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Author: Sureka Goringe

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