First woman elected to head major Asian church coalition

By Ecumenical News International
April 17, 2010

The first woman elected as General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia has vowed to help heal wounds "not only in our societies, but also within our churches" in the world's most populous continent - writes Maurice Malanes.

"As brothers and sisters in such a time as this, we are 'called to prophesy, reconcile and heal'," said the Rev Henriette Tabita Hutabarat-Lebang, referring to the theme of the church grouping's 13th general assembly, meeting from 14 to 21 April in Kuala Lumpur.

She was addressing the gathering after being presented on 15 April 2010 to the applause of more than 300 delegates and guests at the meeting.

A pastor's daughter, Hutabarat-Lebang hails from Sulawesi, one of the four larger islands of Indonesia. She was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1992 and has served in senior positions in Asia and internationally.

"A lot of wounds hound not only our societies but also our churches so let us walk hand in hand as we journey together for the next five years and with God's grace and with your support, I'll try to walk with you, and God will open the way for us if we trust in him," Hutabarat-Lebang said.

The CCA consists of almost 100 member churches and 16 national church councils in Asia.

In a greeting to the meeting, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, had said that the CCA's assemblies have been "milestones in the common life of Asian churches".

He described Hutabarat-Lebang's election as "another important milestone in the ecumenical movement. I look forward to cooperation and collegiality with you and all your colleagues, exploring ways to mutually support and empower one another in our different tasks and roles."

Hutabarat-Lebang takes up office in November at the Chiang Mai offices of the CCA after the term of outgoing General Secretary Prawate Khid-arn ends in October.

She is a vice-president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches(WARC) and is a member of the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church.

WARC General Secretary, the Rev Setri Nyomi said: "We in WARC have benefited from Dr. Hutabarat-Lebang's leadership skills and deep commitment to global ecumenism. We extend our congratulations and best wishes to her in her new appointment."

At an earlier press conference, Hutabarat-Lebang said poverty, migration, the build up of armaments, violence, human rights violations and the impact of globalisation persist as the challenges to which her leadership, along with the churches in Asia, seeks to address.

She noted that poverty in south and southeast Asia continues to force people to migrate to more developed countries in the region such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Migrants, many of them women in search of work, end up abused and alienated in [the] receiving countries, she said.

"So as we advocate for the rights of these migrant workers, we have to engage with both sending and receiving countries to ensure that migrant workers' rights and welfare are respected and promoted," said Hutabarat-Lebang.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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