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SHEP: Our difference is the key to our strength

KOTA KINABALU – The work of the SHEP ecumenical partnership has continued unabated over the last 28 years for the mutual purpose of experiencing and living the mission of Christ as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

This year, seven Germans from the district of Heilbronn, Germany took time to visit several religious places, interior villages and alongside tourist attractions in Sabah from Oct 26 – Nov 10.

The ecumenical visit, organized biannually under the Sabah Heilbronn Ecumenical Partnership, or better known as SHEP, was led by Dr Paul Porodong, Chairman of SHEP Committee (Sabah). He hails from the Protestant Church in Sabah (PCS).

Dr Paul, feeling positive about the “partnership” underlined that “It (SHEP Partnership) has brought me closer to my Catholic brothers and sisters.”

He added, the “journey” brings a realization that all churches are facing similar challenges yet also experiencing a revival of joy. SHEP is an opportunity to acknowldege that our difference is key to our strength. 

The theme of this year’s visit “We Partner, We Alive,We Journey” was aimed at reflecting on how the Partnership has grown over the years, how it has helped Church partners to stay alive spiritually, and how SHEP would journey forward together as Christians.

During a dialogue held in Sandakan on Nov 3, the members concurred that the differences of each Church partner are the cornerstones which form the strong bond of SHEP.

They also acknowledged that SHEP overcomes differences in language, culture and principles of faith while at the same time it appreciates its diversity.

Anita Lierheimer, leading the German partners, put it in a nutshell “We have experienced that, through SHEP, people of different regions can come together as equals in peace and love. It is a possible phenomenon!”

To lend weight to her statement, she explained “This feeling of belonging together makes us equal. This sense is also experienced in the divine services of all religious confessions. It is not what separates us that is most important, but what unites us. In our prayers together, the cross is the centre to which there is no restriction, whether we belong to the catholic or the protestant church.”  

Apart from church visits, ecumenical prayers, fellowships and dialogue, the delegates also had a chance to meet up and exchange ideas with leaders of Sabah Church partners: Bishop Dr James Wong of BCCM Sabah, Archbishop John Wong of KK Archdiocese, Bishop Julius Gitom of Sandakan Diocese, Bishop  Cornelius Piong of Keningau Diocese, and the General Secretary of PCS, Christoper Ogodong who represented the President of PCS.

The visit started off from Kota Kinabalu, which  moved on to other districts namely Penampang, Papar, Matunggong, Kudat, Pitas, Paitan, Sandakan, Telupid, Ranau, Sapulut, Keningau and ended in Tenom.

During their 16-day stay in Sabah, they were hosted by local families, which enabled the delegates to experience the norms and culture of Sabah families from the different denominations, races and origins.

Members of SHEP are the Roman Catholic Church in Sabah, the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia in Sabah (BCCM), the Protestant Church in Sabah (PCS) and the Catholic Deanery of Heilbronn-Neckarsulm as well as the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, District of Heilbronn. – SHEP Sabah/Brenda Majimbun

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