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But it can help people prepare for them and lessen the impact. That’s why we’ve been working hard to roll out our resources on a theology of Disaster Resilience among our Pacific partners, some of whom work among people who have been taught to believe that natural disasters are an unavoidable punishment for personal wrongdoing.

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

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

Read more about the project and download the resources here.

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.

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

Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Media Release
5 May 2017

UnitingWorld will facilitate it’s fourth Annual Regional Workshop for Women’s Fellowships to be held in Nadi, Fiji from 22 – 26 May, 2017. This year the workshop will focus on gender equality, church transformation, partnership and projects.

The workshop will continue to build on the shared learning and experiences of participating organisations from across the Pacific, with practical assistance for running effective community development projects; understanding and advancing gender equality within churches; and promoting the leading role of women and women’s fellowship organisations in transforming churches and communities.

Having facilitated workshops in previous years, UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser has seen the power of women leaders coming together from across the Pacific to share resources and learn from one another’s experiences.

 “Bringing these women together to share knowledge and stories from the field is not only an excellent way of learning from one another, it’s also valuable self-care and solidarity for them – knowing there are many other women out there working to overcome the same challenges,” she said.

There will also be sessions the on theology of gender equality and God-given human dignity for women, reflecting on Rev Dr Cliff Bird’s recent Bible study resource, ‘God’s Vision for Human Relationships Vol. 2’. As in previous years, the workshop will continue to focus on the practical, discussing how to embed gender equality within churches and how women’s fellowship organisations can implement practices of gender equality in their development projects.

 “Participants will be invited to discuss how traditional interpretations of the Bible have defined women and how God’s view of equality shifts these expectations and provides women with the opportunity see their worth as equally created in God’s image and likeness for abundant life,” said Bronwyn Fraser.

This workshop, part-funded by Australian Aid, is part of UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program (PW4C), which focuses on the strength of women to identify and address key development challenges in their own countries and communities. UnitingWorld works with churches and ecumenical networks to challenge traditional patriarchal views of the Bible, in favour of a framework that sees the Bible as a foundation for advancing equality, inclusion and dignity of all human beings. The PW4C Program also works closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.

The Partnering Women for Change Program is partly supported by funding from Australian Aid.

Dated: 5 May 2017
Contact:
Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756
bronwynf@unitingworld.org.au

Read more:

UnitingWorld: Gender Equality in the Pacific Through Theology (Pacific Women)

A Biblical take on Human Rights – Bridging the Gap for Gender Equality in the Pacific

Case study: Faith and Gender Equality in the Pacific (DFAT)