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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!

While two thirds of Australians say they’ll definitely get vaccinated against COVID-19, another 27% are still undecided. The number of people who say they’ll never get the jab is on the rise, up to 11% from 8% a few months back. These numbers are higher in other places around the world, and they show how deeply divided we are on the matter of the COVID-19 vaccination.

So what makes the difference in terms of changing minds on controversial matters like vaccination? Good information, or good friends?

Good friends.

Many people are surprised to know that the most important factor in shaping beliefs and decisions isn’t necessarily the supply of good information. It’s good relationships. And that’s because decisions are driven by a complex range of factors, with emotion top of the list.

“Good information”, delivered in a relational vacuum, can even harden opinions rather than change them. When people are drowning in shared global feelings like fear, sadness and isolation, ‘facts’ can be the last thing on their minds.

When a person contemplates taking up a particular position or belief,  she’s considering what makes her feel safest. Will a different view threaten her position among like-minded people who’ve given her a sense of belonging? If so, there’s little chance she’ll risk it – unless she has another safe place to take refuge.

That’s why listening and providing reassurance is the most effective way to engage with those who are cautious or opposed to the vaccine (or anything else, for that matter.) If you know people who are sceptical or fearful, hear them out. If you have a good relationship with them, they’ll likely ask your opinion – the perfect time to share reliable information. Avoid handwringing, scorn or contempt about someone else’s views – you’ve instantly lost the emotional airwaves.

This approach is critical in places around the world where COVID-19 cases are sky rocketing.

In many communities, faith in government is low and fear is high. Hearing information from people who are known and trusted makes all the difference, and following the example of high-profile leaders can be especially influential.

In Indonesia, more than 1.3 million people currently have COVID-19.

A recent poll suggests only 37% of people will take the vaccine voluntarily, with 40% undecided.

The Indonesian Government is delivering an intensive education campaign to help improve knowledge and confidence. But it also plans to implement fines and restrict access to social services in some regions for those who refuse the vaccination. Its ambitious plan is to vaccinate 181.5 million people in the next five months.

How do we win the emotional air waves and create community?

In Bali, UnitingWorld’s partner staff have already built strong relationships through training and support on the issues people care about – health, sanitation, opportunities to earn a living . They’ve often gone to remote areas where people feel forgotten by the authorities.

Years of work have laid the foundation for their information to be taken seriously, and for people to feel a part of a supportive community. With special permission to move within communities impacted by lockdowns, they find people open to reassurance and willing to listen. Their innovations include a new 24/7 hotline for people to call with questions, intensive face to face conversations about the safety of the vaccine as well as social and traditional media drops. With movement largely shut down because of the pandemic, they’ve also developed a website that matches suppliers in remote areas with those who need their products in the cities.

All this firms up people’s sense of belonging and security. In this emotional context, people are far more likely to be open to the new information that vaccination represents.

Relational influence from the top is important too.

Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator of our partner church in West Timor, was contacted by government officials to be among the first to take the vaccine. While happy to get the shot, Rev Mery was still anxious about possible side effects. Unlike many parts of the West where vaccines have become an accepted part of life, millions of people around the world are completely unfamiliar with the concept. Their fears are understandable, and the role our partners play in providing reassurance is significant.

 

Rev Kolimon writes openly here about her fact-finding mission to determine the safety of the vaccine, the feeling of waking up the morning after the shot, and her conviction that the church has an important role to play in helping people understand not only the science of disease, but the role of God in suffering.

 “We entered the beginning of the year with too many wounds,” Rev Kolimon writes.

“Facebook pages are full of sad news that drains inner energy.  The young and old are dying every day.  The threat is now so close.  We all ask: When will this end?”

In naming the context and articulating her own anxiety and quest for accurate knowledge, Rev Kolimon helps people feel heard rather than dismissed when they doubt.

It’s one of the reasons our church partners are particularly useful in the war on COVID-19. As people of faith, they have a natural bias toward a relational approach and are well networked in some of the areas others can’t reach. They’re able to develop influential communities who stick together ‘on message’ – an important factor given how much we’re influenced by our ‘herd’.

Please continue to pray for the work of all our partners. They’re constantly innovating while under pressure, and they need our continued love, prayer and financial support. You can make a gift to this work during Lent at www.lentevent.com.au

If you have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccination, talk to your local General Practitioner.

You can find information about the safety, testing protocols, expected side effects and more HERE from the Australian Department of Health.

 

Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator of GMIT (the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor) writes about receiving the vaccine to inspire others, the role of the church and where she sees God at work during a disaster like COVID-19.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not intended as professional medical advice. Please talk to you doctor if you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an official at the Nusa Tengara Timur Provincial Government Bureau to become one of the first public officials to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

I’d heard that President Jokowi had received the first vaccine, along with a number of public figures in Jakarta. I suspect that involving community leaders as recipients of the first vaccine is the government’s way of convincing the public to take part. Many of them are still caught up in the pros and cons of receiving vaccines.

We have a role to play helping overcome the doubts that still exist in the community about vaccines. I didn’t believe the government would offer a vaccine that might harm its people. But I didn’t want to just believe it. I quickly started looking for information about the safety of the vaccine, as well as thinking through a number of theological considerations that are important too.

Searching for information

I had already been looking for information about the safety of the vaccine. To be honest, I was happy to receive a vaccine shot right at the start of the campaign in Nusa Tenggara Timur province. Vaccination is part of the struggle against COVID-19 which threatens human life. But on the other hand, I also felt a little worried about the side effects of vaccines because I had heard some skewed information about their safety.

The first thing I did was contact friends who could give me good information, and I was grateful to receive their advice immediately. I also received a screening list, with a large number of issues to look into, to help determine whether I was ready to receive the vaccine.

The list explained that people who are pregnant and breastfeeding, have shortness of breath, cough and cold, a history of allergies, blood disorders, heart disease, autoimmune issues, chronic digestive tract, autoimmune hypothyroidism, cancer, blood sugar / diabetes  mellitus, or lung diseases (such as asthma and tuberculosis) should not receive vaccines.

To determine whether I could get the vaccine, I immediately consulted a number of doctors. I received tremendous support from a fellow epidemiologist, a doctor friend in Maumere, as well as doctors in Kupang and in Denpasar. I am grateful that I do health checks every six months so that my doctor friends found  it easier to analyze my condition. In times like these, check ups are critical, and  I want to encourage everyone to do routine check-ups at health facilities.

In addition, I coordinated with my fellow church and ecumenical leaders in Jakarta regarding their views on vaccines. Some of my friends were hesitant, but most of them encouraged me to receive the vaccine. Church leaders in Jakarta, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) and a number of friends of the chairmen of the synod council of several churches in the WA group, plus the leadership of the PGI member churches, strongly supported me to receive the vaccine, provided that my health was good based on a consultation with a doctor.

My sister, who is a nurse, gave her considerations based on reports of the implementation of Sinovac vaccinations in Brazil. According to the information she received, of those vaccinated 100% did not experience severe symptoms while 78% experience mild-moderate symptoms. Those things gave me the strength to receive the vaccine. My husband and children also looked for information on the internet to be a basis for our mutual consideration.

Observing the Body’s Reaction to Vaccines

The morning after the vaccination, I woke up with  mixed feelings. There was gratitude because I slept quite soundly. There was also a feeling of anxiety: how would my body react to the COVID-19 vaccine? The night before, I went to bed with the realization that my body had been injected with a disabled coronavirus to build immunity against it.

I had heard that after the vaccine, everybody reacts differently. Some people report feeling achy, very drowsy, etc. After the vaccine, I felt sore in my hands. But my ability to concentrate was good. I chaired a meeting with fellows online and took part in an online seminar. The two events were consecutive and I was able to stay focused. To this day my health is good, and I ask for prayers for all who have been vaccinated to stay healthy and be a sign of hope for efforts to overcome the life-threatening power of COVID-19.

Theology in Disaster

We entered the beginning of the year with too much sad news and wounds.  Facebook pages are full of sad news that drains inner energy. The young and old are dying every day. The threat is now so close. We all ask: When will this end? In an online seminar we conducted at GMIT regarding service planning during the pandemic, a resource person helped us see the global map of the development of COVID-19. They said this pandemic could last until 2025. This is a pretty tough situation for everyone, including the church.

“Some claim to have God’s vision not to receive vaccines: just pray, they say, don’t take any action.”

With vaccination starting, the debate continues: Is this vaccine useful or will it damage the human body? There has been a lot of news circulating.  Some claim to have God’s vision not to receive vaccines: just pray, they say, don’t take any action. I personally see this as a psychological reaction to the threat we feel as humans. But at the same time, it is very important for us to train ourselves to find information from reliable sources. God gave us the intellect to test all news and information, to test all voices that claim to hear God’s voice. The church learns to understand God’s voice (theology) first and foremost from the Bible.  Another source of theology is the conscience of every believer, as well as from the revelation of God in history, in culture, science, and in the experience of human life, including the experience of suffering.

The Spirit of God Blows Over the Dry Bones

This year, Ezekiel 37:14 is the text guiding GMIT services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

God brought Ezekiel into the valley of suffering that was full of dry bones that were scattered, the symbol of a life cut off from God and a loss for the future. God told Ezekiel to speak with the bones. God also told him to call the spirits from the four winds into the dry bones that give life.

“God did not allow the Church to avoid disaster.”

God did not allow the Church to avoid disaster. Instead, God led the church into and struggled in the midst of the valley of life’s threats. But the church’s task does not stop in the midst of suffering. The church is called to testify of the living power of God’s Spirit. Ezekiel has the authority to prophesy to the Holy Spirit to bring to life those dry bones.

I see the task of the church at this time is to learn to understand the reality of “dry bones”, namely the threats to life caused by this pandemic.

“We must not lose hope. Instead, the church is called upon to proclaim and work the good news in the midst of disaster”

We must open our eyes to hear and study the findings of scientists about the development of this virus around the world. We also need to be realistic about the dangers and threats we face. But we must not lose hope. Instead, the church is called upon to proclaim and work the good news in the midst of disaster situations. Within this framework, vaccination by the government needs to be positively accepted as the church’s involvement in God’s work for the restoration of human life. At the same time we need to remain critical of practices that can injure humanity where people resist vaccination or it is unavailable.

I believe that in all situations, our God is Immanuel; He is with us. The Trinity God with us is not passive, but God is with us actively. He acted for the salvation of the world He created. The power of sin destroys human life and the universe, but God does not stop helping humans and the fragile world. I believe that God has given humans the power to work together to fight the power of pain and death amidst the current threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccine is part of God’s gift for human minds to process knowledge into a safety tool. Receiving vaccines is part of a commitment to caring for life.

Rev Mery Kolimon is the Moderator of our partner GMIT (Christian Evangelical Church in Timor). Read more about our projects in West Timor.