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NSKK NEWSLETTER distributed by
The Nippon Sei Ko Kai
(Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan)
 
Report on the Anglican Diocesan Women’s Conference in Sri Lanka
 
JAPAN 080701-2
July 1, 2008

[The Nippon Sei Ko Kai - Japan]  Kaoru Yoshitani (Kobe Diocese) and I, from Japan, participated in the First Diocesan Women’s Conference in Colombo from November 22nd-25th 2007. The conference’s theme was “Towards a New Humanity”; the purpose of our participation was to express our solidarity as Asian Anglican women. It was the second time for me to visit Sri Lanka. My first visit was in July 2005 when I was a member of the fact-finding team on the tsunami that struck communities there in December 2004.

Since the first visit, I had been concerned about two aspects of this country. One was how far the reconstruction of the communities had gone after two years. And another was the influence of the civil war upon ordinary people’s lives there. Also, just before we arrived in Sri Lanka, it had been reported in Japan that the battle between the government forces and LTTE had gradually been intensifying. (LTTE: Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam, a radical minority Tamil group. They rule over North and East areas, demanding to be separate and independent.)

It was midnight when we arrived at the house of Rev. Malini Devananda, who very kindly let us stay during the conference. She serves as the representative of BOWW (Church of Ceylon Board of Women’s Work) and also served as a member of the executive committee for this conference. Her husband, Yohan, a retired priest, also waited up to welcome us. He politely made cups of tea for us. Yohan is the leader of an NGO, where religious leaders from Asia and all over the world discuss peace-building programs for Sri Lanka. Both Malini and Yohan are concerned with peace issues and gender-equality issues in church and society.

The Cathedral of Christ the Living Savior where the conference and a service were held, stands on an extensive site with lush greenery near the central area of Colombo. There is a pedestal type altar in the center of this Cathedral, built with bare concrete walls. When it was time for Holy Communion, people came to receive the sacrament around this altar forming a circle. It was explained to us that this pictured togetherness. There was truth in that; when I received the sacrament, I felt exactly as if everybody was gathered together as one body around the one table.

There were about 200 participants from every corner of the country. The main objectives of the conference were to afford an opportunity to the women of the Diocese for interaction, sharing experiences, mutual learning and fellowship.

Through the Bible stories in the main lecture and the Bible sharing, we considered what challenges Jesus gives us in today’s context. And a special workshop about HIV was held on the morning of the third day. The lecturer of the HIV workshop was Hilda Vember who is an Anglican from South Africa; she works at a University, teaching HIV prevention. Hilda taught very clearly and concretely about how to prevent HIV infection, and I thought it was also important for Japan. (Japan is the only advanced country that has an increasing number of HIV positives.)

In addition, Rev. Malini Devananda had also written a booklet for church members about sex education; and the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chikkera, Bishop of Colombo Diocese, wrote the preface of this booklet. I was surprised that the issue of sexuality was clearly situated in the church educational program.

There were also 10 other workshops: “Women in the Family”, “Women in Society”, “Women in the Church”, “Women in Vocations in the Church”, “Women in the Workplace”, “Migrant Women” (Many Sri Lankan women work in Middle Eastern countries and Southeast Asia), “Women Affected by War”, “Women and Peace”, “Women and Domestic Violence”, “Sexually Gender Based Violence”, and “Women and Empowerment”.

After getting closer to some participants, I noticed that there were churches in the north area ruled by LTTE, and that there were participants from there. I was surprised at that fact, because the image I had of the north area was a desolate field without any ordinary people, but only terrorists. In fact, the road to North had been blockaded; therefore, those participants had to come to Colombo by airplane, like traveling to a foreign country. I found out that a lot of “ordinary” people, not only terrorists, lived there. At any rate, women risked coming to Colombo for the conference through the civil war. How brave they were!

The peace-building dialog between the government and LTTE has not moved at all. The workshop I participated in held a discussion about how people could make changes to this situation. It seemed that even Shinhala, the majority people, who do not tolerate terror, do not support their government in its plan to suppress the minority by force.

I, as a foreigner, talked about my experience. The information we have in Japan is limited and biased, towards the majority or the government side. So, if I hadn’t known the real facts, I could possibly have mistaken the type of person with whom I should think, and also how I should think, about this problem. I thought it was very important to meet directly in person and consider the issues together.

The Sri Lankan is multilingual, speaking mainly Shinhala, Tamil, and English. I was surprised that a simultaneous interpretation system was used in the simple Diocesan chamber. Each participant could hear the speech in her selected language, through interpreters in booths. The prayer book for this conference was also written in three languages. Because of this, I could understand that the people of this country had continued to make much effort and many concrete mechanisms in order for them to understand one another’s different languages and cultures.

During the program, I was able to talk with Svendorini Kakuchi, a journalist and the representative of NGO TECH Japan; the year before last, NSKK sent a contribution to support their work. TECH Japan built the sawing training center at Vabunia, in the southern part of the north area. She says, “Every finished product here is the proof of the women’s bravery.” With other staff members of the NGO, she consistently helps women in the war zone to become empowered and independent. Her words, “There is a will, there is a way”, remain in my heart.

The theme of this conference was “Towards a New Humanity”. The skit in the opening service showed a scene of women’s oppression and another scene of a conversation between women disciples who hoped to follow Jesus to spread the Good News and male disciples. Jesus calls for equal partnership to women, men and all people.

Most people may feel timid to go outside the framework of consciousness in which they naturally live. However, by doing so, I feel that we can build new relationships and also find hope to change ourselves.

At this conference, we were able to meet four women priests; it was a wonderful experience for us as we support women’s ministry all over the world. And there were also several male priests who supported this conference. It was nice for us to know we had their support.

We were able to go to Sri Lanka thanks to contributions from many people. (The budget of the national office for this trip was limited to only one person, but supporters helped us.) Thank you very much. Kaoru and I had some very special experiences. We thank all staff members of the committee who supported the conference and all the courageous women in Sri Lanka.

Article by: Michiko Kikawada, Kyoto Diocese; Officer, Women’s Desk of NSKK