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"We are the forest!"

After the opening service of the Leadership Training: Rev. Dietmar Arends (Superintendent of the Lippe Regional Church), Rev. Dr Thomas Solomon (Moderator of the Rhenish Churches in South Africa), Rev. Francis Karemera (Bishop of the Anglican Church in Rwanda-Cyangugu Diocese) with Prof. Dr M.P. Lambut, an indigenous Dayak and Professor Emeritus of Lambung Mangkurat University in Banjarmasin. Photo by: Martina Pauly, UEM

"We don't live in the forest, we are the forest!" is how Rev. Dr Kinurung Maleh sums up the Dayak's relationship to the forest. He is a member of the GKE* church leadership and himself belongs to the Dayak, an indigenous community on Kalimantan in Indonesia.

In view of climate change and its consequences, it was time now to take the existing ecological knowledge of the indigenous peoples seriously and to apply it as widely as possible, he demanded. Rev. Dr Keloso Ugak, a lecturer at the GKE's STT Theological University, describes the importance of the forest for him and the other Dayak like this: "For us, the forest is a supermarket, temple, school and bank at the same time."


International Leadership Training in Indonesia

Until 17 August, 12 church leaders from Asia, Africa and Germany are visiting the GKE in Indonesia to exchange ideas with Dayak pastors. The nine-day training journey takes place within the framework of the so-called "Leadership Training" of the United Evangelical Mission (UEM).

"Our Leadership Training 2023 deals with the important topic of 'indigenous peoples and climate in danger'. UEM church leaders experience this meeting as a safe and open space to discuss and reflect on the issues of the ecological crisis from their intercultural perspectives. 'We are the forest!' is a cultural wisdom from Kalimantan that teaches us as a church how to treat creation responsibly in order to leave a livable world for our children," says Rev. Dr Andar Parlindungan. As a member of the UEM Management Team and Executive Secretary of the department Training & Empowerment, he is responsible for the training journey.


Ecological and feminist expertise of the Dayak

The old knowledge of using natural resources for their own survival without destroying them is preserved by the Dayak to this day. The GKE has made it its task to include the knowledge of the Dayak in its theology. Many Dayak are members of the GKE.


Ir. Nyelong Inga Simon, Chairperson of the Dayak Women's Association in Indonesia, made it clear that the increasing deforestation was bringing an end to their traditional ceremonies and thus to their existence. For the Dayak, as for all other indigenous groups, it is also difficult to enforce their rights to the forests, as the property rights are often "only" handed down orally and not documented in writing. The Dayak are now taking legal and political action against this injustice. Education is also one of their strategies.


The GKE leader, Rev. Simpon F. Lion, explained that it was Christian missionaries from Germany and Muslim missionaries who abolished slavery and headhunting in Kalimantan. The German missionaries also laid the foundation for the Church's current work in education, agriculture and health care. "At the same time, we have kept many of our traditions and customs as Christian Dayak and we are proud of that," says Kinurung Maleh. Another distinctive feature of Dayak culture is the spiritual role of women. It is she who prays for the family and takes on essential religious functions. This is also reflected in gender justice within the church. The GKE has been ordaining women for pastoral ministry since 1962. To this day, the church with a female theologian at its head and a predominantly female leadership is considered exceptional in Asia and beyond.


*GKE = Gereja Kalimantan Evangelis (Evangelical Church of Kalimantan)


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