on Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Achives Management
Bangalore, India, June 14, 2004
Rome 2002 Conference and Challenges for Theological
Librarians in Asia
Rome 2002 Conference was unique in many ways. It was
an ecumenical conference bringing together more than
fifty participants where groups of librarians, archivists
and scholars of mission and religious studies were
met together under the aegis of the International
Association for Mission Studies [IAMS] and the International
Association of Catholic Missiologists [IACM]. The
Conference entitled “Rescuing the Memory of
Our Peoples,” was taking place at the Centro
Internazionale di Animazione Missionaria [CIAM] at
the Urban University, Rome; run by the Congregation
for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Reverend Dr.
Sergey Shirokov, an independent researcher of the
Moscow Center for Mission Studies, mentioned that
‘it’s significant that Rome at the beginning
of the XXI century became the place for the conference
“Rescuing the memory of our peoples.’
Here, in the ancient capital of the world, came theologians,
scholars and archivists from various continents representing
the main Christian confessions and tradition. He further
said that this event opens a new page in the history
of Christian mission, because the initiators of it
became two of the most influential and leading international
associations of missiologists ---‘the IAMS and
Conference was attended about 50 some experts including
Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans; in which
they’re in effect trying to organize and to
preserve the historical memory of Christianity, and
especially its mission, in the Third World. Under
the pressure of globalization, poverty, war, and neglect,
lots of irreplaceable historical resources ---documents,
oral traditions, physical remains--- are in danger
in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Archivists, researchers and others were invited from
all continents to share experiences, review the impact
of changing technology and the effects of globalization
on the documentation of the story of the churches
particularly in minority situations and where the
oral and written history of the memory of the poor
is at risk. Together they addressed ways in which
the world community can better preserve representative
story of its peoples. There was an emphasis on the
participation of all members of the conference in
sharing from experience and working together to plan
a more satisfactory agenda to framework for the international
support of church archives.
The conference apparently represented the continued
development of the main concern of both IAMS and IACM,
namely concerning for the collection and preservation
of primary source materials relating to the life of
the church around the globe. As the result of some
previous meeting from 1980 and 1988 (in Rome) and
then in 1992 (in Hawaii), the conference has sought
to support and encourage the work of archives and
The conference has three major purposes:
1. Bringing together global representatives with a
common interest in church and mission archives in
and relating to Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.
2. The exchange of knowledge, needs and skills, including
through regional surveys, documentation of known centers
and resources, and the provision of training materials
adaptable to a range of contexts.
3. Setting up an ongoing body to economically and
credibly facilitate networking and representation
for the support of Third World Christian archives.
The conference would also have been:
- Identifying the best practices appropriate to context,
taking seriously both the present and the absence
of information technology and the different economic
and political environments in which archives operate.
- Having a special emphasis on the importance of oral
history and the stories of the poor.
- Providing practical guidelines on records management
- Reviewing the contexts in which documentation takes
place and the information and collaboration necessary
to ensure security and access of materials.
- Initiating plans for representation to and cooperation
with professional archives groups, international agencies,
ecclesiastical bodies and mission societies so that
archives can be used for the empowerment and identity
of ordinary people and minorities.
- Encouraging the establishment of regional networks,
- Preparing and publicizing a fresh statement on Archives
and Mission for the 21st Century.
All invited in this conference were asked to prepare
a case study or paper for presentation. The conference
included lectures, archive visits and workshop. I
took part in the conference as one of and among other
invited from the group of Asian theological librarians.
My name was suggested to the Organizing Committee,
Dr. John Roxborogh, by the Reverend John and Rita
England who have been associated with the IAMS-IACM
Andrew Walls, a Scottish Methodist who is among the
leading experts on Christianity in the Third World,
summed up the archivist’s spirit by saying:
“Never destroy piece of paper until you make
at least two copies of it.” Walls gave a fascinating
keynote address in which he reviewed the well-known
statistics about the 20th century inversion in Christian
demography. At the beginning of the century, 80 percent
of Christians lived in Europe and North America; today
60 percent live in the Southern Hemisphere. “We
begin the new century with a post-Christian West,
and a post-Western Christianity,” he said.
In this context, Walls argued, building archival resources
in Africa, Asia and Latin America is a matter of survival
for Christians everywhere. Given that theological
reflections arises out of the lived faith experience
of a community, if it doesn’t happen in the
South, “there won’t be theological studies
anywhere much worth caring about.”
Archives: Considering the benefits
As a matter of fact many memories of people of faith
are not being recorded. Where those memories are recorded
often their preservation is uncertain, their location
hazardous, and access and documentation non-existence.
And therefore, it should be mentioned that in connection
with the existence of [church or mission] archives
centre sense of historical perspective and the concern
of contemporary needs are factors that strengthening
the ministry of mission.
David M. Howard once said that "it is this combination
of historical perspective with contemporary needs
that will greatly strengthen the ministry of any mission.
And the archives of the mission can thus be seen as
indispensable to the present and future vision and
direction of the mission.” (David M. Howard
from his presentation during the 2001 Consultation
on Nondenominational Mission Archives). Consequently,
to be the steward of a mission’s history is
to care for and protect material that records the
works of God acted out in the lives of men and women.
We are challenged to keep in mind that now is the
time to decide how best to retain the documents that
identify our group librarians and archivists as unique
and provide us with the means to continue to respond
to God’s call faithfully and productively. Therefore,
a mission and church archives will:
- Serve as a resource for current work.
- Remind individuals of the lessons from the past.
- Supplement fund-raising projects and publications
with illustrations, photographs, and relevant documents.
- Facilitate training new missionaries.
- Enrich anniversary celebrations.
- Enhance visual and audio appeal to web sites and
- Provide answer to legal queries.
- Be a resource to national leaders, indigenous churches,
and other partners in ministry.
Mission records often contain information on third
world churches and therefore they are a rich resource
for Christians around the world to explore their personal
faith and history. Researchers may also wish to consult
mission records for graduate school and mission projects,
articles on the mission field, books or dissertations,
or genealogical information. Pamphlet of Vatican City
1997 entitled the Pastoral Function of Archives states
that “Archives are places of memory for the
Christian community and a storehouse for the new evangelization”
[Prot. N. 274/92/118 - pamphlet, Vatican City 1997].
In connection with this simply statement, it is encouraged
that those theological librarians and who teach mission
and church history to assist in the responsibility
of documenting mission, and convey to their students
a vision of learning from the faith of those who have
gone before, catechist and missionary, layperson and
religious, minister and priest, women and men, minorities
and elites, national and expatriate. For that reason,
in the contexts of Asian churches and seminaries training
on mission and church archives is not only important
for individual church, but also essential for preserving
Asian church history and their long relationship with
missionary agencies as a whole. Taken together, the
records of missions, churches, and individuals throughout
the world bring us to a better understanding of the
past and the past's impact on the present. As quoted
by Martha Lund Smalley, Cecelia Irvine put it as follows:
"History is not static or frozen; it must be
reexamined and rewritten in the light of the changing
perspectives of each generation of scholars from many
different parts of the world. The contemporary documents
of long ago must be scrutinized to provide new insights,
for the interpretation of history is much influenced
by the main preoccupations of the times."[Martha
L. Smalley, The Preservation of Mission Archives:
An Archivist's Perspective, 2001?].
In equipping theological librarians and archivists
in the region with science of interpreting history
and missiological movements, for the near future,
such kind of Asia-Pacific Forum for Library and Archive
Management Training initiated and sponsored by the
ETE-WCC/CCA and SATHRI in co-ordination with the ForATL
apparently could be able to be developed systematically
into an embryo of what so called a Continuing Professional
Education for theological librarians and archivists
in the region.
History does not just happen. Neither do archives
[David B. Gracy II, Researcher's Guide to Archives...,
1988, Edited by John C. Larsen]. Therefore, that collecting
records is useless unless they have a purpose and
are actually used.
It is for the sake of the world Christian community
as well as for its contributions to the academic or
even non-academic worlds that churches and mission
must operate on the premise that "faithfulness
for the future requires faithfulness to the past.
Missiologists, church historian professors and theological
librarians and archivists can do more together in
building up mission or church archive centre. We are
all, theological librarians, archivists, researchers
of mission studies and church historians involved
in doing what we can. Together we can do more. We
can help create a climate which values the past at
the same time as we address the urgent needs of the
present and the future as well.
The old Chinese proverb reminded me, as it saying:
"If you're thinking a year ahead, sow seeds
If you're thinking ten years ahead, plant trees
If you're thinking one hundred years ahead, educate
[Bangalore, Asia Pacific Forum for Archives Management
Training, June 14, 2004]