Operation Nehemiah I

Operation Nehemiah I – A Report

On 2nd September, 2011 a unique gathering took place at the Leela in Bangalore. While the environment in the country was rife with the action relating to the India Against Corruption movement, 51 top church leaders had quietly come together to discuss how the church at large can lead the way against corruption – not by fighting an external entity – but by becoming a model of integrity in the way the church runs itself.

The group that gathered was representative of different denominations within the Christian community. There were 17 top church leaders representing some of the major church denominations such as – the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the Methodist Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Apostolic Church Alliance, the Indian Pentecostal Church, the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Church of India, and the Kashmir Evangelical Fellowship. Each of these denominations was represented by leaders who were bishops or above, or pastors who had churches with more than 1000 members.

Apart from the Church representatives there were also 27 key leaders of important para-church organizations, some of which are – World Vision, Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), Haggai India, Campus Crusade for Christ, ACTS, UESI, IEM, Bible Society of India, Interserve, CANA, IMA, Alpha India and the Lausanne Movement. Each of these organizations, barring very few exceptions, was represented by their senior most leaders in India.

There were also leaders from seminaries and theological institutions like SAIACS, SABC and TAFTEE and lay Christian leaders who are representatives of the community within the government namely Dr H.T Sangliana and Dr John Dayal. 25 of the participants were outstation participants, from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Guwahati, Cuttack, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Cochin.

The event called “Operation Nehemiah – Salt and Light in a Corrupt Society” was conceived, managed and facilitated by a network of Christian Businessmen and Professionals called “Transition Network” in collaboration with the Lausanne Movement.

The speakers were thought leaders like Bishop Efraim Tendero who is the National director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, composed of 20,000 Evangelical churches; Dr. Roberto Laver, a lawyer and banker with vast global experience with faith-based NGO’s and international development, who has served as Lausanne Senior Associate for Bible Engagement; Dr. Manfred Kohl, Special Ambassador for Overseas Council; and LT Jeyachandran, Director Asia Pacific for RZIM.

The heart of the event comprised of deliberations among the distinguished participants facilitated by Bert Cherian, an expert in the “design thinking methodology.” The participants were segregated into table groups of 6 participants each supported by a facilitator and a scribe who documented the proceedings.

Dr. Manfred began the proceedings by sharing his personal convictions on the meaning of excellence. He shared 7 areas where a person should aspire to excellence. As part of his talk he brought out the importance of ensuring that what one does and what one says are consistent with each other.

Bishop Efraim Tendero then exhorted the church to be “salt and light” in the society. Referring to Dr Chris Wrights talk in the recently concluded Lausanne Congress at Cape Town, he reminded the audience that the primary hindrance to the work of the Church was the Church itself – the idolatry of power, the idolatry of success, and the idolatry of greed. He then brought out examples how Christians like Mother Teresa have truly been the salt and light.

Immediately after this session, the table groups had their first discussion on what are areas where the Church has done well, and areas where she has not yet succeeded. All groups reported the summary of their discussions.

LT Jeyachandran then took up the matter of Corporate Confession in his talk. As part of his deep insight he referred to Biblical examples of Daniel and Nehemiah and shared with the group how a confession need not be limited to oneself, but can be done on behalf of the people one represents.

This was followed by a time of public confession by the leaders. A confessional liturgy was used for this and selected leaders from different denominations led different parts of the liturgy. The liturgy used different styles of prayer and this period was interspersed with songs.

The tone for the rest of the day was set through two videos covering the design and implementation challenges faced and methods used by two groups for two different projects. This brought about an atmosphere of collaboration within the participants who went about the rest of the day with a sense of unity and purposefulness.

The remaining part of the event was spent in discussions among the tables on 4 main need areas, namely,

  1. A statement for integrity,
  2. Reporting on corruption,
  3. Investigating corruption, and
  4. Reconciliation of the leaders.

These subjects were divided among tables with two tables each discussing one topic. These deliberations went through two iterations of discussions and reporting.

As a result of these deliberations, the groups came out with two drafts articulating a statement of integrity and 5 different projects covering all the areas discussed. Each of these projects had 30-60-90 day timelines, with a designated champion and project team members.
The declaration drafts communicated a sense of acceptance and regret for the failures of the church in the area of financial integrity and a commitment to envisioned practical steps of teaching, self evaluation, unity and caring.

The 5 projects that came out have general themes covering broad aspects as below:

  1. Facilitating communication, reporting and networking through a website.
  2. Pooling of ideas, collection of data and best practices to create standards.
  3. Education and awareness, through forums.

Towards the end of the event Roberto Laver brought in his expertise and summarised the days proceedings. He also articulated for the group the action points for the way forward.

Mrs Grace Mathews from Lausanne ended the programme with a few words on behalf of the Lausanne Movement and also proposed the vote of thanks.

Based on the deliberations of the day and Roberto’s talk the following arose as action points as the way forward post the event.

  1. To facilitate the implementation of the projects as envisaged by the participants.
  2. To formulate a drafting committee from within the participants and facilitate the finalisation of the statement drafts.
  3. To facilitate an academic paper on the Christian stand on corruption in the area of money and property.
  4. To facilitate the next event on the proposed date of 4th October 2012.

The high quality of event organization drew appreciation from the participants.

The members of Transition Network were delighted to note the spirit in which the participants contributed to the proceedings. There was a sense of unity and denominational differences were set aside towards the common cause. The humility of the leaders in taking time to come and to cooperate with the event design and its limitations was noteworthy. The considerable accomplishment, intelligence, expertise, knowledge and experience of the participants was evident in the quality of the discussions that took place.

There is a general agreement that the work has only begun, and that the Church in India has much to do in the coming days. The great news is that we have now started the process. God quietly but powerfully continues to sanctify His church – his bride – to show her blemish-less when He presents her to Himself.

And those He has chosen as the shepherds of His people, gathered to offer themselves to His cleansing power, choosing His kingdom above their own, His glory above their own. O Lord may they be able to say like Nehemiah, “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.” 1

Arpit Waghmare
Co-ordinator – Transition Network.1 Nehemiah 13:14, NIV