Lutherans and Muslims Assess Tsunami Relief, Plan Cooperation

Tuesday, July 4, 2006
By nias

ELCA NEWS SERVICE – July 3, 2006

Lutherans and Muslims Assess Tsunami Relief, Plan Cooperation 06-093-FI

MEDAN, Indonesia (ELCA) — The earthquake and tsunami of December 2004 was centered off the coast of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The predominantly Muslim area began working closely with Christian relief agencies, and inter-religious friendships developed across the region. Approximately 85 Muslim and Lutheran leaders came here to the capital of the North Sumatra province for a seminar, “Dialogue in Life,” June 27-30 to discuss and plan their future cooperation in meeting human needs.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Chicago, addressed the seminar on June 30. The Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission, Chicago, and he were among ecumenical guests from beyond the region.

The LWF is a global communion representing 62.3 million of the world’s nearly 65.4 million Lutherans. The LWF reports there are more than 4.3 million Lutherans in Indonesia, with 3 million in the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (Protestant Christian Batak Church) (HKBP). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a member of the LWF.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the LWF sent a mission team to Indonesia after the tsunami to assess conditions in Aceh and Nias. It found Christians and Muslims cooperating fully in response to the disaster.

Eighteen months after the tsunami, the LWF National Committee in Indonesia hosted the seminar to develop Christian- Muslim friendship, cooperation and mutual help. Participants were mainly from Indonesia but included representatives from other countries affected by the tsunami and earthquake: India, Malaysia and Thailand. The representative from Sri Lanka was unable to attend.

Participants heard a series of presentations exploring Christian-Muslim relations from the perspective of each religion and from those perspectives before and after the tsunami. The Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Jerusalem, was unable to attend but sent a paper on the Muslim-Christian relationship in Palestine and Jordan.

On June 29 seminar participants went by plane to Aceh and visited Christian and Muslim communities there to hear from local leaders what needs remain and what can be done to address them.

Back in Medan, participants met in small groups and drafted affirmations and recommendations. They affirmed diversity among religious leaders, the importance of dialogue to discover common and universal values, and the need to act. They affirmed the harmony of Christians and Muslims in response to the tsunami and the importance of local leadership in directing that response.

Seminar recommendations included forming a local continuing committee of Christians and Muslims in Aceh and Nias that would develop an action plan to address needs there. Another recommendation was to build upon the network of relief agencies created in the tsunami-affected region and around the world.

The Rev. Mark H. Swanson, associate professor of Christian history and Islam, and director of the Islamic studies program, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., was a seminar participant who helped draft the recommendations. Luther is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

“I think what we imagine is that once the local committee has defined its work and gotten involved in its work,” Swanson said, “there will be a conference to bring these people together with folks who have been involved in tsunami relief in other parts of the region, to share experiences and to share best practices.”

The Rev. Ginda P. Harahap, Asia secretary, LWF Department for Mission and Development, told the gathering that the size of the seminar and the visit to Aceh gave him hope. “I believe future programs will be just as full,” he said, adding that the Muslim-Christian relationship had been strengthened in Indonesia.

LWF President, ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Seminar

In his address to the seminar, Hanson said, “God loves all humanity. God desires to give life.” Christians and Muslims share the responsibility to preserve life beyond the members of their own faiths, he said.

“Lives should be rebuilt. Homes should be rebuilt,” Hanson said. “We should be a part of that humanitarian effort.”

“We are called to walk with people who are suffering,” Hanson said, “not to take advantage of their suffering.”

Hanson reassured the Muslim participants that, in keeping with international standards for humanitarian assistance, the LWF did not proselytize or try to convert disaster victims from Islam to Christianity in exchange for its help.

“We cannot work together in a relationship of trust unless we first know each other through dialogue,” Hanson said. “We build relationships by learning more about each other,” he said.

Hanson related a conversation he had last year with His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, personal envoy and special advisor to Jordan’s King Abdullah. The prince suggested that Christians and Muslims hold a global consultation to develop an international code of conduct. “This seminar is an example of what the prince and I spoke about,” Hanson said.

“As I travel the world, I look for signs of hope. I have found one in this room,” Hanson said. He said inter-religious councils in Jerusalem, Rwanda and the United States were signs of hope, as were “truth and reconciliation” efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Hanson also talked about the LWF-operated Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, which provides health care mostly for Palestinians. Most of the Palestinians served by the hospital are Muslims.

HKBP Hosts Hanson in Indonesia

The Rev. Bonar Napitupulu, HKBP bishop or ephorus, hosted Hanson and Malpica-Padilla July 1-2 in Medan.

“You come at the right time and at the right place,” Napitupulu told Hanson July 1 in front of an audience of more than 300 here at the HKBP’s Nommensen University. He said Indonesia has suffered natural disasters and social strife, and “you give us strength to face all these realities.”

“I have come to learn from you how to sustain the Christian faith in the face of natural disasters,” Hanson replied in his address, adding that he saw also how Lutherans can coexist and work with people of other faiths.

Hanson called for events similar to the Dialogue in Life seminar, encouraging “dialogue for the sake of understanding each other.” He said it is possible to “speak of your faith while respectfully listening.”

Honest dialogue will lead to understanding and justice, Hanson said, adding that the Holy Spirit works through such dialogue.

Hanson Preaches at HKBP Medan Sudirman

The HKBP invited Hanson to preach during worship July 2 at the “cathedral church” here. He spoke about the Bible lessons read for that Sunday, calling Christians to lives of faith not fear.

“Since September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we are reminded almost daily of the reality of terrorism,” Hanson said. “You in Indonesia know the reality of fear. The tsunami made us all aware of the destructive power of nature, so we rightly fear another volcano, earthquake or tidal wave,” he said.

“Faith in Christ Jesus frees us. Fear enslaves us. Faith in Christ frees us from the power of sin, death and the devil. Fear grants them power over us. Faith in Christ joins us to the community of believers. Fear isolates us from one another,” Hanson said.

“Living by faith in Christ rather than in fear, we will be a confessing church, speaking the truth. Fear drives people to tell lies, to be deceptive, and to distrust the words of others. Faith frees us and calls us to speak the truth. We are free to speak the truth about God, the truth about ourselves and the truth about our lives,” he said.

“I do not know what it is like to be a Christian in Indonesia. I do not know all the challenges you face in living your Christian identity in a predominately Muslim nation. I have great respect for you and thank God for you,” Hanson said.

Hanson said Lutherans in Indonesia are constant reminders of the gospel of Jesus Christ — “the good news that God forgives sinners, the good news that life is a gift of God’s grace.”

“We share that calling as 66 million members of the LWF. We share it with all other Christians. So we are sent into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit with the promise of the gospel. Living by faith not fear is a holy and joyful calling,” he said.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or ELCA News Blog:

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July 2006