Young Asian Women Prepare to Lead
More than 50 young women from 16 countries honed leadership skills and prepared for mission in their home nations at the Asian Young Women’s Leadership Training Event in the Philippines, Dec. 26, 2011, to Jan. 12, 2012.
United Methodist Women Regional Missionary Emma Cantor and the Women’s Society of Christian Service of each country recruited young women for the training sponsored by Scranton Women’s Leadership Center in Seoul, Korea, and Wesley Center in Tokyo, Japan. Participants came from Burma, Cambodia, Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The event consisted of three major programs: The Christmas Institute led by United Methodist Youth Fellowship of the Philippines, a social justice exposure program and a leadership seminar. Participants taught and learned from one another, overcoming boundaries of nationality, culture, language and experiences to explore God’s justice and love for all.
Asia is the largest continent in the world, with 60 percent of the earth’s population. It faces enormous social, economic and health challenges, including pervasive inequality, violence, political instability and poverty. Women and children carry the burden of poverty in our marginalized world. Yet we witness hope as women move forward for justice and peace, participating in society as business innovators, government officers, politicians and global leaders. The young women went home transformed to make a difference in the world.
Sharing faith and love
The Christmas Institute of the Philippines, United Methodist Youth Fellowship gathers young people for a shared vision of mission expressed through prayer, praise and action. The commitment and passion of Filipino young leaders touched the hearts of Asian young women. The participants from Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where full expression of Christian faith is limited, were elated by the freedom to pray aloud and praise the Lord and to speak out about their faith in God.
Participants from countries with freedom of religion repented of their lukewarm and silent faith as they listened to those from more repressive nations. Together the young women saw the possibility of great revival of Asian young people to Christ for the transformation of the world. We all dreamed of becoming powerful leaders for God’s kin-dom on earth.
Four participants from Japan were not Christians even though they were students in a Christian mission school, but they faithfully participated in every worship service and Bible study.
Oh Ten* was a Chinese woman studying in Japan. One night, she got sick and was in great pain. A missionary there rubbed her body and prayed for her healing until the pain subsided. Oh Ten was so touched by the love she received that she said in tears, “If I become a Christian, it’s because of her. She did not know me but she was on my side and prayed for me and my healing. I felt my grandmother’s love and at the same time I felt the love and power of God’s people.”
Chika* was a Japanese woman who was touched by the Christian spirit during the Christmas Institute. She experienced the love of God through the people. By the end of the program, she wanted to know about God and the Bible. Chika wanted to be a leader who can help others and act for justice. She said she found the answer to her struggle when she experienced life with the poor. The rest of the Christian participants saw what it means to be a witness of God’s love beyond the boundaries of religion, faith and culture.
Confronting poverty, fear, prejudice
The “Justice and Peace Initiatives in Globalized Asia” event theme set a context for helping participants understand other people’s lives and situation. In field trips we saw both poverty and happiness in children’s faces. We smelled sewage but also saw families’ hope.
Some participants confessed that they thought poverty was the result of laziness and bad habits. In the program, we learned that poverty was a social justice issue. We witnessed activists and Christian organizations that help impoverished people to build community to protect their children from predators and their houses against forced demolition.
We created a mission statement: “We will put our best effort to give free education for the children and youth of poor families, and we will provide hope to their lives so that they can achieve stronger and stable economic condition.”
During field trips, one group stayed with the Aytas tribe in the Camachile area of the Philippines. The Aytas tribe is an indigenous people who live in refugee villages because of fighting between government forces and dissident groups. Many Aytas people died in the violence even though they were not involved in the fighting.
The mountain is their indigenous home, but they have lost it. Most of the refugee villages don’t have schools and medical centers, and they are far from towns and villages. Participants stayed with the Aytas for two days and nights.
They also met Korean and Filipino missionaries working on education and health with Aytas people.
Brima,* a participant from Indonesia, confessed that she had ignored indigenous people living in Popua Island in Indonesia. Popua people are an African ethnic population in Indonesia.
Brima discovered her own presumptions about ethnic groups. She committed to understand and to protect indigenous people’s culture and human rights in Indonesia. Some of the Filipino participants had never seen Aytas people. They also promised to be more mindful of the plight of the indigenous people.
In the leadership seminar of the final week, the young women worked on communication skills, team leadership, assertiveness skills and learned about Asian young people’s lives, human trafficking, gender justice and sexuality, migrant workers, and HIV and AIDS.
A woman diagnosed as HIV-positive addressed the group. Her children did not know about her HIV status. With tears, she talked about her isolation from society, fear of death and HIV infection in Singapore where she worked as a migrant worker. She was a courageous woman who now helps other HIV patients.
Migrants crossing the border for survival
Many Asian young women are moving beyond national borders in search of jobs or to fulfill dreams. They have both fears and hopes.
Asian women are now the fastest growing category of international migrant workers. They are particularly vulnerable to various forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse, according to a study by the International Labor Organization.
We heard about cruel treatment toward migrant workers in Korea and Japan. Filipina participants got angry with their government for encouraging people go abroad to make money without giving information and protection. Remittances from migrant workers count for 10 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product.
Participants learned that migrant workers often come to developed countries owing a debt of money to an agency that helped them migrate. Many migrants work in dangerous and miserable situations. Participants said they want to help the migrant workers as well as young women from foreign countries when they are in need or in trouble or lost.
Ms. Cantor talked to the group about human trafficking, a pressing issue of our time that involves labor migration, prostitution and discrimination against vulnerable women. Often teenage girls from Asian countries and female migrant workers are vulnerable to become victims of human trafficking.
Ms. Canton said increasingly young girls from Nepal’s villages are being recruited to work in massage parlors or to dance in restaurants in the capital Kathmandu. Some victims are kidnapped or sold as maids by their poor parents.
Maheshini* from Sri Lanka was concerned about human trafficking. “I want to join voices to eradicate all forms of human slavery while restoring the divine image of God,” she said. “Therefore, I commit to educate and increase awareness among people from all walks of life while advocating for laws that protect victims and extend our hand for rehabilitation, as Christ intended.”
Marching in the light of God
Some participants had difficulty speaking English, but they listened carefully to others. Khambang* from Laos will never forget the experience of seeing the ocean for the first time. Lay Po* from Burma had a plan to study in Harris Memorial College in the Philippines even though she didn’t have money.
When she shared her vision for her country as well as her difficult situation and fear, we encouraged her. I believe she will become a powerful leader in Burma. Young leaders from Hong Kong, SAR, P.R. of China, Singapore and Taiwan communicated in Chinese. Through them I can see God’s vision for China.
Asian countries’ Women’s Societies of Christian Service say they want young women in their organization. The previous generations have built up communities and churches as local and national leaders. The young generations live in a globalized world. Local issues today relate to global issues.
When the leadership of the previous generation works with the younger generations there will be synergy for both generations. They can give and receive support, provide opportunities for leadership and transcend boundaries to do God’s mission in love and justice.
Whenever I see the Asian young women, my heart beats faster because they are beautiful and powerful leaders stepping beyond the boundaries of economic difficulties, social oppression and comfort zone, sharing love to others. Even though they are in fear, they are marching with the light of God in faith. The Asian young women are developing their leadership to serve others, and they are creating a network of their peer group. They are making a difference in the world.
*First names only used for security purposes.
Young Hee Chung is a consultant for Scranton Women’s Leadership Center in Seoul, Korea.