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Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea

Salote and Jone have been married 11 years, members of a Christian church, and have two beautiful children. They love one another, but throughout their marriage they’ve had times of conflict and Jone has become angry, abusive and resorted to violence. Each time he pleads for forgiveness, vows to change and for a time makes good on his promise. Each time, violence returns. Salote wants to believe that everyone, with the love of God, can change, but she fears for her life and for the welfare of her children. She asks the advice of her Pastor.

This is the scenario a group of men and women are grappling with in a frostily air-conditioned room in the offices of the United Church of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, on a typically hot February day. They’ve come from all over the country – the Highlands, New Britain, Goroka – and they represent different denominations, universities and groups united by a common desire to see an end to violence against women. This week, their unexpected secret weapon is better theology.

“Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is a Christian, which completely underpins the culture,” explains University lecturer Theresa, who has come to be part of the Community of Practice meeting, seeking inspiration for her gender and social studies lectures.

“But most have only a shallow understanding of what the Bible really says about men and women. It’s enough for many men to believe their marriages are ordained by God, or that they are superior to women. In reality, there’s so much more to what the Scriptures say about the equality of men and women. Understanding this properly changes everything.”

Watching the group grapple with what advice a Pastor should give to the couple is an interesting experience.  Earlier, a Bible study by Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll has unpacked a passage from Matthew about turning the other cheek – a concept that for decades has been part of the powerful brew holding faithful women captive in abusive marriages. Rev Dr Carroll, however, explains that in the culture of Jesus’ day, rather than passively accepting or inviting further violence, ‘turning the other cheek’ could quite literally have created a radically different dynamic between two people and restored a sense of equality and dignity.

The interpretation opens new possibilities in the room and creates a buzz that spills over into discussion and controversy around the case study. For some, the issue hits close to the heart. Women here have left abusive marriages of their own and are raising children while helping other women find safety from violence. This is no idle hypothetical. What’s certain is that for everyone in the room, this teaching of Jesus – fully explained, beautifully illustrated  – has real authority and currency to change lives.

UnitingWorld is continuing to support the development of resources to teach Gender Equality Theology throughout the Pacific. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the Bible studies or helping provide invaluable financial support for the project, please get in touch. We’d love you to join us on this exciting journey with our partners!

Gender Equality Theology Community of Practice activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.

At 3:44am on 26 February 2018, Papua New Guinea experienced a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, with its epicentre in the Southern Highlands.  The initial quake and landslips resulted in 160 deaths and many more injuries.  In the days and weeks that followed, severe aftershocks and landslides caused many more deaths. 

The quake caused widespread destruction of property and infrastructure; including roads, houses, rupturing of tanks and pollution of fresh water from underground oil and gas leaking into streams from below. The human cost was immeasurable. Along with the loss of housing, shelter, water and food supplies, people were deeply shaken emotionally.  Aftershocks left people afraid to sleep in what was left of their homes and communities. Already facing poverty and lack of resources, in the aftermath of the massive earthquake social fragmentation and tensions quickly reached boiling point.

Even today, the Papua New Guinea highlands are very remote. After a plane flight from Port Moresby to Mount Hagen, it took nearly three hours by four-wheel drive on heavily damaged roads tracking through rainforests, mountains and villages to reach the township of Mendi.  On arriving there I was given a tour of the town.  It is a beautiful place with lush, tropical growth, surrounded by banana plantations and you can see mountain tops hidden in mist.  Even so, signs of the earthquake were clear. 

Dark stripes on mountainsides showed where the earth had slipped. Houses were sitting squat and bent on the ground where their piers had collapsed and the local hospital still had walls missing.  There were signs of human-caused damage as well.  I was shown where the police station and courthouse had been razed by arson and where a passenger plane was destroyed; all this during riots in the town that had followed the earthquake.

Mendi was a fitting venue for UnitingWorld to organise joint training courses for pastors from the Highland provinces, where the church is at the forefront of social integration and care.  Following the earthquake, churches worked alongside government and not-for-profit agencies to help cater for basic needs and continue to be the prime provider of psychosocial support and mediation in conflicts.

The earthquake struck while I was working with UnitingWorld supporting our partners in Tonga following Cyclone Gita.  For some time, access was too restricted, and priority was given to basic human and social needs across Papua New Guinea.  It took months of logistical challenges (including access, funding and people involved) to bring everything together for the workshop in September. This turned out to be good timing, as any earlier it would have been difficult for primary pastoral carers and leaders to get away from the needs of their people.

 

 

The workshop was attended by over 25 participants, with the week divided into two segments: disaster recovery and trauma counselling, followed by sessions on peacebuilding.

The Disaster Recovery and Trauma Counselling was facilitated by myself and Lua Alu, a counsellor who works throughout Papua New Guinea and specialises in counselling on stress, conflict and sexual violence.  I was able to bring a framework to the workshop with input on disaster dynamics, trauma, critical incidents and debriefing.

The second part of the week focused on peacebuilding and was led by the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) team, an extraordinarily gifted group of people with extensive first-hand experience in negotiating warring groups to lay down their weapons, find forgiveness and extend peace.

These two elements melded seamlessly, with the first giving an understanding of post-traumatic reactions, symptoms and care, and the second giving a platform on practical ways to move forward in reconciliation. 

The workshops were a time of great refreshment for all involved.  They provided an opportunity for pastors to come away from situations of ongoing stress in the provision of pastoral care and share with brothers and sisters in Christ; being equipped and affirmed, ready to return to the difficult ongoing work of supporting their people.

I came away blessed by the kindness, hospitality and warmth shown by our local partners to a stranger from Australia.  I learned a great deal as I taught and shared with these dedicated people.  As I prepared to leave, many urged us to thank the people of UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia for this time, and to ask the church to remember them, recognising that – even now – they continue to face enormous challenges in caring for communities still fragile from the impact of the earthquake.

 

Rev. Dr. Stephen Robinson
National Disaster Recovery Officer
Uniting Church in Australia

 

You can support the work of UnitingWorld and our local partners, helping communities be better prepared for disasters, saving lives and providing critical care in the aftermath. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation today.

 

UnitingWorld acknowledges the support of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Rev John Yor Nyker, the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) was recently asked the question, “what does transformative partnership mean to you?” His response gave us some insight into the value that he and his church place on their international partnerships.

“Transformative partnership means many things for me. It means learning new things and new culture from others, which is part of strengthening relationship and friendship between partners and our church. It’s caring for others; sharing each other’s happiness and unhappiness, sadness and joy. When the war broke out in South Sudan, our brothers and sisters in Christ’s service were shedding tears for us.

It is not resources that make partnership. Partnership is the ministry, the Kingdom of God through prayers for each other. Partnership is learning, making friendships and sharing of ideas and opinions. It is learning about the global world … learning how to pass [on] the information about your culture and your way of life. It is important to establish partnership as a part of human life.”

Photo: Rev John Yor eating a melting Tim Tam brought to South Sudan from Australia

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. UnitingWorld supports our partners, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), to train ministers and lay leaders and equip them with the tools they will need to teach reconciliation and peacebuilding skills in families and between tribal groups throughout South Sudan. Read more | Meet the peacemakers of South Sudan (video)

 

UnitingWorld hosted its annual five-day workshop on Gender Equality Theology in early November.

Led by Pacific theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Siera Bird, ministers from partner churches across the Pacific met in Nadi, Fiji, to wrestle with biblical themes of equality and anti-violence. They discussed how principles from the Bible can be powerful forces for positive change in their communities, where violence against women continues to be a significant problem.

Participants expressed their appreciation for what they learned throughout the week and committed to taking the knowledge back to their home churches.

“The teaching tools have given me more clarification for deeper biblical analysis and identifying the root-causes of social issues,”  said Rev Tomasi Tarabe, New Testament lecturer at the Davuilevu Theological College in Suva.

“I hope UnitingWorld continues to work with Pacific theologians on developing a methodology of reading and interpreting the Bible through our cultural lens.”

Participant Victoria Kavafolau, a theology student and newly appointed head of the Women’s Desk for the Tonga National Council of Churches, spoke about how her expectations for the event were turned around.

“Before I participated in the Gender Equality Theology workshop, I thought ‘oh, this is just another program advocating women’s rights.’ To be proven wrong was an understatement… Not only did it raise awareness about violence against women and children, but the workshop provided tools and resources for theologically interpreting and identifying gender equality within Scripture and how we can apply that to our relevant contexts,” said Victoria.

“This is an important area within our respective Oceania communities to be addressed and enriched. We are in a different era now with different worldviews and contexts. Our cultural values and customs often deter us from developing further perspectives on gender equality.

This program has impacted me at a personal level and has encouraged me to address this growing issue within my Tongan community. With the aid of UnitingWorld and the tools and resources they have provided me, hopefully change can be implemented according to the will of God. Praise be to God.”

 

The Partnering Women for Change project is supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Women Program. 

 

Photo: Victoria Kavafolau (right) with UnitingWorld Program Manager Megan Calcaterra and Rev Lima Tura, a previous UnitingWorld scholarship recipient who is now a lecturer at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Megan Calcaterra.

Dear friends,

Greetings! It’s with delight that I share a little about how the Diocese of Amritsar is ministering to communities in Northwest India through the valued support of UnitingWorld.

We work in a unique context, among communities which have been systematically deprived of standard education and healthcare, severely impacting their development and growth. Education in the region has become mostly privatised and institutional, accessible by only a few. Infrastructure is failing, and there are not enough adequate teachers or books. Girls are most affected, as they are considered a burden to the family. They risk abuse and harassment.

Our church ministry, as well as social empowerment programmes, are aimed at breaking systems that dehumanize people and keep them helpless and despairing. With your help, the Church is able to go beyond its boundaries and walk with people in times of need, working together to transform unjust social structures, and provide hope where there is none. As we work alongside our brothers and sisters in the villages, our aim is to help them develop their strengths and capabilities and give them back their sense of identity and self-confidence. Young girls and boys in villages located near the Pakistan border now have more access to quality education and healthcare and are on their way to becoming agents of change for their own communities.

In all these efforts, we see God’s design in bringing people into deep friendships, connecting individuals who have joined the journey along with UnitingWorld to enable the Diocese to carry out this life-transforming ministry. Thank you for partnering with us in this work. Please continue to keep the ministry of the Diocese of Amritsar in your thoughts and prayers.

May God bless you!

Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy

Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar

 

Your gifts to our HOPE HAS MANY FACES Appeal support Bishop Samantaroy and the work of the church in India – providing training for church leaders and education opportunities, especially for girls.

Click here to donate today

In rural India, almost 30% of the people struggle to secure the minimum requirements of life—food, shelter, clothing—and many children are unable to attend school because of where they were born. Our local church partners are providing education and shelter for children, pastoral care and hope in remote India. We believe that to make sustainable change, strong leadership is key.

In the Eastern Himalayas, our partner set up a Church Leadership Project to equip pastors in some of the most remote and difficult areas of India. I recently received a letter from Aarav, one of our ministers who travels to remote communities for prayer, counselling and to do whatever he can to help struggling families thrive.

“Since 2016 I have been working with a small tribal community of 26 families, mostly daily wage earners living on the fringes of the forest land. During my visits, I could see their broken hand pump (only one in the village); a tube well that was contaminated; not enough blankets for winter; no mosquito nets during summer; and a river without a bridge (the main access to their village). With help I have organised a medical camp to provide check-ups and free medicine, distributed blankets and mosquito nets to all the families, repaired the broken hand pump and installed a new one.”

Pastor Aarav is such a great example of the way our global church leadership programs are equipping leaders to care for people in holistic ways – not only offering pastoral care and the good news of Christ, but helping people find life to the full.

He faces many challenges, including hostile religious fundamentalists who are suspicious that the church is attempting Christian conversions in the region. A father to three-year-old Palak, Aarav lives with the daily fear that negative reports about his activities could lead to his arrest.

Aarav told me that in the midst of these challenges, he holds on to God’s word and it encourages him to be hopeful when life is difficult. “I am also encouraged and hopeful because there are communities all over the world who are praying and supporting us,” he wrote.

“I am thankful to the people of UnitingWorld in Australia for their support to our leadership program as it has helped me be what I am today. It has expanded my vision and my commitment to the community in a way I never thought possible.”

Thank you so much for being part of Aarav’s hope.

Our goal is to equip more pastors with the skills they need to minister in remote areas like the Eastern Himalayas where the challenges are immense. Your gift today can provide much-needed training and practical resources for Aarav and others like him.

I hope you’ll help us reach our goal of raising $115,000 to support our transformative partnership with the church in India. This leadership project is just one of the ways we’re helping our partners transform their communities and I’m looking forward to sharing more stories of hope with you all in the coming weeks.

In love and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

“We shall build peace through forgiveness and love one another. All the churches in South Sudan will pray for peace.” – South Sudanese church leaders.

Our church partners in South Sudan have been running peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops inside refugee camps in neighbouring Uganda and Kenya.

In the first week of June, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) held a peacebuilding and trauma healing workshop with South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. Over the three days of the workshop, participants tackled big-picture questions like, “what does healing of trauma look like?” and, “how can we forgive ourselves and build peace in our lives?”

The workshop focused on reconciliation and finding the root causes of conflict. The facilitators spoke about mercy, forgiveness and turning away from tribalism towards repentance. Following the close of the workshop, participants expressed their deep appreciation for the materials and asked for additional and more in-depth workshops to be held.

Rev Paska Aciya of PCOSS recently returned from the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where she ran peacebuilding, trauma and reconciliation training.

“I have been in Kakuma Refugee camp to conduct training for our people there who ran because of the war. It was successful; attended by 32 women and some pastors. “As refugees, they have challenges; most are women and children, as most of the women’s husbands have been killed during the war.” – Rev Paska Aciya.

The workshop in Uganda was held as part of our Peacebuilding and Trauma Healing project with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Rev Paska Aciya was also trained to be a facilitator as part of the project. These activities have been made possible thanks to the generosity of UnitingWorld supporters.

Related reading:

South Sudanese churches welcome top leader’s agreement, but warn conflict has expanded (WCC)

 

Photos / Top: Rev Paska and colleagues of PCOSS. Right: Men and women praying at the Peacebuilding and Trauma healing workshop in a Ugandan refugee camp

“Since the conflict,” “after the conflict,” “during the conflict.” These phrases pepper almost every conversation.

It might be 20 years, but the violence that broke out between Muslims and Christians in Ambon, Indonesia in 1999 is still the watershed event that shapes all narratives.

People died, homes and businesses were burnt down and two communities that used to live intermingled were left segregated and distrustful. How do you come back from that?

Chickens. Garbage. Hydroponics.

Unlikely you say? Not so, says the church in Ambon.

They’ve been setting up community projects where groups of people work together on an area of common need – women raise chickens to generate income; students clean up garbage pollution in their local river; families without land start hydroponics to grow food.

The magic? Each group is half Muslim, half Christian. Friendships are made, trust is rebuilt, the poor have new income. They learn to depend on each other. When friction flares up between individuals, people step in and diffuse it.

Six years since the start of this initiative, the two faith communities are intermingling, doing business and socialising with each other. When there was a flare up of violence during a recent election campaign, it did not affect any of the villages where this project has been running.

If that wasn’t enough, our local church partner has been deliberately seeking out the involvement of people with disabilities to include in the income generating and peacebuilding collaborations.

So much hope! If you didn’t believe it was possible to turn swords into ploughshares, think again – the Protestant Church of Maluku, with our support is doing it with chickens and hydroponic kale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolores (name changed to protect privacy) has the most soulful eyes you could hope for on a cow.

Part of her earnest expression, I’m pretty sure, has to do with her confidence that not only is she saving the planet – she’s going to give families a chance to end poverty.  Most of her daily dump goes directly into a big tank where it ferments away, producing methane gas that runs along this pipeline into a gas cylinder. There are technical details here I didn’t catch, but from here it lights up a cooker.  And presto.  Fuel.

Dolores is part of a program being trialled by our partner organisation in Bali, MBM.  This bunch are no slouches when it comes to innovation.  They live in a country synonymous with tourism, although it battles to keep its place as the poster child of cheap Aussie getaways since the Bali Bombings and is in fierce competition these days with other exotic Asian destinations like Cambodia and Vietnam. Still, much of the Balinese economy relies directly on the wallets of international visitors.  Local small farmers without the skills to share in the tourism industry are doubly disadvantaged – prices pushed high by visitors; a system that cuts them out.  These are the invisible poor among whom our partners work, right across Bali’s length and breadth.  For these families, innovation is the name of the game.

Trialling livestock to produce fuel by way of methane; gathering rubbish to recycle and then resell; seeding community gardens where produce can be shared and sold; training people in small businesses and co-ops in which families invest their savings together in order to buy livestock – these are the skills that will help end poverty forever.

For the next two weeks, until June 30, you can help give them and many others among our partner churches up to six times the hand they need.

Combined with Australian Government funding, you’ll make a huge impact ending poverty.

Find out more and make your gift here.

Thanks for standing with us and our partners – we’re better together!