National Council of Churches in India – Unity and Mission
Indian Missional Conversation on
‘Journeying Together: Prophetic Witness to the Truth and Light, in Asia’
The Indian Missional Conversation on Asia Mission Conference – 2017 on the theme ‘Journeying Together: Prophetic Witness to the Truth and Light, in Asia was held in Ranchi, Jharkhand from 23rd to 24th August, 2017. This conversation was facilitated by the National Council of Churches in India – Unity and Mission (NCCI) along with the Diocese of Chotanagpur, Church of North India – (DCN-CNI), National Missionary Society of India (NMSI), India Missions Association (IMA), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and Christian Service Agency (CSA).
This is the first time that, several Mission Board Representatives of NCCI, India Missions Association, National Missionary Society of India, Evangelical Fellowship of India Council of Churches and Catholic Bishops Conference of India, came together for this conversation. Around 100 delegates from 20 different Church-based Mission Boards and Organisations, 8 Church Mission Boards, 10 Ecumenical Organisations and 4 Regional Councils participated in this conversations.
Conversation began with the questions…
- With ‘WHOM’ are planning to ‘JOURNEY TOGETHER?’
- ‘WHY’ should we ‘JOURNEY TOGETHER?’
- WHERE are we ‘JOURNEYING TOGETHER?’ and
- For ‘WHAT’ we are ‘JOURNEYING TOGETHER?’
The inaugural session was moderated by Dr. Sushant Agrawal, Chairperson, NCCI – National Programme Commission. Rev. Sr. Teresa Joseph, Rev. S. Christopher Vijayan, Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, Rev. Dr. D. B Kulothungan and Rt. Rev. Dr. P. C Singh and Rt. Rev. Basil Baskey shared greetings from their respective churches and organisations.
Rt. Rev. Dr. P C Singh, President – NCCI, in his inaugural message emphasized that Christian Mission Bodies have contributed substantially to every walk of the socio-religious lives of people and are an integral part of our societies. Indian history cannot be written without the contributions of the Christian Missions and Missionaries that upheld the spirit of unity and secularism in the country. Though Christian services are wrongly stereotyped as being carried out solely for conversion and though Christians are subject to various forms of persecution, yet Indian Christians have remained loyal to the country; Christian Missions and Missionaries should continue to render transparent service to the country. He further highlighted that the Indian Mission movement has been prophetical: it has been challenging inhuman practices of casteism, patriarchy and gender injustice, and our missional interventions have asserted ‘life ‘OF’ all – life ‘FOR’ all.
Rev. Dr. D. B. Kulothungan, Treasurer, India Missions Association, affirmed that a new journey has begun with the faith and hope. He invited everyone to be committed to, and uphold, the God intended unity and fellowship. Mission has to be Christ-people-centric and not otherwise.
Rt. Rev. Basil Baskey, Bishop, Diocese of Chotanagpur, CNI expressed concern that Indian missional movements are witnessing a few unpleasant ‘contextual’ realities such as aggressive hate-campaigns and ‘racial-profiling’ by the right-wing fundamentalists who intend to weaken and destroy the cohesive and peaceful living experiences of people. Hence it is a missional demand to proclaim and act for peace on earth by inculcating a culture of love for, and acceptance of, each other.
The keynote panel was moderated by the Rt. Rev. Basil Baskey. Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, Rev. Dr. Richard Howell and Rev. Sr. Dr. Teresa Joseph served as key note panelists.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary – NCCI, presented ecumenical perspectives on the theme within a historical framework. Starting from Dogmatic Witness (WMC, Edinburgh 1910), the ecumenical movement has moved on to Dialogical Witness (WCC Assembly, New Delhi 1961) to Decisive Witness from the Margins (WCC Assembly, Busan 2013). While affirming the positives of the earlier mission stances, mission commitment today has to directly confront social injustices such as caste, and other social divides. All people of God need to journey together in this pilgrimage of justice and peace.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India Council of Churches, raised a question, with whom we are intending to journey together is a matter of concern since, our commitment to the Gospel cannot be compromised for the sake of being together. He also insisted to initiate intra-faith ecumenical and missiological conversations to reduce the gaps that exist because of misconceptions and misunderstandings of each other and to intensively build relationships and confidence within and among each other as we ‘proclaim’ the Gospel of Christ.
Sr. Dr. Teresa Joseph, FMA, Executive Secretary, Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), described the Indian Missional Conversation as a modern day Pentecostal experience, since, several mission movements have come together under one roof for missional conversation. She suggested that, ‘dialogue could be a means to initiate a ‘faith journey’ together towards bearing common public witness and to serve the societies at large, ignoring our ‘small’ differences. Such conversations and ‘encounter’ experiences would transform us as we commit to transform societies. She exhorted all by saying that our journey be ‘Christ and Word-centred’ with ‘broader vision’ and ‘collective commitment’ towards affirming life and dignity of all earth communities.
The second day morning worship was led by Mr. Jianthaolung Gonmei, Executive Secretary, NCCI – Youth Concerns. Rev. Dr. Theodore Srinivasagam, Former General Secretary, India Missions Association and a renowned Indian mission leader delivered a devotional message. Dr. Theodore urged that ‘the journey that we have begun has to be Christ-centred and Word-centred while we journey together and we have to bear united witness publically to Christ and His Words, which itself is a mission.’ He affirmed that ‘Journeying together’ needs to begin with Jesus Christ to be meaningful.
Sr. Dr. Teresa Joseph, FMA, moderated a panel on the sub-themes of the Asia Mission Conference : Prophetic Accompaniment, Affirming Servanthood, Participating in the Reign of God, and Embodying the Spirituality of the Cross.
Prof. Dr. Mammen Varkey, Chief Editor of Peoples Reporter and Facilitator of the VICHARA informed the participants that Mission has to challenge the Power. Today, injustice has become a reality and mission cannot remain silent when we witness unjust practices. Gospel is the story of God who affirms justice and consequently, God’s Mission is to confront injustice. Proclamation of the Reign of God is the Mission which has to be prophetical in nature. Prophetical means: be vocal and we need to speak out against the powers that darken societies. Today, he asserted, money is on the throne and rules the societies; money decides every movement of society. Secondly, the majority and the powerful want to create a homogeneous society. Furthermore, these ungodly elements decide what society should eat and how it should dress. In this context mission has to prophetically challenge ungodly attitudes and practices as a missional call.
Rev. Dr. Ngurliana, Programme Consultant, CCA – Mission in Unity and Contextual Theology informed the participants that we as Christian Missions are to proclaim our message by listening while we accompany each other in our journey together with each other. He further suggested a paradigm shift in our mission approach that, we bear witness not as masters but as servants. In our journey together we are not to be served but to serve the society at large which would obviously highlight Jesus’ model of mission.
Rev. Maxcin John, Director, Mission Concerns, Church of South India Synod asserted that we in Christian Missions are called to announce and realize the reign of God; therefore, our ultimate aim is to build societies of resistance which are based on the values of Justice, Peace, Love and Hope. Today’s political policies are built upon ” money-theism,” whereas the Christian Mission has to be built on a foundations of the Gospel values of Love, Justice and Peace, and responsible stewardship of transparency. Further he declared that the reign of God calls for celebration of life with the underprivileged by being transformatively committed to realizing the reign of God by affirming, defending and practicing the dignity and respect of all.
Fr. Dr. Aloysius Ekka, SJ, the Director, of St. Xavier’s Institute of Social Service (XISS), spoke on ‘Spirituality of the Cross’. According to him, embodying the spirituality of the cross is a way of self emptying. Popular theologies tend to promote the spirituality of the cross mystically. But, the spirituality of the cross is nothing but registering Christian missional solidarity with the struggling communities who struggle to protect their land, water, forest and natural resources from oppressive mechanisms. The spirituality of the cross is uniting people who fight for their rights, against injustices. Identifying, and accompanying with, suffering and struggling communities, would be the spirituality of the cross. He concluded by reminding us that unless we suffer for others, we cannot participate in the reign of God. He also said ‘persecutions today cannot be seen mystically as reward of God, but need to be seen as a human rights issue’.
Prof. Dr. Mammen Varkey introduced the draft mission statement of Asia Mission Conference and Rev. Dr. Ngurliana introduced the Bible Study themes in a session which was followed by a panel on Indian Missional Conversations on the subjects of Conversion, Interfaith Cooperation, Mission and Media and Diaconia as Mission.
Rt. Rev. Andrew Rathod, Director, Mission and Evangelism – Church of North India Synod affirmed that conversion is not only a religious right, it is also a Right of every citizen. However, Christian Mission is being alleged by right-wing fundamentalists to be obsessed only with converting people to Christianity; they also assert that all Indian Christian were originally Hindus. Bishop Rathod declared that the right to Freedom of Religion and the freedom to convert is ensured by the Indian Constitution. It is unfortunate that Dalits who are converted to Christianity are denied of their educational and employment opportunities, which are provided for by the Indian Constitution.
Fr. Dr. Christu Das, Director, Social Initiatives for Growth and Networking (SIGN) gave an interfaith reading to the theme ‘journeying together’. He said, ‘accepting’ and ‘recognizing’ each other as ‘they are’ is a new spirituality in our faith journey. In many occasions, we look at each other as opposites with suspicions and envy, but this new spirituality invites all of us to consider all as ‘Children of God and accept each other as they are. This spirituality also helps us to uphold God’s love as the basis for our journey. Further he said, in interfaith journey, we all need to have a fuller and complete knowledge of Christ and great commandment of loving and accepting our neighbours without any prejudices and discriminations. The Christ-knowledge is an uncompromised element for our faith journey together. We all called to adopt the kenosis model of Jesus Christ and extend our missional solidarities with the excluded communities by giving up our egos and pride.
Mrs. Ella Sonawane, Assistant General Secretary, Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK) expressed the need to use the cyber space also to communicate the Gospel of Christ. She also cautioned the participants about the ‘Commodification of the Gospel’ by the televangelists and how the televangelism is misused to build personality-cults and promoting ‘prosperity theology’. She also suggested to adopt creative means to engage in mission in this cyber and gadget age.
Dr. Sushant Agrawal, Chairperson, NCCI – National Programme Commission, said that the traditional understanding of mission has adopted ‘PREACHING’ as a means to communicate the liberative Gospel of Christ. Whereas, the real mission today demands the mission movements to ‘DO’ GOSPEL’ by adopting ‘diaconia as mission’ by being with socially, religiously and historically marginalised and excluded communities and those who are in need. According to him, ‘Doing Gospel’ is the new paradigm in the missional history and this is the unique stature of new Indian Missional Diaconia.
The second Indian Missional Conversation was on issues related to people and societies such as migration, Dalits. Gender and Generational and Adivasi issues:
Rev. S. Christopher Vijayan, General Secretary – National Missionary Society of India (NMSI), said, today’s missions has to be indigenous in their natures and has to focus in affirming the native culture and heritage rather than adapting the western traditional mission patters and their theologies. Also, suggested that, Mission is to consider Migration as a serious issue which is the result of globalization process. Hence, the Mission has to treat the Migrants as God’s people and facilitate them to have a better life by creating Christ-centred but non-sacramental communities to reflect the true image of Christ.
Dr William Stanley, President of Ecumenical Council of Draught and Water Management (ECODAWM) and renowned Dalit activist, challenged the Mission movements by inviting them to ‘become’ Dalits rather than ‘opting’ to be Dalits. He also expressed his anguish over the Mission movements that, they look upon Dalits as ‘objects’, therefore, claiming that they adopt a Mission ‘TO’ Dalits, whereas the time has come to realize that the true Mission starts from the Margins i.e., Dalits. So, the Mission movements need to understand that, it is a Mission “FROM’ Dalits and Mission ‘BY’ Dalits and Mission ‘WITH’ Dalits, and no more Mission ‘TO” the Dalits. Further he espoused that, God’s preferential option to be seen from the lives and status of Dalits not from the eyes of oppressors. Finally, he challenged the call to journey together with the question: Can OPPRESSORS and OPPRESSED journey together and bear a PROPHETIC WITNESS?
Mrs. Dayamani Barla, renowned Adivasi Activist, challenged the Indian Mission Movements asking the mission movements about their missional response towards women and children who are trafficked for sexual abuse and domestic labour from their missional areas. She observes that, most of the mission movements and churches are mostly silent on this issue. Secondly, thousands and thousands of tribal youth are migrating to the cities for the sustenance of their lives and futures as daily-wage labourers, domestic and construction workers. She wants to know, what are the missional responses to those realities! Thirdly, most of the tribal lands are subjected to the development projects and given to the extractive industries, those are causing the displacement and mass migration – in this context what kind of prophetic witness that mission movements are contemplating and deliberating upon! Would Indian Mission ensure the life at our own land! So, let today’s mission assure life ‘before’ death rather life ‘after’ death.
Rev. T. S. Cyril Hans, former Principal of Gossner Theological College (GTC) informed that, the Adivasis in India are facing lots of problems due to the development policies of the Governments. Paddy fields are converted as factories, hills and mountains are de-forested to construct dams, and Adivasi communities are evicted to launch mineral mining. If it continues, he forewarned, the Adivasis would not only lose their lands but also their identities, lives, future, histories, culture and heritage by migrating to the plain lands. Hence, the Mission movements are expected to facilitate an intelligent missional and theological dialogue on political and social realities with theological and missiological academia and Adivasi representatives to address and tackle the issues theologically and spiritually.
The closing act was facilitated by Rev. R. Christopher Rajkumar. In the context of these discussions, on the one hand while we oppose Cultural Nationalism and Hindu Rashtra of the Hindutuva ideologies, but also on the other hand upholding the ideology of Christian Zionism, which is equally vicious, he asked a deeply probing question “What could be the missional responses to such complex and divisive theological concepts?” Further, he invited all the representatives from different mission bodies to make a commitment to ‘Journeying Together’.
There were several responses from the participants. So also a question: “Are not direct political engagements a missional intervention when we discuss our role as Prophetic Witnesses and our participation in realizing the reign of God?”
This conversation was found to be rich and unique, replete with people’s real experiences and instances of ground reality; Indeed it was a modern day Pentecostal experience. The participants also expressed the interest of coming together more often for continuing conversations.
NCCI – Unity and Mission