The baby or the giant? Of the four Sections, Asian West Pacific Section has the smallest number of Quakers, and with its commencement in 1985, was the last to be recognized. However, the major world populations reside in this region, so one vision of AWPS could be that of a great people needing to be reached. We are thankful that from this region, worldwide service for Friends has come in the form of three general secretaries, two associate secretaries, and a clerk of FWCC.
The first full business meeting of AWPS was held during the FWCC Triennial in Tokyo in 1988. As a Section we meet during the Triennial meetings of FWCC and usually once between Triennials. The Internet, as well as "snail mail," helps us overcome the huge distances between us, but we would benefit greatly by visiting one another more frequently, telling our stories, and sharing our Quaker lives, prayers, and hopes. With awareness of climate change and the rising costs of fossil fuels, all Sections of the world body are being challenged to conduct their activities in a new framework.
The affiliated yearly meetings are Japan, Mid-India, Bhopal, Bundelkhand, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Australia. Seoul, Hong Kong, the General Conference of Friends in India, and sometimes Singapore are monthly meetings that are active in the life and business of the Section. Philippines Friends Church regularly sends observers to FWCC Gatherings, and we are also in touch with Indonesia Friends Church and a new separate Friends group there. Friends visit the Nepali Friends, where we have learned about the political upheavals and killings taking place. Some contact is kept with Sri Lankan Friends. We have a vision for Friends to again be active in China, but we lack the resources to outreach there. Sadly, we have not had recent contact with Taiwanese Friends Church. Cambodian Yearly Meeting is under the care of Evangelical Friends and in addition there is a small worship group in Phnom Penh. Other worshiping groups meet in Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and other Asian countries.
In a sense AWPS is working within a general decline of Quakerism in Asia, following withdrawal or cutbacks of missionary endeavors of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today the Quaker presence in many places has a development focus. Quaker Service Australia and American Friends Service Committee work with local people, assist in the alleviation of suffering and poverty, and promote sound environmental and ecological practices. These approaches, which aim to create reciprocal relationships between Quaker services and those needing assistance, do not increase the numbers of Quakers, since care is taken to avoid proselytizing. However, there are hopes for a resurgence, with the Philippines Friends Church growing rapidly and others of the programmed tradtion—particularly in Taiwan, Nepal, and Indonesia—increasing their numbers.
So what is special; what holds us together? What are some new movements of the Spirit which show that Quakers in AWPS are attuned to the leadings and love of God?
In Korea, many Quakers have been imprisoned by their own governments following their protests for the peace and unity of the two Koreas. At the Seoul Gathering in 2005 the Minjung theology, a Korean version of looking to the Gospels for liberation and renewal, was a fresh challenge to AWPS Friends present. Many Japanese Friends alive today were children during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They work hard to promote peace both in Japan and throughout the region. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, Quakers take seriously the injustices suffered by the 15 percent Maori population, and have learned from them to respect the land and the interconnections among people, and between people and the natural world.
Australian Aboriginal viewpoints on care for the land have changed the perspective of Friends there and, as in New Zealand, are impacting policies in the wider society. At great cost to itself, New Zealand stood up to the United States in the 1990s, refusing permission for nuclear ships to enter their ports. Quakers were influential there. A Quaker served as Aoteaora/New Zealand’s first Minister of Disarmament.
Remember that Mahatma Gandhi (close to Quakers in India) and Ham Sok Hon (a member of Quakers in Korea) taught universal messages of seeking truth, managing conflict, and speaking out to those in power. Do we in AWPS need another Gandhi or Ham to teach and inspire us today? At the 2005 Section gathering we also looked at the problems Quakers face as a tiny minority in otherwise Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist/Shinto cultures. Indian Friends find that their energies are sapped by issues related to their properties and the local legal system. How can our voices be heard here? In the more affluent countries of Japan, Aotearoa /New Zealand, and Australia our challenges include apathy, consumerism, inequality, injustice, or just plain fatigue—but still our voices must be heard.
All of us work very hard on projects to redress injustice and to promote peace. It is in right ordering that Quaker United Nations Office Committees in New York and Geneva now have AWPS members, so that our voices can be heard in the halls of power. We believe that our testimonies of simplicity, integrity and equality provide the challenges to our wider societies that will bring lasting peace. In connection with the Dublin Triennial this past August, we considered "our prophetic voice." How do we discover the messages that will save the planet and at the same time bring people into a right relationship with the Creator and the spiritual energies in the universe? The youthful AWPS is truly mindful of the challenges, both now and in the near future. Pray for us, that God will raise up the prophetic voices, and that sufficient resources will follow to make AWPS a significant player in the 21st century. "Your people will rebuild what has long been in ruins: building again on the old foundations. You will be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored the ruined houses" (Isaiah 58:12).