Reflections of Sef Carroll (Manager, Church Partnerships, Pacific) and other UnitingWorld staff on the life and struggle of our partner churches in the Pacific.

All Things Pacific

bronwynf
By Bronwyn Fraser

Lip Balm for Vanuatu – an Innovative Relief Response

April 15th, 2015

Yep, you read it right. In response to the recent devastation wreaked by Cyclone Pam, one forward-thinking group – Proserpine Whitsunday Uniting Church in Qld – have found the ultimate solution. You guessed it: Lip Balm.

Ok, so for the uninitiated out there (mostly the blokes), lip balm is like a lipstick but not really. It’s not about colour, it’s about lip softness and protection from the weathering and dryness that often results from harsh environmental elements. For the record, lip balm is a unisex personal care item.

Anyway, how is it that a strident Development Worker is linking lip balm to humanitarian relief responses? You’re waiting for the punchline, aren’t you? For the witty critique that ultimately discredits this thinking with a development-worker righteousness reserved for those of us “in the know” – you know, the ones in the “Aid Worker” t-shirts. And of course, those who know me well would expect nothing less. Well, let me disappoint you, because I’m not going to do that. Actually I’m in support of this group!

When a devastating event such as Cyclone Pam happens, people are moved and want to respond to help those experiencing the full brunt of the devastation. We look naturally to what “we” know, what we think of as being the most tangible ways to help.  And let’s face it, most of us haven’t lived through a catastrophic natural disaster and even fewer have lived in the context of a developing country, so we have very little scope to go on when looking for ways to respond.

Sure, there are the messages from those pesky development agencies that say, “send us money – that’s the best, most effective way to respond”. But really, there has to be more than that, right? Something more personal, concrete, tangible? Giving money seems so impersonal.
As the Relief and Development Unit at UnitingWorld (one of those pesky development agencies) we get lots of phone calls from individuals and communities with these very motivations who are collecting items to ship to the devastated area, or who want to go and volunteer, who feel that they need to do more than give money.

But here’s the thing – and there really is no way of getting around this – giving money is the best response.

It may not feel that way to us, but it will help those in the most need in the way THEY need it, not the way WE want to give it. The reason it feels uncomfortable or distant might well be because it takes us out of the centre and out of decision-making control and releases that place and that power to those with the best knowledge and experience to make the most appropriate response decisions – those who are living through it.

And to help think through some of this here are just a couple of real considerations:

  • Sending “helpful stuff” can clog up ports and customs, incur a cost to the recipients and get in the way of the most essential items getting through, items such as water, shelter and food organised by experienced and resourced humanitarian agencies. And when we send stuff, what is sent is usually decided by us.  It’s often what we’re willing to sacrifice or even ready to “throw out”. It is often not appropriate or needed in the context or at that time and ends up adding to the vast amount of waste that accumulates to be disposed of in the disaster zone. For example, our partners in Vanuatu informed us that a group in Australia had sent a crate load of “undies” to Vanuatu as part of the initial disaster response, which they found a bit weird!  Having just returned from Vanuatu, I can reassure you that there are enough undies to go around.
  • On the other side of that coin, buying resources locally can help to jump start the economy, help get businesses back up and running, people back into jobs, life back on track. And this can’t be under-estimated in the economic, physical and emotional recovery of people and communities in the wake of such a disaster. When I was there last week, the first cruise ship of tourists arrived in Port Vila and the sense of excitement was visible, not so much for the tourists themselves, but for that feeling of normality, that things were going to be alright.

Ok, so I know I said I wasn’t going to get all development-hoity-toity but these are perspectives and learning that needs to be shared widely, so that those of us compelled to act when something like “Pam” happens can do so in an informed and effective way.

So having said all that, how then can I support the idea of “Lip Balm for Vanuatu”, you ask. Well, firstly, and most importantly, they’re not sending the lip balm to Vanuatu! I mean, sure who wouldn’t want soft, supple lips after a natural disaster, but maybe it’s not their top priority!

But this group makes lip balm, it’s what they do. And I must say they’re pretty good – I have mine with me. Personally I like the chocolate but there’s also strawberry, vanilla… a whole heap of “flavours”. This group has made the latest batch as”Vanuatu Lip Balm”, a fundraiser for the relief effort. They are doing what they do -making lip balm and selling them to raise funds to donate. And right there they have stumbled on it: their “more than money” response. A response where they are doing their thing, working hard to make a difference – but in a way that will be most effective for the ones who need it most.

So I ask, what is your thing? Is it donating money? Log on to our website and do your best. We thank you and our partners thank you, because you personally are making a difference. Or maybe you have things of value that you would donate? Sell them and raise funds to donate! We thank you and our partners thank you! Or maybe like Adamstown Uniting Church you bake? (Their Christmas Puddings are amazing – just saying!) Bake up a storm and donate the proceeds! We thank you and our partners thank you!

Last week I was in Vanuatu meeting with our Partners the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and we sat together in their meeting room which has been converted into their disaster relief command centre.  It’s pretty impressive. They gave me a message and asked me to share with you all.

“Thank you! Thank you for your support and your prayers. It has provided the encouragement and at times the strength to be able to continue knowing that we are not doing this alone. We also want to reassure everyone that we are taking care of the precious funding that is being donated, it is enabling us to support our people to recover and it is making a difference.” Jonathon (PCV Education Director and Disaster Response Chairman.)

 

And from what I have just seen and experienced I say to you: please don’t fight that motivation to respond and don’t be disillusioned by the sometimes seemingly unhelpful response from us pesky development agencies when we decline to support a suggested response activity. Know that you can make a difference: by donating you personally can help those most affected and it will be the best value for money your hard earned donation could make for people whose lives have been torn apart. And together we thank you.

 

You can still donate to our Emergency Relief Pacific Appeal in response to Cyclone Pam right here  To support Leadership efforts among Pacific Churches grappling with the impact of Climate Change long term, please go here.  For creative fundraising ideas for various projects you could adapt, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

bronwynf
By Bronwyn Fraser

The Chicken, the bike and Climate Change – a Tuvaluan Story.

April 2nd, 2015

I begin by asking the age old question – “Why did the chicken cross the road?” And to that, I sadly must say I have no answer. But let’s take a minute and reflect on that chicken.

I am in Tuvalu and so is the chicken. The chicken lives here but my UnitingWorld colleague and I are just visiting to meet with our Church Partners the EKT to talk about Church, Gender and Climate Change. We encountered this chicken at the very point when it was crossing the road. (Bear with me – it’s a true story). As the said chicken ran in front of us in order to cross the road, it encountered a motorbike, literally! Now, just as an aside kiddies, it’s very important to look both ways when you cross a road. Sadly the chicken didn’t do that and the bike hit the chicken, and the chicken was left motionless in the middle of the road, looking longingly at the other side, the side it was crossing towards.  Why? I don’t know.

Sef, my colleague, and I stood staring at the motionless chicken, not knowing what to do. Should we take it to the other side of the road and help it to fulfil its destiny? As we stood trying to decide what was the appropriate response, deliberating over the options before us, the chicken shook a little, staggered to its feet and hobbled to the other side of the road.

At this moment I noticed the lady sitting in her house, weaving, laughing heartily at the two foreigners fixated on a chicken.

We continued on our way and so did the chicken, never to meet again. But it has left me thinking. This is not just the seemingly silly story of a lucky chook, but one of resilience and hence a story reflective of Tuvalu itself.

This is my first visit to Tuvalu and my first impression, as a development worker trained to see the challenges or “development opportunities”,  is that I am struck with the environmental vulnerability of this tiny nation. But as I walk around the streets as an outsider looking in, I notice everyday life. People just getting on with everyday life. Within their vulnerability, I gain a glimpse of their strength and resilience. Challenges come, they face them, deal with them, shake themselves off and get on with life. Just like our chicken. That is how it has been here in Tuvalu.

I woke up early the first morning to the sound of the waves breaking and got up to find them actually breaking over the sea wall and water filling the grounds of the lagoon-front hotel. I watched a little disconcerted as the sea water encroached on the ground-level hotel balconies. This wasn’t a random event, it wasn’t because of a cyclone or some other freak weather phenomenon, it was just high tide on a windy day. I have been here for 4 days now, and for the fourth time am watching the very same thing happen again from my second floor (phew) balcony. And every time this happens it brings with it rocks, coral and debris onto the roads and every time local people, often children, go out after the tide subsides and move the debris so the roads can be used again. The hotel staff sweep the sand and water away, and it’s all in a days work.

But it hasn’t always been this way, the sea wasn’t always this close. Our partners tell us how they have watched the island become smaller, how World War Two structures, once hidden in the bush are now out in the ocean. They haven’t moved – the sea level has risen, engulfing their already tiny island nation. It continues to do so.

Many people here view climate change through the eyes of their historic and stoic resilience, as just another challenge to face and survive. But this one is different. Climate change isn’t an event that comes along, wreaks havoc and then goes away, allowing people to get up, dust ourselves off and continue on. Climate Change is unrelenting and the resulting seas are hungry for their land.  It won’t just go away. As recognised by the General Secretary of the EKT:

“The people are resilient. We have survived on this island for hundreds of years. We have faced challenges and recovered. But this climate change is bigger. We cannot face this like the other challenges. It is too big.”

While we can chuckle at a silly tale of a careless chicken whose story has a happy ending, the situation here for the Tuvaluan people is not so trite. The EKT (Christian Church of Tuvalu) which represents 94% of the population must look at the reality that is literally lapping at their door step, challenge a theology that tells them that God will fix it, explore the options before them and courageously lead the people through this scary and identity-threatening reality into an unknown future. They are resilient without a doubt but this is too big for one small nation to face alone. The UCA through UnitingWorld stands with the EKT in support of this devastating change and the heroic role that they are to play.

“For the people of the islands, the thought of relocation is very hard, but we must think about these things now because it is on us. We will be to blame from our children if we do nothing now.” Maina (Climate Change Support Worker)

But we have our own role and a responsibility as well, as global citizens and as part of God’s global mission. Unlike Australia, the Pacific contributes minutely to the causes of climate change but nations like Tuvalu are living the full brunt of its effects, every day. It is time to call on our Government for responsible and good leadership, for climate justice that embraces the undeniable reality of climate change and steps up to take mitigating and responsible action for our nearest neighbours, in acknowledging our own contribution to climate change.

And maybe it is time for us as individuals and as the Uniting Church to embrace this opportunity to stand in solidarity with our Pacific brothers and sisters and act to support our partners in their heartbreaking journey ahead. And please pray for this strong, resilient Nation as it faces the toughest decision of any Nation and looks to an uncertain future.

You can support our friends and neighbours in Pacific countries like Tuvalu as they cope with these overwhelming challenges.  Please visit www.unitingworld.org/pacificchange and if you’re able, make a gift to help us fund the work of leaders who are skilled and passionate to care for their people, but desperately lack the resources they need.  The Church in Tuvalu is fully funded by partner agencies like UnitingWorld and depends upon us for support.  

 

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

After Cyclone Pam – now what?

April 1st, 2015

AN INTERVIEW WITH UNITINGWORLD’S REVEREND SEFOROSA CARROLL

Right now, there’s another Super Cyclone howling toward tiny islands in the Pacific and the Philippines – Maysak.  It’s the third this March – unseasonably late – and as a Category 5, projected to be the biggest in the Pacific since 2002.  In its path are tiny communities on islands that lie only one to two metres above sea level, with no shelter or high ground.  It’s less than a fortnight after Super Cyclone Pam, the ‘monster’ that all but destroyed Vanuatu and left people reeling throughout Kiribati and Tuvalu: bigger storms, more often, with greater damage due to existing sea level rises.

 Resilience and recovery is one thing.  Long-term response is another. Talk of climate change is back on the agenda.

Sef, increasingly we’re hearing about Pacific Islands and other parts of the world being ‘wiped out by Climate Change.’ You’re UnitingWorld’s Manager for Church Connections in the Pacific and you visit regularly – is it really happening?  What are we talking about exactly?


Yes, it’s happening.  Some places are affected more than others – Tuvalu and Kiribati are among the most vulnerable.  Rising sea levels mean that some communities in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, for example, have already been forced to resettle – they’ve moved further inland.  In Tuvalu and Kiribati, everybody is affected.  They’re very low lying islands and in Tuvalu there’s very little land – an aerial view of Funafuti (the main island) shows how the land mass is being consumed by the sea.  There’s nowhere for people to move to.  We can debate the causes but for the people who are affected, this is real.  And they’re in the process of considering what it means long term not to have a home – because eventually it will disappear.

The people of the Pacific are used to changing weather patterns – heavy rains, storms, cyclones – but this is different.  The frequency and ferocity of what they experience is increasing and it impacts their resilience and their ability to bounce back.  When I was growing up in Fiji you’d get a bad cyclone every 4-5 years but people would recover and get on with their lives.  This is totally different.

What do people experience on a daily basis?

It’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been there.  We visited Tuvalu just recently and during the high tide, the water came over the sea wall and flooded the kitchen of the hotel where we were staying (Funafuti’s only hotel, by the way, and its dining area has been under water more than once before!) This wasn’t a king tide or a major storm, just high tide on a windy night.  This is regular life for people in Tuvalu.  They’re used to getting up, cleaning up and getting on with it. Their economy is so tiny and land so narrow that relocating further inland just isn’t an option – there’s literally hardly anywhere left to build.  Of course, when the hotel was first built, high tides were never a problem.

The water basin is polluted and the rising sea levels are eating their soil, so local people can’t plant their vegetables and daily crops.  They have to rely on imported food – a lot of  it tinned, which is unhealthy for them and adds to a serious diabetes problem, particularly in Kiribati.  There’s no fresh water and everything is either from a tank, boiled or bottled.  People have to be constantly aware of disease like typhoid.

There’s a resilience in the people that can be read two ways – on the one hand they refuse to be climate change victims and are stubbornly asserting that this thing won’t beat them; or they’re masking a very great anxiety about the future because this issue is so far beyond them that they simply can’t deal with it.  The faith of the people falls into this category too.  Almost all of the community of both Kiribati and Tuvalu belong to the Christian Church.  On the one hand, they believe that God will take care of this crisis, as God has before.  On the other, they are totally overwhelmed by what they experience.

Realistically, what’s the future for these places?

They’re creating the future right now – mapping the possibilities with the support of their partners.  The biggest need is to engage with the issue rather than taking a hands off approach, believing that God or someone else will take care of it. Some have already re-located to other islands.  But many don’t have any resources to take that step.  Some have looked at buying land (Kiribati has bought land in Fiji as a possible place to migrate to and to secure food supplies).  Some will have to look at how they can adapt their life style and protect themselves from the elements so they can continue to live as humanly as possible.

But our partners recognise that the future is being created right now.  People are being supported to inform themselves and make choices about where they want to be, how they can survive.  The receiving communities will also need support as they take on the challenge of receiving those who need hospitality – Fiji for example will have the difficulty of several different nationalities all sharing the one space.

What kind of problems do these countries face as they try to tackle the impact of Climate Change on their own?

In many cases they’re committed and want to care for their people but they just desperately lack the resources they need.  If you think about Tuvalu and Kiribati, for example, they’re both tiny economies reliant almost entirely on foreign aid to stay afloat.  They’re simply too small to have real autonomy.  On the outer islands the people live a subsistence lifestyle – just trying to grow enough to stay alive.  The Church is supported almost entirely by its partners.  In the midst of that it’s trying to help people understand their options and possibilities.

Money and theological training are the greatest needs. Everybody needs training – the ministers to see how God relates to all of this and how they can lead their people in an active faith response that takes seriously our care for creation as well as hope for the future.  The people themselves need to be equipped to know how to adapt and they also need spiritual nurture.  The challenge is that many people are stonewalling – they find the whole thing too big to handle.   That’s why the need for external support is so urgent.

Why do you think Australia doesn’t want to know about Climate Change in general and the Pacific in particular?

My theory is that if it doesn’t affect you and you don’t experience it personally, why would you bother?  People need to feel it, see it, touch it! My advice would be – go to Tuvalu!  You’ll be convinced of the fact that this is changing people’s lives right now, and of the need to act.  In terms of the Pacific, I think it’s been romanticised and idealised as a place we go to play and relax – the idea that it’s under threat, that people live in great poverty or suffer because of events there is very foreign to us because we know so little about it and see it very rarely on our television screens.  This makes us reluctant to give in response to campaigns that ask for help for Pacific people.

What could Uniting Church people be doing to help?  Why would that be effective?

The first step is to be aware of how this affects our brothers and sisters, for whom climate change is not a political debate but a daily reality.  And really, the most helpful thing for people to do is to support our campaign to support leadership during this time of change.  Every dollar really goes a long way in this work.  The Pacific doesn’t need to be told what or how to respond.  But it desperately needs the financial resources to put plans in place.  I talk to people like our Climate Desk officer, Maina, in Tuvalu, who is committed and passionate and really wants to get things done, but he simply can’t without the money.  It’s the most effective way to help because it tackles the problem at the heart – the issue of motivation for many people in the Pacific begins with their understanding of life and faith, which is where the church is so influential.

Finally, why would Christians take a special interest in this issue?

It’s a faith response – a discipleship response.  We’re actually interconnected with creation, that’s at the core.  Our responsibility as stewards of creation is to manage our resource well – that doesn’t just mean economies but creation itself.  And our interconnectedness works in reverse – our care for creation affects how we live, our human lifespan.  If we believe that the earth is a god-given gift, we need to honour that.  We see creation as God’s household and managing those resources is sacred, not to be taken lightly.

The other issue of course is that we’re also connected with our brothers and sisters and creation has a major impact on them through changing climate and extreme weather events.  What affects others affects us all.  When we see people suffering, we are part of a global spiritual crisis that impacts every one of us.  As Christians, how can we fail to make a response?

To read more about the Leadership in a Changing Climate project and to give a gift that will make an immediate difference to people struggling to adapt in the midst of extreme change, visit www.unitingworld.org.pacificchange

cathtaylor
By Cath Taylor

Where is God in the flood? Q and A with Reverend Maleta Tenten, Kiribati

March 24th, 2015

The day I speak to Reverend Maleta, rain is drumming on the tin roof of her office and the tiny island of Kiribati has been cut in half by king tides.  Emergency radio announcements have warned people to stay at home – flooding has made it too dangerous to travel.  Neither of us know it yet, but within days Kiribati, Tuvalu and especially Vanuatu will be devastated by Tropical Cyclone Pam, the ‘monster’ of the Pacific. Whole communities will be flattened, families left homeless and on Kiribati, storm surges will once again inundate homes and the local hospital.

Maleta, what kind of impact has changing climate had on your homeland?

“The main problem is the rising sea – it comes over the sea walls that we build (*as protection) and floods the roads, leaving potholes and making it dangerous for driving.  Some children don’t go to school anymore because of the road.  The water comes into people’s homes.  The land is so low and flat that there’s nowhere to go when a high tide comes.  When we have a king tide like this one the flooding is terrible.”

What kind of damage have you seen as a result of extreme and changing weather?

“The hospital for example is full of water right now.  The sick people have all been moved somewhere else.  It’s only new and was built by the Australian Government for our people but it’s flooded again.  But other damage is to the crops.  Salt water destroys our food.  And it also comes up from under the ground and poisons our drinking water so we have to rely on water from tanks.  We had a drought that meant we could only drink water flown in by the Australian and New Zealand governments.”

What makes you think these weather events are the result of climate change?

“We see the king tides coming more often and the storms are worse and more frequent.  The coral reef is slowly being destroyed and the fish not as many as before.  We know that we are not the only small islands experiencing these things.  The sea is warming and we see the impact here because we are so close to the level of the ocean.”

How do people respond to all this going on around them?

“Our people experience all this for themselves – the changes in weather cycles, the flooding that comes more often, the tides and storms.  There is absolutely no question that change is happening.  But we have been taught to be people of great faith. People believe God will save them, even as they experience great distress.  When I speak to them of the need to adapt, of changing climate, it falls on deaf ears.  Sometimes they say I am scaring them when I talk to them about climate change, or that I don’t have enough faith.  Maybe a bit like Jesus, a prophet is not very welcome in their own town?  So we need a lot of help to explain to people that climate change is real, but it’s not God’s fault, it is a problem made by humans and humans need to make a response to it.  People feel quite stressed and worried because they believe in God but they also see all these things happening and it makes them question what is going on and where is God in all this?

What do you think is the best way to help people cope with all this change and also encourage them to act on Climate Change?

“The situation is life and death for us.  Our President has bought land in Fiji for us to try and grow food when we can’t grow our own; we don’t want to be forced to leave Kiribati. But it starts with people accepting there is a problem and this requires us to educate people about the fact that climate change is real and we must act in response.  And this is where we need help.  To begin with we desperately need more Bible study material and more teachers to help us understand what the Bible has to say about where God is, how we should look after the environment and what we should do. This is the only way people will begin to act for themselves in response to what is happening. We start here, with the Bible.  It’s the foundation of our work because it’s the foundation of people’s belief about how the world works.  If we can convince people here, we can motivate them to act and reassure them for the future.”

Many people in Australia find it hard to imagine that the Bible is such a powerful motivator for action in the Pacific.  How can we understand this better and help out with this?

Our people have a very strong faith – most people are very strong Christians and the church is a very important part of life.  Church leaders are important.  The younger leaders are very supportive of climate change response, adapting our lifestyles and planning for the future.  Some of the older people just believe that God will take care of everything for us.  But we know we can not continue to do nothing.

Our homes are always being destroyed and one day we may need to leave and how will people cope with such changes? So we need more resources to help teach people and this is where people in Australia can help, by supporting our projects to train people, to care for the people pastorally when they are in need, to look at what needs to be done so we can survive here.  We don’t want to leave but we may have to.  Perhaps we could have Australian lecturers come and train our people too – sometimes people are more likely to listen to outsiders.  And we would like to come and speak to your people too, to tell them what is happening for us.  But we don’t have money to do all this.  That is how you could help us.”

At the request of Maleta and other Pastoral Workers in the Pacific, UnitingWorld is helping people wrestle with a spiritual crisis in the Pacific as they respond to devastating changes.  Our approach is to support the leadership of the Church as they care for communities pastorally and practically.

Please help us fund this project.  Donate here.

How your support will help.

$40 could help a family access pastoral care and trauma counselling

$55 could prepare communities for resettlement

$80 could provide teaching to encourage communities about the presence of God and a biblical understanding of justice, stewardship and the environment

$200 could complete risk assessments for communities in danger of extreme weather-related disaster.

 

 

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

Mission comes home

February 5th, 2015

UnitingWorld’s Manager for Church Partnerships in the Pacific Rev Seforosa Carroll reflects on the changing nature of cross cultural ministry in Australia.

2015 marks 30 years of the UCA’s declaration in 1985 of being a multicultural church. It is an opportunity to celebrate and affirm our diversity in all its forms; and as well to reflect on how this diversity has changed the way we as a church engage in ministry and mission. Migration has brought over 199 nationalities to Australia. Philip Hughes confirms that at the time of the 2011 census there were more than 170 religious groups identified in Australia. These changes bring important missional questions and challenges for the church in terms of its being and mission. It raises the ongoing but critical challenge of how mission is understood and practised in a pluralistic context both in Australia and in our relationships with our partner churches overseas. Mission has in effect come home.

UnitingWorld’s Rev Sef Carroll (left) and Rev Vinniana Ravetali (right) and Rev Veitinia Waqabaca (middle).

 

The Uniting Church in responding to the changing nature of Australian society declared itself a Multicultural Church in 1985 and in 1989 the first Assembly working group on Relations with other faiths was established. These two landmark moments demonstrate the UCA’s vision in not only acknowledging the nature of the changing Australian society but also recognising the church’s responsibility in meeting those challenges practically, pastorally, and missionally.

 

Marking 30 years of being a multicultural church is an opportune time to test our willingness, humility and commitment to allow the gift of the “other” to transform our being as a church. It will mean making room in our leadership and church structure to receive the gift from those we deem other or guest. It will mean being intentionally cross cultural in the way we relate to and interact with each other. We also need to be intentional about developing cross-cultural competencies across the whole church and open to learning from those of other cultures, including our global church partners.

 

Over the last two weeks I have been struck by the reality of the changing Australian context and the changing nature of ministry. When the Practise of Cross Cultural ministry subject was first offered at the United Theological College, it mainly attracted students from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) backgrounds seeking to understand their faith and culture in the new country. There was perception at the time that multicultural/cross cultural challenges belonged and were only of interest to those of other cultures. The past two years has seen a change in the student makeup. There is a changing recognition and affirmation that cross cultural education is not a one-way process and thereby a critical part of ministry formation.

 

We all need to learn to be more cross-culturally competent. This is an ongoing faith journey and one that is critical to building up and equipping the body of Christ. This subject gives students the opportunity to experience the different ways cross-cultural ministry is practised or the attempts made by committed leaders to grow a cross cultural church. It also gives students the opportunity to engage with each other’s cultural world-views and test their perceptions.

 

Candidates for ministry are increasingly those from other cultures. These future leaders recognise that they not only bring insights and wisdom from their own cultures but also the need to engage and learn more about other cultures beyond their own. Leadership and the practise of mission now needs the wisdom and insight of those who have made Australia their home. Cross-cultural education will be critical.

 

A wonderful example of this learning and leadership has been that of Rev Veitinia Waqabaca who retired from ministry at the end of January this year. Rev Veitinia is a migrant Fijian woman and the first Fijian woman ordained in the UCA. Veitinia’s contribution to the life of church began many years before her ordination. Prior to ministry, Veitinia was very active in facilitating the set up of the Pacific Island Council, an organisation that was active in enabling Pacific Island voices to be heard within the life of the church, helping new Pacific Island migrants to settle in the new home and assisting in the call for ministers from the home country to serve in particular congregations. Veitinia understood the value of education and its power to liberate. She is committed to encouraging and ensuring wherever possible to assist young Fijians to pursue higher education, a passion that will continue even in retirement. Veitinia is a living example of how mission has come home and how much enriched we are as a church with the gifts and insights people of other cultures bring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UnitingWorld
By UnitingWorld

Breaking the cycle of violence against women: still a long road to travel…

November 28th, 2014

By Rev Sef Carroll

UnitingWorld’s Rev Seforosa Carroll was recently asked to speak at a Violence Against Women Dialogue in Fiji. Here, she reflects on the experience.  

The theme for the Pacific women’s leadership dialogue in Nadi, Fiji on Tuesday November 25th 2014 was aptly titled – Violence against women is everyone’s business.

It’s no coincidence that the dialogue was held on this particular day as November 25th is the International Day of Violence Against Women. The dialogue in Nadi was the second  of its kind to be held in the region. The first was in Tonga which brought together women MPs and senior bureaucrats across the region to discuss strategies to reduce the barriers to women’s leadership in the Pacific and to identity opportunities for women policy makers to increase the impact and influence of their leadership.

The dialogue in Nadi was hosted by Natasha Stott Despoja, the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls on behalf of the Australian Foreign Minister, Hon. Julie Bishop MP and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The dialogue was implemented under the ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ (Pacific Women) organisation based in Suva. Pacific Women is a $320 million ten year initiative ‘to improve the political, economic, and social opportunities for Pacific women’. Its key focus areas are empowering women through leadership and decision-making, creating opportunities for economic empowerment of women, ending violence against women, education and health. The strategic emphasis focuses on mobilising the private sector. The dialogue brought together thirty participants representing the private sector, government and civil society.

Natasha Stott Despoja, the Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls

The emphasis of this dialogue was on the contributions of the private sector to eliminate violence against women. In this model VAW (Violence Against Women) is heavily weighted on the economic argument. There is, one could argue, a play on words in the title of the dialogue as the key argument is really about the economic impact of violence against women on both the private sector and the State. VAW lowers productivity and incurs high costs for businesses. The Business Coalition for Women flyer bears the heading: “Black eyes cost business” a great play on words but it is concerning that an economic argument has to be made in order to get governments and businesses moving.

The dialogue in Nadi took the form of four short presentations by women followed by a plenary discussion.  The presentations were a blend of personal experience, research, signposts toward the future and questions for further research. Lemalu Sina Retzlaff, a business woman from Samoa gave a very moving, insightful and inspiring presentation. A domestic abuse survivor herself, her presentation brought together personal experience of abuse and its impact on her identity and status as a business woman in a small community. Exposing domestic abuse in small island communities creates an ‘unsavoury’ or pitiful stigma on the woman. Sina remarks “My status and identity as a businesswoman was redefined in the light of my abuse. It is why many abused women don’t like the light shone upon their experiences, why it is something they try so very hard to hide”.

Each presentation addressed different aspects of VAW and held together by a common theme, the contribution of the private sector.  Sandra Bernklau who wrote the background paper for the conference provided an overview of that scoping paper which was on the private sector’s response and contributions to eliminating violence against women.  Greenta Vienna Tome (Solomon Islands) spoke about her work with palm oil companies and liaising with communities. The objective of her work was safeguarding the rights of women and ensuring safe workplaces for women. Finally, Shamima Ali (Fiji) provided an overview of the national research on women’s health and life experiences in Fiji which has been collated and published under the title ‘Somebody’s life, everybody’s business!’ This study is a detailed survey and analysis of physical, sexual and emotional violence towards women by intimate partners or husbands and non-intimate partners. Shamima also raised some very important signposts for ongoing work on VAW. She stated that there still is a “lack of human rights approach to violence” and there needs to be “increased gender sensitivity in service provision”. A growing area that Shamima has been responsible for and equally passionate about in Fiji and the Pacific is the nurture of male advocates.

The statistics for VAW in the Pacific is quite depressing. Between 40-70% of women across the Pacific will have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime from intimate partners and families. This is despite 30 years of aid programming in the Pacific. A recent title of an article published this year ‘A woman should be beaten if she deserves to be punished’ is a telling sign that VAW is still very much alive in the Pacific. The article was an overview of the results of a survey on gender-based violence in Fiji and PNG. There has been at best, very little change and where there have been changes they have been slow.. The trend in statistics suggests that gender based violence is likely to rise. And that begs the question, why? What vital link(s) or connection(s) are we missing? Perhaps as one person suggested at the dialogue, ‘we have been focusing on creating awareness of the issue and we have only been able to address the symptoms’. It is perhaps time to invest in what Natasha Stott Despoja calls “the drivers, the causes behind the violence”.

The dialogue also recognised there is work needing to be done through research, particularly in examining the link between empowering women in leadership in the public sphere and dealing with the corresponding effect of violence in the home.  There is still ongoing work needed in changing attitudes leading to behavioural changes in men and women with regard to violence against women and an increased emphasis on counseling that focuses on changing attitudes and behavior in men.

Yet the dialogue was not all gloom. There was also space for celebration of the achievements made by women (and men) in creating awareness of the issue, the individual and collective efforts made to shape legal processes with regard to gender based violence and changes made by businesses in adopting internal procedures for safe work places – all of which have helped to effect change.

Gender inequality, gender based violence or any form of violence or exclusion is everyone’s business –  not only in terms of its economic value, but also in terms of its communal, spiritual and theological worth.  Although the emphasis of this particular dialogue in Nadi was on the role and contribution of the private sector, the role of churches is also critical. VAW requires a holistic approach. Economic and social empowerment, health, education, leadership and eliminating violence are all interrelated and each cannot be addressed in isolation. Women need to be empowered in both the private and public spheres and this includes the church. This requires addressing theological and cultural misinterpretations and the value of women in the church and society.  There is more that can be done by Pacific churches in addressing these issues and challenges culturally and theologically. Pacific churches have a vital, critical, role to play and it is one that is slowly being embraced. Of particular mention is the PNG Church Partnerships Forum, an ecumenical body that is in the process of developing a gender theology statement and which I and my UnitingWorld colleague Rev Dr Cliff Bird have been a part.

At UnitingWorld we recognise that reducing and eliminating VAW requires an interrelated approach of both development and theology. UnitingWorld Relief and Development Unit’s Partnering Women for Change is a gender themed development program with an intentional focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality. The program is designed specifically to work with the extensive networks of women within UnitingWorld’s partner churches and their communities. While this program deliberately works in partnership with women, the program also includes specific engagement with men and boys, empowering them to be partners in the process, advocating for gender equality and opposing all forms of violence.

In addressing the dynamic of gender equality and the prevalence of gender based violence, we also work closely with the leadership of partner churches and men’s groups within the church and the wider community. While including women and girls in this aspect, we specifically work with men and boys in relation to men and men’s personhood, recognising that men need to be active participants for gender equality to be achieved and gender based violence eliminated. Rev Dr Cliff Bird in our Pacific office in Suva has begun working with men’s groups within the church in both awareness raising and to work through the root causes of violence.

Equally, through our Church Connection Unit’s Transforming Lives through Leadership program, UnitingWorld provides scholarships for women to study theology with the long-term objective of increasing female leadership and participation within the Church.

Although significant steps have been made and continue being made to break the cycle of violence against women there is still a long road to travel to bring about the necessary changes that give women freedom from violence and fear. This ongoing work of eliminating violence is a shared responsibility. It is hard, agonizing, risky work. It requires intentional, critical engagement with deeply held cultural values and theological beliefs. It is everyone’s business because the effects of violence directly and/or indirectly affect us all. The poisonous venom of violence affects the very core of our human worth and dignity. Most of all it deprives us of full access to the abundant life so freely given to us through Christ.

Rev Sef Carroll

Manager, Church Partnerships Pacific

Church Connections, UnitingWorld

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By Bronwyn Fraser

Of Rights and Relationships: Listening to the Wisdom of Women and the Winds of Change

March 7th, 2014

March 8 is International Women’s Day. In this blog UnitingWorld’s Bronwyn Fraser shares encouraging stories from the Pacific, where partnering with churches and Women’s Fellowship networks is opening doors to address gender inequality and empower women and girls.

Recently I came back from a whirlwind visit to Vanuatu. It felt a little like a trip to Narnia – what seemed like a fortnight in Vanuatu with all the meetings and project work to get done was actually only 3 days out of the office! My role in the visit was to sit with the leaders of the Women’s Fellowship and help to design the “Gender and Leadership” program that they want to run through the Church for their communities.

It is a real privilege for me to spend time with these women and dream with them about the changes that they want to see in their communities and to be play a part in planting the seeds for this change.

Violence is a huge issue in the Pacific – I have the reports and I can quote the statistics. And there is a lot of work being done in the area of responding to and addressing violence against women. Much of this work is based on human rights and the UN conventions. Now I don’t have a problem with that. Actually to be honest I’m a bit of a fan of human rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and gender equality in general really! But as I have sat with women from various island nations across the Pacific, as well as participated in a number of Aid Sector forums on the subject, I have made two observations:

  1. Most of these programs focus on the problem more than the people
  2. Most programs cling to “UN speak” – using language that in the context of communities within the Pacific, communicates secularism and individualism, language that is often disconnected from their faith and culture. It is a language imposed from outside rather than generated from within.

As I sat in Vanuatu, talking with Melody, Cyrilline and Martha, in lovely circular conversations as is the way of talanoa, of story and of life, I caught their vision, the vision of a different way.

They talk about the love that God has for creation, for humanity. For them gender rightfully isn’t just about women, and the problems communities face aren’t just problems of violence. Gender is about men and women created as equals in the image of God, it’s about respectful relationships and ways of interacting together and it’s about recognising the inherent dignity of all people. This vision of society that they see is indeed, I believe the vision of humanity as God created it to be. They don’t want to paint men as the bad guys and women as the victims which is so often the dialogue. Rather they want to lead a program that is inclusive of the voices of all – women, men, girls, boys, people who have a disability, those with power and those who don’t, people from all churches… essentially the whole of community.

They see that violence is an outplaying of an unbalanced human system, one that has strayed from God’s design. And the only way back is to build their Gender and Leadership program on the foundation of God’s word. While this might make secular agencies in the aid sector a little nervous, in the Pacific it also makes a great deal of sense. Yet currently there is a gap between what is seen as secular approaches and biblical beliefs. Without a theological bridge that brings the two together, real change – change in families, change in culture and change in communities (all of which have the church at the centre), will not happen.

Early last year I participated in a workshop in Fiji with the Pacific Conference of Churches looking at the Elimination of Violence against Women. A prominent Pacific theologian, Rev Dr Cliff Bird, spoke on Matt 5: 38 – 42 .  You might know the passage – “turn the other cheek” and all that. This is a passage that, along with a “forgive and forget” theology, is commonly preached in such a way that it oppresses the victims of violence, especially women. It tells them to stay and pray, to be passive, to not fight back, to forgive and ultimately to just put up with it. It has also ensured that accountability is removed from the perpetrators and that justice is forsaken. In this interpretation neither victim nor perpetrator are living the fullness of life as God intended it.  Both are prisoners.

Yet the message in Cliff’s presentation was about freedom. He talked about how Jesus himself resisted systems of oppression and injustice, how Jesus spoke out against discriminating practices of the religious leaders and how he frequently went against what was being preached as acceptable and lived a different way. The way of Jesus was not one of violence nor was it one of meek passivity. Through this passage, as interpreted from within the culture and context in which it was written, Cliff talked of a third way where situations of violence were turned into opportunities of empowerment; about taking control and asserting dignity without resorting to a violent response. Here love is an action, a light that is shone on the perpetrators of injustice and abuse. Love is the way that can secure human dignity through justice. Surely this is essentially a message of Human Rights as well, right?

It’s quite a profound experience to sit in a room and visually witness the word of God be the key that brings freedom. The response from almost every woman in the room was of release, joy, hope and fire.

Yet presence in this room was limited to those who were chosen to represent their Churches. They were mostly educated, articulate women and men who had some form of leadership within their church circles. But what about the lives and voices of women living in villages across the Pacific, many of whom have not had access to education and many of whom are so often dismissed? These women’s stories are rarely heard and they are often excluded from all forums where these conversations are being held. The only message they hear is the one preached from the pulpit on Sunday and so often sadly, the oppressive message that serves as the cage that keeps them prisoner rather than the freedom message intended by God.

But there are winds of change stirring and UnitingWorld is stepping up to take a lead. We are currently establishing a UnitingWorld office in Suva, and have employed Cliff Bird to develop theological resources as a solid foundation for our work in the Pacific. These theological resources will shed light on gender equality and human dignity; demand protection of children and those most vulnerable and demonstrate rightful human relationships and stewardship of environmental resources.  Cliff will work closely with our Partner Churches across the Pacific, challenging them and empowering them from a theological perspective to be the leaders for transformative change firstly from within their own churches and then more widely in their communities and their countries.

I can’t help but be excited.

Read more about the Partnering Women for Change program through the Relief and Development Unit of UnitingWorld here

Find out more about theological training for women through the Church Connections Unit of UnitingWorld here

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By Bruce Mullan

Pray for Tuvalu

November 20th, 2013

When considering the impact of Climate Change on the Pacific nation of Tuvalu the Uniting Church in Australia’s 10th Assembly 2003 resolved “to express our solidarity with the Christian Church of Tuvalu in this predicament and to call on our people to remember the people and church of Tuvalu in their prayers.”

Our partner church the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (EKT –the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu) represents 92% of the total population of around 10,000 people and is watching the climate changes carefully and actively educating its congregation members about the impact of Climate Change.

Please encourage your congregation to pray for the people of Tuvalu and the EKT.  If you would like further information please view the World Council of Churches short video on climate change, faith and hope in Tuvalu “Have you seen the rainbow?” (eight minutes).  This video features EKT General Secretary Rev Tafue Lusama, Rev Tofiga Faiani and other EKT members sharing their hopes and fears.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXxX6FeBh2c.

brucem
By Bruce Mullan

It is about moral justice – Kiribati President Tong

November 20th, 2013

Jill Finnane Eco-Justice Program Coordinator from the Edmond Rice Centre in Sydney recently met with Kiribati President Tong.  She shared these words from him about his own political experience and responding to the Australian Government’s recent statements on climate change.

“Australia seems to be reversing  the trend that other countries are following.  Politics doesn’t always make sense…. When  I was in opposition I enjoyed taking points about the government but when I came into government I realised I had to change … I hope that Tony Abbott gives himself time to listen.  When you are in administration it is different to being in opposition.  In government you have to think about the right thing to do…. I have had to change the way I talk about climate change.  When I began there was a sense of futility and I had to get rid of that.  When I am wrong I admit it.

“Our survival is on the line.  The science says so.  It is about moral justice.   It is about how we treat each other.  That has always been the issue facing humanity.  What do the people of Australia think about that?  Can you turn away from it?  We will forever be judged by how we rise to this challenge.  We are on the front line.  All islands are affected.  Within 10-20 years, the frequency of sea water penetration will increase.  We have to face the reality that the challenge will increase . Though it is minute at the minute the momentum is gathering.”

Read more comment from Kiribati at http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/judge-michael-finnane-criticises-tony-abbotts-climate-change-stance-20131112-2xdvc.html#ixzz2kP2LR0YK


brucem
By Bruce Mullan

World church discusses Pacific women and ordination

November 7th, 2013

James Bhagwan writes in the Fiji Times that the denial of ordination of women – including those in parts of the Pacific – as ministers of religion was the focus of the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly earlier this week.

While most Pacific churches have allowed the ordination of women as ministers, the door remains firmly shut in Samoa.

Most participants agreed there was a need for churches worldwide to be more accepting of women and to allow their equal participation in theological schools.

Pacific Theological College principal Reverend Dr Fele Nokise, himself a Samoan, said it would only be a matter of time before women were ordained.  ”For hundreds of years the Samoan church has not had ordained women ministers and they might be having some difficulty staring discussions in this area,” he said.

“I think it’s just a matter of when the churches decide. American Samoa has ordained their first woman and we have Samoan women ordained in New Zealand.”

The NGO shadow report on the Status of Women in Samoa had called for government action in ensuring the ordination of women.

“The status of Samoan women has advanced significantly in many areas of secular society, yet the ordination of women is prohibited by most religious institutions,” the report said.  ”There are more career choices available to women in the academic, public and private sector, however, within the church and religious sector, only the Anglican Church allows women to be ordained as ministers of religion or pastors.”   However, Methodist women of Samoan heritage have been ordained in New Zealand where they are allowed to minister in parishes.

Samoans approached at the assembly declined to comment on the issue but agreed that there was a definite reluctance to accept women into the ministry. They said this was due more to cultural rather than any religious ideology and had a strong link to the patriarchal society in Samoa.

Speaking at the women’s pre-assembly, Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt of the Luther World Federation addressed, the need to identify and dismantle patriarchy and other systems of oppression for women.  She pointed out that in order to transform systems of oppression and achieve gender justice there was a need for clear processes, strategies and policies that promoted and encouraged the equal participation of women. These activities include ordination as ministers.

http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=250437

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these blogs are those of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UnitingWorld or the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia