In line with its vision of Fullness of life through Christ for all creation, CWM has committed that young people should be included in the life and witness of their churches and communities, not merely as recipients and beneficiaries but as full participants and contributors in God’s mission vital to the ministry and life of the church and communities. CWM recognises young people are gifted with hopes and adventurous spirits and must be provided the opportunity and space to give fresh vision of what it means to follow Jesus in this world.
In August, CWM held a cross-regional youth programme in Bangkok, Thailand. A delegation of forty-one (41) participants from CWM member churches across East and South Asia gathered to reflect on the theme, Healing the future: Hope for tomorrow, in the context of the Asian region. Coming from different contexts and cultures, these young people united in a celebration of youth and diversity on this platform provided and facilitated by CWM. Through a series of worship, bible studies, topical reflections and plenary sessions led by resource persons from member churches, participants learnt, discussed and engaged with missional issues relevant to their regions. Being a part of different working groups allowed the young people to take ownership and leadership of the programme. Pre-assigned group projects facilitated teamwork within participants of the same church while promoting a better understanding of the challenges facing other member churches. Through collaborations with local ecumenical partners, participants attended an international church service, an advocacy workshop on refugee livelihood programmes in Thailand and visited the Immigration Detention Center as part of their immersion and experience enlargement.
Based on the view that each person has something unique to offer, the youth participants were strongly encouraged to not only contribute in the sessions but also to take leadership in various important aspects of the running of the programme. Every worship session was led by youth from different churches, in addition to roles like moderators, chair and the listening group members.
As part of the group projects assigned by church, participants were given the chance to present their understanding of missional issues and take on the role of policymakers in suggesting effective policies. The bible study and four topical reflections of Empire, Racism, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Suicide, led by resource persons experienced in the subject matter, reflected the most common issues faced by young people in South and East Asia. In a dynamic process of simultaneous learning and contribution meant to conscientize and increase awareness, participants were challenged to reach a deeper level of conceptualisation of these issues and be the catalyst of change in their own societies and communities.
Attending the international holy communion service of a local church was part of the programme, the purpose of which was to participate in the life of the church together with the local community. The host church extended a warm welcome to CWM delegation and provided two youth representatives from East and South Asia the opportunity to bring their greetings to the congregation of 300 worshippers. The visit to the Immigration Detention Center was particularly eye-opening and moving for all who participated in it, including the CWM staff themselves.
Exploring the uncomfortable topic of urban refugees through a visit to the notorious Immigration Detention Center, participants interacted with the detainees and learnt first-hand about the unique challenges facing urban refugees that caused many to become stateless, unwanted and indefinitely held in detention. Several who participated in this visit testified of the strong impact the visit left on them. The advocacy workshop by International Rescue Committee on refugee livelihood programmes, on the other hand, presented the many development and training programmes initiated by international NGOs to tackle livelihood needs faced by refugees living in tightly-controlled refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.
On the final day of the programme, participants summarised all the learning experiences and developed a Communique of CWM 2019 Asia Youth Initiatives to share with their home churches. As this programme took place during the turbulent period of political turmoil in Hong Kong, everyone gathered around the delegation from HKCCCC to pray for the church and the political situation in Hong Kong as an act of solidarity. During the much-anticipated cultural evening, each church donned their traditional costumes and put up a performance representing their unique culture and the diversity in CWM family.
Moving forward, CWM entrusts the youth participants the responsibility of working out this Communique, at the same time encouraging all member churches to listen attentively to the stories and input of their youth. The youth today face greater challenges, having to tackle new global issues which were less pronounced or even non-existent in previous generations, such as the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, the internet and global connectivity, cyber bullying, rapid urbanisation and overcrowding, as well as global migrant and refugee crises. In order for the youth of today to become the leaders of tomorrow, they ought to be provided the right space, training and encouragement through new approaches relevant to today’s context, with proper guidance and mentoring from church leadership. It has been CWM’s continuous aim to work closely with its member churches to enable youth representation and leadership in most CWM programmes in order to nurture and develop their talents and abilities, along with providing relevant experience needed for leadership roles.
The coming together of youth from two different regions was an answer to calls for more youth engagements on a global level. Moreover, this was a platform for them to consider issues and challenges pertinent to regions other than their own. It is hoped that this generation of young people, with the full support of their churches, will be equipped to rise up to the unprecedented challenges of today in order to bring hope for tomorrow.