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As we prepare for the 15th Triennial Assembly, I’m reminded of the bold step taken by our overseas church partners three years ago in Perth.

In an unprecedented move, they stepped up and tabled a statement they’d penned in which they offered their resources to the UCA to enhance our mission in the world and committed themselves to each other to share their strengths and challenges to partner in God’s transformation of the world.

The statement changed the way we work. Instead of holding independent relationships with each of our overseas church partners, we’ve increased our facilitator role, encouraging our partners to come together to share resources, expertise and learning opportunities. Over the last three years we’ve hosted eleven regional conferences covering topics like theology of community development, the protection of children and financial planning.

The past three years have also vindicated our strategy to use the language and lens of faith and Christian teaching to tackle the big issues of gender inequality and climate change. Supporting our partners to engage in theological dialogue and address people’s hearts and minds through Biblical teaching has been rewarded by seeing change at the grass roots. Even the Australian Government has acknowledged our approach, re-accrediting us for the next five years and praising our approach on gender, disaster preparation and climate change impact in the Pacific.

I’m delighted to look back over the past three years and note that together we’ve made a tangible difference to over 250,000 people:

  • Clean water and sanitation in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea
  • Education (particularly for children with disabilities) and professional literacy training for teachers and librarians in India, Tonga, Vanuatu and Sri Lanka
  • Micro-credit loans for small business (many for women) in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Fiji
  • Theological reflection and practical action on gender inequality and climate change impact throughout the Pacific
  • Disaster response work throughout the Pacific as well as famine and refugee responses in South Sudan, among the Rohingya people and within Syria.

We’ve also been strengthening leaders and equipping churches both here in Australia and throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific:

  • We helped almost 400 people to visit and work among our partners, including lay teachers and leaders of the UCA
  • We mobilised over 1,000 people to participate in the People’s Climate March in support of our Pacific Island partners
  • We brought global voices to major UCA events such as UnitingWomen, the Wontok youth conference, the UCA Deacons Conference; and we also hosted workshops and took part in UCA national conferences
  • Over 300 congregations and church groups participated in Lent Event and Everything in Common.

You can read the full report to the National Assembly detailing our last three years work by heading to uniting.church/b15-unitingworld.

Recently, we told a story of the innovative way our partners are building peace and forging hope in Maluku. These are the people who continue to stoke the fire of my conviction that God is alive and well within the world, calling each of us to take our place as members of one body working together for renewal. Thank you so much for the part you’re playing. We look forward to the next three years with you and the many challenges and joys they will bring.

Peace and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Biblical training continues to help unlock chains of oppression for women in Papua New Guinea, one of the toughest places on earth to be born female.

Many of you have heard about our gender theology work for women’s equality. Last month thirty-four men and women from all seven of the mainline church denominations in Papua New Guinea met together to continue to champion the cause. Each received intensive training in gender equality from the Bible and is passionate about influencing gender awareness and equality among individuals, churches and government.

“The participants were pastors, theologians and people who are voluntarily committed to social change,” says International Programs Manager, Aletia Dundas.

“They all come from different theological and doctrinal backgrounds, but they’re all committed to working from their Christian faith to respect the dignity and human rights of all.”

As is the case across much of the Pacific, women in Papua New Guinea experience high rates of domestic violence, have few opportunities to earn incomes and are seriously under-represented in politics. But PNG is also a deeply religious society, and churches are leading the way toward challenging cultural practices that hold women captive. Our partners are working to train leaders in the ‘Ten Pillars of Gender Equality’ using the Bible, casting the relationship between men and women in a transforming new light.

“Each day the workshop began with Bible Study, led twice by Rev Dr Afereti Uili from Samoa and once by a team from the PNG Anglican Church,” Aletia reports. “The group was incredibly open to discussing tough topics like household codes and how culture influences gender roles.”

Participants spoke of the ways they have sought to share gender equality theology in their work or church. One participant from the United Church in PNG described the challenges of not being taken seriously as a lay woman offering to lead a Bible study. Others shared about confidently responding to challenging questions with equally challenging answers.

Your gifts are helping support this vital work. The group in PNG will continue to meet together, encourage each other and learn so that more people can be trained to strengthen the voices and roles of women.

UnitingWorld’s Gender Equality Theology work in PNG is part of the Church Partnership Program and is supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea.

I read recently that Australians have never been more generous – some of them, anyway.

Super wealthy, generous individuals are giving like never before. Their projects of choice? Things with measurable outcomes and big legacies. Medical research is a good example. Let’s find a cure for a disease and say: “We did that.”

Tick. Done.

Sadly, overseas aid is less popular. That’s because the issues are wickedly complex and appear to go on forever. Is poverty ever going to end? Will we ever be able to tick a box beside our donation and say, “Done!”?

The answer is both yes and no. I sat with a family high in the remote mountains north of Denpasar last month, watching chickens peck and a wary dog assess me from a doorway. For Kadek and Gede, life has never been better. A few simple, reasonably low-cost initiatives have changed their lives forever: a goat breeding project to provide income; regular visits from a doctor; access to a toilet and teaching about clean water. These things mean Gede worries less about her children going hungry and falling sick. Poverty, in its meanest form, has fled. But Gede’s own health is still fragile – she has a thyroid condition they can’t afford to have treated and she’s so unwell that she hasn’t been able to take part in the women’s groups that might have helped the family make a little more money.

Gede dreams of more for her children, the way that all mothers do. Our work is far from over.

I looked around this proud, gracious family’s garden, artfully tended with love, and I thought about how the human spirit is determined to flourish. How ending poverty isn’t a simple box to be ticked but a lifelong struggle we embark upon alongside people who live the reality of small gains and hard-won triumphs. l felt both gratitude and single-mindedness to persevere.

There are literally millions of families like Kadek and Gede’s. Hardworking and resilient, the day they raise their first piglet to sell so their daughter can stay in school will sound another nail in the coffin of poverty.

You and I, if we choose to, can celebrate alongside them. Because for real families every single day, the projects we support genuinely put an end to measurable suffering.

The scale of global poverty might appear to be astronomical, but working together, our progress has also been huge. Each family adds up. Since the turn of the century, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved. So too has the maternal death rate, child mortality and deaths from malaria.


 HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?

Through the combined work of smart, capable people who dream big, plus governments, philanthropists, not-for-profits and people like you. We’re better together. Our goals are achievable. Right now, your gift can have up to six times the impact supporting families like Kadek and Gede’s, across West Timor,  Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and India.

Poverty won’t end with a single tick. But it will end, and we’ll do it together.

Please make your gift at www.unitingworld.org.au/together or call us on 1800 998 122.

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

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan and UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe have written to churches in Indonesia to express sadness and solidarity after the tragic church bombings in Surabaya, Java on Sunday.

11 people were killed in the explosions and more than 43 were wounded in what has been called the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia in more than a decade.

A congregation of our partner church in Java was one of those targeted, wounding an Elder and several young members.

Rev Dr Ji Zhang has written a prayer for the victims of the Surabaya attacks. We encourage Uniting Church members and UnitingWorld supporters to pray with us in solidarity with churches in Indonesia.

It has also been translated into Bahasa Indonesia and can be downloaded here.

Letter to churches in Indonesia
Letter to our partner church GKI in Java

A prayer for the victims of church bombings in Java

Almighty God, we come to you with our hearts full of thoughts.

But you are our refuge and strength,

the light in the darkness,

and so with confidence we offer our prayers to you.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We stand in solidarity with all good citizens in Java

pray for the churches of Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions,

and we are confronted by the attacks on Christian worshipers.

We bring to you all the deceased,

and our trust that in God’s peace their souls find rest.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We pray for those who grieve the loss of life,

for those who are traumatized during Sunday worship,

for those who are separated from the loved ones and friends;

we ask for your healing presence in their lives

and we commend to your love all the injured.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We give to your care all those

who have been involved in the rescue operation.

Be with local churches and government forces

as they minister to the suffering communities.

Sustain them through this time of stress.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We commend to your care those who are cleaning up,

for those burdened by unimaginable losses

and who have found themselves

like refugees in their own locality.

We ask that the emotional and spiritual support

already offered by local communities and beyond

will encourage and lift their spirits.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We pray for communities that have been devastated

– especially in East Java and West Java.

May your peace bring people together

to rebuild their lives and communities,

and bring them healing from all evil.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We pray for families and friends in Australia

who feel far away from the loved ones in Indonesia,

and those who had been through racial and religious attacks

– still trying to make sense of the past.

Comfort them across the physical and emotional distance.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

We give thanks to God for the blessing in our lives,

especially the gifts of joy we so often take for granted

until they are in danger of being taken away from us

  • the gift of family, friends, a home, our possessions.

Most of all we praise God for the gift of life itself.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

God of light over darkness,

come into our hearts in the moment of now!

Come to transform our sorrow over the lost

into blessings to the living.

Come to reassure us your eternal truth

in the resurrection of Christ Jesus:

Life is always stronger than death.

 

Lord hear us

Lord hear our prayers.

 

(Rev Dr Ji Zhang  张骥, Assembly Theologian in Residence, for our Partner Church GKI and Indonesian Communion of Churches. The prayer is rewritten based on the prayer of 2004 Asian Tsunami by Homebush Uniting Church)

In a report to the Uniting Church in Australia’s 15th Triennial Assembly meeting in July, UnitingWorld has highlighted the success of a collaborative, network-based approach to community development.

In a sweeping review of three years, the report details the impact of UnitingWorld’s programs across an estimated 250,000 people in breaking down barriers to education, health, human rights and leadership; and strengthening the institutional capacity of Australian and partner churches.

National Director Dr Sureka Goringe attributes UnitingWorld’s successes to its strong identity as part of the Uniting Church, and championing a relational approach over the charity model of “handing out grants in return for timely reporting.”

“Effective programs need to be built on a foundation of strong, resilient relationships between partners,” said Dr Goringe.

“For us, good collaborations start with meaningful connections between people, where all recognise our equal place as children of God, learning from each others’ strengths and caring for each others’ needs.”

In an innovation conceived three years ago, UnitingWorld started using these strong relationships with partner churches to build regional networks, fostering multilateral collaborations; an approach Dr Goringe says was led by the partners themselves.

“In 2015, during a session of the 14th Assembly in Perth, 35 leaders from our overseas partner churches took the spontaneous and unprecedented step of penning a statement which was read out on the floor of the Assembly.”

The statement committed them to:

“Break through the boundaries of our denominations, in order to partner as God’s agents of transformation in the world” and to, “commit to develop, nurture and strengthen multilateral mission relationships by making our God-given resources available to one another, sharing our needs, joys, sorrows, achievements and challenges with openness and joyfully participating in the life of partners in a fruitful and effective manner.”

Following this landmark declaration, UnitingWorld recognised its value to church partners as a facilitator of new multilateral relationships, says Dr Goringe.

“Since then, UnitingWorld’s regional strategy over the past three years has been to create opportunities to bring together our church partners in meaningful ways.”

“We have hosted 11 regional conferences since July 2015, each one aimed at creating a community of shared learning, cultivating connections and relationships and encouraging collaboration between our partners.”

The connections formed at the regional conferences have resulted in partners sharing resources, expertise, management tools and policies on shared issues. These have ranged from the theology of community development to child protection and finance management.

The report also highlights the success of UnitingWorld’s collaborations with the Australian Government (DFAT) on the theology of gender equality, and identifies challenges to be faced over the next triennium.

UnitingWorld looks forward to continuing this journey alongside our church partners.

Read the full report on the Uniting Church in Australia 15th Assembly website.

 

UnitingWorld has facilitated a forum in Fiji to bring together civil society groups, faith-based agencies and educators from across the Pacific to discuss the role of biblical interpretation in progressing human rights and gender equality.

The two-day forum, held over 9 and 10 April at the Pacific Theological College, was designed in response to requests by Pacific civil society organisations (CSOs) that wanted to help widen the conversation on how biblical themes of gender can promote equality for all.

Representatives from 19 CSOs, faith groups and universities representing Fiji and the broader Pacific region made up a diverse group for the forum.

UnitingWorld has been working alongside Pacific churches to explore biblical themes of human relationships based on equality. The work is part of a project supported by Australian Aid within the Department of Foreign Affairs ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ initiative.

A major aspect of the project is facilitating theological discussions with national church leaders, Christian educators, church ministers and lay leaders, women’s fellowship organisations and youth to re-examine biblical messaging about the inherent equality of men and women as created equally in the image of God.

This has also meant a process of unlearning old patriarchal gender interpretations and opening fresh views on human dignity founded on biblical equality. Through this vital work, social issues such as violence against women, girls and children are then addressed through the lens of this biblical understanding, and churches are both challenged and empowered to be key agents of change.

“The aim of this forum was to bring church and civil society together as a unified mission to address issues surrounding gender inequality,” said UnitingWorld’s Associate Director for Pacific Programs, Bronwyn Fraser.

“It opens the discussion on resourcing to better work collaboratively to overcome the hurdles often experienced when addressing important but sensitive gender issues.”

“The resulting connections, networks and opportunities for working collaboratively across agencies is vital for long-term effective transformation.”

While the forum was interrupted by the threat of Tropical Cyclone Keni, significant progress was made by the conversations to open avenues for collaboration and to identify what resourcing and support UnitingWorld can direct into the CSO space on gender equality and the elimination of violence against women, girls and children.

CSO representatives who attended the forum were happy the conversations with churches and FBOs went so well.

“The forum was very important because it enabled us to discuss issues that we usually do not talk about with the different church denominations,” said Matelita Seva–Cadravula, Executive Director for Reproductive Family Health Association of Fiji.

“It will be very helpful in addressing bottlenecks within the church with regards to gender and human rights. We will certainly utilise the approach during our community outreach.”

Mr Tura Lewai, a representative for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said greater collaboration between churches and CSOs over past years has already stated bearing fruit.

“To actually have the affirmation and support by the churches and basing it on the Bible will be a powerful tool for change. I already see the paradigm shifts happening as we use the tools with our member association, and them with their communities,” he said.

Ms Fraser says an added positive outcome of such forums is that they flow into other social issues.

“One of the very exciting insights from this forum for UnitingWorld is seeing that both churches and CSOs are grappling with other prominent social issues, such as teenage pregnancy and recognising and including people within LGBTIQ communities.”

“Another is seeing the powerful role that this theological approach can play in supporting and resourcing CSOs, FBOs and churches in working for broader transformation in communities.”

Ms Seva–Cadravula agrees.

“We would love to see the same theological approach for sexuality and sexual and reproductive health,” she says.

A follow-up forum is planned for May this year.

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.

 


On 26 February a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands region of Papua New Guinea, decimating the area. Tragically more than 150 people have been killed, and many others lost everything they have.

UnitingWorld responded as soon as possible, working with our partners, the United Church Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), to help them provide thorough assessments of earthquake affected areas. All initial assessments have been completed, resulting in the identification of 12 communities in the region most affected and in need after the initial distributions.

We’ve been in constant contact with UCPNG to help coordinate the response, however there have been significant delays in distributing support to more regional areas as quickly as is needed. This has been an issue across the province, the remoteness of affected areas, and the recent intensification of civil unrest has restricted access for many relief agencies.

In response to this a joint Church response plan has been developed through the collaboration of UCPNG with other Churches in PNG, supported by UnitingWorld and other Australian NGOs. We are now in the process of leveraging significant government funding for an initiative designed to best meet the needs of the communities affected. They include:

Phase 1 Emergency (The next 1-4 months): distribution of vital supplies including water containers, hygiene, sanitation and shelter kits, addressing protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

Phase 2 Early Recovery (4-8 months): semi-permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines, schools, infrastructure) protection, conflict resolution and ongoing psychosocial support.

Phase 3 Recovery (8-12 months): permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines schools, infrastructure), protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

UCPNG are committed to providing support to these communities, and have already helped agencies to distribute emergency supplies to many of the communities most in need through the information gained from the assessment. We understand that the need is great and are working closely with UCPNG to help speed up processes, with the procurement and logistics planning for the first phase now underway.

Our partners have been directly affected by this disaster. They are not only working to access to the communities most affected by this tragedy, they ARE part of these communities.

To make a donation to the relief efforts please visit: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/pngearthquake

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) state the most efficient and cost-effective way of helping those affected by this disaster is with your donation. We ask you to please refrain from sending physical items. For more information please click here

Read about how your support is helping the people of Tonga recover and rebuild, where we’re up to with training leaders in China, and why pigs are revolutionary in Bali. Plus a reflection from our National Director, Dr Sureka Goringe. Download here.

Read here: