Subject: Timor-Leste Churches Need Resources, Not Missionaries: Moderator 

Christian Post

Timor-Leste Churches Need Resources, Not Missionaries: Moderator

Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2010 Posted: 11:15:43PM HKT

Those who want to serve God as a pastor there have to do it for free; not because they are willing to forgo an income, but simply because churches have no means to pay them.

As a result, those who would be pastors either take up jobs, along with their wives, in the hope of ekeing out a living if they live in the city areas, or they stay in the village districts where they live on one mostly vegetarian meal per day and lack clothing.

Enter Timor-Leste, a young nation in the midst of getting on its feet economically.

"15 years ago, our churches used to have a monthly budget," said the Rev. Arlindo Marcal, the moderator of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a denomination of 3,000 members, mostly farmers, in 16 congregations, nine pastors and twelve evangelists, in six of the 13 districts in the nation.

"Now we don't have [it] at all."

On average, churches in his denomination receive around US$10 ($S14) per week. The cost of living in the city is US$500 (S$700) per month.

Amid such financial difficulty some, like the Rev. Marcal who doubles up as a university lecturer, chip in to help less well-off pastors by taking up jobs in non-governmental organisations operating in the country.

This was the backdrop the Dili-based pastor painted to The Christian Post in an exclusive interview on Monday as he talked about a large ecumenical Protestant forum he is currently leading and its missionary verve.

But when it came to the question of the needs of East Timor churches, the Rev. Marcal was impassioned as he tried his best, in good English and a stern, slow voice, to express the most urgent need of Timorese churches.

East Timor churches "don't have enough resources," the pastor stressed, referring to leadership training, manpower and funding.

Though Timorese churches are presently still able to cope with their challenging situation, they have been stretched to the limit and are unable to help others.

"We can do our services, preach, govern our churches, but we cannot serve... we don't have the resources," he said.

The pastor lamented the lack of understanding on the part of missionaries, who often attempt to build churches while native congregations are literally starving and overworked. Sometimes, there is even conflict between missionaries and local churches, he shared.

"Missionaries should add value," said Marcal.

Rather than setting up their own churches, international groups, which are usually well-funded, would do better to share their resources with Timorese churches.

He said: "The local people know the people, the land and the culture; the foreign people have resources. If you can put them together, it would be a blessing for the people of East Timor."

The pastor, who met this paper at the Orchard Road Presbyterian Church where he has connections with the senior pastor, commended the Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) for appreciating the actual needs of the churches in Timor-Leste.

"They (PCS) said their vision is to help local churches" with funding, training resources and pastors.

When contacted, PCS confirmed that a talk between the two denominations was held on Monday. It was the first time that representatives from the denomination met with the Timorese Presbyterian denomination.

PCS Executive Secretary Elder Richard Chong said the denomination has not "initiated any formal partnership, but we just know that we are open to get to know one another."

The lunch discussion was targeted at helping Singapore Presbyterian representatives understand the situation of their Timorese neighbours.

"We are always open to talk, open to find out, but how far we will go will depend on how the situation evolves," said Elder Chong.

There is at least one PCS church involved in mission partnership with Timorese churches, according to the denomination representative.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church has already formed a mission partnership with a Presbyterian denomination in Australia.

Marcal noted that LoveSingapore, a fellowship of Singapore churches, has been conducting monthly pastors' meetings in East Timor.

"I think it is not enough but I think it's a good start because our pastors don't have time to come together, talk to each other, so it's very good, very positive," he said, adding that LoveSingapore is the only Singapore organisation he knows that is working with East Timor churches.

Meditating on the sufferings Timorese churches go through daily, the Presbyterian pastor said: "We know this is another way to share Jesus' suffering."

In the meantime, Protestant churches in East Timor have been growing in unity particularly since the independence of the nation seven-and-a-half years ago.

Weekly inter-denominational prayer meetings first organised by Brazilian missionaries who wanted to conduct a Global Day of Prayer meeting in 2008 evolved into an ecumenical forum gathering 25 out of 30 Protestant denominations in the country and also independent churches.

The painful pangs of independence shattered the foundations of Christian self-confidence in the country as church leaders realised that unity had become essential.

Marcal said: "If we don't stay together united, how can we convince the people? How can a very small denomination do His mission?"

Since the forum started in May 2009, it has organised two large-scale events including a Christmas celebration graced by the Timor-Leste president and an evangelistic crusade attended by the prime minister. The association, which already acts as a voice for Protestantism and is likely to become a council, plans to organise more crusades in public stadiums, according to the Timorese Presbyterian moderator.

Despite the fact that Timor-Leste is a predominantly Christian (Catholic) country, church leaders there seek to reach nominal Christians and send missionaries to the rest of the world.

"This is a mandate," said Marcal, hoping that more churches would come alongside their Timorese counterparts to empower the latter.

Edmond Chua <>

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