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2024 Easter Message from the Principal of the Pacific Theological College, Rev Dr Upolu Lumā Vaai

‘Mutual Expansive Love and the Victims of Forsakenness?’

In 2022, I shared an Easter message about the victims of forsakenness and hope draped in remembrance. It was a message in response to the victims of the Covid19 pandemic and in particular those still trapped in continued suffering. Today, it seems the wars, the violence and abuses have intensified the unkindness towards the victims of forsakenness around the world. We thought we have moved on, three years later, many are still stuck in the unbearable period of forsakenness, their minds trapped in graphic images of the wounded and dead bodies. These victims are immersed in an unbearable pause between death and life, unable to really see and experience what resurrection feels like.

This time of the year, Christians around the world recite this familiar cry of Jesus, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46). Today this familiar cry is heard around the world from ordinary Palestinians since the Israel/Palestine war began. Today the blood of thousands of innocent Palestinian children covers the Gaza strip, bodies freshly pulled out of the concrete and metal rubbles heaped up by the continuous bombing by Israeli military forces. On the 13th of this month of March, the updated statistics by the United Nations of Geneva website reported that more than 14,000 of the 32,000 people killed to date by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were children. This is a whole island population wiped out if it was a Pacific island. Only a few accounted names from ages zero to 17 are listed by Aljazeera website. That’s almost 50% of those killed. And more than 200 of this number didn’t reach their first birthdays. According to Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of the UN Relief and Works Agency, “12,300 children have died in the enclave in the last four months, compared with 12,193 globally between 2019 and 2022.” Unfortunately, “this war is a war on children…it is a war on their childrenhood and their future.”

These figures do not count more than 73,000 Palestinians injured. Israel also had casualties of 247 soldiers killed with 1,475 injured. These soldiers are also victims of a belligerent system. And then there are those who starve to death. The starvation of children is a hallmark of genocide. A war tactic to obliterate the future of a nation. The failure of the United Nations to bring an end to this unimaginable brutality speaks volumes of a values fluster and the breakdown of a life-centred moral compass to care for what Jesus called, the “least of these.”

One could ask, where is the Christian church in all of this? Last Sunday many Christians celebrated the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. But before that, Jesus cried over the future destruction of Jerusalem by external forces. It seems that any genocide and military destruction is a reason for Jesus’ tears. Some questions to think about: Is it right to worship a God who sanctions a war waged against the innocent? It is right to declare to be true our confessional belief to “love your enemy” while silently nodding in agreement to a war that killed thousands of children? If Christianity came through a history of persecution, is it just to endorse it again?

The recent International Women’s Day ecumenical worship in Suva, Fiji, that focussed on prayers in solidarity with Palestinian women victimized by this Israel/Palestinian war was a classic example. When it was time to pray for victims in particular the Palestinian women, some so-called Christians walked out in disagreement. Perhaps Christians today are more concerned with right and left political and religious extremes that we no longer mourn the severe distortions to life caused by our silence. We no longer feel that war is wrong and state-sanctioned killing is a sin as long as we stay true to our personal truths. Today, those who fight for justice for the victims of this very war are either brushed aside or deemed to be “leading a rebellion” (26:55).

The gospel of Matthew (chapters 26-28) invites us not only to learn Jesus’ siding with the victims of any unjust system, but also to caution us not to repeat to others the same persecutive and violent mistake. In the story, the voice of the forsaken (Jesus) is drowned by the sounds of debates between religious and political leaders, the sounds of violence; the stripping, the mocking, the spitting, including the echoes of being “struck on the head again and again” and “divided up his clothes” (27:28-35) incurred by the powerful and those who work for them.

The same feeling of forsakenness is experienced by our sisters and brothers in West Papua. Just last month in February, a footage of a West Papuan man was widely shared on social media, sitting in a 44-gallon barrel filled with bloodied water being repeatedly cut at the back with a knife, punched, elbowed, hit with sticks and kicked by Indonesian military as he sits without resistance. For decades, West Papuans have “cried out in a loud voice” regarding state-sanctioned killings, human rights abuses, ecological exploitation, and systemic violence by Indonesian military only to be forsaken not only by the UN, but also by many Christians. Forsakenness is deepened when our future, which is meant to be decided by us, is decided by a powerful Pilate or a Caiaphas in a palace somewhere. Hence is the story of West Papuans, Palestinians, and many countries still under colonial control.

Interestingly, the loud cry of Jesus’ forsakenness was not enough to turn heads until Earth (through an earthquake) took over and became the voice of the victim (27:51), capturing the attention of many including the highest-ranking military officer who confessed “he is the son of God” (27:54). A reminder of what Jesus said, “if these people do not speak, these very stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).

This Easter, I invite us not just to remember in prayers but also to act in deep solidarity with the many victims of forsakenness of the Israel/Palestinian war and also many others. Commemorating this Easter without remembering the Palestinians (or Jewish victims of war) is just faith without love. Easter begins with an unreserved response to the question, do we remember the victims of forsakenness behind the façade of disregard, or do we only disregard them behind the façade of remembrance? It is an invitation to put our hopes again in the memory of God’s mutual expansive love that liberated us ‘with all that is God’. Through this mutual expansive love, we shift the crucifixion narrative from making our children recipients of an undeserved death, “his blood is on us and on our children” (27:25) into making them recipients of unreserved grace. God’s creation gives us pointers to this mutual expansive love that we are moving to celebrate this Easter. Rivers don’t drink their own water, to cite Pope Frances. The rain doesn’t drink its own drops. Plants don’t harvest their own fruits. Bees don’t eat their own honey. Mountains don’t give credits to their own heights. Oceans don’t consume their own fish. Mutual expansive love is about expanding others in our walk while others walk with us in their expansion.

At the resurrection morning, the women expanded their love to include Jesus, the forsaken victim who died at the hands of an unjust system. They remembered where Jesus was buried. They remembered his face. They remembered to worship him. They remembered the way to run back home from the tomb. They remembered to be joyful in the midst of nervousness. The disciples remembered to assemble again as a family for one last time to meet this forsaken victim in a mountain in Galilee. Thus, the resurrection ushers in a new community based on the audacity to remember. A remembrance that is guided by God’s mutual expansive love. This love should give us courage to break down walls, to bind the wounds of the forsaken, carry crosses for the crucified, to roll stones from tombs, to produce arsenals of hope, and to dream change.

Manuia le Eseta!

Rev. Dr. Upolu Luma Vaai
Principal, Pacific Theological College
26 March 2024

Republished with permission.
Download as a PDF

UnitingWorld partners with the Pacific Theological College for the Women in Ministry project.

Happy International Women’s Day!  

The theme this year is a great one: Invest in women: Accelerate progress! 

Women’s empowerment and education in places where they are excluded or marginalised has long been a pillar of global development, but lesser known are the climate benefits. 

Women make up a large proportion of the agricultural sector and produce up to 80% of the food in developing countries. When climate disasters hit, women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts and they’re typically already held back by pre-existing socioeconomic disparities.  

Women are also at the forefront of climate action and are key players in sustainable development the world over. By investing in women as early as possible and ensuring their full participation, we can hear their wisdom, follow their lead and make powerful change.  

What about us in the church?  

Our church is blessed to have so many formidable and bold women leading the way in faith and justice, both in Australia and among our partners overseas.  

Here are three women we’ve been investing in! 

Rev Geraldine
Methodist Church in Fiji

Rev Geraldine from Rotuma in Fiji is an Old Testament theologian who is passionate about her community and culture. She is currently completing her PhD in theology, which was enabled through a scholarship funded by UnitingWorld supporters (thank you!)

Rev Geraldine is a strong advocate for theological education and the inclusion and leadership of women for a stronger, more vibrant church.

“We as leaders need to give space for all people to speak. Not just for scholars, but people in the community. They are living the impacts of climate change and the social issues we need to know about to direct the priorities of the church and its theology,” she says.

On climate action, she said, “the world I want to see is one where … humanity respects creation, animals and trees, because there is life in them; and where there is kindness, caring and loving. Because I see God in that world.”


Rev Jeny Mahupale 
Protestant Church of Maluku (GPM) 

Rev Jeny (right) is the Project Coordinator of an initiative launched last year, working across six villages to teach and equip people to build and maintain productive kitchen gardens to grow their own food.  

Thanks to UnitingWorld supporters, GPM could access the resources needed to roll out the project in some pilot locations and is now expanding across the villages. Rev Jeny’s team has even been running popular workshops to show communities how to make their own organic fertilisers!  

Rev Jeny is also passionate about peacebuilding (she has been recognised by the United Nations for her work) and a central part of the project is to outreach to Muslim communities to build peace and greater understanding of God’s love for all creation. 

She and her team recently gave away 1,000 tree and plant seedlings in a single day as an outreach of the church, and to build awareness about the kitchen gardens project. 

“Please, as humans, let’s work together for saving the earth – saving our children’s future. Thank you so much for all your support for UnitingWorld and for us in the east part of Indonesia. One plant you give, one vegetable seed you share, is same as you share your breath for other people and nature. Thank You. big hug from Ambon-Maluku, East Indonesia.” 

Sophia Lakra,
Church of North India – Diocese of Durgapur 

Sophia is a Program Facilitator for the Community Development Program we support in Durgapur, North India, and is passionate about expanding education access for those who are traditionally marginalised because of poverty, gender or caste.  

During the pandemic, she kept her school’s vacation program going safely by organising a virtual summer camp! Engaging the children’s creativity kept the children connected throughout the holidays during an isolating time. 

“I want to see a world where all children can access education, and all the children who come to our programs are hopeful for a better future. One way to do it is by making children and all people aware of how to take care of the environment. We can plant trees, save water, take care of plants, animals, birds…,” she said recently.


Lent Event is inspired by a simple but powerful idea. That every one of us has a role to play in building a world free from poverty and injustice.

It’s especially true of the issue of climate change.

Climate change is worsening every threat to peace, security and human wellbeing in our world.

It’s going to take all of us, doing all we can, with all our hearts, to fight it.

We believe people of faith have a powerful role to play in taking meaningful climate action, as well as inspiring hope and courage to face the future.

Join us for Lent Event. 14 February – 28 March, 2024

Commit to 40 days of faithful action for God’s creation. Start wherever you’re at with a large or small sustainability challenge. Use it to fundraise to help vulnerable communities who are fighting to build resilience and mitigate climate impacts. Raise your voice.

Along the way, we’ll be considering the role of faith in caring for God’s creation through a series of short devotions and video interviews with our partners and theologians.

Here’s a little pitch video with the help from some of our partners sharing the world we want to see…

Sign up today and start inspiring others to join! www.lentevent.com.au

The second annual Pacific Australian Emerging Leaders’ Summit (PAELS) took place in December.

More than 70 young Christian leaders from across the Pacific and Australia came together for connection-building, leadership development and dialogue over a week-long program, coordinated by Micah Australia*.

As part of the program, delegates were hosted for worship services at Blacktown Regional Uniting Church and Campbelltown Uniting Church.

At Blacktown Uniting, President Elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Charissa Suli, gave a sermon that encouraged the young delegates to boldly share their stories and their authentic selves.

“Your advocacy and voices are critical in shaping a future where the dignity of all human life and God’s creation is recognised and celebrated,” she told them.

Delegates went on to two days of advocacy training and a day of meetings with more than 50 members of Parliament in Canberra, where they discussed key development priorities for young people and their communities.

Raúl Sugunananthan, Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly was one of those leaders. He spoke to us at Parliament House about the importance of community organising and political advocacy to make change. Watch what he shared below.

*UnitingWorld is a member of Micah Australia, a movement of Australian Christians to advocate on the most urgent global justice issues facing our world today – extreme poverty, rising conflict and climate change.

UnitingWorld’s Annual Report 2023 is now available.

We’re blessed to be a part of a powerful network of people and organisations working together to make sustainable progress to end poverty in our world.

In an era of deepening crises and rapid transitions, UnitingWorld faithfully continues the work of partnering with churches in the Pacific, Asia and Africa. This work enables many to live with dignity and hope, and to realise their God-given potential in their communities.

The work of UnitingWorld is sustained by the love, prayers, and generosity of our supporters across Australia. Our donors have stood with us, funding our long-term programs, and digging deep to support emergency appeals.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of our supporters and determination of our partners, in FY23 we reached 257,502 people with tangible benefits, across 27 projects in 12 countries with 22 partners. Our projects addressed poverty, gender equality and climate resilience, and supported stronger governance and management.

Thank you so much!

You can read more about your impact. Click here to read or download.

Wish your loved ones the hope, peace, joy and love of Christmas.

Sending our Christmas cards to your friends, family and loved ones is a great way to fight poverty, build hope and inspire others about the work of our overseas partners.

$15 for a pack of eight cards, with two of each design, and eight recycled paper envelopes. Each card design reflects a traditional Advent theme.

Order while stocks last!

Click here to order online

or call 1800 998 122 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

✅ Christmas greetings to your loved ones

✅ Send joy to the world

Fight poverty!

Christmas card sales represent a donation to UnitingWorld and are tax deductible in Australia.


New Everything in Common Catalogue 2023

Every Christmas, we release a catalogue of gifts that represent many of our projects with overseas partners. It’s called Everything in Common.

In it you can find great poverty-fighting gifts like goats, pigs, clean water, education and livelihood opportunities, as well as gifts that support gender equality and care for creation.

Shop online today!


Everything in Common is UnitingWorld’s gift catalogue, filled with gifts that fight poverty through health, education, leadership and income opportunities.

When people give Everything in Common gifts, it directly supports our projects helping people lead lives of dignity and hope.

You can help us make a big difference by becoming an Everything in Common Advocate and hosting a gift stall in your church, school or community group in the lead up to Christmas this year.

We’ll send you everything you need to help your community make a big difference.

Register Now: www.unitingworld.org.au/everythingincommon

Or for more information, reach out on 1800 998 122
or email Mardi at mardil@unitingworld.org.au

Since 2004, the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) have worked in partnership with PNG’s seven mainline churches and their respective Australian partners to promote ‘holistic, inclusive, and sustainable development’ under the Church Partnership Program (CPP).

UnitingWorld and our partner, the the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), have been part of the CPP since its beginning. It is now one of the longest ongoing projects of Australia’s aid program. The CPP supports churches to improve their capacity to deliver crucial health and education services, especially in rural and remote areas, as well as a broad range of activities in support of gender equality and social inclusion, peace and prosperity, and disaster risk reduction.

In 2004 it was acknowledged that half the health and education services in PNG were run by churches and church-based agencies. Today it’s closer to 70 percent!

As a result, the CPP’s new phase aims to shift the emphasis from a service delivery model to a social accountability model, recognising that the PNG government needs to be held responsible and that it needs to have the capacity to deliver vital services to its people.

“The new focus of the CPP is about empowering civil society to hold their government to account to provide the country’s health and education services,” said UnitingWorld Head of Programs Peter Keegan. “To do that requires the kind of broad-based collaboration that already exists between churches via the CPP.”

Peter joined other CPP member churches in Port Moresby recently for a two-day forum to “Rethink development in PNG through theological principles and effective governance”.

Speaking at the forum, the Australian High  Commissioner to Papua New Guinea Jon Philp reflected: “Church networks and activities are often seen as a lifeline for the country’s most remote and disadvantaged communities, and they are equally important to PNG’s growing urban population. The success of the Church Partnership Program relies on the reach and impact of this network, along with the collective commitment of the churches, government, the private sector, civil society, and other partners.”

United Church in PNG leading the way on gender equality and social inclusion

One of the remarkable successes of the CPP is that through the partnership, despite each of the seven church denominations in PNG having very different theological and organisational cultures and traditions, they are working together to change lives.

UCPNG is the lead agency on Gender Equality Theology and social inclusion within the CPP and is determined to keep this central to their church’s mission.

As PNG remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or girl, the task of shifting cultures of men’s violence is a huge, long-term challenge.

The CPP has a critical role to play. Representing 71 percent of the country’s Christian population, CPP member churches wield enormous social influence.

The current phase of the project aims to better leverage the influence of church leaders and increase the community outreach of churches to shift negative gender and social attitudes that are commonly held in PNG towards women, people with disabilities and other socially excluded groups.

Working with media partners, churches will be helped to develop media engagement strategies that enable them to engage multiple forms of media (print, radio, digital) more effectively to maximize the reach and influence of messages of gender equality and anti-violence.

The CPP will also be tracking changes to community attitudes to be able to demonstrate the impact. We’re excited to see the results!

Please pray for the vital mission of the Church Partnership Program as it enters its 20th year of faithful collaboration to improve lives and communities.

For more details on the new phase of the CPP in Papua New Guinea, visit www.unitingworld.org.au/projects/church-partnership-program


Photos: UCPNG staff at a recent workshop and talanoa on the impacts of gender-based violence in PNG.


The Church Partnership Program is supported by the Australian Government
through the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.

Reverend Jeny Mahupale is the Project Manager of the livelihoods and peacebuilding project we support in partnership with the Protestant Church of Maluku (GPM). She wrote this letter to partners in Australia about her team’s work to help families across six villages be able to start their own gardens and build local food security.

Dear friends,

Greetings from beautiful Maluku!

We often tell each other here that Maluku is filled with the ‘grace of God’. There is an abundance of beauty and natural resources, people are kind and hospitable and have a strong sense of local wisdom.

The main challenges here are poverty and malnutrition among families, as well as the effects of conflict, COVID-19 and recent earthquakes. And here in the east, Maluku and Papua have always been overlooked from the rest of Indonesia and suffer unequal development.

So, the church has a big role to play.

Before we started kitchen gardens in the community, the Protestant Church of Maluku (GPM) built our own to show people what was possible. So many of them have come to learn!

We started our garden by improving a vacant area that used to be landfill and, just a few months later, we now have sixteen garden beds filled with water spinach, kale, pumpkin and other vegetables on the way.

We even sold our organic spinach to a local restaurant!

We quickly realised how great it is for our physical and mental health too: clearing the land, preparing the soil, creating organic fertiliser, planting the seeds, watering. We understood that this work is not just about gardening and food production, it’s about our whole lives.

Through the process we developed better relationships and attention to the soil, the weather, the environment and each other.

We feel like we grow as the garden grows. We want that for the whole community.

UnitingWorld is our only international partner, and I want you all to know that we see you as part of this community, serving here with us.

Thank you for helping us to grow strong as an organisation ourselves. Over the last ten years you’ve helped us to stand on our own two feet and we hope the partnership continues to get stronger and stronger.

Please pray for the people of Maluku and that we at GPM can keep living, keep serving our communities and keep giving life to those who really need it.

We are all praying for you in Australia too.

In peace,

Rev Jeny Mahupale,
Protestant Church of Maluku

P.S. Here’s some of what we’ve been growing and harvesting in the community lately! We’re planting tomatoes this week too.









Want to help?

We’ve launched an appeal to support our partners in Maluku and Timor-Leste to tackle the food crisis and build local food security.
Please visit www.unitingworld.org.au/foodcrisis to donate.


There’s a food crisis in two of the poorest places in our region.
Our partners have a plan to beat it.

Malnutrition, particularly among children, has been a huge problem in Timor-Leste and Maluku (East Indonesia) and now there is a hidden hunger crisis being made worse by the rising cost of living, global conflict and climate change.

In Timor-Leste, the prevalence of stunting, impaired growth and development caused by malnutrition, in children under five is 47 percent, among the highest in the world. In Maluku, 34 percent of children under five are stunted.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made things more difficult; reducing wheat production, wrecking supply chains and inflating the price of food imports. Experts say the global food situation is set to worsen with the ongoing conflict and will continue to hit the poor the hardest.

We asked our partners how we could best help, and they told us they had a sustainable, local solution to the crisis. Gardening!

Hundreds of families growing their own food right where they live.

The Director of our partner FUSONA* is passionate about equipping families to tackle the food crisis themselves.

“We want every family and community to have the opportunity to produce their own food to eat and improve their health. And if they want to earn an income they can plant extra to sell,” he said.

“People will apply their own time and energy to generate their food and income. We will provide seeds, equipment and education, and accompany families at every step of the way.”

Part of the project will be to educate people about the importance of good nutrition and sanitation.

“So far, we’ve been successfully showing people how to grow sweet potato, eggplant, spinach and green mustard… people have been coming to the church to learn more and join in,” he says.

“I believe we can impact thousands of lives with this approach and reduce malnutrition for children in Timor-Leste.”

We’ve launched an appeal to support our partners in Timor-Leste and Maluku to tackle the food crisis and help ensure as many children as possible do not go hungry. You can find out more about their projects and donate at www.unitingworld.org.au/foodcrisis

*FUSONA is the development agency of our partner church, the Protestant Church of Timor-Leste (IPTL)