Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Consistent Compassion

Published in the Fiji Times - "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday, 29th February, 2012

Anneyong Haseyo! Bula from the “Soul of Asia” – Seoul, South Korea!

I recently fulfilled a promise I made to my mother – to fence the only property we own, which happens to be in Nasinu. Nasinu Cemetry to be precise. The promise was to put a railing around the grave in which my grandfather (and namesake) and my father are both buried.

It was an outsanding promise. One which had made years ago, not long after my father had died. On a visit to tend to the flowers and shrubs my mother and the family had so lovingly planted, we had found the grave stripped of the plants. My conscience was pricked and I was reminded of this promise, when on my arrival in Fiji for semester break I visited the grave. There I found the remains of a drinking party: broken beer bottles, empty mixed spirit drink cans, on my father and grandfather’s grave. I was deeply saddened to see this. I was deeply disappointed.

Broken bottles and empty cans on my father and grandfather's grave

 It wasn’t the lack of security in the cemetery – no one can watch the whole place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; and our correctional officers have a more important job to do. It wasn’t the fact that the paths and roads in the cemetery are used regularly by nearby residents as a shortcut to the shops in Nakasi and to the various housing settlements in the area. I could even (at quite a stretch) understand why the offenders would have chosen that part of the cemetery as a drinking spot – its quiet, under the shade of an old tree and at the old entrance of the cemetery which is now closed to vehicles. What I could not understand is the complete lack of respect and compassion – not just for the dead, but for the living who mourn, remember, celebrate and honour the memory of their dearly departed.

I stood at the graveside for some time, trying to understand – to put myself in the shoes or flipflops of the people who had smashed their empty bottles and strewn their empty cans in such a disrespectful manner. Did they not have a loved one buried here, or anywhere for that matter? Would they not feel what I was feeling and what others have (unfortunately too often) felt if this had happened at the grave of their loved one?

Then I reminded myself that perhaps I could have prevented this situation if I had honoured my promise to my mother. I silently vowed that the next time my family visited the cemetery and before I returned to Seoul, the railing would be up.

In a quick family meeting I shared my intention and other members pledge to play their part.  The officers at Nasinu Prison were very helpful and permission for erecting the railing and plans were forthcoming.

Feroz (closest to camera) and Ricky in the M I Motors
workshop, putting final touches on the railings
Zameer checks the level of the
railings before we pour in the
Some weeks later, at this grave of two Christian servants, I was joined by three non-Christians to install the railings. My friends, my brothers – Zameer, Feroz and Ricky of M.I. Motors, had helped me by advising me on the materials and in the construction of the railings. This they did at no charge, not just as part of their community service, but out of their love and respect for their “Uncle,” my father – who had not just been a regular customer at the garage, but a mentor and, despite the generation gap, a friend to them all. Together we installed the railings, taking turns to dig holes, mix cement and joining hands.

After the work at this grave was completed we went to pay our respects at the grave of Zameer’s father. An emotional Zameer shared with me how after erecting a similar railing for his father, someone had come and broken and stolen the iron decorations on the railing to be sold as scrap  metal.

Mum looks on as her granddaughter Sian prepares to plant
some flowers at the now protected grave.
When my mother and the rest of the family visited the cemetery the next day, the tears in her eyes and the small sad smile on her face told me that this was not just a promise I had made to her, this was a promise she had also made to the memory of her dear husband.

On my last night in Suva, I went for a stroll to the Toorak shops, to buy some suki (local tobacco) for my pipe. On the way I came across a little commotion on Amy Street. Dudley Church is located next to the Ministry of Health Headquarters on Amy Street. Across the road from this is a nightly makeshift camp where a few men who prefer to live rough spend their nights.

I saw a crowd of Toorak residents, on their way back from church or on a similar evening stroll or on duty as a watchman for the offices in the area; surrounding one of the street dwellers. I recognised the man, probably in his 60’s, known to some as Mohammed (whether that is a real name, nick name or code name, I am not sure) lying on an old carton, covered in a blanket, whimpering, groaning in obvious pain. Some the concerned crowd checked him and tried to speak to him.

We managed to alert one of the officers from the Toorak Police post and sent him to fetch an ambulance to take this man to hospital. Sensing the man’s apprehension, even in his state, of being taken to any institution, I told him that if this didn’t happen it might very well be his last night on earth. He was too weak to argue and so he was bundled up into a St. John’s Ambulance and taken to the hospital accompanied by the police officer and some of the concerned people. As the crowd dispersed, I overheard a comment that it was a shame that this man had been lying they for some days right across the road from the Ministry of Health.

These two events have a common thread. On one hand we find those who disregard even the basic respect of the dead, to drink and smash their empty bottles on a person’s grave, or to steal from graves. We have people who just can’t be bothered with, for example, a sick homeless person lying on the footpath.

On the other hand we find those who have compassion for the stranger, the other: the Muslim and Hindu who make and erect a railing on the grave of a Christian; the young i-taukei who worry and provide care for an old Indo-Fijian street dweller.

I often write: “Simplicity, Serenity and Spontaneity” at the end of my column. It is a reminder for each one of us to be simple or humble in our words and deeds; to be at peace with ourselves and each other; and to be able to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit, or our consciences when the need arises.

Is that so hard?

Rev. James Bhagwan is currently a student of the Methodist Theological University’s International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea. Email: or visit

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bless the needy

Published in the Fiji Times "Off the wall with Padre JAMES BHAGWAN" Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This week I would like to share with you two stories from the Ecumenical News International which inspired me and can serve to inspire those rebuilding their lives after the flooding in the Western Division as well as challenge our churches, civil society groups and communities to support those who take the initiative to start a small business or project but struggle for even a few dollars to get up and running.
First is the story of the Japanese environmentalist who said a biblical psalm inspired his campaign linking forest and ocean received on February 9, one of the United Nations' inaugural Forest Hero awards.
Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, an oyster fisherman who saw his livelihood destroyed when the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coastal city of Kesennuma, was named the Forest Hero winner for Asia and awarded the prize at UN headquarters in New York.
Hatakeyama, a member of Japan's Baptist Union, has said that the Bible's Psalm 42 was the source of his campaign's name: "The Forest is Longing for the Sea, the Sea is Longing for the Forest." According to the UN citation, he has planted trees in the forest surrounding Kesennuma Bay. "He is known as 'Grandpa Oyster,' after spending more than 20 years developing the forest environment that keeps the Okawa River clean and his oysters healthy," said the UN.
The psalm compares a deer's thirst for water to the soul's desire for God. The name "is rooted in the 'longing for' (in Psalm 42)," said Hatakeyama, who is 68 and a professor of field studies and practical learning at Kyoto University.
In a December speech to a congregation in Tokyo, Hatakeyama said his 22-year-old campaign's concepts are demonstrated by the sea's recovery after the disaster.
His campaign organisation and a group of scientists have recently studied the marine ecosystem of Kesennuma Bay and are surveying the forest-sea linkage. Hatakeyama explained that iron being supplied from the forest through the river into the sea is playing a key role in the recovery of sea life.
Now how can we apply this story to the protection of our local environment and recovery of our agricultural sector following the floods of last and this month? How do we protect the created order that many of us believe we have been given stewardship, not ownership of?
In the northern Philippine town of La Trinidad, it is harvest time for strawberries, so strawberry farmer Alice Rivera will start repaying a loan extended by a Geneva-based ecumenical church loan fund. "This is what we appreciate ... we can start repaying our loans only immediately after the harvest season starts," said Rivera, who is 45. She is just one of 7000 clients being served by the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund-Philippines (Eclof-Philippines), whose initial seed fund was provided by Eclof International, a non-profit micro-finance organisation.
Rivera, a widow and mother of a nine-year-old son, has started harvesting strawberries from a 500-square-metre lot that she leases from the farm of Benguet State University, an agricultural school.
Starting this January up to May, she expects to harvest an average of 20 kilograms every three days. As of 25 January, Rivera said she had retailed her 20-kilogram produce at one hundred pesos, about US$2.35, (F$4.10) per kilogram.
"Although retail prices fluctuate ... I can still earn something, enough to send my kid to school and set aside some amount to repay my loan," she said in an interview in late January when ENInews went with four Eclof staff to visit their clients.
Given eight months by Eclof to pay her 20,000 peso, US$467, (F$816.43) "agricultural loan," Rivera said she was confident she could pay off her loan before May.
Eclof-Philippines follows what Eclof local branch manager Valentina Tangib describes as a "flexible policy" for agricultural loans. "Before, our policy for small business and agricultural loan repayment was uniform in which we collect loan payments monthly," Tangib said.
Tangib and her staff found that farmers had difficulty repaying their loans since they could only start earning three months after harveast.
Since five years ago, they have made it a policy that agricultural loan clients are given eight months to repay their loans.
Meling Telcagan, 60, a cut-flower farmer specializing in growing "Malaysian mums" (a species of chrysanthemum), has also been taking out Eclof's small loans since 2005. Most flower growers like Telcagan time their first harvest during February because flowers are more in demand then.
Besides Valentine's Day, when a dozen mums are priced at as much as two hundred fifty pesos, US$5.84, (F$10.21) to three hundred pesos, US$7, ($12.24). February is also a flower festival season for neighboring Baguio City during which mums are popular items.
Other flower plots in Telcagan's greenhouse will be harvested in March and April, the season of school graduation, while other plots are planned for June, a wedding month.
"I thank God for giving my family a net income of eighty thousand pesos, US$1,869 (F$3,267.48) during only a month of harvest last year," she said. Telcagan says she plans to repay her 30,000-peso, US$817 (F$1428.32) Eclof loan by March. Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent for many Christians.
Many, as a sign of penitence, or in response to Christ's sacrificial life, take the next six weeks until Easter as a time to sacrifice or go without some of life's pleasures or luxuries such as abstaining from yaqona or meat or chocolate, or soft-drinks. Some fast, perhaps not as conscientiously as our Muslim brothers and sisters do during Ramadan.
What do we do with the money we save through our spiritual sacrificing? Do we merely save it for the Easter long weekend? Do we spend it on other things?
Perhaps our Lenten offerings this year, our savings from our spiritually inspired sacrifices can be a blessing for someone in need.
Contribute to a poverty alleviating project, provide an interest free loan to someone needing seed funding for a small business or the tools to earn a living, anonymously pay the fees for someone who otherwise may not have an opportunity at tertiary education.
Both these stories are about planting seeds that will grow.
Plant yours today.
nReverend James Bhagwan is a student of the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea. Email: or visit

Far from romantic

Published in the Fiji Times "Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Every week I receive an email from Dudley Church which has their weekly newsletter, the "Dudley Samachar" (samachar means news). It's handed out at the four churches in Dudley Circuit/Parish in Suva and emailed out to friends and former members.
Last Sunday's issue contained, among other things, articles from the Uniting Church of Australia magazine "Revive" on St. Valentine's Day.
One article which caught my attention and prompted a discussion with my children was titled, "A LOVE TO DIE FOR":
St. Valentine's Day, 14 February, isn't quite as big a deal in Australia as it is in the United States; nonetheless, many romantics like to mark the day with a small token of affection to the one they love. In 2011, Australians were estimated to have spent about $285million on Valentine's Day chocolate and confectionary. But is that heart-shaped box really giving the right message?
The reality of chocolate is far from romantic. Around 70 per cent of the world's production of cocoa comes from West Africa - Ghana, Nigeria, C"te d'Ivoire and Cameroon. Most of the chocolate sold in Australia will contain cocoa from West Africa, produced by children forced to work in slave-like conditions or have been trafficked.
The US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in C"te d'Ivoire's cocoa industry work under "the worst forms of child labor", and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Think about it. One of life's simple pleasures, one we share as an expression of love, comes to us courtesy of children who have been taken from their families and denied a childhood.
Children who understand what the beans they collect are used for, because they have never seen chocolate.
Naturally you can imagine the look on my two little one's faces after they read the article (they had to read it for themselves to make sure this wasn't one of Daddy's "made up stories").
Yesterday as many chocolates were given out and eaten on St. Valentine's Day (which was not a public holiday as one Fijian television channel's programming seemed to suggest) I wondered how many people thought about where their chocolate came from (beyond of course the giver or the shop at which it was bought).
A BBC Panorama investigation found that that there is no guarantee, despite safeguards, even with chocolate marketed as Fairtrade, that child labour - as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - has not been involved in the supply chain. Investigative journalist Paul Kenyon, posed as a cocoa dealer and in a village in Ghana, met 12-year-old Ouare Fatao Kwakou, who was sold to traffickers by his uncle and taken from neighbouring and impoverished Burkina Faso to work as a cocoa picker.
More than a year later, he had not been paid a penny for his work - the profits of his labour going instead to his new cocoa masters and to the uncle who sold him.
Fair Trade is a growing, international movement which ensures that producers in poor countries get a fair deal.
According to the BBC, the Fairtrade cocoa co-operative in Ghana which supplies Cadbury and Divine, suspended seven out of 33 of their cocoa farming communities in one of its 52 major growing districts in the country after they were found to be using the worst forms of child labour. Some suspensions were lifted when the cooperatives stopped using child labour
In the port city of San Pedro in Ivory Coast, Kenyon posed as a trader and sold on cocoa beans which had been produced by the worst forms of child labour. It is at this point where the traceability of the cocoa ends and it can be sold on to major chocolate makers worldwide who cannot say how it was sourced.
For more on child labour and chocolate read the BBC article at
For the last few years I have enjoyed the local chocolate made in Tailevu. However I have only been able to obtain a few precious bars during the Ministry of Primary Industries' Fiji Agricultural Show.
However those bars from Namau Village in Naloto, Tailevu, in their no frills foil wrapping are the closest I have come to in terms of guilt-free chocolate!
I have not had an opportunity to visit our local chocolatiers and am not sure when they will have the capacity to cater for the Fijian market.
I do however, know that it is their dream. For that dream to become a reality, many of us will seriously need to commit to supporting our local cottage industries.
Most of us do support our cottage industries, and not just because of the Buy Fiji Made campaign (although I'm sure it helps). We buy bubu's jam, bahaini's chutney, roti parcels, fried fish and cassava lunch packs, sasa-brooms, patchwork quilts and floormats made from cast-off rags because they are affordable.
We buy them because we are supporting the people (mainly our mothers and sisters) who make them as often the only source of income for the family. At the same time we are choosing our local products over the imports.
I am sure that one day, our Tailevuan chocolate will be promoted locally and regionally like the products from FRIEND Fiji or internationally demanded like those of Pure Fiji, both who combine support for locally made products with international standards.
Martin Luther King once remarked, "Before you've finished your breakfast this morning, you'll have relied on half the world". This may be true of western countries. It does not have to be the case in Fiji.
Maybe our sila can be made into corn flakes, our Labasa rice can become the bubbles that children love.
Who knows, maybe next year you will be able to give your Valentine Fiji chocolate. At least knowing where it came from and who made it won't leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
* Reverend James Bhagwan is currently a student of the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea. Email: or visit

An African lesson on peace-making

Published in the Fiji Times "Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I RECENTLY came across a book in the stationery section of a downtown department store.
This book for children was on conflict. Aware of the "No Free Reading" (possibly why it is difficult to develop a culture of reading) sign on the wall, I quickly flipped through it to see if it would be a worthwhile purchase for my son.
I eventually decided not to buy the book, as Francisco-Xavier can read all about conflicts around the world in his daily reading of The Fiji Times, I did show him a section on Child Soldiers.
He was shocked as he read through the story of a child who was forced to join the rebel army during one of the conflicts on the African continent.
For the past 30 years, one of the fears of Fijians has been that conflicts in Fiji might reach the scale of that in some African nations.
Last week, I read of a consultation of churches who hoped to practise peacemaking amid increasing security issues in several African countries plagued by violence, political turmoil, religious intolerance and lack of democratic governance.
These churches are called to engage in peace-building, said African church leaders in a presentation on "Burning issues of insecurity in Africa" at a World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation in Kigali, Rwanda.
The consultation was organised by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).
Participants addressed the theme, "Peace and Security in Africa: Ecumenical Responses" from January 28 to February 1.
The church leaders presented case studies from Africa demonstrating the increase in conflicts and human rights violations in countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
They showed how people in these countries are living in conditions of extreme vulnerability.
In this situation, they stressed the need for stronger peace and reconciliation engagement by the ecumenical family.
"Millions of Somalis continue to suffer. Helping them is increasingly difficult due to escalation of violence and polarisation of both Somali and international actors," said Dr Agnes Abuom, member of the WCC Executive Committee from Kenya and ecumenical accompanier of AACC's special mission for peace-building in the Horn of Africa.
"A group of ecumenical actors with a long history of engagement in peace-building have come together under the AACC to search new ways out of the predicament posed by the current situation in Somalia," said Abuom.
Reverend Ibrahim Wushishi Yusuf, general secretary of the Christian Council of Nigeria, expressed concern over the security situation in his country.
"The security of the people of Nigeria has never been so dangerous, and stretched to a limit of extreme anxiety, as we are experiencing right now," he said.
"The armed forces were considered points of safety for the citizens in our country at the time of violence and crises.
"But today even the military barracks are under attack from extremist forces and bandits, increasing violence and insecurity in Nigeria," Yusuf added.
Joy Kwaje, member of the Senate of the South Sudan, thanked African churches and the global ecumenical movement for accompanying the people of Sudan, while she shared her perspective on security challenges.
"Since the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, competition among foreign companies to exploit the wealth and resources of the country has increased," Kwaje pointed out.
However, she said "the people of Sudan need peace and security. They need a stable political situation that will ensure harmony among various communities."
"Tens of thousands of Southerners who were born and brought up in South Sudan but forced to live outside the country for years are now returning to a new country, which they know nothing about," said Kwaje.
"The safety and security of all these people need to be ensured.
"In this, the international community should continue to play a vital role for peace-building."
Enhancing efforts for peace
Itayi Ndudzo, member of the WCC Central Committee from Zimbabwe, talked about his country's security situation.
He described it as "relatively calm" now; however, a political crisis following the general elections, he says, can be expected.
"Zimbabwe needs political will and respect for human rights to address the pressing concerns of people to reduce organized violence and torture," said Ndudzo.
"Churches and the ecumenical community should help Zimbabwe foster a culture of peace and nonviolence, tolerance and respect for human rights."
Reverend Dr Andre Karamaga, general secretary of the AACC, shed light on the significant role played by the African churches in their quest for peace.
"Realising the importance of the role of African churches to protect, respect and uphold the dignity of all Africans irrespective of their ethnic or religious identities, the churches in Africa are fully committed," said Karamaga.
He said African churches will initiate a comprehensive ecumenical accompaniment program to promote peace, security and dignity in the region.
"As part of this ecumenical commitment, the AACC has already appointed an ecumenical accompanier for Zimbabwe.
"Similar initiatives will develop in future that will help with facilitating capacity building for peace initiatives by African churches," said Karamaga.
Anna Alvazzi del Frate, director of Small Arms Survey in Geneva, spoke about the proliferation and trade of small arms and light weapons in Africa.
"Reducing the availability and use of small arms in conflict-affected areas as well as in post-conflict situations has become increasingly important to achieve the goals of peace, security and development in Africa," she said.
"A report on 'peace and security in the emerging global context' based on the experiences of regional consultations with focus on Asia, Africa, and Latin America will be presented at the next CCIA meeting.
"This meeting will be held in China in June this year," said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA. (Source: World Council of Churches)
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of  Theology. Email:

Neighbours and strangers

Published in the Fiji Times - "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday, February 01, 2012

This week I received two interesting stories from the Middle East. Both have to do with the challenge of maintaining relationships and identity. The first story is from Asira Al-Qibliya, in the West Bank.
The homes at the edge of this Palestinian village are located a few hundred metres from houses in the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar. But the relationship is anything but neighbourly.
On a late January tour of the Palestinian village led by representatives of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), residents said attacks by Jewish settlers on their village are more organised and increasing.
Sometimes the attacks, which involve rock throwing, vandalism and crowd intimidation, are a part of reprisals known as "price tag" attacks carried out by settlers after an Israeli government attempt to dismantle illegal outposts or a Palestinian attack against Israeli targets, they said.
EAPPI was established by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches in 2001.
"Sometimes the attacks are random, sometimes they attack on Saturdays but we always are on stand-by whenever something happens like dismantling an illegal outpost," said Ibrahim Mahklouf, 50, a schoolteacher who lives in the village with his wife and six children.
Village Mayor Ahmed Abdel Hadi said attacks by settlers on the village of 3,000 residents have increased over the past two years.
EAPPI has a 24-hour presence in the nearby smaller, more vulnerable village of Yanoun, noted field worker Joudeh Abu Sa'd, which sometimes helps to prevent attacks, but volunteers can come to visit Asira Al-Qibliya only once a week to assess the situation here.
Mahklouf said villagers are in touch with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) but soldiers and border police often only arrive after the attack is over or don't stop the settlers.
"The mission of the IDF in the Judea and Samaria Division includes maintaining security and stability. It is in the IDF's understanding that all forms of violence undermine such stability," said an IDF spokesman in an e-mail response to an inquiry by ENInews.
One of the Israeli responses has been to prevent the Palestinians from entering land more than 60 metres from their home, much of which is used by the residents to grow their own produce in small gardens, he said.
According to the United Nations Office of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the weekly average of settler attacks against Palestinians and their property has increased by 40 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010 and by over 165 per cent compared to 2009.
Israelis from peace groups have come to visit and support them, said village resident Hadra Abdul Kareem, whose 14-year-old son was jailed for 30 days after an attack for throwing rocks back at the settlers.
"We show the children that there are two kinds of people, that there are Israelis who like peace," she said. "We don't want to put hatred in their heads. We don't need violence. I don't want our children to do violence or to go to jail." (Source: Ecumenical News International)
Recently the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit reaffirmed churches' commitment to justice and peace in the Middle East, while stressing the importance of a common vision for living together by Christians and Muslims in the Arab world.
Tveit was speaking at the Christian-Muslim consultation on "Christian Presence and Witness in the Arab World" organised by the WCC programs for Churches in the Middle East and Inter-religious Dialogue and Co-operation in collaboration with the Middle East Council of Churches.
The consultation was held last week at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, bringing together youth, scholars and Christian and Muslim leaders for a frank and dynamic discussion.
Tveit said the Middle East was of special interest for the WCC, and articulated the historic significance of Christian presence in the Arab world, where he believes faith plays a major role, reflecting on the decleration of the WCC's Central Committee meeting of February 2011:
"Our living faith has its roots in this region and is nourished and nurtured by the unbroken witness of the local churches, who have their own roots from the apostolic times."
"Without this Christian presence, the conviviality among people from different faiths, cultures, and civilisations, which is a sign of God's love for all humanity, will be endangered," said Tveit.
He appreciated the participation of a range of Muslims in the consultation, who he says, have emphasised their commitment to strengthen the Christian presence in the Middle East. He said that it was through their action for the common good that people in the Arab world can accomplish peace, justice, freedom and harmony.
"We will certainly want to make clear to our wider constituency, the WCC's extensive experience over many years of how Christians and Muslims continue to work together constructively for the common good," he said.
Tveit also pointed out the challenges faced by the Christians in the Arab world, and the sense of insecurity they feel, because of political divides and persistent conflicts.
The WCC has addressed over a number of years the issue of emigration of Christians from the region resulting from the occupation and war in Iraq and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
He said, "We know that the changes in the Arab world over the last year - and changes still to come - have also left many Christians, along with many Muslims, feeling uncertain and even afraid for their future."
Highlighting the efforts of churches struggling for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine, Tveit said that the situation was of great concern for Christians in Jerusalem, as well as people of other faiths. (Source: World Council of Churches)
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's
International Graduate School of Theology. Email:

More than just words

Published in Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday January 25, 2012

RELATIONS with people of other faiths impacts our understanding of our own faiths and selves.
I recently read of a project that the World Council of Churches has embarked on to consider how inter-religious dialogue challenges theology and Christian self-understanding, mission and witness as well as Christians' understanding of other religions.
It compares findings in Jewish-Christian dialogue with how Christian theology understands the nature and purpose of the church and, through consultations and the internet, tries to create space for these findings in Christian theology.
In dialogue with people of different faiths, it considers understandings of conversion with a view to producing a code of conduct on religious conversions.
And it studies Christian self-understanding in a religiously plural world.
The project works with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the International Council of Christians and Jews, the Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union (US), the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at the Muhlenberg College (US), and the Centre for Christian-Jewish Understanding (UK), among other specialised institutions, as well as with the WCC Faith and Order Commission, the Roman Catholic Church, the WCC constituency and Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians.
Increased engagement with Buddhism has widened rather than narrowed the range of questions for Christian-Buddhist dialogue, say scholars of the traditions and their interaction.
In fact, says Clare Amos, recently appointed WCC program executive for inter-religious dialogue and co-operation, the very self-understanding of Christians is being modified in their encounters with Buddhists and Buddhist traditions.
Amos is editor of Current Dialogue, the WCC's international journal of interreligious dialogue.
She and her predecessor, guest editor Shanta Premawardhana, have published papers from a recent consultation on the topic in a special issue of the journal, now available in print and online.
The "rich feast" of this consultation, along with others on Christian encounters with Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, says Amos, will inform work on a report on "Christian self-understanding in the context of religious plurality" being crafted in 2012.
In Fiji, organisations such as Interfaith Search Fiji , offer limited but committed safe spaces for regular interaction between different faith groups.
In these gatherings participants share their faith traditions and scriptures on various themes and issues.
These have included values as well as urgent emerging issues such as HIV and AIDS.
There is much that inter-religious dialogue can contribute to, beyond discussions on differences and similarities of faith.
The dignity of work and workers is a common value among the faith traditions. It is also the focus of a policy handbook titled Convergences: Decent Work and Social Justice in Religious Traditions, for which the World Council of Churches (WCC) has collaborated with the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In the handbook, the WCC and ILO encourage policy-makers to work with faith communities for social protection and security for all, especially in the area of labour.
Other partners in the project include the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The publication explores the concepts of solidarity and security expressed in the ILO's Decent Work Agenda (DWA), acknowledging the specific contributions and commitments of religious traditions for social justice, dignity in work and economic rights.
"When Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, and I met in 2010, we both felt that our organisations should engage in a common journey based on the conviction and knowledge that peace, social justice and the world of work were intertwined," says Juan Somavia, ILO's director general, in the book's Foreword.
"This handbook is the very outcome of that encounter," he added.
The handbook explains the commitments of various religious traditions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, showing that spiritual values are essential in the quest for a fair globalisation and wherever the subject of work is considered.
Inspired by the common religious concern for social justice, Somavia writes, "Human dignity, solidarity and above all the connection between work, social justice and peace put us on common ground.
"This handbook is a first step. I see much scope for future collaboration to expedite the dawn of a new era of social justice drawing on our shared values," Somavia said.
Tveit endorses Samavia's views, saying, "As Christians, we believe that work is given to us as a way to steward our talents and time for the common good.
"In a time when so many do not have work, we need to re-emphasise how work also contributes to justice and peace."
Through this collaboration, the WCC encourages churches to articulate the value of fairness regarding labour conditions and the market.
This approach has been part of the WCC Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth (AGAPE) process, and was addressed in 2006 during the WCC 9th Assembly in Brazil.
The handbook also sheds light on the long-standing WCC engagement with the ILO in inter-religious dialogue initiatives.
This manifests the potential of dialogue in bringing diverse faith traditions together to work for common concerns for decent work and social justice.
To download the handbook Convergences: Decent Work and Social Justice in Religious Traditions, visit
The handbook is available in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. (Source: World Council of Churches)
Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's
International Graduate School of Theology. Email:

Revolution of the Heart

Published as "Pray for the Defeated"
 in Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan - Fiji Times Friday, January 20, 2012

IT is the weekend that kicks off international sevens rugby for the year.
The Fiji 7s squad will play together (perhaps not for the first time in the 2011/2012 season) for the first time in Fiji this year against international teams at Friday and Saturday's Uprising Sevens.
Perhaps the storm clouds gathering around the capital city are an indication of the thunder and lightning to be expected over this weekend in Laucala Bay.
It's been acknowledged for some time now that Rugby Sevens is our national sport ù that is the sport that unites and stops almost all activity in our group of islands, for fifteen minutes at a time.
Much like New Zealand and 15-a-side rugby, our national seven's teams success or failure, somehow seems to affect the spirit of the country.
That's not only a lot of pressure on coaches Dere and Waqa, and the team, that's a lot to play for. Win and not only do you lift the cup and the prize cheque, you lift the spirits of a nation!
Thinking of this example might lead us to consider the plight of those who do not win - not only in sport but in their lives and communities: who will spare a thought for the losers, those who constantly suffer defeats because they are denied victory because of various conditions and circumstances? Rivalry is a permanent feature not only in sport but also in political, business, cultural and, even, church life.
Wednesday was a special day for many Christian communities as it marked a possibility for hearts to be touched, and people to realise that their neighbours' ways are not so strange.
The event that touches off this special experience is something called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Traditionally celebrated between 18-25 January (in the northern hemisphere) or at Pentecost (in the southern hemisphere), the Week of Prayer enters into congregations and parishes all over the world. Pulpits are exchanged, and special ecumenical worship services are arranged.
According to the World Council of Churches, when Jesus' disciples disputed over "who was the greatest" (Mk 9,34) it was clear that this impulse was strong. But Jesus' reaction was very simple: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" (Mk 9,35).
These words speak of victory through mutual service, helping, boosting the self-esteem of those who are "last", forgotten, excluded.
For all Christians, the best expression of such humble service is Jesus Christ, His victory through death and His resurrection.
It is in His life, action, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection that Christians desire to seek inspiration for a modern victorious life of faith which expresses itself in social commitment in a spirit of humility, service and faithfulness to the Gospel.
And as he awaited the suffering and death that was to come, he prayed that his disciples might be one so that world might believe.
This "victory" is only possible through spiritual transformation, conversion.
That is why the World Council of Churches considers that the theme for our meditations should be those words of the Apostle to the Nations.
The point is to achieve a victory which integrates all Christians around the service of God and one's neighbour.
As Christians pray for and strive towards the full visible unity of the church they - and the traditions to which they belong - will be changed, transformed and conformed to the likeness of Christ.
The unity for which they pray may require the renewal of forms of Church life with which we are familiar. This is an exciting vision but it may fill them with some fear! The unity for which participants of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity pray is not merely a "comfortable" notion of friendliness and co-operation. It requires a willingness to dispense with competition between denomination.
We need to open ourselves to each other, to offer gifts to and receive gifts from one another, so that we might truly enter into the new life in Christ, which is the only true victory.
The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is "We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:51-58)
This theme of "change and unity" and of opening "ourselves to each other, to offer gifts to and receive gifts from one another, so that we might truly enter into the new life," can resonate or touch the heart of each one of us, regardless of our religious traditions and affiliations.
The term, "change of heart" means changing ones opinion, belief or decision.
Our home, our country, its people, leaders and groups need to experience a revolution ù a revolution of the heart.
We need to open ourselves up and allow our hearts to be touched by those with whom we often find ourselves in conflict with ù in politics, business, social and cultural life, and in religion.
"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.
When we begin to take the lowest place, to was the feet of others, to love our brothers and sisters with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, 'Now I have begun.' -Dorothy Day.
During the next seven days, in your mandir, mosque, church, home or wherever you create or find a sacred space; in the midst of your worship, prayers, meditations ù take a little time to pray for the unity of our people, pray for our leaders, our communities, our country.
Pray for the opening of hearts and minds. Pray that the revolution of the heart will begin in each person and manifest itself in our island nation.
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is currently based in Seoul, South Korea, studying at the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology. Email: