Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Four, Healing Memories

Albania was perhaps the most closed society in the world during the Cold War, with absolutely ruthless persecution of all religion. Churches were destroyed in every corner of that country. Clergy were eliminated. Worship was outlawed. And enforcement was brutal.

When Communism fell, and the country opened for the first time in decades, the Albanian church began a miraculous process of rebirth. We heard the moving story of the Albania Orthodox Church, rebuilding countless church structures, but even more importantly, restoring faith in the hearts of its people. I've known its leader, Archbishop Anastasios, from past encounters at the World Council of Churches, and he surely is a saint. The revival of religious faith in Albania and its compassionate service to those in need is a magnificent story of the church's witness, and the Spirit's power.

Moving South: Day Three at the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia

The atlas also documents other dramatic trends, including the fragmentation of Christianity. New denominations, often borne out of strife and division, multiply endlessly. In Korea, for instance, there are now 69 different Presbyterian denominations. At the rate we are going, by 2025 there will be 55,000 separate denominations in the world!

That is an utter mess fueled by rivalry and confusion that hampers the church's witness and makes a mockery of God's call to live as parts of one body.

The atlas also documents the dramatic rise of revival movements throughout the world, and charts the story of Pentecostalism's rise. From its beginning a century ago, Pentecostalism now comprises a quarter of all Christians in the world. This fundamental change in Christianity's global composition, along with its geographical transformation, has created a dramatically different Christian footprint in the world.

Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Two

The compelling story of the Global Christian Forum, shared with the more than 300 forum attendees (many of them new), was told in moving testimonies from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, and historic Protestant members of the forum's steering committee. ... It's remarkable to hear how an Egyptian surgeon became a Coptic Orthodox priest, or how a woman Anglican Bishop from New Zeland heard her calling to the priesthood as a teenager, long before her church ordained women. Story after story simply puts you in awe of God's grace.

Report from the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia.

The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.

Trading on Hope

In Indonesia small farmers and plantation owners burn forests to clear land for cash crops—resulting in the highest rate of deforestation in the world. In the documentary The Burning Season, Australia-based filmmaker Cathy Henkel explores one controversial approach—a form of carbon trading—to saving these forests and slowing climate change. Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, spoke with Henkel at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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East Timor

Once again this fall, as in Kosovo last spring, the world was confronted with genocidal massacres in a far-off land. Something terrible happened on the little island of Timor as the world delayed in deciding whether it would do anything about it. That indecision was a clear moral test for the international community, and especially for the NATO allies who had earlier intervened in Kosovo.

After almost 80 percent of the people of East Timor voted in a U.N. referendum to become independent of Indonesia, criminal militias supported by the Indonesian military and police went on a bloody rampage. Hundreds of people were murdered, as many as 200,000 fled their homes, tens of thousands left the country, and an orgy of burning and looting created a scene of "utter destruction," according to eyewitnesses. The capital city of Dili was left in "smoldering ruins," said many observers, after an organized assault that devastated the city’s commercial and residential areas, especially targeting independence leaders. "It’s scorched earth, it’s ethnic cleansing," a U.N. spokesperson told The Washington Post. Others compared the rape of Dili to the 1975 takeover of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by the brutal Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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A Moment of Destiny

In June I stood with a small group of foreigners to witness the opening of the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor, UNAMET. Thousands of Timorese filled the street and surged up the driveway, sitting on the walls and perching in the trees. As the United Nations flag rose up the flagpole in the courtyard, the crowd cheered, clapped, and sang, shaking all the trees. The roar seemed to go on forever.

I was deeply moved thinking how long the Timorese had waited for this moment, and sobered as I realized the tremendous expectations they had in the United Nations. Their outcry was an expression of 24 years of suffering, combined with an undying hope that the international community would respond to their struggle. Yet just before the flag-raising, a U.N. official turned to me and said quietly, "Frankly, if we can pull this off, it will be a miracle."

It just may take a miracle given all the obstacles the United Nations faces in order to fulfill its mandate: to organize and supervise a free and fair election in less than two months’ time. Almost since the day in 1975 when Indonesia invaded the tiny half-island and "annexed" it as it was being let go by its colonial power, Portugal, the United Nations has tried to resolve East Timor’s status. Under Indonesian President Suharto the effort went virtually nowhere. But Suharto’s fall last year from three decades in power, coupled with the country’s severe economic crisis, led to a U.N.-brokered agreement between Indonesia and Portugal. In August, the Timorese will vote to accept or reject an offer of autonomy from Indonesia. Rejection of the proposal would effectively be a vote for independence.

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