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Do you ever have days, even while you’re still in the middle of them, that you know will always stick with you? My first visit to a village in West Bengal, India, was one of those days.

My colleague Steph and I had driven three hours from the church office with our brilliant partners from the Diocese of Durgapur, through bustling market streets full of people and cows and very fresh butchers, past fields of corn and rice and cauliflower, and eventually along a long and bumpy dirt road to our first village visit of the day.

Before we even got out of the car, the welcome drums began. The pathway to the village was lined with beaming kids and their parents, clapping along as men and boys beat huge drums while women dressed in bright red and orange saris danced ahead of us. Kids began throwing handfuls of marigold petals over us (sometimes with a fairly abrupt whack in the face and giggles from all) and older women played seashells as trumpets. It was one of those moments you just try and drink everything in as quickly as you possibly can – the colours and sounds and sun beating down – but really there’s no way to absorb it all. All we could do was slowly shuffle along in the middle of it all, catching petals, clapping along and grinning back.

Once we made it to the village itself, after squirming a little during the impossibly generous foot-washing ceremonial welcome, the real purpose of our visit began. We were there to hear from women, men and children about what the Community Development Project, run by the Diocese of Durgapur and supported by UnitingWorld, really means. What difference is this making to you, in your everyday life? What has this meant for your community? What is life like here?

Answers were honest and direct. Life is hard, but this project is making a difference. Our children at the study centre are working hard and their grades are improving – they’re no longer at risk of dropping out of school and we’re not scared for them. This woman here (she is pointed out to us) was supported to apply for and access the old age pension, so she doesn’t have to work all day long in the forest gathering leaves anymore. Our community worker, from our village (he stands up), helped us get government grants to build houses and toilets and access to water sources for irrigation. The government health worker is visiting and we know how to stay healthy, how to keep our children well. Our women’s self-help groups (they raise their hands) have saved money this year, and have plans to start their own business.

Of course, life is still hard. The village is far from government services, seasons can no longer be relied upon, water has not reached everyone. But what struck me more than anything, and what we shared together that day, was the fierce sense of community in this place and determination to find solutions together. Even this project itself is not something that is ‘done to’ people here; it’s what they’re doing for themselves and what they’re supported to keep doing, day after day.  It’s just part of who they are – and it’s this determination and dogged effort that will change their futures.

This project is doing good: real, tangible, important things – and can do more. We left the village after dancing and drumming back to the car and went on to the next. And of course it wasn’t the only day like this I’ve had. But this really was one that stuck with me.  How we spend our days is our we spend our lives, and these days are well spent.

For just two more days you can make your donation to these projects up to six times more effective.  We need to raise $1 in supporter donations for every $5 we have access to in Government Funding for our Community Development Projects.  To see your gift multiplied to make a significant difference, please give now at here.

Laura McGilvray, among other roles with UnitingWorld, supports our partner the Church of North India.  She loves her work and wishes everyone had the opportunity to experience days like this one, seeing first hand the impact of long term planning, training and funding.

27 June 2016

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has called the people of the Uniting Church to pray for our Papuan brothers and sisters in Christ as the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua ‘GKI-TP’) lead their people through troubled times.

“We ask for congregations across Australia to hold our partners in prayer as they lead their church towards God’s justice, peace and reconciliation”, said Mr McMillan. Mr McMillan was responding to a letter written to the Uniting Church in Australia and other international partners. In the letter, our partner the GKI-TP has condemned the increasing levels of political tension in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, and has asked for prayers and assistance from its international partner churches.

The GKI-TP outlines four issues it believes must be addressed to reduce political tension and avoid conflict in Papua:

1. Freedom of expression: Throughout May, more than 2000 people were arrested and arbitrarily detained across Papua, including the mass arrest of more than 1700 people in Jayapura for publicly stating their political views and requesting a dialogue with the Indonesian Government. The GKI-TP calls for a commitment to peaceful dialogue, the lifting of media restrictions and respect for freedom of expression.
2. The monopolisation of their region’s natural resources by transnational companies keeping the wealth out of the hands of indigenous Papuans and denying them the opportunity to determine their own development.
3. Alleged human rights violations including assassination, torture, rape and kidnapping, particularly directed against peaceful activists. GKI-TP is calling on the government to resolve cases of human rights violations through the independent national Human Rights Commission (KOMNAS HAM).
4. Greater respect for the ongoing debate in Papua regarding the history of its integration into Indonesia. The GKI-TP requests that the expression of their political views not result in violent crackdowns and unlawful arrests.

“The Uniting Church celebrates Indonesia’s cultural diversity through our extensive church partnerships with Indonesian churches, and that diversity has enriched the life of UCA widely as many Indonesians have found their home in our Uniting Church,” said Mr McMillan.

“However, we are deeply troubled by the situation in Papua as expressed by our partner church.

“We express solidarity with GKI-TP, in its ministry of peace and reconciliation, and in its call for all Papuans to be granted an effective voice in determining their own futures.

National Director for UnitingWorld Mr Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church in Australia greatly valued the courage and commitment of its church partners in Papua.

“The GKI-TP provide wonderful ministry in Papua often under the most difficult circumstances.”

Echoing the concerns raised by GKI-TP, Mr Floyd said, “We call on the Indonesian Government and all parties to make a commitment to peaceful dialogue, an end to violence and a respect for freedom of expression.”

– 27 June 2016

Read More

Read Stuart McMillan’s response to GKI-TP President, Rev Alberth Yoku

UnitingWorld’s Rev Dr Ji Zhang has written a Prayer for the People in the Land of Papua on the blog

Briefing Paper on UCA relations with Papua – 23 June 2016

World Council of Churches declares solidarity with Tanah Papua (West Papua) -28 June 2016

Micah Australia is hosting a series of vigils across Australia in the month of June to pray for justice for our global community, guidance for Australia’s contribution to a world free from poverty, and to call for our nation to be a good neighbour in the community of nations. For more info on where to find a vigil near you – or how to host one, visit http://www.micahaustralia.org/vigils

UnitingWorld is a member of Micah Australia – a coalition of churches and Christian organisations raising a powerful voice for justice and a world free from poverty. Micah is endorsed by over 30 Christian agencies and mission groups as well as church denominations and individuals.

UnitingWorld is praying for Papua New Guinea and our thoughts are with our partners as student demonstrations and unrest continues today in Port Moresby and in other parts of the country.

People have been showing their support online using the hashtag #PrayForPNG

Yesterday police opened fire on students from the University of PNG as they attempted to march to the national parliament to present the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill with a petition. For more than a month, students have been boycotting classes and calling on the Prime Minister to stand down and answer corruption allegations.

The United Church in PNG has publically called for people to refrain from getting caught up in the violence and to pray for peace. Join us as we stand with our partners as they take leadership at this time.

“LORD our God, we bring this issue of Government Leadership in your hands. We believe that by faith, all leaders will look to you for guidance and wisdom as we prayerfully work towards solving the problem that has affected many including the students, teachers, institutions, companies, Government officials – civil servants and politicians, the Church members and the international community” – The United Church in PNG

UnitingWorld calls for an end to the violence, commitments to peaceful dialogue and a respect for the human right to peaceful assembly and association.

Read more:

Australian: Papua New Guinea in chaos as police open fire on students

Guardian: Papua New Guinea shootings: university wins injunction banning further protests

BBC: Papua New Guinea moves to block more student protests

Featured pic: Women mourning of the shootings at UPNG campus (Story) via Loop PNG

The International Coalition for Papua (ICP) has launched an urgent appeal to the United Nations in response to a series of unlawful mass arrests made by security forces during peaceful demonstrations across West Papua. Demonstrations have continued throughout May with several hundred more detained this week in Jayapura.

 


Their statement:

Photo credit: Jakarta Post

To the attention of:
Mr. Maina Kiai,
UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Mr. David Kaye
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Introduction

A record high of mass arrests including the use of torture and ill-treatment of peaceful political protesters related to political aspirations for West Papua1 took place in early May in different parts of Indonesia, mostly in West Papua. This urgent appeal provides updated information on growing tensions in West Papua, which have resulted in an increase of cases of arbitrary arrest and torture, as described in a previous urgent appeal on the torture and extrajudicial execution of Arnold Alua in Wamena on April 24/25, 2016, submitted by Franciscans International on May 3, 2016. We are writing to you on behalf of the International Coalition of Papua (ICP), Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), Franciscans International (FI), Westpapua-Netzwerk (WPN), VIVAT International-Indonesia, Geneva For Human Rights (GHR) – Global Training, Jubi Association, Sekretariat Keadilan, Perdamaian dan Keutuhan Ciptaan Fransiskan Papua (SKPKC Papua), Aliansi Demokrasi Untuk Papua (ALDP), Jaringan Kerja Rakyat Papua (JERAT Papua), Jaringan HAM Perempuan Papua (TIKI), Papua Customary Council (DAP), Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG – Indonesia) in relation to the unlawful arrests of at least 1,783 persons, mostly indigenous West Papuans, between 25 April and 2 May 2016.

West Papua, as one of the most isolated areas in the world, remains one of the last conflict regions within Indonesia. Local activists keep reporting cases of arbitrary arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings in West Papua. Most of the cases are committed by security forces – both police and military. The cases mirror the widespread impunity enjoyed by security forces and the lack of effective mechanisms to prosecute such perpetrators. In the last few months, political tensions in Papua have raised due to increasing popularity for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP – a political organisation of West Papua outside Indonesia) amongst many Papuans. ULMWP intends to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). In response, the Government of Indonesia increased their surveillance of the Indigenous West Papuans in order to suppress political expression in support of ULMWP.

The most recent arrests are related to peaceful mass protests in all major Papuan cities (Jayapura, Merauke, Fakfak, Sorong and Wamena) and several other cities, such as Makassar (South Sulawesi) and Semarang (Central Java Province). The demonstrations were held in support of the ULMWP to be recognized as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the commemoration of 1 May 1963 as Indonesia’s accession of West Papua, and to support the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) forum in London. United Kingdom, on May 3, 2016. Due to the high number of arrests, the names of all victims have not yet been obtained. Currently the names of 243 victims have already been obtained, while the documentation of further names is still in process (see Annex I).

LBH Jakarta released a report on the incidents, showing a total count of 1783 arbitrary arrests, stating that the information on 1,783 unlawful arrests has been verified and is consistent with its own telephone witness interviews. The report is based on testimonies collected on location by members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat KNPB), Papuan Students Alliance (Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua AMP) and United Liberation Movement for West Papua ULMWP. According to LBH Jakarta, in total, 1,735 people were unlawfully on 2 May 2016. The details are as follows: 1,449 people in Jayapura, 118 people in Merauke, 45 people in Semarang, 42 people in Makassar, 40 people in Fakfak, 27 people in Sorong and 14 people in Wamena2. The other arrests occurred prior to the demonstrations, when activists were registering demonstrations at the local police station or during distribution of leaflets.

Previously, on 15 April 2016, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) made a press statement condemning the reprisal against the members of KNPB. Within the 9 days the Indonesian security forces arrested at least 61 indigenous West Papua activists, including 15 activists in Timika on 5 April 2016, 5 activists in Yahukimo and 15 activists in Kaimana on 12 April 2016, 14 activists in Merauke, 3 activists in Sorong and 11 activists in Jayapura on 13 April 2016.

The unlawful mass arrests were accompanied by acts of intimidation and maltreatment of protesters during arrest and interrogation. In Jayapura, at least nine demonstrators and a journalist reported of being tortured by the Indonesian police officers. Violent acts against journalists also occurred in Fakfak. In both cities, the police obstructed journalists from conducting media coverage on the demonstrations. In Manado, North Sulawesi Province, the notification letter of the 2nd May demonstration was rejected by the North Sulawesi Police without any clear legal basis. (For a full chronology of events, see the entire ICP report here.)

We are deeply concerned about the increasing number of arbitrary arrests and torture of indigenous Papuan activists, peaceful protesters and journalists. The Government of Indonesia has severely limited the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of information in West Papua due to the growing number of supporters for the ULMWP. As a result, the role of the police in West Papua has shifted from an institution protecting the rights of people to an institution oppressing these freedoms through unlawful arrests, excessive use of force, torture, censorship and prohibition of demonstrations with political content.

Recommendations: 

We ask you to urge the Government of Indonesia:

  1. To ensure freedom of information, freedom of peaceful assembly freedom of expression and freedom of opinion in West Papua
  2. To open access to West Papua for international human rights organisations, journalists and international observers
  3. To develop and enforce policies that ensure the role of the police as a protector of the right to peaceful assembly and expression of political opinions
  4. To conduct human rights trainings for police institutions in Papua, focusing on the practical implementation of international human rights obligations for government agencies with regard to the freedom of information, freedom of peaceful assembly freedom of expression and freedom of opinion in West Papua
  5. Decide the dates of the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, as it was agreed, and allow other UN special rapporteurs to visit West Papua

This appeal was originally published by the International Coalition for Papua of which UnitingWorld is a member.

The ICP is a coalition of faith-based and civil society organisations that are concerned about human rights violations in West Papua and seek greater transparency and peaceful solutions to conflict.

Read more:
Al Jazeera: Mass arrests reported in Indonesia’s restive Papua
ABC: West Papua protest results in more than one thousand arrests in Indonesia
New York Times: Indonesia Detains Hundreds Demanding Release of Prisoners

A forum to open the way for secular and faith-based agencies and Churches to work collaboratively toward gender equality and the reduction of violence against women in the Pacific is being hosted by UnitingWorld in Suva from 12 to 13 May. The “Bridging the Gap Forum” is part of UnitingWorld’s Pacific-wide Partnering Women for Change Program, co-funded by the Australian government through the  Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.

According to UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser, “There are many agencies doing fantastic work in addressing gender inequality and violence against women across the Pacific. However at times there is a disconnect between the work of secular agencies and Churches. In a context such as the Pacific, this can hold back progress.” Secular human rights agencies such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and FemLINK will attend the Forum alongside faith-based organisations and Churches.

Rev Dr Cliff Bird, a prominent Pacific Theologian from the Solomon Islands and UnitingWorld’s Pacific Regional Coordinator, will deliver the Keynote Address. He highlights the need to bring together the different approaches of agencies working for human rights, noting in a context where up to 95% of people are Christian (with Fiji being at significantly lower percentage), there is not a strong understanding of human rights concepts, especially for the 60 to 80% of the population that live in isolated and rural parts of the Pacific.

Resources on gender-inclusive theology published by UnitingWorld

“On the one hand human rights are seen by many ordinary Oceanic peoples as foreign, making claims that are seen as overtly individualistic, unbiblical and unchristian,” says Rev Dr Cliff. “On the other hand, some human rights organisations and agencies see churches and religions in general in negative ways: harbouring church members who perpetrate violence against women and children; condoning, perhaps even justifying violations of human rights within the family, community and church settings, through acts of ‘forgive and forget’ for instance.” The Forum will make space to bring these viewpoints together while allowing women’s voices to be heard and to shape responses.

Ms Sheona McKenna, from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will open the forum on behalf of Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twomey. Ms McKenna noted ‘exploring the theology of gender is important because theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world. Theology is a key sphere where gender is explored and the voices of church leaders across the world are powerful in shaping social norms and practices.’

Ms Colleen Geyer, the first female General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia will also address the Forum. “Our understanding of all people as made in the image of God also recognises the importance of women in leadership, just as God’s grace is for all people. When we share in ministry and leadership, our shared gifts and skills contribute to a more whole community” says Ms Geyer.

UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program works with partner Churches and ecumenical networks to review traditional patriarchal views of the bible in favour of an inclusive and equality biblical framework, as well as working closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.

Dated: 9th May 2016
Contact: Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756
bronwynf@unitingworld.org.au

In a letter to Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea, the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed disappointment over sanctions and fines imposed on members of the National Council of Churches in (South) Korea (NCCK) after they participated in a dialogue encounter with representatives of the (North) Korean Christians Federation (KCF).

Penalties were imposed on Dr Noh Jungsun, Rev. Jeon Yongho, Rev. Cho Hungjung, Rev. Han Giyang and Rev. Shin Seungmin, all representatives of the NCCK Peace and Reunification Committee, who participated in a meeting with the KCF leadership in Shenyang, China, on 28-29 February this year.

In the letter, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit recalled that the WCC has been actively engaged in promoting peace, reconciliation and reunification on the Korean peninsula for more than 30 years.

“Through such national, regional and international ecumenical commitment and cooperation, the ecumenical movement seeks to witness to the peace of Jesus Christ and to make visible the unity of the Church in a divided and conflicted world,” he wrote.

Tveit referred to the recent escalation of tensions and confrontation on the Korean peninsula, and stressed that “It is especially in this situation that encounter and dialogue is even more urgently needed.” With regard to the fines imposed on the members of the NCCK delegation, he expressed a critical standpoint:

“We do not believe that penalizing encounter and dialogue between South Korean and North Korean Christians is a necessary or effective measure for reducing tensions and advancing the cause of peace; on the contrary. Moreover, such a measure impedes and undermines the longstanding inter-church relationship on the Korean peninsula that the WCC has sought to encourage over more than three decades.”

Tveit called on the South Korean government to revoke the penalties, and appealed to President Park “not to close channels of communication and encounter, but to intensify efforts to promote dialogue at all levels.”

Expressing the hope that “the cycle of threat and counter-threat can be broken, before the threshold to catastrophic conflict is one day crossed”, Tveit asked for President Park’s leadership “away from this precipice, towards peaceful co-existence and an end to the suspended state of war.”

Article originally published by the World Council of Churches (WCC) of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

It is with great distress that the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has been receiving disturbing news about the violent response and firing of bullets by Police on 6,000 farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, a southern island of Mindanao, on 1 April. It is unfortunate that the legitimate rights of poor farmers, who are demanding appropriate action by the government to provide assistance to the sustenance of farmers in the drought ravaged area, are being ignored. We understand from reliable sources that at least three persons were killed and hundreds of people were wounded while the police opened fire against the protesting farmers, who were insisting for a dialogue with the Governor of the Province, and for 15,000 sacks of rice that were previously promised to them.

It was during the firing against the protestors that the farmers sought refuge in Scottswood Methodist Centre and took sanctuary in the Methodist Church compound. We are deeply disappointed that the Governor’s office has threatened Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco for harboring protestors, and the United Methodist Church with legal action in the form of revoking their legal permit.

The Christian Conference of Asia extends solidarity and prayers to the members and leadership of the United Methodist Church in their continuing protection of some 3,000 farmers and tribal leaders, who were faced with bullets fired on them by the Philippine National Police on 1 April 2016.

While CCA condemns this violent response to the protesting farmers, we applaud the efforts of the United Methodist Church in their perseverance in sheltering the farmers and tribal leaders as they continue their struggle for rightful sustenance. It is a known factor that the lumad farmers in the area have been continuously faced with discrimination and persecution. There is no justification for violent oppression as response to the legitimate demands of farmers for their right to food and livelihood.

On behalf of CCA, I convey our prayerful regards to Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and express our solidarity with the United Methodist Church at this time of their travail. We join hands with those who are struggling for basic human rights and justice, and urge the government and provincial authorities to provide adequate provisions and security to the farmers, who are legitimately registering their concerns. We pray and hope that peace with justice will prevail in the area and rights and dignities of the persecuted farmers involved in the struggle will be upheld. We appreciate the commitment of those who are demonstrating the values of the love of Jesus Christ and the biblical spirit of compassion, as has been shown by the United Methodist Church in sheltering the wounded and unprotected: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary

Letter originally published by The Christian Conference of Asia of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

National Council of Churches in Pakistan
Church of Pakistan
Presbyterian Church of Pakistan

Respected church and ecumenical leaders in Pakistan,

We are deeply shocked and saddened to receive the news of a suicide bomber killing more than 70 people and injuring more than 300 others at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on the Easter Sunday. We learnt from some of you that the deadly suicide attack on Easter evening caused untold sufferings for many people while several families from predominantly Christian settlements in Youhanabad and Bahar Colony areas were spending time with their children in the park on Easter services in churches.

Candlelight vigil in India for the victims of the bombing in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore

 

It is unfortunate that sectarian violence and blatant terrorism continuously takes place in Pakistani society due to the widespread of religious hatred. Such cowardly actions in fact destroy the very core of the social fabric and communal harmony in the country. The recent attack on innocent people, affecting mostly children and women, is a heinous crime. The increasing trend of attacks against innocent people raises questions over the security measures by the government to protect the lives of its citizens. It is our sincere appeal to the government of Pakistan not to allow these savage inhuman actions to over-run the lives of people who have every right to live in peace, security and freedom of movement.

The Christian Conference of Asia is concerned about the plight of the minority Christians in Pakistan, who are constantly faced with deadly attacks but the perpetrators continue with impunity. In fact, we are also reminded now of the suicide attacks carried out in 2013 at All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding hundreds as well as other suicide bombings at two churches in Youhanabad area in March 2015. These incidents are clear indications of the vulnerable situations in which Christians in Pakistan are forced to live. While we express our solidarity with you all at this time of grief and ordeal, we send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those loved ones killed and injured during the blast. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people and communities affected with this tragedy. Please convey our profound sorrow and condolences to the bereaved families and the injured.

The CCA will also hasten to assure the people of Pakistan that the Christians are nurtured on the best practices of peace and harmony and the values of fairness, justice and unconditional love. We urge all member churches and councils of CCA to pray for the comfort and solace of numerous victims irrespective of their religion or faith.

Yours along the journey.

Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary, CCA

Letter originally published by The Christian Conference of Asia of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member