Our team and overseas partners reflect on working for peace.

Peace Matters

Rob Lutton
By Rob Lutton

We all smile in the same language – reflections from a YAP workshop in Mindanao

May 19th, 2011

We all smile in the same language – Unknown

In the hills of Mindanao, Philippines another significant peacebuilding initiative is taking place this week. I am on Day One of a DVD shoot with some 40 participants in a Young Ambassadors for Peace workshop with YAP founder Joy Balazo.

During this 5 day intensive live-in workshop participants who have known conflict in their villages, communities and tribes have come together for the first time to give peace a chance. And in Mindanao it needs to be given a chance.

The southern island of Mindanao is home to one of the longest lasting conflicts in the world. The contemporary conflict is mainly concentrated in the central and south-western areas of Mindanao. Whilst the conflict seems to be organised around religious orientation (Muslim vs Christian) the causes are much more concerned with a clash of interests concerning land and natural resources. Additional to this there is conflict amongst Christian groups and also amongst Indigenous clans who have been repeatedly pushed aside by the myriad of settlers over the past centuries.

So given such a picture why after Day One are we smiling?

With armed security from the local police in our midst the day centred around breaking the ice. And the Filipinos do breaking the ice so so well. Even when there are police all about.

Today the highlight for me was meeting Yogi (pictured above with cymbals). Yogi comes from the indigenous clan here who have been dispossessed of land and life in the forest. We visited a village with Yogi and we got a real sense of the object poverty faced by his people. But despite having much cause for anger and revenge Yogi works for peace. His facilitation of various ice breaking activities had me in awe. After all but two hours people were no longer names but real people. The laughter and celebration of each person in the room was real and refreshing. And it was Yogi and others who had me smiling. He had all in the room today smiling.

And I love this image. Yogi is preparing to bring an exercise to conclusion and what we see in the background is embrace. What we see is people facing one another and seeing the things we share rather than what divides and I for one think our world needs a dose or two more of that.

So smile with us today but also spare a thought for the day ahead as the smiles may well turn to tears as participants look within. In the day ahead we move into the sharing of stories of how each has experienced prejudice against them and perhaps responded in a way that has only escalated the cycle of conflict. But that is for tomorrow. As the clocks strikes midnight here and I post this on a rather dodgy internet connect I am smiling.

John Barr
By John Barr

East Timor – Empowering people for the future

March 21st, 2011

with guest blogger John Barr (Associate Director, Asia) who joined Joy Balazo to launch the UnitingWorld Peacemaking program in East Timor.

In 1999 East Timor went up in flames. Two thirds of the population were displaced. Much of the county’s infrastructure was destroyed while thousands of people experienced horrific events that remain embedded in their minds. But the year 1999 was not all that different to other years. For 500 years East Timor lived under the colonial rule of Portugal. Then for another 24 years the country suffered under the military occupation of Indonesia. Then came the international community with the best of intentions – but many internal conflicts came to the surface and another wave of violence hit the country in 2006.

The international community looks upon East Timor as a nation in great need – poverty, food shortages, lack of housing, poor education and the absence of effective medical care – move many to try and do something. And Australians have been generous. East Timor continues to prod the conscience of people to give a little more.

Over a period of more than 20 years, I have engaged with the people of East Timor. Western aid has flowed into this nation and the generousity of many has been part of the solution. But it’s not the real answer.

For most East Timorese, the critical issue now begins within. Under Portuguese colonialism, people were overlooked, forgotten and were seen to be of little account. Indonesian military rule was violent and brutal. East Timorese communities were terrorised and were treated as being less than human. The people of East Timor were considered to be stupid, inferior and incapable.

In recent years, the wave of international attention has swamped the country, generating, in my opinion, an insidious form of paternalism where the East Timorese become the objects of our need to give.

And with all this going on, I sense that what most East Timorese want is to simply take control of their lives. They want to be persons who are respected and valued by others. They long to live in community where there is reconciliation, peace and genuine hope for the future.

With this in mind, last week something important happened in East Timor. My colleague, Joy Balazo (left), facilitated a workshop on peace-building. And it was no ordinary workshop. East Timorese clergy, pastors, lay people, women and youth, gathered just outside Dili to become peacemakers.

Joy is highly experienced here, having worked in Ambon, the highlands of PNG, on the Thai-Burma border, in North East India, Bougainville and the southern Philippines. And the workshop facilitated by Joy sparked something I had not seen before.

Participants were encouraged to seize the moment, to identify possibilities and to move on with the confidence they can make a difference. Women and men became excited. Action plans were put together. Commitments were made. People indicated they want to make a positive impact. There was a real wish to strive for peace in the community.

Joy’s approach is a holistic one. For Joy not only identifies need, she sees real persons who have the God-given capacity to do something and to make a difference. Joy’s approach empowers people. It is a life-giving, life enhancing approach.

Last week in East Timor I could see people being liberated. Leaders are now emerging who will make a real difference in their local communities!

(At Left – participants in the workshop)

By UnitingWorld

Talking Pigs and Peace

January 31st, 2011

Reflections on meeting Bishop Wai Tege from UnitingWorld Intern Steph Dalton

I have a pig.

You steal, kill or injure my pig.

You have to compensate me for the damage.

You don’t.

Therefore I have every right to retaliate.

For a girl from Sydney, this all sounds a bit extreme. But for tribes in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, where tradition dictates the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” system of compensation and retribution, this represents normality. Or, rather, it did for countless years up until 2008, when leaders from over 30 tribes in the region signed a historic peace treaty, promising to lay down their weapons and compensate one another for losses incurred during times of conflict.

These are just some of the things I learnt when I met with Bishop Wai Tege on his quick stop over between Melbourne and PNG on the weekend. The Bishop, from the small town of Tari in the Southern Highlands, generously sat down with me for a quick coffee, during which we talked about his country, tribal conflict, peace, the PNG Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project (which promises to double PNG’s GDP over the next few decades), as well as his six children and many pigs.

The United Church of Papua New Guinea (UnitingWorld’s partner in PNG) has a noticeable presence in the Hela Province, where Wai Tege has served as Bishop for the past 5 years. Of the 300,000 people who call the Hela Province home, 50,000 belong to the Uniting Church, which also runs hospitals, health centres and schools across the region. And because this doesn’t keep him busy enough, Bishop Tege is also the Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) coordinator (Principal Advisor) in the region. YAP programs have been running in the Southern Highlands for the past decade, training local people to become effective mediators in situations of conflict, in order to not only resolve conflicts, but also to ensure sustainable peace.

It was extremely encouraging to hear a personal testimony of the power of the YAP program in promoting peace and reconciliation between communities that have been riddled with hostility, violence and loss for centuries. The Bishop beamed as he spoke of tribal leaders embracing and talking over a meal and praised God for everything that has happened in the region over the past few years.

He spoke with anticipation about the LNG project, run by Exxon Mobil, which promises substantial economic growth for the Southern Highlands as well as PNG in general. But he was weary of issues that will arise, and indeed already have, as a result of the project. He spoke with sadness of the ministers who are leaving their positions in search of higher paying positions with the project and spoke of conflict between those who benefit from the project and those who won’t – the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots,’ or between local communities and the police. The YAP program, he said, will still have a very important role to play in the region in promoting and sustaining peace.

T o read more about UnitingWorld’s YAP programs, click here.

Rob Lutton
By Rob Lutton

Say Peace to Ambon NOW

December 2nd, 2010

The events of recent days in Korea remind us all of the fragile nature of peace on a global scale, a local scale and in day to day relationships. I am thinking of some of the people in my life and how a certain act by one party is taken a certain way by the other, which in turns leads to a further act and so on and so on. Then it reaches a point where it has all gone pear-shaped. I don’t like it when it goes like that!!! Anyone resonate??

Well all that is true, unless of course there is a vital intervention or circuit breaker. Here we press pause and allow a chance for each to take stock, to breathe, see the humanity in one another and then begin to actually talk.

In terms of the peacemaking work of UnitingWorld, right now we need a new circuit breaker in Ambon, Indonesia. From 1999 to 2003 Ambon was a hotbed of violence and killing between Christian and Muslim communities. The Uniting Church, through UnitingWorld’s Young Ambassadors for Peace program (YAP), played a pivotal role as a circuit breaker that turned back the tide of violence and prejudice.

In 2008 I had the opportunity to visit Ambon and meet a group of young people who were once full of hate but now, due to the work of Young Ambassadors for Peace, are full of the spirit of peace.

Meet Kiki (Above at right) and Onya (below). Kiki is from the village of Asilulu, a small village in Ambon, Indonesia that has been stricken with fear and conflict between Christians and Muslims. Onya also comes from this area. It was with sadness that I heard them speak of friends who had been killed and homes and places of worship that were burned before her young eyes. Both had every reason to be forever fueled with hatred and a desire for revenge. Today, they both work tirelessly for peace after participating in a YAP workshop where they met other Muslim and Christian young people with a similar desire for peace. They became part of a network and movement to change the way things are.

Last year Kiki and Onya were so concerned about a new conflict between Muslim communities near their home village area that they asked Joy Balazo to make a special visit. Joy met with key community leaders and began workshops among conflicted Muslim communities on Ambon’s north coast.

A circuit breaker began but what has emerged is that here and on a nearby Island there seems set in train an orchestrated campaign to sow seeds of hate.

Over the month of December while we prepare for Christmas, Joy Balazo and peacemakers like Kiki and Onya, will place all on the line through forums and workshops in at-risk locations so as to see peace continue and the threats to peace tackled. Joy Balazo has stated that now is a crucial time for a circuit breaker in Ambon.

This week we have launched a special Christmas Peace Appeal centred around the threat to peace in Ambon.

To read more about our SAY PEACE NOW appeal  Click Here.

Rob Lutton
By Rob Lutton

Lessons from AGORA

November 30th, 2010

MV5BMTA2MjIwMjE0MjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDU4ODIwODI@._V1._SY314_CR3,0,214,314_On the weekend I found myself at a loose end so I took myself off to see the movie AGORA.

The movie starts in AD 391 in Alexandria, Egypt. Post Constantine, Christianity is now  legal and fast becoming the State religion. The movie portrays a lot of the positioning, infighting and concerns about heresy within Christianity and the efforts being made to purify the Church of all heresies and extend Christianity throughout the city. It is not a pretty picture.

With the entrance of the “pagan” mathematician Theon and his adorable philosopher daughter Hypatia (yep I had an immediate crush on Rachel Weisz),  the focus shifts to persecution and demonisation of others outside of the Christian faith. Pagans first. Jews second.

I do not want to spoil the movie for you but what follows is a harrowing depiction of what happens when a body of people under the guise of religion or a set of beliefs become obsessed with defending their place or conquering others.

The parallels by the Director of the film to the modern day rise of fundamentalist Islam is clear, if not a wee bit too obvious, but the more central theme for me is how the Christian religion has its own dark history and capacity for evil.

I could open up here a wider debate but movies are for me an opportunity for personal reflection and what does this means for the way I relate. I came away wondering about my own fundamentalisms. Where in my life do I stereotype and demonise? How can I rid myself of my prejudice and be part of the solution rather than part of the vicious circle of hate? How can I embody love in my interpersonal relationships starting with my family, my neighbours and extending to the student working in my local 7-eleven.

As a follower of the Prince of Peace how do I look for the positive in others and their religion? How do I look for common ground and for what unites rather than what divides so that a creative conversation rooted in respect and love can emerge? How can I be a positive influence for peace and grace in a world of judgment and conflict?

These are of course the very questions that our young Ambassadors for Peace program, led by my colleague Joy Balazo, grapple with constantly in the most trying of circumstances.  Join them in the challenge to SAY PEACE NOW, the theme of our Christmas Peace Appeal for the peace process in Ambon, Indonesia.

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