“Discipleship in the context of Empire does not call for passive bystanders … it calls for young people committed to radical discipleship; young people who are committed to learning about the Jesus of Nazareth who challenged corrupt practices by chasing the dealers of such corrupt practices out of the temple (Mt 21: 12-17, John 2: 15: 12-25); and young people who stand ready to be counted as part of the band of disciples who will respond to God’s call by saying “here am I send me” (Is 6: 8, NIV). This is the challenge posed by Rev Dr Collin Cowan, Council for World Mission General Secretary to the participants at the Global Youth Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa on 22 to 28 August 2017.
As part of the CWM 40th Year Anniversary, the Global Youth Forum is CWM’s first world-wide gathering of over 100 young people from the member-churches and ecumenical partners. The Global Youth Forum, with the theme “Building Disciples in the context of Empire: Reimagining Church” brought together a platform for young people within the partnership of churches to give space to come together, to grow and to contribute in addressing the challenges they perceive Empire poses; and God sends to address in mission. CWM recognizes that young people are gifted with audacious hopes and adventurous spirits and must be given opportunity to claim space to give fresh vision of what missional congregations look like. Young people are not just beneficiaries but full participants and contributors in God’s mission and are vital to the ministry of Jesus, thus requiring church to do likewise.
The Global Youth Forum seeks to unpacked how the young people can be disciples in the midst of empire. Empire — as the coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power that constitutes a system of domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own interests — and ultimately anything and everything that disrupts the fullness of life in all creation manifest in different forms and different ways. Specifically, through the three sub-themes:(1) addressing empire; (2) growing as a disciple; and (3) re-imagining church.
To provide a backdrop on empire and youth empowerment in the local context, the participants went for an immersion trip to Nelson Mandela’s House and Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto, Johannesburg. Both Nelson Mandela and Hector Pieterson represent the resistance of youth against the apartheid in South Africa. Participants have identified to the issues from their own regions and expressed the crucial role the youth plays in the narrative of history.
The Opening Worship the following day saw the symbolic coming together of the young people from the CWM regions. Rev Lungile Mpethseni, United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa General Secretary delivered the opening sermon on Re-imagining Church highlighting the spirit of Ubunto or “no one is left behind” concept.
The Global Youth Forum engaged the participants by focusing on the different subthemes each day. In his Bible Study, Rev Sikhalo Cele cited ways to address the empire as what Moses had done, including the importance of unity and a collective voice and capacity building the unity must start at the lowest levels. He further said that we need to understand how the empire works, and that is to divide and rule and that the Empire operates on the other two dimensions — Security and Economic. As such, to address the Empire is to redefine ourselves, our shared common vision as people of God and to identify alternatives to the systems.
The second day tackled Growing as disciples to which Rev Dr Lesmore Ezekiel indicated that Jesus, the teacher and saviour, was a youth when he began his ministry with prominence. He said the Jesus reminded us of a fact that youthful energy is indispensably necessary for ministry as disciples. He reminded the participants that in the Christian witness, we must avoid the tendency that leads to the commodification of the gospel of Christ.
Following these, the participants were then taken to re-imagine how the church will look like. Rev Angela Wong reiterates how Jesus rejected by the political power (Pharaoh), the ruling class (Pharisees and Sadducees), the holders of tradition (Jews) and the people. She also reminded that God’s basileia is about: blessed are those whom society despises (the meek, peacemakers, and those prosecuted for righteous causes) and inclusiveness (lepers, gentiles, menstruating women, tax collectors…). Rev Nana Moses called on the youth to think and critically examine the world in light of scripture twined with their cultural realities; to learn the system of empire to effectively challenge empire; to see through different lenses and to not fear but speak truth to power. And ultimately, be prepared to die for the cause.
Empire manifests in various forms and ways. To better understand these, resource people were invited to discuss how empire exists and persists in different forms in different contexts and how the youth are able to come together to counter this.
Ms Yueh Wen Lu spoke about the Sunflower movement in Taiwan and how the students came together to fight for Taiwan’s sovereignty. Mr Mfanafuthi Shezi shared about the lack of access to free education and colonial education in South Africa and how students fought against it. Ms Nikhila Henry talked about the caste system and how the so-called untouchables fought back against discrimination. Mr Maina Talia talked about climate change and the need to rethink the mission priorities within the church and a radical shift in the lives of our members. Rev Rikko Voorberg talked about migration in Europe and how the church is helping this out; and Rev Nana Moses talks about human trafficking on the Caribbean context and how to fight it.
As regions, the participants mapped out plans to counter the issues at hand on the last day. In the plenary, practical and creative solutions were proposed to address the specific and pressing issues in their region, including raising awareness in the communities against human trafficking in Caribbean, providing counselling opportunities for victims in Europe; preparing the youth as voices for the different issues including nuclear testing, global warming, unemployment, drugs and mental illness in the Pacific; launching peace and stability campaign to fight off unemployment, high educational cost and commodification of faith in Africa; coming up with youth initiative to improve the current situations of rights and justice of the marginalised in the South Asia region; and building strong ecumenical movement in East Asia.
True to its youth creativity, the participants at the Cultural Expressions also showcased their different cultures through songs, dances and even fashion show where they got to bond and met new friends as well.
The Global Youth Forum is a rallying call for the young people of the church, to claim their place and accept their God-given calling to make a difference so as to ensure that God’s beautiful creation is saved from thieves and robbers (John 10: 10). The Forum paved the way for the youth of the CWM member-churches to collectively denounce the Empire in whatever forms through the GYF Statement.