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Telling the story: the role of information-sharing in urban and industrial mission.


This age of global telecommunication and information exchange has set a unique challenge and opportunity to the churches: how can they use the global information network in telling the story of peoples' struggles for their dignity and rights? What role can information exchange play in strengthening the churches' work for justice in the world? What follows is the story of the role that information exchange has played in one area of the churches' ministry: the work of urban-industrial mission in the latter part of this century.

In 1961, the World Council of Churches (WCC) held its Third Assembly in New Delhi, India - the first such gathering to take place in the developing world. Within this context, the New Delhi Assembly focused on issues facing the churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America. One concern to receive major attention was the impact of "rapid social change" - particularly in terms of growth in the urban and industrial sectors - on the countries of the developing world. Assembly delegates from the industrialized West shared this concern.

When the WCC's Division of World Mission and Evangelism (DWME) met in Mexico City in 1963, the churches' response to worldwide urbanization and industrialization was given high priority. A central theme there was "The Churches and the Cities",(1) and one of the actions taken was the decision to create an Office for Urban and Industrial Mission within the Division of World Mission and Evangelism.(2)

Paul Loeffler, a missionary from Germany working in India, was called to be the first secretary of that office.(3) In July 1965, under Loeffler, the DWME set up an Advisory Group on Urban and Industrial Mission (AGUIM), whose tasks included providing assistance and guidance for strengthening and developing urban and industrial projects, and promoting ecumenical study and dialogue about the goals, presuppositions and methods of urban-industrial work as it was being undertaken in different parts of the world.(4)

From the time of its creation, the Advisory Group concentrated on the concerns of the churches in the developing world. These younger churches were facing dramatic changes: the rural people they had been serving were now crowding into burgeoning cities, while migrants were becoming the new industrial class that was being formed in the growing industrial sector. The Advisory Group saw its immediate task in terms of "encouraging" the direction of urban industrial mission.

During its early meetings the AGUIM set itself an agenda with the aim of developing: (1) sound presuppositions on which to build urban industrial ministry; (2) a coherent interpretation of the work of the Advisory Group on Urban Industrial Mission; (3) a wider strategy based on the activities of the various isolated urban industrial ministries in the regions; (4) the discussion of long-term common issues involved in urban industrial mission work; (5) a means for exchange of information and inter-communication between those engaged in different projects around the world.(5) It was the last of these - the exchange of information and the expediting of communication among those engaged in urban industrial mission - that received the Group's increasing attention.


The groundwork had already been laid at the First Asian Conference on Industrial Evangelism(6) held in June 1958 in Manila, Philippines. This was the first major regional meeting to give consideration to urban industrial mission work in the developing world. Delegates from fifteen Asian countries reported on their churches' efforts to develop ministries in workers' communities in their particular contexts. Thus, communication and the exchange of information between those engaged in urban industrial mission became a top priority at the Manila conference.

The Second Industrial Mission Conference for those engaged in urban industrial mission in Asia was held in Kyoto, Japan, in May 1966, bringing together over 60 delegates and observers from sixteen countries in the Asian region. In the eight years since the Manila meeting, networks for the exchange of people and information had developed dramatically.(7) The Kyoto meeting was remarkable in that it called attention to the rapid expansion of urban industrial change in Asia. More attention was now being paid by those in universities and seminaries to the impact of the forces of modernization on traditional cultures. The working class, which had thus far remained ouside the attention of the churches, came to be seen as the human group that required their prime concern. Masao Takenaka, a professor of social ethics from Japan, who had attended the Manila meeting, was one of the major voices at the Second Conference in Kyoto.(8)

Reflecting on the period between the two meetings, he wrote:

"Returning from Manila the conference delegates not only spoke widely of the challenge but began to respond in action. Here and there new experiments in urban industrial mission began to take shape. The number of people involved was small and they struggled with differing outlooks and sparse resources. By the time a second conference was held in Kyoto, Japan in 1966, it was encouraging to recognize concrete developments in urban and industrial mission in the various countries of Asia. We discovered that some two hundred people were engaged directly in these experiments on a full-time, part-time or voluntary basis."(9)


A parallel theme at Kyoto was the role of the laity in the new Asian world. One section was devoted to the issue of lay training, both for the inner life of the church and for the churches' work in the world. Early in the work of urban industrial mission the laity were recognized as important actors in Christian witness in society: they were on the front lines of decision-making in all areas of social change.

Representative of the active role played by the laity in these rapidly changing contexts was Cipriano Malonzo,(10) president of the Mindanao Federation of Labour (Philippines). Malonzo, who attended the Kyoto Conference, captured the attention of delegates with his story. Educated at Silliman University in Negros Oriental, he had begun his work as a pastor during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. His closeness to the struggles of the plantation workers during this period awakened in him a deepening concern for social justice issues. After the war he saw his role as an organizer of the unorganized and a spokesperson for workers' issues confronting increasingly industrialized countries like the Philippines.

Cipriano Malonzo was one of the first to respond to the call to the churches to take an active role in the newly emerging urban and industrial centres of the Philippines. He joined the Committee on Industrial Life and Vocation organized by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the mid-1950s. Malonzo was one of the main supporters of the efforts to educate the clergy on issues of industrial change, and was a strong voice reminding seminarians and pastors of the roots of social justice in the Scriptures. Speaking to the delegates in Kyoto out of his own Christian involvement in the labour movement he said:

"When the rich grow richer and the poor poorer, the church must give bodily form to its commitment to justice and righteousness and love beyond studied pronouncements ... The fight of trade union bodies for justice, righteousness and love can be strengthened and amplified with the church actively concerning itself with these virtues, i.e. the great Christian tenets, on a more pragmatic basis ... that often times when unions become saddled by irresponsible leadership corrupting the movement, the church is provided an opportunity to insist on an inspired and honest leadership by helping to train its own shock troops to deal with the movement.(11)

Stories like this one of Cipriano Malonzo were needed to reach a larger audience within the churches.


Paul Loeffler, who was at the Kyoto meeting, brought back the message to the WCC Advisory Group on Urban and Industrial Mission of the urgent need for a means of communication among those involved in urban industrial mission work around the world. At its July 1966 meeting the Advisory Group concluded "that greater priority should be given to the development of cooperation, cross-fertilization and above all the building up of systematic channels of communication within the different regions of the world."(13)

Efforts to inform, educate and provide training in urban industrial mission were normal practice among those involved in the various urban industrial projects, and one of the outcomes was the wide variety of publications emanating from the projects. The earlier materials were mainly analytical, providing a critical review of the social and economic forces which were creating change in their countries. There were also a number of first-hand stories from those involved in ministries among working people and the urban poor. Still others were biblical study materials relating the Scriptures to the everyday events which made up people's working lives. Also, as ministries developed and experience grew, training materials were produced for use among those entering the field of urban industrial mission.

How could such materials be shared? Special publications like "The Church Labor Letter", first produced in the early 1950s by Henry D. Jones, a Presbyterian missionary in Japan, had a wide readership.(14) It recounted the work of "occupational evangelism" being developed in Japan, and subsequently became a major vehicle for telling the story of industrial mission as it was unfolding in other Asian countries. It soon became evident that this type of exchange was needed on a global scale; shared stories were vital links between those in the churches working to make the gospel come alive in a rapidly industrializing world.

In 1966 the WCC Advisory Group on UIM gave urgent attention to the question of inter-communication between projects, starting with the search for a place to begin the gathering and exchange of information. During the early days of urban industrial mission, many of those who had taken leadership in their own countries had participated in a summer programme carried out by the Presbyterian Institute of Industrial Relations (PIIR) based in Chicago.(15) Masao Takenaka, a leader of industrial mission in Japan, had been one of the early participants. A review of the history and programmes of PIIR convinced members of the Advisory Group of the importance of pursuing conversations with Marshal Scott, dean of PIIR. As a result, in early 1967, Marshal Scott was approached with a proposal to use the resources of PIIR as a centre for the provision of "information and advice on urban industrial mission training facilities and a service of reference and information on literature."(16)

In September 1967, the third meeting of the WCC Advisory Group on UIM took place in Racine, Wisconsin, with the aim of providing its members with an introduction to the offices and work of the Presbyterian Institute of Industrial Relations, based at McCormick Seminary in Chicago. During the Group's visit to Chicago, Marshal Scott provided a memorandum on the development of the Centre as visualized by the Advisory Group. On returning to Wisconsin, the Advisory Group took action to recognize "The Institute on the Church in Urban Industrial Society" as "the one Centre mandated by it to provide worldwide information and consultation on training facilities for urban and industrial ministries as well as an international reference centre for literature and programme information in this field."(17) The Advisory Group entered into a full cooperative relationship with the Institute in developing its services for global ecumenical use.


The Institute on the Church in Urban Industrial Society (ICUIS) began to function in Chicago in January 1967, using facilities at McCormick Seminary where the PIIR was also based. Its initial funding came through the United Presbyterian Church, while the first administratror was bobbi Wells(18) assisted by Mary Kirklin as librarian. I became Director of the Institute in May 1972 on my return from a fifteen year assignment in urban industrial mission with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

One of the first tasks of ICUIS was to provide information on training opportunities globally for those seeking further education and skills in the development of urban industrial ministries. By the 1970s, the churches' commitment to work in the cities and provide training for those working in industrial ministries had grown in all regions of the globe. The ICUIS became the place for gathering and sharing the stories of these ministries. A regular monthly Abstract Service, begun in 1969, carried stories of the churches' engagement in the struggles for justice in the cities; in this way the stories were shared with an international network.(19) Full copies of the articles were made available on request.

Urban-industrial mission, with its commitment to living out the gospel in the struggle for human dignity and justice, often came under fire from those in authority. Much of the material coming to ICUIS told of struggles like these in which ordinary people tried to maintain their dignity in the face of the powerful political and economic forces shaping their nations. Force based on military power became a common feature. For example, in September 1972 Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines declared martial law and abrogated the right of habeas corpus. In October of the same year, Park Chung Hee of South Korea followed suit, set aside the Constitution and ruled South Korea by military and police power. Speaking of this power as it was unleashed in Asia, Oh Jae Shik(20) of South Korea, secretary for Urban Industrial Mission of the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC - now the CCA), wrote in March 1973:

Power is under no circumstances neutral: it is either enslaving or liberating. Furthermore, power is inseparable from its wielder, for it involves moral, ideological and spiritual dimensions as well as organizational and physical aspects. The Christian understands power as that which God has commissioned to actualize liberation and justice in history and to restrict the forces of destructive exploitation and demonic enslavement. Therefore, the nature of power is determined by those who wield the power and how it is exercised. Depending on this, power is either a promise to the people or a betrayal of them.(21)


This kind of analysis of power became a principal feature of much of the work of urban industrial mission in Asia. The stories coming in to ICUIS told of the struggles for human rights in Asian societies as those involved in urban industrial mission stood with the urban poor and working people in the face of abusive power.

The people who suffered most from the martial law regimes established in both South Korea and the Philippines were the urban poor and the newly forming industrial working class. Any kind of organized activity - such as trade unions or neighbourhood organizations which sought justice in the face of long hours, poor working conditions, low wages and crowded and unsanitary living conditions - was met head-on by the police, the army and other forces of order.

Pastors and priests in both South Korea and the Philippines were among the first to face imprisonment for their active criticism of the martial law administrations. Stories of the churches' involvement in these struggles were gathered and abstracted by the staff of ICUIS,(22) and widely circulated in the effort to raise support for those being harassed and imprisoned for their Christian witness and action.

Representative of these stories was that of Rev. Park Hyung Kyu, a Presbyterian Korean pastor in Seoul.(23) Coming late to the ministry among urban people, his faithfulness in pursuing justice for the poor and human rights for all Koreans brought him constant surveillance and imprisonment by the authorities. Early in his ministry Park Hyung Kyu had been editor of a theological journal "Christian Thought" and then a programme director of the Christian Broadcasting System in Seoul. The year 1960 became a transition point in his ministry, when, moved by the student revolts against the government, he said: "I was shocked that the so-called Christian government, supported by so many Christians, could be so evil that the students must revolt. This awakened my responsibility in that field."

Park soon dedicated himself to a ministry among the urban poor in the city of Seoul. In September 1968 the Institute of Urban Studies and Development of Yonsei University was created with the help of Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and other Protestant church funds. As a staff member of the Institute, Park Hyung Kyu chaired the Committee for Urban Mission, which, through an action training programme in urban mission, assigned pastors and social workers to live in different slum areas of Seoul. Their task was to become acquainted with the local people and to identify the problems of their area. Park himself was pastor of a congregation among the working poor in the city.

Under the plans of the Seoul metropolitan government, urban poor families were continually under threat of eviction, and in one case this led to the removal of more than 3,400 families. Faced by such enormous problems, the Mission Committee soon evolved into the Seoul Metropolitan Committee on Community Organizing (SMCCO) in order to develop larger strategies for action. In pursuing the rights of the urban poor in Seoul, Park and his colleagues often found themselves confronted by the police; they were continually picked up, interrogated, imprisoned and in many cases, tortured. However, such inhuman treatment and long periods of imprisonment did not deter Park or his colleagues from what they saw as an unequal and brutal struggle. They saw their action as part of God's own plan:

The Christian social justice movement and urban poor mission are under the supreme command of God; we who work realize the liberation of the poor and oppressed people shall never stop our work whatever kind of suffering is forced on us. Whatever kind of yoke is placed on us, it will not be able to force us to stop our active participation in the movement for human dignity and democracy.(24)

Such stories of Christian commitment strengthened others around the world as they faced similar scenarios in their own countries. Information sharing and the building of networks of people engaged in the struggle for human rights were the life blood of urban industrial ministries in other regions of the world.


Stories of the Christian community's involvement in issues of justice around the world, gathered together by ICUIS, were published in 1973 by the WCC's Urban Rural Mission Desk under the title, The Struggle to Be Human. By this time, however, stories of those involved in urban industrial struggles had reached beyond the circle of those in UIM and were being heard by the worldwide church. Other books subsequently published by WCC/URM included People are the Subject in 1980 and A Community of Clowns in 1987.(25)

The worldwide expansion of the work of urban industrial mission led to the establishment of information centres in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The initial need which had culminated in the creation of ICUIS had become a global concern. The very nature of the struggle of which UIM spoke required research and information-exchange at local and regional levels. Many situations called for immediate responses on behalf of those being harassed, imprisoned and tortured. Furthermore, there was a need for mustering international pressure against repressive government actions. "Urgent action" networks began to take shape, especially in the United States and in Europe, where there was the possibility of exerting political pressure on recalcitrant governments.(26)

Among the most effective regional information centres to develop in the 1970s was "Documentation for Action Groups in Asia" (DAGA) based in Hong Kong. DAGA was set up by Oh Jae Shik, one of the early pioneers of urban industrial mission in north-east Asia. Like many of the other early urban industrial missioners in Asia, Oh Jae Shik saw the need for creating such institutions as a means of undergirding and sustaining the ongoing work of training, information gathering and communicating about urban industrial mission.(27) Over the years, DAGA has continued the work of reporting on urban industrial ministries throughout the Asian region, fostering investigative reporting in the areas of race and minority issues, transnational corporations and economic justice. It has sought to provide the kind of information that is often missing from the international press.

During a meeting in Hong Kong in December 1993, DAGA celebrated its twentieth anniversary.(28) Dr Kim Yong Bock, DAGA's first director, recalled its early role in providing vital linkage between workers in Asia for telling of their struggles through a larger information network. It was through the gathering of these stories and reflecting on their meaning in the biblical context that DAGA became instrumental in developing "a theology of the people."(29)


As regional information centres like DAGA began to develop, ICUIS moved its focus towards the changing urban and industrial scene facing the churches in the United States. It developed Abstract Service to carry more information on US-related issues. More time was devoted to initiating seminars and conferences on specific urban and industrial issues such as the massive economic dislocation created through plant closings, the social problems of high-rise housing, and the increasing homelessness which had become a problem in all major US cities.

By the 1970s the industrial scene in the United States had changed dramatically. America's unchallenged economic position, inherited in the post-World War II period, faced new industrial competition in Asia and Europe. The rise of the oil producers' consortium (OPEC) forced an escalation in energy prices putting great pressure on her economy. The dramatic transnationalization of corporations moved the struggle for justice "for workplace and living space" to the global scene. In the light of the Christian faith's advocacy for justice, sharing the US story with those close to the struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America became a primary concern.


1 The Division of World Mission and Evangelism (DWME), later renamed the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), evolved from the International Missionary Council (IMC) which had its roots in the historic ecumenical mission conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. In November 1961 at the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, India, the IMC was integrated into the WCC and became the Division of World Mission and Evangelism. W. Stanley Rycroft, The Ecumenical Witness of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, Board of Christian Education of the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, 1968, p.114

2 The Advisory Group on Urban Industrial Mission was set up by the WCC following the 1963 meeting of the DWME in Mexico City. Presentations on the urgent need for joint action by the churches in urban industrial mission by Harry Daniel, then rector of St. Mark's Cathedral in Bangalore, India, and by George Todd of the Board of National Missions, United Presbyterian Church, USA, led to the creation of the Advisory Group.

3 Paul B. Loeffler, Industrial Mission research in Bangalore, India, 1961; staff member of WCC Division of World Mission and Evangelism (1961-1968), Secretary of WCC Advisory Group on Urban Industrial Mission; Missioner in Beirut, Lebanon (1968-1973); Author of The Law man Abroad in the Mission of the Church (1962), (cf. biographical files, WCC, Geneva).

4 Urban and Industrial Mission Circular letter No. 5, WCC-DWME, dated 30 July 1965 p. 1.

5 UIM Circular letter No.5, op.cit.p.2.

6 The First Asian Conference on Industrial Evangelism in Manila, Philippines, June 1958, drew 55 delegates from 15 countries of Asia. As a fraternal worker in industrial mission to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (1957-1972), I served on the local arrangements committee and as editor of the conference report. This Conference was the starting point for the network of urban industrial mission workers and ministries which grew into the Urban Rural Mission Committee of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

7 "God's People in Asian Industrial Society" meeting in Kyoto, Japan, May 1966, was a follow up of the First Asian Conference on Industrial Evangelism meeting in Manila. This meeting had an added emphasis on the training of laity in industrial society: see Robert M. Fukada, ed., The Report of the EACC's Conference on Christians in Industry and Lay Training, Kyoto, (1967).

8 Masao Takenaka, Professor of Social Ethics, Doshisha School of Theology, Kyoto, Japan; Author of Reconciliation and Renewal In Japan (1957).

9 Church Labor Letter, no. 100, A Commemorative Issue, p.8.

10 Cipriano Cortez Malonzo; itinerant pastor in Cotobato, Mindanao (1942-1944); President of Mindanao Federation of Labor, now National Federation of Labor (1948-1994); founder, Philippine Trades Union Council (1954); National Christian Urban Industrial Mission Committee of the Philippines NCC (1960-1970); unpublished interview by the author with Cipriano Malonzo, Manila, December 1992.

11 Silliman University was founded by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions at Dumaguete, Negros, Philippines, in 1901; see David S. Hibbard, Silliman University; The First Quarter, (1926).

12 Op.cit., The Impact of Industry and its Challenges to the Church. p. 104ff.

13 UIM Circular Letter No. 6, WCC-DWME, 11 August 1966, p.2.

14 The Church Labor Letter was begun by Henry Jones and John Hamlin in Geneva, Switzerland, while they awaited reassignment to posts in Asia. Henry Jones continued the publication after he was assigned to the United Church of Japan in industrial mission in 1953. The Church Labor Letter continued to be sent out, first from Osaka, then from the School of Theology of Doshisha University in Kyoto. It covered not only developments in industrial mission in Japan, but reports on projects of urban industrial mission in the Asian region.

15 The Presbyterian Institute of Industrial Relations (PIIR), 1945-1975, was a training programme for seminarians, clergy and laity, established by the 1944 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, and first housed at the Labor Temple on New York's lower East Side in January 1945. Marshal L. Scott was its first Dean. It moved to the campus of McCormick Theological Seminary in 1952 where it remained until its integration into the Institute on the Church in Urban Industrial Society (ICUIS) in 1975. For the story of the PIIR see Richard P. Poethig, Toward World Wide Industrial Mission: The Presbyterian Story, 1945-1975, American Presbyterians, Vol.73, No. 1, spring 1995, p.35ff.

16 UIM Circular Letter No.7, WCC-DWME, Edinburgh House, London; letter from Paul Loeffler dated 13 February 1967.

17 Minutes of Third Meeting of the Advisory Group on Urban Industrial Mission, WCC-DWME, 8-11 September 1967, p.4.

18 Bobbi Wells-Hargleroad, administrator of the Institute on the Church in Urban Industrial Society in 1967, served on its staff until 1981. She was responsible for editorial oversight of the Abstract Service. while Mary Kirklin served as librarian of the resources of ICUIS.

19 ICUIS library resources were integrated into the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library, located at the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, in the late 1980s. The Abstract Service information collection and additional ICUIS publications were given to the library of the University of Illinois, Chicago campus.

20 Oh Jae Shik, Secretary, Korean Student Christian Council (1960-1964; 1970); Executive Secretary for Urban Industrial Mission, Christian Conference of Asia (1970-1979); WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, then Director of Unit on Justice, Peace, and Creation, 1980-1993.

21 The People Come of Age, Church Labor Letter, No. 130, p.2f.

22 Materials on the Philippines and South Korea appeared in ICUIS Country Profiles on The Philippines, August 1974; South Korea, October 1974; South Korea, Part II, April 1976.

23 See also The Story of the Rev. Park Hyung-Kyu in Hugh Lewin, compiler, A Community of Clowns: Testimonies of People in Urban Rural Mission, (WCC Geneva, 1987), p.273ff.

24 People's Power, People's Church: A Short History of Urban Poor Mission in South Korea. (CCA-URM and ACPO: Hong Kong, 1987), p. 111.

25 All three publications were published by the Urban Rural Mission Desk, Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, WCC, Geneva. Bobbi Wells Hargleroad (ed.), Struggle to be Human: Stories of Urban-Industrial Mission 1973; Leon Howell, People are the Subject: Stories of Urban-Rural Mission, 1980; Hugh Lewin (compiler), A Community of Clowns: Testimonies of People in Urban-Rural Mission, 1987.

26 The Churches' Urban Action Network in El Salvador (CUANES) was one such network created in the mid-1970s at the height of the disappearances of church-related people in El Salvador. The network was based in Chicago. Disappearances were immediately reported by US church personnel on the scene to a network in the United States and Europe which promptly responded with telegrams to government authorities in El Salvador, working through representatives in the US and European governments.

27 Oh Jae Shik, as Secretary for Urban Rural Mission of the Christian Conference of Asia (1970-1979), played a crucial role in the growth of the UIM network, particularly in telling the story of the churches' involvement.

28 Proceedings of the twentieth anniversary of DAGA can be found in Voices, the joint publication of CCAY-URM and DAGA, Hong Kong, Vol. 17, No.4, December 1993, p.36ff.

29 "Minjung" theology or "a theology of the people" has become a major stream of theological thinking in Korea and the wider Asian scene. See also Minjung Theology: People as the Subjects of History, Singapore: CCA, 1981, and Kim Yong Bock, Messiah and Minjung: Christ's Solidarity with the People for New Life, Hong Kong: Urban Rural Mission, CCA, 1992.

RICHARD P. POETHIG, currently coordinating a joint project of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on "The Overseas History of the Prebyterian Church in the 20th Century", was director of tht Institute on the Church in Urban Industrial Society (ICUIS) from 1972-1982.
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Author:Poethig, Richard P.
Publication:International Review of Mission
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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