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Church team outlines problems people face in West Papua

ENI-08-0632  (c) Ecumenical News International

A leader of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia has challenged the World Council of Churches to embark on "19th century-type" missionary work in West Papua, and has heard details of the living conditions of people there, who despite their resource-rich province remain the poorest in Indonesia.

"We appreciate your ecumenical solidarity and advocacy but we need much more than these in West Papua," Professor Bungaran Saragih, a board member of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, or PGI, told a visiting WCC team. "We need 19th century-type missionaries who can live and immerse themselves with the West Papuans, and in the process help them build roads, schools and clinics."

Saragih, along with other PGI leaders, met members of the WCC team in July when the team presented its report on visits it had made to churches in Indonesia that had experienced various levels of conflict in recent years. West Papua was among the regions the team visited.

West Papua lies to the west of Papua New Guinea, and is about 3700 kilometres (2300 miles) east of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. It came under Indonesian rule in 1963, and its annexation was ratified in 1969 by a UN-supported referendum marred, according to many observers, by acts of intimidation.

The WCC team visit was one of a series, called "Living Letters", to locations around the world where churches have been involved in conflict situations and are working toward non-violence and reconciliation. The visits are taking place in advance of a WCC international ecumenical peace convocation to be held in Jamaica in May 2011.

Saragih posed his missionary challenge to the WCC after its visiting team had informed him and other PGI leaders that many Papuans remained illiterate, had no access to health care, and could hardly make ends meet despite the province’s rich timber and mineral resources.

James Haire of the Uniting Church of Australia and one of the WCC team members who visited Papua also informed Saragih and other Indonesian church leaders in Jakarta that the Christian Church in West Papua felt that their "voice in the PGI is not being heard enough".

Mr Haire said, "Building the confidence of the local church leadership in Papua is urgent, especially in the face of the Christian church communities’ fear of Islamisation as more and more outsiders [mostly Muslims from Java and other Indonesian provinces] migrate to Papua to do business there."

At the root of the problem, the WCC said, was a programme sponsored by the Indonesian government to encourage migration to West Papua that had the effect of making the Papuans, who had long been fighting for independence, a minority in their own territory.

According to the WCC, the population of West Papua is now about 2.4 million, of which between 1.4 and 1.5 million are West Papuans, most of whom belong to churches such as the Christian Church of West Papua or the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI).

The WCC works to promote Christian unity and it is a grouping of 349 mainly Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries.