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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.

21 July 2016

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) and UnitingWorld are concerned about the deteriorating political situation in Zimbabwe, as expressed in a joint statement from church leaders to the World Council of Churches (WCC). UCA President Stuart McMillan has called on the members of the UCA to pray for Zimbabwe and the work of the Church there.

“We cannot ignore the plight of the people of Zimbabwe, millions of whom are struggling to secure  reliable sources of food and income, and are increasingly denied their basic human rights,” said Mr McMillan.

“We pray for our partner the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and the work of their development and relief agency MeDRA, and all those working to see justice for Zimbabwean people. We will continue to pray, speak out and act alongside our partner as they work to overcome the huge challenges they face.”

WCC statement:


Church leaders in Zimbabwe expressed their concern for their country’s political, social and economic meltdown that has caused increasing civic unrest and violence over the past month.

In a joint statement from eight churches and community organizations, church leaders said they are “concerned about intra-party conflicts that are distracting the government from dealing with real economic and social issues that are affecting the country.”

They called upon the Zimbabwe government to listen to the cries of citizens who are suffering. “There is a need to act justly and mercifully on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged in our nation,” the statement read.

As church and community leaders, they condemned brutality by law enforcement agencies on citizens. “The citizens’ constitutional right to demonstrate and protest must be protected,” they stated. “In exercising this right, we implore citizens to always remain peaceful in their demonstrations.”

Zimbabwe is facing an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent; restrictions on imports that have crippled cross-border business, destroying livelihoods for thousands of Zimbabweans; unnecessary police roadblocks which are fueling corruption; and many other urgent issues.

“Given all this, citizens have lost confidence and trust in our government,” read the statement. “We call upon the government to immediately investigate and prosecute law enforcement agents who are alleged to have brutalized people.”

The government should urgently act and address these genuine concerns of the citizens to avoid total collapse of the state, urged church leaders.

“We call upon the church, which is the salt and light of this nation, to continue to pray and also to speak out prophetically against any unjust system, until we have a peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe in which every citizen’s God-given and constitutional rights are respected,” the statement read. “May God grant us Zimbabweans the courage, faith and hope to face our challenges.”

Daily infringement of citizens’ rights and constant extortion at police road blocks have created a climate of fear in Zimbabwe, said Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

“We pray for the three million people in Zimbabwe who are food insecure, and we also pray for churches and community organizations there as they unite to help Zimbabweans reach a meaningful solution.”

Lemopoulos said the WCC stands ready to help amplify the voices of justice and peace in Zimbabwe. “The human costs are too great for us to ignore the plight of the people,” he said.

Article originally published by the World Council of Churches (WCC) of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

Read More:

“Feed the world?” Just share the tools – blog on UnitingWorld’s work with MeDRA in Zimbabwe (10 March, 2016)

Churches bring strong voice for justice in Zimbabwe – WCC news (18 July, 2016)

18 July, 2016

The recent violence in South Sudan that resulted in the deaths of over 300 people has thankfully deescalated over the past week.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar have ordered a ceasefire, and we are praying that it will hold long enough for government agencies to restore stability and humanitarian agencies to respond to the crisis.

The ACT Alliance has warned that there is a real possibility that the situation could deteriorate again, and they are closely monitoring the situation.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership & Peace Training Conference, 2016. Rev. Peter Gai with UnitingWorld’s Dr Sureka Goringe and Megan Calcaterra

“The developments in the country are alarming and threaten all that has been achieved in the last decade and through last year’s peace agreement,” said Pauliina Parhiala from the ACT alliance.

UnitingWorld has been in contact with our church partners in South Sudan who are grateful for the prayers and support of the Uniting Church in Australia.

“Thank you so much for your kind words of comfort. From day one we’ve known that your love and kindness are so great for us and that we are in your hearts. May God bless you and please keep on praying,” said Rev. Peter Gai, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS).

One of the biggest factors in the conflict is widely held to be failing leadership that has fed a sense of distrust and frustration in the South Sudanese people, who are tired of tribal politics and violence – a sentiment widely echoed by the international community.

“The people of South Sudan desperately want peace,” said UnitingWorld’s Megan Calcaterra, recently in South Sudan to connect with the PCOSS and attend one of their peacebuilding conferences.

“They see it as the most important step in developing their new nation and overcoming the challenges they face. Peace and trauma healing are key to their journey in overcoming poverty, achieving justice and reconciliation, developing leaders and building effective government and institutions.”

Since South Sudan became independent in 2011 the nation has been marred by civil war. In December 2013 a civil war was triggered by clashes between rival soldiers in Juba that degenerated into nationwide conflict. Tens of thousands died and close to one million have been displaced by the violence.

Please continue to pray for peace in South Sudan and the work of Presbyterian Church of South Sudan

12 June, 2016

In response to the famine emergency caused by El Nino-driven drought in Papua New Guinea, UnitingWorld and its partner the United Church in PNG (UCPNG) have been distributing food and providing vital leadership to ensure relief operations reach the worst affected areas.

Collaborating with the World Food Program (WFP) and Church Partnership Program (CPP) agencies, UnitingWorld and UCPNG played a key role in developing the ‘PNG CPP El Nino Response Program’ to coordinate relief work.

As part of the response program, impact assessments conducted by UnitingWorld/UCPNG-trained personnel were instrumental in the WFP being able to secure $14 million (USD) from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund. The money is being used to effectively distribute food to four areas in the Highlands and Milne Bay that were identified as most severely affected.

The funds were urgently needed, as the cost of providing a diet containing sufficient energy and protein for large populations is enormous, and it meant that UnitingWorld’s capacity to respond

Photo credit: James Komengi

was limited and had to be carefully targeted to particular areas based on need. The WFP funding assistance made possible by the efforts of UCPNG staff and others, has meant that food distributions now better match the scale that is needed to address the emergency.

UCPNG staff have also been involved in delivering frontline emergency supplies as part of the World Food Program’s national response, delivering emergency food supplies to the four ‘Local Level Government’ areas in Hela and Enga Provinces in the Highlands; home to more than 140,000 people.

Food distribution and livelihood recovery activities in many of these areas are extremely challenging because of their remote locations and fragile security situations caused by enduring tribal conflicts. The expertise of UCPNG staff has provided invaluable support to the WFP in ensuring food is distributed in ways that avoid fueling tribal tensions.

 

UnitingWorld’s Emergency Response Coordinator Michael Constable has praised the work of UCPNG in responding to the emergency.

Photo credit: James Komengi

“These successes highlight the strength of collaboration and innovation in delivering humanitarian assistance in extremely difficult environments. Supporting local communities to take leadership roles in preparedness, response, early recovery and risk reduction is not only effective, it’s essential in PNG” said Mr Constable.

“Enabled by the support of donors, the work of UCPNG has likely prevented thousands from dying of starvation, kept entire communities from becoming entrenched in poverty, and spared a generation of children living in remote communities from the irreversible effects of malnutrition.”

The emergency is far from over, however. The drought has severely impacted food security in many areas of PNG, exacerbated by weather patterns that are expected to continue into late 2016. UCPNG staff are currently involved in planning a collaborative food distribution to 77,000 people in Milne Bay Province with a range of national and intergovernmental organisations.

UnitingWorld will continue to support our partner UCPNG as they carry out relief operations and rebuild the livelihoods of people in Papua New Guinea.

Thank you! This work would not have been possible without the more than $180,000 raised by UnitingWorld supporters. Together, we’ve made a huge impact to the lives of people struggling to overcome famine and drought. Please continue to pray for the work of UCPNG and the people of Papua New Guinea.

11 July, 2016

More than 300 people are reported to have been killed in South Sudan since heavy fighting broke out between political factions late last month.

Intensifying gun battles between government and opposition forces in the capital Juba and in the north-west town of Wau have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, and thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan say the people want peace

70,000 civilians have been forced to seek shelter in churches, surrounding villages and UN camps – many of which have come under fire along with government buildings. A rocket-propelled grenade reportedly landed in one of the UN camps wounding eight people.

South Sudan’s civil war was divided along ethnic, tribal lines with the president – Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and the vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer – representing their respective tribes. Earlier this year they formed a power-sharing transitional government, a move that was hoped to bring a lasting peace to a conflict that has a death toll estimated by some to be as high as 300,000.

Despite recent press statements from both Kiir and Machar’s staff making a joint call for calm, recent events suggest it’s unlikely they are in full control of their forces. The renewed fighting has raised fears that the fragile peace deal they made in August last year will not hold, and the country could deteriorate into full-scale civil war.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership and Peace Training Conference, 2016

Rev. Peter Shabak Gatluak of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan has described the feeling in Juba
right now as one of “fear and panic”, and has asked the Uniting Church in Australia to pray for them as they fear for the future of their country.

Please join us in praying for the people of South Sudan, as well as our partner church as they work for sustainable peace and lead their people through uncertain times.

Read more:

Scores killed in South Sudan fighting, gunfire erupts in capital Juba – SMH

‘Wounded in spirit, South Sudan’s people need the salve of mutual forgiveness’ – Guardian (Op Ed)