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Author: Sureka Goringe

We know that the power to drive development belongs in the hands of the local communities, and that churches are powerful partners in the delivery of effective and sustainable development led from the grass-roots.

As a Board member of ACFID*, I was able to carry this message into consultations with the Foreign and International Development ministers of the new government, to briefings with the new Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and even to a briefing with US government officials as USAID plans to reengage in our region. The USAID Pacific strategy paper now identifies churches as key parties.

As members of Micah Australia, I accompanied South Sudanese/Australian UCA minister Rev Amel Manyon with other prominent UCA leaders to Canberra in a delegation to meet with members of the new government and advocate for international aid. Amel spoke powerfully about the famine affecting her homeland:

“I’m asking the government in Australia, please do something now. People are dying because of hunger and it’s not good for us to sit and listen to their  stories and not do something.”

$15 million was provided to urgently assist the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. The Australian Government’s commitment in October to increase life-changing Australian Aid by $1.4 billion over the next four years was a really encouraging shift in government policy. And the energy in Australia’s leaders for fostering genuine and stronger relationships in our region goes beyond just funding. We’ve also been able to connect DFAT more closely with our Pacific partners.

We supported the Pacific Conference of Churches to become accredited to receive DFAT grants, and helped DFAT set up a Pacific Church Partnership Advisory Network – a group representing churches across the Pacific and Australia raising issues of shared concern to the Australian Government. Development aid and Pacific migrant labour have been subjects of fruitful discussion between churches and DFAT in this forum.

Our partners are formidable leaders, changemakers, teachers, scholars, peacebuilders, advocates. But more than that, they are disciples of the one who calls us all to this life of love, compassion, and generosity for all creation.

Thank you so much for helping us to bring their voices to the tables of power, and holding them in your prayers.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

“When a tree falls in the forest, you hear the sound. When a tree is growing, you hear nothing.”

This wisdom was shared at the Pacific Church Partnership Advisory Network (PCPAN) meeting in Canberra recently, where I had the great pleasure of listening to Christian leaders from across the Pacific region as they expressed their hopes, joys, struggles and dreams for the future. It was the first meeting of its type in-person, where the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) facilitated the gathering but allowed the agenda and conversation to be guided by the participants, particularly Pasifika and First Peoples.

Naturally, it followed a “talanoa” and “yarning” process of dialogue, which meant deep listening, reflection and then speaking. The government representatives mostly listened in from the sidelines. The conversations were rich and comprehensive, expressing the need for the sector to move away from paternalistic interventions based only on human needs and towards partnerships that allow families and people groups to determine their own futures.

There was an outpouring of compassion about the injustices suffered by Australia’s First Peoples after reflections from Rev. Mark Kickett and Alison Overeem from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and ‘Aunty’ Pat Anderson, co-Chair of the Uluru Statement. I looked around and there was barely a dry eye in the room. It reinforced the desires of Pasifika church leaders to centre the voices of First Peoples in all their engagements with Australia. We can each learn from that approach as our nation continues to grapple with issues of justice and reconciliation.

I also recently made a visit to meet three groups of amazing UnitingWorld supporters in Queensland. Meeting face to face for the first time in years, it struck me anew that the Uniting Church is filled with people whose lives seem ordinary, yet are utterly extraordinary.

It brings me back to the quote I picked up at the PCPAN meeting. The dozens of people I met on my trip are not public or loud. They dodge acclaim and recognition, but the depth of their commitment to leaving our world in a better place than they found it is truly inspiring.

Quietly but surely, people are making positive change, big and small, local and global, through community outreach and supporting our international partners. Though we may not hear it or perceive it, the tree is growing. It is a hopeful and motivating thought.

With thanks for all you do with us.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

 

A woman is raising up the powerless in her community with the truth that they’re made in the image of their creator. Another is working to prevent violence before it happens and inspiring her peers to join her. A man is showing whole communities how to work together in disasters and care for the most vulnerable. Another is tackling inequality by overturning the structures keeping people oppressed.

These are just some of the stories we’ve shared during our Seven Days of Solidarity. Each story is a tiny star that pierces the darkness that seems to shroud our view of the world these days.

Right now it seems impossible to think of much outside the shadow of crisis stretching across the globe. War in Europe, floods at home, Sri Lanka being crushed by an economic crisis and COVID-19 still haunting our lives.

The feeling of dread that comes with living under such continuous threats can be overwhelming. It makes us feel tired, fragile and small. This may be true for you. My staff and I, and all of our overseas partners are no exception either.

Yet we strive to count the stars in the darkness. These stories seem small, but like stars in the night sky, together they tell a beautiful story. They remind us that the God who formed the stars and galaxies, names each of us the same. You are the light of the world.

Every act of sacrifice and service, every gift from a generous heart, every word of kindness and grace, is an unquenchable act of defiance against the darkness; beautiful and enduring.

The wonder of God’s grace is never only in size and power but in the ordinary and hidden. You are the salt of the earth. Grounded in the earth and carried in the seas, salt is everywhere enriching, preserving and essential for life to flourish. The change it brings isn’t imposed from the outside but from within.

Thank you for letting us share with you the stories of salt and light that we have seen. And thank you for being salt and light for us and our partners through your prayers, generosity and sacrificial love.

Together, we are witnesses to the light which the darkness cannot put out.

With thanks for all you do with us, 

Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Click here to read our latest UnitingWorld Update Newsletter

I came across a music video recently titled “Jesus is my superhero!”

Against a backdrop of fluffy white clouds, a muscular man with a perfectly groomed ‘Jesus’ beard flashed the iconic ‘S’ and extended his fist as a red cape billowed from his shoulders. I was a bit bemused. I understand that it’s for children but putting Christ into a pair of tights seemed a bit much.

It might also miss the point. The Jesus of our faith lived his thirty-three years entirely immersed in our human experience – hungry, thirsty, foot-sore. He sat with children and dogs; attended weddings and told stories. He died virtually alone on a rubbish heap.

In Jesus, God conquered death, but not with a display of force. Jesus’ resurrection is born of suffering and the redemptive power of love – no superpower, but a long slow process of service and witness. Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen that love at work in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned by the writer of Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1-2

I meet so many men and women through our partners in places where redemptive muscle is desperately needed. They’re ordinary people like you and I, not imbued with superpowers of any kind. And that’s the point. Like you and I, they worry, muse, pray, plan and act without the safety net of a cape and tights. Instead, they draw on the same reserves of faith we all share: the love of our communities, prayer, scripture and worship.

These are my heroes and heroines of faith, and they encourage me to persevere. And as

members of one global family, they need us to be local heroes and heroines of faith too. Our prayer, our sharing of the resources we’ve been blessed to receive, our words of encouragement: these are the only superpowers we have.

Thank you, once again, for sharing them with our global family of faith. We are so very grateful.

Sureka.

Recently I stood among others and hummed the tune (COVID-19 protocols didn’t allow me to sing) to that great hymn, ‘It is well with my soul.’

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Given the current state of the world, that’s a level of assurance I often find difficult. My soul is more likely to cower and quake; to rollercoaster between many different emotions, perhaps even within the course of a day. Maybe yours does too.

It lifts and steadies, though, when I look around at those who are standing here beside me – physically and in spirit. Within my own congregation, I receive an email from a faithful woman who shares her steadfast compassion and love with us in the most encouraging prose imaginable. At work I join a conversation with the global church in support of human rights in the Philippines, hearing the stories of courageous men and women on the frontline of the work to protect others and fight for justice. Online, I talk with a staff member in Bali, a doctor who has seen members of her church die of COVID-19 and yet who presses on with new ideas to safely serve her community.

Being part of this global conversation is not just a privilege, it’s truly mind-blowing. Indeed, we have a great cloud of witnesses, people of incredible courage and steadfast faith who fight for justice for the oppressed, and risk violence and death. No need to look to history for heroes of the faith.

This Christmas, I pray that you too will find steadfastness and inspiration among your family, friends and faith community. Tell the stories. Share the encouragement, the love and the joy. I’m so grateful that you’ve committed another year beside us as collaborators in the Kingdom.

With love and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Do you consider yourself a visionary? 

Maybe it sounds a bit lofty and idealistic, beyond your pay grade… And yet, people with vision are probably just those who can keep the big picture front of mindthe destinationamid the weeds of the journey.

I see it all the time in the work of our partners, who keep their eyes fixed on their hopes for the future, their faith in God and their capacity to bring about change. Rev John in South Sudan is only one example of the way perspective shapes our daily action and behaviour. He’s not impatient for change. He believes, like Martin Luther King Jr, that the “moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

He’s in it for the long haul, and he’s weathering the storm. I see the same vision among our partners right across the globe as they adapt to new realities born of the terrible, heart-rending impact of COVID-19. They’re down in the weeds discussing how to sell products without being able to travel to physical marketplaces; accessing available government grants and subsidies; re-training people to sew masks and distribute them. But their eyes are always fixed on the bigger picture: the promise of a better world for all, where God’s love is known and made known.

That same perspective has always animated you too, and it gives the whole team and I here at UnitingWorld great encouragement. The last few months have been difficult, yet I’ve been blown away by your continuing love, dedication and generosity.

Thank you. Let’s keep holding the vision high.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Disaster and crisis are a part of life for us here at UnitingWorld. Each year, at least one of our partners is swamped by the impact of a cyclone, storm, war or famine. We mobilise, we strategise, we fundraise, we act. We’re good at it.

COVID-19 is different. It has plunged every single one of our partners, in every part of the globe, into crisis all at once. We’re traveling at speed through territory we’ve never traversed before, and there’s little light to guide. We don’t know exactly how the pandemic will play out for each of our partner communities – how many lives lost, what cost to the economy. As unemployment soars and productivity declines here in Australia, we don’t know what resources you, our supporters here in Australia, will muster to continue to support our brothers and sisters internationally. We don’t know how the Australian Government will allocate precious funding under the pressure of a massive deficit and to what extent the foreign aid budget will bear the brunt of the scramble to claw back dollars.

Our partners tell us they’re living by faith. I am too. It’s not the kind of blind belief that asserts everything will be fine—despite all evidence to the contrary—and claims immunity from fallout. It’s about faithfulness, staying true to our call. And it’s about trust, in God’s character and promise. This faith is about relationship, as is so much of our shared life with God, our partners and with each of you as our co-workers. We are bound to each other in covenant, the promise that through the darkest nights and the deepest valleys, Christ is beside us and through us and alive in this world. I can’t tell you how reassuring that knowledge is to me in the midst of the chaos of budgeting, planning, responding in the blackness of ‘not knowing’. Please continue to stand with us in giving, praying and hoping. We were made for times like these, and we are not alone in God’s world.

In hope and determination,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld


COVID-19 update 

While many project activities have been put on hold due to lockdowns, we are redirecting people and money to meet immediate COVID-19 related needs. Our partners are continuing to serve their communities in innovative ways and working hard to retain the development gains you’ve helped make happen.

Thank you so much to all our regular givers and all of you who’ve helped resource our partners to respond to this crisis. Your donations are being put to use protecting lives, preventing hunger and building the long-term resilience of communities in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

Thank you for supporting this critical work.

www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow

This Lent, I took up a Lent Event challenge. In an act of defiance against the gathering gloom of a world bent on madness, I decided to seek each day a story of the Kingdom coming. Not just any feel good story. A story of people, faith and God, making a difference. It was my act of re-commitment to mission – for a world renewed and reconciled.

When your brain is the kind that turns everything a day brings into a list of problems to be solved, then this is a difficult challenge.

I managed 20-something days straight before I flagged. They were the 20 days in which a disaster story from China became a global pandemic.

I learnt the obvious lesson. As I looked for and wrote up my stories of God working in the world, I remained hopeful and resilient. I was calm, I wrote my COVID-19 risk management plan, put in business continuity provisions for my team and slashed our income forecasts. But it got harder to do. The news got grimmer from our partners in lockdown. I was worried about my staff, our partners, my kids, my parents, my minister husband trying to pastor a community that couldn’t meet. And soon, I couldn’t see past the tsunami of problems, I was too tired to go hunting for that elusive glimpse of God at work. I stopped doing the stories.

The day I got the email from South Sudan, from my friend who reminded me that hand-washing was the privilege of those who had clean water, that staying home was only an option for people who owned fridges and spare food.

That was the day I lost it.

That email was on my mind as I dropped into the supermarket to pick up some stuff. But my fellow Sydney-siders had cleaned out entire aisles. With our wealth, our security, our abundant food and our healthcare systems, my brothers and sisters thought they needed to hoard toilet paper and dishwasher tablets, leaving none for others.

I wasn’t sad or scared. I was furious. The rage and contempt I felt in that moment for my fellow humans was such that I had to run out of Town Hall Woolworths before I yelled at someone. In that moment, I felt that no race so greedy, selfish and stupid should survive; that dying in our millions was exactly what we deserved.

And then into my black mood came the little messages. People telling me that they were holding me and my team in their prayers. People asking after my husband and kids. People telling me what a great job my staff were doing. They’ll know who they are when they read this.

And slowly, in the darkness, I could see God at work again. In the thoughtfulness of people, who were not my close friends or family, but who reached out to bless and encourage me. When I was too downhearted to see great works of justice and reconciliation that God was doing in the world, what saved me was seeing God in the acts of kindness extended to me. God, acting through people, to pull just one insignificant person out of my own mire of despair.

I’ve always loved the story of Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water at Jesus’ invitation. It’s a lovely metaphor for how we stay above the waves when we keep our eyes on Jesus, but get overwhelmed by the tumult when we lose focus. But I’ve always thought that keeping my eyes on Jesus was about my personal devotional practices – to pray, to study the scriptures, to gather in worship.

But now I think it’s more than that. It’s keeping your eyes peeled for Jesus out and about in the world. Training myself to seek out and recognise the breaking-in of the Kingdom in everyday life is a necessary discipline. To be Christian is to believe in a God who is alive and active in the world. Easter isn’t just a celebration of the resurrection two thousand years ago, it’s a celebration of Jesus alive today – changing lives, changing communities, getting stuff done. How can I join in this great work, if I’m not training myself to see it, recognise it, bear witness to and celebrate it?

So I encourage you to do it too. Keep looking for Jesus in the world – he’s out there walking on water every single day.

–Sureka

[P.S. I also gave up eating between dawn and dusk during Lent – which makes it sound grander than simply skipping lunch and daytime snacks between breakfast and dinner, which is what I did. But I did manage to stick to that one, which wasn’t hard after the first few days. And the $$ I saved has gone to Lent Event, with a big thank you to all those who sponsored me.]

Dr Sureka Goringe is the National Director of UnitingWorld. This reflection was originally posted on her Lent Event fundraising page here.

Click here to donate to Lent Event.

Recently I visited Sri Lanka, where I was born and had my early childhood. I was there with my mum for family stuff, but I took the chance to catch up with the leadership of the Methodist Church, who have a strong presence throughout the country.

“What exactly is the Prayer Department?” I asked when I saw it on the organisational chart.

The answer was an introduction to two women. Shy and softly spoken, one of them read from a script she’d written, and the other quietly asked that her story be told for her. They both spoke of personal tragedy; of loss and death and plans come undone. But it’s from this experience of pain that they’ve both discovered the power of prayer and they’ve committed themselves to nurturing it as widely as possible.

The Methodist Church of Sri Lanka (MCSL) has a serious commitment to being a prayerful church. These two women lead a program of initiatives to inspire and educate communities across the country, calling people to their knees. They also personally support the leadership in prayer, being available to pray with or for people in complete confidence.

I don’t know why I find this so deeply moving. It’s not a story of outcomes and impact. But I think it was George MacDonald who suggested that prayer is like a child coming to her mother because she feels hungry. The child thinks she needs food; what she really needs is her mother.

That hits home. Four years ago, when I first met the current MCSL President, I asked him why their church was experiencing renewal, and he said to me, “Oh, we started praying.” Truth!

Please continue to pray for our partners, many of whom are dealing with COVID-19 in extremely difficult circumstances. In times of global crisis, people in poverty are always hit in the most devastating ways.

Please, if you’re able, do make a special gift to support our work in work in Sri Lanka, Maluku, Bali, India, Zimbabwe and around the globe. Right now people everywhere are hurting, and we need each other more than ever.

In love and hope,

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Click here to donate to our COVID-19 Appeal

When a crisis like COVID-19 hits, it is the poor who are hit hardest.

I bring you love and greetings from our global church partners and the team at UnitingWorld.

In this distressing time of uncertainty and change, if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a mix of emotions – anxiety and hope; grief and determination.

Thank you for being our faithful supporters. Your generosity and compassion has changed so many lives. Every person you have helped out of poverty is in a better place to fight COVID-19 because of you.

Watch the full message below.

Want to share this with your church community? Click here to download via Vimeo.

Please remember our partner church communities in your prayers. They face the challenge of COVID-19 often without healthcare, sometimes without clean water or food.

This crisis will come and go, and we must survive it together. We need to be there for the long road to healing and recovery. Because we are people of hope.

Though we may be walking through the valley of shadows right now, let us do it hand in hand with God’s people everywhere. Because we know God walks with us, and that dawn will come.

I pray that you and your family be strong and courageous during this time, holding onto hope and health. And I beg that you stand with us, and remember the poorest and most vulnerable in our global neighbourhood. Now more than ever, they need your prayers and your support.

We’ll continue to keep you updated in the coming weeks.

In hope and determination,

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Click here to donate to our COVID-19 appeal


Video transcript

Hi. Like most of you, I’m stuck at home. I’m trying to get work done and stay connected with my colleagues, my family and my friends.

The COVID-19 pandemic means we are all facing a distressing level of uncertainty and change right now. I know that many of you are facing tough times, worrying about the health of your loved ones and what the next few months might bring.

And if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a mix of emotions too – anxiety and grief; but also hope and determination.

If you’re watching this, you’ve probably been friends of UnitingWorld for a while. I’m grateful for our partnership in faith and service. We at UnitingWorld are praying for you. And our brothers and sisters overseas are praying for you. We know, because they write and tell us so.

I want you to know that the team at UnitingWorld are all safely back in Australia, and while we’re all working from home, they are doing a marvellous job looking after each other and staying connected with our partners.

Last week we shared public health information from the World Health Organisation with our partner churches – hoping they’d be useful for distribution in their churches.

The hardest thing I had to do this week was to read an email from my friend Rev John Yor from South Sudan. He wrote…

Dear Sister – Thanks for sending the information 

We are living by the grace of God because no awareness material has come from the government.

So I will copy the materials you sent and give some awareness to staff as well as groups who were displaced and are not aware of the Coronavirus or how to prevent it. But we have problems with the internet to send information and materials to others.

I am working now at night and water is a problem because it is carried by tanks not pipes lines. Hand washing is very difficult. Many are not able to stay at home because they will die by hunger if they do. They force themselves to go out to work, because there is no food stored at home. Even I don’t have food stored where we are living.

John’s words broke my heart.

When a crisis like COVID-19 hits, it is the poor who are hit hardest.

The people that our partner churches work with everyday are facing the challenge of COVID-19 without health care, internet or Newstart. Sometimes without clean water or food.

Now, more than ever, they need us to stand with them.

This crisis will come and go, and we must we survive it together. And we need to be there for the long road to healing and recovery.

Because we are people of hope. Though we may be walking through the valley of shadow right now, let us do it hand in hand with God’s people everywhere. Because we know God walks with us, and that dawn will come.

So, stuck at home we might be, but we’re rolling up our sleeves and digging deep. And we need you with us.

We’re in urgent conversations with our partners. Many of the projects you support have been put on hold, so we’re working with partners to redirect money and people to help prepare their communities and pass on critical health advice using their church networks.

We are assuring them that UnitingWorld and the people of the Uniting Church have not forgotten them, and are holding them in prayer. Please make that true, won’t you?

We’re planning how to keep ourselves and are partners fit and ready for the long road to recovery.

We’re talking with other international aid organisations and the Australian Government to prepare for what may happen in our region, to make sure that we can work together for best results.

We’re doing all we can to keep people safe. We have stopped all travel, and are no longer going into the office to work. While we will still respond to your emails and phone calls promptly (possibly in our pyjamas), responses to your post mail be delayed. It’s kept safe, and we will get to it, but we can’t access it every day.

Thank you for being our faithful supporters, for your generosity and compassion that has changed so many lives. Every person you have helped out of poverty, is in a better place to fight COVID-19 because of you.

I pray that you and your family be strong and courageous during this time, holding onto hope and health. And I beg that you stand with us, and remember the poorest and most vulnerable in our global neighbourhood. Now more than ever, they need your prayers and your support.

Thank you.

 

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice. Click here to support our work.