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We were thrilled to receive a handwritten letter from a student who has been part of our Informal settlement school subsidy program in Fiji. Mira* just graduated and wanted to say a big thank you to the Uniting Church for supporting her education.

Many of you gave a ‘Set for School’ gift card last Christmas, supporting students like Mira to get through school on an equal footing with her peers. It’s great to see the joy and impact it can make.

*Name changed. We have reproduced parts of Mira’s letter below to remove references to names and specific locations to protect her privacy.

Full letter:

Suva, Fiji / 7 Feb, 2019
The heads/members. Uniting Church, Australia

I am glad to write this letter of appreciation for the support of the Uniting Church towards my education life.

It was indeed a proud moment for my parents to see their daughter graduate out of high school with having much burden on their shoulders to educate me. Furthermore, this attainment of education also moulded me to contribute towards the works of the church by becoming a Sunday school teacher.

The Uniting Church did not step back from helping us and provided support through means of buying uniforms, bags and shoes for us which was a need of school life.

All in all, I would like to thank the Uniting Church from the bottom of my heart for their endless support in helping the parents nuture their children.

A big bula vinaka vakalevu, dhanyarad and thank you from the children.

Yours faithfully,
– Mira

Kina Somare* is wanted throughout the Highlands of Papua New Guinea on numerous counts of violence. Leader of a well-known gang that frequently clashes with others in the region, his face is both known and feared. So when he walks into a peace workshop one still afternoon in October, amidst the rubble of Hela Province’s worst earthquake since 1922, everyone in the church stands very still. 

Somare walks out a changed man. He speaks with local police. He wants to become an ambassador for peace personally and to influence other young people to bring healing to the community. His transformation is staggering.

“The Bishop of the United Church in PNG (UCPNG), who was taking part that day, found Somare’s presence particularly unnerving,” says UCPNG Disaster Office Project Manager Stella Vika. 

“He’d been held up by this man at knife point not so long ago. They met, reconciled and Somare gave his life to Christ. Our partners up in Hela Province are really blown away by this story. To have someone of such notoriety undergo such a change is incredibly encouraging.

UCPNG leaders at the Mendi Counselling and Peacebuilding workshop

The United Church of Papua New Guinea, in partnership with UnitingWorld, has been running peace workshops and counselling for people impacted by the recent earthquake. Like other aid agencies, UnitingWorld was on hand with sanitation kits and practical items, but the long-term work of helping people recover emotionally and psychologically is incredibly important.

“Disasters frequently damage infrastructure and livelihoods but they can also increase vulnerability and conflict,” says David Brice, Disaster Relief Coordinator with UnitingWorld.

“Giving people access to counselling and the tools to navigate conflict has a significant impact on how quickly these communities can heal and recover.”

It’s one of the unique ways your donations go further with UnitingWorld. Your support doesn’t just address the practical problems of clean water and repaired roofing – it builds people’s resilience to tackle issues that accelerate after disaster. And men like Somare are changed in the process. Given the skills not just to rebuild their homes but their lives, they embrace the opportunity to bring change. 

HELP US BE DISASTER READY.

Every dollar donated before disaster strikes doesn’t just save countless lives – it saves significant amounts of money. Every $1 invested into building better homes, preparing evacuation plans and protecting communities can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy. Please, if you’re able, add to our disaster-ready fund.

Click here to donate now.

*Name changed to protect identity

Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea

Salote and Jone have been married 11 years, members of a Christian church, and have two beautiful children. They love one another, but throughout their marriage they’ve had times of conflict and Jone has become angry, abusive and resorted to violence. Each time he pleads for forgiveness, vows to change and for a time makes good on his promise. Each time, violence returns. Salote wants to believe that everyone, with the love of God, can change, but she fears for her life and for the welfare of her children. She asks the advice of her Pastor.

This is the scenario a group of men and women are grappling with in a frostily air-conditioned room in the offices of the United Church of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, on a typically hot February day. They’ve come from all over the country – the Highlands, New Britain, Goroka – and they represent different denominations, universities and groups united by a common desire to see an end to violence against women. This week, their unexpected secret weapon is better theology.

“Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is a Christian, which completely underpins the culture,” explains University lecturer Theresa, who has come to be part of the Community of Practice meeting, seeking inspiration for her gender and social studies lectures.

“But most have only a shallow understanding of what the Bible really says about men and women. It’s enough for many men to believe their marriages are ordained by God, or that they are superior to women. In reality, there’s so much more to what the Scriptures say about the equality of men and women. Understanding this properly changes everything.”

Watching the group grapple with what advice a Pastor should give to the couple is an interesting experience.  Earlier, a Bible study by Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll has unpacked a passage from Matthew about turning the other cheek – a concept that for decades has been part of the powerful brew holding faithful women captive in abusive marriages. Rev Dr Carroll, however, explains that in the culture of Jesus’ day, rather than passively accepting or inviting further violence, ‘turning the other cheek’ could quite literally have created a radically different dynamic between two people and restored a sense of equality and dignity.

The interpretation opens new possibilities in the room and creates a buzz that spills over into discussion and controversy around the case study. For some, the issue hits close to the heart. Women here have left abusive marriages of their own and are raising children while helping other women find safety from violence. This is no idle hypothetical. What’s certain is that for everyone in the room, this teaching of Jesus – fully explained, beautifully illustrated  – has real authority and currency to change lives.

UnitingWorld is continuing to support the development of resources to teach Gender Equality Theology throughout the Pacific. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the Bible studies or helping provide invaluable financial support for the project, please get in touch. We’d love you to join us on this exciting journey with our partners!

Gender Equality Theology Community of Practice activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.

At 3:44am on 26 February 2018, Papua New Guinea experienced a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, with its epicentre in the Southern Highlands.  The initial quake and landslips resulted in 160 deaths and many more injuries.  In the days and weeks that followed, severe aftershocks and landslides caused many more deaths. 

The quake caused widespread destruction of property and infrastructure; including roads, houses, rupturing of tanks and pollution of fresh water from underground oil and gas leaking into streams from below. The human cost was immeasurable. Along with the loss of housing, shelter, water and food supplies, people were deeply shaken emotionally.  Aftershocks left people afraid to sleep in what was left of their homes and communities. Already facing poverty and lack of resources, in the aftermath of the massive earthquake social fragmentation and tensions quickly reached boiling point.

Even today, the Papua New Guinea highlands are very remote. After a plane flight from Port Moresby to Mount Hagen, it took nearly three hours by four-wheel drive on heavily damaged roads tracking through rainforests, mountains and villages to reach the township of Mendi.  On arriving there I was given a tour of the town.  It is a beautiful place with lush, tropical growth, surrounded by banana plantations and you can see mountain tops hidden in mist.  Even so, signs of the earthquake were clear. 

Dark stripes on mountainsides showed where the earth had slipped. Houses were sitting squat and bent on the ground where their piers had collapsed and the local hospital still had walls missing.  There were signs of human-caused damage as well.  I was shown where the police station and courthouse had been razed by arson and where a passenger plane was destroyed; all this during riots in the town that had followed the earthquake.

Mendi was a fitting venue for UnitingWorld to organise joint training courses for pastors from the Highland provinces, where the church is at the forefront of social integration and care.  Following the earthquake, churches worked alongside government and not-for-profit agencies to help cater for basic needs and continue to be the prime provider of psychosocial support and mediation in conflicts.

The earthquake struck while I was working with UnitingWorld supporting our partners in Tonga following Cyclone Gita.  For some time, access was too restricted, and priority was given to basic human and social needs across Papua New Guinea.  It took months of logistical challenges (including access, funding and people involved) to bring everything together for the workshop in September. This turned out to be good timing, as any earlier it would have been difficult for primary pastoral carers and leaders to get away from the needs of their people.

 

 

The workshop was attended by over 25 participants, with the week divided into two segments: disaster recovery and trauma counselling, followed by sessions on peacebuilding.

The Disaster Recovery and Trauma Counselling was facilitated by myself and Lua Alu, a counsellor who works throughout Papua New Guinea and specialises in counselling on stress, conflict and sexual violence.  I was able to bring a framework to the workshop with input on disaster dynamics, trauma, critical incidents and debriefing.

The second part of the week focused on peacebuilding and was led by the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) team, an extraordinarily gifted group of people with extensive first-hand experience in negotiating warring groups to lay down their weapons, find forgiveness and extend peace.

These two elements melded seamlessly, with the first giving an understanding of post-traumatic reactions, symptoms and care, and the second giving a platform on practical ways to move forward in reconciliation. 

The workshops were a time of great refreshment for all involved.  They provided an opportunity for pastors to come away from situations of ongoing stress in the provision of pastoral care and share with brothers and sisters in Christ; being equipped and affirmed, ready to return to the difficult ongoing work of supporting their people.

I came away blessed by the kindness, hospitality and warmth shown by our local partners to a stranger from Australia.  I learned a great deal as I taught and shared with these dedicated people.  As I prepared to leave, many urged us to thank the people of UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia for this time, and to ask the church to remember them, recognising that – even now – they continue to face enormous challenges in caring for communities still fragile from the impact of the earthquake.

 

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

 

You can support the work of UnitingWorld and our local partners, helping communities be better prepared for disasters, saving lives and providing critical care in the aftermath. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation today.

 

UnitingWorld acknowledges the support of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Rev John Yor Nyker, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) was recently asked the question, “what does transformative partnership mean to you?” His response gave us some insight into the value that he and his church place on their international partnerships.

“Transformative partnership means many things for me. It means learning new things and new culture from others, which is part of strengthening relationship and friendship between partners and our church. It’s caring for others; sharing each other’s happiness and unhappiness, sadness and joy. When the war broke out in South Sudan, our brothers and sisters in Christ’s service were shedding tears for us.

It is not resources that make partnership. Partnership is the ministry, the Kingdom of God through prayers for each other. Partnership is learning, making friendships and sharing of ideas and opinions. It is learning about the global world … learning how to pass [on] the information about your culture and your way of life. It is important to establish partnership as a part of human life.”

Photo: Rev John Yor eating a melting Tim Tam brought to South Sudan from Australia

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more | Meet the peacemakers of South Sudan (video)

 

UnitingWorld hosted its annual five-day workshop on Gender Equality Theology in early November.

Led by Pacific theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Siera Bird, ministers from partner churches across the Pacific met in Nadi, Fiji, to wrestle with biblical themes of equality and anti-violence. They discussed how principles from the Bible can be powerful forces for positive change in their communities, where violence against women continues to be a significant problem.

Participants expressed their appreciation for what they learned throughout the week and committed to taking the knowledge back to their home churches.

“The teaching tools have given me more clarification for deeper biblical analysis and identifying the root-causes of social issues,”  said Rev Tomasi Tarabe, New Testament lecturer at the Davuilevu Theological College in Suva.

“I hope UnitingWorld continues to work with Pacific theologians on developing a methodology of reading and interpreting the Bible through our cultural lens.”

Participant Victoria Kavafolau, a theology student and newly appointed head of the Women’s Desk for the Tonga National Council of Churches, spoke about how her expectations for the event were turned around.

“Before I participated in the Gender Equality Theology workshop, I thought ‘oh, this is just another program advocating women’s rights.’ To be proven wrong was an understatement… Not only did it raise awareness about violence against women and children, but the workshop provided tools and resources for theologically interpreting and identifying gender equality within Scripture and how we can apply that to our relevant contexts,” said Victoria.

“This is an important area within our respective Oceania communities to be addressed and enriched. We are in a different era now with different worldviews and contexts. Our cultural values and customs often deter us from developing further perspectives on gender equality.

This program has impacted me at a personal level and has encouraged me to address this growing issue within my Tongan community. With the aid of UnitingWorld and the tools and resources they have provided me, hopefully change can be implemented according to the will of God. Praise be to God.”

 

The Partnering Women for Change project is supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Women Program. 

 

Photo: Victoria Kavafolau (right) with UnitingWorld Program Manager Megan Calcaterra and Rev Lima Tura, a previous UnitingWorld scholarship recipient who is now a lecturer at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Megan Calcaterra.

UnitingWorld welcomes the ‘Shaping the Path’ report on the prevention of sexual misconduct by ACFID members released today.

As a member of ACFID, UnitingWorld supported the commissioning of the Independent Review on the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct and participated in the review and interview processes.

While UnitingWorld had no reportable incidents, National Director Dr Sureka Goringe says UnitingWorld endorses all the recommendations made by the report.

The final report today found that of the 76 incidents reported by ACFID agencies, there were 31 substantiated sexual misconduct cases involving aid workers over a three-year period.

“As an agency committed to preventing harm to vulnerable people; those we serve, our partners and staff, we look forward to working with ACFID on implementing the 31 recommendations in the report,” said Dr Goringe.

“While we already have strong processes for preventing sexual misconduct, we are committed to learning from this review and improving our practices.”

“We want to echo the words of ACFID CEO Marc Purcell, that any case of sexual misconduct is completely unacceptable. Our sector must do better.”

UnitingWorld’s current prevention measures include: a complaints process that makes it easy for people to report misconduct; strong training and compliance processes for managing staff behaviour; regular surveys of our staff and partners providing an anonymous complaints process for discovering any issues or misconduct early; strong screening process for hiring staff, police checks and requiring a Working With Children Check; and a Code of Conduct that is included in the ‘ACFID Good Practice Toolkit’ as an example of good practice. Our staff receive refresher training and re-sign in the Code annually. We also require our Board, partners, volunteers and contractors to sign and be bound by the Code.

We do not send Australian-based staff overseas for long periods of time and instead work in close, long-standing partnerships with local churches.

Our close and vibrant relationships with our partner churches allow us to facilitate regional trainings with local staff about the Code of Conduct, compliance requirements and processes for reporting sexual misconduct.  Our close partnerships also allow us to have clear and frank discussions about expectations for implementing the Code of Conduct across church-based partner organisations.

In addition, UnitingWorld regularly runs regional workshops in collaboration with local church partners and theologians to promote gender equity and address gendered power dynamics, an issue identified in the report as one requiring improvement across the sector.

UnitingWorld remains committed transparency, accountability and constant improvement of our systems to prevent sexual misconduct.

If you have any questions about the AFID report or UnitingWorld’s processes for preventing sexual misconduct please do not hesitate to contact us.

Links

The Report

ACFID’s statement

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. We connect people and communities in Australia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa to work together for a world where lives are whole and hopeful, free from poverty and injustice. Find out more.

UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe has responded to the Prime Minister’s recent pledge of $3 billion towards infrastructure investments in the Pacific.

“We welcome calls to strengthen Australia’s partnership with the Pacific but we are cautious about the motives and the means,” said Dr Goringe.

“Ramping up investment to out-bid China for influence in the region should not take priority over sustainable community development.”

UnitingWorld echoes the words of ACFID CEO Marc Purcell, who notes the large number of existing lenders to the Pacific and many Pacific nations already suffering debt distress.

We recall the Christian-led Jubilee 2000 movement in the 1990’s to cancel crippling dept that kept states in poverty for more than a decade.

“If a step-up means an overburden of debt in the Pacific, it would be a huge step back. Especially considering the disaster-prone volatility of the Pacific region and the increasing impacts of climate change,” said Dr Goringe.

There are also concerns about lack of consultation with Pacific leaders and omission of climate change in the initiatives outlined by the PM.

The government’s own Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017 committed Australia to work in partnership with governments in the Pacific to respond to climate change, bolster resilience, strengthen emergency responses and improve governance, education, health and gender outcomes.

“True partnership is mutual and multilateral – more basically, it listens to the concerns of other parties before acting,” said Dr Goringe.

“We hope the Prime Minister’s ‘Pacific family’ rhetoric plans to meet the road at some point.”

Read ACFID’s full statement.

 

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia.

On 28 September, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the Donggala District in Central Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami that has devastated coastal areas including Palu city.

At least 1,500 people have been confirmed dead and 70,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The death toll climbs daily.

The Indonesian Government and United Nations estimate at least 190,000 people now require urgent humanitarian assistance, and that the lives of more than 1.5 million people have been affected.

Donate now

 

UnitingWorld launches appeal

UnitingWorld launched an appeal this week to support local churches in Sulawesi who are responding to the crisis with emergency shelters, food, water, clothing and fuel.

Our partner organisation, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) has been coordinating the emergency response activities of their member churches in Sulawesi: the Indonesia Protestant Church in Donggala (Gereja Protestan Indonesia di Donggala – GPID) and the Protestant Church in Central Sulawesi (Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah, GKST).

Initial funds raised by the Tsunami Crisis Appeal have now been sent to support relief work coordinated by PGI. More funds are urgently needed.

 

Local churches act quickly

Immediately after the crisis, churches in non-affected areas around Donggala began collecting donations and emergency supplies to take to Palu and coastal areas that were hit. Travel was near impossible for days because roads were destroyed by the earthquake.

The GKST quickly opened an emergency shelter in one of their high school buildings near Palu. Relief efforts are being coordinated by three local ministers. They report that the people being served at the centre have been so traumatised by aftershocks that they prefer to sleep outside the buildings.

Many GKST and GPID buildings have now become emergency centres being used by church leaders and volunteers. They are asking for supplies and medical aid. The PGI is preparing to send a health team from Jakarta to support the emergency centres.

UnitingWorld partner church, the Evangelical Christian Church in Timor (GMIT) also has a presence in Palu through their development organisation, Tanaoba Lais Manekat (TLM), which has been running a large-scale microfinance project there for many years.

Up to 4,000 of their clients have now lost their homes and many gains made by the project have been lost. TLM staff in Palu have nonetheless been at the forefront of the disaster response work in their community.

(Below photos via TLM)

TLM staff and volunteers resting in a makeshift shelter

Road damage has severely restricted relief efforts

70,000 people have been made homeless by the earthquake and tsunami

 

More aid needed

We are continuing to work with our partners on rapid needs assessments and determining how to best support them in the short and long term. They have indicated the initial needs they are aiming to address are food, water, clothes, fuel for transport and cooking; tents for refugees and help with burials.

Your donation will support local churches to help and serve their communities.

Click here to donate now.

 


 

Pray for Sulawesi

Please join us in prayer

For our courageous church partners serving the people of Palu and Donggala;

For the people still missing and those trying to reach them;

For those bringing urgent relief supplies to those suffering;

For those grieving the loss of loved ones;

And for those who’ve lost everything, including their homes.

 


All photos via Gratia Djami Jusuf, Tanaoba Lais Manekat.