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Author: UnitingWorld

Late on a steamy afternoon in Ambon, Maluku, the invitation to visit the pig pen feels a bit overwhelming.

I’m here in Indonesia to meet people who are part of projects run by UnitingWorld’s partner, the Protestant Church of Maluku. My day started at 5am, soaring in over the archipelago after 12 hours in transit via Jakarta, and we’ve been on the run ever since.

The pigs, though, turn out to be well worth it.  And this is why.

“Owning and breeding the pigs changed our lives,” declares a young mum as she and her daughter usher us into the enclosure.

They sit beside a banner that proudly reveals they’re part of a project run by the Protestant Church of Maluku, funded by UnitingWorld.

“Especially because we are women, its good to be able to contribute to the household income and be responsible for making the money we need for school, oil, clothing, that sort of thing. We work hard to look after these animals because they give us so much.”

Like most places in Indonesia, it’s not easy to be a woman in Ambon. In such a patriarchal culture, women are often seen merely as home-makers without many options to make decisions. Girls aren’t always encouraged to dream big. A third of Ambon’s people live on less than dollar a day, and this deeply entrenched poverty hits women hardest.

The pigs are helping women push back.

“It’s not just we have the pigs – we are part of Women’s Groups that teach us all sorts of things,” Lianne explains. “We find out how to make a budget so we can buy more pigs. We each invest some of our savings into the group and then people can take out loans to build up their herd. We learn to make financial decisions too about when to buy or sell the herds.”

This brings genuine freedom and respect – and it doesn’t end with individual families. UnitingWorld’s partner have whole-scale transformation for the community in their sights.

“It started with the pigs, but it’s a support group for us all now,” Lianne acknowledges. “And the thing is, we are also meeting women from places we would not have shared things with before.”

Those ‘places’ are close at hand and have a painful history. The island of Ambon literally caught fire in conflict between Muslims and Christians two decades ago, the port choked with people trying to flee the fighting. 5,000 people died and half a million more were left homeless.

Lianne’s family lived for weeks in the hills, collecting water from plants, the sound of gunfire in their ears. “Religious violence” was likely a cover for political dissent, but rebuilding trust between the communities is long-term, painstaking work.

“We are Muslim and Christian women together in the groups,” Lianne says. “We work together to find creative ways to make a living. We would not have met each other before, but now we are friends.”

Friendship is a deliberate by-product of the livelihood projects run by UnitingWorld’s partner in Ambon.

The church is aware that a new generation of young people are keen to learn about one another’s faith. In response, they’ve initiated forums about peacebuilding as well as practical opportunities to rub shoulders with each other on projects that change lives.

“This is why we run our peace workshops in schools,” explains Rev Jeny Mahupale. She’s a minister within her own congregation as well as coordinating the peacebuilding and livelihood projects of the Church.

We talk about conflict resolution, human rights, how to listen to one another and accept difference. And we put that into action through the groups – hydroponic gardening, breeding animals, support for people with disability. All of these are bringing Muslims and Christians together.”

Pigs, it seems, are a deceptively simple intervention – they’re part of far-reaching work that looks to the future.

If that’s the kind of change you’re keen to support, click here to gift a pig this Christmas. It goes a whole lot further than you might imagine.

More than 70% of women in the Pacific experience violence at the hands of a man in their lifetimes.

With the vast majority of people across the Pacific self-identifying as Christian, Pacific churches have been taking responsibility to speak up for the rights of women and girls, and calling out violence and inequality as a sin. As part of their mission to support the welfare of communities, churches have been using biblical teaching to encourage men and boys to understand that gender justice sets people everywhere free to live life to the full.

While many countries in the Pacific escaped the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and economic slow-downs placed additional pressure on communities already at risk of gender-based violence. UnitingWorld supported partner churches to step up their efforts to protect women’s safety and autonomy during a season of extreme crisis.

Pastor Dorothy remembers being astonished by the idea that God’s vision for humanity included equality between women and men.

“I attended my first workshop in December 2018 with Rev James Bhagwan from Fiji, who opened the Bible to show how gender equality is part of God’s plan for us,” Pastor Dorothy remembers. “It was incredibly eye opening. I had never seen it before, and it had certainly never been taught in theological college.”

Pastor Dorothy is now the Gender Equality Theology Minister with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu in a part of the world where women are too often held back from reaching their full potential. Men are the traditional gatekeepers of power and authority, and women have often been regarded as possessions, to be disciplined in whatever way a man chooses.

“The work we do is critical and allows me to help all different groups of people–clergy, administrators, congregations and children–to understand how equality between men and women is part of the Biblical story,” Pastor Dorothy says. “We work together to make practical changes like stopping family violence and giving women opportunities to lead in our homes, families, churches, communities and nation.” The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is actively evangelistic, and has oversight of schools and colleges, as well as a theological college to equip its ministers.

Like many Pacific nations, Vanuatu is constantly threatened by natural disasters and their impacts on people’s livelihoods and the wider economy. Alongside the gender justice work, the Presbyterian Church also educates people about the need to be prepared for and actively work against climate-related disasters.

“As a church we draw inspiration from John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and life in abundance,” says Pastor Dorothy. “That means the gospel is relevant for every aspect of life. Jesus is a very practical saviour for humanity, a man of justice and compassion.”

UnitingWorld supports this Pacific-contextual biblical teaching, developed and led by respected Pacific theologians, to work in and through churches to address violence and advocate for gender equality. It challenges the patriarchal ideas of ‘male headship’ and ‘wifely submission’ that often justify gender-based violence, countering them with Bible-based theology of gender equality and respectful relationships.

Ultimately, this work shifts behaviours by changing beliefs: churches develop equality and protection policies, and preach and model equality in their communities.

Between January and June 2020, UnitingWorld’s partners delivered Bible-based messages supporting national government health and domestic violence advice to 49,675 people across four countries. This past financial year, 23,109 men and women engaged with our gender equality program.

Click here to find out more about the Gender Equality Theology project.

Want to support this life-changing work?

Give a gift card to support women leaders this Christmas.

In Zimbabwe, COVID-19 and its impacts severely disrupted livelihoods and expanded the number of extremely poor by 1.3 million in 2020. Ongoing lockdowns and the health crisis have drastically contracted people’s opportunities for earning an income, especially those in the majority informal workforce.

Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) NGO UnitingWorld and its partner MeDRA (Methodist Development and Relief Agency) have been helping community microfinance groups create lifelines for those in economic stress.

Mavis (pictured) is a member of an Internal Savings and Lending (ISAL) group in a village in Gokwe South. The group receives training from MeDRA and meets together monthly to assess their collective savings and share information.  Each member takes a turn to receive a loan from the group and invest it.

When Mavis’s turn came, she received a USD$215 loan. She discussed some ideas with her family, wanting a project that would give a large benefit, while still being able to pay back the loan to the group.

Supported by her family and the ISAL group, Mavis decided to back herself on a broiler poultry project and bought seventy-five chicks. With technical assistance from MeDRA on how to look after the broilers, she felt confident the venture would succeed.

“The chicks matured into good broilers after six weeks and they sold like hot cakes!” said Mavis.

She was able to use the earnings to expand the project right away.

“I am now doing batches of 100 broilers per cycle and earning close to US$100 each time. The project increased my family’s income, and I could pay back into the group loan. I sell at the local shopping centre to customers who come to the grinding mill or buy basic groceries at the shops. Access to Gokwe’s town center has been limited by the lockdown regulations,” she said.

Mavis now feels confident to expand and diversify her project to also include a ‘tuckshop’ that sells groceries alongside the broilers.

“Especially during this pandemic, I am so proud to be the owner of a project that is giving access to a good income. I am no longer so worried about food security and school fees for my family, as my project can meet the expenses. With proper guidance from the group and MeDRA, I feel like I can never go wrong in life. Thank you for this opportunity!”

Waluwanja gets up for work every day at 5am. After a drink of hot coffee, he’s straight into his back garden, clearing out weeds, watering each plant and making sure no pests are getting in. He grows all sorts of vegetables, but lately he’s been testing out mustard greens, carrots and rice paddies, which he will sell wholesale to street vendors in his community. When a crop becomes ready for harvest, he cleans, prepares and delivers the produce direct to his customers one by one.

Waluwanja learned how to run a productive garden business through UnitingWorld’s partner TLM in West Timor. In one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, TLM acknowledge that people’s ability to improve their lives and their communities depends on opportunities to earn a sustainable income.

A few years ago, Waluwanja visited a community garden project run by TLM that produces food and teaches people about sustainable agriculture. He walked away with knowledge and inspiration to prepare the large plot of land behind his home to grow fresh food as well as his income.

Then when he lost his job, it was the perfect time to commit to the project.

After slow beginnings, hard work and many 5am mornings experimenting with different organic fertilizers and planting strategies, he started to build a customer base among the street vendors around his village.

He says his secret is delivering early and delivering fresh.

“I have more than 15 vegetable sellers around the village and they are happy to buy from me because I always deliver early in the morning so the vegetables they are selling are still fresh.”

The income it generated enabled him to meet his daily needs, but Waluwanja realised that if he was going to grow the business even more, he was going to need help. So he reached out to some of his neighbours to work with him and he’s now thrilled that he’s creating incomes for others.

Waluwanja’s garden business is now so productive that at different times of year it generates an income averaging between IDR 6 – 18,000,000 or AUD $545 – $1,636 per month. Lately he’s been keeping busy building a new stall to sell his vegetables and other daily necessities direct from the front of his home.

Waluwanja says he works so hard because he wants to earn enough to be able to send his five children to school and eventually university.

“Thank you so much TLM Foundation for giving me a lot of knowledge about agriculture and village governance, so that I can grow to become a successful farmer”.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and impacted the lives of 27,162 people like Waluwanja in 2020-2021.

Thank you ANCP and our supporters! We can’t do this life-changing work without you.

Click here to support this project. 

People with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable people in Sri Lanka. Without support, disabilities can become a huge barrier to accessing appropriate education, employment and full participation in community life. Because of this, people with disabilities are up to five times more likely to live below the poverty line.

Some people never get the support they need to truly thrive.

That was nearly the story for Raj, a Tamil man who grew up on Sri Lanka’s West Coast. From an early age, his parents knew he was different because he couldn’t speak as well as other children and his teachers said he couldn’t understand their lessons and instructions.

His parents became worried and confused. Without adequate schooling, how could Raj get a job? Who would look after him when they were old?

Not long before he was due to start high school, Raj was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Local disability organisation Deaf Link became aware of the family and offered Raj a place in a disability-inclusive class in their school nearby.

Deaf Link is a partner of Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) NGO UnitingWorld, providing access to education for children with disabilities and occupational training to adults with disabilities.

Purpose-made for children like Raj, the class provided a place for him to feel included and valued while he learnt the skills he would need to succeed throughout his life.

He remembers it fondly. “It was good, better. I got to do sport and dance! I got to talk more,” said Raj.

Once he graduated, Deaf Link helped Raj find work. They know that education can only take you so far if you do not have connections that can lead to opportunities.

After being approached by Deaf Link, a mechanic agreed to take Raj on as an apprentice and for the past two years has been teaching him the tools of the trade. Raj now proudly demonstrates his welding prowess, chats with regular customers and jokes with his supervisor throughout the working week.

“We know what a difference we can make when we work together to support these families, and how much potential people with disabilities have,” said Rev Gnanarajah, who founded Deaf Link after his own son was born deaf.

Rev Gnanarajah can confirm Raj still loves to dance at every opportunity.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and impacted the lives of 1,370 people with disabilities in Sri Lanka in FY 2020-21.

Thank you ANCP and our supporters for making this life-changing work possible!

My name is Val and I live in West Timor, not too far from the capital on the river Felakdale.

When the cyclone (Seroja) came, it washed away our home and we had to run with only what we were wearing. We lost everything in that cyclone. My family have lived in that house for decades and my father says every year there is a flood but this year it was the worst.

My family agreed we had to evacuate but they were worried about helping me to escape because I can’t walk well.  I have a paralysed leg.

My body weight is the same as my fathers. In the end they only had to help me when I was really tired, and we got safe down the river to the next village about a kilometre away.

I live with my parents and siblings and the thing I love the most is swimming. I don’t want to lose in a race with the others! I’m a good swimmer.

The church visited us to bring food and clothing, and they helped us to rebuild our house. It is a wooden house. Even though we lost all our belongings, we are grateful to be safe and thank the church and the government for their help.

-VALENTINO, East Kupang, West Timor.

Our partner, the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor, is working against the double burden of cyclone recovery and the pandemic. Like all our partners, they roll up their sleeves and invest in people’s lives, providing prayer and trauma counselling, practical resources to recover and training for new employment. They’re doing an incredible job! If you’re able to put a smile on more faces like Val’s, please give here.

Update on the COVID-19 outreach activities of the Diocese of Amritsar

Last week we received some encouraging news from our partners in the Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India, who’ve been at the forefront of community outreach and support during the COVID-19 outbreaks. The second wave has been particularly devastating, pushing the number of deaths over 400,000 in July this year.

Thankfully, our partners report that the situation is improving, but have stressed the need to address the long-term impacts:

“India has seen an improvement in the COVID-19 situation in recent months after going through a crippling second wave. The number of daily new COVID-19 cases has gone down from 400,000 in May 2021 to less than 40,000 in September. However, this pandemic made a crushing impact on the socio cultural and economic fabric of the country. It has highlighted how the absence of physical expression of love and solidarity can be even more devastating than the Coronavirus.”

In a letter to partners, the Diocese of Amritsar sent the below information on the many ways they are addressing the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

As a UnitingWorld supporter, you’re a partner in this work and we can’t thank you enough for helping make it happen. Please continue to pray for India and the work of our partners there.

 

Caring for COVID-19 patients

At the beginning of this year, all of the Diocesan hospitals were opened to care for COVID-19 patients. Lady Willingdon Hospital in Manali continues to treat COVID patients on a regular basis. The Oxygen generators provided to the hospitals have been helpful in treating non-COVID patients too. This has significantly reduced the burden on hospital staff during the present challenges posed by the pandemic.

 

Vaccination drive

The Diocesan workers and clergy have been encouraging people to get vaccinated. Since there is a general shortage of vaccines in the public health centres, the Socio-Economic Development Programme of the Diocese is teaming up with like-minded organisations and organising vaccination drives in the villages.

 

Microcredit activities

The Dalit communities in Punjab have suffered great economic setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Diocese is empowering rural women to strengthen their livelihood by encouraging women’s Self-Help Group members to produce saleable items such as face masks, cloth bags, woollens, and pickles.

 

Love in Action” Helpline:

The Diocese of Amritsar has been able to help numerous individuals and families in this time of crisis through the “Love in Action” Helpline. Grocery kits are also being distributed locally to persons in need. The diocesan workers continue to monitor the health of those who had suffered from the Coronavirus infection previously.

Restrictions on mobility and scarcity of resources has pushed many families to the brink of starvation and death. Among them is Meena*, a young mother from Bangalore. One of her two children suffers from multiple disabilities. Meena lives with her parents who are also dependent on her for their daily needs. When she called on the helpline number, she shared about her difficulty in procuring food for the family, in addition to paying for her son’s medical needs. The financial support provided to Meena from the Diocesan COVID-19 Outreach Programme has helped in ensuring her family’s wellbeing and also contributed towards her son’s ongoing treatment.

 

Awareness building on health, hygiene and nutrition

As the country is now gearing up for a possible third wave, there is a renewed emphasis on building awareness among the people regarding health, hygiene and proper nutrition. In Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir), hospitals visitors are made aware of COVID-19 preventive practices through demonstrations by hospital staff. The Socio-Economic Development Project of the Diocese has been giving trainings on health and nutrition to pregnant and lactating women in rural Punjab. Rural households are also being encouraged to start “kitchen gardens” and grow vegetables and herbs for consumption and increase the overall health of family members. Children studying in the Diocesan Education Project enjoy brushing their teeth and washing their hands during their weekly lessons on oral and hand hygiene.

 

Protection of women and vulnerable groups

Women in disadvantaged positions have been made more vulnerable in the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff of the Jagriti Bhalai Kendra, the Diocesan Community Health Project, have been in regular contact with women who are facing harassment or abuse in the community. They are addressing issues of government pension schemes, domestic abuse, and violence, and are provided with trainings and legal counsel as required. The Diocese of Amritsar has also initiated a series of trainings for all the clergy and Diocesan workers on “Safeguarding”. The trainings focus on protection of women, children and persons with disabilities from abuse and sexual exploitation.

 

Peace-building and leadership programmes

Churches have now opened for physical worship services though various online programmes are also being organised to strengthen the bonds of community. A Harvest Festival was held in Kotgarh, Himachal Pradesh to celebrate the start of the apple harvest season. A youth leadership camp with 19 Diocesan youth was organised in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh. The Diocese of Amritsar in partnership with the Sadhu Sundar Singh Global Forum organised an online celebration of the 132nd birth anniversary of the great Indian missionary, Sadhu Sundar Singh. These programmes have boosted the morale of the people during this challenging period and strengthened the sense of unity and fellowship.

 

Challenges:

The major challenge faced by the people at this time is the loss of livelihood and employment opportunities. This has been further impacted by the continued farmers’ agitation. The future of the farming community is uncertain. The whole labour force is anxious as the harvest season begins at the end of this month. The Church expresses solidarity with the farming community for their demand for just wages so that they can support their families for the next few months.

 

The Diocese of Amritsar is grateful for your continued prayers and support. May God bless you and keep you safe.

With prayerful wishes,

The Most Rev. P. K. Samantaroy,
Bishop, Diocese of Amritsar, CNI

 

(Download original letter as a PDF)

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA). The Diocese of Amritsar, Church of North India is a UCA partner. Click here to support our work in partnership with the global church.

Around the world and here in Australia, church leaders are active in the fight against conspiracy theories targeted at people of faith.

In Sydney, Rev Alimoni Taumoepeau who works for Uniting Mission and Education, says he worries that migrant communities are being influenced by views that vaccinations are a conspiracy to control populations, and that COVID-19 is part of God’s judgement on the world. Rev Alimoni, along with the incoming Moderator of the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church Rev Faaimata (Mata) Havea Hiliau, have been vocal about the importance of following health advice as an imperative of faith.

Further afield in Fiji, COVID-19 cases continue to climb and political unrest has destabilised the country even further. The Fiji Council of Churches is urgently conducting webinars and calling on the church and religious leaders to use Scripture and teaching to encourage their members to get vaccinated and adhere to COVID-19 regulations.Among all our partners, churches are using their extensive networks in hard-to-reach places to share credible information in the form of posters, radio broadcasts and through social media.

In the Solomon Islands, our church partners recently released a bold statement on COVID-19 vaccinations.

Many more of our partners across the Pacific, Asia and Africa have been stepping up to help communities better understand vaccinations, combat misinformation and give theological guidance about the pandemic.

The Pacific Theological College also recently published a COVID-19 Wellbeing Statement, ‘Rethinking Health from a Theological and Pasifika Cultural Perspective’.

Please keep praying for church leaders as they use their influence to help keep people safe.

The United Church in Solomon Islands (UCSI) released the below statement on COVID-19 vaccinations recently. We were encouraged by the faithfulness and wisdom shown by the UCSI leadership to guide people past fear and misinformation. Many more partners across the Pacific, Asia and Africa have been supporting national vaccine rollouts by asking their leaders to set an example and urging every eligible person to get vaccinated.

 

The Stand of the United Church in Solomon Islands on COVID19 Vaccination

The United Church in Solomon Islands has always taken a very positive and supportive stance of the view, policy and strategic actions of the present government regarding COVID19. When COVID19 became a global pandemic, and from the time the government declared a State of Emergency, the UCSI has been proactive and active in its advocacy and educational awareness efforts, utilising the wide reach of its presence and network. While church members were asked to pray fervently for God’s protection, they were also encouraged to listen to and obey instructions from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. The UCSI recognises the reality that COVID19 has crossed into our borders, and affirms the fact that all Solomon Islanders and expatriates who reside/work in our country are vulnerable.

“The United Church in Solomon Islands holds firmly to the truth that grounded faith and sound medical-scientific advice are not enemies!”

The United Church in Solomon Islands holds firmly to the truth that grounded faith and sound medical-scientific advice are not enemies! They are companions on the journey of and toward wellness and wholeness. The church believes that wisdom and knowledge are from God, including medical-scientifc discoveries and breakthroughs. In this light researches into, discoveries and development of COVID19 vaccines are manifestations of such knowledge and wisdom. They are answers to the prayers of all God’s people. Life is God’s gift, and all that affirms, saves, protects, nurtures and advances this one life is within God’s vision for life to thrive on Earth. Contrary to the many negatives that people say, vaccines – including COVID19 vaccines – are life forces within the vastness and depth of God’s immeasurable loving kindness and generosity, which science continues to tap and harness for the wellness and furtherance of human life.

Faith is vital to Christian life and living. Yet, without appropriate action, faith means nothing – it is dead! COVID19 is more a medical infliction than a crisis of faith! COVID19 is not about choosing between faith or taking the shot! It is about both faith and taking the vaccine shot! Taking the vaccine shot validates and actualises faith during these COVID19 times. Leaders of the UCSI who serve at the church headquarters have all been fully vaccinated. Many other church leaders and members have also received their two vaccine shots.

“Taking the vaccine shot is a duty of love for neighbour”

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is a Christian imperative! In COVID19 times, “your neighbour” includes infants and children and youths who are under 18 years old and, therefore, not eligible for the vaccine shot! Taking the vaccine shot is a duty of love for neighbour! “Do no harm. Do the right thing. Do the good thing.” Obviously, these are ethical wisdom from our cultural and traditional moorings. These are also ethical principles from our Christian heritage. Taking the vaccine shot is the best and wisest ethical choice anyone can make during COVID19 times. Emmanuel means “God with us”. This “God with us” is best told and seen when we demonstrate God’s protective, saving and healing presence to our families and communities by doing the right and good thing that does no harm to them – that is, by getting the COVID19 vaccine today!

-United Church in Solomon Islands
Assembly Office

Read the original press statement (PDF)

 

Photo: Reverend Dr. Cliff Bird, Adviser, United Church in Solomon Islands.
Credit: Natasha Holland

A Home for All – Renewing the Oikos of God

The Pacific Conference of Churches has invited members to celebrate the Season of Creation (1 Sept to 4 Oct 2021) by reflecting on our place in the oikos (home/household) of God and what it means to renew our relationship to a creation under threat.

The oikos is a home for all but it is now in danger because of greed, exploitation, disrespect, disconnection and systematic degradation. The whole creation is still crying out. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution the geography where we recognize God’s creative power has continued to shrink. Today only scraps of the human consciousness recognize God acting to restore and heal the Earth. We have forgotten that we live in the household of God, the oikos, the Beloved Community. Our fundamental interconnectedness has been at best forgotten, at worst deliberately denied.

It is our hope and prayer that we can become again this beloved community of intentional discipleship. We hope to move beyond the programmatic and didactic aspects of life to the prophetic and spiritual life to the action and way of life, which is shaped by Jesus.

May we be the champions to renew life, the servant leaders of all life in the Beloved Community, the oikos of God.

(Taken from the introduction to the Celebration Guide)

The PCC’s Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice team has provided a liturgy, activities and Sunday School Bible Studies to guide congregations through the season:

We encourage you to use the resources and journey with our Pacific friends and partners through the Season of Creation.

Thank you to the Pacific Conference of Churches and the Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice team for sharing these valuable resources.

 

Header photo: A sunset in the Solomon Islands by Alexander Baker