Area Update

Area Update

Updated November 2006 Recent issues and challenges from Southern Asia, visitors from Southern Asia, and the activities of home-based and overseas staff.

Updated November 2006

Recent issues and challenges from Southern Asia, visitors from Southern Asia, and the activities of home-based and overseas staff.

East Timor experienced severe outbreak of violence in the spring in response to the government’s firing of 600 soldiers who had gone on strike over claims of discrimination. The dispute is partly grounded in distrust between regional groups from the east (Lorosa’e) and the west (Loromonu) and is also aggravated by poverty and general lack of economic opportunity. The United Nations had a presence in East Timor until a year ago. The U.N.’s departure seemed indicative of the lack of international commitment to helping East Timor move toward becoming a fully functioning nation and society. In May and June, violence born in frustration over perceived injustices within the military escalated and resulted in the killing of at least 37 people and the burning of whole neighborhoods – displacing about 150,000 people. Refugee camps have been established and many believe it will be months before people develop confidence in the stability and begin to return to rebuild their homes and communities. Global Ministries is supporting the relief and rehabilitation efforts of our partner, The Protestant Church of East Timor.

Our partner, the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, in Sri Lanka continues in turmoil. The majority of the churches of the Jaffna Diocese are at odds with the Church of South India leadership, headquartered in Chennai, over procedural and constitutional matters in the selection of a new bishop to replace Bishop Jebanesan, who retired a year and a half ago. The truce between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam and the Sri Lankan Government has ended and fighting has increased over the summer throughout northern and eastern Sri Lanka with occasional incidents in the south as well. In August, Jaffna came under fire as the LTTE forces fought with the government for control of the area.

The earthquake which hit the island of Sumatra in Indonesia in May of 2006 and a smaller quake and its resulting tsunami which also struck Sumatra in July have caused over 6000 deaths and more than 200,000 were rendered homeless. Action by Churches Together (ACT) and Global Ministries local partners, the Communion of Churches of Indonesia and Duta Wacana Christian University have been engaged in the delivery of emergency relief and rehabilitation.

King Gyanendra of Nepal relinquished power to the democratically elected House of Representatives in May and several key developments followed: the Maoists have participated in a ceasefire since May with the Government troops; the Maoists and the seven political parties have joined in talks about the future of the nation; the House of Representatives has declared that Nepal is a secular state; and Rev. Dr. K.B. Rokaya, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Nepal, our partner, has been asked to serve on the Government-Maoist Ceasefire Code of Conduct National Monitoring Committee (in recognition of the work of the Christian Community in calling for all parties to participate in peace talks). As of August the cease-fire holds and elections are being planned. It is still uncertain whether the monarchy will be abolished or whether it will be retained in a purely symbolic form.

In March we were visited by Rev. Richard Daulay, General Secretary of the Communion of Churches of Indonesia. He brought the Southern Asia Office up to date on the situation in West Papua which is the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea. West Papua was once a Dutch colony, but was incorporated into Indonesia through an election which was of disputed integrity. West Papua is home of the Freeport Gold Mines, an American Company which has a history of disregard for the human rights of the local population and which evidence indicates uses environmentally abusive land and resource management practices. The Indonesian Government negotiated a Special Autonomy agreement for West Papua which purported to recognize that Papuans should have the right to govern themselves, but this agreement has been generally ignored. The Communion of Churches has asked Global Ministries to advocate for the Government of Indonesia to comply with and enforce the Special Autonomy Agreement.

In April, Bishop C.K. Das of the Sambalpur Diocese of the Church of North India in the state of Orissa visited Cleveland and visited UCC and Disciples congregations in the Kentucky, Oklahoma and Iowa exploring the history of our churches’ relationships and sharing the challenges of ministry in the Sambalpur Diocese today. Bishop Das attended the Common Global Ministries Board Meeting and the Division of Overseas Ministries Board Meeting in April.

Rev. Made Priana, Moderator of our partner church in Bali, Indonesia, and Rev. Dr. Mastra (former bishop of the Bali Church) visited the Cleveland Office of Global Ministries in May and shared with us some of the current challenges of church development in Bali.