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Women in Ministry (Pacific Region)

Recently we were privileged to share a zoom conversation with Rev Geraldine, one of the PhD students supported by UnitingWorld’s Women in Ministry project. The recording is now available to view (below) if you missed the call, or would like to watch it again.

Rev Geraldine is awesome!

You can find out more about this project here or make a donation here.

Have you ever reflected on what vulnerability and courage looks like in your life? Here are some excerpts of what one of the students from our Women in Ministry project, Rev. Geraldine from Fiji had to say as she gave her sermon on Genesis 16:1-15.

Genesis 16:1-15 (NRSV)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi,” for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Rev. Geraldine giving a sermon.

Rev. Geraldine’s Reflection

“Vulnerability – the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. It is that feeling of uneasiness when we are not in our comfort zone or when we lose control. For example, taking risks that might lead to rejection, talking about our mistakes, or facing difficult emotions like fear and shame. However, vulnerability is powerful. Brene Brown said, ‘Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerability is risky. But not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, intimacy and belonging.’

“Hagar entered the story as a vulnerable character. This was the first time she spoke in the story. She had no voice, a woman-servant, and an object for another’s command. But when she and her son were banished, and had to step out of her ‘comfort zone’ and journeyed into the wilderness, it symbolized the recognition of herself as a human being, an individual, rather than a property. It is an act of challenging the status quo that continues to dehumanize people.

“Being vulnerable maybe seen as a weakness but it is a strength. It is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. Let us not forget to teach our students the value and the foundation of our faith.

“The wilderness presents a new perspective of seeing God’s covenant not only descending from a male but also from a woman, Hagar. Through Hagar, Ishmael found his place as a freed, courageous child who grew through the arms of her mother.

“Engaging with communities is risky and dangerous. We are submitting ourselves to more disagreements and headaches. But Hagar’s story reminded us that being courageous does not mean walking alone but rather walking with God.

“The belief in one God – monotheism – was more than simply the belief in one God. Because each human was in His image, and because each could be in direct relationship with Him, the individual was suddenly given significance – not just fathers but also mothers, and not just parents but also children. No longer were they fused into a single unit, with a single controlling will. They were each to become persons in their own right, with their own identity and integrity.

“Such changes do not happen overnight, and they do not happen without wrenching dislocations. That is what is happening at both ends of the Abraham story. At the beginning of his mission, Abraham was told to separate himself from his father, and towards the end he was told to separate himself, in different ways, from each of his two sons. These painful episodes represent the agonising birth-pangs of a new way of thinking about humanity.

“First separate, then connect. That is how God created the universe, by first separating domains – day and night, upper and lower waters, sea and dry land – then allowing them to be filled. And that is how we create real personal relationships. By separating and leaving space for the other. Parents should not seek to control children. Spouses should not seek to control one another. It is the carefully calibrated distance between us in which relationship allows each party to grow.

“As Matthew Syed (2017) said, ‘Letting go – that is the essential paradox of parenthood. You care, you nurture, you sacrifice, and then you watch as the little ones fly into the great unknown, often shouting recriminations as they depart. You will experience the stomach clenching pain of separation, but you do so with a smile and a hug, aware that the desire to protect and love must never morph into the tyranny of mollycoddling.’

“Hagar’s story in the wilderness, is the story about the birth of the individual. There must be separation for such momentous change to happen. But the story is also about God teaching us the delicate art of making space, without which no true individuality can grow. In the lovely words of the Irish poet John O’Donohue, our challenge is: ‘To bless the space between us.’”

With your help, Rev. Geraldine is receiving support through our Women in Ministry project. With this, Geraldine and women across the Pacific can receive the theological training and discipleship they need to lead within their communities. Click here to read the latest project update.

Read the latest Women in Ministry project update

The Women in Ministry project supports women in the Pacific to study theology and seek ordination, equipping them for leadership in the Church and community.

UnitingWorld’s Mardi Lumsden and Tanya Lee Fenwick have prepared an update about the scholars currently supported.

“Our determined and resilient scholars have hit the ground running in Semester One. This is the first time all our students have been undertaking post-graduate study. It is a testament to their determination and the support of their churches. We also have some wonderful news to share about past students’ success. In this update, we have included video links with greetings from Rev Geraldine and 2021 graduate Asinate, as well as current student profiles. We encourage you to print these profiles and display them to remind you or your congregation of the women you are supporting. Your support, both financial and prayerful, is so important to the students, their churches and the team at UnitingWorld.”

Click here read the full update.

Download the student profiles (great prompts to learn about and pray for the scholars)

“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.