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To be totally honest, I didn’t think a beauty salon business was going to make the most compelling ‘poverty alleviation’ story I’d ever seen. Um – why are people in this highly disadvantaged part of the world popping off for a manicure? Surely they have better things to be doing with their money?

This, I confess, is the narrative running through my sweat-addled brain as we haul up in a hilly neighbourhood outside West Timor’s capital of Kupang, where motorbikes clog the winding streets and the air is thick with humidity. And then I meet Ana and Aron, clearly delighted but also a bundle of nerves to host us in the small home they share with their four year old son Ryder (…I know. I’m not sure where that came from, but Ryder is wearing Power Ranger shorts pulled up to his chin, and he’s entirely awesome).

It’s a beautiful house, tended with loving hands. Stones line the paths; there are handmade shell windchimes and mobiles; plants and colourful pots are carefully arranged around the door. Whatever else you think you know about ‘people living in poverty’, plant this one right here: creatives are creative no matter where you find them and how much money they have to “spare”.

Simple humanity is a complex thing to deal with. Taking in the scene of creative domesticity before me, a handmade wind-chime hits hard: you are like me. You value beauty and self expression. It’s life-giving. You’ll fight to preserve it no matter what.  And that makes you no longer ‘other’ – the poor West Timorese woman – but a mum like me, finding the hopeful and the happy, the quirky, in the midst of the mess.

Many of us are curiously reluctant to acknowledge simple humanity in people who have less – the right to leisure time, investment in beauty, choice.  Somewhere deep and un-named there’s a sense that surely every cent, every moment should be spent surviving. Yet here’s the truth: the same tiny fires of elation are lit in hearts everywhere by things we all share – the joy of making something perfect with your own hands; the first smile of a child; sunsets, stars and potted plants.

These are the vital reminders that we are all human, equally wonderful and worthwhile but not equally resourced. Why? A simple toss of the dice places some of us here and others there. And this is a deeper challenge to us than simply being able to hand out cash or charity to ‘the deserving poor’ – for whom we can feel sorry because they’re so unlike us. It serves up some bigger questions and unsettles us deeply.

Ana, it turns out, has a spinal birth defect that means she stands only 1.3metres tall – she’s tiny and has struggled all her life with pain. She walks a little unevenly but she’s tenacious. Her husband Aron and son Ryder both have eyesight problems – Aron is functionally blind and Ryder has recently had cataract operations. He turns his head like a little bird to follow the sound of our voices and gallantly attempts to see us using his unaffected peripheral vision. The three of them sit close on a bench outside their home and tell us about the business they run together.

Beauty and massage, they tell us, are the heart of their work – hair cuts and shampoos and sometimes nails; massages for tourists and people who need them for health reasons. Not everyone in West Timor lives on $2 a day. They came up with the idea because Aron is good with his hands and can work easily without sight. He has a mobile phone, fully voice equipped – while we’re talking he takes a message and lines up an appointment, shyly chuffed to be able to show his business in action. He has strong hands, Ana tells us, also proud of her husband. And her passion is for cutting and styling – people will always need haircuts.

The low-interest business loan the pair manage through TLM – the social services agency of the Protestant Church in West Timor – was a godsend. It meant the family could turn a small profit – afford Ryder’s cataract operation, restore the well that is their only water supply, invest in the equipment they both need for their businesses, and also to plan for the kind of schooling Ryder will need as a child with a disability.

Because make no mistake about it – life for people with disabilities in the developing world is beyond tough. No social security. No NDIS. No respite, counselling or advice from experts. Ana, Aron and Ryder are pretty much on their own in a city where eating means working – crooked spine, sightless eyes, whatever your challenge.

Here’s what’s impressive about this model of poverty prevention: microfinance loans give people the skills and confidence to run businesses in a vast range of areas, doing stuff that they know other people need. It allows them the dignity of real work – and in Ana and Aron’s case – creative work that gives them what’s clearly a certain amount of joy. And why should we, in the ‘let’s go to Uni, choose our careers and live happy, fulfilled lives’ be the only ones to experience that? Why shouldn’t Ryder, in his hand-me-down Power Ranger pants, have the same dreams as our own kids?

Here’s the confronting truth of the human condition – any one of us could be Ana or Aron. Opening our hearts and hands to this reality is freeing – helping us to live with solidarity, generosity and simplicity; assessing how much we really need to be happy; and where and how we find beauty. It’s in standing together to bring life to each other that we discover what it means to be fully human.

UnitingWorld is a valued partner of the Australian Government, receiving flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas. Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

That means your gift will go five times as far toward ending poverty and providing dignity for families like Ana and Aron’s in West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.  

Media Release
5 May 2017

UnitingWorld will facilitate it’s fourth Annual Regional Workshop for Women’s Fellowships to be held in Nadi, Fiji from 22 – 26 May, 2017. This year the workshop will focus on gender equality, church transformation, partnership and projects.

The workshop will continue to build on the shared learning and experiences of participating organisations from across the Pacific, with practical assistance for running effective community development projects; understanding and advancing gender equality within churches; and promoting the leading role of women and women’s fellowship organisations in transforming churches and communities.

Having facilitated workshops in previous years, UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser has seen the power of women leaders coming together from across the Pacific to share resources and learn from one another’s experiences.

 “Bringing these women together to share knowledge and stories from the field is not only an excellent way of learning from one another, it’s also valuable self-care and solidarity for them – knowing there are many other women out there working to overcome the same challenges,” she said.

There will also be sessions the on theology of gender equality and God-given human dignity for women, reflecting on Rev Dr Cliff Bird’s recent Bible study resource, ‘God’s Vision for Human Relationships Vol. 2’. As in previous years, the workshop will continue to focus on the practical, discussing how to embed gender equality within churches and how women’s fellowship organisations can implement practices of gender equality in their development projects.

 “Participants will be invited to discuss how traditional interpretations of the Bible have defined women and how God’s view of equality shifts these expectations and provides women with the opportunity see their worth as equally created in God’s image and likeness for abundant life,” said Bronwyn Fraser.

This workshop, part-funded by Australian Aid, is part of UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program (PW4C), which focuses on the strength of women to identify and address key development challenges in their own countries and communities. UnitingWorld works with churches and ecumenical networks to challenge traditional patriarchal views of the Bible, in favour of a framework that sees the Bible as a foundation for advancing equality, inclusion and dignity of all human beings. The PW4C Program also works closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.

The Partnering Women for Change Program is partly supported by funding from Australian Aid.

Dated: 5 May 2017
Contact:
Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756
bronwynf@unitingworld.org.au

Read more:

UnitingWorld: Gender Equality in the Pacific Through Theology (Pacific Women)

A Biblical take on Human Rights – Bridging the Gap for Gender Equality in the Pacific

Case study: Faith and Gender Equality in the Pacific (DFAT)

Middle East Desk, Sydney Office
7 April 2017

The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon is celebrating the the second female minister to be ordained in the Evangelical Church in Lebanon. 

Preacher Najla Kassab was ordained on 24 March, 2017 at a ceremony held at the Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Rabieh, Beirut.

Dr George Sabra, President of the Near East School of Theology (NEST), gave a sermon at the ceremony entitled ‘A day created by God’. “The fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Righteousness that has brought us so far… has led us to open all doors to this woman … for we can see her service to the Church and society as a whole,” he said.

Dr Sabra called on Preacher Kassab to persevere and never give up, irrespective of the circumstances.  He told those present that perseverance, no matter what, along with the love of Lord Jesus, represent the qualities of leadership needed to serve the church.  Addressing Kassab directly he said, “I am confident, as well as everyone else, that you possess these two qualities.”

Dr Sabra then presented Preacher Kassab with a Holy Bible, in the name of the Synod.

To conclude the ceremony, Kassab gave her first blessing as a Pastor, which was greeted with warm applause and congratulations by members of the Synod.

This historic event follows the ordination of Preacher Rula Sleiman, almost a month earlier in Tripoli, as the first female Evangelical Minister in Lebanon and the Middle East.

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).