Christians at a World Council of Churches' Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Arusha, Tanzania, have affirmed their call to stand in "solidarity" with nations affected by climate change, to be "faithful witnesses" of God's love in dialogue with other faiths, and to be "servant leaders" who "demonstrate the way of Christ in a world that privileges power, wealth, and the culture of money."

Issued at the close of the week long conference on 13th March, the 12 point 'Arusha Call to Discipleship' also says Christians are called to "break down walls and seek justice with people who are dispossessed and displaced from their lands", to "belong together in a just and inclusive community...in a world that is based upon marginalization and exclusion" and to "follow the way of the cross, which challenges elitism, privilege, personal and structural power".

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Rev Dr Collin Cowan. PICTURE: Albin Hillert/WCC

More than 1000 people, including representatives of Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal, African-instituted churches, attended the six day conference which officially closed on Tuesday with a special "sending service" at which Rev Dr Collin Cowan, of the Council for World Mission, told those gathered that Jesus taught His disciples to "go against the grain of cultural norms and practices".

“Jesus pushed boundaries, confronted power, challenged systems of corruption and taught his disciples to go against the grain of cultural norms and practices,” he said. “Jesus was consistently challenging the disciples to appreciate that if they would be impactful and fruitful in a chaotic world, blemished by conflict, controversies and contempt, they needed to open up themselves to change their way of thinking and behaving in every situation.”

Rev Dr Cowan urged conference participants that there remains "much to learn about discipleship with Jesus".

"[I] is indeed a journey of partnership with lots of tripping up but never giving up, always trusting the teacher to shed more light and truth,” he said. “Integral to the call to discipleship is the mandate to join Jesus on an extraordinary mission to transform chaos into harmony and to work in partnership with others to preserve the meaning and dignity of all of humanity and God’s creation.”

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Ignatius Mor Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church (2nd from the left) welcomed at CWME. PICTURE: Albin Hillert/WCC

Held under the theme of 'Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship' the conference is organised by the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism and follows in a long tradition of the International Mission Council and the WCC CWME holding such conferences about once every 10 years.

Earlier, in a keynote address, Mor Ignatius Aphren II, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, told the conference that he had been shocked to see the destruction that had taken place in the Syrian city of Deir El Zor during a recent visit following its liberation from the so-called Islamic State.

"They destroyed all the churches in the city," he said, but added that, for the first time in more than fve years, they were able to celebrate the "divine liturgy" in the city, in the ruins of the Syriac Orthodox St Mary Church.

Noting that a "great number" of Christians have left their countries during recent turmoil, Patriarch Mor Aphrem said that the continuation of Christian presence in the Middle East is a necessity in the region.

"Christians have always been an essential element of reconciliation and bridge building among different ethnic and religious components of the region," he said.