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Disaster Preparation and Climate Change (Pacific Region)

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But theology can help people prepare for disasters and lessen the impact! That’s why we’ve been working hard to share resources on a theology of disaster resilience among our partners and other Pacific churches, some of whom work among people who have been taught to believe that natural disasters are an unavoidable punishment for personal or societal wrongdoing.

This understanding of the nature of disaster sometimes means communities haven’t thought through what they could do practically to avoid and lessen their impact. Our new resources are written by Pacific theologians and designed to be shared as Bible studies as widely as possible with people in their own language. They teach about the nature of disaster and suffering, God’s call to care for creation, our role as stewards, and preparedness and advocacy as acts of discipleship. The Bible studies will work alongside teaching about evacuation plans, risk assessments and the provision of pastoral support.

The Framework paper was the result of a Working Group of ten Pasifika theologians and practitioners gathering in 2018. Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll was lead writer.

The Bible studies were written by Rev Koloma Makewin (PNG), Rev Geraldine Wiliame (Fiji), Dr Afereti Uili (Samoa) and Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll (Fiji/Australia).

In the face of increasing threats from drought, fire, flood and storms in our region, we’re doing everything we can to equip our partners to respond with determination and hope, starting with foundations of faith.

Read more about the project and access the resources here.

This project is made possible with funding from the Australian Government through the Disaster Ready project of the Church Agencies Network – Disaster Operations (CAN-DO).

*Header pic: Theology of Disaster Resilience Working Group meeting in Fiji, August 2018


How can you support this work?

Give a Christmas gift card to a loved one! The Whole World in Your Hands gift card will support our partners to prepare vulnerable communities and reduce disaster impact.

Buy it now online.

Shop online for other gifts that fight poverty and build hope at www.everythingincommon.com.au

When the Uniting Church in Australia was formed in 1977, we made a statement to the nation that included this commitment:

“We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment.”

Caring for creation is in our DNA. It’s a long legacy that inspired our decision to join the Global Climate Strike in solidarity with students and young people who are scared but holding onto hope as they advocate for a better future.

More than a thousand of you were right there with us. From Sydney to Perth, Darwin to Hobart, Adelaide to Brisbane, Alice Springs to Melbourne and dozens of towns across Australia; faithful Uniting Church members, UCA-affiliated schools and UnitingWorld supporters were a visible presence of hope to their communities.

In Sydney there were more than 360 people in our group. Starting in the morning with worship and prayer at Pitt St Uniting, we heard a challenging sermon from Tongan-Australian Rev Alimoni Taumoepeau, Minister at Strathfield Homebush Uniting Church. “Why do I join the climate strike? God gave me—and each of us—the responsibility to take care of this world, not to destroy it,” said Rev Alimoni.

“Ultimately, I am here because Jesus calls me to be. In Chapter 4 of Mark’s gospel, after Jesus calms the storm, he asks his disciples, ‘where is your faith?’ Do we believe God is with us? Walking with us? Calling us to love one another as God loves us?”

“Well, already the impacts of climate change are hitting the world’s poorest. This moves me to act in faith.”

Led by the Pasifika-Australians in our group, we headed out of the church to join to the wider community for the largest public demonstrations in our nation since the peace marches to oppose the Iraq War in 2003.

We joined with people expressing solidarity with rural Australians struggling through an unseasonably early fire season and the most severe drought conditions in 120 years; people fighting to save the natural wonder of our Great Barrier Reef; children and youth who want a safe, healthy planet to grow old in (with parents and grandparents who want that too!); and our partners in the Pacific who are already leading change in their communities.

A group of Tongans, Fijians and Niueans sang the Fijian hymn Eda sa qaqa (‘We have overcome’) and Kepueli Vaka, a Tongan-Australian ministry candidate of United Theological College, blew a deep note on a Kele’a (conch shell).

“With tears rolling down my face, I realised that the voices of the voiceless, the people of the South Pacific were present through the ringing vibrations of the Kele’a. It was crying and calling for people to unite for all of God’s creation,” he said afterwards.

We were so encouraged by the turnout and messages of support from people in areas too remote to get to an event but wanted to express their appreciation that the church was involved.

And we were moved by messages of thanks and support from our international partners, many of whom are on the front lines of climate impacts and looking to developed nations to take the lead in reducing global emissions.

At a time when our partners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia have been stepping up their disaster preparation and climate justice work, it’s been a joy to follow their lead and act in solidarity for the whole creation.

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With climate change intensifying the ferocity and frequency of natural disasters—typically in regions where the poor are disproportionately affected—how do we as the Church respond?

That was the question posed at UnitingWorld’s annual conference of Southeast Asia Partners, held in Bali from 29 July to 2 August 2019.

Delegates from Bali, Java, Maluku, West Timor, Timor-Leste, Papua and West Papua and North Luzon in the Philippines gathered to hear from experts and share their own experiences of climate change and disasters.

Indonesian disaster specialist Henry Pirade led sessions with project managers on how to conduct risk assessments, prepare local communities to be disaster ready and how to carry out effective disaster response.

Delegates enthusiastically shared their experiences of disasters and gathered ideas from one another to take back to their churches and disaster preparation projects.

“As the Church, it is our calling and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Rev Sudiana, director of UnitingWorld partner Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), an agency of the Christian Protestant Church of Bali.

“But there is often apathy in local communities when it comes to disaster preparation. If it’s not a priority for local government, it needs to be pressed by local churches. We are good at helping after disasters, but we can save many more lives in advance if we prioritise disaster planning.” 

Delegates discussed how disaster preparedness needs widespread and diverse community buy-in to prevent vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities from being left behind during a disaster.

Many delegates spoke about the critical roles of education and leadership in keeping people safe during disasters and preparing for climate change.

“The key to mobilising our communities for climate action and disaster preparation is education. People won’t move if they don’t understand the situation and their role in it,” said Julius Cezar, a youth leader from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

 “We must empower our [project] beneficiaries to become leaders of disaster preparedness in their communities. Education is often the only difference between beneficiary and a leader,” said program manager Victor Nahusona from the Protestant Church of Maluku.

The conference highlighted how supporting people during disasters isn’t only practically difficult but can also be psychologically and spiritually complex. 

“For weeks after the recent flood in Sentani (Papua), people who had fled their flooded islands were scared to go home or fish in the lake because they had seen dead bodies in the water around their houses,” said program manager Meilanny Alfons from Papua.

Physically removing and burying the bodies is one thing, addressing the trauma and fear of spirits is another. Delegates agreed the Church has a strong role to play in trauma counselling.

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

Keynote speaker Rev James Bhagwan spoke about the pastoral role of churches and shared his experiences of faith-based climate action and disaster response in Fiji.

Rev Bhagwan didn’t avoid difficult theological questions: Where is God in a crisis? Who is to blame? How do our communities respond faithfully and effectively?

Drawing on an emerging Pasifika theology of climate justice, Rev Bhagwan pointed to God’s love as the starting point for climate action.

“Biblical justifications for climate action need look no further than the Bible’s most known and quoted verse, John 3:16.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“When the Spirit became flesh and dwelt among us, it signaled that God is with us, and showed what love for the world truly looks like. This is the starting point for a theology of climate justice,” said Rev Bhagwan.

“As we lose our relationship with creation and deny the sacredness of all life it becomes easier to exploit it.”

Rev Bhagwan explained the theological justifications holding back climate action in the Pacific, and many of the Southeast Asia delegates noted the same debates going on in their churches.

“In the Pacific, people often see disaster preparation and climate action as showing lack of faith (‘God looks after us’). But preparedness is practicing faith. It is a visible proclamation of hope for a renewed tomorrow.”

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

The Protestant Christian Church in Bali, the local hosts of the UnitingWorld Partner Conference, made space on their land for each delegate to plant a tree for their own church or church agency. The trees represented a commitment to work in partnership for climate justice.

As part of our commitment to standing with those most vulnerable to climate change, the Uniting Church in Australia is encouraging members to support the Global Climate strike on September 20.

Click here to support the Global Climate Strike and join us on 20 September!

The conference was kindly hosted by Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), the development agency of our partners the Protestant Christian Church in Bali.

A statement from the President’s Conference, Fiji 2019

“For God so loved the cosmos” (John 3:16)

The good news of Christ is for the whole of creation 
and we are one with all creation in Christ. (Col 1: 23)

We, the participants of the 2019 President’s Conference, gathering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji have drawn together to bear witness and to draw courage from each other – here where climate change is most clearly seen, most clearly felt, by the people least responsible for its progress.

We acknowledge:

Our connection to Moana, Waitui, Wansolwara people, whose lands and hearts are bound by deep, blue Pacific waters.

We are part of the Pacific, a liquid continent where islands are connected and sustained by the ocean currents.

The need to listen again to the voices of our sisters and brothers, our friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable and most impacted, who also demonstrate great resilience, determination, hopefulness and commitment to work for change.

This has inspired us and challenged us to hear God’s call to costly discipleship and we lament the effects of the human sin of greed and particularly its effects on this planet, our home.

Together we affirm:

The Uniting Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the environment arises out of our belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being.

This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation.

Through our discerning of Scripture, we acknowledge the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ and are being reconciled in Christ.

The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

The Basis of Union expresses this hope and situates it at the very heart of the church’s mission:

“God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end.”

Together we recognise:

The ongoing concern of the Uniting Church in Australia since its formation in 1977 for the wellbeing of our planet that has been expressed in numerous statements.

The unique place and wisdom of First Peoples of Australia in relation to the land. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church recognises that:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

The Churches of the Pacific, with whom we are a part of the Body of Christ, and the Pacific Conference of Churches, to which we belong, are leading the response to climate change. We hear their call and witness to us; and recognise their prophetic, practical and pastoral actions among their people.

Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation, often accompanied by the belief that the world is given to use as we please, and the perspective that “more is better.”

The island nations in the Pacific are being disproportionately harmed by climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change induced natural disasters.

Climate change induced displacement is already a significant challenge, and grief both to Pacific countries and across the world; disconnecting people from their homes, their culture and their identity.

Climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and across the world, and to all of creation including plant and animal life.

The intersectionality of issues – how climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest communities and on women and children, people living with disabilities, people with different gender identities – calls for relational and inclusive justice.

As participants of this conference, we are called to be God’s co-workers, participants in the work of reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation. We believe that we have a moral responsibility to act, and that God is calling us to be bearers of hope.

Because of this, we commit to:

Working with First Peoples in Australia particularly through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sisters and brothers in the Pacific and other communities of faith to understand the impacts of climate change on traditional and contemporary ways of life and pay attention to the Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom of living in right relationship with land, sea and sky.

Being compassionate, active listeners to the environment and people living with the reality of climate change.

Being thankful for all we have, recognising we have enough, enjoying the beauty and bounty of God’s creation, resisting the pressures of consumerism and idolatry of material possessions.

Being responsible for our own actions and our impact on the environment, and calling for a renewed repentance, turning away from seeking more, towards a just sharing and harmony of all life.

Being a green Church by finding creative ways to engage our own communities in climate action, raising aspects of the environment in our worship, replacing disposable with sustainable products, reducing energy use and moving to renewable forms of energy.

Boldly raising our voices to advocate to governments to act on climate change and its effects in Australia, in the Pacific and the global community.

This statement was originally published on the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website.

Read more about UnitingWorld’s work with Pacific partners on climate change and disaster risk reduction.