‘Abide in Me—Bear Rich Fruit’
This was the theme of the third assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC) in 1966.
Two Australians attended this assembly held in Tokyo, Japan. Mrs Olga Badger was the elected delegate and Rev. Winifred Kiek was an observer. Winifred Kiek was 82 years of age when she participated in this assembly, and she was the oldest there. Over the years, as the conference numbers have grown, the range of ages has also increased. At the 2006 ACWC assembly, my roommate was aged eighty-one and she wasn’t the only octogenarian in attendance. At the other end of the age scale, there were also young women in their late teens and twenties and thirties, and the new 2006 president was only about forty.
We’re fortunate that both of the Australian representatives in 1966 wrote reports of the assembly, reports that give us glimpses into the proceedings and dynamics of this significant gathering of church women from around the globe, meeting together in Asia. Olga Badger wrote her first report on the third day of the conference, 17 July, during a break in the assembly proceedings. We couldn’t have asked for a more on-the-spot or enthusiastic coverage of this event. Here is what she had to say:
Just a few moments snatched from a very busy schedule; as it is Sunday, the organisers must have thought a little observation of the Day of Rest would be in order, so we have three hours break instead of two. As the day is so planned from 7a.m. till 9p.m., the siesta period – 1 to 3 – is filled with writing home, preparing next session, preparing Vespers or cultural session, fitting in little visits with other delegates – we all feel a little like a perpetual motion machine.
The feeling of fellowship and friendship is very warm and genuine. I am sharing a room with an Indonesian woman, a delightful person. My group for study is the Church and Society; we are 20 people from 12 nations, which makes it very interesting; mostly everyone is contributing something to the discussion.
The Treasurer told me that if we had seen the delighted smile on the face of Mrs. Suriyakham (chairman of the conference) when she received your letter saying that Australia was being fully responsible for my fare, we would have known how happy they were at our gesture; they need every contribution possible.
The Rev. Winifred Kiek is staying out here after all, as the Stewart’s home is at least 1½ hours journey away, and she couldn’t possibly have travelled in every day. However, it is very comfortable; she has a nice room to herself and is one floor below me. She seems to be very happy and enjoying everything; the other delegates are all amazed at her stamina.
We are using for our Vesper Service, the Order of Service prepared for Fellowship Day, altering it slightly to fit in with hymns in the E.A.C. Hymnal, and omitting a few paragraphs. It is to be held the day after Fellowship Day. The New Zealanders were delighted to use it, and said they would enjoy feeling that they were also sharing this day with Australian Women.
For Bible Study we are led by Rev. Masaichi Takemori, of Japan. Dr. Hans Margull, of West Germany, is lecturing in “Basic Beliefs”, and Professor Tong Shik Ryu, of Korea, is lecturing in “The position of the Church in a community of other Faiths”. Rev. Margaret [Margarethe] Lie, of Indonesia, is leading the daily devotionals and is such a wonderful person. Her group of women all think she is a wonderful woman.
Australia’s greeting was read out, among others, on Friday evening at dinner. It is all so colourful and exciting. It is our turn to do the cultural evening tonight, but our time has been cut to 15 mins., as they need more time for Fellowship of the Least Coin project.
[Mrs Badger presented her later and more detailed report of the Tokyo assembly in the 1967 Working Papers of the National Conference of Australian Church Women.]
Rev. Kiek’s report was titled:
SOME IMPRESSIONS WRITTEN BY THE REV. WINIFRED KIEK
This conference was not only a source of excitement and interest; one gets these emotions at any international and inter-racial gathering, but here there was a very real stimulus to one’s mental and spiritual life. Although held under the aegis of the East Asia Christian Conference, it included a wide membership; indeed all five continents were represented, if we count Prof. H. Margull of West Germany, our able and learned lecturer on “Basic Beliefs”. It seems significant to me that America and Africa should have joined Australia in cultivating fellowship with Asia in this way. It all helped to produce a wideness of vision and a depth of patient understanding which were good for all of us and contributed much to the success of the conference. The African delegates were a great joy to us. Maude Solarin of Nigeria was in some ways a contrast to Betty Kubay of South Africa. Maude (we found Christian names readily acceptable and much easier to manage) was big, black and buxom, with a rollicking sense of humour. She always wore her national dress, including a huge turban and usually seemed to be laughing in the midst of a happy group. Betty, on the other hand, was brown, lean and agile. She wore western dress and her close-cropped curly head was uncovered. She was serious and energetic, full of song, a fine leader and a wise companion. These two were evidently friends and were in a way typical of the spirit of the conference. Laughter and music are appreciated in any language and we had plenty of both. To join in singing the round “Hi-yah”, led by Betty while she sang her own song above it all, was to experience a happy fellowship, a real sense of belonging together. No wonder it was often asked for!
If I were to express in one word what was the general tone of the conference, I would say it was sheer naturalness. There was such a pleasing absence of anything approaching a desire to shine or ‘show off’. The cultural hour each evening was the occasion for a group to demonstrate national costume and traditional festivals. It always seemed to reveal a delightfully unselfconscious enjoyment, whether by song, dance or dialogue. The same natural attitude was apparent in the study-group and workshop sessions and in little everyday courtesies. Of these latter I was often the recipient, being the oldest. The climate was difficult and we all suffered from it, comrades in endurance, (what with pebbles, puddles and dripping trees in the humid heat), but no one complained as we walked two or three times a day from dormitory to auditorium.
Bible studies and lectures were on a high level, a tribute to the intelligence of the audience, most of whom were leaders in their own country. Studies were not quite so demanding, but when I recall how careful we are in preparing studies for our Australian Churchwomen not to be too advanced less we scare off some of the shy ones, I think the programme was probably well-chosen.
To share sight-seeing is a splendid way to develop friendship. The day we spent on tour round Tokyo was such an opportunity. We visited the famous Meiji shrine and felt the vagueness of Japanese religion, but reflected that multitudes of Australian Christians are probably very vague in their Christian beliefs. The revolving floor of a large modern hotel with its changing views over the city, and the refreshing physical exercises to music, practised at intervals in a radio factory by the work girls, to relieve the monotony of mechanical labour, were signs of life in modern Japan, as were also the wide streets with their busy, rushing traffic, and the yellow flags provided for pedestrians who wanted to cross the road, but narrow alleys and tiny shops on pavements reminded us of earlier days. We were glad to see the joy and pride of our hostess city in the continuing delight of old customs. The dressing of the bride, the wearing of the kimono and the obi, and the custom of the tea ceremony are so typical of ancient tradition that we should be sorry to see them abandoned. A fine exhibition of the history of the Y.W.C.A. in Japan gave me the opportunity to meet several women with mutual interests. Many were members of the W.C.T.U., others were members of Parliament or of the League of Women Voters. Thus did our day’s tour seem to fit us as a conference into the life of the region around us, as also happened on our Sunday visit to local Churches and the homes of the very friendly people. We resumed our studies and devotions on our return to the campus feeling that we were welcome, and knowing one another better through sharing wider experiences, for this is how fellowship can be strengthened.
It was at this 3rd assembly that Rathi Selvaratnam was elected chairman of both the Asian Church Women’s Conference and the Central Committee of the Fellowship of the Least Coin for the next four years. Rathi is in the photograph at the top of this post—front row, 4th from the left.
We are so fortunate that Australian Church Women held on to these reports and so many other records; a legacy that becomes more valuable as time marches on. There is credible church and social history preserved by ACW. Women around the globe can benefit from our herstory documents as we look back and learn from, and about, events in a Christian context from the women who were there. This is especially valid for the members of the Asian Church Women's Conference, as they have so few of their early records.
Does anyone have or know of a photo of Mrs Olga Badger that ACW can use? If so, please email me at email@example.com