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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.

Thank you.

They’re the first words we learn, wherever we happen to be travelling in the world. Hello, and thank you. Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got. All we need.

Our work takes us to places where we might expect only suffering and hopelessness, and yet what we meet time and again is gratitude. Gratitude from people who are thankful beyond belief for opportunities they never thought they’d be given; a chance to study their way out of hunger; a toilet built with their own hands.

“Please tell them thank you – thank you for helping us, even though they don’t know who we are.”

The words are spoken with a kind of holy wonder. These are families who look after one another with a fierce love, but the idea that people in countries far away know and love them too is another thing altogether.

For us, gratitude leaps the banks and spills both ways. A smiling mother cooks us corn from her garden and we sit to eat with her husband, father and five children. Later, we find out she has gifted us everything she had to feed her family for the week. Tears in his eyes, a Pastor shares a story of the love that led him back to care for his church, even after feeling a loaded gun against his temple. A child slips her hand into ours and sticks close, her smile a mile-wide. She has never seen anyone with skin like ours before. In these moments, we’re not the powerful dispensers of donations and resources and knowledge. We’re just sharing the goodness of what it is to be alive; the grace of life in all its messiness and small mercies.

“In all things, give thanks.” Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica have as much relevance today as they did two thousand years ago. Gratitude transforms our daily lives as we concentrate on all that is good and gifted rather than all that wearies us and wears us down.

To each of you, we give our thanks.

In the past 12 months together, we have reached hundreds of thousands of people with the practical love of Christ, providing:

  • Training to leaders of God’s church
  • Clean water and education to save lives
  • Loans to start small business
  • Emergency shelter, counselling and respite in disaster

Thank you for your love and prayers. We remain grateful for the faith that binds us together as we continue to work towards the world we all long for.

In hope and peace,

UnitingWorld.

We just wanted to say THANK YOU! Read about some of the great things we’ve achieved together over the past year.

We’re also excited to introduce our new Global Neighbour program.

Plus news from Timor Leste, India, West Papua, and a reflection from UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe.

Download here.

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In the wake of the devastation of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called on UCA members to pray for the people of the Philippines and our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Dr Palmer has written the below prayer in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.

 


God of mercy and comfort,

We pray for the people of the Philippines, whose lives, homes, food and water supplies and sources of income have been devastated by the impacts of Typhoon Mangkhut.

We pray for comfort for all those who are grieving, for those who have lost families and friends and whose communities have been severely impacted.

We pray for strength and support for all those responding to this disaster.

We pray for our partner church, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

Thank you for their faithful and compassionate embodiment of your Gospel as they respond to the needs of those affected by the Typhoon.

May they know your sustaining love and our solidarity with them as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Through Christ we pray,

Amen.


 

UCCP has asked for support from their international partners. Your donation will make a huge difference, helping provide essential food and relief supplies to struggling families, many who’ve lost everything in the landslides.

Support our partners as they respond to this crisis.
Donate now

Relief goods ready for distribution to 300 families in Loacan, Philippines. UCCP staff and volunteers are working urgently to get supplies to struggling families. (Photo credit: Mishell Valdez)