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Earlier this year, I made a trip across West Papua. It’s just 150km north of Australia, but it feels a world away – one of the poorest regions in the Asia Pacific. Yet everywhere I went, what struck me most was the profound generosity and sense of community that bound people together. This runs deep in local culture and traditions, expressed so naturally it almost seems to grow up out of the soil. It’s also what makes our work with the local Church so effective.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories of change and highlighting the work of our partners to tackle hunger, empower women and confront communicable disease in West Papua.

I’d like to start with the story of Beni and his family.

Beni and his wife Sarah live way up in the remote highlands of West Papua. When I met Beni in his garden one afternoon, he had been working all day but couldn’t stop smiling – even as he spoke about his recent struggles to put food on the table.

In 2016, the area he lives was gripped by one of the worst droughts in living memory. Crops right across the region failed. Beni and Sarah’s sweet potato, their main food source, was decimated.

“Our crop grew tiny and hard with the lack of rain; it was the same across the entire region, so everyone was worried… The whole village was wondering if we would all starve if we didn’t leave the area,” said Beni.

Thankfully, UnitingWorld’s local church partners were there to help during and after the crisis. Our partners gave Beni seeds and training to nurture the family garden and enter into field-sharing arrangements with his neighbours to test out how different crops grow across the mountain.

Beni says the help provided by the project has allowed his family to plan for the lean seasons.

He was beaming when he showed me his latest soybean plants sprouting up, and was keen to explain how well it had gone – not just for him but his whole community.

You can help us invest in training and equipping more families like Beni’s.

Imagine what it’s like to have – for the first time ever – the ability to plan confidently for your future. That’s the experience of Beni and Sarah today. Proud of their hard work and expertise, they’ve now expanded their skills to making tofu, much sought after in the highlands. It’s giving them a small additional income for medical and school needs for their children.

Our partners are providing the expertise and training these families need – but they can’t do it without our support. Your gift can get more workers in the field, supply more seeds and nurture more families to take up life-changing opportunities.

With your support, together with the hard work of people like Beni and his family, we’re helping communities grow better futures.

I’m looking forward to sharing more stories of change over the coming weeks!

In hope and peace,

Marcus Campbell
UnitingWorld

Donate now to help people grow a new future in West Papua.

 


“Do you feel that your personal expenditure reflects compassion for those in need?”

That Bible study question really got me thinking. When I looked at my life, I saw countless blessings – a quality education, opportunities to travel, a generous and supportive family, great friends and a good job. Yet what was I giving back? The amount was tiny. It came entirely from my excess. I remembered the story of the widow’s offering – the poor woman who gave just two small coins, which was all she had to live on (Mark 12:41-44). She gave humbly, generously and sacrificially. I couldn’t give everything, but I could be more like her.

That week I prayed, I researched, and then I increased my donations more than tenfold. I began to give a good chunk of money – one that I could not miss on my monthly bank statement. It is now one of my biggest regular expenditures, after paying for the roof over my head.

How do I afford it? Well, I now have to be more careful with my money – it is like a permanent Lent Event where purchased coffees and other luxuries are the exception, not the norm. But I don’t begrudge it for one second! I see it as God’s money – my contribution – to making this world a better place.

After reflection, I chose to give my entire contribution to overseas relief, development, and capacity-building projects. Of course, the need within Australia is also great, but I reasoned that my taxes and the Australian Government contribute a lot already to health and welfare in this country.

I chose to give to one organisation rather than many, because the impact would be greater. I would only get one set of mail-outs, and thus a greater proportion of my money would actually reach the people I wanted to help.

I chose to give regular monthly donations because I knew that planned giving was more helpful to organisations. Nonetheless, I still sometimes give to appeals, and I love purchasing the ‘Everything in Common’ gift cards to share the good news with family and friends.

Finally, I chose to give to UnitingWorld because I believe in their work. UnitingWorld’s relief and development projects have Australian Government accreditation, so I know that I am contributing to good projects. In addition, the project partners are people of faith! I believe that the best way to share God’s love is through action. So I wanted my contribution to help with this.

I always thought that I would make a large contribution in my will (and indeed, I still plan to) but doing it while I am still alive excites me more! We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth…’ and I hope that I will see that day – when extreme poverty is gone, when all children have an education, and when the marginalised are empowered. Imagine that!

UnitingWorld works in partnership with local organisations – building skills, capacity and relationships, as well as funding projects. There are so many opportunities for individuals and communities in Australia to become involved in these relationships – including visiting, sharing stories, supporting and praying for our overseas partners. God and relationships are at the heart of the work and with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

This is my story. What is yours? Do you feel that your personal expenditure – of your time, your money, or your purchasing decisions – reflects compassion for those in need? I encourage you to pray and to ponder.

Blessings,

From a UnitingWorld supporter (who has chosen to remain unnamed because it is my story, not my identity, that is important).

We can’t tell you how much we appreciate stories like this one. If this reflection has challenged you to become a Regular Giver, hop over to our giving page and choose ‘recurring gift’ here

Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson
National Disaster Recovery Officer
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

As the plane lifted off from the Kingdom of Tonga, I had a familiar twinge of the heart as the island left my line of sight. While I was returning to the comfort of my own home with reliable power, phone and internet, and clean water, there are so many people in Tonga that won’t have access to these things for some time.

On Monday 12 February, Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated the islands of Tonga, with winds of 230km/h whipping the Southern Coast of the main island of Tongatapu. Locals had taken warnings seriously and prepared as well as they could, but lightly built houses were no match for the monster storm. The fact that it struck at night probably saved scores of lives, as people were bunkered indoors and avoided injury from flying roofing iron and falling trees. The negative is in the lasting memory of families who huddled together through the terror of a sleepless night of pitch darkness and screaming wind, hoping and praying their place of shelter would hold together.

With the dawn’s light, people ventured out to assess the damage and found this particularly confronting. Many houses lost all or part of their roofing, torn metal and splintered wood, thousands of trees felled and palm fronds scattered. Rain continued to inundate many houses that had escaped the worst of wind damage.

Power poles leaned precariously or snapped off completely, and power lines lay across muddy roads. In the centre of the main city of Nuku’ Alofa, the walls of Parliament House were blown out and the roof crumpled to the ground, a state of emergency was declared which included curfews to keep people from the CBD as many shops were emptied of ruined goods.

There are no cyclone shelters in Tonga so while most people remained in their homes during the storm, the most solid gathering places are in the church buildings that play a prominent role in Tongan community life. The people’s faith in their church communities means there is a place to come together and share their experiences of loss and hope.

Red Cross, Caritas and other groups are doing important work in delivering supplies to the most affected – food, water, and temporary shelter, but it is the churches that are at the forefront of bringing the community-building psycho-social support which will restore hope.

I flew into Tonga two weeks after TC Gita with Rev. Nau Ahosivi. Nau is a Tongan-born minister in placement at Concord Uniting Church. It had been our second trip together; the first – in 2015 – also had Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau. This first trip was an initiative of UnitingWorld, at the request of our church partner, the Free Wesleyan Church Tonga, to train a network of chaplains to support people in the event of disaster or crisis.  From this first training course, which included a ‘train the trainer’ component, the Tongan Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (TDRCN) was born.

The training course is an ‘islander’ variation on that used in NSW/ACT and South Australia. It has also been used in supporting the churches in Fiji and Tuvalu. It covers a range of subjects including: the nature of disaster, how it affects communities and people, how people react and are affected by critical incidents and trauma, calming and communication techniques, vicarious traumatisation (how the carer can be affected by the work) and self-care.

After TC Gita hit, the Free Wesleyan church deployed the chaplains we had trained in 2015. Valuable work done by Michael Constable of UnitingWorld had assisted them in pre-disaster preparedness, mapping the areas of need and making assessments. Chaplains were able to respond to people who needed them most, but this was not easy for them as conditions were far from ideal. The weather this time of year is hot and steamy. The cyclonic winds had dropped to dead calm and the heat and humidity from the water brought with it discomfort and the threat of mosquitoes bearing Dengue Fever and the Zika Virus. The chaplains spoke of how shocked they were by the damage to both the natural environment and the villages they visited, of talking to people as they sat under plastic tarpaulins or in the tents in which they now live. The chaplains themselves have stresses in their lives, many having endured the cyclone and having their own homes flooded, before leaving to care for others.

Our first afternoon with the group involved debriefing these chaplains, allowing them to share their experiences and process them together. The next two days were spent on the training which melded their understanding with the context of their experience.

The church had requested identification vests for the chaplains which allowed them to (as with other aid workers) show who they are and what they are doing. I was able to work with a local Sydney manufacturer who put in extra hours and made these from white cotton (allowing for tropical heat) at less than cost price, donating the cost of their labour to support the effort. The chaplains are out again, working in teams, supporting local ministers as they visit and listen to cyclone-affected people.

My work

I have been working in the area of emergency ministry and disaster recovery for some time now.  Ordained in 1993 and becoming a Rural Fire Service Member and chaplain in 1996, I have worked in in the Welfare area of the state response for many years. In 2007 I helped to establish the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network which I continue to oversee (this is a ministry of the UCA NSW/ACT Synod). In my role as National Disaster Recovery Officer, I support the development of disaster recovery preparedness and response from the church and its agencies. I work with the Synods in supporting the development of ecumenical disaster response chaplaincy, peer support (looking after ministers working in communities affected by crisis) and supporting disaster recovery long-supply placements with Presbyteries, assisting community recovery.

Sustained support

I am acutely aware that disasters come and go with the nightly news. A cyclone hits, a fire damages a community, an earthquake causes loss and damage, and then something else happens. We may be mindful for a time – but then a new crisis demands our attention. This is an understandable reality.  The problem is that, for the people involved, recovery may take years and their needs actually intensify over the first six months to a year – as their lack of resources and frustrations become more apparent. This is when they need sustained support. How can we best support the sustained effort?

Prayer is mightily important. I had some conversations with people of the church who spoke to me about how important it was to them that they were remembered and supported in prayer by the brothers and sisters in Christ from nations far away.

Giving is vital.  Often our first reaction is to gather goods, clothing and food to send. I believe this comes from a need to send something tangible to people. Unfortunately, this has its limitations: what is sent is not always needed. There is, at present, no food shortage in Tonga, while some crops were damaged, fishing continues and supplies from New Zealand and elsewhere continue to flow unabated. Donated goods may actually damage the local businesses and economy; for every item sent from Australia, a local Tongan business will lose a sale and locals may lose work. Containers cost money to send and fees at the wharf. They also take time to empty and sort. During my time in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam, they spoke of the wastage of time and effort in transporting and emptying the containers.

The greatest need at the moment is cash that can purchase new building materials through local suppliers, employ local workers and support a damaged economy.

I travelled with my family as part of an Exposure trip through UnitingWorld to Fiji. One of the most meaningful experiences for me was going by speedboat to the island Ovalau, significantly damaged by Cyclone Winston in February of 2016.

Talking to our guide James Baghwan, we came to understand that the majority of the people on the island barely had the means to provide for their family’s basic needs. They don’t have the capability to move somewhere else, even to the main island, where they would be better equipped during times of cyclones. Even if they did, most are living on the land that their ancestors did, and so have significant cultural and historical ties to the land, which provides them with a sense of identity.

Cyclone Winston was expected to completely miss the island, and so the people were unprepared. You can imagine the chaos, panic, and terror they would have experienced in the mad rush to secure what little they had with heavy materials and find a place where they might be safe. The damage was strong enough to beach a ship, lift up and move water tanks as well as destroy houses and buildings.

James told me people would probably have run up the mountain and lay on one of the ringing roads, holding onto whoever or whatever they could. They would have stayed like this for many hours, desperately hoping and praying that they wouldn’t be blown away or hit by debris, all the while listening to the terrifying sounds of everything they knew being ripped violently apart.

We can only begin to imagine the fear, panic and desperation they would feel and how psychologically damaging this would be. Their whole lives dictated by this fear, trapped in this cycle of working to repair what is lost only to see it destroyed the next time and have to begin again.

This fear would only be intensified by the threat that global warming places on them – of bigger, more powerful, more unpredictable cyclones. Add to this the sheer frustration they must feel watching the powers of the world – who could do something to help them or to help prevent global warming – yet who debate that it exists.

After this conversation, I began to wonder: in the midst of all of this, how do people on that island find true peace and happiness, when they are under such threat and have so little? And the people that we met did seem happy and were welcoming.

And it reminded me of a Bible passage from Matthew 6:19-24: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Thanks to sixteen year old Hannah for allowing us to share her reflection with you.

If you’re keen to find out more about what the Pacific church is doing to protect against cyclones and how they’re working to save lives in disaster, read more about the project or make a donation here.

 

The President of the Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF) is to join the crew of Fiji’s iconic traditional sailing canoe the ‘Uto Ni Yalo’ this week, as it sails to Matuku in the Lau group of islands.

Rev. Dr Tevita Nawadra Bainivanua will join the Uto Ni Yalo in Moala and participate in activities on the island that focuses on building community resilience to climate change as well as explore opportunities to advance traditional seafaring as a means of reducing Fiji’s eastern islands reliance on fossil fuels.

He and his wife will then sail on the Uto Ni Yalo to Matuku where they will join in environmental and climate change awareness activities as well as officiating the induction of the Divisional Superintendent of the Methodist Church’s Matuku Division.

“I have followed the voyages of the Uto Ni Yalo and heard a lot about their work and mission from their volunteer chaplain Rev. James Bhagwan,” said Rev. Dr. Banivanua.

“The church’s symbol of its New Exodus is a Drua sailing through rough seas. The work of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust is an example to the church of visionary courage and commitment to care for the ocean and environment and resilience in the face of climate change through sustainable sea transport.”

“I’m grateful to the Trust for accommodating me on their voyage and look forward to a taste of what they experience in their voyaging.”

Uto ni Yalo Trust secretary Dwain Q alovaki says that the Lau group of islands is highly biodiverse in reef fish that support wellbeing and livelihoods. The Lau voyage is an opportunity to progress community-led solutions to climate change among our maritime islands by employing a faith-based approach to environmental stewardship.

Follow their journey on Facebook

For further information contact MCIF Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission jamesb@methodistfiji.org or UNYT Secretary dqalovaki@gmail.com

Download MCIF press release

It doesn’t matter where I travel across this world of ours – China’s lakeside Colleges, India’s dusty villages, a storm-chewed community in one of Fiji’s most lush northern valleys – it’s always the mothers who sidle up to me for a chat. Maybe I’m a bit unusual – the white woman grinning at their kids among the men who come here as dignitaries, diagnosticians or dispensers of cash. These women hold quiet power in their communities – they’re tellers of stories and keepers of knowledge. And they’re keen to connect.

Today it’s Anna: mother of two, intelligent, articulate and gently spoken. She talks about her village, Nausori, squeezed tight in Cyclone Winston’s fist as houses and people alike are shaken and stirred. Her sister’s home was taken apart while the whole family ran, taking nothing with them, to a neighbour. They still live there today. Anna’s sister is pregnant. The government has stepped up, but with more than 60,000 people left homeless in Fiji after Winston, the job is huge.

This is what’s left of the family home.

As we talk together, women gather in the nearby church, praying and singing. Their voices drift across the valley, right on dusk, and I wonder yet again about the place of faith in this country. The majority of people are believers of one kind or another, although the traditional Christian denominations have recently lost some ground to other flavours, from the spice of Pentecostalism to Adventist wholefoods. Hindus have always existed reasonably happily alongside the majority Christian population, and so have Muslims. It’s hard to say what they all make, collectively, of the constant battering the Pacific takes from natural disasters. Fijians – and you’ll know this if you’ve been there on holiday – are a friendly, laid-back people. They pitch in. They accept life. And they love their church.  Why?

Because the church stands strong when everything else is shaken.

We’re helping this village and others “Build Back Better” – hat tip to Australian Aid through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. UnitingWorld’s support happens in partnership with the local church, which is respected and revered. It’s not Australia. There’s little scepticism here. In fact, the sight of a shattered church high on the hill in the middle of a village is so demoralising for Pacific people that it’s often repaired first – a defiant sign that the phoenix rises from the ashes. The local church is a place of respite not only for people in need throughout the year, but people shelter in her arms during cyclone and storm. It symbolises strength, unity and the certainty that something bigger is at play in the universe. As we leave the village in the growing darkness, children are playing outside the church, where light spills from within and prayers are rising. It’s not even a Sunday.

Churches in Fiji are taking the lead in the “Build Back” campaign – not just in the obvious ways, with bricks and mortar, but assisting with long term plans to plant the right crops for the changing climate so that communities can stay in rural areas, helping train carpenters so that the ‘drain’ of skills to the city doesn’t continue.  God’s people are determined to get on with the business of living in ways that demonstrate the hands-on approach of Jesus, proof that God is alive and well in the Pacific.  This is a culture where faith is still central – the Bible is the ‘go to’ for everything in life and the church is a genuine change maker in society. Call it gospel living, call it what you like. People of faith make a difference.  The Pacific church restores hope, sets a light on a hill, rebuilds what is broken, sorts out practical stuff like where to find food and comfort. In short, the church is a mover and a shaker.  And people respond with love.

That’s why we continue not only to learn from our Pacific neighbours, but to draw hope from their example.  So many of our people over the years served faithfully in the Pacific as missionaries – in word and deed.  This is their legacy.  So many Pacific people now find their homes within the Uniting Church of Australia, sharing their gifts with us.  Our bonds are strong.

Please share the news of our most recent project together:  saving lives by preparing communities to withstand disasters before they strike.  $1 invested now can save $15 in the aftermath of a cyclone, storm or flood.  Every dollar adds up.  Please give if you’re able.

Click here to donate.

The first I knew of 16 million people inundated by floodwater were the photos from a friend on Facebook.

Outstretched hands, bare shoulders, muddy torrents: they were the first of what I expected to be a mainstream media deluge. Instead: silence. Families across Nepal, India and Bangladesh have been drowned, buried alive and starving for almost a month now, it turns out, and the media vacuum is profound.

This is South Asia’s annual monsoon nightmare – the natural disaster that no longer makes the news. Yes, we #prayfor the victims of terror attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, but at the same time a bus full of school children in Nepal is buried alive by a landslide. It’s the second in a week, and these families are just a handful of the sixteen million people in the last month who are losing everything to forces they can’t control. There are no hashtags; only the prayers of the families themselves, who sleep in the rain while their bellies growl for food and their hearts long for the dead.

I guess there are a few factors at play in the world’s collective shrug in the direction of the disaster. The numbers – so huge it’s hard to imagine. The inevitability – South Asia ‘always floods’. The media – it feeds the appetites we offer up, and we have little interest in floods. We don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re preoccupied with family, work stresses and the routines of every day life.

In the midst of it all, perhaps some pray for the less fortunate, a blanket offering for anyone doing it tough, and idly wonder at times why God doesn’t intervene more often in a crisis.

The fact is, God does. I think of my friend who is part of the Church of North India. I’ve not only visited her in the urban settlements where she works beside those who’ve fallen through the cracks in her society, but over the last few days I’ve watched on Facebook as she wades through flood waters to deliver dhal and black plastic to families who have seen their homes washed away. God is present in and through people like Nita, who act out what it means to be God’s light and love within the world.

Although we may not be able to gag Mother Nature, we have been given the means to prevent these disasters before they become sixteen-million-life tragedies. After all, we know that monsoon rains will reliably take the lives of men, women and children in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, year after year, simply because they live in low lying areas, in homes that are badly built, beside rivers that will swell and swallow them whole: they’re too poor to move elsewhere. It won’t be flooding that kills these people and their livelihoods. It will be the lack of evacuation plans, poor communication, homes built on the side of mountains where they shouldn’t be, and outbreaks of disease. In short, it’ll be poverty, and the lack of opportunity that comes with it.

You know what we need to save these lives? We need vision. And if it all looks too hard, too big, too far away and too hard, who better to take on all that but a community who passionately believe that life is possible from death? We can beat this giant. We already know that $1 invested to reduce risks and prepare communities for disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts after a cyclone, flood or earthquake hits. That’s not just lives saved, but good economic sense – an achievable, smart investment.

If there’s anything I believe as a follower of Christ, it’s that transformation is possible. Not just individual lives turned around, but whole systems shaken to their core. Institutionalised human slavery – ended. Children valued and universal education won, wrought from a world where babies where routinely discarded on mountainsides to die. Diseases eradicated. Women’s rights championed. In all of these cataclysmic wins, Christians have been at the forefront with a vision for things that must, at the time, have seemed impossible.

So it is with saving lives before natural disasters strike. As a changing climate increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather, especially in our own Asia/Pacific region, we’ll need to be smarter and more determined about the ways we protect ourselves – and especially our most vulnerable – from tragedy. Allowing sixteen million lives each year to sink beneath muddy waters simply isn’t an option.

When we’re tempted to ask why God doesn’t intervene more directly in natural disasters, perhaps the better question to ask is: why don’t we? Big change, bold vision: this is our call, this is our identity. And as droughts, floods, cyclones, and famines increasingly stalk our world, this is the challenge we’re called on to meet – before disasters become tragedies.

UnitingWorld has launched an appeal to support partner churches in the Pacific as they build critical resilience to disasters and climate change. Donate now: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/stop-disasters-becoming-tragedies/

Almost exactly two months after our son died in 2004, some 250,000 people were killed by a series of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. It was described at the time as the worst tsunami event the world had ever seen. I didn’t watch any of the footage. That kind of graphic imagery simply wasn’t needed to help me share a tiny fraction of the pain and loss countless families were experiencing around the world in that moment.

Death, especially unexpected death, doesn’t just leave us gutted. It leaves us helpless and angry. In the outpouring of grief and gifts following the Boxing Day Tsunami, as well as in the expressions of love we received after Hugh’s death, there was a common theme: if only we could have done something – anything – to prevent this cavernous loss.

Here’s the astonishing fact. Often we can. We just choose not to.

Massive-scale loss – of life, homes and livelihoods in natural disasters – is preventable. So are the deaths of individuals like Hughie, babies who die at the rate of 2000 a day from complications arising form dirty water. Each of these lives matter no less than Hugh’s.

Preventable.

We’ve heard a lot about how to prevent the deaths of children from disease, but natural disasters seem to fall into a different hand-wringing category altogether. They’re so random! So mercilessly destructive!

True, and an earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale underneath the Indian ocean is always going to create havoc. But here’s the thing. The sheer number of lives lost and ruined by natural disasters can be dramatically reduced.

Here’s how:

  • Investing in early warning systems and planning for evacuation, especially in isolated regions and areas where poverty is widespread – co-incidentally often the places where natural disasters strike hardest
  • Training leaders in life saving responses before, during and after emergency, and giving them the resources they need to carry them out
  • Building housing and shelters in areas that are less likely to be hammered by storms, floods, quakes and the slow death march of changing climate
  • Planning for water and food supplies that can survive sudden shocks so that people don’t fall critically ill or lose their means of making a living after disaster

In the years following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which killed almost 16,000 people, all these steps were put in place. It cost billions of dollars. But the result is that people live with a great deal more security – not certainty, but security – about their chances of surviving natural disasters, short and long term.

It’s simply not the case for others in the Asia/Pacific region, where 70% of the world’s worst natural disasters wreak their unholy havoc. These nations are too poor, too under-resourced, and too far from the media spotlight to thoroughly invest in the kind of changes that would increase survival rates. They only hit the headlines once their men, women and children are washed up on beaches or buried alive beneath the mud.

And that’s when the world suddenly digs deep to give, to grieve and to ask one another: “How can Mother Nature be so cruel?”

There’s actually a better question to ask, but few of us will confront it head on. It’s along the lines of “How can human beings be so short-sighted?”

Classrooms being ‘built back better’ in Fiji

If we know how to save lives today, why do we wait until it’s too late?

Of course, the answer to that question is as complex as humanity itself. Some of us are genuinely unaware of how effective Disaster Risk Reduction is, how to go about supporting it, or how it’s desperately needed in parts of the world where poverty already robs people of so much. Some of us are only moved by the plight of our neighbours once we see them clutching their children and wading through waist-deep water, or burying their loved ones. And all those reactions are human.

But here are the facts. Just $1 invested in preparation before a disaster saves $15 in recovery efforts later. That means the money you invest today is 15 times more effective than giving it after the disaster hits.  The economic kickbacks of preparing communities to plan, build and shock proof are astronomical. But the lives saved are even more impressive.

If only there was something we could have done? There is. Don’t let others die while we’re wondering.

“God is good in the midst of the darkness; God is good in the midst of evil. God is in the midst, no matter what is happening in the world. And he loves you, and he’s here for you.”

It’s not a bad quote – a rallying call to bring comfort to thousands of young people mourning the loss of family and friends after terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

Many will be surprised, then, to know these words came from the lips of pop star Justin Bieber. Whatever you think of Bieber’s music and his reputation, his assertion that “God is in the midst” is powerful. It’s the central claim we share as people of faith – God is present, and God is love – even in the midst of deliberate acts of violence, hunger, the slow destruction of the earth, the seemingly senseless decisions of our political leaders. God is here.

Understandably though, many question the validity of such a claim. Too often, God’s presence is shadowy; arguably invisible. For us, working with partners in places like South Sudan, India and Kiribati, there are glimpses of the divine in the everyday – people who’ve been part of tribal groups fighting hand to hand who now work together to take sacks of maize to hungry families in South Sudan; the straight-backed concentration of a young woman who is the first of her family to attend high school in India; a family welcoming others into their home because theirs is the only one still standing after a cyclone. This, we believe, is our God at work in the midst of darkness and despair.

How? Mystifyingly, God has always chosen to work through ordinary people. In South Sudan, it’s people like Paska, who supports women through the local church to recover from the violence they’ve experienced throughout the 25-year civil war. In India, Parmjeet works with children, especially girls, to lay down the foundations for a completely different future – one where people not only have the skills to earn a living but understand and can advocate for their rights. In the Pacific, Maina has been working for the last twelve months with his community in Tuvalu to help them understand the vital importance of preparing for and adapting to the changes brought about by a rapidly shifting climate. The result will be families better prepared for cyclones, droughts and king tides that would otherwise devastate homes and livelihoods.

This is how God shows up. Perhaps it’s not glamorous, but it works. And when we’re tempted to ask, as we often are – where is God in the midst of suffering? – this is the answer.

God is present in and through God’s people. Astonishingly, humblingly, that means we each play a vital part in this presence

Our prayer, our advocacy and our giving is part of overcoming the darkness. We participate in God’s work in the world.

Thank you for your continued commitment to our shared vision of a world renewed, people made whole and hopeful in Christ’s love.  We are incredibly grateful for your prayer, financial gifts and support.

-Cath Taylor
UnitingWorld

“Rough day at work, hey?” says my fifteen year old with a grin when she comes home and notices the first draft for our upcoming UnitingWorld campaign.

We don’t believe in charity,” declares my scrawl on a large sheet of paper, folded in two.

It’s a tagline probably worthy of the raised eyebrow. For years when they were younger, whenever other kids asked our girls what their parents did, they tended to reply that we ‘worked for charities.’ It was easier than explaining the ins and outs of overseas aid or social entrepreneurship here in Sydney. Everyone gets the concept of charity: “Generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill or helpless”. Good stuff, right?

“Open it up,” I tell Jem. “You have to read the next bit.”

Inside: We don’t believe in charity. We believe in solidarity.

 Ah,” says Jem. “Nice.”

“We believe in solidarity.”

None of us want to be regarded as ‘charity cases.’ We’d much rather just be people – with strengths and weaknesses, sure – but always essentially just people. Charity is a beautiful word of course – it’s always meant love and brotherhood, generosity, kindness. But it sometimes feels like it also has overtones of pity, distance: “I’m giving because I feel sorry for you, and you’re so helpless, so here: please take this.” Even better than charity, I think, is solidarity – the idea that our equal and shared humanity is what matters most, even if the details of our experience are sometimes quite different.

Eduardo Galeano wrote: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Solidarity recognises that beneath the cards that life has dealt us, we’re equally human, with equal strengths and weaknesses, even if they’re vastly magnified by our circumstances. Making the quiet effort to redistribute our resources is a respectful (if inadequate) attempt to recognise this. You could argue it’s just semantics, but I think it’s actually important.

In West Timor I met Betcy, a mum probably around my age.

Betcy has four children, and although she’s functionally blind she used a low interest loan from the Church of West Timor to start a small business selling used clothes and saved enough money to build her own home. It has almost-reliable electricity, a shared bed for the three boys, and a brand new water tank to safeguard their often-dirty water supply. When she speaks about the dreams she has for her children (another small loan to send her eldest to university to study engineering, for example), and when she proudly shows me the wardrobe where her children hang their school uniforms, or shyly grins at the antics of her eight year old daughter chasing the family dog – we share one of those wordless ‘mum’ moments. That’s about all it takes.

Betcy and her daughter

I come home here to my house with the two bathrooms, the car that conveniently beeps as I mow down my recycling bin on the way to my children’s excellent schools, and Betcy stays with me. She’s with me in the knowledge that I have a huge amount of practical resources to share, simply because I was born in a different place, through no merit of my own. She’s here in the knowledge that resilience, courage, love and aspiration are universal, and that my children are not the only ones who deserve to have those dreams nurtured. She’s alongside me in the certainty that “poor people” are not helpless – they’re determined, creative and capable. And they may be in some cases geographically removed, but they share many of my life experiences.

Most especially, I realise that any one of us could be Betcy if the world tilted its axis just a fraction and the lottery of birth placed us somewhere where rains stubbornly refused to fall or life is shattered in a hail of bullets; if our parents had to choose between sending us to school or finding us work to do to help keep the family fed. All of this knowledge and the shared humanity it points to – that’s solidarity.

This knowledge changes how I live, what I think, how I use my money and my time. Before you offer me a sainthood, I’m a reluctant learner. Always.

Does this lead to generous acts and donations? Hopefully. But not just edge of my life, got-a-bit-left-over donations from pity. Ideally, this is using the resources I have in an attempt to express genuine respect for people who are fully human, fully deserving of the same opportunities as me and my family, and fully able to make use of them. Giving money this way might mean I go without something I’d kinda like. Because three quarters of the world go without things that kinda-keep-them-alive, and they have every much a right to that life as I do.

For me, solidarity will always be more meaningful than charity. So no, Jem, it wasn’t a rough day at work. It was another good one, and I’m grateful as always for everything I learn with UnitingWorld and with our partners in West Timor, Fiji, India, China, Vanuatu and South Sudan. Most especially, I’m grateful for the confronting and motivating fact of our equal, beautiful and shared humanity. I’ll continue to learn and be challenged by how to respond to it.

– Cath

Support determined, creative and capable people freeing themselves from poverty by making a tax-deductible donation to our End of Financial Year campaign before June 30: