1800 998 122Contact

Blogs

I was in West Papua recently on my first field trip with UnitingWorld, where I had the unique opportunity to meet with our partner, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua and visit their P3W project (short for Pusat Pembinaan dan Pengembangan Wanita).

P3W is the Training and Development Centre for Women in West Papua and it aims to empower and support women in remote and rural areas. Founded in 1962, the centre today has three regional offices comprising four units: Education and Training, Research, Documentation, Information and Publication; and Counselling and Income Generation.  With the help of 30 staff and 12 field workers, the centre currently has 30 active projects. One of them is the Livelihoods Project, which is training women in the highlands to understand the potential resources of their land and supporting them to grow crops – in particular soya beans to produce tofu and tempeh.

While at the centre, I asked if I could interview the head of P3W. Unbeknownst to me, the stylish woman I’d asked was exactly the person I was looking for – Ms Hermina Rumbrar.

“The church built this centre so that the women would not be left behind” said Hermina.

Ranging from raising awareness about HIV and domestic violence, to providing dormitories and information courses to students from remote areas, the centre has a strong focus on helping women. Towards the end of our chat, Hermina reflected upon the journey of the P3W and the positive impact it has had on the lives of countless Papuan women. I was moved by the genuine devotion she had for her work and the lives of her fellow Papuans.  I could tell that for her, this was much more than a job – she was investing her heart and soul for the future of West Papua.

At its head office, P3W runs courses teaching basic maths, crafting, women’s leadership, nutritional information, cooking and more. This basic knowledge is beneficial to the women of West Papua, especially when they return to their villages to spread what they’ve learnt. The centre also houses facilities for children who are too young for mothers to leave behind. While at the centre I had the opportunity to play with a little boy just under the age of three. He was one of the most active little ones I’ve ever met. We ran around the centre together and took selfies making funny faces. A special moment I will keep with me for years to come.

Later I spoke with Christina*, a 23-year-old student from the course. “Here I can learn to cook, learn about women’s leadership, nutrition and how to save. It really helps me”. Christina* had lost her parents by the age of 12 and is the youngest amongst ten siblings, three of whom have died. As she was telling me her story, she couldn’t hold back tears no matter how much she tried. Christina* will be going to university next year to study farming and wishes to help empower fellow Papuan women.

At P3W, I saw the tears of two brave women and learnt so much about the role of each in empowering women throughout West Papua. Above all, I learnt that our work cannot be done in isolation. We will continue to work alongside our brothers and sisters from GKI Church in West Papua and we appreciate your support in further strengthening the lives of these women.

 * The name has been changed to protect the identiy.

30 years ago, Christmas 1984, a group of prominent musicians from the UK and USA got together for “Band Aid” and recorded the Christmas anthem “Feed the World”.

Their aim was to raise awareness of, and funds, for people in Africa who were experiencing severe drought and famine. Amidst the well-meaning sentiment and good intentions, many of us didn’t take the time to reflect so deeply on the words – or maybe that was just where we were at that time in the learning journey that comes from living history. But last Christmas, in 2015 this same song was re-released.

It’s hard not to sing along to the old, familiar tune. However have you ever stopped to listen to the words? Here’s just a few:

“But say a prayer, pray for the other ones”

“There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear”

And the Christmas bells that ring are the clanging chimes of doom

“Well, tonight thank God its them instead of you”!

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flows

“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

“Give a little to help the helpless.

At its foundation, this song is based on the “us and them” paradigm with “the other ones” being the ones “we” are thankful that we are not. It portrays Africa as a place where water doesn’t flow, where plants don’t grow and where they won’t see snow, and then poses the question, “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”?  Are you cringing just a little bit? Apart from a few glaring geographical clangers – Africa is home to some of the mightiest rivers in the world, including the Nile, the Congo and the Zambezi to name just a few- there’s the fact that in the Southern Hemisphere, like in Australia, Christmas falls in summertime so snow really isn’t likely any Christmas.

But on a deeper level, there’s a shallow assumption that African peoples are characterised by ignorance, limited capacity, fear and doom. These are people sitting waiting, looking to the “outside” to be the engineers of their survival. It sees all Africans as those hungry, helpless children promoted on our TV screens and appoints Western “developed” societies as the source and bringers of hope and rescue. Yet in essence, this tune reflects more honestly on the perspectives of the writers than any African reality.

Today I’m sitting in a plane on the tarmac in Zimbabwe, waiting for the last passengers to board before embarking on the 35 hour journey home. I have been meeting with MeDRA, our Development Partners of the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe. It is an exciting time for MeDRA, for the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and this Partnership with the UCA through UnitingWorld. And in the light of the last few days, the words in this outdated Christmas anthem couldn’t be further from the truth.

During the Strategic Planning process we reflected on the Partnership between UnitingWorld and MeDRA, a partnership that spans nearly ten years.  The Uniting Church in Australia still remains their strongest partner. Just as I’ve reflected on the above anthem, words matter, and the word partnership is not used lightly. UnitingWorld isn’t just a “donor agency” or “funding partner” to MeDRA, but a genuine Partner. And as partners we share together, learn together and walk together in God’s global mission. Each of us has our role to play. UnitingWorld cannot do the work that MeDRA does – not successfully anyway. Working with MeDRA and our other Development Partners allows us, as the Uniting Church in Australia to participate effectively in this global mission. And partnering with UnitingWorld supports MeDRA by enabling professional capacity building, organisational strengthening as well as funding for their vital work on the ground. This work brings opportunity, hope, dignity and love to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.  It’s a true witness to God.

Let me share just a little about the people who make up this organisation. They are Zimbabweans and they know their country, their culture and the context. They are committed development professionals who know the need but choose to focus on the strengths and opportunities. They don’t do the life-changing work for the people in the communities they serve. Rather they support these communities to develop their own potential and empower them to be the agents of their own transformation. And above all things, they are committed to living out their faith and being a genuine witness to Christ in the communities they serve.

And then there are the people living in the communities themselves. The context in which they live is harsh. They are far away from city services, in places where the soil is dry and hard, the temperatures scorching and the impact of drought an everyday reality. It is a tough existence and yet they are resilient and they survive. Through MeDRA they are accessing training and as community groups, developing livelihoods strategies to increase their access to income. This enables them to send their children to school and look to a future for their children that has more opportunities than they themselves have experienced. And they are embracing this chance with both hands and thriving in it.

But if that wasn’t encouraging enough, here’s the kicker. From the profits that each group makes, some is set aside to reinvest into the business, yet before the remaining profits are shared among the group, some is allocated to support other vulnerable people in their communities – widows, orphans, single mothers, etc. They see this as their social responsibility. They were once the most vulnerable but now they have opportunity, they are building something together, they have discovered their God-given dignity and with that their responsibility to others in their community. It’s hard work, but they embrace it and they do it and they are succeeding in it. And they are paying it forward.

These people are not helpless. They just need a chance. Through the partnership between MeDRA and UnitingWorld, many are now able to embrace such a chance. I visited some of these communities last year, and I saw nothing of our Western Christmas anthem anywhere. Instead I saw potential, I saw hope, I saw dignity and I sat at their feet to learn.

This Lent, let us be the ones transformed, let us have God’s eyes to see hope and potential where others would tell us there is helplessness; give us ears to hear the invitation to participate effectively and give us humble hearts to learn what we need to learn and to give what we can.

And for the record, for those in Africa who share our faith, yes they do know when it’s Christmas time, even without the snow!

Watch the people of Zimbabwe at work here.

“Make me a daughter of this land because of my ancestry.”

 These were the words of Rev Thresi Mauboy, Moderator of UCA Northern Synod as she joined me last month in the land of Papua and greeted 15,000 people at a church celebration in Manokwari capital of the province of West Papua.

Let me give you some context. 161 years ago the Gospel arrived in the land of Papua. Over the years, it transformed traditional, tribal culture into a Christian society. Whilst the journey was long and often filled with struggle, with time and the dedication of early missionaries, God filled hearts with the liberty of Christ.

Although the missionaries have left, God remains.

Since 1985, the Uniting Church in Australia has been a partner of the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (Gereja Kristen Inijili Di Tanah Papua) (GKI-TP). Over the years we have seen how the church has become an abiding agency of the society. The church has a membership of 850,000, with 600 schools, one university and one theological seminary. Male and female clergies have reached equal numbers. Despite its difficult journey and deep struggle “like a sweet potato in between two rocks”, the church has represented the people to seek self-determination of their future. The UCA is with them on this journey. Along the way we see their witness. The Gospel is within the culture and among the people in this far eastern part of Indonesia.

The Moderator of UCA Northern Synod is the UCA’s first Indonesian-born moderator. As she returned to the land, she was welcomed by the Moderator of GKI-TP. Rev Alberth Yoku and during the celebration was greeted by Prof Yohana Susana Yembisethe, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Children’s Protection, Republic of Indonesia. Both the church leader and the government minister welcomed Rev Mauboy with pride.

Australia is a close neighbour of Indonesia. The people-to-people connection is clearly evident on the Indonesian side. During our conversation the Minister explained her doctoral degree was from Newcastle University and she attended a Uniting Church while she studied in Australia. Coming from Biak Island of West Papua, she understands how women should be recognised as contributors of social good. She expressed the wish for Thresi to return again, and visit Jakarta as an Indonesian high achiever.

Rev Mauboy’s speech was cross-cultural in nature. She recalled her early experience in Indonesia and how the culture has shaped her in those formative years. Now as a UCA minister she spoke about how God is working between cultures and peoples.

During her speech Thresi declared “I am a daughter of this land”.

 “God sent me to Australia to continue the mission from Otto and Giesler to proclaim the Gospel in Australia. Now I return as a bridge between cultures and peoples. I belong to you and you are my people”. The crowd responded with loud acceptance.

This is a telling story of a first generation of migrants. We struggled in between cultures. Our past cannot be undone, and our living in Australia has shaped a new identity. When two identities can either be both affirmed or both rejected, we have no option but to live with the tension and hold them together with our own life. And this struggle has also been transformed into a gift to build a bridge between the distance.

Two years ago UnitingWorld attended the same celebration. At the time we began to renew and reaffirm our partnership. Today we are here again, being welcomed in as close friends. Rev Alberth Yoku, Moderator of the GKI-TP spent much of his valuable time with us and made plans to visit Australia for the first time in his term.

Before our departure he gave his surname ‘Yuko’ to Thresi Mauboy.

“Now you are a part of my family”, he said.

We often have the belief that being in possession of more stuff will bring us a happier life. We must have the newest technology, more clothes or whatever everyone else has got. But once we have these things, think about how many hours go into worrying about them being broken or wrecked?

More possessions will not bring us a happy and full life with Christ.

Don’t believe me?

You may be surprised to discover that some of the happiest people in the world live in poorer communities. These are the communities who are always willing to give, even if it means that they have very little. More people should look at this and see that though these people have fewer items than us, they are more social and giving. They don’t fight over what little they have but share it.

There are a few different walks in the world called ‘Caminos’. These spiritual walks can take a month or more, and involve carrying nothing but a backpack with your absolute essentials. Why do people do this? The simplicity is definitely one reason. My dad walked it himself, and he told me that you get up and walk all day until at night you get to your destination. Than you get up and walk again the next day. The result of this was that he noticed the little rare flowers he might have otherwise just walked past, every sunset was admired, and every sip of water was cherished. You have all the time you need to appreciate God’s little gifts of beauty that we often overlook.

Living fully is something to do in the present, not next week or soon. It’s harder to live fully with so many useless things getting in the way. When you live simply, you notice the beauty and value around you that you might otherwise ignore. Living in the moment, you can truly appreciate what matters.

This is why de-cluttering our lives is so important. When you have less in your house you have more room and time to think. You stop stressing about everything and you learn to value what you do have, instead of wanting more all the time.

It’s an important life skill, so here are some top tips on how to de-clutter you house and your mind today:

  1. Find a garbage bag. While you try to fill up this bag, you’ll begin to realise that there is really no use for some of the stuff that’s taking up space in your house.
  2. Give away one item each day. As well as getting rid of something you have no use for, you might also be making someone’s day better by giving them a gift.
  3. Boxes!!! Label rubbish, donate, and give to a friend. Sort everything until you no longer have things you have no need for.
  4. Pull everything out of a drawer. You won’t believe what gets hidden underneath papers and books. Put only what you need there back into the drawer and either throw away or put the rest in the proper place.
  5. If you are completely serious about decluttering your whole life there is one extravagant thing that you can do. Put absolutely everything in boxes, making sure that you can store them somewhere close and out of the way. When you desperately need something, go and get it out of the box. Leave everything else in there. After a while, you will realise how much you actually never use. From there you can donate, give away or throw out.

De-cluttering can leave you with a more peaceful, simpler and calmer life.

Just think, more time to yourself, more time for others, you can finally focus on what is really important.

It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all – Laura Ingalls Wilder

By Kaitlyn Trounce, Year 10

(UnitingWorld Work Experience Student, 2015)

Profound?

I certainly fell into the Festive camp on Christmas Day, but as I surveyed a mini-tsunami of wrapping paper after the gift giving, I also found myself wondering yet again about both excess and sloth.  Even our cats (who move as little as possible under normal circumstances) hardly bothered to roll over between Christmas and New Year.  In the midst of all this, it’s pretty easy to lose the image of a child born in a backwater, growing up beside the poor and living out his call to share bread with strangers.  Even more challenging is translating the sentimentality of the Christmas season into something solid and life changing all year round.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably hoping to regain a bit of a balance now that you’ve settled back into work.  No doubt top of the list:  cutting back on excess, paying more attention to our inner lives and perhaps thinking more consistently of others.

In a couple of weeks on Feb 10, just as school goes back and most of us wonder where on earth January went, the season of Lent will begin.  Typically it’s the time in the Christian calendar to reflect on our spiritual lives in a quest for growth, forgiveness and connection. These forty days are a God-given opportunity to recalibrate:  heart, mind, spirit.

With this in mind, I’m planning to take up a Challenge through UnitingWorld’s Lent Event – attempting to live simply, reflect more deeply on my faith and act to support people working hard to free themselves from poverty.  For me and my family, it’ll be a chance to start the year right by thinking about what we eat and why, including the little luxuries we sometimes enjoy a little too much (snack foods, the occasional take- away including lunch at work, desserts, alcohol) and our reliance on technology.  We’ll donate the money we would have spent on all this to a couple of projects I’ve seen first-hand creating change in the Pacific, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

We’ll also be aiming to spend time reflecting, meditating and praying, reading and learning about our faith as well as the faith of our partners in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.  I’m often amazed by how easy it is to see people in these parts of the world as ‘needy’ and underestimate their creativity, spiritual depth and sheer courage.

Through it all, I’m hoping that February and March won’t only be times of growth for our family, but will contribute to the efforts of people who probably didn’t get a chance to lose themselves in a cheese platter this Christmas.

If you want to get involved, check out www.Lentevent.com and sign up today.  There are plenty of ideas to make Lent a time of simple living as well as action alongside some of the world’s poorest people. More resources, including an app (download it right now from the App Store and Google Play), videos and resources for children, are being added every week in the lead up to Feb 10.

Time to make plans to end the confusion?  Lent Event could be exactly what you’re looking for.