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‘Who is my Neighbour?’

At the 4th Assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC), Mrs Betty (Elizabeth) Ashton was an observer for Australia. A brief report of her experience was published in the October 1970 edition of Women at Work, the national newsletter of Australian Church Women, and Betty managed to convey many images of the conference in her summary of this event.

'The fourth Asian Women’s Church Conference, held at Sukabumi, Djakarta, 9th–18th September, was a very enriching experience for all who attended it.

'Approximately 140 delegates were drawn from the women of the member churches of the East Asia Christian Conference, to which the Australian and New Zealand churches belong. – Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Pacific Islands (Cook and Gilberts), with leaders and observers from Africa, Middle East, Trinidad, Guatemala, Europe and U.S.A. It was regretted that Burma, Laos and Vietnam were not able to attend. Saris, Kimonos and Sarongs and for the Cultural Evening, grass skirts and Maori costume added colour and interest, while the infectious gaiety of our Indonesian hostesses set a happy atmosphere.

'We met on the evening of the 8th in a crowded Church in Djakarta for the Opening Ceremony on the Conference Theme, “Who is my Neighbour?”, after which we adjourned to a hall for Indonesian Refreshments, Speeches of Welcome, and entertainment through folk songs, Bali dances and local music. It was a relief next morning to leave the hot and sticky city and set out in 3 buses for a 3 hour drive through lush, green country, villages and towns to Sukabumi, a neat, pleasant town nestling in hills, where the days were hot, but nights cool enough for a thin blanket. Here we were looked after by women of the local churches who produced tasty meals and snacks in abundance from one small kitchen and simple kerosene or charcoal stoves. From Breakfast at 7a.m. till Vespers finished about 10p.m., we hardly stopped. Conference Chairman was Mrs Rathi Selvaratnam of Ceylon.

'Morning devotions ably led by Rev. Ivy Chou of Singapore or Mrs Shanti Solomon of North India set the tone of the day. Father Paul Verghese, Principal of Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kerala, India, led us in 1¼ hours Bible Study each morning. A Fatherly figure in his white gown and flowing beard, with a lively, original, disciplined mind, he led us with Moses up Mount Sinai to hear the voice of God, and we stood with the children of Israel as they received the ten commandments. We saw Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days, and listened with the Disciples to the Beatitudes. The Bible came to life in his hands, as he challenged us to accept its truths, and with insight and devastating clarity forced us to face the implications of the gospel. Dr Madeline Barot, Executive Secretary, Education for Development in the World Council of Churches, led us each morning to look at the world around us, to face our neighbours, and through word and film she showed us the world’s need for work, for food, medical care and economic development.

'The rest of the day was spent in Business sessions, reports, discussion groups. At night we listened to each other talk of our country, its culture and custom, its church life, and its problems, vespers led by groups of delegates ended each day.

'I shall never forget the hardness of the Chapel seats, learning Negro Spirituals from two fine women, themselves descendants of slaves, or new hymns from the Indonesian lass whose smile was as wide as she was high, the tasty foods, the 2½ hour bus trip to Bandung very early on Sunday morning so that small groups could worship in the churches there, the group discussions that hit home, the talks with individuals in which we sensed their problems, Madeline Barot challenging us to be better neighbours, and Father Paul bringing us face to face with God. I had expected to enjoy the A.C.W.C. I had not expected it would be such a deep and challenging experience.'

Elizabeth Ashton

The other Australians who attended were:

  • Mrs Olga Badger, a member of the ACWC Planning Committee

  • Mrs Frances (Fran) Bailey, delegate

  • Mrs Doreen Strack, delegate

  • Mrs Eileen Dingle, observer

  • Mrs Jill Perkins, an Australian journalist and wife of Rev. Harvey Perkins, secretary Inter Church Aid East Asia Christian Conference, was invited by the ACWC to handle the reporting at this assembly.


Sadly, I do not have a photo of the 1970 Assembly of the ACWC and even sadder, nor does the ACWC office. If you have or know the whereabouts of any photos of this 4th Assembly, please contact me at


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This Herstory Blog of Australian Church Women Inc. tells the stories of the women and activities of this national Christian organisation that was founded in February 1965.

Stories that inspired and encouraged me to begin this blog and share their inspiration with you. Stories that need to be told so that the women of ACW can be honoured and celebrated for their achievements and experiences in local, national and international communities of faith. And, most importantly, stories that demonstrate being disciples of Jesus Christ firmly underpins all that Australian Church Women represents.

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