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Author: Sureka Goringe

The singing. It’s one of the real joys of visiting our partners across the Pacific, Asia and Africa. Long flights, lack of sleep, hard pews and lengthy sermons in a language I do not understand – these things mysteriously melt away as the opening chords are struck to some old Methodist hymn I’ve known since childhood. Voices lift. I add my own.

There’s something about the language of music that crosses all the boundaries we put in place between ourselves and others. In the swell of shared melody, a person can be lost or found; leading or led. Even when the language is different, it’s enough to know that I am one among many, playing my own small part. My voice matters; my small offering will join others to form something far more beautiful than anything I could accomplish alone.

Much of the work you can read about in our latest Update Newsletter shares that theme – the part played by Rockhampton Uniting in harmony with the women of Kiribati; the carefully crafted Child Protection work that becomes a thing of strength and beauty for the children of Timor Leste; the soaring symphony of millions of voices lifting as one to support the earth in the face of a changing climate.

September is one of my favourite times in the office, because it’s counting time. This is when our team spends days collecting the stories and reports of all the people who have been touched by our projects in the last financial year – people whose lives are changed because of your gifts. Men, women, children, people with disabilities, minority groups, we gather data on all of them – because we want to know how they fared, learn from their experience and figure out how we can do better. Imagine the stories and numbers from villages and towns and churches across Asia, Africa and the Pacific coming together like quavers and crotchets, till we can hear the song that the Spirit sang last year through all of us. It’s a hard work, and takes a lot of chocolate, but it is a humbling and inspiring privilege. Thank you for being part of the song and look out for our Annual Report soon.

I’m interested in your voice too. We’ve launched a supporter survey, from which I hope to learn more about what inspires and interests you as one of the faithful people I report back to each quarter. You matter because without your prayer, love and financial support, the work we do would not exist. Please take the time to add your voice to ours by filling in the survey here. I would appreciate it very much!

Pictured above are two children from the church in Ambon, Indonesia, delighting in the experience of singing for their congregation in a small village about an hour from the city. Twenty years ago, this province was virtually destroyed by conflict that played out in hand to hand fighting between Muslims and Christians, with homes, mosques and churches burnt. We’ve just been in Ambon to capture stories of the peace building process led by God’s people and transforming the entire island. It’s an incredible story of God’s redemptive and reconciling love at work, and we’ll be telling it for the first time for next year’s Lent Event! Stay tuned.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director

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?

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

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.

Last week I had the great privilege of attending the Annual General Conference of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWC) with Uniting Church President Dr Diedre Palmer.

The day we arrived in the capital Nuku'alofa we were swept up in the famous hospitality and fellowship of the Tongan people. Our church partners invited us to feast with 3,000 of their members and then join in worship among a thousand choristers.

The sound of their harmonies soaring over a massive brass band is something I’ll never forget.

Along the way I was blessed to meet some of the leaders and members of FWC; hear their stories, hopes and struggles, and experience the great wisdom and dedication they have to offer.

The conference was an opportunity to connect with our partners in fellowship and share in the life of their church. Among many issues raised, the important matter of the Uniting Church’s decision on marriage at the 15th Assembly was discussed with openness, honesty and integrity.

Re-elected FWC leaders, President Rev Dr Ahio and General Secretary Rev Dr Tevita Havea reassured us that they have been on the same journey with their New Zealand and United States partner churches, and that our partnership is built on strong foundations of respecting difference while holding to unity in Christ.

They affirmed that Tongan members of the Uniting Church were under the oversight and authority of the UCA and shared our joy in the vibrant life of the Tongan National Conference. They manifested their love and partnership in the honour and recognition they showed Dr Palmer and I throughout the conference.

Dr Palmer reaffirmed to our partners the Uniting Church’s commitment to respect and protect the rights of all members and partners to hold differing views of marriage and make decisions based on those views.

Dr Palmer and UCA General Secretary Colleen Geyer issued a short statement after the discussions.

It was the first official visit to Tonga for both Dr Palmer and I, but the warmth, trust and the good faith that was extended had very little to do with us personally. We were embraced as members of an extended family, our forebears and theirs had built a strong bond of respect and friendship and we were but the latest embodiment.

Holding partnerships like this is a privilege that I treasure deeply and sometimes feel the huge weight of. But I’m reassured in the knowledge that some connections are already far stronger than anything I might manage to mess up.

Malo

-Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld


Tonga was part of the Methodist Church of Australasia from the early 19th century until 1977 when the Uniting Church in Australia was formed and the Wesleyan Church gained its autonomy (thus the "Free" in its name). In Australia, the Tongan National Conference within the Uniting Church has grown to become the biggest of the twelve national conferences. Read more

In the Pacific and Asia, there’s no polite way to turn down a meal. Hospitality is everything and everywhere, lovingly and lavishly prepared—sometimes for days—and open to all. Time and expense are rarely part of the equation as men, women and children hunt and gather (often literally) and then throw wide their arms and doors to make sure everyone enjoys the feast.

This is life among our partners, and I’ve been blessed to be part of it over the past few weeks, attending the Pacific Conference of Churches in New Zealand as well as the General Meeting of the Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa (Sulawesi).

My experience is food for thought as Christmas approaches, sharply dividing us into those who relish the opportunity to kill the fatted calf with all the ceremony it involves, and those who dread the arrival of relatives and over-priced hams in Coles.

Justine Vogt says that hospitality is, “making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.”

Less precociously, Henri Nouwen suggests “hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.” He calls us to make our homes and lives places where even those with whom we have little in common feel able to be heard and intriguingly, open to personal transformation. While many of us feel caught up in making sure that every detail of the culinary experience we offer in our homes is perfect, he suggests genuine hospitality is about the readiness of our hearts to deal with difference, to extend grace, to find those who are lonely and create for them a place of freedom that leads to change.

What a tantalising possibility! How delightful that rather than simply feeling slightly bloated post-Christmas Day, we might feel energised and open to change as a result of our time together.

Viewed this way, I’m reminded of the many acts of hospitality carried out by our partners in so many ways and places throughout the year. As they visit hard to reach areas with resources like goats, small business training, health education or workshops for women, they create relationships that are acts of true hospitality – spaces in which people are heard and create change for themselves.

As you contemplate Christmas this year, I encourage you to reflect on this kind of hospitality. As God sent Jesus into the world to be among us, may your hospitality reflect the presence of the Spirit of Love and the opportunity to seed real change. Thank you so much for the generosity each of you has extended to our partners this year; you’ve provided people with opportunities to bring hope and dignity for themselves and their families through countless gifts made in times of crisis and as long- term givers.

Wishing you the joy and love of Christmas and always,

Sureka,

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

“But I still can’t get over how much God loves us, you know?” he says.

The distant softness in his eyes make me realise that the wonder of this truth has struck him before, but each time has the power to move him deeply.

I’m not in some exotic foreign land, connecting across cultures. I’m in the suburban Sydney home of an old friend, listening as he regales me with tales of his youth. In his twenties, he and his wife answered a call to practice medicine in a remote village in India, with two kids under two. A hospital raided by hyenas. They are now in their eighties, but the love of God burns brightly in them and they are faithful supporters of UnitingWorld.

It reminded me of the first time I went to India. I met Christians there who despite being less than one percent of the population and from the most socially marginalised castes, were extremely active in a range of social ministries. They ran schools, hospitals and fought human trafficking. And their leaders stood out for me. They felt a sense of urgency about their faith that I didn’t. Many of them came to faith in their teen years or young adulthood, and they still spoke with a sense of wonder of their discovery. They used phrases like “before I knew Christ” and “when I came to know Jesus” as if of a watershed moment of transition. When they spoke of the gospel, it sounded like this amazing, powerful, dangerous thing they couldn’t believe they’d discovered and couldn’t wait to share. They were not fresh converts, but seasoned leaders of the church.

The Christians I met in India assumed that people just didn’t know that God loved them, and that it was their job to fix that. They remembered how abruptly and miraculously God hijacks your life and sets you on a different path, and they just took it for granted this is what God wanted for everyone. Living in Australia, surrounded by people who live as if Christianity has been tried and found wanting, I have allowed myself to forget the truly radical and earth-shattering nature of the truth that I believe.

We belong to God. We are truly beloved just as we are, created in God’s image. We’re precious – of infinite value. There is grace enough to heal all our brokenness. Love enough to fill all our longing. This is what Jesus came for, lived for and died for – so that we could know this truth. And we don’t just believe it for ourselves but believe it for every other person near and far.

So we cannot rest while poverty, oppression and injustice keeps people from knowing God’s love for them. Because the love of God is not just a message to be heard, but a reality to be touched, tasted and lived; made tangible by the actions of God’s people.

At UnitingWorld, we often wonder how we can better share the life-changing stories we encounter, better inspire people to join in the global movement of transformation that is the story of God’s church at work. I’m convinced now that if I am to follow God’s call to act, I must again and again awaken the shocking recognition of who God has called me to be – a beloved child of God.

So, as I thank you for your faithful support, I also wish for you a moment of wonder and awe. That you can pause and say, “I still can’t get over how much God loves me” and let that incandescent truth set you on fire.

-Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

 

UnitingWorld is fundraising to support our transformative partnership with the church in India, where poverty holds so many people back from their God-given human dignity. We’re aiming to raise $115,000 to help our partners provide education, shelter, pastoral care and HOPE in some of the most difficult areas of rural India.

Your donation will make a huge difference in the lives of the resilient and determined people we work alongside. Click here to donate now.

(Top pic: Dr Sureka Goringe and Dr Deidre Palmer with delegates at the UnitingWorld Southeast Asia regional workshop on gender justice)

In rural India, almost 30% of the people struggle to secure the minimum requirements of life—food, shelter, clothing—and many children are unable to attend school because of where they were born. Our local church partners are providing education and shelter for children, pastoral care and hope in remote India. We believe that to make sustainable change, strong leadership is key.

In the Eastern Himalayas, our partner set up a Church Leadership Project to equip pastors in some of the most remote and difficult areas of India. I recently received a letter from Aarav, one of our ministers who travels to remote communities for prayer, counselling and to do whatever he can to help struggling families thrive.

“Since 2016 I have been working with a small tribal community of 26 families, mostly daily wage earners living on the fringes of the forest land. During my visits, I could see their broken hand pump (only one in the village); a tube well that was contaminated; not enough blankets for winter; no mosquito nets during summer; and a river without a bridge (the main access to their village). With help I have organised a medical camp to provide check-ups and free medicine, distributed blankets and mosquito nets to all the families, repaired the broken hand pump and installed a new one.”

Pastor Aarav is such a great example of the way our global church leadership programs are equipping leaders to care for people in holistic ways – not only offering pastoral care and the good news of Christ, but helping people find life to the full.

He faces many challenges, including hostile religious fundamentalists who are suspicious that the church is attempting Christian conversions in the region. A father to three-year-old Palak, Aarav lives with the daily fear that negative reports about his activities could lead to his arrest.

Aarav told me that in the midst of these challenges, he holds on to God’s word and it encourages him to be hopeful when life is difficult. “I am also encouraged and hopeful because there are communities all over the world who are praying and supporting us,” he wrote.

“I am thankful to the people of UnitingWorld in Australia for their support to our leadership program as it has helped me be what I am today. It has expanded my vision and my commitment to the community in a way I never thought possible.”

Thank you so much for being part of Aarav’s hope.

Our goal is to equip more pastors with the skills they need to minister in remote areas like the Eastern Himalayas where the challenges are immense. Your gift today can provide much-needed training and practical resources for Aarav and others like him.

I hope you’ll help us reach our goal of raising $115,000 to support our transformative partnership with the church in India. This leadership project is just one of the ways we’re helping our partners transform their communities and I’m looking forward to sharing more stories of hope with you all in the coming weeks.

In love and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

As we prepare for the 15th Triennial Assembly, I’m reminded of the bold step taken by our overseas church partners three years ago in Perth.

In an unprecedented move, they stepped up and tabled a statement they’d penned in which they offered their resources to the UCA to enhance our mission in the world and committed themselves to each other to share their strengths and challenges to partner in God’s transformation of the world.

The statement changed the way we work. Instead of holding independent relationships with each of our overseas church partners, we’ve increased our facilitator role, encouraging our partners to come together to share resources, expertise and learning opportunities. Over the last three years we’ve hosted eleven regional conferences covering topics like theology of community development, the protection of children and financial planning.

The past three years have also vindicated our strategy to use the language and lens of faith and Christian teaching to tackle the big issues of gender inequality and climate change. Supporting our partners to engage in theological dialogue and address people’s hearts and minds through Biblical teaching has been rewarded by seeing change at the grass roots. Even the Australian Government has acknowledged our approach, re-accrediting us for the next five years and praising our approach on gender, disaster preparation and climate change impact in the Pacific.

I’m delighted to look back over the past three years and note that together we’ve made a tangible difference to over 250,000 people:

  • Clean water and sanitation in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea
  • Education (particularly for children with disabilities) and professional literacy training for teachers and librarians in India, Tonga, Vanuatu and Sri Lanka
  • Micro-credit loans for small business (many for women) in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Fiji
  • Theological reflection and practical action on gender inequality and climate change impact throughout the Pacific
  • Disaster response work throughout the Pacific as well as famine and refugee responses in South Sudan, among the Rohingya people and within Syria.

We’ve also been strengthening leaders and equipping churches both here in Australia and throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific:

  • We helped almost 400 people to visit and work among our partners, including lay teachers and leaders of the UCA
  • We mobilised over 1,000 people to participate in the People’s Climate March in support of our Pacific Island partners
  • We brought global voices to major UCA events such as UnitingWomen, the Wontok youth conference, the UCA Deacons Conference; and we also hosted workshops and took part in UCA national conferences
  • Over 300 congregations and church groups participated in Lent Event and Everything in Common.

You can read the full report to the National Assembly detailing our last three years work by heading to uniting.church/b15-unitingworld.

Recently, we told a story of the innovative way our partners are building peace and forging hope in Maluku. These are the people who continue to stoke the fire of my conviction that God is alive and well within the world, calling each of us to take our place as members of one body working together for renewal. Thank you so much for the part you’re playing. We look forward to the next three years with you and the many challenges and joys they will bring.

Peace and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld