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Pacific Tag

The Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has begun a series of roundtable public hearings to inform the inquiry into strengthening Australia’s relationships with the Pacific Islands.

The Sub-Committee was asked to inquire into how Australia could meet current and emerging opportunities and challenges facing the Pacific island region.

The initial roundtable on June 18 heard witnesses from non-government and intergovernmental organisations working with partners in the Pacific region. UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe was invited as a witness to present to the Sub-Committee and answer questions.

Dr Goringe’s initial comments to the roundtable are below, and the full transcript can be found here (which also contains responses to follow-up questions from Committee members).


We are the aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church and, through our relationships with the churches in the Pacific, we have a history that goes for over a hundred years of connecting and collaborating with Pacific island churches and church communities. That’s historically been in collaborations in social services like health, education and WASH, and in more recent times the collaborations have also included support for building up governance and leadership capacity, supporting Pacific churches to do sustainable community development in the Pacific communities, and working on gender equality, in particular around women’s equality and the safeguarding of children. Our perspective is one of both an aid organisation and a church relational organisation which has very deep connections throughout the Pacific.

Our primary recommendation to this inquiry was that our relationships with the Pacific really need to engage with churches in the Pacific, churches being probably the strongest and most influential civil society organisations in the Pacific. Engaging with them has a whole range of reasons around it, which include the fact that they are deeply embedded in community and are very influential in the public. You can build on a very long relationship between Australian churches and Pacific churches, a history of collaboration and mutual respect. Also, the Pacific diaspora in Australia is very active within Australian churches. To channel that and to leverage those connections between the Australian Pacific diaspora and Pacific communities, working through churches, would be very useful. And, finally, churches, as established local community institutions within Pacific countries, have leadership structures at sub-national, national and also regional levels that give us hooks for the Pacific step-up program to connect with and meet people. I think it’s a channel into deep community grassroots as well as highly connected and influential aspects.

Our second recommendation is the Pacific step-up and the building up of relationships in the Pacific really need to be centred on the aspirations of Pacific Island people, and I think that kind of manifests in a couple of different ways in our experience. For us, the biggest thing is that it requires Australia to deal with the issue of climate change with integrity. Before the pandemic wiped everything else off people’s agendas, climate change was the No. 1 issue to worry about. Climate change remains, still, the biggest existential threat to life in the Pacific. And if we don’t engage with Pacific people with a willingness to grapple with that, we have the risk of undermining everything else that we try to do with the step-up initiative.

The second thing that comes out of that—that is, if we focus our desire to build relationships with the Pacific on the needs of the Pacific people—is there is, in our experience of engaging very widely across many countries, a desire for models of development that are not just a mimic of the Western model of development that Australia may have pursued in terms of industrialisation and trade. There is obviously desire for an improvement in quality of living and access to services, but there is also a very strong desire for tapping into Indigenous knowledge, being conscious of social and cultural values in development. In particular, for the past 12 months we have been engaging with a movement called Reweaving the Ecological Map, which is a collaboration between universities and churches in the Pacific. It is actually trying to put together a framework for development, from a Pacific perspective, that brings together the value of the natural environment, and the social, emotional health and wellbeing of people as well as the economic wellbeing of the community. We have an opportunity here. This is a moment in time where Australia could step in—not step in, but step up to partner, to nurture, to support and to accompany Pacific countries in a journey of development that is driven by their own agenda. This is a great opportunity for us to have a huge amount of integrity, rather than necessarily driving development in the Pacific based on our own understanding of what is the right solution.

Another aspect of the needs of communities and people in our relationship is just making sure that with the things we are doing to support Pacific economies, like the labour mobility programs that we’ve got—both of them—that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot by creating economic wellbeing at the expense of community. We are finding at community level that long-term absences of working-age parent cohorts cause significant harm to families, and there is a price being paid at the community level for having Pacific Islanders spending long times working in Australia. We’re not saying we should stop that; we’re just saying those schemes need to be re-evaluated to look at social impacts. As an aid organisation we’re being asked by communities to support them to address the social problems that are being caused by the absence of adults when children are growing up, so issues of dependency, abuse of alcohol and other substances, gambling, pornography and whole range of other issues when parents are absent from communities for lengths of time.

And the last aspect of what we’re really recommending to this committee is the whole-of-government aspect and how Australia’s efforts to approach the Pacific through the step-up is perceived in many places as being fairly self-serving. We’re hearing back this idea that Australia was treating the Pacific like a pawn in a game of a regional stand-off with China. I think we need to make sure that other policies and how we work holistically, particularly in trade agreements around our aid program, and in particular how we as a country address climate change with our internal policies, is going to play a significant role in whether our approach to the Pacific is seen to be genuine and have the interests of both parties. The Pacific’s relationship with Australia is very strong. One of the most profound experiences for us in the last months is realising that when, during the summer of the bushfires, when Australia was going through a pretty tough time, all of our Pacific partners raised money for the Australian churches’ emergency effort. This contribution and this mutuality is a very strong base from which to build.

I’ll wrap up by saying that we have very strong relationships between Australia and the Pacific, particularly through the churches and through a huge amount of collaborative work that has been done in social and sustainable community development. But that approach will have to be built on assertiveness in the Pacific and a willingness to grapple with climate change and our ability to make sure that things that we do in one place don’t backfire in other places. That’s what’d we’d like to say, and we’re very happy to take questions later.

The Committee is accepting submissions for the inquiry until Tuesday, 30 June 2020 and is keen to hear views from within Pacific island countries, individuals who have participated in labour mobility schemes and those who have settled permanently in Australia, amongst others.

In the middle of preparing COVID-19 lockdown measures, Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga over 1-11 April. Reaching up to Category 5, the cyclone forced people into evacuation centres where proper physical distancing became impossible.

Homes and food supplies were destroyed, resulting in what has been called a “double-disaster” for the people and communities affected. Below are some updates from our church partners.

Solomon Islands

TC Harold struck the Solomon Islands first as a Category 3 cyclone, damaging the food bowl region of Guadalcanal, damaging important crops and limiting the local food supply. As a member of the Solomon Islands Christian Association, the United Church in Solomon Islands has been part of an ecumenical response to address the short to medium-term shortage of food. This response has been funded through DFAT on the advice and request of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).

Vanuatu

TC Harold intensified into a Category 5 as it made landfall in the northern Islands of Vanuatu. Espirito Santo, Pentecost, Malacula and surrounding Islands were hit worst. The Australian Government made funds available for a coordinated response between NGOs, local churches and the Vanuatu Government.

The ecumenical response is addressing the need for clean water and sanitation, non-food items and support to evacuation centres. Our partner the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu (PCV) has facilitated its own response by collecting food and non-food items from congregations in unaffected areas and directing these to communities that bore the brunt of the damage. They are working closely with the government on coordinating the distribution of the resources.

The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union has donated relief supplies towards the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to support the COVID-19 response. The requested supplies included soap, toiletries,  clothes, candles, matches, food items and containers for storage.

One of the key lessons learned from Cyclone Pam in 2015 —and now being witnessed all over the world during COVID-19—is that the risk of violence towards vulnerable people increases during such crises. This includes violence against women, girls and children; domestic violence, violence against people with disabilities and the LGBTIQ community. The Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union of PCV are increasing their efforts to address this violence, especially within cyclone-affected areas during their distribution of collected goods. If you would like to support this aspect of the response and help our partners keep people safe, click here to donate now.

Fiji

After Vanuatu, TC Harold lowered to Category 4 and moved towards Fiji, striking Vitu Levu and the country’s eastern islands. At the time, Fiji had recorded a small number of COVID-19 cases so maintaining physical distancing was vitally important but almost impossible as people were forced into evacuations centres. Food supplies were damaged and road blockages hindered the response.

Our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji is responding to the needs of those in the most affected areas and have contacted UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) for support. We have responded through both a DFAT-funded ecumenical response as well as directly with our partners. After Cyclone Winston, MCIF in partnership with UnitingWorld and the UCA, established a Disaster Chaplaincy Network to help people work through the stress and trauma of disaster experiences. We will work with MCIF to refresh the training of this network in the light of this double-disaster and support the deployment of chaplains to support people work through the stress. If you would like to support this aspect of the response, please donate to our disaster fund here.

The Methodist Church of Fiji has donated relief supplies to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office to assist those affected from Tropical Cyclone Harold.

Tonga

Before leaving the Pacific, TC Harold hit Tonga at Category 4. The tiny islands of ‘Eua and parts of Tongatapu were most affected. This comes after Cyclone Gita decimated these same islands just two years earlier.

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (WFCT) was able to utilise a building repairs storage facility constructed and stocked out of the Cyclone Gita response in partnership with UnitingWorld/UCA (see below pic). The building meant that they could begin the repairs to damaged buildings within the first days and weeks after the cyclone, rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from New Zealand.

FWCT has accessed a funding grant from the Australian Government to supply water tanks to vulnerable families affected by the cyclone and to support health and hygiene advice for COVID-19 prevention. They are also hoping this partnership will strengthen and they can expand the Disaster Chaplaincy Network to be ecumenical; reaching not just those communities affected by cyclones, but all the people struggling with the fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19. If you wish to support FWCT in their response, please donate to our disaster fund here.

Across the Pacific, especially in the places affected by TC Harold and other disasters, people are asking important questions about where God is during these crises and what or who is to blame for them.

UnitingWorld is standing with all our partners as they grapple with these questions by collating Pacific-led theological resources and commentary for churches to lead their communities through these difficult questions and in responding with faithful action. 

The Pacific Conference of Churches’ annual Pacific Day of Prayer will be observed this year on Friday 8 May.

The liturgy and worship resources for 2020 have been prepared by Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC) with a reflection by KUC Secretary for Mission, Rev Maleta Tenten (pictured above left).

Under the theme ‘Christ our Living Hope’ (1 Peter 1: 3–12), the worship resources reflect on the global challenge of COVID-19 and the impacts of Severe Tropical Cyclone Harold, which recently devastated parts of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga.

Rev Maleta finds encouragement in Peter’s letter to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire and encourages Christians today to consider how COVID-19 has put more pressure on those who were already suffering injustice before the crisis.

“There are existing empires in our midst and from outside our regions who continue to control and exert power over the powerless,” says Rev Maleta.

“The Easter message speaks to us to ‘Rise with Christ and not to be afraid’ to start afresh. We have to examine ourselves and our roles as Christians to see and to hear the cry of those who continue to suffer, the oppressed, those deprived of their human rights and dignity, the poor, women/girls and children being abused and violated, those with bleak future for their children and generations because of climate impacts…”

Read Rev Maleta’s full reflection and find the worship resources for the Pacific Day of Prayer below.

Website (Pacific Conference of Churches)

PDF Download


Prayer points for the Pacific Day of Prayer 2020

For the impacts of Coronavirus

  • Victims of Covid-19
  • Families who had lost their loved ones
  • The safety of health care/service providers/volunteers
  • Safety of our countries from this life threatening disease/virus

The effects of Cyclone Harold and other natural disasters

  • Victims of natural disasters
  • Families who had lost their loved ones
  • Support to victims who lost their homes, livestock, farms etc…
  • Children‟s of families affect and for their education

For those who continue to suffer in our societies

  • The poor
  • Women and girls from sexual abuse
  • Violence against women and children
  • Disabilities/disabled people including elderly
  • Gender inequality

For victims of climate change and sea-level rise

  • Those in coastal and low lying islands
  • Poor health due to water shortage and brackish water
  • Poor housing especially those alongside the coastal line due to strong wind and king tides

For West Papua

For the impacts of globalization in our countries

Header image by Natasha Holland: (from left:) Rev Maleta Tenten – KUC Secretary for Mission, Rev Dr Tioti Timon – Principal of Tangintebu Theological College, Bairenga Kirabuke – RAK (Women’s Fellowship of KUC) Project Coordinator and Gender Focal Point.

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). The UCA is a member of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

As fires burn throughout Australia and flooding takes the lives, homes and livelihoods of people all over Europe, Africa and the Pacific, we’re reminded again of our deep vulnerability. We’re grateful to our Uniting Church ministers and partners in places where people cling to hope by a thread – managing drought, stretched finances and in places like Tuvalu, lack of fresh water and food.

Adamstown Uniting stepped up to acknowledge the global need to support people at the mercy of a changing climate by hosting ‘Songs for Tuvalu,’ a concert that raised over $1,000 for disaster relief and recovery work.

“It was so timely to be able to speak about the importance of UnitingWorld’s climate change and disaster readiness work,” says Roslyn, coordinator of the event at Adamstown. “At $15 a ticket, we’re delighted to have been able to raise $1,000 – and so many people spoke to us afterwards about how worthwhile the work is.”

UnitingWorld’s disaster relief and readiness work helps prepare Pacific communities for the impact of increasing storms, cyclones, dry seasons and other disasters. It includes equipping leaders to carry out assessments to determine people and places at risk; increasing awareness of safe evacuation places and helping people understand the biblical call to take responsibility for their environment.

A series of Bible studies have been developed by Pacific theologians to answer questions about God’s role in suffering and disaster and people’s responsibility as stewards of the earth. You can see a copy of the resources on the UnitingWorld website here.

 

A huge thank you to Adamstown for their fundraising effort and to all who’ve been supporting our climate change and disaster readiness projects. If you know people who are enthusiastic about the work, buy them a gift at www.everythingincommon.com.au!

In September we asked you to help support Pacific women in the fight against inequality and violence. And you responded, donating over $58,000 so far, and sending beautiful words of encouragement for your Pacific sisters!

Throughout the year we’ve been heartened to see more men attending workshops that address equality, hear more stories of changes in family and community life and a gradual take up of biblical messages around the equality of women and girls.

If you want to inspire your congregation with a real-life story of change, watch Pastor Nipi’s testimony from Vanuatu at www.unitingworld.org.au/pacificwomen 

“I never knew what gender balance was or what it meant in relation to the Bible,” Pastor Nipi said. “At first I thought – what is this ‘gender balance’ they are talking about? We never believed men and women could be equal. But as I made my studies and we talked, I realised there is something there for me to learn! It has infected me! I like it!”

Thank you for the $58,000 you’ve given so far for this project. Your gifts will:

  • Pay trainers for workshops for advocates against violence against women
  • Help develop and distribute Bible study material to be used in difficult to reach places in Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands

We continue to need funding to provide places for women and men to attend training for anti-violence advocacy in Kiribati and Tuvalu, where our work is just beginning and critically needed. In these communities, women are still unable to practice leadership even if they are trained for the positions, and the issue of domestic violence desperately needs to be addressed. If you’re still planning to give, we’d gratefully receive your gift for this work at www.unitingworld.org/pacificwomen

Here are a few of the messages of support we’ve been delighted to pass on to our friends in the Pacific:

Dear Sisters in the Pacific, I encourage you to remember John 10:10 “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” Please believe and discuss the biblical understanding that men and women are equal. I am sorry that earlier church teaching has disempowered women. I encourage you all to follow your dreams, to claim equality with all people, to take up any opportunities for learning and employment, to know that you are not alone. Women in Australia support and pray for you. 

–Jennifer

Keep going. Stay strong. I admire your bravery

– Aasha (11yrs)

I look forward to receiving news about how my friends in the Pacific Islands are going. I was very excited to read the account of Past Lima Tura and activities in Timor Leste. I like to show the photos to my grandkids. One of my favourite verses is Philippians 4:19. It says “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” 

– Anon

Hello my sisters in Christ, I encourage you to continue to make the gospel of Jesus Christ known, sharing His love and His power to transform lives. There is no male or female in Christ so do not think yourselves inferior in any way, for you were created in His image to give Him glory. Your brother in Christ.

– Gordon

Thank you everyone who sent messages!

*Header Photo: Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer with emerging leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu

80 dozen lamingtons walked out the door as part of North Rockhampton Uniting Church’s Market Day recently, central to a fundraising effort that will see $1,000 sent to support women in Kiribati.

The friendship between the two churches has been growing since early 2018, when North Rockhampton committed to helping UnitingWorld provide resources for women dealing with issues of poverty and domestic violence in the Pacific. The church was especially keen to provide money to build raised gardens in Kiribati so that women could grow vegetables untouched by increasingly salty soil. By the end of 2018, street stalls, ‘Bring and Buy’ stalls at women’s meetings and a Market Day had yielded $2021.75 to assist the work in Kiribati.

“Our recent event was wonderful,” co-ordinator Ros told us. “The ladies sold a cuppa and two slices for $5 and made $210. Our craft stall made $299. When we sell the left over lammies, we’ll have more than $1000. Most importantly, the event was happy and fun. We are really pleased.”

We’re right in the middle of a Campaign to boost funding for our women’s work in the Pacific, and we’re inspired by stories like these from our congregations. Thank you! While the work in Kiribati continues, we’re excited to begin rolling out gender equality workshops in Tuvalu, where the ordination of women is yet to be approved.

Thank you to everyone who has already given to our ‘Achieving Equality and
Ending Violence’ appeal

Find out more and make a donation at www.unitingworld.org.au/pacificwomen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop with our work on climate change.

 

Mary’s father told her not to do it.

Her husband told her not to do it. Everyone in her community told her not to do it.

She did it anyway…

Mary went to college to begin training to become the first woman pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu.

It may seem like a small thing, but in a place where the dominant culture says that men  are the leaders and women follow, you simply cannot imagine what a triumph this was, or how delighted I was to meet Mary recently and hear her story.

“I am one of seven children and all my life I wanted to serve God,” Mary proudly told me, as chickens scratched nearby. “In grade six, I passed all my exams – the only girl in my whole village. I went on to high school in Port Vila. I wanted to be a minister in the church.”

Top of her year right through to grade ten, Mary’s dream had been to go on to university and theological college. But she was set for heartbreak when her family chose her brother instead of Mary to be given the chance for higher education.

“I trained to be a schoolteacher, but I didn’t give up my hope of pastoral training,” Mary said. “And after a few years I went back to do a course through the theological college. My father told me not to continue. He said “People do not want this! They don’t want the women preaching and leading. It’s not our culture.” I told him ‘No Dad, this is my Christian faith. I need to do this. And if the young men can do it, why can’t I?”

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

Mary’s challenges will be familiar to you if you’ve read about our work in the Pacific before. It’s not just patriarchy that has held women back from opportunities and enabled high rates of domestic violence. Traditional readings of the Bible have also justified unequal power between men and women.

That’s why Mary’s determination to challenge the status quo, following her call into ministry despite the difficulties, is so significant.

“I finished my training and was sent to teach religious instruction at one of the high schools and also helped with theological instruction in a training centre, but I became very sick and had to return home,” Mary continued. “That’s when one of the local families suggested I marry, and introduced me to the man who would become my husband – they explained that I would have good support for my ministry and I was excited! We married and soon our first son was born.”

But the next few years continued to hold many challenges for the young family. Placements were hard to come by, and Mary was only offered remote areas in which to serve. Both men and women were uncomfortable with her leadership and it was considered taboo for her to speak in public or to be involved in decision making.

“As I studied more and more from the Bible, I began to ask questions of the village chiefs. ‘Why are women always treated so badly? Why should they suffer so much?’” Mary recalls.

“And as I took more leadership, my own husband began to spend more and more time away from home. Eventually he told me: ‘I have fallen in love with someone else. I have taken another wife.’ My heart was broken.”

Now on her own with three sons, there were few places Mary could turn to for support.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult life can be for women and girls like Mary in the Pacific. Poverty and violence tighten like a noose on those without family networks because most women don’t work – they’re full-time mothers and wives. Vulnerable and often silenced, there simply haven’t been places for women to speak out or find support for their plight.

Until now.

Stirred by their belief that equality between men and women is at the very heart of God, our church partners across the Pacific are taking action. In a culture where 90% of people identify as Christian, they recognise their influence to help end violence and create a future of dignity and equality for women and men.

You can help our church partners change lives and end family violence Donate today.

The breakthrough – and with it, relief for women like Mary – really began with a meeting of leaders just a few years ago. Ministers, government leaders and lay people came together from across the Pacific.

Solomon Islander Reverend Dr Cliff Bird, alongside his wife Siera and using resources developed with the assistance of UnitingWorld, opened the Bible for the first time to this influential group to teach the richness of life available when we recognise the equality of both men and women.

Rev Dr Cliff and Siera Bird

The Birds taught partnership. They taught trust and cooperation.

They taught the truth found in Genesis that both man and woman are created in the image of the same God, with equal value and potential.

They taught the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus non-violently challenged the Pharisees and Scribes to prevent violence against the woman; “Where was the man who committed adultery?” they asked.

They taught Paul’s description to the Galatians about their unity and equal value in the eyes of God: “…there is no longer male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus.”

And they taught the freedom that can be found when men and women work together in partnership, unravelling how centuries of unquestioned male dominance was ruining the harmony God intended for us all.

Change is happening. For many, the teaching was a complete revelation. They’d simply never heard anything like it. Men openly wept. They recognised the way superiority feeds arrogance and seeds violence. And they asked for forgiveness. They were hungry for a new way to relate to one another and their community.

The men went back to their churches and communities. They began the slow and painstaking work of committing to address the systemic inequalities that characterised their lives, homes and institutions; making plans to live, teach and workshop their new knowledge.

In their own lives, they began to make small changes – listening to their wives, acknowledging their daughters, cleaning the house and taking a bigger role in their children’s lives. And they began to recognise acts of “family discipline” for what they were – often violent and abusive – within their communities and homes.

As we supported our partners to lead more workshops in their churches, we began to hear more of these stories, over months and years from across the Pacific. We realised that this was a way to address inequality and violence that cuts through at all levels.

A Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati, 2019

Incredibly, the work was recognised by the Australian Government. They saw that in many Pacific societies, one of the most effective ways to make change was by supporting churches to re-examine their theology, create advocates and communicate messages of equality through religious networks. They recognised the enormous potential that churches hold as agents of change in communities right across the Pacific. They’ve been a supporter of this work ever since, learning from our partners’ resources and experts.

We know this approach can make a difference to the lives of women and men in the Pacific; restoring equality, reducing violence and helping girls thrive. But we need your support. For centuries, the implicit and explicit teaching of church and culture has been that women are subordinate to men, with all the assumptions that go with it. Unravelling this mindset is long-term, difficult work. Click here to donate now.

In Vanuatu where Mary has struggled all these years, Pastor Nipi was one of many people to attend gender theology workshops for men and women we’ve facilitated with our partners over the past three years.

“I never knew what gender balance was or what it meant in relation to the Bible,” he told me. “At first I thought – what is this ‘gender balance’ they are talking about? We never believed men and women could be equal. But as I made my studies and we talked, I realised there is something there for me to learn! It has infected me! I like it!”

Once a sceptic, Pastor Nipi is now a colleague of Mary and one of many enthusiasts spreading the word about gender equality across the Pacific. He has now been tasked with preparing theological and practical resources for the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to lead the work with communities in remote and rural regions throughout the entire country. From unquestioningly assuming that only men had the power and skills to lead, he now believes that women have a vital and equal role to play.

“Working together, women and men can improve life for people in Vanuatu and the whole of the Pacific Islands,” Pastor Nipi says.

“We are using the radio, television and newspaper to talk about gender balance and what the Bible says and it has created such interest! Many people don’t believe until they study the Bible notes we make and then they say, ‘Oh! There is something here for us!’ And they are accepting women as equals. I cannot tell you what a change this is for us.”

Pastor Nipi says he’s had feedback from rural Vanuatu, high in the mountains and remote areas, that the material being produced is being read with astonishment. In plain language at the level people can understand, this teaching is a revolution in people’s lives.

Pastor Nipi, Vanuatu

Pastor Nipi, Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, we supported our partners to produce television commercials that call out violence against women as robbing men and women of the fullness of life that God offers. We’ll support more of our partners to do the same in their different contexts across the Pacific.

In Papua New Guinea, theological college students, both male and female, are excited to be attending our first workshops to learn exactly where and how Jesus valued the lives of women.

In Kiribati, we’re preparing plans to combat family breakdown and violence by teaching parenting skills that emphasise the equality and dignity of all people, as well as the rights and responsibilities of boys and girls.

In the Solomon Islands, our partners recently hosted their first gender equality theology workshops led by Solomon Islander theologians. As a result, church leaders took it to their national assembly and resolved that gender equality is a biblical imperative. We are now supporting them as they create contextually appropriate resources on gender equality and child protection and roll it out across their churches.

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting

“Here is what I want women and girls to know,” Mary told me from the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) National Assembly meeting, where she was an eager participant.

“We can do this together. We can make this change. In the community, in our churches and in the government – we have an important role to play. And men? Do not criticise us. We can do this together. We can share the responsibility of leadership together.”

Mary continues to serve the church in Vanuatu, no longer on the edges but as a far more respected and integrated member of the community. Her challenges are far from over, but she has come further than she could ever have imagined. The Gender Equality Theology project has helped turn the tide and now many are following in Mary’s footsteps. Since the first workshops were held, a woman has been appointed as the first Presbytery Clerk (Lead Minister) and six more women have become pastors in the PCV.

Mary’s success shows that together we can turn tragedy into triumph.

Your gift today can provide our partners in the Pacific with the ability to facilitate workshops, train workshop leaders, produce training resources and create advocates for gender equality and anti-violence. We know it works. We just need the resources to make it happen.

In a world with far too much bad news, I pray you’ll join me in celebrating Mary’s achievements and supporting more women like her in the Pacific who are ready to overcome inequality and violence.

Mary’s triumph cost her dearly. But in a world full of tragedy, she’s absolutely determined to see more triumphs.

Aren’t you?

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

You can help our church partners change lives and end family violence with the biblical message of equality between women and men.

Click here to donate now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

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

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

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

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

Colleagues and friends of Rev Dr Seforosa (Sef) Carroll gathered at St Stephens Uniting Church in Sydney on Tuesday to say farewell and celebrate Sef’s work and ministry.

Since joining UnitingWorld in 2014, Sef has been a been a powerhouse of theology, church partnership-building, teaching on gender equality and climate change, and advocacy that has stretched from the streets of Sydney (helping lead the 2015 Climate March) to the halls of Federal Parliament.

As Manager of Church Partnerships in the Pacific, Sef brought a personal drive to UnitingWorld’s gender equality and climate justice work in the Pacific. UnitingWorld’s entire approach to climate change through the lens of faith and identity was born of a pilot project that Sef established in Tuvalu.

At the farewell service at St Stephens, Sef reflected on her first visit to Tuvalu and the impression it left on her.

“Of all the things that had an impact while at UnitingWorld, visiting Tuvalu impacted me most. Speaking to the people and experiencing their situation radically changed my idea of ‘home,’” said Sef.

This influenced the direction of her academic studies, and in 2017 Sef was selected by the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton University as a resident member of the 2017-2018 Research Team on the Inquiry on Religion and Migration. Sef’s research paper was called ‘Reimagining Home: migration, identity and law in a changing climate.’

While at UnitingWorld, Sef helped create and teach resources on Gender Equality Theology and contributed to other publications on Pacific theology, climate change, and feminism and Christianity in the Global South.

At the farewell service, Sef thanked UnitingWorld colleagues and honored the Pacific women she’s worked with.

I’ve been blessed to walk alongside so many women from across the Pacific on gender equality and theology. People like me come and and go, but the women have to stay and push the work forward.”

UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe commended the legacy of Sef’s work.

“In the past five years, I have seen Sef walk into rooms that did not easily make space for her and teach with God’s anointing; I have seen her untangle complicated relationships with wisdom and sensitivity; I’ve seen how people don’t just respect her wisdom, but love her for her passion and integrity,” said Dr Goringe.

“Her work has catalysed a change in theology and connection that will last beyond all our jobs here. UnitingWorld is not an academic institution, but the teaching and research, the mentoring and counselling that Sef has done with us has had a reach and impact that I think would be the envy of any academic.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer preached a sermon on Micah 6:6-8 and John 4:3-30, challenging people to consider how Jesus leads us beyond social, political and religious barriers.

“Jesus intentionally entered (hostile) Samaritan territory and engaged in a theological conversation with a woman. In working for gender justice, we are following in this way of Jesus; calling women into life-giving encounters with the one who is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world,” said Dr Palmer.

“Where are we locating ourselves? Are we intentional about placing ourselves in situations of solidarity with those who are exploited, diminished, or silenced? [These are] places where Jesus leads us.”

Dr Palmer also celebrated Sef’s ministry and approach to mission.

“As you have reminded us in your teaching and actions, ‘doing justice and walking humbly with God’ draws us into communion with the whole Creation.”

“In all of your ministry and into the future we pray you will be blessed with hope and joy through being part of this collaborative community of Christ, woven together by the love and grace of the Holy Spirit.”

We wish Rev Dr Carroll every blessing in her exciting new global role and we can’t wait to see what God has in store for her.

(We can’t give details of her new position yet but will update you when we can!

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Click here to read Dr Deidre Palmer’s full sermon