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Project Updates

With climate change intensifying the ferocity and frequency of natural disasters—typically in regions where the poor are disproportionately affected—how do we as the Church respond?

That was the question posed at UnitingWorld’s annual conference of Southeast Asia Partners, held in Bali from 29 July to 2 August 2019.

Delegates from Bali, Java, Maluku, West Timor, Timor-Leste, Papua and West Papua and North Luzon in the Philippines gathered to hear from experts and share their own experiences of climate change and disasters.

Indonesian disaster specialist Henry Pirade led sessions with project managers on how to conduct risk assessments, prepare local communities to be disaster ready and how to carry out effective disaster response.

Delegates enthusiastically shared their experiences of disasters and gathered ideas from one another to take back to their churches and disaster preparation projects.

“As the Church, it is our calling and responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Rev Sudiana, director of UnitingWorld partner Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), an agency of the Christian Protestant Church of Bali.

“But there is often apathy in local communities when it comes to disaster preparation. If it’s not a priority for local government, it needs to be pressed by local churches. We are good at helping after disasters, but we can save many more lives in advance if we prioritise disaster planning.” 

Delegates discussed how disaster preparedness needs widespread and diverse community buy-in to prevent vulnerable groups like the elderly and people with disabilities from being left behind during a disaster.

Many delegates spoke about the critical roles of education and leadership in keeping people safe during disasters and preparing for climate change.

“The key to mobilising our communities for climate action and disaster preparation is education. People won’t move if they don’t understand the situation and their role in it,” said Julius Cezar, a youth leader from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

 “We must empower our [project] beneficiaries to become leaders of disaster preparedness in their communities. Education is often the only difference between beneficiary and a leader,” said program manager Victor Nahusona from the Protestant Church of Maluku.

The conference highlighted how supporting people during disasters isn’t only practically difficult but can also be psychologically and spiritually complex. 

“For weeks after the recent flood in Sentani (Papua), people who had fled their flooded islands were scared to go home or fish in the lake because they had seen dead bodies in the water around their houses,” said program manager Meilanny Alfons from Papua.

Physically removing and burying the bodies is one thing, addressing the trauma and fear of spirits is another. Delegates agreed the Church has a strong role to play in trauma counselling.

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

Keynote speaker Rev James Bhagwan spoke about the pastoral role of churches and shared his experiences of faith-based climate action and disaster response in Fiji.

Rev Bhagwan didn’t avoid difficult theological questions: Where is God in a crisis? Who is to blame? How do our communities respond faithfully and effectively?

Drawing on an emerging Pasifika theology of climate justice, Rev Bhagwan pointed to God’s love as the starting point for climate action.

“Biblical justifications for climate action need look no further than the Bible’s most known and quoted verse, John 3:16.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“When the Spirit became flesh and dwelt among us, it signaled that God is with us, and showed what love for the world truly looks like. This is the starting point for a theology of climate justice,” said Rev Bhagwan.

“As we lose our relationship with creation and deny the sacredness of all life it becomes easier to exploit it.”

Rev Bhagwan explained the theological justifications holding back climate action in the Pacific, and many of the Southeast Asia delegates noted the same debates going on in their churches.

“In the Pacific, people often see disaster preparation and climate action as showing lack of faith (‘God looks after us’). But preparedness is practicing faith. It is a visible proclamation of hope for a renewed tomorrow.”

“Christian hope is a call to action.”

The Protestant Christian Church in Bali, the local hosts of the UnitingWorld Partner Conference, made space on their land for each delegate to plant a tree for their own church or church agency. The trees represented a commitment to work in partnership for climate justice.

As part of our commitment to standing with those most vulnerable to climate change, the Uniting Church in Australia is encouraging members to support the Global Climate strike on September 20.

Click here to support the Global Climate Strike and join us on 20 September!

The conference was kindly hosted by Maha Bhoga Marga (MBM), the development agency of our partners the Protestant Christian Church in Bali.

A statement from the President’s Conference, Fiji 2019

“For God so loved the cosmos” (John 3:16)

The good news of Christ is for the whole of creation 
and we are one with all creation in Christ. (Col 1: 23)

We, the participants of the 2019 President’s Conference, gathering in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Fiji have drawn together to bear witness and to draw courage from each other – here where climate change is most clearly seen, most clearly felt, by the people least responsible for its progress.

We acknowledge:

Our connection to Moana, Waitui, Wansolwara people, whose lands and hearts are bound by deep, blue Pacific waters.

We are part of the Pacific, a liquid continent where islands are connected and sustained by the ocean currents.

The need to listen again to the voices of our sisters and brothers, our friends, fellow members of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable and most impacted, who also demonstrate great resilience, determination, hopefulness and commitment to work for change.

This has inspired us and challenged us to hear God’s call to costly discipleship and we lament the effects of the human sin of greed and particularly its effects on this planet, our home.

Together we affirm:

The Uniting Church’s commitment to the wellbeing of the environment arises out of our belief that God is the Creator of the world in which we live and move and have our being.

This ‘groaning creation’ is God’s ‘good’ creation.

Through our discerning of Scripture, we acknowledge the gospel of creation: all things were made in, through and for Christ and are being reconciled in Christ.

The Uniting Church believes that God calls us into a particular relationship with the rest of creation, a relationship of mutuality and interdependence which seeks the reconciliation of all creation with God.

The Basis of Union expresses this hope and situates it at the very heart of the church’s mission:

“God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end.”

Together we recognise:

The ongoing concern of the Uniting Church in Australia since its formation in 1977 for the wellbeing of our planet that has been expressed in numerous statements.

The unique place and wisdom of First Peoples of Australia in relation to the land. The Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church recognises that:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.

The Churches of the Pacific, with whom we are a part of the Body of Christ, and the Pacific Conference of Churches, to which we belong, are leading the response to climate change. We hear their call and witness to us; and recognise their prophetic, practical and pastoral actions among their people.

Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation, often accompanied by the belief that the world is given to use as we please, and the perspective that “more is better.”

The island nations in the Pacific are being disproportionately harmed by climate change, and are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and climate change induced natural disasters.

Climate change induced displacement is already a significant challenge, and grief both to Pacific countries and across the world; disconnecting people from their homes, their culture and their identity.

Climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and across the world, and to all of creation including plant and animal life.

The intersectionality of issues – how climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest communities and on women and children, people living with disabilities, people with different gender identities – calls for relational and inclusive justice.

As participants of this conference, we are called to be God’s co-workers, participants in the work of reconciliation and renewal for the whole creation. We believe that we have a moral responsibility to act, and that God is calling us to be bearers of hope.

Because of this, we commit to:

Working with First Peoples in Australia particularly through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sisters and brothers in the Pacific and other communities of faith to understand the impacts of climate change on traditional and contemporary ways of life and pay attention to the Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom of living in right relationship with land, sea and sky.

Being compassionate, active listeners to the environment and people living with the reality of climate change.

Being thankful for all we have, recognising we have enough, enjoying the beauty and bounty of God’s creation, resisting the pressures of consumerism and idolatry of material possessions.

Being responsible for our own actions and our impact on the environment, and calling for a renewed repentance, turning away from seeking more, towards a just sharing and harmony of all life.

Being a green Church by finding creative ways to engage our own communities in climate action, raising aspects of the environment in our worship, replacing disposable with sustainable products, reducing energy use and moving to renewable forms of energy.

Boldly raising our voices to advocate to governments to act on climate change and its effects in Australia, in the Pacific and the global community.

This statement was originally published on the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website.

Read more about UnitingWorld’s work with Pacific partners on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

“90% of people in the Solomon Islands believe in God. When a message about women comes from the Bible, their eyes are open, they feel it has more weight. And that’s why we will see a reduction in gender-based violence and increased respect for women in our society.”

If anyone has the insight to comment on what might make a difference to violence against women in the Pacific, it’s Pastor Lima Tura. 

The sole female lecturer at Seghe Theological College in the Solomon Islands, Lima has a Bachelor of Theology from Pilgrim Theological College in Melbourne, she is a single parent and now teaches theology and biblical studies in her home country. It’s not been an easy journey.

Feeling the call to pastor several years ago, Lima was offered a scholarship in partnership with UnitingWorld and the United Church of the Solomon Islands to study at Seghe. A trailblazer, she literally burnt the midnight oil or read under lamps powered by generators, studying third-hand textbooks from Australia as she worked her way through her Certificate. She completed a Bachelor of Theology in Melbourne and has now returned to her college determined to overcome its many challenges.

“We are lucky right now – we have power connected and two light bulbs in most of the homes,” says Lima.

“Our library is small, and we have no Wi-Fi for internet research – we can sometimes use data on our phones but it is very expensive.”

Despite scarce resources, Lima describes her lecturing position as wonderfully inspiring.

“There are fourteen gentlemen and one woman in my classes,” she laughs.

“The men are really great, very open to equality. I mean, sometimes it is probably hard for them. I’m not sure if they have been taught by a woman before except in school when they were younger.”

The first woman to lecture at the college, Lima is bringing new perspectives to students and existing clergy both by example and through her teaching, which draws on gender equality theology work developed by UnitingWorld as part of the Partnering Women for Change program.

Pastor Lima with Solomon Islander Theologian Rev Dr Cliff Bird

“For both the men and the women here, this message of equality and dignity is so liberating,” Lima says. “We held a workshop to teach from the Bible about respect for women and to share what the scriptures have to say about women and men’s roles. People are very excited. When they hear messages from secular women’s rights organisations they can be suspicious and confused. But when it comes from the pulpit, from the church who they trust, it has much more power and influence.”

In July, a group will meet in Fiji to discuss how Bible study material can be brought alive for students in colleges and within church circles. Lima will be among the attendees.

After years of groundwork, our theological workshops with church partners in the Pacific have attracted funding from the Australian Government.

“The Australian Government recognises that overcoming poverty and ending violence against women in the Pacific is about working to see women’s rights and gifts recognised,” says UnitingWorld Associate Director Bronwyn Spencer. “They’ve also realised that in cultures where Christianity is central, churches hold the most influence and authority to create change. As a result, they’ve been funding our work with partners to explore biblical gender equality, so that local leaders are equipped to preach and teach it and help to open opportunities for women in church leadership. That’s actually pretty radical.”

Leaders of women’s fellowship groups at a Gender Equality Theology workshop in Fiji

For Lima, the support of people here in Australia through UnitingWorld is incredibly precious.

“I can’t thank you enough for the scholarship to study and for the prayers you have offered for me,” she says. “Without you, I could not have answered this call. My dream for the students is that they go back to their communities with the wisdom to address through a theological lens all the challenges they face – social, economic and spiritual. We experience so much good here, but so many difficulties as well.”

THANK YOU for supporting our church partners to lead this transformative dialogue among their communities. Pastor Lima’s story is one thread in a fabric we see being woven from country to country, where God’s powerful message of freedom and dignity for all is shaking and sheltering lives.

“It’s our choices that matter in the end. Not wishes, not words, not promises.”

How many choices do you think you might make each day? Researchers suggest it’s about 35,000 choices – 227 relating to food alone.

Little wonder so many of us have choice paralysis! So what guides our decisions? Some are impulsive, some are emotional, some come from rationally weighing up the facts. Too many are just unconscious, routine. We do things because it’s the way we’ve always done them. But as so many people have pointed out, it’s our daily choices that become habit, habit that becomes character and character that becomes our destiny. That means our choices are powerful – even the ones we might not think matter all that much.

We went to a small community in Papua New Guinea to film an interactive video that allows you to make choices revealing what life is like as a young person living with limited options in a developing country. If you haven’t already tried it out, you can find it here: https://unitingworld.org.au/choice

The video highlights that “35,000 choices a day” don’t include most of the world’s poor. In Papua New Guinea, the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water, most people have only one water source – and it’s often dirty enough to kill them. One person dies every minute around the world from complications relating to dirty water. Most of them are children. But faced with little awareness about clean water and sanitation, what real choices are there? Lack of options for handwashing and clean water force people to choose unsafe sources, a lifestyle that can kill.

Papua New Guinea is the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water

We’re training health workers who are changing all that, and your choice to get involved makes a huge difference. When you donate to our water and sanitation work, as many of you already have, you’re supporting communities to gain access to clean water and learn new habits that save lives. It’s such a simple act that makes such a huge difference.

Thank you to everyone who has already made the decision to get involved in this work. Your gifts, combined with funding from the Australian Government,* mean that our partners are excited about the ways we can expand the work to many more communities in Papua New Guinea, West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.

Together, through our determined daily choices to be people of generosity and compassion, we’re building a world where people can thrive no matter what their circumstances. Thank you!

*As a partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld receives flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas.

Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

Pic: Local change agents teach a community about water, sanitation and hygiene in Papua New Guinea.

The new interactive video highlights the difficult choices faced by people working to overcome poverty.

The video follows the story of 15-year-old Rani, who lives in a remote costal village in Papua New Guinea. With limited access to reliable water, she must make difficult choices every day that put her health, education and safety at risk.

The interactive video aims to highlight how the restriction of choices in the developing world can be fatal, and how we in Australia can use our own choices to make a difference. Watch it here.

Give the power of choice

You can help communities like Rani’s by giving a gift before June 30.

Thanks to our partnership with the Australian Government, your tax-deductible gift can go up to six times further in saving lives.

As a partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld can access funding for certain projects to help us reach more people. In order to receive Australian Aid funding, we are required to contribute $1 for every $5 we can access. That means your gift goes up to six times further!

UnitingWorld is aiming to raise $450,000 this financial year to support our community development projects in Papua New Guinea, West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe. Help us fund our partners and life-changing projects.

Click here to donate now.

Are you part of a church/community group? Click here to access fundraising resources to help us reach our goal!

Project Update: Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities

The Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project has gone through two phases.

In the first phase of the project, we worked with RAK (Reitan Aine ki Kamatu – Women’s Fellowship of the Kiribati Uniting Church) to support the establishment of raised vegetable garden beds through resources and training.

Kiribati women identified this as important for three main reasons:

1. Food security
With the increasing effects of climate change on their tiny islands growing food had become more and more difficult. With the rising sea levels, the fresh water table has become contaminated with salt water and is too brackish to grow most crops. Also, this sea-level rise has seen king tides and tropical depressions cause widespread regular flooding, damaging low level food crops.

Kiribati

2. Improved health
As a result of the limited availability of fresh foods, people turn to the imported foods. These include a large diet of 2-minute noodles, excessively fatty cuts of meat (often deemed unsuitable for human consumption in Australia) and preserved sugary foods (as they last the long sea journeys to Kiribati). All this is resulting in national poor health and increased incidents of diabetes.

3. Increased usable income
If the families and communities can grow more of their own food, they will need to spend less on the expensive, poorly nutritious imported food, thus releasing more income into the family budget for school and medical fees.

During the training activities on gardening, composting and healthy cooking (developed and conducted locally), conversations about healthy family and marriage relationships and the protection of women, girls and children were facilitated. The learning from these conversations highlighted specific community needs for families in Kiribati and our partners have been sharing their insights with us.

Gender-based violence is a huge issue in Kiribati and young girls are particularly vulnerable. With Kiribati being so isolated, there is a steady flow of foreign ships into the port bringing supplies. Among communities with little income and high unemployment, young girls are vulnerable to trafficking.

We are currently in the early stages of the second phase of this project with RAK and Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC), which currently consists of 2 main aspects:

1. Theological training and resourcing of Pacific Gender Equality Theology for leaders across the church, women’s fellowship and youth groups. The aim is to shift the patriarchal paradigm and equip the church and its leaders to be able to engage effectively in conversations about gender, domestic violence, child abuse and exploitation with families within their communities. Our partners have identified this as an important part of building safe families in Kiribati.


Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati Feb 2019

2. Evaluation of the ‘healthy communities’ aspect of the project. We are working with our partners to identify the aspects of the garden phase that worked well and the reasons why it was less successful in some locations. We anticipate that after developing a better understanding of the factors that affect project impact, we can move to build on the foundations of food security and increasing people’s incomes, while recognising that it is both spiritual and physical needs.

Gender Equality Theology workshop in Kiribati Feb 2019

As the theological training component of the project is the most active right now, the Kiribati Safe Families, Healthy Communities project is now part of the Pacific Partnering Women for Change project. We will post updates on both aspects of the project as we gather information and take the learning forward with our partners in Kiribati.

RAK Project Coordinator Bairenga wanted to say thank you for the prayers and donations of UnitingWorld supporters for enabling the work of our partners.

She recorded the below in April 2019.

Thank you from Kiribati! from UnitingWorld on Vimeo.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this project!

All photos by Natasha Holland, International Program Manager, UnitingWorld

A year has passed since a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, killing at least 100 people and displacing 18,000 from their homes. The impacts were massive, with over half a million people in the affected area and more than 270,000 people needing emergency assistance.

Immediately following the earthquake, UnitingWorld supported our partners the United Church of Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) to conduct rapid impact assessments. Our partners had been trained prior to the earthquake so were among the first to assess the needs of many affected communities. Thanks to supporter donations, we were able to help UCPNG distribute emergency supplies, including water containers, hygiene supplies and temporary shelter kits to over 1,200 vulnerable households in 12 communities across Yaken and Lai Valley in the Southern Highlands.

Recording household names to map relief distributions

Our partners completed a second round of assessments and collated it with information from other churches. They found that the primary needs had shifted to recovery and rebuilding. UnitingWorld supported UCPNG to develop a joint recovery and rebuilding plan with other churches, for which we were able to help them access funds – including private donations and grants from the Australian and New Zealand governments.

UCPNG water tank installation using recycled car chassis for elevation!

UCPNG has since been distributing and installing 91 water tanks and 28 latrines, as well as fixing water catchments and roofs across communities in the Southern Highlands. Together with other churches, they are installing a total of 329 tanks and 175 latrines throughout the Southern Highlands and Hela Province. They are designed to service whole communities in order to reach the greatest number of people.

Community members test out a new water tank installed by our partners

The earthquake has had a significant psychological impact on many people and exacerbated local conflicts, particularly in Hela province. We have been working with UCPNG to run counselling and conflict resolution workshops in the affected area. Our latest Update newsletter shared an inspiring story from one of the workshops and Stephen Robinson recently blogged about his time in the Highlands training ministers in disaster chaplaincy.

Church leaders participating in counselling and conflict resolution workshops

Responding to this disaster has been especially complicated, given the scale and remoteness of impacted communities. Our Disaster Disaster Relief Coordinator David Brice was in Mendi and Hela provinces last month visiting some of the affected areas. He says many people are still feeling the effects of it even now.

We are continuing to work with our partners in helping communities recover from the disaster and will post updates on our website here.

Thank you for supporting the people of Papua New Guinea after the earthquake. Funds raised were crucial in the early emergency response and enabled our partners to leverage their rapid assessment work to access further government funding.

Want to make your support go even further?

We have launched an appeal to help our partners be better prepared to respond to disasters.

The key to saving lives in a disaster is preparedness, and we want to help vulnerable communities be disaster ready. Find out more.


Every $1 invested into disaster preparation can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy

Donate now

We were thrilled to receive a handwritten letter from a student who has been part of our Informal settlement school subsidy program in Fiji. Mira* just graduated and wanted to say a big thank you to the Uniting Church for supporting her education.

Many of you gave a ‘Set for School’ gift card last Christmas, supporting students like Mira to get through school on an equal footing with her peers. It’s great to see the joy and impact it can make.

*Name changed. We have reproduced parts of Mira’s letter below to remove references to names and specific locations to protect her privacy.

Full letter:

Suva, Fiji / 7 Feb, 2019
The heads/members. Uniting Church, Australia

I am glad to write this letter of appreciation for the support of the Uniting Church towards my education life.

It was indeed a proud moment for my parents to see their daughter graduate out of high school with having much burden on their shoulders to educate me. Furthermore, this attainment of education also moulded me to contribute towards the works of the church by becoming a Sunday school teacher.

The Uniting Church did not step back from helping us and provided support through means of buying uniforms, bags and shoes for us which was a need of school life.

All in all, I would like to thank the Uniting Church from the bottom of my heart for their endless support in helping the parents nuture their children.

A big bula vinaka vakalevu, dhanyarad and thank you from the children.

Yours faithfully,
– Mira

Kina Somare* is wanted throughout the Highlands of Papua New Guinea on numerous counts of violence. Leader of a well-known gang that frequently clashes with others in the region, his face is both known and feared. So when he walks into a peace workshop one still afternoon in October, amidst the rubble of Hela Province’s worst earthquake since 1922, everyone in the church stands very still. 

Somare walks out a changed man. He speaks with local police. He wants to become an ambassador for peace personally and to influence other young people to bring healing to the community. His transformation is staggering.

“The Bishop of the United Church in PNG (UCPNG), who was taking part that day, found Somare’s presence particularly unnerving,” says UCPNG Disaster Office Project Manager Stella Vika. 

“He’d been held up by this man at knife point not so long ago. They met, reconciled and Somare gave his life to Christ. Our partners up in Hela Province are really blown away by this story. To have someone of such notoriety undergo such a change is incredibly encouraging.

UCPNG leaders at the Mendi Counselling and Peacebuilding workshop

The United Church of Papua New Guinea, in partnership with UnitingWorld, has been running peace workshops and counselling for people impacted by the recent earthquake. Like other aid agencies, UnitingWorld was on hand with sanitation kits and practical items, but the long-term work of helping people recover emotionally and psychologically is incredibly important.

“Disasters frequently damage infrastructure and livelihoods but they can also increase vulnerability and conflict,” says David Brice, Disaster Relief Coordinator with UnitingWorld.

“Giving people access to counselling and the tools to navigate conflict has a significant impact on how quickly these communities can heal and recover.”

It’s one of the unique ways your donations go further with UnitingWorld. Your support doesn’t just address the practical problems of clean water and repaired roofing – it builds people’s resilience to tackle issues that accelerate after disaster. And men like Somare are changed in the process. Given the skills not just to rebuild their homes but their lives, they embrace the opportunity to bring change. 

HELP US BE DISASTER READY.

Every dollar donated before disaster strikes doesn’t just save countless lives – it saves significant amounts of money. Every $1 invested into building better homes, preparing evacuation plans and protecting communities can save as much as $15 in the aftermath of a tragedy. Please, if you’re able, add to our disaster-ready fund.

Click here to donate now.

*Name changed to protect identity

Gender Equality Theology changing hearts and minds in Papua New Guinea

Salote and Jone have been married 11 years, members of a Christian church, and have two beautiful children. They love one another, but throughout their marriage they’ve had times of conflict and Jone has become angry, abusive and resorted to violence. Each time he pleads for forgiveness, vows to change and for a time makes good on his promise. Each time, violence returns. Salote wants to believe that everyone, with the love of God, can change, but she fears for her life and for the welfare of her children. She asks the advice of her Pastor.

This is the scenario a group of men and women are grappling with in a frostily air-conditioned room in the offices of the United Church of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, on a typically hot February day. They’ve come from all over the country – the Highlands, New Britain, Goroka – and they represent different denominations, universities and groups united by a common desire to see an end to violence against women. This week, their unexpected secret weapon is better theology.

“Almost everyone in Papua New Guinea is a Christian, which completely underpins the culture,” explains University lecturer Theresa, who has come to be part of the Community of Practice meeting, seeking inspiration for her gender and social studies lectures.

“But most have only a shallow understanding of what the Bible really says about men and women. It’s enough for many men to believe their marriages are ordained by God, or that they are superior to women. In reality, there’s so much more to what the Scriptures say about the equality of men and women. Understanding this properly changes everything.”

Watching the group grapple with what advice a Pastor should give to the couple is an interesting experience.  Earlier, a Bible study by Rev Dr Seforosa Carroll has unpacked a passage from Matthew about turning the other cheek – a concept that for decades has been part of the powerful brew holding faithful women captive in abusive marriages. Rev Dr Carroll, however, explains that in the culture of Jesus’ day, rather than passively accepting or inviting further violence, ‘turning the other cheek’ could quite literally have created a radically different dynamic between two people and restored a sense of equality and dignity.

The interpretation opens new possibilities in the room and creates a buzz that spills over into discussion and controversy around the case study. For some, the issue hits close to the heart. Women here have left abusive marriages of their own and are raising children while helping other women find safety from violence. This is no idle hypothetical. What’s certain is that for everyone in the room, this teaching of Jesus – fully explained, beautifully illustrated  – has real authority and currency to change lives.

UnitingWorld is continuing to support the development of resources to teach Gender Equality Theology throughout the Pacific. If you’re interested in seeing a copy of the Bible studies or helping provide invaluable financial support for the project, please get in touch. We’d love you to join us on this exciting journey with our partners!

Gender Equality Theology Community of Practice activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Papua New Guinea–Australia Partnership.