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The developments in Afghanistan have been heartbreaking.

It’s easy to feel helpless, but there are actions we can take.

As the Taliban entrench their hold on the nation, tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and face an uncertain future.

Despite an outpouring of public support for the plight of people who need to flee Afghanistan, the Australian Government’s position has not changed from its initial commitment of providing 3,000 refugee spaces from within Australia’s existing humanitarian program.

The situation changes daily, but together we have a chance to act now and help people get support and safety.

As people of faith, prayer is our first and last action. But there’s more we must do.

Here’s three actions you can take to help:

1. Join Christians United for Afghanistan

Add your voice and call on the Australian Government to welcome a special intake of an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees, and to support the ongoing wellbeing of Afghan refugees through greater humanitarian aid. The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly has endorsed and signed. Click here to add your voice.

 

2. Donate to help provide food, shelter and safety to people who need it

Your donation will support churches working together through the ACT Alliance to assist about 50,000 uprooted families in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The priority for support will be food, shelter, household items and health care supplies. Click here to donate now.

 

3.  Write to your Member of Parliament

Whenever we speak to MPs about the value of Australian Aid to help end extreme poverty or Australia’s leadership role in humanitarian crises, they often tell us that they rarely hear it from their constituents (and that they need to). Your voice matters.

Here’s a template you can use to draft a letter to your federal MP (we encourage you to edit and make your own). You can find the contact details of your MP on the Parliament of Australia website here.

50 church leaders co-signed a letter to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke advocating for more action on Afghanistan. Click here to read full letter.

Are you angry during the pandemic? How do you make peace with anger?

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon is Moderator of GMIT, our partner Church in West Timor, Indonesia. Throughout the pandemic, she has shown leadership in public health and coordinated the emergency relief program after the devastation of Cylone Seroja.  I encourage you to read Rev Dr Kolimon’s full reflection below, a truly insightful exploration of God’s presence in the midst of our suffering. I believe the ‘theology of the body’ she articulates is deeply inspirational for Uniting Church members, particularly those living in regions under lockdown.

-Rev Dr Ji Zhang, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly Theologian-in-Residence

At the end of June 2021, my husband began to feel unwell: colds, coughs, weak body, loss of taste. At that time Kupang was windy and the weather was unstable: sometimes hot, sometimes cold. So my husband thought it must have been a cold caused by tiredness from his schedule of long meetings.

I had previously reminded him: “Work should not be too late, too long or too often. It’s a pandemic. Masks should be replaced frequently. If you go home, change your clothes immediately.”

By the end of that week my daughter rang when I was in the office to say she also felt unwell, and I hurriedly finished my meeting and rushed home.

While my husband was still reluctant to test for Covid-19, believing it just to be a cold, I insisted that we were swabbed and we soon found out that our entire family was positive.  Our nephew, Efi, tested negative – Praise God! As long as we were sick he was able to take care of us.

Making peace with sadness and anger

When I found out the result, I felt angry. Why had we not been more careful? Our kids have been learning from home for over a year, but as parents we were always at work, even though as a Synod we help educate others about how to be safe. Often we have adhered to health protocols. But there are times when we are off-guard, such as unmasking to take pictures and eating together in meetings. Everyone should be more vigilant.

It took me a few days to come to terms with the anger and sadness.

We both know we are lucky to have been vaccinated, because while there is still risk of infection, the impact is not as severe. The four of us did not have problems with breathing, something we’re very grateful for.

We also learned once again that the impact of Covid-19 is more pronounced for older people. My 17-year-old daughter lost her sense of smell and had difficulty eating, but it wasn’t as bad as for my husband and I, who had body pain for days. Alberd, 9 years old, had fever and vomiting, a loss of sense of taste for several days and a lack of appetite. Alberd’s spirits stayed high though and he was a great comfort to us.

The Light of God’s Love

On the third day after being declared positive, our situation was quite severe. Our whole bodies hurt, we couldn’t drink or eat; we had fever, nausea, scalp pain. As a Mama, I had difficulty taking care of the family or paying attention to church affairs. I was worried about many post-Cyclone Seroja agendas in GMIT that needed to be taken care of and plans with ecumenical partners and congregations on various islands.

I almost cried in bed. My God, why am I having this experience?

I thought about what might happen if I couldn’t get through this Covid – my mind was everywhere as I imagined how things would be with GMIT. Within our five Daily Synod Assemblies, three people were also infected at the same time as me; all have now improved.

When it all felt very heavy, I told my daughter who was also having difficulty eating:

“Our Covid situation is like walking into a dark alley without knowing if we will ever get out of that dark alley safely. Although it is very dark, one day we will see light at the end of the hallway, as long as we believe that there is light at the end of that dark passageway. Come on, keep eating.”

She replied: “Mama’s dark hallway analogy is horrifying but true.””

We experienced the light of God’s love in many ways: people came to give care and support; some sent Bible verses and messages; my sisters at SoE sent the medicines we needed; others sent herbal remedies; Oepoi Health Center always contacted us to ask about our situation; the Governor of NTT called and sent Chinese medicine; Tanta Yo from the Synod Office guest house cooked for us for a week. There was a friend who sent Timor Island’s best honey; there was a friend who transferred money and said don’t get dizzy with the thought of medical expenses. Fruits and vegetables flowed from all directions.

We really experienced in these dark times the light and warmth of love – even while we struggled with nausea, fever and night sleep disorders, every day we experienced God loving us. Thank you to all who shared the light with us when the night was so intense and we lived as though in a great storm.

What sin?

A question asked by a group of GBI pastors arose: “Are we affected by Covid-19 because we have betrayed the Lord Jesus like Judas Iscariot?”

This way of thinking is very closely related to the understanding of the relationship of disease and curses in our culture. For example, among West Timorese there is a naketi concept. A person can be afflicted by adversity such as illness because there are certain sins or mistakes.  Sin is seen as so powerful that it can jump across generations. Children and even grandchildren a few generations later can get sick because of the sins of their ancestors. To be healed, it is necessary to confess sin.

I myself struggled with the same question as I lay in bed: “What sin have I and my family committed?”

I reflected that perhaps we did not do enough to wear the masks correctly and keep a distance. I also prayed that if something was wrong, the Holy Ghost would rebuke us so that we realized it, opening our hearts to understand His will through the pain we experienced.

But I could not accept the idea that we were so sinful that we were punished with Covid.

I wrote to a fellow pastor who had shared his concern:

“Reverend, test all voices … I remain a believer in all seasons of life, and God’s faithful love is eternal. He allows us, His servant ministers, to experience this like any other person, that we may also experience the deification of the world today and find that even in the valley of darkness, God has not forsaken His creation.”

Shepherd Infected with Covid-19

In 2015 I was elected chairperson of the Synod. I remember one of the intercessory prayers when I was elected was that I would not be sick for four years while I led the church. I wanted to always look good, healthy, and happy, and refused to allow myself to be sick. I promised to live a healthy life with a good diet, rest, exercise, and management of my mental health.

But early in 2019, due to exhaustion, I suddenly got sick quite seriously.

I told my husband one morning: “Yustus, I can’t lift my legs. Help me.”

Friends who came to visit me advised me: “Mery, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick. The body needs rest too.”

In the second period of my shepherding ministry now, I have come to terms with my body more, to embrace fatigue, rest, and pain.

When I was infected with Covid, I learnt to better understand the deepest fears, anxieties, and worries of those who are sick. I was infected in the second wave in Indonesia, when every day there was news that 20,000 to 30,000 Indonesians were infected and more than a thousand people died because of Covid.

Every morning from the bedroom when we woke up, we heard birdsong from our beautiful courtyard, but also sirens roaring in a hurry to deliver the bodies to the cemetery. A shepherd who suffers herself is allowed understand mankind’s deepest fears in front of menacing diseases, and learn to say the most honest prayers to God during threat of sickness and death. But if she is sensitive, she can also see and follow God’s unceasing care. Birds singing, brothers caring, comrades supporting. Life isn’t just about crying and anxiety. In life there is also friendship, love, and genuine care.

As theologians, we often preach too quickly about certain circumstances. We want to directly write and connect Covid with bible verses so that we are able to lecture others. The experience of having Covid helped me not to rush to jump to certain theological conclusions.

Instead, in suffering:

Listen to your body language. Feel the heart. Listen to your own feelings and anxieties. Listen to your deepest hopes and longing. Talk to God honestly and listen to what God is saying. Start theology from there. Connect the experiences of suffering, anxiety, hope, and longing with the struggles of the faithful in biblical times. Learn the deepest struggles of today’s people, and see what can be learned as the gospel message for mankind’s struggles today.

Body Theology

A female pastor friend who served in one of the church denominations in Kupang City, wrote to me thus: “Mama, I am still struggling with the issue of concentration. Although it has been 2 months since my COVID illness, assignments from the campus are abandoned. Although I still can write, it is at a creeping speed… According to some friends who are over 50 years old, COVID weakens the life spirit, and we become apathetic.”

I wondered whether a lot of people have experienced something like that? This is interesting to study and reflect upon theologically.

Our family does not yet know what the full impact of Covid will be: are our lungs going to be okay? What about our stomachs, our hearts, and our brains? How does Covid impact people long term?

This disease helps us to be more sensitive to the body as God’s noble and fragile work. Our bodies are glorious because they were created by God Himself in His image and likeness, and because man has fallen into sin. The realization of God’s redemption encourages us to hold our bodies accountable because the body is the fruit of God’s glorious work. The invaded body must be loved and cared for as a form of involvement in Christ’s work of redemption and restoration. The invaded body should not be forced to work beyond its means.

The virus may go after a certain time, but its traces will remain to teach mankind valuable life lessons to care for God’s created body and honor His given life.  One of the theological agendas as a survivor of Covid is the journey towards self, to seriously care for and appreciate the body, soul, and spirit.

Being infected with Covid helped me to reflect more on body theology. The human body and life are theological sites. The body is where we meet God. The body comes from the ground and God has touched it to bring it to life: moving, walking, jumping, full of joy. There is also a time when the body is sick and sad. Because the body was created by God, we can meet God there, in all experiences of the body: sad, happy, sick, healthy. The body reveals something about the work of the glorious God. But the body is also limited. There’s a time when the body no longer exists. As long as the body is still there, I exist. When the body stops working, I am no longer in the world. Body theology helps us to honor and care for the body with gratitude to God who created it, until it is time for the body to return to the ground.

 

The Language of Faith in Times of Crisis

There is something interesting in my experience of spirituality in this time of crisis. I was raised as a child speaking two languages: Indonesian and Meto-Timorese. In childhood when we started attending school in the interior, our teachers used two languages for children who could not speak Indonesian. Everyday we learnt more of the regional language. For the sake of study, I also learned English and Dutch so that now I speak four languages: Indonesian, Meto, English, and Dutch.

In my deepest times of fear and anxiety, I prayed in Timorese. When I prayed in that mother tongue, I was able to express my deepest feelings. Sometimes I feel angry at myself for not being able to find a word in the language of the area for what I want to express. Now I am more fluent in Indonesian than the local language. But I really felt the depth of the experience with God in my mother tongue.

In that language I told God about my worries, about my family, the impact of this disease on my ministry, and my anxiety over all human civilization. Sometimes when praying during times of crisis using Indonesian or other languages, I wonder if maybe what I express is superficial. But when I pray in the language of the region, there are very deep things that are revealed to the Lord and to myself. The prayer became very personal between God and me.

I think this may be related to the experience of faith that shaped me. I grew up knowing God in a believing community in West Timor. My father, who was from Alor Island, married my mother, a West Timorese woman, and they worked in Timor until the end of their lives. I grew up as a child learning to know God, the Word, and his works in a strong community nurturing the culture and language of the region in that environment. I am reminded of the strong faith of my mother and grandmother formed by Timorese culture, the late Elder Banunaek of Oetoli in the Western Oinlasi Church who prayed for us when we were sick, or celebrated with us in the depths of the language of poetry. It was all absorbed into my heart. When I struggle with the deepest things, it’s this language that expresses all longing, hope, and anxiety.

Embracing Uncertainty, Learning to Know Boundaries

I no longer have a definite list of activities and a series of trips arranged in order and detail. My suitcases remain untouched, and now all of humanity finds itself experiencing uncertainty. There’s no plan that’s currently workable. People again study the Bible counsel: “For my design is not your plan” (Isaiah 55:8a).

Since the Enlightenment era, people have felt they can do anything. Mankind has thought with his brain that he knows all things and conquer all things in the universe: “I think, then I exist.” Human reason is considered very powerful.

But the Covid pandemic at the beginning of the third decade of this century is teaching us that humans and their abilities are limited. Even a virus so small and invisible to the eye can make an entire human civilization chaotic. Man is not omnipotent. Science and technology are important and very helpful. But human intelligence and technology must not make man act arbitrarily over the life of God’s creation.

I think Covid also teaches us humans to take a break from our ambitions and busyness. We’re stuck in an age where everything we do is rushed. Waking up early, our agenda is long and our plans are layered: after this we will continue with something else. Even before we finish one thing, the other is waiting. We force our bodies, souls, and spirits to keep running without adequate rest periods.

Covid interrupts our busy life. Covid invites us to pause: to take time for the body, for the soul and mentally, for the family, for the Lord, to rest. This disease gives us the opportunity to truly take shelter, submit to God, and submit our life plans to His sovereignty.

Ecological Repentance

For almost two years the earth has been left helpless. Perhaps it is rebuking us harshly and giving us a hard lesson?

As Thomas L. Friedman said in an opinion piece in the New York Times,May 30, 2020: “These past few weeks we have learned… our earth is fragile… Our pandemic today is no longer just a biological pandemic, but also a geopolitical, financial, and environmental pandemic.”

Without a radical change in our consciousness and attitude toward Mother Earth, we will experience even greater consequences than what we are feeling today.

The economic system of capitalism makes people compete for profit and accumulate capital. For financial gain, nature is mercilessly plundered. The rich get richer, the poor and nature is exploited. The uncontrollable virus is now alerting us to a disturbed balance of nature.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake up call moment for all human beings. All of us —governments, communities, businesspeople, politicians, anyone—should interpret it as an opportunity to come back to peace with the earth. We are in need of mass repentance for ecological justice. We must stop carrying out development that is solely oriented towards financial gain. Instead we need to commit together to a development oriented towards the sustainability of life.

Claiming Divine Power

Where is God when the whole world struggles with suffering? Does God care about the tears and suffering of the sick or the family’s hope for their brother’s recovery? Where is God when we fight to maintain the lives of our families who are infected by Covid-19? For the healed there is praise to the Lord, but what about those who die? Is God with those who died because of Covid-19? Are the dead unloved by God?

This pandemic invites the church into the midst of the struggle of human suffering. In this great pain, we are challenged to put our ears and hearts on, hear and feel the screams and moans of pain, and the lamentations of life. This pandemic is calling us to see the fragility and dryness of human life.

It is in this context that this year’s GMIT Synod Assembly developed our ministry theme for 2021 from Ezekiel 37:14. Ezekiel was called to be a prophet at exactly the most precarious moment in the history of the Israelic covenant: the destruction of Israel by Babylonia. In the vision in chapter 37, Ezekiel is taken into a valley full of bones. Like Ezekiel, we are not led to avoid disaster, but rather to stand up and acknowledge the existence of it. The Covid-19 pandemic is real, not a conspiracy of certain parties to seek self-and group advantage.

Moreover God gave Ezekiel the task of prophesying to the bones to live again. He was told to prophesy tothe ruakh/spirit of life to enter the bones in the valley. The Spirit is called from the four corners of the earth. Learning from Ezekiel, the church during this pandemic is tasked with voicing God’s intent for the world in disaster.

In human suffering, God does not leave us. The Spirit of Life is with His creation, the Spirit of God gives life and moves the bones that are already very dry (and there is no more life). Just as the work of the Holy Spirit blew when man was created (Gen. 2:7), God continues to work to give life to man. To His frightened and hiding disciples, Jesus was present and breathed His Spirit upon them, restoring them from worry, panic, and fear (Jn. 20:22).  He calls us to repentance, learns from the sufferings of life for the restoration of relations with God, with fellow human beings, and with all creation. He heals us from the worries and anxieties of life.

Where is God in this pandemic? God is in human suffering.

He is in solidarity with those who are terrified in isolation rooms. He hugs the families who have lost their loved ones. God is pleased to use those who care for others as His co-workers for the ministry of salvation.

The message of the book of Ezekiel to the churches this year is that just as God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet in the wasteland, so we must continue to prepare to be ministers of God in this difficult time. On the cross of Jesus, God Himself acted to restore man. He entered into the valley of death as His son gave his life. But no suffering is eternal. No disaster lasts forever. Death has been defeated. Jesus has risen from the dead. God reigns, God cares, God is with us. Although the way of the cross feels very difficult, we must endure to stand by Him, true in faith, hope, and love.

Covid is not just a story about human fragility. Covid also tells about the divine power of God that is conferred so that we hold the promise of hope that He is with us. Even for those who die with Covid, their body is again united with the ground, lying in the everlasting light of God, in the promise of the inclusion of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. ***

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon, Moderator, Evangelical Christian Church of Timor
Kupang, July 2021

P.S. Thanks to my husband and children as the first readers of this paper and for making corrections. A number of friends have read and given some important feedback. I am responsible for the content of this paper.

 

A prayer of the people of West Timor and Indonesia

By Rev Dr Apwee Ting, UCA Assembly National Consultant

Lord

I kneel before you

carrying an immeasurable burden

my body is very weak

my heart is bleeding

from Covid-19

 

I am no longer embracing the bravery

fragility is what I know

I’m not chasing eternity anymore

day by day is in my sight

 

Laughter and crying

joyfulness and suffering

inseparable

 

Lord

come in my dream

presence in my suffering

be real in my loneliness

 

God

is not there

is here

in the midst of pandemic

giving Indonesia

hope and healing

 

I am no longer afraid of

paralysis

vulnerability

death

because

God is walking with me

Restoration is with me

 

 

Doaku buat Indonesia

Tuhan

pada Mu kubersimpuh

membawa beban tak terkira

tubuh terkulai

batin terkapar

oleh Covid-19

 

Kini kusadar

bukan lagi kegagahan kurengkuh

kerapuhanlah yang kudekap

bukan lagi kekekalan kukejar

keseharianlah yang kutatap

 

Tawa dan tangis

senang dan susah

tak terpisahkan

 

Tuhan

hadir dalam mimpi ku

datang dalam derita ku

nyata dalam kesendirianku

 

Tuhan

tidak lagi disana

Tuhan disini

ditengah pandemi

memberi Indonesia

harapan dan kesembuhan

 

Kelumpuhan

kerantanan

kematian

tidak lagi menakutkan

karena

Tuhan berjalan bersama ku

pemulihan ada pada ku

 

 

Every young person values their independence. Raj is no exception.

His goals include having enough money to buy all the slippers he wants, and never marrying. And while these may seem modest desires, the fact that they’re top of mind for the nineteen year old is remarkable in its own way.

Raj lives on the West Coast of Sri Lanka, in an area where almost every building within 500 metres of the coast was destroyed by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.

Most of the people who live here are Tamil, and their hammering at the hands of the monster wave came on top of years of suffering during Sri Lanka’s long running civil war. As many as 100,000 people died in the conflict, with the same number unable to live in their own homes.

The conditions have been horrendous, but these people are tenacious and they’ve built back better. They dream of better futures for their kids off the back of a good education, economic development and the tourist industry, which had been booming up until the arrival of COVID-19.

The day we met Raj it was hot; the small house where he lives with his parents and sister was comfortingly cool and dim. We sat together and he fidgeted in a chair while his mum told us, via our interpreter, about Raj’s early school life. He had struggled to concentrate and was regularly ejected from his classroom.

“We knew there was a problem; he did not talk as well as other children,” Raj’s mum said. “That didn’t stop him from trying! The teachers say he was always chatting in the classroom and especially to the girls. They said they couldn’t teach him anything.”

In Sri Lanka and other developing countries, disability is still not well understood or diagnosed. And it’s often attributed to offending against the gods, which places the entire family under pressure. People with disability are up to five times more likely to live in poverty.

“We were very worried,” Raj’s mum told us. “Without schooling how could he get a job? Who would look after him when we were old?”

Game changer

Not long before Raj was due to start high school, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome. That was when the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka became aware of the family and offered Raj a place in their disability inclusion class in a Church school nearby.

How was the new school, we asked Raj?

His grin was wide. “It was good, better. I got to do sport and dance. I got to talk more.”

We’re pretty sure Raj’s mother and sister roll their eyes at this. They tell Raj to show us his trophies, and he obliges. And they press him to show off some of his dance moves, which he’s also keen to do, so long as we can find the right track to suit the mood on my phone.

The joy with which he pulls his moves leaves us all upbeat.

Still elated, he throws his leg over a motorbike behind one of our Deaf Link partners and takes us to check out his place of employment, which he found with the help of Deaf Link when he graduated from school two years ago.

It’s off one of the town’s main roads, dusty, hot and ringing with the noise of tuktuk and motorbike traffic. Here, under the supervision of a guy who has worked as a mechanic all his life, Raj is learning the tools of the trade. He proudly demonstrates his welding prowess, chats with a regular customer who’s come in to have something done to his bike, and jokes and laughs with his supervisor.

“Raj is a good worker,” his supervisor tells us. “I’m happy to give him this chance. Lots of young people don’t have a job. They can’t earn a living. Raj is lucky.”

Our partner staff agree, but it’s not just luck. They plan and pray and network to create stories like Raj’s, and they want to see more. They emphasise that education can only take you so far if you don’t have the connections to find work.

“We know what a difference we can make when we work together to support these families, and how much potential people have,” Rev Gnanarajah tells us. “Without the support of others, people with disability are often just left at home with very little to do, and no way even to feed themselves if their families aren’t able to provide for them long term.”

Which brings us back to Raj and his slippers. His dream of being truly independent, moving out of home (and presumably living the party boy life as long as possible) are touchingly rare for his context.And yet they exist, and he’s happy to share them with us. They’re an indication of something much larger at work: hope for the future, and the tools to make dreams come true.

 


Thanks for the part you’ve played in helping fund the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka as they work hard among those in their communities who are at risk of long term poverty. Your gifts to our tax time appeal will help create more stories like Raj’s, and we’re grateful!

If you’d like to make a gift today, visit here.

Here’s how!

First, some good news – the Australian Government really likes us because we’re accountable and creative with how we use their money, and we get great results! 🙂 They make grants available to us, but we need to co-invest in order to do the project work.  We’ve committed to contribute $1 for every $5 of what the Government makes available to us. Your contribution means we can match the government funding successfully, gain access to the full amount on offer and change more lives!

Okay so the more we give, the more you get?

Not exactly. Each year the Government makes Australian aid funding available to NGO’s like us based on their budgets. How much of that we can apply for and win depends on a whole range of factors. One of them is contributing funds from our own donors to match the grants. Another is demonstrating how much public supporter funding we’ve been able to attract over the past few years.

So the bucket isn’t bottomless, but your help means we can take advantage of everything on offer and potentially increase our share.

Your donation helps in a couple of other really important ways:

  1. It shows the Government that you trust us and believe in our work, which in turn increases their faith in us. This means they’re more likely to offer us a larger slice of the funding pie in the following year – and that’s a win for all of us!
  2. When you donate, you send a message loud and clear to our leaders that you’re prepared not to just give lip service to the idea that we should be good global citizens – you’ll put your money behind your ideals. With Governments watching closely to see which issues their people care about, this is one of the most powerful signals you can possibly send.

But wait – does this mean I should save up all my donations throughout the year and just give to this campaign?

If you can possibly manage it, it’s great to give to a range of our Campaigns. Here’s why:

Some of our partners aren’t large or sophisticated enough to handle the reporting and administrative standards for Australian Government grants – think about South Sudan where our partners are struggling to feed themselves, and electricity/internet is completely unreliable.

We rely on people like you to fund these projects and help us equip our partners to build the capacity they need so that they can be sustainable – longer term.

So what’s the best way to make my donation go furthest for good with UnitingWorld?

The choice is yours! There are benefits to each way of giving, including the incentive of a tax deduction, helping show your support of international aid to the Australian Government, responding compassionately in an emergency, or funding work that has few other sources of income.

Another excellent way to increase your impact is by becoming a regular giver.

  • Regular income provides security for our partners and helps them plan effectively
  • We don’t need to spend quite as much on promoting our work and encouraging people to give
  • We can use your gift when and where it’s needed most.

Global Neighbours are given annual updates about the impact of their work, and can choose exactly which other appeals and communications material they receive. We are incredibly grateful for this community of faithful supporters.

If you’re keen to check it out, visit us here

Do you ever feel like your attempts to change the world fall on deaf ears? It’s a pretty common experience.

Here are 5 quick ideas to help engage others for good.

1. Emotion rules.

We like to think we’re motivated by facts and logic, but we’re not. We’re biologically hard wired from way back to feel first, act next and think last. (Sabre tooth tiger FEAR! THREAT! RUN!) Only later does our rational brain engage – by which time, feelings are out in front.

What that means:  What are people likely already feeling about the thing you want to change?

We’re all far more willing to consider new ideas when we feel happy and encouraged – how can you help create that environment?

Share good news about the issues you care about and have the kind of presence that people warm to.

Tell your own story about why an issue really matters to you. If there are negative emotions involved in that – rage, sorrow – that’s okay too. Just be mindful about who you’re talking to, how they’re feeling and what you want to achieve. (More on that below)

2. Relationships matter.

We are far more likely to change our minds, give money or take action when information is delivered by people we know and like – other members of our ‘tribe.’ A lone monkey is a dead monkey- belonging to a group is critical to our sense wellbeing. No one changes ‘groups’ unless they feel safe and welcome in the new space, and although we’re more connected globally than ever, it’s mostly with people who think the way we do. We put each other in camps and those outside our camp have little chance of influencing our thinking and acting.

What that means: while you don’t need to stick to preaching to the converted, work most within your genuine sphere of influence – who likes and knows you?

Where are your common spaces, and which edges can you help shift a little toward the outcome you’re looking for?

If you have a shared faith, a shared love for your family, or other common interests, that’s fertile ground. Gently put down some seed, sunlight and water and you’ll have a shot at growing something people are ready to take on board. New, but not too radical!

You’re going to need to invest a lot more time into people with whom you have few similarities if you want to genuinely create change. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but be mindful of what you’re up against and where you can best spend your efforts. Ask yourself: what’s the best strategic way to engage? And be really careful not to sneer or attack those with different views – people don’t gravitate toward groups that belittle them.

3. Know your strengths.

The social change team is made up of a whole range of players – quiet influencers, protestors/activists, advocates, public communicators. Each has its pros and cons.

  • Quiet influencers sometimes feel they’re not making much difference.
  • Protestors/activists can come across over-emotional and ranty.
  • Advocates who are willing to compromise in order to inch toward an outcome cop flack from those who think they’re flaky or unemotional.
  • Public communicators risk only singing to the same choir.

That’s why we need each other, and we need to know in what way we find it easiest to create change.

What this means: What kind of changemaker are you?

Invest in developing that part of yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do things the same way as others.

We all need each other.

4. What about bad news and negative feelings?

It’s true that bad news is shared more quickly and widely than other news. That’s why our news cycle feeds on drama and despair – there’s no money without eyes on pages and screens. Terrible things do need to be addressed. But we need to be really clear about what we’re aiming for when we raise these issues.

What this means: Make sure you have an outlet for feelings like rage or sorrow among people you know and trust. Be careful about how and when you take that public.

While it’s fair to vent about the appalling treatment of women or indigenous people, what’s your goal? Personal processing or creating change?

They’re both valid, but they’re different. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

5. Say less, do more

To quote Mark Twain: “Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.” While you may not think you’re taking action, someone has suggested that all you need to determine what a person cares about is access to their bank statements and the call/message list on their phone.

What this means: We have more power than we realise in terms of taking action.

Find the nearest point where the issue impacts you and get hands on.

Write to someone. Give a donation. Start a study group. Pray. Support local women, use less electricity, visit asylum seekers in the community. People tend to follow the example of others more closely than the rhetoric.

Want to know more about the process of persuasion and change?

Read up here

Thinking of helping us share the news about our campaign to beat poverty and build hope?

Below is our campaign video and this is the link to download and share it to your own networks via email or a text to people you think will be interested. You could also share on Facebook and tag some friends who you know will be supportive.

Adapt your caption to suit your own voice, but you could use something like:

“Love this video! A really inspiring look at how UnitingWorld are helping people take control of their lives, build hope and end poverty.

At the moment donations to UnitingWorld will have up to six times the impact due to their partnership with the Australian government, which seems like an incredibly effective way to share our resources. I’m going to donate because (why would you give to this?)  Click the link here if you want to know more.”

 

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.

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

 

This time last year we sailed into the Easter week under a newly arrived phenomenon that amended significantly the texture of normal life for all of us, the Covid19 pandemic. Since then, our lives have been altered forever. As we draw closer to Easter, one year since the pandemic infiltrated our shores, we must thank God and be grateful. The spirit of gratitude must always precede the spirit of negation. The former Principal of the college, Rev Dr Sione ‘Amanaki Havea from Tonga, has reminded us in his theology of celebration that because the Pacific is founded on communal sharing, the idea of celebration underpins life. Every gift should be matched initially with celebration. The gift of life, community, and the Earth. To lose this gift of celebration is to lose the realization of being gifted.

 

Trapped!

As we sail into the Easter spirit this year, while we normally focus the faith spotlight on the death and the resurrection of our Lord as the main events, it is natural that what happened on Easter Saturday (other Christian traditions called it Bright Saturday) is dismissed. Throughout history questions have been raised: What really happened on Saturday? Was Jesus really in the tomb? Was he sleeping? Was he really dead? Whatever happened on that day, it is clear from the biblical storyline that Saturday is part of the salvation process that God intended through the life of Jesus Christ. Easter Saturday, just like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is not just one of the three days Jesus was dead and back to life again. Rather, personally, I would prefer to think of Saturday as symbolic of God’s time to expose our fragility and vulnerability. A time to remind us that God’s willingness, through Jesus, to be in the tomb is a divine resolve to be in deep solidarity with those still trapped in dark depressing tombs ― whom S.J. Samartha named in his poem “Saturday people”.

 

Squeezed between Good Friday and Easter

Ignored by preachers and painters and poets Saturday lies cold and dark and silent

An unbearable pause between death and life There are many Saturday people

To whom Easter does not come

There are no angels to roll the stones away

 

In the pre and post-Covid19 era, some people have moved on, resurrected from the torture and agonies imposed by uncontrollable forces such as pandemics and climate change. Some are still struggling, still carrying an unbearable cross in a never ending road to find one thing: Release! However some are still trapped in dark tombs, unable to see the dawn of the resurrection day, immersed in an unbearable pause between death and life, the now and the beyond, the here and the not yet, with no angels to assist to move them out of the tomb. Like some Israelites and prophets in the wilderness, they never get the chance to move into the promised-land. They dreamt of milk and honey but never tasted it.

 

Reimagine!

Most Saturday people are not strangers to us. These are the people who are unable to press further, trapped in depressing tombs endorsed by rapacious systems designed to unroll tomb stones and eliminate hope for life in the beyond. There are children who never grow old because they die from the malnutrition and the scarcity of food and water due to unjust economic systems in many countries. In the midst of wars and crises refugees sail on crowded, poorly equipped dinghies ― never arriving on dry land to find the peaceful, normal place where they hope to raise their children. Climate displaced communities never have the chance to heal from climate induced disasters. Vulnerable women, men, and children never see another day, due to constant beating and to extreme family violence that is also systemic. Adults never see the success of their children because they suffer from non-communicable diseases due, not just to individual choices, but more to the breakdown of the national health and socio-economic system. Detainees and immigrants never see a courtroom to fight for justice as they seek a home away from their troubled and war torn homes. Students fail before even trying, never see their full potentiality because their cultural and distinctive worldviews are normally denied by the established education system. Covid19 victims never see their loved ones for the last time before they die, abandoned by a failed health system. Many indigenous peoples are pushed not just to a margin, but to a margin of margins by rich corporations who flourish by turning lands and oceans into crucified ecologies. Economic systems, assisted by political complicities, are designed to make people accept without question the modern human-made tombs such as poverty, slavery, and secularism, to name a few. These are Saturday people that require our attention as we move into the Holy Week.

 

Resituate!

This Easter, one year after the start of the Covid19 pandemic, we are invited to resituate and realign our mission strategies to target those who die outside the promised-land. Those who continue to carry crosses built by empires, trapped in crucified bodies. Who remain in depressing tombs not because they want to but because they’re forced to.

But in order to do this, the church needs to redeem itself first from the traditional priestly plinth that normally situates priesthood and Christianity as a heavenly elitist society. The church needs to resituate its story within the radical justice-oriented earthly mission of Jesus on behalf of the Saturday people: the poor, the orphan, the outcast, the marginalized. A church that disturbs and unsettles rapacious systems that are Babylonian in nature ― in order to set free the vulnerable bodies of women, sick people, marginalized communities, and tyrannized ecologies; that assists in “opening up graves” in order to “bring out the dead” who have been turned by war hawks into “dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:10-12), giving them fresh breath, growing sinews, flesh, and skin. Saturday people are normally those who never reach resurrection, who suffer and die with Jesus “outside the city gates” (Hebrew 13:13). We need a church that dares to upend the curse of these depressing tombs to invite the light of the hope of the resurrection to these people.

Resurrection should not be just a bygone phenomenon that vaguely affects our lives, that finds its cadence only in worship liturgies nor should be about a supernatural otherworldly escape. Rather it should be about being in the world to make a difference. As Anthony Kelly reminds us, “the effect of the resurrection is to see the world and to live in it otherwise”. In Luke’s gospel, after the resurrection, Jesus hit the road again, ate and broke bread with disciples. In John’s gospel, Jesus went back to cooking fish and feeding people on the beach. The “resurrection effect” starts with fresh empowerment to go back to deal with real stuffs, real people, real issues, and the real world. It draws its mana and strength from the resolve to enter the darkest experiences of victims for the sake of liberation. For God to be in the tomb changes the whole meaning of following the resurrected Christ. It involves empowerment to be part of the real struggle of real people to help dismantle the systems that prevent them from realizing the promise of an empty tomb.

Let us remember the many victims of Covid19 during this Holy Week. May this post-covid19 Easter set a new tone of response to the crucified Saturday people, and a resurrection-filled cadence to those still trapped in dark depressing tombs! Manuia le Eseta!

Upolu Lumā Vaai
Pacific Theological College
29 March, 2021

This message has been republished with permission.
The original text can be found on the Pacific Theological College website here. | 
Download as a PDF

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

Ask just about anyone about the state of the world over the past few years and they’ll have shaken their head in dismay. In response to a YouGov study conducted worldwide in 2018, which asked the question ‘All things considered, is the world getting better or worse?” only 3% of Australians chose ‘better.’

Given the general disaster that was 2020, that percentage may have dropped even further. For the first time in two decades, we’re at risk of going backwards on extreme global poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the economic and health impacts are very real for many people we know and love.

In spite of that, the facts are that on balance, almost all aspects of human development are getting better, not worse.

On just about every measure you can think of, we’re in the best shape of our global lives.  

Health, education, gender equality, political democracy, peace, economic opportunity – humanity is in the midst of the most comprehensive, fastest progress we’ve ever made. Even with the impact of the pandemic, we’re still streets ahead of where we were ten years ago.

Alongside people of all faiths and none, Christians have played a significant role in much of this progress, and the Church continues to thrive in large parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa. In these communities, Church leaders and ordinary Christian people are sharing the hope and dignity of Christ as they roll up their sleeves alongside people working to overcome challenges that include the changing climate, conflict and the impact of COVID-19.

These are significant wins worth celebrating – never more so than when faced with the impact of a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go – there absolutely is, particularly as we face together the critical challenge of climate change. But the same drive that kept our ancestors hyper vigilant in the face of sabre tooth tigers is also powerfully at work among us today – we tend to focus on the negative. And in keeping our eyes on the dangers at our feet, we miss the stunning horizon.

What if we were to zoom out a little, and take a look at where we fit within the broader family of faith? We are members of a vast worldwide network of people who have been shaken and shaped by the love of the risen Christ, and life looks different from within their midst. The longer arc of history is truly bending toward justice.

UnitingWorld is calling congregations to learn and celebrate in a new initiative called Seven Days of Solidarity.

It’s a week to meet the preachers, teachers, farmers, leaders and workers who are behind incredible change in our global neighbourhood, animated by the spirit of Christ. The week begins with a service which includes a prayer and video encouraging people to lift their eyes to see where God is at work in the world. Seven inspiring stories, with ideas for action and prayer points, are available online or as print copies. At the end of the week, gather your congregation again to celebrate and recommit to the work, making use of a sermon (pre-recorded or notes available) and a full order of service, including prayers, call to worship and music ideas.

The Church in Australia has been part of a global family of changemakers – through mission, prayer, giving and advocacy – for decades. Now seems like the perfect time to take a fresh look at all we’ve achieved, to give thanks and to pledge ourselves anew to God’s work together.

Check out www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au for more details and to download/request resources. Seven Days of Solidarity will officially run April 18-25, but you can use the resources any time that suits you best!

 

“Prayer is a vital discipline for me. It is talking to our father for wisdom and strength. It’s a place to take refuge.” -Pastor Dorothy Jimmy, Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, Vanuatu.


The World Day of Prayer
is a global ecumenical movement led by Christian women who welcome you to join in prayer and action for peace and justice. It is run under the motto “Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action,” and is celebrated annually in over 170 countries on the first Friday in March. The movement aims to bring together people of various races, cultures and traditions in a yearly common Day of Prayer, as well as in closer fellowship, understanding and action throughout the year.

 Here are three prayer requests from our partners in Vanuatu:

 

    1. Pray for those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis

Cindy Vanuaroro, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union in Vanuatu and Chair of the World Day of Prayer Committee has asked the Australian Church to pray in solidarity with the people of Vanuatu struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“While we are thankful for achieving zero cases of COVID-19 in Vanuatu, the economic impact of the pandemic has been huge here. Thousands of people have lost jobs in Vanuatu, particularly in the travel and tourism sectors. People are living day-to-day to provide for their families. I often see newly unemployed people are walking the streets not knowing what to do.”

 

  1. Pray for women and men in Vanuatu working to end violence and build equality in their communities.

Cindy has also asked us to pray for the work of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to help people and communities understand God’s plan of equality between women and men.

Currently, 72% of women in Vanuatu will suffer violence at the hands of men in their lifetime (double the global average), so the work of the Church is critical in creating advocates for anti-violence and equality, using he Bible to speak powerfully to hearts and minds.

Here’s a great story of change showing their work in action:

 

  1. Pray for the next generation in Vanuatu: the children of today and leaders of tomorrow

Pastor Dorothy Jimmy, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu Women’s Missionary Union asked us to pray with the PCV for wisdom in help guide their youth during so many modern social changes and uncertainties, and that they hold onto what is special and unique about their traditional cultures.

“I would like the church in Australia to pray for the church in Vanuatu as we lead our youth to uphold cultures and traditions that are important to us. The importance of family, social connectedness and all the things that unite us as a people. May we hold onto it and continue to pass it on to the next generations.”

Thank you for joining us in prayer in solidarity with our partners and neighbours in Vanuatu.

You can find resources on the official World Day of Prayer website: www.worlddayofprayeraustralia.org

Download the above as a PowerPoint

In so many places around the world, relationships between men and women can be a source of much pain, anger and suffering. Violence against women is distressingly widespread, not only in less developed nations but in our own communities. And attitudes are so deeply entrenched, in some places neither men nor women understand where their beliefs and actions come from, let alone how to change them.

In the Pacific, churches are starting with the heart, and their approach is proving incredibly successful.

But they have a very long road to travel. Vanuatu, for example, is one of the most difficult places in the world to be female. Rates of violence against women and girls are among the highest on the planet.

Like most places in the Pacific, Vanuatu regards itself as a deeply Christian nation. The Bible is revered and on Sundays, large numbers of people attend worship. How is there such a disconnect between the love of God and record levels of gender based violence?

Pacific churches are realising how much change is needed to transform the relationship between women and men, and in partnership with UnitingWorld, are working on ways to make it happen.

The most effective tool by far?

The example and teaching of church leaders who have personally undergone huge shifts in how they understand the role of women and men. These men have the reach and influence to create change at local and national levels- and they’re up for the challenge.

Elder Jennery, pictured above with his wife Faina, is from Tanna, one of the southern islands of Vanuatu’s archipelago. People live in traditional ways and are proud of what it means to be ni-Vanuatu. Jennery took part in a Gender Equality Theology (GET) workshop back in February 2016, and his views and lifestyle were completely transformed as a result. You can hear him talk about the experience, alongside his wife, here.

“When I arrived home, I went straight to my wife and called her “Darling” and hugged her,” he relates. “She was confused because I never did this to her. I then apologised to her and told her about the GET workshop.”

So what’s a GET workshop, and does it produce more than affection for wives?

Elder Jennery and other workshop participants heard from the Scriptures that men and women are created equal in God’s sight.

They read passages that revealed Jesus’ love and inclusion of women, and heard about God’s desire that women and men work together, serving one another and the community in love.

For many men, this is completely eye opening information. The insights have never been presented in quite this way before – and certainly never really heard. The casual superiority of men, and their abuse of this power in the form of violence, was entirely debunked. There could be no justification of the treatment of women as possessions, or of the way they are systematically repressed within many Pacific cultures.

Elder Jennery took the new information to heart.

Keen that his wife understand the full extent of his transformation, he encouraged her to attend a five-day workshop, run by the Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union (PWMU), “so that she could develop her understanding and knowledge, and especially take a break from the housework.”

In response to her concerns that the housework would go untended and the children neglected if she were to attend, he made good on his new values.

“I told her that I would take care of the children, bought her a new dress and took out from my pocket 2,000 vatu for her needs,” Elder Jennery says.

“For the first time for both of us, we did something new. I took care of the children during the absence of my wife, did the cooking, washing of plate and clothes, preparing the children’s lunch box, and my wife left the housewife responsibilities and attended a workshop…

Friday, the end of the week, I was in the kitchen peeling the tapioca [root crop] when she came back from her five days’ workshop. She sat outside the kitchen and started to talk about her experience and what she had learned. She was so excited.”

For good reason. This is how change begins – in the hearts and lives of ordinary people.

Church communities are by no means exempt from the darker aspects of the patriarchal culture they’ve inherited. It’s commonplace for men to discipline their wives with violence of all forms. Women are mostly left in sole charge of household duties and care of their children, meaning they can’t work outside the home or create any economic independence.

Even a simple change in the way men and women relate will have far reaching consequences both now and for the next generation.

“My husband started to help me with the responsibilities at home and with the children and also looked after them when I went to work,” says Jennery’s wife, Faina.  “After he did the training I realised he loves me and loves the children – that’s when I saw change.”

Confidence in the love of men for children, too, is critical. Children learn quickly from their parents and community what their culture permits and restricts – and violence has long been condoned.

In a study on Vanuatu by UNICEF in 2015, 17% of women who experienced violence from their partner said their children were beaten at the same time.

They reported that their children:

  • experience nightmares (16% increase)
  • display aggressive behaviour (19% increase)
  • need to repeat a year of school (12% increase)
  • drop out of school (14% increase).

Elder Jennery has become aware of these statistics and their implications for the future of his people.

“I really want my children to live this kind of life, with women and men equal,” he says. I want my children to follow a new path. We need more of this program, to help run more courses.”

Practical changes

For Elder Jennery, the commitment to a better way for his children has meant exerting his influence as a leader within his community. He travels with his wife more often and they share their educative work. One area of practical change has been in the way their community now involves women in decision making.

Women in Tanna have been traditionally excluded from a direct role in village decision-making through the ‘nakamal’ (meeting place). Every day at 4pm, all the men and boys have to be at the nakamal to have men’s talk. This exclusion is echoed in higher levels  of leadership where Church, provincial and national governance structures remain male-dominated.

Due to the influence of Elder Jennery and others, men in his community now accept that women can take leadership roles and have the right to speak in a public place. Since 2018 they have ordained six women as Elders in his session.

Jennery also encouraged his wife to learn Bislama and go to a midwife workshop – she is now the village midwife and has helped reduce the number of maternal deaths and stillbirths in the area. More children are in school, too: both girls and boys.

The community has also seen a reduction in violence against women. Elder Jennery and others have continued to run GET workshops, and the outcomes have been significant.

“On the second day of the workshop I realised that I was abusing my wife and children,” one prominent village Elder admitted after he attended the training.

“My community know about me and knew that I am an Elder, but I am abusive. I have used knife, axe and physical force to abuse my wife, but this workshop helped me to realise that my actions are wrong and I would like to openly confess to my community that I will never again practice violence in my home. The GET workshop has helped me understand that we men and women are equal because we are created in the image of God and we must love and treat each other well.”

Perhaps most significantly, the change is being recognised as necessary not simply because some men behave badly, but because of deeply entrenched cultural attitudes that require an overhaul. Opening the Scriptures, and with them the hearts of both men and women, holds real potential to make it happen.

“I think we need to admit that this part of our culture is not in line with God’s word,” a significant village leader declared after attending the Gender Equality Theology workshop.  “It is time for us to start to choose God’s way instead.”

This is the life changing, deeply transformative work that your gifts are helping to fund. Thank you!