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28.04.05 01:56 Age: 7 yrs

ALC - Latin American and Caribbean communication agency


Interview of WCC staff Carlos Ham, by Manuel Quintero, QUITO, Ecuador, April 28, 2005

Entrevista: Manuel Quintero, QUITO, Ecuador, Abril 28, 2005

In Geneva, Manuel Quintero, the editor of Nuevo Siglo (New Century, March 2005 publication of CLAI: Latin American Council of Churches), interviewed the Rev. Dr. Carlos Emilio Ham, one of the organizers of the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), which will take place in Athens, Greece, May 9-16.

Ham is a pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba and currently is serving as coordinator of the World Council of Churches' Mission and Ecumenical Formation team and as program executive for evangelism.

Nuevo Siglo: "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile" is the theme of the next Conference on World Mission and Evangelism. Why was this theme chosen, centered on the third person of the Trinity?

Dr. Ham: I think that your question points to the importance of the theme, which goes beyond a particular gathering as such. As we have expressed in one of our preparatory documents, in a period of neo-liberal globalization, which is characterized by increasing violence, fragmentation and exclusion, we are convinced that the mission of the Church is to receive, celebrate and proclaim reconciliation, healing and wholeness of life in Christ and to continue to work towards integrating these elements into the life of the church.

This is the reason why we chose the theme "Come, Holy Spirit, heal and reconcile. Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities".

By invoking the Holy Spirit, we confess that the mission is not ours. The mission is the one of the Triune God, creator of heaven and earth, whose purpose is that all would have fullness of life. In Jesus Christ, God laid the foundation for the true reconciliation and healing, overcoming all enmity and all evil. The Holy Spirit is always present, as an active healer and reconciler in the church and in the world.

We invoke the Spirit of God, who heals and reconciles, in order to receive, to be and to share signs of forgiveness, peace, justice and unity, renouncing to sin, enmity, violence, injustice and divisions, as individuals and communities.

The second part of the theme is: "Called in Christ to be reconciling and healing communities". In this time of neo-liberal globalization, God entrusts us and commends to us a message of healing and reconciliation. Christ crucified and risen, invites us to participate in God's mission.

This is the reason why our mission consists in forming therapeutic communities, healing, of celebration, witness, reciprocal love, forgiveness and respect, participating in the construction of peace, in processes of reconciliation and healing of the memories in society, overcoming violence where it is possible.

Our being, our way of being together, should reflect our vision of reconciliation. We are called to create and multiply spaces which can provide safety, in order to welcome those who are stigmatized, lost, trying to find a meaning for their lives, solidarity and community, in order to continue our pilgrimage as victims of violence and sin, and with them, towards reconciliation and justice.

Reconciliation and healing should be lived in community -among its members- as well as in broken communities, and in relation to humanity and the whole creation. Using the term "communities" -instead of community, as we refer to the Church - we would like to affirm the pluralist and diverse nature of the communities in which we live and serve.

NS: How many churches and confessions will be represented at the conference?

Dr. Ham: This important event, which is organized by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches (WCC), is a link in a long "chain" of mission conferences which began in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910, an event which marked the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.

It is important to highlight the fact that the composition of this particular conference goes beyond the membership of the WCC. Among the thirty members of the Commission, 50% represent the churches which belong to the WCC, 25% the affiliated bodies and the remaining 25%, the wider constituency, namely: Roman Catholic and other Pentecostal and evangelical churches.

The Commission decided to transfer the same composition to the conference, which means that the 700 participants will reflect the same proportion of the CWME Commission, including advisers and consultants, special guests and staff.

NS: In Latin America the Orthodox churches are not perceived as missionary churches. Why are you then having this meeting on mission and evangelism in Greece, a predominantly Orthodox country?

Dr. Ham: Generally speaking, those of us coming from the "Western" Protestant tradition don't know much about the Orthodox churches. It is a very rich, and at the same time complex and diverse faith. We have on the one hand, the Orthodox churches which take a re-active or conservative approach to the evangelistic efforts (which many times are aggressive, we must admit) of churches from other traditions.

This is particularly evident in Central and Eastern Europe, after the political changes which occurred following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989; but also in the Middle East, where Christianity is a minority in Muslim states and since it is illegal to evangelize Muslims in many of these countries, some churches intend to "evangelize" the Orthodox.

I always remember an interview we once had with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Ignatius IV Hazim in Damascus, Syria, who told us: "the problem is that our Evangelical brothers want to present us with a Jesus, like if he would have born in New York City, when he actually was born here, around the corner".

We also have Orthodox churches like the ones belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, among others, which carry out the mission and evangelism endeavor more pro-actively. We had the opportunity to participate during the visit to His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, in the consecration of the new Cathedral San Nicholas in Havana, on January 25th 2004. In an Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism, we commented on the ecumenical and historical meaning of this visit, since, for the first time the Ecumenical Patriarchate visited the Latin American region, and in particular a Spanish speaking country.

Another important element to take into consideration, in the context of the final report of the Special Commission of Orthodox Participation in the WCC, is the significance of carrying out a process of reconciliation between these churches and the WCC, which has not been easy.

Finally, I would like to add that Athens was chosen in order to continue our commitment to God's mission, following the footsteps of that great missionary, Saint Paul, the "Apostle of the Gentiles". Imagine what it will mean for us to conclude our conference on Pentecost Sunday and to be sent out to continue the reconciling and healing mission in this world, at the Areopagus, the same place where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous missionary message in the first Century (cf. Acts 17: 22 ff)!

NS: The whole question of proselytism has been a serious obstacle in some ecumenical efforts, particularly in the relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches in Russia and in other Eastern European countries. How do you expect to address this issue in Athens?

Dr. Ham: Precisely since proselytism has been a serious obstacle in achieving the visible unity of the Body of Christ and even more so, in carrying out the missionary and evangelizing work from an ecumenical perspective, the WCC's Central Committee in 1997 adopted the Declaration: "Towards Common Witness. A call to adopt responsible relationships in mission and to renounce proselytism".

The aims of this statement are: to make churches and Christians aware of the bitter reality of proselytism today; to call those involved in proselytism to recognize its disastrous effects on church unity, relationships among Christians and the credibility of the gospel and, therefore, to renounce it; and to encourage the churches and mission agencies to avoid all forms of competition in mission and to commit themselves anew to witness in unity.

We are hoping that this issue, among others that divide us in the missionary task, can be addressed responsibly and creatively in the conference, either in the plenaries, workshops, in the liturgies or in informal conversations.

Finally, we are also hoping to connect our theme of the reconciling and healing mission of the Church with the theme of world's transformation, by God's grace, which will be the emphasis of the next WCC's Assembly, planned to take place for the first time in Latin America, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, just nine months after our conference in Athens.

Indeed both themes are complementary to each other and serve as an inspiration to all of us when we try to respond to God's call to work in order to make the ‘oikoumene', the whole inhabited world, an ‘oikos', a house, a great family, in which we all can enjoy the fullness of life that our Lord Jesus Christ came to bring us all!