12th Assembly 2009

Uniting Church support 'critical' says East Timor Moderator

The Rev. Moises da Silva is Moderator of the Protestant Church in East Timor (Igreja Protestante iha Timor Larosae or IPTL). As one of Australia’s nearest neighbours, Mr da Silva said the opportunity to participate in the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church “meant a great deal".

“I feel it’s very democratic, transparent. There’s a sense of family here. There’s a lot for me to learn from this experience,” said Mr da Silva, who was imprisoned during Indonesian occupation on suspicion of being pro-independence.

dasilvaSpeaking through a translator — the Rev. John Barr, UnitingWorld’s Associate Director of Church Solidarity for Asia — Mr da Silva said that the support of the Uniting Church in Australia has been critical to the Protestant Church in East Timor ever since Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1975.

“The church in Australia has always supported our struggle for independence whereas the government has been very vague about where they stood on this issue. The Uniting Church has been very reliable and dependable in their support for us,” he said. 

Protestant Church members are a minority in East Timor, with the Catholic Church claiming over 90% of the population but, according to Mr da Silva, the relationship with the Uniting Church in Australia ensures the Protestant Church is seen as valuable and as a church that, “Has something to contribute to the community.”

Mr da Silva says East Timor has faced many challenges in the areas of justice, education and development and that the needs of the church there remain high.

“We’ve celebrated our 21st anniversary since the Protestant Church was established in East Timor but in reality we haven’t really achieved independence yet — we’re still in a dependent mode.

“We are independent in the sense that the rest of the community is independent but we still rely very heavily on our partner churches, particularly the Uniting Church in Australia.”

Mr da Silva said the most pressing needs of the region are health, education and capacity building toward self-sufficiency. He also expressed a desire for more on the ground connections between the church in East Timor and the Uniting Church in Australia.

“My hope is our relationship will continue to grow as an open relationship and that it will grow not just in the synods but in the presbyteries, with the local areas in Australia,” he said.