Peace advocate receives World Methodist Council award
Former Uniting Church peace advocate Joy Balazo received one of the global Church’s highest international honours on February 14: the World Methodist Peace Award.
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, presented Ms Balazo with the award during a service of celebration at Wesley Mission, Sydney.
First awarded in 1977, the World Methodist Peace Award is given to a person or persons who have displayed courage, creativity and consistency in pursuing peace and equal rights for individuals throughout the world.
Previous recipients of the award include Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Elias Chacour, Kofi Annan, and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.
Wesley Mission Superintendent the Rev. Dr Keith Garner, who read the award citation at the ceremony, said Ms Balazo’s listing among such distinguished recipients was recognition of the affection with which she was held.
The President of the Uniting Church’s Assembly, the Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, said, “This award is a fantastic acknowledgement of Joy Balazo’s work as a champion for peace in our region and as a peacemaking role model for the Uniting Church.
“Her work and the ongoing work of UnitingWorld to engage young people in our region in peacemaking is a powerful example of our mission for reconciliation.”
UnitingWorld’s National Director, Dr Kerry Enright, said, “Joy’s leadership and passion for peace characterised her significant ministry with UnitingWorld. She recognises the call to peace in all its fullness as being at the heart of the gospel.”
He said from her first workshop in 2001 Ms Balazo built respect for people’s differences, practising peaceful conflict resolution, touching the lives of many individuals and communities, overcoming injustice, restoring human rights and building peace.
Bishop Abrahams said, “Through your work and witness we have a glimpse of what it truly means to do theology in the public square.”
He said his fervent hope and prayer was that others would draw inspiration from Ms Balazo and become agents of healing and transformation.
He said as church members entered Lent it was appropriate to honour Ms Balazo and recommit themselves to building just peace with each other, with the earth, and to build a just earth.
Ms Balazo’s response included the song lyrics “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”.
She said peace and justice was everyone’s business and that she firmly believed there was goodness in every person because they all came from one good source: a loving God.
Building peace was mandated, she said, it was not an option.
Joy Balazo was born in the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao as the youngest of nine children. After a short period in a Catholic convent, she decided that her life’s work was to be in the midst of the world’s pain and left the convent to enter the challenging world of Human Rights and Peacebuilding.
She worked with ecumenical and Human Rights organisations in the Philippines before coming to Australia in the 1980s and, through her involvement in the Uniting Church, becoming a leader in the Asia-Pacific region as a voice for peace.
She worked with the Uniting Church for over 20 years, establishing the Young Ambassadors for Peace, acting as their leader and working with local communities to establish eight peacemaking centres in Asia and the Pacific.
Over the years YAP workshops were held in places like the Solomon Islands, the Indonesian island of Ambon, the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, India and Bougainville.
The YAP program empowered more than a thousand young people across the Asia-Pacific to step up to become peacemakers in their troubled communities.
Ms Balazo was at the centre of the peacebuilding Maluku Ambassadors for Peace in Ambon, Indonesia, in 1999 when sectarian violence erupted and Christians and Muslims battled through the streets and the entire chain of islands. Three quarters of a million people were displaced by the outbreak and an estimated 5,000 lives were lost. Tensions were high, and help was needed.
Ms Balazo and UnitingWorld responded to the violence with humanitarian aid and a call for peace between neighbours and faiths.
In Ambon there was killing in the streets but over a decade later she is still used as a mediator to help resolve conflicts among Muslim groups.
Ms Balazo’s thirst for peace is one that crosses the lines that are sometimes drawn between tribes, between states and between faiths.
She worked to bring together 32 clans in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea and helped end tribal conflicts in the area. She also worked in the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, the Thailand-Burma border, Northeastern India, Timor Leste and Bougainville.
She recently returned to her home in the Philippines to work in Mindanao among the indigenous Subanen people of the Zamboanga Peninsula, supporting their efforts for peace and sustainable livelihood. The struggle for peace will not be an easy one, but for Ms Balazo, it never has been.
The World Methodist Council
The World Methodist Council finds its origins in a conference held in London, England, at Wesley’s Chapel in 1881 where some 400 delegates from 30 Methodist bodies around the world gathered in an Ecumenical Methodist Conference.
The World Methodist Council is composed of between 250 to 528 delegates elected from its member churches. From 2001 onward, the council has averaged 400 members.
Representation is determined by church membership and financial contribution to the work of the Council. In 1956, the World Methodist Council established a permanent headquarters in the United States at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.