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How many times can you say that you were involved in a ‘life-or-death’ situation? A situation where your actions and decisions could make the difference between someone living or dying? Once? Twice? Never? What if I told you that as you read this, that’s exactly where you find yourself…

The word ‘famine’ is used relatively frequently in modern language, but it’s actually not something that happens often. On 20 February, the United Nations declared famine in two counties of South Sudan. It was the first time famine had been declared anywhere in more than six years. Some are saying that the current severity of food insecurity in South Sudan hasn’t been seen since a post-war Europe experienced famine in 1947. But what exactly is food insecurity?

A crash course in food insecurity

There are five official categories of food insecurity: 1) minimal, 2) stressed, 3) crisis, 4) emergency, and 5) catastrophe (i.e. ‘famine’). Currently in South Sudan, there are an estimated 4.9 million people in categories 3, 4 and 5. Of these 4.9 million people, it’s estimated that 100,000 people are in category 5: catastrophe (famine). People in categories 3 and 4 are at risk of severe malnutrition, which causes lasting impacts – entrenching people in poverty and disrupting education for generations.

People in category 5 are dying of starvation. Not tomorrow, not next week… now. And the reality is the majority of the people in category 5 are among the most vulnerable; typically pregnant women, children and lactating mothers.

I was speaking to a friend recently about how dire the situation is, and he asked what he thought might have been a silly question. He wanted to know why, when faced with the imminent starvation of 100,000 of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, the international community couldn’t just “bring them food.” Not a silly question at all, but definitely not as simple as he thought.

And in the coming months it’s about to get more complicated.

$1 today is worth more than $1 in two months

South Sudan is facing more than one crisis. Set among the backdrop of a failing economy, collapsing infrastructure and the constant threat of conflict, famine response is not an easy task. In addition to all of this, May will see the start of the rainy season. Roads will become impassable, and the only option for delivering food and non-food essential items will be by air freight. Air freight is significantly more expensive than ground freight.

Right now aid workers are in a position to be able to ‘pre-place’ food and non-food items into the hardest hit areas, to be distributed now and as the lean season continues. Not only does immediate action mean that we can reduce the number of those 100,000 people who will die of starvation, but it also limits the number of additional people moving into category 5 during the lean season.

Acting at once means that more money can be spent on essential items as opposed to transport costs. More money on food and non-food necessities means more lives are saved.

That’s where you come in

You’re faced with a life-or-death situation, only it’s not your life at stake. Despite this famine happening to people thousands of miles away – people you’ll probably never meet – you can save a life by taking action today. Tomorrow could be too late for the 100,000 in South Sudan who will go to bed on the brink of starvation.

Lots of my friends and family tell me they plan to donate. I tell them: don’t wait.

– Megan

Megan Calcaterra
International Programs Manager, Asia/Africa

Donate now

One in every five people currently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.

Yes, you read that right.

Lebanon hosts the largest percentage of refugees in the world given its population, with over one million Syrian refugees registered in a country with just 4.5 million citizens. All these people living in an area less than a quarter of the size of Tasmania.

Over half of the refugees are children, and 48% of them aged 6-14 are out of school.

That’s 250,000 kids.

The influx of new arrivals fleeing the conflict and persecution by Daesh (or “ISIS”) militants has put an enormous strain on church and government services, particularly educational institutions. In response, the government of Lebanon has restricted Syrian children’s access to state schools, making the role of the church schools more important than ever.

UnitingWorld has launched a campaign to support Syrian refugee children get back to school.

Through our networks, UnitingWorld will support churches in Lebanon to provide education for more Syrian children and prevent them falling further behind in their education.

This exciting new campaign has grown out of the Uniting Church in Australia’s desire to help churches in Lebanon support new arrivals from Syria.

Recently, the UnitingWorld communications and fundraising team were privileged to sit with members of Bankstown Uniting Church and newcomers from Syria, to listen to their experiences of fleeing their home country into neighbouring Lebanon, before resettlement in Australia. They all spoke about wanting to do something to help their friends and families still in Syria and Lebanon.

We hope to raise $80,000 to get the project off the ground.

With your help, together we can make a big impact for the children of Syria.

How you can help

  1. Help us reach our goal by making a donation: https://chuffed.org/project/syriakids
  1. Share the page on social media
  1. Fundraise for us!We can create a team page for you on Chuffed so that you can fundraise at your church, community group or with your friends. Set your own group target and help the overall campaign to get Syrian kids back to school.You could also host a fundraising event or a group challenge that people can support you in.So get a team together and get in touch! marcusc@unitingworld.org.au or (02) 8267 4223

Leaders from our church partner in South Sudan have asked for prayer as they host training and discussions for peacebuilding in neighbouring Sudan.

Leadership and Peace Training in South Sudan, 2016

Since the civil war broke out in 2013, tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled into Sudan to escape the fighting. Many now live in refugee camps in Khartoum, and South Sudanese Christians worship in churches there.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) have sent leaders to conduct peacebuilding workshops in five different refugee camps in Sudan.

They will be addressing issues of trauma and reconciliation among the people, and also concerns of persecution, with the threat of planned demolition of some 28 churches by the Sudanese government.

Several church pastors have also been arrested for publicly challenging the church demolitions. Thankfully, they have now been released.

This work by PCOSS would not be possible without UnitingWorld supporters, who have helped fund peace and reconciliation workshops and peacebuilding activities in South Sudan and Sudan.

The leaders ask for prayer as they carry out their critical work in Sudan this week (ending 30 March).

Please join us in praying for the work of these courageous peacemakers, as well as the international response to the ongoing famine that is threatening millions in South Sudan.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is responding to the famine through their development agency PRDA. You can help them get urgent food and water to people in affected areas. Donate Now

16 March, 2016

The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has released a statement urging President Trump to de-escalate the growing tensions between the United States and North Korea.

Tensions have risen due to the deployment of a US-supplied anti-missile defense system ‘THAAD’ (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in South Korea. In response, North Korea has announced they’re preparing a nuclear weapon, and many are predicting Kim Jong Un’s regime wants to strike first before THAAD is operational.

In a letter to international partners, the NCCK has made a call for peace and asked for prayers.

“[These] weapons are terrifying Koreans with the threat of nuclear war. We want peace for the Korean peninsula,” they said.

“Please pray for peace and justice on the Korean peninsula.”

Join us in answering their call. Please pray for peace, justice and for the people working across Korea to prevent war and nuclear disaster.


Letter to President Trump

Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of the National Council of Churches (NCCK), I bring the warmest greetings to you in the name of God of Peace.

The National Council of Churches in Korea wishes to express our concern with the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula. For over sixty years since the signing of the armistice agreement, the people of the Korean peninsula have lived in fear of war breaking out again in an instant. Where President Obama had failed using “strategic patience” you have the chance to either succeed in negotiation or on the other hand to bring disaster upon us.

Especially we worry now as the THAAD missile defence system has arrived in South Korea, and North Korea has fired off four missiles in response. We fear the tensions have risen higher than they have been in decades. We ask you to move now. Turn back these steps toward war, and take up a successful strategy for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

We have heard your administration is considering a pre-emptive strike on North Korea as one of your options. We urge you to take this off the table, as it would guarantee an all-out war. In this current situation of upheaval around South Korea’s presidency and impeachment process, ruling party members are clamoring more loudly for South Korea to obtain its own nuclear weapons. All of these actions take us closer to open battle. Turning the Korean peninsula into a battlefield again would ensure our annihilation.

We ask you to seek dialogue with North Korea immediately to decrease tensions. Dialogue is the only way toward de-escalation and convincing the North that their immediate survival is not at stake and does not depend on military defense.

For the sake of our continued existence we call upon you to enter into dialogue and turn Northeast Asia away from what might begin a new world war.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Kim, Young Ju
General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Korea

This was posted in solidarity with our partners, the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK), the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK), the Korean Methodist Church (KMC) and the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK).

The National Council of Churches in Korea is the largest ecumenical agency in South Korea. Supported by the major Protestant denominations, it is at the centre of movements for human rights and peace across Korea. Many Korean churches are working faithfully to bring peace, reconciliation, and reunification to the Korean peninsula.

Photo via koreareport2.blogspot.com

Middle East Desk, Sydney Office
March 2017

The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon has announced the ordination of the first two women as ministers in the Evangelical Church in Lebanon.

Rev. Rola Sleiman is ordained at the National Evangelical Church of Tripoli

As the Evangelical Church celebrates the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation this year, Rev. Joseph Kassab, General Secretary of the Synod, has announced that two women Preachers in the church will be ordained “to serve the Word and Sacraments.”

The two women are Preacher Rola Sleiman, who was ordained at the National Evangelical Church of Tripoli on Sunday 26 February 2017, and Preacher Najla Kassab who will be ordained at Rabieh Church in Beirut on 24 March 2017.

The ordination of Rola Sleiman has been hailed as an historic milestone, as she is the first woman to be ordained in a Middle Eastern Church. After her ordination service she told journalists, “Christ’s justice has been finally fulfilled.”

Reverend Joseph Kassab acknowledged that this event was an important step in the life of the Evangelical Church in the Middle East. He gave thanks to the Lord “for opening our hearts and minds while we celebrate the 500 years of the Reformation Movement by fully opening our arms to women in ministry.”

Read more:

Arab World’s First Ordained Female Pastor is Historic

21 Feb, 2017

“What do you have left when all you can see and touch is lost?”

That was the starting point for deep discussions on disaster response at workshops hosted by UnitingWorld at the Pacific Theological College in the Fijian capital Suva from 15-17 February 2017.

Over the course of three days UnitingWorld’s Regional Coordinator of Pacific Programs Rev. Dr Cliff Bird, Associate Director of International Programs Dr Sureka Goringe, Manager of Church Partnerships for the Pacific Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll and the Uniting Church’s National Disaster Recovery Officer Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson gave presentations to partner church representatives on the vital role of emotional and spiritual support in disasters.

The workshops took place in the lead-up to the anniversary of Cyclone Winston which struck Fiji on 20 February 2016 with winds of more than 200 km/h, causing 44 deaths, damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes, and significantly impacting around 350,000 people.

Since Cyclone Winston UnitingWorld has worked with the Pacific regional partners to strengthen humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction capacity. This has included supporting the establishment of a trauma counselling chaplaincy network in Fiji.

Pacific churches involvement in humanitarian work is important because of the pre-eminent place they occupy in their respective countries and the increasing intensity and frequency of climate change driven natural disasters in the region.

“If God is loving, good and all powerful, why do disasters happen?” Rev. Dr Cliff Bird unpacks some difficult theological questions.

UnitingWorld has been increasingly drawn into assisting these responses, which has led to the agency setting up an Emergency Response & Disaster Risk Reduction Program.

In 2016 UnitingWorld joined seven other Church agencies to form the Church Agencies Network – Disaster Operations (CAN DO) consortium. CAN DO consortium members are committed to ensuring that churches of all denominations are supported to increase community resilience to natural disaster.

UnitingWorld and its partners will continue to work together with the other CAN DO agencies and their respective in-country partner churches in cooperation with national government disaster management offices.

“Regional humanitarian response capacity will be greatly strengthened by churches and faith-based development agencies cooperating with each other,” says UnitingWorld National Director Rob Floyd.

Male and female delegates attended the workshops from the United Church in PNG, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the Methodist Church in Fiji, the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu, the Kiribati Uniting Church and the United Church in Solomon Islands.

“It is critically important that disaster readiness and response planning be informed by the priorities and insights of women and so the gender balance amongst the workshop delegates is intentional,” said Sureka Goringe, UnitingWorld’s Associate Director of International Programs.

Workshop outcomes sought include the establishment of the counselling chaplaincy network, clearer understandings about humanitarian response planning, development of national disaster response and readiness strategies, and how to leverage the support of regional governments to strengthen the effectiveness of this work in the Pacific.

Make a donation to UnitingWorld’s emergency relief fund

In 2016, the world received a harsh wake up call – we saw the rise to power of Donald Trump and growing support for nationalist and isolationist views from people such as Pauline Hanson, Rodrigo Duterte and Nigel Farage. We watched the heartbreaking situation in Aleppo, the horrific and inhumane treatment of people on Manus and Nauru and the Government’s lack of leadership on climate change. For most of us, 2016 was one big horror film that kept on dishing up the scares.

But we can’t afford to give up or give in because the stakes have never been higher and the importance of people power has never been more important.

That is one of the reasons we’re reshaping the Campaign for Australian Aid as “Up To Us”.  Up To Us is a community of people who lead the resistance to nationalism and isolationism and who support an internationalist approach to tackling global issues such as climate change, inequality, and poverty.  We are harnessing people power toward a vision for a fairer world.

Late last year, we spoke about an incredible opportunity for every Australian to have their voice heard. Right now, the Government is writing a long-term plan for Australia’s foreign policy – they’re calling it a “White Paper.” This White Paper will guide the way Australia engages with the rest of the world.

Make no mistake: we’re living in one of the most turbulent periods in history. It’s vital that the Government listens to all Australians and develops a plan that reflects our views. This means it is critical that people like you and your friends and family have your say on shaping the kind of world we want to live in and the role Australia should have in making your vision a reality. You can have your say today, just by taking the 60 second #UpToUs survey  to create a submission to the Government.

What kind of Australia do you envision in the years to come? If we want Australia to become a global leader on issues like climate change, people seeking asylum and ending poverty, it’s up to us to lead the way. Together, we are powerful – we can inspire thousands of globally minded Australians to make submissions and ask for a more sustainable, welcoming and compassionate country.

The need for the world to work together to address shared global challenges has never been more urgent – the world is facing multiple challenges of war, poverty, hunger, displaced people and climate change. Thousands of submissions from people who care like you , will make a powerful statement about the kind of world we want and the important contribution Australia can make in tackling these challenges.

While we’ve made it easy for everyday Australians to have their say about Australia’s place in the world, our work won’t end here. We’ve got plenty of creative ideas as to how you can amplify your impact with decision makers… stay tuned.

In the meantime, head down to one of the Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane  forums to have an open discussion and share some food (and your ideas!) with like-minded people. (For details on the forums, contact communications@unitingworld.org.au).

After the Government releases its White Paper, we’ll publish a people powered manifesto (The People’s White Paper) that captures the views of our supporters and the public.

Remember, it’s up to us to fight for the change we want to see. Time is ticking – submit your views in just 60 seconds right now and look for the it’s #UpToUs hashtag on social media so you can spread the message. Don’t forget: you can also share this blog post on Twitter and Facebook (look for the buttons at the top right hand side of this page).

Blog written by the Campaign for Aid, of which UnitingWorld is a member (representing the Uniting Church in Australia).

Live simply, reflect on your faith, help free people from poverty – that’s Lent Event!
Join the movement, sign up now to receive your Bread for the Road  daily devotions sent via email each day throughout Lent starting 1st March. Bread for the Road will replace the usual Bible Studies. We’re also preparing a new look Lent Event website! Please visit www.lentevent.com after 8th February to learn how congregations and individuals alike can participate in Lent Event this year. In the meantime, watch the video to learn about the communities and people that Lent Event support.

Since 2005, faithful people have raised more than three million dollars through Lent Event to provide clean water, schooling and health services around the globe. 

“You got me a what?”

Uncle Earl is squinting at your card, breath a little yeasty from the Christmas pudding, and frankly, he’s disappointed. It was socks he wanted. Seriously. Socks. Or a fishing magazine. He also had his eye on a new case for his iphone.

You got him a goat.

“Well, it’s for a family in Zimbabwe, see?” you tell him, a little flustered. “They’ll breed the goats and with the money they can get for them at the market, they’ll send their kids to school. It’s pretty cool, actually.”

Uncle Earl looks sceptical. He doesn’t actually say it, but what he’s thinking – you can see it on his face – is: “So you got me nothing. You got them goats, but you got me nothing.”

Let’s face it: not everyone loves goats, and not everyone gets the idea that you bought them something for someone else. (And actually, some people genuinely need socks).

So here you are, with your desire to do something to change the world this Christmas, and a cranky Uncle. What to do… what to do?

Look, buy Uncle Earl the socks. Buy your seven year old nephew that game he wanted, but maybe not the really flashy one. And tell him the true story of a gift that transforms lives.  Start it with the birth of a child.  But don’t end it there.

Tell him about Amos, who’ll spend the days before Christmas in his ute in South Sudan, bucketing along some of the worst roads you can imagine. He’s travelling to spend time in communities who’ve seen their neighbours literally torn apart by violence. This is Amos’ whole life’s work, devoted to helping people understand and listen to one another, learning to forgive and move on from decades of a war that doesn’t just live in army fatigues but stalks people’s homes and lives in people’s minds. This gift of reconciliation – a microcosm of something even grander – is the ongoing story that begins with the cradle.

If the people you know and love won’t appreciate the idea behind a goat, don’t give up. Simply make your donation directly to the work of someone who continues to live the Christmas story – every day, in some of the  most difficult parts of our globe.

Christmas isn’t just about making sure your nearest and dearest have everything they need. Christmas is about being swept up in a powerful gift of love and sharing that as far and wide as you can.  Every single one of us.

If goats are your thing and also Uncle Earl’s – check out our gifts here at www.everythingincommon.com

If you want to be generous because it’s Christmas and you believe in a world less hungry and more hopeful, please give here.  https://www.unitingworld.org.au/donate

Either way, know that you’ve honoured the Giver.  Thank you so much.

Coming soon:

Questions my hairdresser asks: how do you even know they get the money?

The Highlands region of Papua New Guinea is known for tribal wars and this one has been deadly. After eighteen months of conflict between two tribes of a few hundred people, there are eight dead; seven on one side and one on the other.

Key infrastructure has been levelled. The aid post, school, property and gardens have been destroyed, and the church torn down. Both tribes are living in constant fear of retaliatory attack. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to lose another child, husband, brother or have my property destroyed?”

I am here in Papua New Guinea at the invitation of UnitingWorld’s partner, Young Ambassadors for Peace. Our small group has been asked to conduct a shuttle mediation between these two warring tribes with the hope of establishing a sustained peace.

We trek deep into the jungle through a valley in the Highlands, and after 50 minutes, we arrive in the presence of the tribe that had lost seven people in the conflict. The most recent died of a bullet wound the previous day. Arms are folded, pain and anger is written on every face, and the communication with us is brief. The general thrust is “the other tribe is to blame, go and talk with them!”

More trekking follows, deeper into the jungle, across a boundary line, and we find ourselves in the presence of the second tribe. They welcome us and one of the Young Ambassadors for Peace, UnitingWorld’s partner, stands to speak.

He is passionate and shares his tribe’s story of being in a similar place of anger, frustration and violent conflict with an opposing tribe. Both tribes suffered loss of lives, resulting in lifelong trauma. Most, if not all tribes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have trodden this path before. The results are always the same: fear, anxiety, depression; loss of land, home and life.

I’m then invited to ‘take the stage’ on behalf of UnitingWorld. I look around and observe in the weathered faces of the old and the unflinching and distant eyes of the “young warriors,” yearnings common to all humanity. If this is to be a success, we’ll have to tap into their needs and fears.

What can I possibly add? I haven’t experienced tribal conflict or the murder of family members or destruction of my home. And yet, like others, I have experienced other kinds of violence in my family that destroyed my self-confidence and drive for life. I actually can share in their experience of fear, anxiety, depression and loss.

Sharing this allowed us all to empathise with one another – one of the most important steps towards peace. We all want recognition and acknowledgement, security, our basic needs to be met, love and the ability to live in peace, despite the mistakes of the past.

The tribespeople reveal that they’re exhausted from living in constant threat of retaliation. They want peace but don’t know how, because the other tribe appears uninterested. And they can’t cross the boundary line without being killed.

They can’t – but we can!

The Bishop of the region stands and makes some commitments to rebuild the church, aid post and school, and to resource them if a peace deal can be settled. Terms are written, including a possible meeting of key elders from each tribe and compensation. We are on the right track.

It’s well after lunch when we begin the trek back to the first tribe. The entire population of the village greet us on arrival and guide us to the ground in front of the church, which immediately causes a potential problem. It’s believed that a conversation on ‘Holy Land’ will be binding and could result in further death if broken.

Finally, the Reverend of the local church (pictured below) brings together the people, especially those who want revenge. We stand with them and empathise with their experience of loss, just as we did with the other tribe. We speak of peace and hope for new beginnings. It becomes evident that they have the same fears as the other tribe and also desire recognition, security and their needs to be met.

Two significant things then occur. One man stands and admits to instigating the conflict by stealing property and then destroying the aid post and school. Then an elder steals the attention of the audience and says that he has been wanting revenge because his son was killed in the conflict. The tension builds.

Then something incredible happens. He goes on to say that he can no longer live with this conflict and these constant threats to his tribe. He exclaims that what they need is peace to move forward into a better future.

Here he is, paving the way for an alternative future that would break the cycle of revenge.

In this moment we are all reaching together for a future of peace and reconciliation. I can see in this moment God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) taking place. We gather together with this tribe and pray for the families, for the children, and for a new and hopeful future. God is accomplishing the humanly impossible!

Six months later I receive a call. One of our Young Ambassadors for Peace tells me that after further peace talks these tribes are now living together in harmony, wanting to construct a new community of peace and justice. What more could we want?

As I look at this last photo I took in the valley, I’m reminded of what community should look like. As it draws me in I find it hard to imagine the violence because it looks so peaceful and serene. It provides a portrait through which we can imagine a peaceful and transformed community.

It illustrates to me that lasting peace formed out of violence and brokenness is possible. But sustaining peace demands several commitments, including:

  1. A space where people’s voices can be heard and their experiences acknowledged and validated
  2. The ability of people to be honest about their experiences of loss and pain
  3. A deep sense of empathic concern for the people whose stories are told
  4. A determination to re-see the humanity in the ‘Other’
  5. The desire and ability to equitably provide for the basic needs of every person in the communities involved

These ingredients were present in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the results now tangibly express their importance in creating peace.