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Author: UnitingWorld

Mary’s father told her not to do it.

Her husband told her not to do it. Everyone in her community told her not to do it.

She did it anyway…

Mary went to college to begin training to become the first woman pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu.

It may seem like a small thing, but in a place where the dominant culture says that men  are the leaders and women follow, you simply cannot imagine what a triumph this was, or how delighted I was to meet Mary recently and hear her story.

“I am one of seven children and all my life I wanted to serve God,” Mary proudly told me, as chickens scratched nearby. “In grade six, I passed all my exams – the only girl in my whole village. I went on to high school in Port Vila. I wanted to be a minister in the church.”

Top of her year right through to grade ten, Mary’s dream had been to go on to university and theological college. But she was set for heartbreak when her family chose her brother instead of Mary to be given the chance for higher education.

“I trained to be a schoolteacher, but I didn’t give up my hope of pastoral training,” Mary said. “And after a few years I went back to do a course through the theological college. My father told me not to continue. He said “People do not want this! They don’t want the women preaching and leading. It’s not our culture.” I told him ‘No Dad, this is my Christian faith. I need to do this. And if the young men can do it, why can’t I?”

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

Mary’s challenges will be familiar to you if you’ve read about our work in the Pacific before. It’s not just patriarchy that has held women back from opportunities and enabled high rates of domestic violence. Traditional readings of the Bible have also justified unequal power between men and women.

That’s why Mary’s determination to challenge the status quo, following her call into ministry despite the difficulties, is so significant.

“I finished my training and was sent to teach religious instruction at one of the high schools and also helped with theological instruction in a training centre, but I became very sick and had to return home,” Mary continued. “That’s when one of the local families suggested I marry, and introduced me to the man who would become my husband – they explained that I would have good support for my ministry and I was excited! We married and soon our first son was born.”

But the next few years continued to hold many challenges for the young family. Placements were hard to come by, and Mary was only offered remote areas in which to serve. Both men and women were uncomfortable with her leadership and it was considered taboo for her to speak in public or to be involved in decision making.

“As I studied more and more from the Bible, I began to ask questions of the village chiefs. ‘Why are women always treated so badly? Why should they suffer so much?’” Mary recalls.

“And as I took more leadership, my own husband began to spend more and more time away from home. Eventually he told me: ‘I have fallen in love with someone else. I have taken another wife.’ My heart was broken.”

Now on her own with three sons, there were few places Mary could turn to for support.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult life can be for women and girls like Mary in the Pacific. Poverty and violence tighten like a noose on those without family networks because most women don’t work – they’re full-time mothers and wives. Vulnerable and often silenced, there simply haven’t been places for women to speak out or find support for their plight.

Until now.

Stirred by their belief that equality between men and women is at the very heart of God, our church partners across the Pacific are taking action. In a culture where 90% of people identify as Christian, they recognise their influence to help end violence and create a future of dignity and equality for women and men.

You can help our church partners change lives and end family violence Donate today.

The breakthrough – and with it, relief for women like Mary – really began with a meeting of leaders just a few years ago. Ministers, government leaders and lay people came together from across the Pacific.

Solomon Islander Reverend Dr Cliff Bird, alongside his wife Siera and using resources developed with the assistance of UnitingWorld, opened the Bible for the first time to this influential group to teach the richness of life available when we recognise the equality of both men and women.

Rev Dr Cliff and Siera Bird

The Birds taught partnership. They taught trust and cooperation.

They taught the truth found in Genesis that both man and woman are created in the image of the same God, with equal value and potential.

They taught the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus non-violently challenged the Pharisees and Scribes to prevent violence against the woman; “Where was the man who committed adultery?” they asked.

They taught Paul’s description to the Galatians about their unity and equal value in the eyes of God: “…there is no longer male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus.”

And they taught the freedom that can be found when men and women work together in partnership, unravelling how centuries of unquestioned male dominance was ruining the harmony God intended for us all.

Change is happening. For many, the teaching was a complete revelation. They’d simply never heard anything like it. Men openly wept. They recognised the way superiority feeds arrogance and seeds violence. And they asked for forgiveness. They were hungry for a new way to relate to one another and their community.

The men went back to their churches and communities. They began the slow and painstaking work of committing to address the systemic inequalities that characterised their lives, homes and institutions; making plans to live, teach and workshop their new knowledge.

In their own lives, they began to make small changes – listening to their wives, acknowledging their daughters, cleaning the house and taking a bigger role in their children’s lives. And they began to recognise acts of “family discipline” for what they were – often violent and abusive – within their communities and homes.

As we supported our partners to lead more workshops in their churches, we began to hear more of these stories, over months and years from across the Pacific. We realised that this was a way to address inequality and violence that cuts through at all levels.

A Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati, 2019

Incredibly, the work was recognised by the Australian Government. They saw that in many Pacific societies, one of the most effective ways to make change was by supporting churches to re-examine their theology, create advocates and communicate messages of equality through religious networks. They recognised the enormous potential that churches hold as agents of change in communities right across the Pacific. They’ve been a supporter of this work ever since, learning from our partners’ resources and experts.

We know this approach can make a difference to the lives of women and men in the Pacific; restoring equality, reducing violence and helping girls thrive. But we need your support. For centuries, the implicit and explicit teaching of church and culture has been that women are subordinate to men, with all the assumptions that go with it. Unravelling this mindset is long-term, difficult work. Click here to donate now.

In Vanuatu where Mary has struggled all these years, Pastor Nipi was one of many people to attend gender theology workshops for men and women we’ve facilitated with our partners over the past three years.

“I never knew what gender balance was or what it meant in relation to the Bible,” he told me. “At first I thought – what is this ‘gender balance’ they are talking about? We never believed men and women could be equal. But as I made my studies and we talked, I realised there is something there for me to learn! It has infected me! I like it!”

Once a sceptic, Pastor Nipi is now a colleague of Mary and one of many enthusiasts spreading the word about gender equality across the Pacific. He has now been tasked with preparing theological and practical resources for the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to lead the work with communities in remote and rural regions throughout the entire country. From unquestioningly assuming that only men had the power and skills to lead, he now believes that women have a vital and equal role to play.

“Working together, women and men can improve life for people in Vanuatu and the whole of the Pacific Islands,” Pastor Nipi says.

“We are using the radio, television and newspaper to talk about gender balance and what the Bible says and it has created such interest! Many people don’t believe until they study the Bible notes we make and then they say, ‘Oh! There is something here for us!’ And they are accepting women as equals. I cannot tell you what a change this is for us.”

Pastor Nipi says he’s had feedback from rural Vanuatu, high in the mountains and remote areas, that the material being produced is being read with astonishment. In plain language at the level people can understand, this teaching is a revolution in people’s lives.

Pastor Nipi, Vanuatu

Pastor Nipi, Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, we supported our partners to produce television commercials that call out violence against women as robbing men and women of the fullness of life that God offers. We’ll support more of our partners to do the same in their different contexts across the Pacific.

In Papua New Guinea, theological college students, both male and female, are excited to be attending our first workshops to learn exactly where and how Jesus valued the lives of women.

In Kiribati, we’re preparing plans to combat family breakdown and violence by teaching parenting skills that emphasise the equality and dignity of all people, as well as the rights and responsibilities of boys and girls.

In the Solomon Islands, our partners recently hosted their first gender equality theology workshops led by Solomon Islander theologians. As a result, church leaders took it to their national assembly and resolved that gender equality is a biblical imperative. We are now supporting them as they create contextually appropriate resources on gender equality and child protection and roll it out across their churches.

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

“Here is what I want women and girls to know,” Mary told me from the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting, where she was an eager participant.

“We can do this together. We can make this change. In the community, in our churches and in the government – we have an important role to play. And men? Do not criticise us. We can do this together. We can share the responsibility of leadership together.”

Mary continues to serve the church in Vanuatu, no longer on the edges but as a far more respected and integrated member of the community. Her challenges are far from over, but she has come further than she could ever have imagined. The Gender Equality Theology project has helped turn the tide and now many are following in Mary’s footsteps. Since the first workshops were held, a woman has been appointed as the first Presbytery Clerk (Lead Minister) and six more women have become pastors in the PCV.

Mary’s success shows that together we can turn tragedy into triumph.

Your gift today can provide our partners in the Pacific with the ability to facilitate workshops, train workshop leaders, produce training resources and create advocates for gender equality and anti-violence. We know it works. We just need the resources to make it happen.

In a world with far too much bad news, I pray you’ll join me in celebrating Mary’s achievements and supporting more women like her in the Pacific who are ready to overcome inequality and violence.

Mary’s triumph cost her dearly. But in a world full of tragedy, she’s absolutely determined to see more triumphs.

Aren’t you?

You can help our church partners change lives and end family violence with the biblical message of equality between women and men.

Click here to donate now.

As protests escalate across West Papua in Indonesia this week, the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has called on member churches to pray for justice and peace in the region.

In a statement released yesterday, the PCC condemned “institutional racism against the indigenous people of West (Tanah) Papua,” and reiterated calls for an urgent investigation into ongoing human rights abuses.

The protests were sparked by an incident in the Javanese city of Surabaya on Saturday. Indonesian authorities raided a university dormitory and arrested dozens of Papuan students over allegations that an Indonesian flag had been damaged by one of them.

During a long standoff leading up to the arrests, nationalist groups gathered and called the Papuan students “monkeys” and other racial slurs, demanding authorities “kick the Papuans out.” Many of the racist taunts were captured on video and were seen throughout West Papua, sparking anger and large demonstrations in major cities.

“In the context of the Pacific family, to call our Melanesian sisters and brothers in West Papua ‘Monkeys’ is to call all Pacific Islanders ‘Monkeys,’” said the PCC statement.

“We call on Indonesia to immediately allow access to Papua by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN mandate holders.”

The call comes after PCC General Secretary, Rev. James Bhagwan visited West Papua as part of a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation earlier this year. It is understood to be the first time that such a large and diverse international delegation has visited the territory since its integration into Indonesia in 1969.

During the visit, the WCC delegation received a joint appeal from the leaders of four churches in West Papua calling for “international ecumenical support for a comprehensive political dialogue for the resolution of the situation in Papua.”

In response, the WCC Executive Committee released a statement of concern and solidarity for West Papua, supporting the church leaders’ joint appeal for a comprehensive political dialogue, and calling on the Government of Indonesia to allow access to human rights organisations and journalists.

The statement also invited all WCC member churches “to pray and act in support of the witness of the churches in West Papua – and that of PGI, PCC and CCA – for justice and peace in the region.”

The Uniting Church in Australia is a member of the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

Image: Totem standing on the site of the first church in West Papua ~1855 | Marcus Campbell

With climate change intensifying the ferocity and frequency of natural disasters—typically in regions where the poor are disproportionately affected—how do we as the Church respond?

That was the question posed at UnitingWorld’s annual conference of Southeast Asia Partners, held in Bali from 29 July to 2 August 2019.

Delegates from Bali, Java, Maluku, West Timor, Timor-Leste, Papua and West Papua and North Luzon in the Philippines gathered to hear from experts and share their own experiences of climate change and disasters.

Indonesian disaster specialist Henry Pirade led sessions with project managers on how to conduct risk assessments, prepare local communities to be disaster ready and how to carry out effective disaster response.

Delegates enthusiastically shared their experiences of disasters and gathered ideas from one another to take back to their churches and disaster preparation projects.

“As the Church, it is our calling and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Rev Sudiana, director of UnitingWorld partner Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), an agency of the Christian Protestant Church of Bali.

“But there is often apathy in local communities when it comes to disaster preparation. If it’s not a priority for local government, it needs to be pressed by local churches. We are good at helping after disasters, but we can save many more lives in advance if we prioritise disaster planning.” 

Delegates discussed how disaster preparedness needs widespread and diverse community buy-in to prevent vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities from being left behind during a disaster.

Many delegates spoke about the critical roles of education and leadership in keeping people safe during disasters and preparing for climate change.

“The key to mobilising our communities for climate action and disaster preparation is education. People won’t move if they don’t understand the situation and their role in it,” said Julius Cezar, a youth leader from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

 “We must empower our [project] beneficiaries to become leaders of disaster preparedness in their communities. Education is often the only difference between beneficiary and a leader,” said program manager Victor Nahusona from the Protestant Church of Maluku.

The conference highlighted how supporting people during disasters isn’t only practically difficult but can also be psychologically and spiritually complex. 

“For weeks after the recent flood in Sentani (Papua), people who had fled their flooded islands were scared to go home or fish in the lake because they had seen dead bodies in the water around their houses,” said program manager Meilanny Alfons from Papua.

Physically removing and burying the bodies is one thing, addressing the trauma and fear of spirits is another. Delegates agreed the Church has a strong role to play in trauma counselling.

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

Keynote speaker Rev James Bhagwan spoke about the pastoral role of churches and shared his experiences of faith-based climate action and disaster response in Fiji.

Rev Bhagwan didn’t avoid difficult theological questions: Where is God in a crisis? Who is to blame? How do our communities respond faithfully and effectively?

Drawing on an emerging Pasifika theology of climate justice, Rev Bhagwan pointed to God’s love as the starting point for climate action.

“Biblical justifications for climate action need look no further than the Bible’s most known and quoted verse, John 3:16.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“When the Spirit became flesh and dwelt among us, it signaled that God is with us, and showed what love for the world truly looks like. This is the starting point for a theology of climate justice,” said Rev Bhagwan.

“As we lose our relationship with creation and deny the sacredness of all life it becomes easier to exploit it.”

Rev Bhagwan explained the theological justifications holding back climate action in the Pacific, and many of the Southeast Asia delegates noted the same debates going on in their churches.

“In the Pacific, people often see disaster preparation and climate action as showing lack of faith (‘God looks after us’). But preparedness is practicing faith. It is a visible proclamation of hope for a renewed tomorrow.”

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

The Protestant Christian Church in Bali, the local hosts of the UnitingWorld Partner Conference, made space on their land for each delegate to plant a tree for their own church or church agency. The trees represented a commitment to work in partnership for climate justice.

As part of our commitment to standing with those most vulnerable to climate change, the Uniting Church in Australia is encouraging members to support the Global Climate strike on September 20.

Click here to support the Global Climate Strike and join us on 20 September!

The conference was kindly hosted by Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), the development agency of our partners the Protestant Christian Church in Bali.

Colleagues and friends of Rev Dr Seforosa (Sef) Carroll gathered at St Stephens Uniting Church in Sydney on Tuesday to say farewell and celebrate Sef’s work and ministry.

Since joining UnitingWorld in 2014, Sef has been a been a powerhouse of theology, church partnership-building, teaching on gender equality and climate change, and advocacy that has stretched from the streets of Sydney (helping lead the 2015 Climate March) to the halls of Federal Parliament.

As Manager of Church Partnerships in the Pacific, Sef brought a personal drive to UnitingWorld’s gender equality and climate justice work in the Pacific. UnitingWorld’s entire approach to climate change through the lens of faith and identity was born of a pilot project that Sef established in Tuvalu.

At the farewell service at St Stephens, Sef reflected on her first visit to Tuvalu and the impression it left on her.

“Of all the things that had an impact while at UnitingWorld, visiting Tuvalu impacted me most. Speaking to the people and experiencing their situation radically changed my idea of ‘home,’” said Sef.

This influenced the direction of her academic studies, and in 2017 Sef was selected by the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University as a resident member of the 2017-2018 Research Team on the Inquiry on Religion and Migration. Sef’s research paper was called ‘Reimagining Home: migration, identity and law in a changing climate.’

While at UnitingWorld, Sef helped create and teach resources on Gender Equality Theology and contributed to other publications on Pacific theology, climate change, and feminism and Christianity in the Global South.

At the farewell service, Sef thanked UnitingWorld colleagues and honored the Pacific women she’s worked with.

I’ve been blessed to walk alongside so many women from across the Pacific on gender equality and theology. People like me come and and go, but the women have to stay and push the work forward.”

UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe commended the legacy of Sef’s work.

“In the past five years, I have seen Sef walk into rooms that did not easily make space for her and teach with God’s anointing; I have seen her untangle complicated relationships with wisdom and sensitivity; I’ve seen how people don’t just respect her wisdom, but love her for her passion and integrity,” said Dr Goringe.

“Her work has catalysed a change in theology and connection that will last beyond all our jobs here. UnitingWorld is not an academic institution, but the teaching and research, the mentoring and counselling that Sef has done with us has had a reach and impact that I think would be the envy of any academic.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer preached a sermon on Micah 6:6-8 and John 4:3-30, challenging people to consider how Jesus leads us beyond social, political and religious barriers.

“Jesus intentionally entered (hostile) Samaritan territory and engaged in a theological conversation with a woman. In working for gender justice, we are following in this way of Jesus; calling women into life-giving encounters with the one who is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world,” said Dr Palmer.

“Where are we locating ourselves? Are we intentional about placing ourselves in situations of solidarity with those who are exploited, diminished, or silenced? [These are] places where Jesus leads us.”

Dr Palmer also celebrated Sef’s ministry and approach to mission.

“As you have reminded us in your teaching and actions, ‘doing justice and walking humbly with God’ draws us into communion with the whole Creation.”

“In all of your ministry and into the future we pray you will be blessed with hope and joy through being part of this collaborative community of Christ, woven together by the love and grace of the Holy Spirit.”

We wish Rev Dr Carroll every blessing in her exciting new global role and we can’t wait to see what God has in store for her.

(We can’t give details of her new position yet but will update you when we can!

Support the Global Climate Strike on 20 September 2019!
Click here to sign our petition

Click here to read Dr Deidre Palmer’s full sermon

A statement from the President’s Conference, Fiji 2019

“For God so loved the cosmos” (John 3:16)

The good news of Christ is for the whole of creation 
and we are one with all creation in Christ. (Col 1: 23)

We, the participants of the 2019 President’s Conference, gathering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji have drawn together to bear witness and to draw courage from each other – here where climate change is most clearly seen, most clearly felt, by the people least responsible for its progress.

We acknowledge:

Our connection to Moana, Waitui, Wansolwara people, whose lands and hearts are bound by deep, blue Pacific waters.

We are part of the Pacific, a liquid continent where islands are connected and sustained by the ocean currents.

The need to listen again to the voices of our sisters and brothers, our friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable and most impacted, who also demonstrate great resilience, determination, hopefulness and commitment to work for change.

This has inspired us and challenged us to hear God’s call to costly discipleship and we lament the effects of the human sin of greed and particularly its effects on this planet, our home.

Together we affirm:

The Uniting Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the environment arises out of our belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being.

This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation.

Through our discerning of Scripture, we acknowledge the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ and are being reconciled in Christ.

The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

The Basis of Union expresses this hope and situates it at the very heart of the church’s mission:

“God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end.”

Together we recognise:

The ongoing concern of the Uniting Church in Australia since its formation in 1977 for the wellbeing of our planet that has been expressed in numerous statements.

The unique place and wisdom of First Peoples of Australia in relation to the land. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church recognises that:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

The Churches of the Pacific, with whom we are a part of the Body of Christ, and the Pacific Conference of Churches, to which we belong, are leading the response to climate change. We hear their call and witness to us; and recognise their prophetic, practical and pastoral actions among their people.

Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation, often accompanied by the belief that the world is given to use as we please, and the perspective that “more is better.”

The island nations in the Pacific are being disproportionately harmed by climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change induced natural disasters.

Climate change induced displacement is already a significant challenge, and grief both to Pacific countries and across the world; disconnecting people from their homes, their culture and their identity.

Climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and across the world, and to all of creation including plant and animal life.

The intersectionality of issues – how climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest communities and on women and children, people living with disabilities, people with different gender identities – calls for relational and inclusive justice.

As participants of this conference, we are called to be God’s co-workers, participants in the work of reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation. We believe that we have a moral responsibility to act, and that God is calling us to be bearers of hope.

Because of this, we commit to:

Working with First Peoples in Australia particularly through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sisters and brothers in the Pacific and other communities of faith to understand the impacts of climate change on traditional and contemporary ways of life and pay attention to the Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom of living in right relationship with land, sea and sky.

Being compassionate, active listeners to the environment and people living with the reality of climate change.

Being thankful for all we have, recognising we have enough, enjoying the beauty and bounty of God’s creation, resisting the pressures of consumerism and idolatry of material possessions.

Being responsible for our own actions and our impact on the environment, and calling for a renewed repentance, turning away from seeking more, towards a just sharing and harmony of all life.

Being a green Church by finding creative ways to engage our own communities in climate action, raising aspects of the environment in our worship, replacing disposable with sustainable products, reducing energy use and moving to renewable forms of energy.

Boldly raising our voices to advocate to governments to act on climate change and its effects in Australia, in the Pacific and the global community.

This statement was originally published on the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website.

Read more about UnitingWorld’s work with Pacific partners on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

Teetering on the edge of drought, one of our sheep farmers in Victoria knows the importance of planning and preparing for disasters.

His decision to give more than $5,000 to our Disaster Risk Reduction appeal came the day before his property received heavy rainfall that steered his family away from the brink of a calamitous season.

“This farmer told me he knows first-hand how vital it is to prepare for and prevent weather related disasters,” recalls UnitingWorld Australian Partnerships Team member Alexandra Bingham.

“I’m so encouraged by his willingness to faithfully invest in helping our global neighbours prepare for their challenges even while knowing he faces those same risks personally.”

Alexandra also visited Richmond Uniting Church this month, another community with an emphasis on both local and global mission. “They have a weekly focus on local and global outreach, providing grocery parcels for local people as well as giving very generously to our water and sanitation projects in Papua New Guinea,” Alexandra says.

“It was really wonderful to be able to share with the church, which includes a number of generous donors, how their gifts are being used to save lives among our partners.”

A BIG THANKS to all our committed donors and church congregations who’ve caught the vision of ‘enough to share.’ If you’d like to share a regular gift and become a Global Neighbour, get in touch with us at 1800 998 122 or info@unitingworld.org.au

Thank you for stepping up and being part of Lent Event in 2019. You’ve helped us hit our target of $328,000 in record time this year and have had such encouraging feedback about your love of the people and projects in Timor Leste!

Margot writes: “Our group of about ten meeting regularly through these weeks want me to express to you how very much we are being strengthened, enlightened and enriched as we make this ‘journey’ where you – and the people of Timor Leste – oh, and of course the Lord –  are leading us.

We have come to know and meet past and present Moderators of the UCA in ways we have never done before. They have opened themselves and come alongside us at a personal level – and in doing so have been allowing and encouraging us to open ourselves, to reach out – among ourselves and beyond. The people of Timor Leste leave us silent and breathless. We see them and hear them speaking to us each Sunday as part of our worship… they reach powerfully into our lives beyond what any of them would ever imagine. They change us.”

Last month we gathered church leaders and Sunday School teachers in Dili, Timor Leste to talk about the best ways to protect and nurture children, workshopping child protection policies that will call out and prevent abuse. Leaders were excited to work together on these strategies for the next generation.

At Glebe Road Uniting Church in Queensland, a visit from members of our partner the Protestant Church of Timor Leste is also lighting up the congregation and attracted Moderator David Baker and other local ministers to hear about the partnership at a recent lunch.

Members of the Protestant Church of Timor Leste visit Glebe Road Uniting Church in Queensland

You can still provide healthcare, care for children and training for leaders in Timor Leste and beyond by making a donation at www.lentevent.com

THANK YOU to all who showed their love for our partners this year! We’re well into planning next year’s event so stay tuned…

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima Tura. 

The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.

Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.

“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.

“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”

Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing position as wonderfully inspiring.

“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.

“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”

The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.

Pastor Lima with Solomon Islander Theologian Rev Dr Cliff Bird

“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”

In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church circles. Lima will be among the attendees.

After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty radical.”

Leaders of women’s fellowship groups at a Gender Equality Theology workshop in Fiji

For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.

“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much good here, but so many difficulties as well.”

THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.

“It’s our choices that matter in the end. Not wishes, not words, not promises.”

How many choices do you think you might make each day? Researchers suggest it’s about 35,000 choices – 227 relating to food alone.

Little wonder so many of us have choice paralysis! So what guides our decisions? Some are impulsive, some are emotional, some come from rationally weighing up the facts. Too many are just unconscious, routine. We do things because it’s the way we’ve always done them. But as so many people have pointed out, it’s our daily choices that become habit, habit that becomes character and character that becomes our destiny. That means our choices are powerful – even the ones we might not think matter all that much.

We went to a small community in Papua New Guinea to film an interactive video that allows you to make choices revealing what life is like as a young person living with limited options in a developing country. If you haven’t already tried it out, you can find it here: http://www.unitingworld.org.au/choice

The video highlights that “35,000 choices a day” don’t include most of the world’s poor. In Papua New Guinea, the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water, most people have only one water source – and it’s often dirty enough to kill them. One person dies every minute around the world from complications relating to dirty water. Most of them are children. But faced with little awareness about clean water and sanitation, what real choices are there? Lack of options for handwashing and clean water force people to choose unsafe sources, a lifestyle that can kill.

Papua New Guinea is the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water

We’re training health workers who are changing all that, and your choice to get involved makes a huge difference. When you donate to our water and sanitation work, as many of you already have, you’re supporting communities to gain access to clean water and learn new habits that save lives. It’s such a simple act that makes such a huge difference.

Thank you to everyone who has already made the decision to get involved in this work. Your gifts, combined with funding from the Australian Government,* mean that our partners are excited about the ways we can expand the work to many more communities in Papua New Guinea, West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.

Together, through our determined daily choices to be people of generosity and compassion, we’re building a world where people can thrive no matter what their circumstances. Thank you!

*As a partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld receives flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas.

Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

Pic: Local change agents teach a community about water, sanitation and hygiene in Papua New Guinea.

Notes from the National Director

When Australia was asked to choose a new federal government last month, my husband Chris and I found ourselves investing time and energy into helping our children think about the decision we were facing as a nation, even though they’re not yet old enough to vote.

We talked about what it means to be part of a democracy and the responsibility it places on us. We explored their hopes for the future, using the 2019 Vision Statement of the Uniting Church, which dreams of a nation with a heart for our First Peoples; a thriving and equitable economy for all; a loving and hospitable attitude toward all races, genders and sexualities; stewardship for all of God’s creation and commitment to our global neighbours. We also used the ABC’s Vote Compass to discuss our voting options.

Most of all, we wanted our children to value the privilege and power it is to have choice in a world where so many are voiceless and shackled by their gender, poverty or the corruption of their leaders. In my work each day, I’m encouraged by the many ways your love and determination are putting power back into the hands of men, women and children who are created, like you and I, with the capacity to achieve so much if given half the chance. Thank you for choosing to use this power for such great good!

Recently, the team and I at UnitingWorld have been reviewing our programs, working out our focus areas for strengthening our work in the next financial year and beyond. There is always more great work we could do than we have resources, but we’re always guided by our partners within our five priority areas of Poverty Alleviation, Gender Equality, Strong Leadership, Climate Change/Disaster Preparation and Emergency Response.

What we’re hearing from the women and men who lead this work, is that they want trained staff and robust organisations that can support themselves long-term. They don’t want handouts or short-term fixes, they want the lasting skills to create the changes they know they can bring about on their own. This allows them, too, to share in the power of choice, making choices about how and where they invest without the need to rely on external partners.

This means we’ll be investing more in our partners to transfer knowledge, training them in good governance and risk management. It may not sound exciting, but it’s what makes the difference long term! It means you can rely on their accounting skills, their child protection policies and their long-term impact. In short, when you choose us as your partner, you’re choosing an investment of skills and knowledge for lasting change. Thank you! I’ll be writing more about this in future editions of Update, so stay posted.

With gratitude for the power of choice,

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director

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