Subject: Planting the seeds w/Protestant Church of East Timor

Also: East Timor church leader visits area

Planting the seeds

By KAREN HERZOG/Bismarck Tribune

08-04-2005 11:47 a.m. - Great oaks from tiny acorns grow.

But to grow into its greatness, the sapling must form relationships -- with the cycles of sunlight and dark, rain and wind, the life of the soil that holds it in place, neighboring trees, even the unattached creatures that fly, scamper and crawl upon it.

In the past few years, a relationship between two churches halfway around the world from each other has taken root; now comes the time for learning about each other, growing following knowing.

The Protestant Church of East Timor, a newly independent country northeast of Australia, and the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ, which includes North Dakota, are forming a deepening relationship of concern, help and care first started by a longtime missionary to East Timor and exchange students.

Those were followed by two visits to East Timor by the Rev. James Moos, pastor at Bismarck's United Church of Christ, with another planned for September.

A formal relationship between the Northern Plains UCC Conference and the Protestant Church of East Timor was established last June. Now, Francisco de Vasconcelos, president of the Protestant Church of East Timor and of the 18-member-country Christian Council of Asia, is visiting North Dakota as part of his first trip to the U.S., which included an awards ceremony in Portland, Ore., and a visit to the UCC's national headquarters in Cleveland.

East Timor is struggling with healing and reconciliation after a violent struggle for its independence from Indonesia, de Vasconcelos said. Though East Timor is primarily Christian, and Indonesia Muslim, the struggle was not about religion, but about power, he said.

In the aftermath, a generation of East Timorese children and young adults has been traumatized by the hit squads that decimated many families, he said.

In North Dakota, de Vasconcelos will visit with congregations such as the Bismarck UCC and Zion UCC of Medina, which are offering support to the East Timorese with projects such as building a school.

His goal is to visit those churches and meet people as part of learning to understand each other, "to learn to share our experience. We need to know each other, understand each other, share our spiritual relationship," he said.

Building a relationship before building projects -- "that is the East Timorese way," said Moos, and something its Western partners can learn from.

"We believe in that," Moos said. "We don't just parachute in after a disaster and go back home."

The relationship is a two-way street, Moos said. While the U.S. has not been overly successful in working on reconciliation after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the East Timorese are making strong efforts to bring about healing following the murderous years during the country's struggle to become free.

"There is no reconciliation without justice," de Vasconcelos said. East Timor is hoping to persuade other nations to establish an international tribunal to seek justice for the victims of the violence, he said. "The process takes a long time."

Americans can offer advocacy for justice for the East Timorese, he said.

Another aspect of justice for East Timor involves oil -- De Vasconcelos said East Timor's boundary was moved to place its huge oil reserves in Australian territory. The economic justice issues surrounding oil include sharing profits, establishing boundaries and the impact of future pipelines, which could provide jobs and development for East Timor, 90 percent of whose people are subsistence farmers, growing food for themselves and shade-grown organic coffee, which the Bismarck UCC church sells.

East Timor was colonized for 450 years, de Vasconcelos said, the last 25 by Indonesia. What the tiny country -- about the size of Connecticut -- needs, he said, is to develop leadership for the future from among its young people.

During his North Dakota visit, de Vasconcelos will visit Garrison, Medina, Fargo and other places that might provide helpful contacts for the people of East Timor.

What his people are seeking is "justice in a wider meaning," he said, "not just law."

What de Vasconcelos is too modest to relate, Moos said, is this story: During the struggle for independence, de Vasconcelos was on a hit list as an advocate for independence. Offered a chance to leave for safety in Australia, he inquired whether the group he was with would be able to go, too.

Told that there was only room for him, he refused, saying he would stay with his people. The group fled to the hills, remaining in hiding there for three weeks.

East Timor church leader visits area

By Sherri Richards, The Forum (Fargo, ND)

Published Friday, August 05, 2005

The head of the Protestant Church in East Timor hopes partnerships with U.S. churches can help unite the Southeast Asian country.

The Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos spoke at churches across North Dakota this week - including Plymouth Congregational Church in Fargo on Thursday - during his first trip to the United States.

The Protestant Church in East Timor is mission partners with the Northern Plains Conference of the United Church of Christ, based in Bismarck.

"We are enriched as a community of faith by our partnership with the people of East Timor," said the Rev. Wade Schemmel, conference minister. "You need to have a vision out there to help you look beyond" your own church.

East Timor, northwest of Australia, was occupied by Indonesia for nearly 25 years. More than 200,000 were killed during that time.

The country gained its independence in 2002, but not before 1,300 more were killed and as many as 300,000 inhabitants became refugees.

Low estimates put East Timor's population at 800,000 now.

While more than 90 percent of the country is Christian, Protestants comprise a small percentage.

De Vasconcelos said challenges for the Protestant church include reconciling the Timorese people, building education and health systems, and training more pastors and leaders in the church.

He said there are 17,000 members in his church, with 32 pastors and 52 lay pastors.

The Protestant church needs partnerships to share not just resources, but experiences and insights, he said.

"We need to build friendships so we understand each other, so we know each other," de Vasconcelos said. "My hope is after my visit, the United Church of Christ, the people here know more about East Timor and know more about the church in East Timor."

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