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All Things Pacific Tag

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima Tura. 

The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.

Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.

“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.

“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”

Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing position as wonderfully inspiring.

“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.

“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”

The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.

Pastor Lima with Solomon Islander Theologian Rev Dr Cliff Bird

“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”

In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church circles. Lima will be among the attendees.

After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty radical.”

Leaders of women’s fellowship groups at a Gender Equality Theology workshop in Fiji

For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.

“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much good here, but so many difficulties as well.”

THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.

Kina Somare* is wanted throughout the Highlands of Papua New Guinea on numerous counts of violence. Leader of a well-known gang that frequently clashes with others in the region, his face is both known and feared. So when he walks into a peace workshop one still afternoon in October, amidst the rubble of Hela Province’s worst earthquake since 1922, everyone in the church stands very still. 

Somare walks out a changed man. He speaks with local police. He wants to become an ambassador for peace personally and to influence other young people to bring healing to the community. His transformation is staggering.

“The Bishop of the United Church in PNG (UCPNG), who was taking part that day, found Somare’s presence particularly unnerving,” says UCPNG Disaster Office Project Manager Stella Vika. 

“He’d been held up by this man at knife point not so long ago. They met, reconciled and Somare gave his life to Christ. Our partners up in Hela Province are really blown away by this story. To have someone of such notoriety undergo such a change is incredibly encouraging.

UCPNG leaders at the Mendi Counselling and Peacebuilding workshop

The United Church of Papua New Guinea, in partnership with UnitingWorld, has been running peace workshops and counselling for people impacted by the recent earthquake. Like other aid agencies, UnitingWorld was on hand with sanitation kits and practical items, but the long-term work of helping people recover emotionally and psychologically is incredibly important.

“Disasters frequently damage infrastructure and livelihoods but they can also increase vulnerability and conflict,” says David Brice, Disaster Relief Coordinator with UnitingWorld.

“Giving people access to counselling and the tools to navigate conflict has a significant impact on how quickly these communities can heal and recover.”

It’s one of the unique ways your donations go further with UnitingWorld. Your support doesn’t just address the practical problems of clean water and repaired roofing – it builds people’s resilience to tackle issues that accelerate after disaster. And men like Somare are changed in the process. Given the skills not just to rebuild their homes but their lives, they embrace the opportunity to bring change. 

HELP US BE DISASTER READY.

Every dollar donated before disaster strikes doesn’t just save countless lives – it saves significant amounts of money. Every $1 invested into building better homes, preparing evacuation plans and protecting communities can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy. Please, if you’re able, add to our disaster-ready fund.

Click here to donate now.

*Name changed to protect identity

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.

On 26 February a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands region of Papua New Guinea, decimating the area. Tragically more than 150 people have been killed, and many others lost everything they have.

UnitingWorld responded as soon as possible, working with our partners, the United Church Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), to help them provide thorough assessments of earthquake affected areas. All initial assessments have been completed, resulting in the identification of 12 communities in the region most affected and in need after the initial distributions.

We’ve been in constant contact with UCPNG to help coordinate the response, however there have been significant delays in distributing support to more regional areas as quickly as is needed. This has been an issue across the province, the remoteness of affected areas, and the recent intensification of civil unrest has restricted access for many relief agencies.

In response to this a joint Church response plan has been developed through the collaboration of UCPNG with other Churches in PNG, supported by UnitingWorld and other Australian NGOs. We are now in the process of leveraging significant government funding for an initiative designed to best meet the needs of the communities affected. They include:

Phase 1 Emergency (The next 1-4 months): distribution of vital supplies including water containers, hygiene, sanitation and shelter kits, addressing protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

Phase 2 Early Recovery (4-8 months): semi-permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines, schools, infrastructure) protection, conflict resolution and ongoing psychosocial support.

Phase 3 Recovery (8-12 months): permanent reconstruction (houses, latrines schools, infrastructure), protection, conflict resolution and psychosocial support.

UCPNG are committed to providing support to these communities, and have already helped agencies to distribute emergency supplies to many of the communities most in need through the information gained from the assessment. We understand that the need is great and are working closely with UCPNG to help speed up processes, with the procurement and logistics planning for the first phase now underway.

Our partners have been directly affected by this disaster. They are not only working to access to the communities most affected by this tragedy, they ARE part of these communities.

To make a donation to the relief efforts please visit: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/pngearthquake

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) state the most efficient and cost-effective way of helping those affected by this disaster is with your donation. We ask you to please refrain from sending physical items. For more information please click here

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

As the plane lifted off from the Kingdom of Tonga, I had a familiar twinge of the heart as the island left my line of sight. While I was returning to the comfort of my own home with reliable power, phone and internet, and clean water, there are so many people in Tonga that won’t have access to these things for some time.

On Monday 12 February, Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated the islands of Tonga, with winds of 230km/h whipping the Southern Coast of the main island of Tongatapu. Locals had taken warnings seriously and prepared as well as they could, but lightly built houses were no match for the monster storm. The fact that it struck at night probably saved scores of lives, as people were bunkered indoors and avoided injury from flying roofing iron and falling trees. The negative is in the lasting memory of families who huddled together through the terror of a sleepless night of pitch darkness and screaming wind, hoping and praying their place of shelter would hold together.

With the dawn’s light, people ventured out to assess the damage and found this particularly confronting. Many houses lost all or part of their roofing, torn metal and splintered wood, thousands of trees felled and palm fronds scattered. Rain continued to inundate many houses that had escaped the worst of wind damage.

Power poles leaned precariously or snapped off completely, and power lines lay across muddy roads. In the centre of the main city of Nuku’ Alofa, the walls of Parliament House were blown out and the roof crumpled to the ground, a state of emergency was declared which included curfews to keep people from the CBD as many shops were emptied of ruined goods.

There are no cyclone shelters in Tonga so while most people remained in their homes during the storm, the most solid gathering places are in the church buildings that play a prominent role in Tongan community life. The people’s faith in their church communities means there is a place to come together and share their experiences of loss and hope.

Red Cross, Caritas and other groups are doing important work in delivering supplies to the most affected – food, water, and temporary shelter, but it is the churches that are at the forefront of bringing the community-building psycho-social support which will restore hope.

I flew into Tonga two weeks after TC Gita with Rev. Nau Ahosivi. Nau is a Tongan-born minister in placement at Concord Uniting Church. It had been our second trip together; the first – in 2015 – also had Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau. This first trip was an initiative of UnitingWorld, at the request of our church partner, the Free Wesleyan Church Tonga, to train a network of chaplains to support people in the event of disaster or crisis.  From this first training course, which included a ‘train the trainer’ component, the Tongan Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (TDRCN) was born.

The training course is an ‘islander’ variation on that used in NSW/ACT and South Australia. It has also been used in supporting the churches in Fiji and Tuvalu. It covers a range of subjects including: the nature of disaster, how it affects communities and people, how people react and are affected by critical incidents and trauma, calming and communication techniques, vicarious traumatisation (how the carer can be affected by the work) and self-care.

After TC Gita hit, the Free Wesleyan church deployed the chaplains we had trained in 2015. Valuable work done by Michael Constable of UnitingWorld had assisted them in pre-disaster preparedness, mapping the areas of need and making assessments. Chaplains were able to respond to people who needed them most, but this was not easy for them as conditions were far from ideal. The weather this time of year is hot and steamy. The cyclonic winds had dropped to dead calm and the heat and humidity from the water brought with it discomfort and the threat of mosquitoes bearing Dengue Fever and the Zika Virus. The chaplains spoke of how shocked they were by the damage to both the natural environment and the villages they visited, of talking to people as they sat under plastic tarpaulins or in the tents in which they now live. The chaplains themselves have stresses in their lives, many having endured the cyclone and having their own homes flooded, before leaving to care for others.

Our first afternoon with the group involved debriefing these chaplains, allowing them to share their experiences and process them together. The next two days were spent on the training which melded their understanding with the context of their experience.

The church had requested identification vests for the chaplains which allowed them to (as with other aid workers) show who they are and what they are doing. I was able to work with a local Sydney manufacturer who put in extra hours and made these from white cotton (allowing for tropical heat) at less than cost price, donating the cost of their labour to support the effort. The chaplains are out again, working in teams, supporting local ministers as they visit and listen to cyclone-affected people.

My work

I have been working in the area of emergency ministry and disaster recovery for some time now.  Ordained in 1993 and becoming a Rural Fire Service Member and chaplain in 1996, I have worked in in the Welfare area of the state response for many years. In 2007 I helped to establish the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network which I continue to oversee (this is a ministry of the UCA NSW/ACT Synod). In my role as National Disaster Recovery Officer, I support the development of disaster recovery preparedness and response from the church and its agencies. I work with the Synods in supporting the development of ecumenical disaster response chaplaincy, peer support (looking after ministers working in communities affected by crisis) and supporting disaster recovery long-supply placements with Presbyteries, assisting community recovery.

Sustained support

I am acutely aware that disasters come and go with the nightly news. A cyclone hits, a fire damages a community, an earthquake causes loss and damage, and then something else happens. We may be mindful for a time – but then a new crisis demands our attention. This is an understandable reality.  The problem is that, for the people involved, recovery may take years and their needs actually intensify over the first six months to a year – as their lack of resources and frustrations become more apparent. This is when they need sustained support. How can we best support the sustained effort?

Prayer is mightily important. I had some conversations with people of the church who spoke to me about how important it was to them that they were remembered and supported in prayer by the brothers and sisters in Christ from nations far away.

Giving is vital.  Often our first reaction is to gather goods, clothing and food to send. I believe this comes from a need to send something tangible to people. Unfortunately, this has its limitations: what is sent is not always needed. There is, at present, no food shortage in Tonga, while some crops were damaged, fishing continues and supplies from New Zealand and elsewhere continue to flow unabated. Donated goods may actually damage the local businesses and economy; for every item sent from Australia, a local Tongan business will lose a sale and locals may lose work. Containers cost money to send and fees at the wharf. They also take time to empty and sort. During my time in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam, they spoke of the wastage of time and effort in transporting and emptying the containers.

The greatest need at the moment is cash that can purchase new building materials through local suppliers, employ local workers and support a damaged economy.

Thank you to everyone who has so generously given to support our friends in Tonga as they recover from Cyclone Gita. Below is a letter we received from the President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahi, expressing his heartfelt gratitude.  You can donate here to support the ongoing recovery efforts.

 

6 March 2018

Stuart McMillan
President of the Uniting Church in Australia

Dear Mr McMillan,

Apologies for the late response to your letter of love and prayers, but have only just had computer access due to power failures. Electricity has been on and off almost every day since cyclone Gita visited Tonga.

On behalf of the Methodist Church in Tonga (a.k.a. Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), I thank you for the expression of your love, prayers and donation of gifts for the rebuilding of the Church and its people life on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia. Your expressions of love, prayers and partnership with us in this time of bringing life to normal mean so much as you remind us that we do not battle alone. We have partners and supporters like you who are holding the ropes for us and thereby having a direct share in our Church ministry. You are graciously willing to share with us in this practical way and we are already feeling the benefit that your love, prayers and gifts are bringing to our life.

Please continue to pray for us in this time. No doubt we will have many battles ahead in trying to restore Church people emotions and faith that have been lost in this devastating cyclone. We believe as you pray for us we will be able to stand strong in the power of His Might to resist the enemy of doubts and worries and to encourage people to enter into the victory that is ours in Christ. “ Fear not, for I am with you, says the Lord”. My Wife Loukinikini and the family join me in thanking you that you still remember us.

With love and prayers,
Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahio
President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

See original letter here

The Highlands region of Papua New Guinea is known for tribal wars and this one has been deadly. After eighteen months of conflict between two tribes of a few hundred people, there are eight dead; seven on one side and one on the other.

Key infrastructure has been levelled. The aid post, school, property and gardens have been destroyed, and the church torn down. Both tribes are living in constant fear of retaliatory attack. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to lose another child, husband, brother or have my property destroyed?”

I am here in Papua New Guinea at the invitation of UnitingWorld’s partner, Young Ambassadors for Peace. Our small group has been asked to conduct a shuttle mediation between these two warring tribes with the hope of establishing a sustained peace.

We trek deep into the jungle through a valley in the Highlands, and after 50 minutes, we arrive in the presence of the tribe that had lost seven people in the conflict. The most recent died of a bullet wound the previous day. Arms are folded, pain and anger is written on every face, and the communication with us is brief. The general thrust is “the other tribe is to blame, go and talk with them!”

More trekking follows, deeper into the jungle, across a boundary line, and we find ourselves in the presence of the second tribe. They welcome us and one of the Young Ambassadors for Peace, UnitingWorld’s partner, stands to speak.

He is passionate and shares his tribe’s story of being in a similar place of anger, frustration and violent conflict with an opposing tribe. Both tribes suffered loss of lives, resulting in lifelong trauma. Most, if not all tribes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have trodden this path before. The results are always the same: fear, anxiety, depression; loss of land, home and life.

I’m then invited to ‘take the stage’ on behalf of UnitingWorld. I look around and observe in the weathered faces of the old and the unflinching and distant eyes of the “young warriors,” yearnings common to all humanity. If this is to be a success, we’ll have to tap into their needs and fears.

What can I possibly add? I haven’t experienced tribal conflict or the murder of family members or destruction of my home. And yet, like others, I have experienced other kinds of violence in my family that destroyed my self-confidence and drive for life. I actually can share in their experience of fear, anxiety, depression and loss.

Sharing this allowed us all to empathise with one another – one of the most important steps towards peace. We all want recognition and acknowledgement, security, our basic needs to be met, love and the ability to live in peace, despite the mistakes of the past.

The tribespeople reveal that they’re exhausted from living in constant threat of retaliation. They want peace but don’t know how, because the other tribe appears uninterested. And they can’t cross the boundary line without being killed.

They can’t – but we can!

The Bishop of the region stands and makes some commitments to rebuild the church, aid post and school, and to resource them if a peace deal can be settled. Terms are written, including a possible meeting of key elders from each tribe and compensation. We are on the right track.

It’s well after lunch when we begin the trek back to the first tribe. The entire population of the village greet us on arrival and guide us to the ground in front of the church, which immediately causes a potential problem. It’s believed that a conversation on ‘Holy Land’ will be binding and could result in further death if broken.

Finally, the Reverend of the local church (pictured below) brings together the people, especially those who want revenge. We stand with them and empathise with their experience of loss, just as we did with the other tribe. We speak of peace and hope for new beginnings. It becomes evident that they have the same fears as the other tribe and also desire recognition, security and their needs to be met.

Two significant things then occur. One man stands and admits to instigating the conflict by stealing property and then destroying the aid post and school. Then an elder steals the attention of the audience and says that he has been wanting revenge because his son was killed in the conflict. The tension builds.

Then something incredible happens. He goes on to say that he can no longer live with this conflict and these constant threats to his tribe. He exclaims that what they need is peace to move forward into a better future.

Here he is, paving the way for an alternative future that would break the cycle of revenge.

In this moment we are all reaching together for a future of peace and reconciliation. I can see in this moment God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) taking place. We gather together with this tribe and pray for the families, for the children, and for a new and hopeful future. God is accomplishing the humanly impossible!

Six months later I receive a call. One of our Young Ambassadors for Peace tells me that after further peace talks these tribes are now living together in harmony, wanting to construct a new community of peace and justice. What more could we want?

As I look at this last photo I took in the valley, I’m reminded of what community should look like. As it draws me in I find it hard to imagine the violence because it looks so peaceful and serene. It provides a portrait through which we can imagine a peaceful and transformed community.

It illustrates to me that lasting peace formed out of violence and brokenness is possible. But sustaining peace demands several commitments, including:

  1. A space where people’s voices can be heard and their experiences acknowledged and validated
  2. The ability of people to be honest about their experiences of loss and pain
  3. A deep sense of empathic concern for the people whose stories are told
  4. A determination to re-see the humanity in the ‘Other’
  5. The desire and ability to equitably provide for the basic needs of every person in the communities involved

These ingredients were present in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the results now tangibly express their importance in creating peace.

I was in West Papua recently on my first field trip with UnitingWorld, where I had the unique opportunity to meet with our partner, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua and visit their P3W project (short for Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Wanita).

P3W is the Training and Development Centre for Women in West Papua and it aims to empower and support women in remote and rural areas. Founded in 1962, the centre today has three regional offices comprising four units: Education and Training, Research, Documentation, Information and Publication; and Counselling and Income Generation.  With the help of 30 staff and 12 field workers, the centre currently has 30 active projects. One of them is the Livelihoods Project, which is training women in the highlands to understand the potential resources of their land and supporting them to grow crops – in particular soya beans to produce tofu and tempeh.

While at the centre, I asked if I could interview the head of P3W. Unbeknownst to me, the stylish woman I’d asked was exactly the person I was looking for – Ms Hermina Rumbrar.

“The church built this centre so that the women would not be left behind” said Hermina.

Ranging from raising awareness about HIV and domestic violence, to providing dormitories and information courses to students from remote areas, the centre has a strong focus on helping women. Towards the end of our chat, Hermina reflected upon the journey of the P3W and the positive impact it has had on the lives of countless Papuan women. I was moved by the genuine devotion she had for her work and the lives of her fellow Papuans.  I could tell that for her, this was much more than a job – she was investing her heart and soul for the future of West Papua.

At its head office, P3W runs courses teaching basic maths, crafting, women’s leadership, nutritional information, cooking and more. This basic knowledge is beneficial to the women of West Papua, especially when they return to their villages to spread what they’ve learnt. The centre also houses facilities for children who are too young for mothers to leave behind. While at the centre I had the opportunity to play with a little boy just under the age of three. He was one of the most active little ones I’ve ever met. We ran around the centre together and took selfies making funny faces. A special moment I will keep with me for years to come.

Later I spoke with Christina*, a 23-year-old student from the course. “Here I can learn to cook, learn about women’s leadership, nutrition and how to save. It really helps me”. Christina* had lost her parents by the age of 12 and is the youngest amongst ten siblings, three of whom have died. As she was telling me her story, she couldn’t hold back tears no matter how much she tried. Christina* will be going to university next year to study farming and wishes to help empower fellow Papuan women.

At P3W, I saw the tears of two brave women and learnt so much about the role of each in empowering women throughout West Papua. Above all, I learnt that our work cannot be done in isolation. We will continue to work alongside our brothers and sisters from GKI Church in West Papua and we appreciate your support in further strengthening the lives of these women.

 * The name has been changed to protect the identiy.

A group of West Papuan students have formally joined the Uniting Church as they become members-in-association.

They come from various parts of Papua and West Papua provinces in Indonesia, and currently attend St John’s College in Darwin. The congregation at Philadelphia Indonesian Uniting Church in Karama welcomed the students as a part of their growing community. They have also provided pastoral care to the young people away from home.

This has been a long pastoral journey for Rev Dr Tony Floyd, who as the former national director of Multicultural and Cross-culture Ministry, has mentored the congregation over the last 6 months. He has been building and nurturing new relationships and encouraging the growing multiculturalism within the Indonesian-speaking congregation. On this joyful occasion, the students stood before the church, and sang with the wonderful voices of their homeland, Papua.

Rev Thresi Mauboy welcomed the new members into the life of UCA, and blessed the congregation as the Moderator of the Northern Synod.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to stand alongside those who are working for justice around the world and particularly to help give a voice to those who struggle to be heard.  We’re the modern day prophets:  defending those who are weak, speaking the truth to those who are powerful.  It’s not an easy job.

This week, we hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the work our partners are doing in their own communities to speak up for justice and peace in places where it’s desperately needed.  Throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific, these communities are passionate, well equipped and vocal about their own needs and how they can bring about solutions to their own problems.

In Fiji, for example, the Methodist Church is deeply committed to finding solutions to the problem of changing climate, which has a major impact on the poorest among them but impacts most of their islands in various ways.  45 communities already need to be relocated because of high tides that are reclaiming homes, schools and graveyards.  The Church is holding four days a year where local congregations reduce their use of energy – using public transport – get involved in clean ups, plant trees and speak up about the need to care for creation.  It’s a humbling display given that Fiji’s environmental footprint is so small in contrast to Australia’s.

Pacific nations have also been vocal at the Paris Convention calling upon leaders to commit to targets that will impact most upon the most vulnerable nations of the world.  These leaders understand the nature of changing climate and are not silent in the face of the future.  They need our support to convince western nations to take responsibility for the burdens they place on those who have not caused, and have the least resources to deal with, the impact of changing climate.

You can find out how to SPEAK UP for responsible environmental policies  by checking out the work of our partner here in Australia, Micah Challenge.

Another organisation doing great work among our partners is MeDRA – the Methodist Relief and Development Agency.  Read about the creative work of people who’ve been equipped to speak up for the poor in their midst through MeDRA’s training.  And find out about how YOU can advocate for more support for excellent in-country initiatives like this by speaking to our political leadership about the need for us to continue our Australia Aid program.  You can join the campaign for Australian Aid here.

UnitingWorld is committed not only to seeing you, our supporters, well equipped to providing support for people who struggle with poverty, but also to equipping our partners to find their own solutions and give voice to their own needs.  You can be part of that through our crucial leadership training programs.