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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

We all say Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we mean it.

Ask around. It’s about family and friends, our neighbourhoods buzzing with community spirit, parents belting out Michael Bublé or Mariah Carey to annoy their children…

It’s about being present. A time to come together, sharing our lives in kindness and gratitude.

So why do we still buy so much stuff?

Each year, we’re confronted by the enormous and growing commercial enterprise Christmas has become. A season of hyper-consumption fed by accelerated production the world over.

We eat more, travel more, buy more and produce 30% more waste than at any other time of the year. Every December in Australia, we give an average of 20 million gifts that are unwanted and at least half of them quickly end up in landfill.

No wonder it’s been described as the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster.

We all want to be generous during our favourite time of year, but collectively our Christmas giving creates pollution and waste that has a huge environmental impact.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to be generous without more stuff, more waste and more CO2 in the atmosphere.

One way to think about it, is that every dollar we spend is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.

Here’s six gift ideas that don’t cost the planet.

1. Gifts that fight poverty

Think of charitable organisations that reflect the values of your loved ones (like us!). Donate in their honour or give a poverty-fighting gift that can change a life. What could be a better gift than clean water to a community that doesn’t have it? Or income opportunities like goats and pig-farming to help a struggling family secure their future?

Check out our full catalogue of life-changing gifts here. They come as gift cards with envelopes, or you can even go completely digital and send via email.

2. Give an experience

Theatre, concerts, workshops, community and cultural events often fly under the radar because there’s so much competing for our attention each week.

People say rock is dead and nimbys killed live music, but that will only happen if people stop going! The first step is getting some tickets…

Give someone an escape from the office to places like this urban farm that runs useful workshops on organic gardening, pickling and preserving, beekeeping and how to make things like beeswax wraps and hand-carved kitchen utensils.

Or give an experience outdoors with eco/wildlife tours, kayaking, canyoning, snorkelling (or shark dive, anyone?)


(her face)

… or stay inside give a voucher for a massage or foodie restaurant experience and support local businesses.

3. Give plants

Visit a local community market, there’s usually great plants for great prices. Find some nice pots (second-hand/recycled even) to put them in. Give them to loved ones and they’ll grow into some really thoughtful and unique gifts. You can even pair it with a gift card that supports tree-planting projects in the Pacific and Indonesia!

4. Give time

It’s an absurdity of modern life that despite all our technological advancements – still we work more. Pledging your time could be a thoughtful and useful gift.

Maybe your in-laws could use some extended babysitting to get away for the day? Perhaps your dad can’t get up the ladder to do the gutters any more? Or your partner has been meaning to get their bike serviced but hasn’t had the time to do it?

Imagine asking your grandma if your gift this year can be time spent helping her with the garden…

Yes, you should do these things anyway, so why don’t you?

You could even pledge your time in a card with an explanation and deadline, so they know you mean business.

5. Buy second-hand

Fifty dollars for a T-shirt? Nah mate.

Buying at your local op shop saves you money, cuts down consumer demand for stuff to be produced and supports organisations making positive change in the world. That’s something to dance about.

Onto Gumtree yet? It’s a brilliant place to save a few second-hand treasures from landfill to be re-gifted.

6. Buy local, buy sustainable

Want to reduce your global impact? Think local. Buy from local small businesses, craftspeople, those grandmas selling delicious jams at the school fete. Stuff that hasn’t been shipped across half the world to arrive under your tree.

Why not bake something yourself? Rise up a whole army of gingerbread men to scale a pyramid of brownies.

Go old-school. Homemade Christmas puddings still haven’t gone out of fashion. Be inspired by this brilliant non-profit pudding venture.

There’s so many zero waste, reusable gifts out there: keep cups, reusable bags, bamboo toothbrushes, wallets made from recycled paper! Check out this Zero Waste Christmas Guide by UnitingEarth.

Vote for a better world with your choices this Christmas.

Disclaimer: vote with your whole community. We know that to overcome the global challenges we face, individual action isn’t enough. We also need drastic changes to our social, political and economic systems to mitigate the climate crisis ahead.

This global problem requires global action.

Truly purposive action is holistic – individual behavioural change leading to important ‘awkward conversations’ in our communities, plus collective action aiming to influence widespread societal change.

The choices we make as consumers have already been influencing producers, but there’s a long way to go.

We each have the power to make a difference and it can start this Christmas.

This blog was inspired by an internal conversation among UnitingWorld staff to share sustainable Christmas gift ideas. Credit to everyone who fed the great discussion.

– Marcus

See how UnitingWorld and our partners are taking action on climate change and its impacts in the Pacific.

“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)

Dear friends,

Greetings! It’s with delight that I share a little about how the Diocese of Amritsar is ministering to communities in Northwest India through the valued support of UnitingWorld.

We work in a unique context, among communities which have been systematically deprived of standard education and healthcare, severely impacting their development and growth. Education in the region has become mostly privatised and institutional, accessible by only a few. Infrastructure is failing, and there are not enough adequate teachers or books. Girls are most affected, as they are considered a burden to the family. They risk abuse and harassment.

Our church ministry, as well as social empowerment programmes, are aimed at breaking systems that dehumanize people and keep them helpless and despairing. With your help, the Church is able to go beyond its boundaries and walk with people in times of need, working together to transform unjust social structures, and provide hope where there is none. As we work alongside our brothers and sisters in the villages, our aim is to help them develop their strengths and capabilities and give them back their sense of identity and self-confidence. Young girls and boys in villages located near the Pakistan border now have more access to quality education and healthcare and are on their way to becoming agents of change for their own communities.

In all these efforts, we see God’s design in bringing people into deep friendships, connecting individuals who have joined the journey along with UnitingWorld to enable the Diocese to carry out this life-transforming ministry. Thank you for partnering with us in this work. Please continue to keep the ministry of the Diocese of Amritsar in your thoughts and prayers.

May God bless you!

Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy

Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar

 

Your gifts to our HOPE HAS MANY FACES Appeal support Bishop Samantaroy and the work of the church in India – providing training for church leaders and education opportunities, especially for girls.

Click here to donate today

“What makes you happy?”

I ask the question of an old woman on a green mountainside beyond the remote village of Same, five hours inland from Dili, Timor Leste.  Every line on her face tells a story.

“Being here with these people – my family and friends – makes me happy. We look after each other and I like this place. We are all together.”

And there you have it, folks. The secret to life. Being with the ones you love. Looking after each other, in a place you like. In spite of hardship – a jerrycan full of water lies at this woman’s feet, carried from a stream twenty minutes walk away – you know what’s important.

As I stand gazing out into mist through shrouds of green, past chickens that serenely scratch near bits of tin shackled together, my head goes feral.

Trump makes no sense in a place like this. Energy renewal targets? Who cares. Low carb diets and immigration policy and the side effects of antidepressants and why can’t I remember my Netflix login?  Nope.

Give me the simple life.  People I love, people I can look after, in a place I like. Life is tough, but these people are generous and spirited. They work hard. They hope harder. They get up, do what’s in front of them with what they have, make the best of it. Not for them the endless mental treadmill of deciding what to say, and wear, and spend – and should I respond to that post on Facebook or let it go? And what’s the truth about climate science and how young is too young for Instagram and what do I think about taking a stand on gay marriage in the church? Having a voice? Existential angst? What’s that?

Give. Me. The. Simple. Life. For long minutes, I stand there with tears hot under the surface and hammering heart thinking about all the crap this world serves up and wishing I could devote myself to just the basics – loving my family; a little more food for these families; kids whose skin is clean and clear instead of blossoming with scabies. Just that and no more. Just that. To be generous and focussed and determined and hopeful and That. Is. All.

And then a chicken lets out an almighty squawk – hit by a rock thrown by one of the kids who’s been silently observing me from behind a tree this whole time – and it’s like someone has slapped me hard around the head.

This is not my place and this is not my story. Outrageous fortune, yes, but I was born in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with a Twitter feed that delights in manufactured outrage during Q&A. I live in a town with more cafes per capita than almost anywhere in the southern hemisphere. I’ve got pets who eat more than most people in this village. I’ve got two and a half degrees. And I can romanticise all I want about “the simple life”, but it’s not my reality.

Yes, people and place and care create happiness. But that doesn’t just happen. Not for me, and not for this community, who alongside happiness speak their despair: no electricity, no running water, no respite from the rains that drive mud into their homes so that dogs and chickens and pigs take refuge with them at night on the raised wooden platforms they count as beds.

This simple life often sucks, and standing around starry eyed creates zero change.

From me, to whom much was given, much is also expected. Putin. Energy policy. Instagram and the world it creates for my daughters. Anti-depressants and economics and the ethics of vegetarianism. Creating social change alongside a generation suckled on screens and scrolling. Immigration and how to compost and politics and letter writing and how much we spend on foreign aid vs what we invest in the local farming industry during times of drought.

If having more means anything at all, it means making use of it. Where I live, with all I was given, that’s a constant, fierce challenge of mind and heart and spirit. It’s far from simple, and engaging with it is often tiring, and depressing, and really bloody hard.

But that’s okay. If that woman’s face means anything to me – if happiness is something I truly want for anyone other than myself – then stepping up with heart and mind and spirit is the absolute least I can do.

-Cath Taylor

UnitingWorld

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships arm of the Uniting Church in Australia. Together we work for a world where lives are whole and hopeful, free from poverty and injustice. Because every person matters.

Your donation to support our work will make a huge difference in the lives of the world’s poorest.

Donate today.

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

“Since the conflict,” “after the conflict,” “during the conflict.” These phrases pepper almost every conversation.

It might be 20 years, but the violence that broke out between Muslims and Christians in Ambon, Indonesia in 1999 is still the watershed event that shapes all narratives.

People died, homes and businesses were burnt down and two communities that used to live intermingled were left segregated and distrustful. How do you come back from that?

Chickens. Garbage. Hydroponics.

Unlikely you say? Not so, says the church in Ambon.

They’ve been setting up community projects where groups of people work together on an area of common need – women raise chickens to generate income; students clean up garbage pollution in their local river; families without land start hydroponics to grow food.

The magic? Each group is half Muslim, half Christian. Friendships are made, trust is rebuilt, the poor have new income. They learn to depend on each other. When friction flares up between individuals, people step in and diffuse it.

Six years since the start of this initiative, the two faith communities are intermingling, doing business and socialising with each other. When there was a flare up of violence during a recent election campaign, it did not affect any of the villages where this project has been running.

If that wasn’t enough, our local church partner has been deliberately seeking out the involvement of people with disabilities to include in the income generating and peacebuilding collaborations.

So much hope! If you didn’t believe it was possible to turn swords into ploughshares, think again – the Protestant Church of Maluku, with our support is doing it with chickens and hydroponic kale.

Dolores (name changed to protect privacy) has the most soulful eyes you could hope for on a cow.

Part of her earnest expression, I’m pretty sure, has to do with her confidence that not only is she saving the planet – she’s going to give families a chance to end poverty.  Most of her daily dump goes directly into a big tank where it ferments away, producing methane gas that runs along this pipeline into a gas cylinder. There are technical details here I didn’t catch, but from here it lights up a cooker.  And presto.  Fuel.

Dolores is part of a program being trialled by our partner organisation in Bali, MBM.  This bunch are no slouches when it comes to innovation.  They live in a country synonymous with tourism, although it battles to keep its place as the poster child of cheap Aussie getaways since the Bali Bombings and is in fierce competition these days with other exotic Asian destinations like Cambodia and Vietnam. Still, much of the Balinese economy relies directly on the wallets of international visitors.  Local small farmers without the skills to share in the tourism industry are doubly disadvantaged – prices pushed high by visitors; a system that cuts them out.  These are the invisible poor among whom our partners work, right across Bali’s length and breadth.  For these families, innovation is the name of the game.

Trialling livestock to produce fuel by way of methane; gathering rubbish to recycle and then resell; seeding community gardens where produce can be shared and sold; training people in small businesses and co-ops in which families invest their savings together in order to buy livestock – these are the skills that will help end poverty forever.

For the next two weeks, until June 30, you can help give them and many others among our partner churches up to six times the hand they need.

Combined with Australian Government funding, you’ll make a huge impact ending poverty.

Find out more and make your gift here.

Thanks for standing with us and our partners – we’re better together!

 

Here’s an interesting fact.

In 2016, a  survey of ordinary Aussies by the Campaign for Australian Aid found that most people believed the Australian Government was spending about 13% of our total budget on foreign aid.

“Way too high!”  the people shrieked.  “What about those in need here in Australia?  The homeless?  Our elderly?”

Fair enough. 13% is quite a lot… So if it were left up them, what did most people think was a reasonable percentage to spend on foreign aid?

On average?  Most people thought around 10% would be fair.

Say what? How much?  Yep: 10% of the Australian budget to be spent on foreign aid.

There’s a massive black hole between public perception and reality in the debate about Australian aid. Average Australians regularly state we give ‘too much’ to foreign aid.  Those same people think we should give ‘about 10%’.

Australia actually gives much less than 1% of its budget to foreign aid and its getting less every year.   

We give only 22 cents in every hundred dollars to life-saving vaccines, providing clean water and vital medical assistance.

Yet even such a tiny amount is helping us make some stunning progress toward overcoming poverty.

  • 2 billion people have been lifted out of poverty and the proportion living below the absolute poverty line has halved.
  • An additional 110 million children are in school, and over 90% of all children at primary level are now enrolled
  • Child deaths have been cut by half.

Australian Aid has contributed to much of this good news.

Imagine what we could achieve if we gave anywhere near the amount that average Aussies think is ‘reasonable’?

So how can you help create the change we need to see on this issue?

Post shouty rants at the Australian Government on Facebook?  Um, no.

  1. Join the Campaign For Australian Aid here and let your local politicians know that you care about supporting our neighbours to lift themselves out of poverty.  It’s good for all of us.
  2. Donate to projects that are supported by the Australian Government’s aid program.  This lets the Australian Government know you support well-administered, accountable aid.

Right now, the Australian Government wants to know what you think of us. They’re prepared to support us with significant funding, but they want to know you’ll back us with your own money first, because you know us best. For every $5 they make available to us through Australian Aid Funding, we need you to show your commitment with a donation of at least $1.

This is a big opportunity to show the Australian Government you care about Australian Aid funding and want to see it increased. And it will allow us to make your gift go up to six times as far this end of financial year.  Please make your gift here – and thank you so much!

To see how your donation will change lives in powerful ways, watch our new video here.

On a small island out on a lake in West Papua, a group of women are crafting themselves out of poverty by keeping a disappearing local art tradition alive.

The banks of their lake home skirt the far limits of Papua’s most modern city, Jayapura, but people here still travel between the islands using wooden canoes.

Traditional bark paintings (malo) have been produced by women from this area for hundreds of years. They spend weeks together making the canvases out of the beaten bark of fig trees, and then paint designs that express their culture, highlighting the theme of ‘harmony between all living things.’

Ask them how they learned the designs, and they all say, “our ancestors taught us.”

But despite everyone in their cooperative being talented artists and hard workers, they struggle to make a living, and their wider community lives in grinding poverty. The isolation of their island and their lack of business experience means that many of them work two jobs while raising children. Most of their husbands are fishermen, but fears of local overfishing has pushed their work out to sea and into the city where they make meagre earnings.

We wanted to invest in the women’s skills and see their business grow. So, after consulting with them about what they need, our local partners have been running business training and are helping them buy industrial sewing machines to help them expand their business to include bags and clothing with their traditional designs.

Together we’re helping them do what they love, get a fair price for their labour and lift themselves out of poverty.

My colleague Meilany, a local project manager, told me that empowering these women has huge flow-on affects for the community.

“You can’t make positive change for women here without also affecting all of society,” Meilanny says.

“These women work hard so that they can afford to send their children to school; many of them never had the chance themselves.”

“And if you teach a woman practical or artistic skills, or to read and write she will teach her family, her children. That knowledge is passed on.”

West Papua has a staggeringly high number of people living below the poverty line. Upwards of 27% live on less than $2 a day. Our local partners are working to change this at a community level, through strategies that invest in critical aspects of life: food security, health, women’s incomes and the future of children.

They need our support to continue to make projects like these a reality. Invest in these skillful women and projects that are helping people grow a new future in West Papua.

 

Visit www.unitingworld.org.au/papua to make a donation.

In hope and peace,

Marcus Campbell
UnitingWorld

 


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In a place of extraordinary hardship, people still rise