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Addresses poverty and human rights in Asia
Bruce Van Voorhis, a mission co-worker, visits PNC

The Global Ministries Committee of the Pacific NW Conference and the NW Region Christian Church Disciples of Christ is hosting Common Global Ministries Mission Co-worker Bruce Van Voorhis April 7 to 16.

Bruce Van Voorhis fosters human rights throughout Asia.
Photo courtesy of Global Ministries

He is preaching and giving presentations during Sunday worship on April 8 at Everett UCC and April 15 at Prospect UCC in Seattle.  He will also meet with people for a lunch gathering on Thursday, April 12, at the home of Mary Olney-Loyd — maryolneyloyd@gmail.com  for directions and bring finger food.

Bruce has served more than two decades in Hong Kong working on behalf of the church on human rights and ecumenical projects in many Asian countries. 

He has frequently been involved in training young people in mediation and in non-violent witness, said Ruth Brandon of the Global Ministries committee, who is organizing visits to congregations in the region.

UCC and Disciple congregations welcome Bruce to learn about the work of his human rights ministry in Hong Kong. 

Bruce enjoys sharing the stories of his life in mission in Hong Kong, preaching, speaking to adult forums and Sunday school classes for adults and teenagers regarding interfaith relationships in Asia, human rights, justice and peace.

His visit provides an opportunity for mission outreach committees and congregations to learn about the work being done on behalf of the church in a critical area of the world, Ruth said. 

The program he works with, the Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF), is a regional network in Asia of young people of different faiths between the ages of 20 and 30 who are committed to working for interfaith justpeace through their local organizations.

The issues people in the network are addressing are about transforming conflicts, responding to human rights violations, upholding women’s and children’s rights, caring for needs of internally displaced people and alleviating poverty, he said in a report online at globalministries.org/bruce_van_voorhis.

Founded in 2003 at an interfaith meeting in Indonesia, the ICF has offered an annual 14-week School of Peace since 2006 in Bangalore, India.

Bruce edits the ICF’s monthly e-newsletter, which is available online, mentors ICF network members in Indonesia and the Philippines, and conducts human rights trainings.

His concern about human rights began during a 12-day 1986 exposure trip to El Salvador and Nicaragua when these countries were in civil wars, and impoverished people faced daily human rights abuses.

Having grown up in a middle-class family in a small northern Ohio town, Bruce had “never seen poverty of this magnitude, heard stories of human rights tragedies from the victims themselves nor learned about the contribution of my government to their suffering,” he said.

This emotional impact remained with him for months after he returned to Denver where he was living.

He decided to use his skills as a photo journalist to help change what he had seen and heard in Central America.

That led his to work since October 1990 with several regional organizations in Hong Kong through Global Ministries on issues related to poverty, human rights and interfaith justpeace.

He connects members of ICF’s regional network and informs them on interfaith issues in Indonesia and the Philippines.  He also trains people how to respond to human rights violations.

The scripture Micah 6:8—“He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”—motivates his work challenging injustice.

“People who experience injustices rarely know or feel kindness or humility,” Bruce said, pointing out the importance of searching for justice in ways that reflect kindness and a humble spirit to help heal the inhumanity many people have experienced.

Bruce described some of the struggles he helps address in Asian countries.

• The Philippines has extrajudicial killings and disappearances. Muslims are treated as second-class citizens.

• In Indonesia, violence between Muslims and Christians, and between Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadis mean people need to engage in dialogue to foster understanding.

• In East Timor, the young population seeks to overcome decades of poverty and violence, and need employable skills to build a new country.

• In Hong Kong, which has a large gap between rich and poor, people seek democracy with one person one vote. They also want an end to the screening process for candidates that eliminates people favoring democracy.

• In Cambodia, development takes people’s land, homes and livelihoods.

• In Buddhist Burma, where democracy is fragile, ethnic communities fight the government. Muslim Rohingyas flee discrimination and violence. 

• In Bangladesh, Rohingyas are not accepted as refugees.

• In Nepal, squabbling between political parties inhibits a stable government, making it hard to address poverty.

• In Thailand, Muslim and Buddhist communities experience violence.

• In Sri Lanka, Tamils still face discrimination even though the civil war with the Singhalese-Buddhist government ended in 2009.

“The most important lesson from my work with ICF in Asia is the power of youth,” Bruce said. “I have learned not to underestimate the power of children.”

On a 2010 visit to a small community in Sri Lanka, he learned that a YMCA children’s club created dramas on their problems: drunk fathers, teen marriages, child abuse, child labor and migrant worker parents separated from families. They performed them in villages making the issues public.  They also have written government and police officials.

Bruce, a member of Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver, serves the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs in Hong Kong coordinating interfaith programs.

For information, call 425-220-2476 or 206-291-8953, or email arembe@mac.com. 

 

Pacific Northwest United Church News © April-May 2018

 

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