum for mission leaders to reflect together about the struggles and joys of implementing global cross-cultural mission programs, the gathering fosters ecumenical collaboration and problem-solving, and serves as a professional peer group,” Keeney said.
The general secretary of the Myanmar Council of Churches, Saw Mar Gay Gyi, and the general secretary of Kayin (Karen) Baptist Convention, Greeta Din, joined the mission executives in Bangkok and reflected about the life of the churches in Myanmar. A planned visit to Myanmar as a part of the meeting was not possible. The group also met with CWS staff in the region and with leaders of the Christian Council of Asia. The conversations provided regional grounding and perspective, Keeney said.
In addition to the regional focus and the usual exchange of mission ideas and strategies, agenda items this year included the missiological reflection process being undertaken by the CWS board, possible wider missiological reflection leading to a 2010 conference at Edinburgh, Scotland, and a proposed western hemisphere, North-South dialogue. After hearing about the meaningful gathering of the Historic Peace Churches at Solo, Indonesia, last month, the group also proposed the idea of an ecumenical peace conference at the close of the Decade to Overcome Violence.
CWS staff provided updates about the humanitarian response to more than 150,000 people displaced by the violence in Myanmar and now living in 10 camps, which provide shelter at the Thai border. The group traveled to see the Tham Hin Camp.
The Karen people make up about two-thirds of the overall displaced population. Although some have been displaced and living in camps for decades, it was reported that because of tight family and community bonds, few want to be resettled to other countries. The resettlement feels like permanently closing the door to return to their home areas in Myanmar. In contrast to many ethnic groups in southeast Asia, the Karen people are nearly 90 percent Christian, due to the successful efforts of early American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson Sr. who began work among them in 1827.
At the community center in the Tham Hin Camp, Keeney observed that there were boxes of health kits and school kits bearing the “New Windsor, Maryland,” label, reflecting the reach of the Brethren Service Center into this isolated area of need, and the effectiveness of the Church of the Brethren’s ecumenical partnerships in sending material aid.
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