My visit to South Korea last week proved to be a highly enriching experience.
As one of the speakers of a plenary session, I attended the ten-day General Assembly of WCC (World Council of Churches) at Busan, located some 400 km south east of Seoul.
Held once in seven years, the WCC Assembly saw over 7000 delegates from around the world, including representatives and leaders of around 350 church-denominations, and observers from other religions of different countries.
I had the rare privilege of not only listening to the messages of the Prime Minister of South Korea Jung Hong-Won, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the messages of Pope Francis and UN Secretary General (both electronically), and many others, but also of interacting and speaking in the proceedings at the world’s largest conglomeration of church leadership in one place.
With the theme, ‘God of Life, lead us to justice and peace’, the 10th WCC Assembly discussed a wide range of global issues including human rights, gender equality, migrant workers, war crimes, human trafficking, poverty, environment, violence and many others.
I heard Shyreen Mvula, a 19 year old AIDS victim from the African nation of Malawi. She said that AIDS and HIV virus victims need the comfort and consolation of the church, and not the continuous preaching that it is some punishment from God.
I heard Michael Lapsley, the South African Anglican priest and a social justice activist who had lost both hands, one ear drum and sight in one eye, to a letter bomb he received. It had happened three months after his associate, another ANC leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Lapsley, the once anti-apartheid activist talked here about the essentials of social justice in today’s seemingly unfair world. I was proud to receive his book” Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer”, autographed by his artificial hand.
As for me, I spoke as a resource person in the session “Human Security: Towards Sustaining Peace with Justice and Human Rights” on the rights of migrant workers in the Arabian Gulf.
Needless to say, I touched upon the challenges faced by Arabian countries in the protection of the migrant worker.
The fact that Bahrain is the first and only country in the Gulf region which has officially registered a Migrant Workers Protection Society surprised many delegates. MWPS, I told them, also provides shelter for female migrant workers in distress.
Another uniqueness that Bahrain can be proud of is that it also brought domestic workers, including housemaids, under the protection of the new Labour Law.
Though an Islamic country, I have personally seen and experienced – during my more than 30 years of stay here – this country’s great tolerance of all other religions and faiths.
The government has even allocated lands for churches and other places of worships, to enable people of different faiths to feel welcome here.
It was with profound gratitude to the leaders of this beautiful Kingdom that I portrayed Bahrain as the only country in the Gulf region which has churches, temples and gurudwaras adjacent to mosques.
I wish to close with three observations from my trip.
Firstly, I was awed by the huge venue. There could not have been a better place for all these sessions than the port-city of Busan with its incredible hi tech convention centre which had halls that can easily accommodate 10,000 people.
Busan, some may remember, was one of the host cities for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and had even bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics Games here, but lost its bid to Tokyo recently.
Secondly, I was amazed at Korean dedication to work, and punctuality in life style.
One example of it was when we were told at an airport to rest and come back to receive our delayed baggage at 7.40 pm.
At 7.38 when we asked the man where our baggage was, he smiled and said it is only 7.38 still. Soon enough, at 7.40 sharp, we saw a man walking towards us with our luggage.
On punctuality, if I say that all the buses and trains in Korea ran absolutely like ‘clockwork’, it is only with a pun intended.
Thirdly, and most importantly, my wife and I had the unique and distinctive pleasure of meeting Pastor Paul Yungi Cho (now known as David Yungi Cho) the Senior Pastor and founder of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God).
Meeting the great leader of the world’s largest congregation with a membership of 1,000,000 was a long time dream of mine, which got realized this week.
Yes. Visiting Korea was truly an enriching experience.