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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

‘And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.’ Colossians 3:15
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of reflection regarding the suffering, death, and resurrection of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also time for self-examination and reflection, for us to redirect and rededicate our attention and action, prayerfully, to the most crying needs in our society.
Let us heed Pope Francis’s call to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan the Democratic Republic of Congo, to be held on 23 February, in the first week of Lent according to the Gregorian calendar. Let us join in prayer and fasting, as part of the global ecumenical movement in light of the ongoing social- political tension, violence, and the suffering of the affected peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
In the DRC, 4.3 million people are displaced throughout the country and 13.1 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country this year.
In South Sudan, 2 million people have fled the young nation as refugees and about 1.9 million people are internally displaced, over the past four years of conflict- with 7 million people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance.
Children, young men, and women have been among the most affected. Millions of women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence in these crisis-affected areas.
The churches and communities are dedicated and present in these communities, accompanying the affected people through these challenging times. We acknowledge the courageous and hopeful work that carries on each day to serve the people in need. May the prayers of all Christians on 23 February for the gift of peace be a sign of solidarity and closeness to those suffering in South Sudan and DRC.

May God bless you and your ministry during this season of Lent,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary

See Original Prayer

“Rough day at work, hey?” says my fifteen year old with a grin when she comes home and notices the first draft for our upcoming UnitingWorld campaign.

We don’t believe in charity,” declares my scrawl on a large sheet of paper, folded in two.

It’s a tagline probably worthy of the raised eyebrow. For years when they were younger, whenever other kids asked our girls what their parents did, they tended to reply that we ‘worked for charities.’ It was easier than explaining the ins and outs of overseas aid or social entrepreneurship here in Sydney. Everyone gets the concept of charity: “Generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill or helpless”. Good stuff, right?

“Open it up,” I tell Jem. “You have to read the next bit.”

Inside: We don’t believe in charity. We believe in solidarity.

 Ah,” says Jem. “Nice.”

“We believe in solidarity.”

None of us want to be regarded as ‘charity cases.’ We’d much rather just be people – with strengths and weaknesses, sure – but always essentially just people. Charity is a beautiful word of course – it’s always meant love and brotherhood, generosity, kindness. But it sometimes feels like it also has overtones of pity, distance: “I’m giving because I feel sorry for you, and you’re so helpless, so here: please take this.” Even better than charity, I think, is solidarity – the idea that our equal and shared humanity is what matters most, even if the details of our experience are sometimes quite different.

Eduardo Galeano wrote: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Solidarity recognises that beneath the cards that life has dealt us, we’re equally human, with equal strengths and weaknesses, even if they’re vastly magnified by our circumstances. Making the quiet effort to redistribute our resources is a respectful (if inadequate) attempt to recognise this. You could argue it’s just semantics, but I think it’s actually important.

In West Timor I met Betcy, a mum probably around my age.

Betcy has four children, and although she’s functionally blind she used a low interest loan from the Church of West Timor to start a small business selling used clothes and saved enough money to build her own home. It has almost-reliable electricity, a shared bed for the three boys, and a brand new water tank to safeguard their often-dirty water supply. When she speaks about the dreams she has for her children (another small loan to send her eldest to university to study engineering, for example), and when she proudly shows me the wardrobe where her children hang their school uniforms, or shyly grins at the antics of her eight year old daughter chasing the family dog – we share one of those wordless ‘mum’ moments. That’s about all it takes.

Betcy and her daughter

I come home here to my house with the two bathrooms, the car that conveniently beeps as I mow down my recycling bin on the way to my children’s excellent schools, and Betcy stays with me. She’s with me in the knowledge that I have a huge amount of practical resources to share, simply because I was born in a different place, through no merit of my own. She’s here in the knowledge that resilience, courage, love and aspiration are universal, and that my children are not the only ones who deserve to have those dreams nurtured. She’s alongside me in the certainty that “poor people” are not helpless – they’re determined, creative and capable. And they may be in some cases geographically removed, but they share many of my life experiences.

Most especially, I realise that any one of us could be Betcy if the world tilted its axis just a fraction and the lottery of birth placed us somewhere where rains stubbornly refused to fall or life is shattered in a hail of bullets; if our parents had to choose between sending us to school or finding us work to do to help keep the family fed. All of this knowledge and the shared humanity it points to – that’s solidarity.

This knowledge changes how I live, what I think, how I use my money and my time. Before you offer me a sainthood, I’m a reluctant learner. Always.

Does this lead to generous acts and donations? Hopefully. But not just edge of my life, got-a-bit-left-over donations from pity. Ideally, this is using the resources I have in an attempt to express genuine respect for people who are fully human, fully deserving of the same opportunities as me and my family, and fully able to make use of them. Giving money this way might mean I go without something I’d kinda like. Because three quarters of the world go without things that kinda-keep-them-alive, and they have every much a right to that life as I do.

For me, solidarity will always be more meaningful than charity. So no, Jem, it wasn’t a rough day at work. It was another good one, and I’m grateful as always for everything I learn with UnitingWorld and with our partners in West Timor, Fiji, India, China, Vanuatu and South Sudan. Most especially, I’m grateful for the confronting and motivating fact of our equal, beautiful and shared humanity. I’ll continue to learn and be challenged by how to respond to it.

– Cath

Support determined, creative and capable people freeing themselves from poverty by making a tax-deductible donation to our End of Financial Year campaign before June 30:

There are probably dents in my forehead from pressing it up against the window pane as Fiji’s coastline sneaks into view beneath us – I’ll never tire of watching the land creep up under the wing tip of a plane as we tilt away from the sun. There’s something about seeing the earth from the air like this: I’m small, I’m huge, I’m fragile, I’m a billion nerve endings all wired-up wrong and firing, like a kid on Christmas morning.  A new perspective is a gift.

This is going to sound crazy, but it’s strangely similar watching a roomful of women from all over the Pacific opening Bibles – of all things – in a whitewashed room lit by painful fluoro strips. The physical environment might be sterile but the mood is suddenly electric. There’s a buzz so palpable I can’t tear my eyes away.

At the front of the room, Pacific husband and wife duo Cliff and Siera Bird, both theologians, are smashing their way through a few cherished stereotypes about Mary Mother of Jesus. (Yep, that one).

And the women are loving it.

Betrothed at 14 to an elderly widower who already had a grown up family – the Joseph of a surprising number of historical studies – it turns out Mary probably had more sass than anyone in the room could have imagined. Cliff explains her boldness: not only does she question the angel who delivers the message of her ‘chosen’ status, but she also fearlessly delivers the tale of her pregnancy to her fiancé, Joseph, knowing what the likely consequences will be.

Death, no less.

As the dust settles on these revelations, you can practically reach out and touch the admiration in the room. On Instagram, someone is tagging Mary #yougogirl. Or they want to.

And it’s not just Mary who’s up for the high fives. Duped into what looks pretty much like ‘buying used goods’, Joseph would have been well within his rights to abandon his wife for her unbelievable tale of angelic impregnation, leaving her to be stoned on her father’s doorstep. This is a time and a place where women have few rights, are the property of men and expected to be virgins at the time of their marriage (although men aren’t.  Some would say not much has changed in many parts of the world.) Instead of disowning his shamed bride-to-be and leaving her to her fate, Joseph chooses to believe her story and stand by her side.  It’s a pretty unlikely twist: in a culture where violence against women was commonplace, the continued engagement and subsequent birth of Jesus is a triumph of epic proportions.

The women in the room in front of me – from Samoa to PNG – understand this all too well. They live in some of the most dangerous places in the world to grow up female. Many stats suggest three in four girls from the Pacific will experience violence at the hands of a family or community member.   For the first time, it probably strikes many of us how extraordinary it is that instead of slinking away quietly to hide her shame, Mary stands up and speaks boldly of her chosen status. And instead of leaving her to a violent end, Joseph keeps the faith and walks with her to Bethlehem and beyond.

This story not only flies full in the face of the accepted cultural norms of the day, it lights a wick under the kind of relationships so many are living in the Pacific and other places around the world right now. Is Christmas a sanitised tale of a sweet young couple in love and ready to bring into the world God’s baby son, or is it also a grenade under a culture close to home of casually accepted domestic violence and toxic relationships?

This is the Bible taught in a way that holds up a powerful mirror to real life and leaves people reeling in its wake. This is theology as it was always intended – spark to tinder, the wide arc of the lighthouse before the ship smashes on the rocks, that song you hear once and search high and low to hear again.

It’s the earth seen from the air, but it’s also the excitement of touchdown and new places to discover.

Watching it unfold – knowing the impact this teaching is having and will continue to have on Pacific women and men – I can’t help but feel the loss of that same teaching in my own life and the life of people I know in churches around me. When did we stop seeing the way the bible can rip us open, peel back our layers and turn us upside down? Or maybe it’s just me.

Either way, teaching on gender, violence and equality through the Scriptures is lighting fires in the Pacific like nothing else can. Christianity here is the cultural bedrock of society – secular human rights organisations, feminists and NGO’s have no tool that can equal it for influence. Right now, there’s still a prevailing sense that a woman belongs to a man; that a woman’s place is in the home; that what a woman can do, a man can do better. This works its way out in sexist practices, domestic violence, heart-rending stats relating to abuse, and paltry rates of political representation that are worse even than in the Gulf States.

But as the work of people like Cliff and Siera spreads throughout the church and society, we’ll see a shift.  It’s coming. You can see it in the faces and the voices of 15 women from the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Samoa – turning the pages of their bibles with hands that almost shake.

Real theology is a flame, and all over the Pacific, people will see differently in its light.

I was in Fiji for UnitingWorld to report on the Gender Conference for the Regional Women’s Fellowship May 23-29 2017.  

The workshop is part of UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women For Change program, which is part funded by Australian Aid.  

Find out more about the project

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).

“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?

I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, but living in the Bible Belt of the United States meant that I wasn’t short of church experiences when I was a kid. For a long time the norms and traditions of the church felt strange and unfamiliar to me, and there were a lot of things about ‘doing church’ that I didn’t quite understand.

I remember the thing that seemed the oddest at the time was ‘passing the peace’. I learned very quickly what to say and do, but the reasons behind the custom didn’t make a lot of sense to me. After being a Christian for more than ten years, I still thought of passing the peace as some sort of nicety that we do as a means of encouraging fellowship and making one another feel at ease within the congregation. That is, until a trip to South Sudan made me see peace in a whole new light.

On my first full day in the capital Juba, I attended a peace and reconciliation workshop run by the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, UnitingWorld’s partner church in the country. With pride of place right up the very front, my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the banner hanging in the middle of the stage. Written on it in both English and Arabic, was the theme of the training inspired by Ephesians 4:3:

“Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together.”

Reading that banner I started to think about peace and my experiences of it. In Australia, peace is abundant. And I often take it for granted. But sitting in that church hall in Juba, I started to really think about what it means when peace isn’t present in a place.

As Christians, we’re called to love our neighbours and forgive those who sin against us. We’re bound together in unity because of the peace that exists between one person and another. But how many of us in Australia have ever had to forgive someone who has killed their family member? Perpetrated a war crime? Violated a loved one? How many of us has ever looked into the eyes of someone who has wronged us and unconditionally offered them peace?

For the people of South Sudan, peace isn’t a passive state of being. Without the luxury of taking it for granted, they are constantly working towards peace. Fighting for peace. Praying for peace. Throughout the Bible, all of us are called to seek peace, and many faithful South Sudanese people are answering this call. But I wonder – are we answering?

When our typical experience is the absence of conflict – the reality for most Australians – it’s easy to forget what it means to seek peace, especially when the peace we’re seeking is halfway across the world. But seeking peace doesn’t mean we have to be in the room at the ceasefire negotiations. It doesn’t mean that we have to be the ones laying down arms.

Seeking peace takes many forms. It’s the prayer you say before bed every night. It’s the letter you write your MP asking them to put peace at the top of their agenda. It’s the monthly donation you put aside to support the ministers working towards reconciliation.

It’s passing the peace, not just to your immediate neighbour, but those sisters and brothers that are keeping faith and building a church of peace in the hard places of the world.

We can all make a difference. We are all peacemakers. And together we can help bring peace to South Sudan.

– Megan

Find out how you can support the Peacemakers of South Sudan: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/projects/peacebuilding-and-trauma-healing

In front of Shanxi Christian Council office there is a park reconstructed on the top of the Tang dynasty city wall. The moderator Rev Wang pointed to the place below and said “This was the Western Gate”. In 635 the Prime Minister Fang travelled from the imperial court to this gate (today about 45 minutes driving) to receive the Patriarch from the Church of the East. The journey to the East reversed the direction of the Silk Road, and the missionary work was the result of two generations of Persian traders who lived in China. This story was recorded on the Nestorian Stele in Xian Stele Forrest Museum.

Theologically the church does not have a mission, but the mission of God calls the church into being. “Missio Dei ≥ Mission ad gentes + Missio inter gentes” – this is the formula that attempts to summarise the first introduction of Christianity to China.

According to the Record of Major Meetings of Tang Dynasty, a royal decree was issued in 638: “The Dao has no perpetual name; the Sage-hood has no unchanging form. Let [the Nestorians] have the access to establish this religion, so that many lives can be brought across [the ocean of suffering]”. In the period of 649-683, the Church grew quickly through interfaith dialogue with Buddhism and Daoism. The inscription says: “The religion was spread over ten administration zones, the country enjoyed prosperity and peace. The [Christian] Temples occupied close to a hundred cities, whilst households were enriched by the blessings of the Luminous [Christian] faith”.

Protestant missionaries came 1200 years after the Persians. Derived from the China Inland Mission in the late 1870’s, today Shanxi Christian Council has a large footprint in the remote west. Its theological education prepares leaders for 5 provinces covering a vast geography along the Silk Road to Xingjiang Autonomous Region. Xian was the capital of 13 dynasties. Most of the old buildings in Xian have various degrees of heritage protection, including some church buildings. The General Secretary shared with us their challenge to reclaim and redevelop church buildings. Contrary to coastal synods, here they were under resourced. A few years ago the synod was offered a free rental for a floor in the office building that the government purchased so the synod could move out of a basement.

The top priority is to equip enough leaders to sustain the growth in the west. Currently the college can only offer a 4-year diploma program, because some students only had middle school education. The synod has three approaches to capacity building: a) upgrade accreditation from diploma to degree, b) expand lay and continue education, c) construct a new college with 350 residents and redevelop the old college into a social service centre. Being a UCA president from the laity, Stuart resonated with their focus to equip the laity, and encouraged the UnitingWorld program to include this province.

The key to resolve the antithesis between mission to the gentiles and mission with gentiles is contextual theology. Xian is culturally diverse and religiously plural. During the Tang period, there was an innate openness to various cultures, even the Nestorian monks were invited by the Foreign Minister to take roles of diplomacy. Mission was done through a two-century long dialogue with Buddhism and Daoist in a Confucian society as a minority.

This non-Christendom context was a common interest between the moderator and the president. In Xian it is the 5000-year written history and the capital of 13 dynasties. In Australia’s Northern Territory it is the 40,000 years old indigenous culture from the land. Although the two cultures have never met, the task of contextual theology is the same: Gospel with Culture. In this light, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution is a contextual theology in the making. Two leaders exchanged the idea to have a joint conference in Xian on Theology and Culture.

The large need to equip the laity was not fully conceptualised until we attended the service on Sunday. The church was built in 1919 by British Baptist Church with a capacity for 500 people. Now it has a membership of 13,000. Because of its heritage overlay, the church built a 3-floor building next to the sanctuary for extra worship space. There were 5 services on Sunday, and we were at the 3rd of 5 Sunday services. On our arrival, we saw the 2nd service was overflowing – with people standing near the gate.

Stuart shared with the congregation about the UCA/CCC partnership, and social service training in Shandong. On a number of occasions his speech was either echoed or interrupted by a loud response of “Amen”. The lay preacher gave a well-researched and delivered sermon on child-parents relationships based on OT scriptures of God’s promise over future generations. She was a retired engineer, and this was her third sermon after completing lay education. When the congregation recited the Lord Prayer in one voice, we all felt the Spirit’s presence among the faithful. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they should see God”.

Our big surprise was visiting a church-run HIV clinic. We were shown two videos about the ministry by the laity, a number of elderly people from a small Christian gathering place. They wanted to care for the people suffering from HIV AIDS among migrant workers; they wanted to care for them regardless of their sexual orientation – to be loved by God. The staff showed us a city map marked with places where gay groups and sex workers gathered. The clinic went through a difficult journey to be accepted by the church and the society.

Today this clinic has been licensed by the local government. It is supported by the CCC national office, recognised by the central government, and partly funded by Bill Gates Foundation. They have gathered hundreds of volunteers from nearby universities to engage HIV awareness programs and advocacy for caring migrant workers who have sacrificed their youth for urban development. The powerful ministry of the laity has manifested again in the social margins. The work is not based on doctrinal correctness, but compassion-driven praxis. Sometimes the ministry is a pastoral visit to gay communities, sometimes is to participate in a burial service for the deceased – the unwanted, lost, and forgotten.

When we visited the Nestorian Stele in Xian Stele Forrest Museum, one sentence in the inscription began to speak to us. Between 635 and 781, every year the Christians would gather in four places. “[They] prepared various [charity] works on the Pentecost Day. When the hungry came, they fed them; when the cold came, they clothed them. The sick were treated so [they could] get up; the dead were buried, and so [they were] laid to rest”.

The Mission of God is bigger than mission to the gentiles. In mission with the gentile, the horizon of God’s mission begins to open and brings the common interest of life between the secular and the sacred into focus. It is the Incarnation of God’s life in the world, regardless of the church’s capacity to conceptualise its fullness in theology. On this journey we have seen the work of the Spirit. The Church has been, and is, working hard – to capture the Spirit of life, by which the people of God have been captured.

Do you ever have days, even while you’re still in the middle of them, that you know will always stick with you? My first visit to a village in West Bengal, India, was one of those days.

My colleague Steph and I had driven three hours from the church office with our brilliant partners from the Diocese of Durgapur, through bustling market streets full of people and cows and very fresh butchers, past fields of corn and rice and cauliflower, and eventually along a long and bumpy dirt road to our first village visit of the day.

Before we even got out of the car, the welcome drums began. The pathway to the village was lined with beaming kids and their parents, clapping along as men and boys beat huge drums while women dressed in bright red and orange saris danced ahead of us. Kids began throwing handfuls of marigold petals over us (sometimes with a fairly abrupt whack in the face and giggles from all) and older women played seashells as trumpets. It was one of those moments you just try and drink everything in as quickly as you possibly can – the colours and sounds and sun beating down – but really there’s no way to absorb it all. All we could do was slowly shuffle along in the middle of it all, catching petals, clapping along and grinning back.

Once we made it to the village itself, after squirming a little during the impossibly generous foot-washing ceremonial welcome, the real purpose of our visit began. We were there to hear from women, men and children about what the Community Development Project, run by the Diocese of Durgapur and supported by UnitingWorld, really means. What difference is this making to you, in your everyday life? What has this meant for your community? What is life like here?

Answers were honest and direct. Life is hard, but this project is making a difference. Our children at the study centre are working hard and their grades are improving – they’re no longer at risk of dropping out of school and we’re not scared for them. This woman here (she is pointed out to us) was supported to apply for and access the old age pension, so she doesn’t have to work all day long in the forest gathering leaves anymore. Our community worker, from our village (he stands up), helped us get government grants to build houses and toilets and access to water sources for irrigation. The government health worker is visiting and we know how to stay healthy, how to keep our children well. Our women’s self-help groups (they raise their hands) have saved money this year, and have plans to start their own business.

Of course, life is still hard. The village is far from government services, seasons can no longer be relied upon, water has not reached everyone. But what struck me more than anything, and what we shared together that day, was the fierce sense of community in this place and determination to find solutions together. Even this project itself is not something that is ‘done to’ people here; it’s what they’re doing for themselves and what they’re supported to keep doing, day after day.  It’s just part of who they are – and it’s this determination and dogged effort that will change their futures.

This project is doing good: real, tangible, important things – and can do more. We left the village after dancing and drumming back to the car and went on to the next. And of course it wasn’t the only day like this I’ve had. But this really was one that stuck with me.  How we spend our days is our we spend our lives, and these days are well spent.

For just two more days you can make your donation to these projects up to six times more effective.  We need to raise $1 in supporter donations for every $5 we have access to in Government Funding for our Community Development Projects.  To see your gift multiplied to make a significant difference, please give now at here.

Laura McGilvray, among other roles with UnitingWorld, supports our partner the Church of North India.  She loves her work and wishes everyone had the opportunity to experience days like this one, seeing first hand the impact of long term planning, training and funding.

Prayer for the People in the Land of Papua

There is no place where you cannot reach,
God who made the heavens and the earth.

There is no journey which you have not travelled,
God who is with us, Jesus the Christ.

There are no people beyond your care,
God who is the Spirit, the Comforter.

Stay with the people in Papua now, with your love and kindness;
Lighten their darkness with your consolation and blessing.

When their voices and resources are taken away,
it is to the governments that they have turned with their questions

When their dignity and freedom are endangered,
It is to God and friends in Christ that they have turned for reassurance and comfort.

We pray for
eyes that are open to see what Jesus sees,
ears that are open to truly hear,
hearts that are open to love as Christ loved,
and lives that respond to our neighbour’s crying.

Today, we pray for ourselves
and all those with power to pray and help,
the local and national governments in Indonesia,
the companies that extract resources from the land
our partner the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua.
Let them walk together within God’s goodness,
act justly, relieve suffering, sustain life and rebuild the communities.

Hear our prayers this day
for we pray in the name of Jesus
whose arms were outstretched on the Cross
to embrace all people.
Amen.

This prayer was written in response to recent correspondence with the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua ‘GKI-TP’) on political tensions in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

(Rewritten by Rev Dr Ji Zhang, Manager Church Partnerships – Asia. The prayer is adapted from Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Prayers for Life’s Particular Moments, p.99)

China is an ageing society. Currently 200 million people are over 60 years old, a figure that will double in the next 20 years. Yet half of the elderly are empty nesters – living without children or family – and this is a problem in the Confucian culture where “getting old means being cared for by the young 老有所养”. This has always been a moral code, but it is now not so easy to live out. If the church could look after the elderly, particularly offering care for the dying, then the church’s desire to grow also has a social purpose.

When the UCA delegation arrived about midnight in Jinan, the Moderator and his team were waiting at the station. We were told our operational team, sent ahead to carry out training in Aged Care, had performed exceptionally well. The training had gathered 100 ministers and managers from 85 Aged Care facilities in 22 provinces. The conference room was on the 17th floor of the biggest non-government publishing company in China. The CEO, Mr Zhang Quan, became a Christian 11 years ago, and he attributed his success to God’s blessings. He has committed himself to Christian business practices and supporting care for the elderly. The company edited the training materials in both languages and printed the papers in a 40-page book.

IMG_4454“End of Life Care” is a special skill to prepare the elderly for life’s good ending. At the training, we realised that UnitingCare has a reservoir of knowledge gained over half a century. Derived from ministry of the laity, the UCA agency has become the largest social service provider in Australia, serving 1 in 8 Australians. Here at Shandong, they put a powerful idea into people’s minds. Dying is not just about death, but also life. To care for the dying is about celebrating life. All skills are built on this ethic and hope.

What then is life beyond death? Death is the end of physical life, but also marks a new beginning in our relationship with God. The hope of passing this life into God’s eternal care is rooted in our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. It points to homecoming of Christ returning to the eternal life of God. There is nothing outside of this life of God the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. A Christian death can be a powerful witness, calling people to this homecoming – singing the doxology to praise God.

At the end of the training, the Moderator took the stage to thank the UCA team for the extraordinary contribution of the UnitingCare team. He put forward a 3-way partnership: the CCC national leadership, UnitingCare training, and his synod resources and business sponsorship. His vision also included social service as a part of theological education in order to prepare future leadership to be service-ready. The company also committed to continue sponsorship. As all participants received their certificates, two national directors Lin and Rob thanked them.

“Our UnitingCare team have done the training twice, because God’s love has reached many people through your care”. The President Stuart then blessed the participants – “We love neighbours because God loved us first”.

The meeting in Beijing has been a highlight of this trip. The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) is located in the palace where the last Emperor Fu Yi was born. We were given a private tour through the Emperor’s residence. Our meeting room was his office, a 350 year-old timber building in the classic imperial style. Walking through the complex, we also began to understand this ministry within the State Council. The role of SARA is to develop policy based on the constitution of religious freedom and establish regulations for religious activities. In China there are five historical religions: Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. SARA has its own foreign ministry department responsible for foreign exchanges with religious organisations.

The meeting was a formal diplomatic exchange. The General Director Dr Xiao Hong and the UCA President took the seats in the front, whereas all representatives were seated on two sides. Compared to the first meeting in 2013, this was a relaxed conversation. After two leaders exchanged views of the UCA-CCC partnership, a nurse was invited to share the story of healing through social media WeChat. The director was moved, and she said “I have seen many overseas groups. You are the first group to have put talk into action.”

Dr Andrew Glenn also spoke theological education. He spoke about Prof Lin’s exceptional Cato Lecture at the Assembly, two conferences in China and Australia, and the good progress of the first CCC PhD candidate studying at CTM.

The Vice Minister Mr Jiang hosted a private lunch. He took particular interest in two Chinese speaking nurses and asked about their experience in Australia. He recognised the merit of 3-way partnership: the CCC national leadership, the UCA intellectual property, and the local synod and business sponsorship. He encouraged the UCA to “spread the training to different parts of China”. At the lunch, the President issued his invitation to the minister for a future visit to Australia, with the UCA to organise meetings with Australian government and ecumenical churches. The UnitingCare team presented a quilt made by the elderly – average age 83 – for the elderly in China. The minister instructed the staff to put this unique gift in the VIP room.

A week ago, the operation team came to China and faced a challenge. Now they received recognition from the highest authority in China. More than a single success, they have demonstrated a bottom-up approach to shaping social service. Just before boarding the flight for Xian, another reflection took place. The partnership model in China could answer the challenges in Australia. Facing radical funding cuts from the federal government, UnitingCare could invite business sponsorship; this external contribution would be managed by synod level UnitingCare agencies.

Zhuangzi once opened his philosophy book by telling a story. In his dream, he became a giant bird flying over his village and travelled to a different place. Why does philosophy start with a dream? It is very simple: to free oneself from the weight of assumptions.

UW derived from the church’s mission to the margins, and our Reformed Theology is based on the assumption of mission to gentiles. But this week, we saw a different approach. Mission to the gentiles is accompanied by mission with gentiles. This is not a radical idea; UnitingCare and UnitingWorld have been working with the secular government for receiving funds and delivering services. The theological question, however, is thought provoking. Who can give birth to two seemingly opposite missions?