Increasing in partnership. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s work in Africa

Afrikka on Suomen evankelis-luterilaiselle kirkolle tärkeä maanosa. Uusi julkaisu Kohti kumppanuutta luo katsauksen kirkon työhön Afrikassa.

Kirkon työ Afrikassa alkoi yli 150 vuotta sitten Namibiassa. Nykyään kirkon kansainvälistä toimintaa toteutetaan kahdenvälisesti paikallisten kumppanien, monenkeskisesti muiden uskopohjaisten tai muiden kansalaisyhteiskunnan toimijoiden sekä valtiollisten ja kansainvälisten toimijoiden kanssa.

Kohti kumppanuutta -julkaisu auttaa hahmottamaan niitä periaatteita ja tavoitteita, joita Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko toteuttaa Afrikassa toimivien ja käytännön työstä vastaavien järjestöjensä kautta sekä muiden yhteistyökumppaniensa, kuten ulkoministeriön kanssa. Julkaisussa tehdään myös ehdotuksia, joita kirkon toimijat ja yhteistyökumppanit voivat ottaa huomioon työssään.

Vuonna 2021 Suomen evankelis-luterilaisen kirkon sopimusjärjestöjen kansainvälisen työn yhteenlaskettu suuruus oli noin 80 miljoonaa euroa. Tästä noin 58 prosenttia kohdistui Afrikassa tehtävään työhön.

Valta-asemasta vastavuoroiseen kumppanuuteen

Julkaisu tunnistaa merkittävän muutoksen globaalin etelän ja globaalin pohjoisen välisissä suhteissa: iso osa globaalista etelästä oli vielä muutamia vuosikymmeniä sitten siirtomaavallan alla ja globaalin etelän kirkot nähtiin eurooppalaisesta näkökulmasta resurssien ja teologisten ideoiden vastaanottajina.

Samoin kuin kansainvälisessä kehitysyhteistyössä myös kristillisten kirkkojen yhteistyössä perinteiset valta-asetelmat antajan ja vastaanottajan välillä ovat muuttumassa kohti vastavuoroista kumppanuutta. Viimeisten vuosikymmenten aikana yhteistyössä onkin painottunut kumppanuuksien yhdenvertaisuuden ja vastavuoroisuuden kehittäminen.

Työtä ihmisoikeuksien, ilmaston, ruokaturvan ja rauhan eteen

Julkaisusta käy ilmi kirkon lähettien monipuolinen työnsarka Afrikassa. Uskopohjaiset toimijat ovat vahvistaneet työnsä ihmisoikeuslähtöisyyttä ja osallistuneet keskusteluun uskontojen yhteiskunnallisesta roolista demokratisoituvissa yhteiskunnissa.

Kirkolliset toimijat ovat osallistuneet aktiivisesti ilmastonmuutoksen vaikutuksiin sopeutumisen ja ilmastokriisin vaikutusten ymmärtämistä edistävään työhön sekä rauhantyöhön niin paikallisesti kuin kansanvälisesti.

Kirkot ja kirkolliset toimijat ovat kannanotoissaan nostaneet esiin haavoittuvimmassa asemassa olevien ihmisten tilannetta.

Arkkipiispa Tapio Luoman avaussanat Kohti kumppanuutta -julkaisun jukaisutilaisuudessa:

Opening remarks at the launch of the study paper 28.8.2023

Tapio Luoma arkkipiispa

It is right to say that without relations to Africa, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland would not be what it is today.

At the launching of the publication “Increasing in partnership. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s work in Africa” today, we have a great opportunity to discuss and explore how connections with Africa have impacted both the Lutheran church and the wider Finnish society. For us as a church these relations continue to have great value. New relations are being bult both on national level and locally, especially with the growing number of African diaspora communities in Finland.

For me it is highly significant to remember that at the time the first missionaries left for southern Africa in the mid-19th century, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland was itself only in the process of becoming an independent church. It was a time when we were developing the idea of who we are as Finnish Lutherans and also as Finnish people. Creating relationships with Africa was an important part of this development. Our discovering ourselves as a Finnish Lutheran Church and later as a sovereign country took place in dialogue with other peoples and nations.

The mid-19th century Finland was not a wealthy nation. The church also had very scarce resources. Yet it was this time that facilitated a sense of interest and concern towards other peoples in places very few could even imagine. Mission work became possible because we were willing to build and foster international networks. Life together was possible because of mutual learning and sharing the little resources that were available. For many Finns, letters and stories from missionaries were for the way to become aware of life outside one’s immediate sphere of existence. Often what they learned facilitated empathy and a sense that even those physically far away are our neighbours.

With this kind of long history comes a lot of responsibility.
Lutheran church has during the years had a significant impact on how Africa is perceived in Finland. The church has preached, taught in Sunday schools and confirmation schools and gathered people to fundraise for mission. Connected to the Lutheran church there are several organisations working in international mission and diakonia. Up to now, the Synod has recognized eight official missionary organisations and one organisation serving in international diaconia. Over the years these organisations have become professional actors in international development, humanitarian aid and advocacy for justice.
This seminar today is organised jointly with two of these organisations, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission and Finn Church Aid, both of whom work in partnership with the Finnish Government and international funding partners for a more just and equitable world.

With this kind of long history comes a lot of responsibility.
The church continues to have a great potential to influence how Africa is portrayed in the minds of Finnish people. This potential must be taken seriously. What, then, is it that the church wants to communicate?

The headline of our document “Increasing in partnership” summarizes well the church’s position. Focus is on partnership, more precisely partnership on equal grounds. The headline also recognizes that as church, the goal of partnership on equal grounds has not yet been met. There is room for improvement.
Our faith commitment to equality and justice for all is quite clear. We often quote a biblical passage that describes how, from a faith perspective, divisions based on ethnicity, religion or social status become irrelevant (Gal. 3:26–28). This faith conviction commands us to identify and dismantle any systems that invite use to see one human being valued less than the other.

This faith conviction is at the core of our document. It is what motives commitment to support the realization of human rights more fully also when it comes to climate justice and just peace. It is what motivates us to prioritize access to education for all.

It is also this faith commitment that motivates us to exercise hospitality towards those who migrate to Finland. Hospitality towards strangers is a value shared by many cultures and religions. Migration stories are also at the core of Christian faith. Many Finnish families have already for several generations carried with them stories of their parents’ or grandparents’ forced migration during our struggle for independence. Migration is a multidimensional phenomenon that may include various kinds of transitions from an earlier place of residence, either within the same country or beyond the borders of a country, permanently or temporarily. Looking at public debate in the media and even in our parliament, we must recognize that attitudes toward migration have hardened. We are painfully aware that language and expressions that do not respect dignity and equality of all is being normalized in public discourse. This process is taking place in all levels of our society from the playgrounds to the parliament, from the shopping malls to schools and workplaces and faith communities. It is our obligation as a church to resist this process that creates false polarization both in the society and even within our own community.

The timing of our launch event is opportune. Last month the Lutheran church, among around a hundred other institutions and individuals (including FCA and FELM), was approached by the Finnish government with a request to comment on the government’s action plan to advance equality in Finland. This request is related to the government’s intention to declare in early September how the government plans to further advance non-discrimination, equality, and equity in Finland.

In my response to the government I emphasised the necessity to safeguard and advance human dignity and realization of human rights as a fundamental prerequisite for democratic societies. These are principles that are widely recognized in our society. At the same time, attitudes and practises exist that do not reflect unconditional respect for human dignity. As a democratic society we need to actively strive to make these ideals a reality.

Racist attitudes and racist behaviour conflict with the principle of unconditional human dignity. If we truly perceive every person of equal dignity, it is not possible to treat individual persons merely as representatives of a group, let alone treat persons differently based on their ethnicity, culture, religion or any other attribute.

The publication we are launching today is exploring these principal commitments in the context of our church’s relationship with partners in Africa. The document itself gives an overview of the history and contemporary forms of cooperation with African partners. It ends with a list of recommendations for future development of this cooperation.

Kuva: Kirkon ulkomaanapu. Jumalanpalvelus Etelä-Sudanin Yeistä, jossa Kirkon ulkomaanapu on tukenut paikallisia yhteisöjä käteisavustuksilla.