Mission and Memory: Documenting World Christianity in the 21st Century
DABOH Consultation, 18-23 August 2008, Balaton, Hungary
1. Elizabeth T Pulanco (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
ForATL Convenor; ForATL Area Representative for the Philippines
2. Christabel Wong (Email: email@example.com)
ForATL Treasurer; ForATL Area Representative for Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam; and Chief Librarian, Malaysia Theological
This report intends to give a brief introduction to ForATL and its initiatives towards
the documentation of Christianity in Asia, as well as the challenges faced.
This DABOH Consultation is all about the important task of documenting world
Christianity. Indeed, effective and fruitful research depends largely on the ability to
locate well-documented resources on the selected topic of research. As such,
documentation and good finding tools are key to research. Whilst Western
Christianity, by and large, is fairly well documented and finding tools are reasonably
accessible, such facilities and the impetus for their development have been sadly
lacking for Asian resources. Language barriers and illiteracy also impede the
documentation and access.
However, the past two decades or so has seen a growing awareness of the
significance of Asian Christianity in the whole story and history of Christianity. More
emphasis has also been given in Asian theological institutions on the Christian faith
as understood, experienced and lived out in our own local context, culture and
history. This has led to increased activity in documenting Asian Christianity, but the
task is faced with many challenges.
II. The Forum of Asian Theological Librarians
1. Our history
Realizing the importance of collecting Asian resources in the teaching, constructing
and utilization of theology in Asian contexts, in May 1991 a Consultation of Asian
Theological Librarians was initiated by the Program for Theology and Cultures in
Asia. The late Mrs. Rita England of New Zealand, the PTCA Librarian at that time,
took on the immense task of organizing the Consultation, which was held at the
McGilvary Faculty of Theology, Chiang Mai, Thailand. A core group was
subsequently appointed to look into various matters arising from the Consultation.
Several issues and initiatives discussed by the core group over two meetings in
October 1991 (Singapore) and July 1992 (Manila) included:
• the possibility of a Master’s degree in Theological Librarianship under the
• to form a network of the theological librarians in Asia
• to publish a directory of Asian theological libraries
• to compile guidelines for Asian theological librarians
• that ForATL should be independent from PTCA and carry out its own programs
• to emphasize the development of Asian resources.
Due to certain circumstances, the group remained inactive for several years until Rita
and John England mobilized into action to organize a second Consultation in
October 1997. They also helped to secure sponsors and grants to finance the
Consultation. This second Consultation, held in Yogyakarta saw several key
decisions being made, namely:
• the group was formally recognized as the Forum of Asian Theological Librarians
• the first ForATL Executive Committee and area representatives were elected into
• the ForATL objectives were formulated and finalized; viz.
i. to facilitate the development and exchange of resources for theology in the
ii. to encourage and support the formation of:
- national theological library associations or networks
- national depositories of Christian literature
- union listings, directory of Asian theological libraries, guidelines, indexes,
bibliographies, etc. for publication
iii. to promote cooperation among, and training of, theological librarians;
iv. to arrange short-term courses and workshops; and
v. to develop an Asia-wide network of theological libraries
• a draft Constitution was drawn up
At the third Consultation in Bangkok in February 2003, the ForATL Constitution was
finalized and accepted.
2. Our members
According to our directory (DATL 2001), we have 66 theological libraries/librarians
listed with some additional 30 new members joining our number in 2004 after a
ForATL-related training event in Bangalore. To-date, we have a total of almost a
hundred registered members in ForATL, coming from 23 countries in Asia and
ForATL membership is open to libraries, practicing librarians, and any other
organization or individual interested in the development of Asian theological
resources and archives. Since no membership fees are charged at present, we are
indeed thankful to various individuals and organizations who have financially
supported our projects and activities.
3. Our activities, plans and projects
In line with our objectives, ForATL has initiated and organized several activities and
projects over the years. Some key projects and activities include:
i) Directory of Asian Theological Libraries (DATL)
• 1st and 2nd editions published in 1997 and 2002 respectively
• 3rd edition currently in the works
• Primary objectives:
- to aid networking and resource-sharing among theological libraries
- to identify location of special collections and collections of Asian resources
ii) ForATL News
• Official newsletter of the Forum of Asian Theological Librarians
• Published twice a year in June and December; first issue was in June 2003
• Primary objectives
- to disseminate useful information and articles
- to introduce theological libraries and promote networking
iii) Ministering Asian Faith and Wisdom
England, Rita & John. Ministering Asian faith and wisdom : a manual for
theological librarians in Asia. Quezon City : New Day Publishers ; Delhi : ISPCK,
2001. (Acronym: MAFW)
• fulfilled ForATL’s need for a handbook on librarianship that not only focuses on
the theological context, but also the Asian context.
b. Networking and resource sharing
i) Internet Database of Asian Theological Journals
• Rationale: lack of comprehensive indexes for Asian theological journals,
especially non-English titles
• Status: assign various theological libraries to index selected key theological
journals in their holdings or country
ii) Union list of Postgraduate Theses
• Primary objectives:
- to locate resources and aid research
- to identify subjects already written to prevent duplication
iii) Website and mailing list
• Website: www.foratl.org
• Blog: http://forum-theolibrarian.blogspot.com/
• Mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foratl
Post message: firstname.lastname@example.org
c. Training programmes
• Rationale: a large number of librarians in Asia do not have formal librarianship
• Primary objective: to provide librarianship training with an emphasis on the
theological library setting in the Asian context
• Some training programmes:
i) Theological librarianship programme
- Theological librarianship course started in 1998 at Lutheran Theological
Seminary, Hong Kong, in answer to the call for theological librarianship
training in the Asian context. LTS is currently offering Diploma, MA (Theology)
and MDiv programmes in theological librarianship.
- Explorations underway in recent years for Philippines to also offer theological
librarianship degree programmes
ii) Short-term courses
- With the help of The Board of Theological Education of Senate of Serampore
College (BTESSC), South Asia Theological Research Institute (SATHRI),
WCC-ETE and CCA, a month-long Archives & Records Management training
was organized in Bangalore, 2004. Papers and reports published in:
Prabhakar, Samson; Wati Longchar & Arun Kumar Wesley (eds.). Religiocultural
traditions and heritages : collection, preservation and interpretation.
Bangalore : BTESSC/SATHRI, 2005.
- In consultation with WCC-ETE for possible short-term librarianship training
courses in Cambodia and Vietnam
- Provided subsidies for short librarianship training courses
Basic librarianship training for theological librarians, held at Jakarta,
Indonesia, 7-8 August 2003.
Library automation training course for theological librarians from member
schools of the Asscociation of Theological Schools in Indonesia, held at
Surabaya, Indonesia, 8-19 September 2003.
Philippines Theological Librarians Association Seminar-Workshop, held at
Cebu City, Philippines, 12-14 September 2007.
Basic librarianship training course for theological librarians, held at
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 22-27 September 2008.
iii) ForATL Consultation and Workshop
- Consultation and workshop once every 3-5 years as an avenue for networking,
resource-sharing and training, and to elect office-bearers.
- 1st Consultation and Workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1991. Theme: Asian
Resources and Theological Library Development.
- 2nd Consultation and Workshop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 1998. Theme:
Creativity and Partnership: Resourcing Asian Theological Libraries.
- 3rd Consultation and Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, 2003. Followed up on
initiatives launched in previous Consultations.
- 4th Consultation and Workshop in Seremban, Malaysia, 2006. Theme:
Strengthening The Collaboration Between Theological Librarians And
Scholars Toward Growth in Asia.
- 5th Consultation and Workshop to be held in Singapore, 2009. Theme: Asian
theological librarians moving on and reaching out : professional development
and collaboration in the light of emerging technologies.
4. Some common challenges faced
- key challenge: distance and workload main barriers to collaboration and carrying
out of projects.
“Theological librarians in Asia have quite a crucial and indispensable role for all the
work of theological education and for the equipping of all God’s people for God’s
mission in our countries. They are full team members in this with specific skills and
ministries, without which the riches of faith and witness in our region, the history and
theological lifeblood, could not be preserved and shared. They are not only guardians
of past records of the Church’s work and witness over many centuries and guides to
its present resources, but often initiators in encouraging student research, or
theological writing, and in educating the whole church in the mission of God within the
surrounding community. Yet often they are very isolated people, without the support of
either their theological librarian colleagues or the recognition of their status by faculty
and administration within their institution. Adequate training for their crucial role is also
sadly lacking.” - Rita and John England, introd., p. xiv, MAFW.
- The lack of support faced by theological librarians has been addressed
somewhat by the formation of ForATL and other theological library associations
in various countries. Asian countries that have theological library associations are:
Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Malaysia, not forgetting Australia and New
- However, the recognition of the status of the librarian as a full team member of
the faculty is still a debated issue in many institutions.
Other problems faced are ones common to librarians and libraries almost
- lack of funds
- lack of personnel
c) Documentation in Asian Christianity
• Although Asian finding tools exist, these are generally not as accessible to the
wider research community due to limited finance and technology for
dissemination, as well as language barriers.
• Low literacy levels and the fact that Christianity is a minority religion in large parts
of Asia further limit the availability of documented resources and finding tools.
• Response, cooperation and follow-through – projects lower in priority as
compared to essential routine library administrative tasks.
• Shortage of library personnel and time – tedious task!
• Collecting resources and recording oral histories often needs lots of energy, effort
and powers of persuasion!
• Difficulties in translation – library staff often not effectively multilingual
• Reluctance to list holdings or donate materials due to controversial and sensitive
• Some problems listed in the report by Eun-hui Park (archivist, Korean Anglican
Archives) to the Bangalore archives training in 2004 (Religio-cultural traditions
and heritages, p. 210-211):
- few among those who were engaged in this historical documentation are still
alive. Significant effort should be mad to secure information from any of these
- Due to the rotation of priests every five years … record quantity, consistency
and accuracy are dependent on the interest level of the individual priests at
the individual church level
- a smaller number than is needed appear to recognize the importance of this
historical record [Christabel’s note: churches often only realise the importance
of historical and archival records only when they want to celebrate an
- the nature of records management does not show itself in short-term benefits
nor does it provide incentives for aggressive financial investment.
- lack of efficient equipment and information systems.
- need for the systematic and regulated collection and management of records
- imperative for establishment of regulations from the top level of the church
organization with an expression of strong support for church records
IV. Concluding Words
The documentation of Christianity in Asia seems a daunting task. Nevertheless it is a
necessary task that brings rewarding results. For in the task of documentation, we
recover our past, we chart our future, we discover our identity, and we recognize
God’s presence and movement in history.
For all of us engaged in the task of documentation, I’d like to end with a prayer
written by Rita and John England in MAFW (p.198), adapted slightly for this occasion:
ETERNAL GOD of all peace, justice and joy
Known to us in Jesus Christ through your Holy Spirit,
Show to us again the life of Jesus in our midst
And open our hearts and minds to his light and grace.
God of all truth, beauty and wisdom,
We thank you for the living heritage of all those
Who have gathered, preserved and passed on the faith stories of your people.
We thank you for calling us to join this ministry as librarians and historians;
We dedicate ourselves to search out, care for and share all writings and stories
That nourish the life and faith of our people.
God of history, insight, vision and hope,
We praise you for all that reveals your light and knowledge on our paths.
Grant us your Spirit’s strength for our ministry as librarians and historians
As we grow in fellowship and support wherever you have called us.
Into your hands, loving God, we give our study, our work,
Our institutions, our very selves.
Journey with us to your coming Kingdom
Through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns
Now and forever more. Amen.