ASIAN Methodist Bishops have been given three reasons why they should unite and work closer. They are:
1. Because of rapid changes in the region, there is a need for church leaders to come together to pray and think of ways of strengthening the witness of the church in Asia;
2. In view of difficulties and persecutions faced by Methodists in some parts of Asia, there is a need to encourage them and stand in solidarity with them; and
3. With the emerging and significant missions opportunities in many parts of Asia and beyond, there is a need to forge together new partnerships in missions.
These points were put across by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon to 30 of his counterparts when he addressed the Annual Gathering of the Fellowship of Asian Methodist Bishops (FAMB) at the Garden Hotel from March 13 to 15, 2004. The meeting, which was chaired by him, drew Bishops from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea (South), Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan.
A highlight of the meeting was when the delegates, led by Bishop Dr Solomon, paid a courtesy call on President S. R. Nathan at the Istana on March 15.
In his country report on Singapore, Bishop Dr Solomon said that race relations, religious harmony and the influx of permanent residents and foreign workers are three of the many challenges facing The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) today.
Global terrorism has spread beyond the United States since the falling of the twin towers on Sept 11, 2001, and Singapore, too, is not immune to the threat of terrorism.
On religious harmony, he said the Government has doubled its efforts in promoting harmony among the various faith communities with lingering memories of the racial riots of the 1960s.
In June last year, the “Declaration on Religious Harmony” was drafted to promote cohesion and respect, foster communication, recognise the secular nature of Singapore, and expand the “common space” between communities.
Through dialogues such as the Inter-racial Confidence Circles, the issue of Christian evangelisation was again brought into the forefront of discussions, a previous time being in a 1989 government White Paper on religious harmony that noted – “the trend [towards missionary zeal] increases the possibilities of friction and misunderstanding among different religious groups”.
“In this light,” said the Bishop, “it becomes even more pertinent for Singaporean Christians to evaluate how we conduct evangelism, and whether we are evangelising sensitively, humbly and personably.”
Turning to the influx of PRs and foreign workers, he pointed out that there are about 1 million foreigners living in Singapore, a quarter of the Republic’s population, and “this represents an avenue for future co-operation with our sister churches in the region”.
In his report, the Rev A. Noel P. Fernando, President of The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, said that the Church has used its resources to alleviate the suffering of the people and meet their needs as far as possible. Sri Lanka is ravaged by a protracted civil war.
He said: “Children’s homes, day-care centres operating in various parts of the country, refugee camps and rehabilitation centres run by our Church have become a haven and comfort to thousands who suffer.”
During the recent past, there had been a build-up of anti-Christian activities in the country. “Our hope and prayer is that there should not be a religious war after our nation has suffered for 20 long years with an ethnic war,” said the Rev Fernando.
The Rev Ralph Lee, the new President of The Methodist Church, Hong Kong, highlighted the twin problems of SARS and the economic downturn that hit the Special Administrative Region in the past 12 months.
Although the SARS ordeal brought distress and helplessness to Hongkongers, he said, “there had not been a time when Christian influence was so extensive and far-reaching”.
“Footages with biblical verses were shown on television. Joint prayer meetings in public parks were held … Despite the general anguish and all the difficulties, Christians did make an impact on society and the message from Christ was also made known.”
On the economic downturn, the Rev Lee said: “Never have Hong Kong citizens been so disheartened. The Church did try to spread the message of joy, peace and hope, and rendered practical assistance to those in need.
“I thank God for the many angels He has sent to alleviate our burden and share our joy as we serve Him, and for the support and fellowship we enjoy here. Let us continue to remember each other and our ministry in our prayers.”
The report by the Korean Methodist Church – which sent the largest delegation of 10 Bishops – disclosed that the Church is challenging its members to do their best to accomplish the Great Commission by taking part in three projects:
3 Million Believers Evangelism Movement (to be engaged in missions and evangelism);
Social Service Project (to “Love your neighbours”); and the
“Be Honest” Movement (to practise personal and social pietism).
The business part of the meeting aside, social activities included a dinner on board Stewords, a riverboat off the waters of Sentosa, hosted by the General Conference of the Women’s Society of Christian Service, and a tour which covered Marina Bay, the Central Business District, Lau Pa Sat and parts of Chinatown, with stops at Methodist Centre, Bethany Methodist Nursing Home, the Esplanade and outside Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.
Thanking Bishop Dr Solomon and his team for “really making us feel at home throughout our stay in Singapore”, Bishop Kim Jin Ho, Chairman of the Korean Council of Bishops, said the feelings the Asian Methodist Bishops had for one another were deepened.
He added: “The talks and concerns are far more directed and sincere. I could feel that leaders of the Asian Methodist churches are getting truly united for the plan of God in this region.”
The FAMB meeting was followed by the annual meeting of the Executive Committee of the Asian Methodist Council (AMC). It was decided that next year’s AMC Convention would be held in Kuala Lumpur from June 21 to 24.
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.