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Author: UnitingWorld

Thank you to everyone who has so generously given to support our friends in Tonga as they recover from Cyclone Gita. Below is a letter we received from the President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahi, expressing his heartfelt gratitude.  You can donate here to support the ongoing recovery efforts.

 

6 March 2018

Stuart McMillan
President of the Uniting Church in Australia

Dear Mr McMillan,

Apologies for the late response to your letter of love and prayers, but have only just had computer access due to power failures. Electricity has been on and off almost every day since cyclone Gita visited Tonga.

On behalf of the Methodist Church in Tonga (a.k.a. Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), I thank you for the expression of your love, prayers and donation of gifts for the rebuilding of the Church and its people life on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia. Your expressions of love, prayers and partnership with us in this time of bringing life to normal mean so much as you remind us that we do not battle alone. We have partners and supporters like you who are holding the ropes for us and thereby having a direct share in our Church ministry. You are graciously willing to share with us in this practical way and we are already feeling the benefit that your love, prayers and gifts are bringing to our life.

Please continue to pray for us in this time. No doubt we will have many battles ahead in trying to restore Church people emotions and faith that have been lost in this devastating cyclone. We believe as you pray for us we will be able to stand strong in the power of His Might to resist the enemy of doubts and worries and to encourage people to enter into the victory that is ours in Christ. “ Fear not, for I am with you, says the Lord”. My Wife Loukinikini and the family join me in thanking you that you still remember us.

With love and prayers,
Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahio
President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

See original letter here

Yesterday, a team of 11 senior pastors in the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan left for Scotland where they will be trained in peace mediation training workshops by the Church of Scotland. The aim is to equip these senior pastors to be peace mediators in peacebuilding and trauma healing programs across South Sudan. Drawing on the strength and support from their partners across the globe, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) is applying news skills and knowledge throughout all of their peacebuilding programming. Tools from this training will directly support peacebuilding and trauma healing workshops supported by UnitingWorld.

I travelled with my family as part of an Exposure trip through UnitingWorld to Fiji. One of the most meaningful experiences for me was going by speedboat to the island Ovalau, significantly damaged by Cyclone Winston in February of 2016.

Talking to our guide James Baghwan, we came to understand that the majority of the people on the island barely had the means to provide for their family’s basic needs. They don’t have the capability to move somewhere else, even to the main island, where they would be better equipped during times of cyclones. Even if they did, most are living on the land that their ancestors did, and so have significant cultural and historical ties to the land, which provides them with a sense of identity.

Cyclone Winston was expected to completely miss the island, and so the people were unprepared. You can imagine the chaos, panic, and terror they would have experienced in the mad rush to secure what little they had with heavy materials and find a place where they might be safe. The damage was strong enough to beach a ship, lift up and move water tanks as well as destroy houses and buildings.

James told me people would probably have run up the mountain and lay on one of the ringing roads, holding onto whoever or whatever they could. They would have stayed like this for many hours, desperately hoping and praying that they wouldn’t be blown away or hit by debris, all the while listening to the terrifying sounds of everything they knew being ripped violently apart.

We can only begin to imagine the fear, panic and desperation they would feel and how psychologically damaging this would be. Their whole lives dictated by this fear, trapped in this cycle of working to repair what is lost only to see it destroyed the next time and have to begin again.

This fear would only be intensified by the threat that global warming places on them – of bigger, more powerful, more unpredictable cyclones. Add to this the sheer frustration they must feel watching the powers of the world – who could do something to help them or to help prevent global warming – yet who debate that it exists.

After this conversation, I began to wonder: in the midst of all of this, how do people on that island find true peace and happiness, when they are under such threat and have so little? And the people that we met did seem happy and were welcoming.

And it reminded me of a Bible passage from Matthew 6:19-24: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Thanks to sixteen year old Hannah for allowing us to share her reflection with you.

If you’re keen to find out more about what the Pacific church is doing to protect against cyclones and how they’re working to save lives in disaster, read more about the project or make a donation here.

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

‘And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.’ Colossians 3:15
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of reflection regarding the suffering, death, and resurrection of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also time for self-examination and reflection, for us to redirect and rededicate our attention and action, prayerfully, to the most crying needs in our society.
Let us heed Pope Francis’s call to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan the Democratic Republic of Congo, to be held on 23 February, in the first week of Lent according to the Gregorian calendar. Let us join in prayer and fasting, as part of the global ecumenical movement in light of the ongoing social- political tension, violence, and the suffering of the affected peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
In the DRC, 4.3 million people are displaced throughout the country and 13.1 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country this year.
In South Sudan, 2 million people have fled the young nation as refugees and about 1.9 million people are internally displaced, over the past four years of conflict- with 7 million people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance.
Children, young men, and women have been among the most affected. Millions of women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence in these crisis-affected areas.
The churches and communities are dedicated and present in these communities, accompanying the affected people through these challenging times. We acknowledge the courageous and hopeful work that carries on each day to serve the people in need. May the prayers of all Christians on 23 February for the gift of peace be a sign of solidarity and closeness to those suffering in South Sudan and DRC.

May God bless you and your ministry during this season of Lent,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary

See Original Prayer

In the mountains of Bali, where it is cool, 5 groups of people in a small community are working to breed goats provided through income generating opportunities by our partners MBM. More than 30% of people in the community are poor. Only 50% of children progress further than elementary school study and 20% of children do not even finish elementary. Up to 10% of the population is illiterate. Access to water and Sanitation is poor and 25% of the community still practice open defecation. MBM is working with the farmers to support them to increase their incomes and change some of these poverty outcomes. The poo from the goats they farm is sold to another MBM project and used as manure to help produce coffee. MBM and our partner church in Bali then purchase the coffee for their staff and congregations, supporting the production of coffee and in turn the farmers working with goats. 59 people benefitted from the Goats’ Poo project in 2016‐17, representing 59 families.

For two years now, a passionate team in Papua New Guinea has been trialing a new, innovative campaign to raise awareness about health and sanitation and the importance of washing hands with soap. In rural PNG, water and sanitation levels are low, open defecation is common practice, and women and girls and people with disability are particularly vulnerable to water‐borne diseases. Therefore, in the participatory design of the project, handwashing with soap by mothers was selected as the main behaviour change to focus on. Community enablers based within three communities across the province have been trained to conduct a 4‐week campaign in their village. The campaign involves awareness about health and hygiene practices, a call to action, motivational posters emphasising the qualities of a “Rait Mama” and “Rait times” to wash hands, and fun drama activities to reinforce the learning. The campaign promotes behaviour change at the personal, household, community and institutional level. One woman from East Paneati proudly showed us the new handwashing bowl that her husband had made for them both to use. When the announcement was made in church, about everyone having a handwashing facility at their home, she and her husband were immediately on board. “I felt that this thing is very important as I was one of the victims to this diarrhoea once. So, I almost died, anyway, but luckily they rushed me to the hospital. So, it’s important that we have to do this. When she came and told us, we said ‘yes, we must do it’”. The project has also made an effort to include people with disabilities in community decision making, and in the practical training. Josephine Kombul, Behaviour Change Coordinator for the “Rait Mama” campaign, told us that dysentery and water‐borne diseases are decreasing, as reported by the local nurse.

High up in the Indian Himalayas, in a small village of mostly farming families, a busy school day begins. Students leave their homes and walk the short distance to newly built classrooms for their first lessons of the day. They are taught by young, local teachers, enthusiastic to see improvements in their classes and their own teaching practice, encouraging students to excel in all areas of learning.Until just a few years ago, going to school was a very different experience for many children in this remote community.

With no school nearby, children would have to walk four hours each way to attend the nearest school, often on isolated mountain trails, a journey made largely impossible during monsoon season. For many parents the risk was too great, especially for their daughters; many children dropped out of school altogether, losing the opportunity for education for another generation and raising the very real risk of human trafficking.

With the support of UnitingWorld, the Church of North India, Diocese of Eastern Himalayas responded to this need by establishing a local school in this remote region. The school began in February 2015 with its first cohort of 63 Year 5, 6 and 7 students. Steadily growing each year, there are currently 150 students attending the school from Years 5 to 9.This access to local education has been life-changing for these students and their families. Young people in the area are now better equipped for future employment and livelihoods, parents no longer fear for their children’s safety and local communities are filled with hope for their future.

In 2015, the Community Development Programme (CDP) in Sarenga had organised a skills training seminar to train the local youth in repairing drinking water pumps. After receiving this training Marshall Tudu repaired the pumps in his village, thus, solving the drinking water crisis that the village had been facing for a long time. The happy villagers collected Rs. 300INR to pay Tudu for his services. This was the beginning of a new opportunity for Marshal, who so far had been limited to only seasonal farming. He decided to further hone his skills and become a professional water pump repairman. He soon started receiving work from neighbouring villages too after they heard of his skills; in this way he earned Rs. 2500INR at the end of 2015 by repairing eight water pumps in five neighbouring villages. With the extra income, he could support his family better and invest in a toolkit. In the span of a year, from 2016 to June 2017, Marshall has repaired over 14 pumps in 7 villages and earned around Rs. 4200 INR and used this extra income to invest in his farm. “I believe it would have been impossible for me to take care of my family if CDP hadn’t provided me with this training. People now call me “mistri” (repairman) and it makes me feel so proud, when I hear it because it just tells me how valued I am in my community”.

Two weeks before Christmas, on a sweltering summer’s day in Juba, 68 lay leaders and ministers from across South Sudan gathered to talk about peace and forgiveness. Finding inspiration from Matthew 18:21-22, the workshop focused on reconciliation and trauma healing. “According to scripture, forgiveness is limitless, compulsory, and two-way. It releases our hearts from sin. Repentance is the key to forgiveness,” explained the Rt Rev Peter Gai Lual Marrow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS). Operating in a context where violence and tribalism reign, PCOSS are working day in and day out to preach a message of peace and reconciliation.

Women and men, both lay and ordained, came together for five days to learn about forgiveness and reconciliation, peacebuilding, human rights and justice, conflict resolution, and trauma healing, using a faith-based and multicultural approach. Equipped with the knowledge and tools that they gained at the workshop, each participant has returned to their home church and community to share what they’ve learned.Achieving peace in South Sudan isn’t an easy task.

Our partners believe that the church can act as a tool for unification and peacebuilding among faith communities and communities at large. Their goal is to prepare church leaders for their role in the peacebuilding process by equipping them with the practical skills and knowledge they require alongside a renewed and strengthened faith in their role in God’s mission for peace.

In September 2016, UnitingWorld facilitated a workshop with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) on Gender Equality through Theology. The theological teaching was facilitated by Rev Dr Cliff Bird, a prominent Pacific theologian and UnitingWorld Regional Coordinator, as well as Cliff’s wife, Mrs Siera Bird. Both Cliff and Siera equally led the teaching, modelling the theology as they stood side by side. The workshop was coordinated by Elder Martha, the PCV Gender Project Officer. Elder Martha’s husband is a local ‘big man’ in his village; a village leader with local power, authority and respect. Elder Martha’s husband attended the workshop as well, working in the kitchen providing the food and refreshments for the participants – traditionally women’s work. This change in roles had a strong impact on all the participants. After attending the workshop, one of the participants decided to put the theology they were learning into action. He got up early one morning, even before his wife and prepared the breakfast for his wife and family. This was the very first time he had ever done this. He had always seen it as his wife’s role to serve him. He served his wife breakfast and gave her the double share, usually reserved for him as the ‘head of the house’. During the workshop that day he reported that he had done this as he now recognised that his wife was equal to him in God’s eyes but had not been treated as so in the home. His wife then stood beside him and shared how this seemingly simple action represented for her, a revolutionary change.What may seem like a very small thing can herald hope and the promise of transformation for women in the Pacific. It’s not just theology, it is a mandate for action and even the smallest actions have impact.