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Pacific Tag

UnitingWorld hosted its annual five-day workshop on Gender Equality Theology in early November.

Led by Pacific theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Siera Bird, ministers from partner churches across the Pacific met in Nadi, Fiji, to wrestle with biblical themes of equality and anti-violence. They discussed how principles from the Bible can be powerful forces for positive change in their communities, where violence against women continues to be a significant problem.

Participants expressed their appreciation for what they learned throughout the week and committed to taking the knowledge back to their home churches.

“The teaching tools have given me more clarification for deeper biblical analysis and identifying the root-causes of social issues,”  said Rev Tomasi Tarabe, New Testament lecturer at the Davuilevu Theological College in Suva.

“I hope UnitingWorld continues to work with Pacific theologians on developing a methodology of reading and interpreting the Bible through our cultural lens.”

Participant Victoria Kavafolau, a theology student and newly appointed head of the Women’s Desk for the Tonga National Council of Churches, spoke about how her expectations for the event were turned around.

“Before I participated in the Gender Equality Theology workshop, I thought ‘oh, this is just another program advocating women’s rights.’ To be proven wrong was an understatement… Not only did it raise awareness about violence against women and children, but the workshop provided tools and resources for theologically interpreting and identifying gender equality within Scripture and how we can apply that to our relevant contexts,” said Victoria.

“This is an important area within our respective Oceania communities to be addressed and enriched. We are in a different era now with different worldviews and contexts. Our cultural values and customs often deter us from developing further perspectives on gender equality.

This program has impacted me at a personal level and has encouraged me to address this growing issue within my Tongan community. With the aid of UnitingWorld and the tools and resources they have provided me, hopefully change can be implemented according to the will of God. Praise be to God.”

 

The Partnering Women for Change project is supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Women Program. 

 

Photo: Victoria Kavafolau (right) with UnitingWorld Program Manager Megan Calcaterra and Rev Lima Tura, a previous UnitingWorld scholarship recipient who is now a lecturer at Seghe Theological Seminary in the Solomon Islands. Photo credit: Megan Calcaterra.

Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson
National Disaster Recovery Officer
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

As the plane lifted off from the Kingdom of Tonga, I had a familiar twinge of the heart as the island left my line of sight. While I was returning to the comfort of my own home with reliable power, phone and internet, and clean water, there are so many people in Tonga that won’t have access to these things for some time.

On Monday 12 February, Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated the islands of Tonga, with winds of 230km/h whipping the Southern Coast of the main island of Tongatapu. Locals had taken warnings seriously and prepared as well as they could, but lightly built houses were no match for the monster storm. The fact that it struck at night probably saved scores of lives, as people were bunkered indoors and avoided injury from flying roofing iron and falling trees. The negative is in the lasting memory of families who huddled together through the terror of a sleepless night of pitch darkness and screaming wind, hoping and praying their place of shelter would hold together.

With the dawn’s light, people ventured out to assess the damage and found this particularly confronting. Many houses lost all or part of their roofing, torn metal and splintered wood, thousands of trees felled and palm fronds scattered. Rain continued to inundate many houses that had escaped the worst of wind damage.

Power poles leaned precariously or snapped off completely, and power lines lay across muddy roads. In the centre of the main city of Nuku’ Alofa, the walls of Parliament House were blown out and the roof crumpled to the ground, a state of emergency was declared which included curfews to keep people from the CBD as many shops were emptied of ruined goods.

There are no cyclone shelters in Tonga so while most people remained in their homes during the storm, the most solid gathering places are in the church buildings that play a prominent role in Tongan community life. The people’s faith in their church communities means there is a place to come together and share their experiences of loss and hope.

Red Cross, Caritas and other groups are doing important work in delivering supplies to the most affected – food, water, and temporary shelter, but it is the churches that are at the forefront of bringing the community-building psycho-social support which will restore hope.

I flew into Tonga two weeks after TC Gita with Rev. Nau Ahosivi. Nau is a Tongan-born minister in placement at Concord Uniting Church. It had been our second trip together; the first – in 2015 – also had Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau. This first trip was an initiative of UnitingWorld, at the request of our church partner, the Free Wesleyan Church Tonga, to train a network of chaplains to support people in the event of disaster or crisis.  From this first training course, which included a ‘train the trainer’ component, the Tongan Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network (TDRCN) was born.

The training course is an ‘islander’ variation on that used in NSW/ACT and South Australia. It has also been used in supporting the churches in Fiji and Tuvalu. It covers a range of subjects including: the nature of disaster, how it affects communities and people, how people react and are affected by critical incidents and trauma, calming and communication techniques, vicarious traumatisation (how the carer can be affected by the work) and self-care.

After TC Gita hit, the Free Wesleyan church deployed the chaplains we had trained in 2015. Valuable work done by Michael Constable of UnitingWorld had assisted them in pre-disaster preparedness, mapping the areas of need and making assessments. Chaplains were able to respond to people who needed them most, but this was not easy for them as conditions were far from ideal. The weather this time of year is hot and steamy. The cyclonic winds had dropped to dead calm and the heat and humidity from the water brought with it discomfort and the threat of mosquitoes bearing Dengue Fever and the Zika Virus. The chaplains spoke of how shocked they were by the damage to both the natural environment and the villages they visited, of talking to people as they sat under plastic tarpaulins or in the tents in which they now live. The chaplains themselves have stresses in their lives, many having endured the cyclone and having their own homes flooded, before leaving to care for others.

Our first afternoon with the group involved debriefing these chaplains, allowing them to share their experiences and process them together. The next two days were spent on the training which melded their understanding with the context of their experience.

The church had requested identification vests for the chaplains which allowed them to (as with other aid workers) show who they are and what they are doing. I was able to work with a local Sydney manufacturer who put in extra hours and made these from white cotton (allowing for tropical heat) at less than cost price, donating the cost of their labour to support the effort. The chaplains are out again, working in teams, supporting local ministers as they visit and listen to cyclone-affected people.

My work

I have been working in the area of emergency ministry and disaster recovery for some time now.  Ordained in 1993 and becoming a Rural Fire Service Member and chaplain in 1996, I have worked in in the Welfare area of the state response for many years. In 2007 I helped to establish the NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy Network which I continue to oversee (this is a ministry of the UCA NSW/ACT Synod). In my role as National Disaster Recovery Officer, I support the development of disaster recovery preparedness and response from the church and its agencies. I work with the Synods in supporting the development of ecumenical disaster response chaplaincy, peer support (looking after ministers working in communities affected by crisis) and supporting disaster recovery long-supply placements with Presbyteries, assisting community recovery.

Sustained support

I am acutely aware that disasters come and go with the nightly news. A cyclone hits, a fire damages a community, an earthquake causes loss and damage, and then something else happens. We may be mindful for a time – but then a new crisis demands our attention. This is an understandable reality.  The problem is that, for the people involved, recovery may take years and their needs actually intensify over the first six months to a year – as their lack of resources and frustrations become more apparent. This is when they need sustained support. How can we best support the sustained effort?

Prayer is mightily important. I had some conversations with people of the church who spoke to me about how important it was to them that they were remembered and supported in prayer by the brothers and sisters in Christ from nations far away.

Giving is vital.  Often our first reaction is to gather goods, clothing and food to send. I believe this comes from a need to send something tangible to people. Unfortunately, this has its limitations: what is sent is not always needed. There is, at present, no food shortage in Tonga, while some crops were damaged, fishing continues and supplies from New Zealand and elsewhere continue to flow unabated. Donated goods may actually damage the local businesses and economy; for every item sent from Australia, a local Tongan business will lose a sale and locals may lose work. Containers cost money to send and fees at the wharf. They also take time to empty and sort. During my time in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam, they spoke of the wastage of time and effort in transporting and emptying the containers.

The greatest need at the moment is cash that can purchase new building materials through local suppliers, employ local workers and support a damaged economy.

Thank you to everyone who has so generously given to support our friends in Tonga as they recover from Cyclone Gita. Below is a letter we received from the President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahi, expressing his heartfelt gratitude.  You can donate here to support the ongoing recovery efforts.

 

6 March 2018

Stuart McMillan
President of the Uniting Church in Australia

Dear Mr McMillan,

Apologies for the late response to your letter of love and prayers, but have only just had computer access due to power failures. Electricity has been on and off almost every day since cyclone Gita visited Tonga.

On behalf of the Methodist Church in Tonga (a.k.a. Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), I thank you for the expression of your love, prayers and donation of gifts for the rebuilding of the Church and its people life on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia. Your expressions of love, prayers and partnership with us in this time of bringing life to normal mean so much as you remind us that we do not battle alone. We have partners and supporters like you who are holding the ropes for us and thereby having a direct share in our Church ministry. You are graciously willing to share with us in this practical way and we are already feeling the benefit that your love, prayers and gifts are bringing to our life.

Please continue to pray for us in this time. No doubt we will have many battles ahead in trying to restore Church people emotions and faith that have been lost in this devastating cyclone. We believe as you pray for us we will be able to stand strong in the power of His Might to resist the enemy of doubts and worries and to encourage people to enter into the victory that is ours in Christ. “ Fear not, for I am with you, says the Lord”. My Wife Loukinikini and the family join me in thanking you that you still remember us.

With love and prayers,
Rev. Finau P. ‘Ahio
President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

See original letter here

I travelled with my family as part of an Exposure trip through UnitingWorld to Fiji. One of the most meaningful experiences for me was going by speedboat to the island Ovalau, significantly damaged by Cyclone Winston in February of 2016.

Talking to our guide James Baghwan, we came to understand that the majority of the people on the island barely had the means to provide for their family’s basic needs. They don’t have the capability to move somewhere else, even to the main island, where they would be better equipped during times of cyclones. Even if they did, most are living on the land that their ancestors did, and so have significant cultural and historical ties to the land, which provides them with a sense of identity.

Cyclone Winston was expected to completely miss the island, and so the people were unprepared. You can imagine the chaos, panic, and terror they would have experienced in the mad rush to secure what little they had with heavy materials and find a place where they might be safe. The damage was strong enough to beach a ship, lift up and move water tanks as well as destroy houses and buildings.

James told me people would probably have run up the mountain and lay on one of the ringing roads, holding onto whoever or whatever they could. They would have stayed like this for many hours, desperately hoping and praying that they wouldn’t be blown away or hit by debris, all the while listening to the terrifying sounds of everything they knew being ripped violently apart.

We can only begin to imagine the fear, panic and desperation they would feel and how psychologically damaging this would be. Their whole lives dictated by this fear, trapped in this cycle of working to repair what is lost only to see it destroyed the next time and have to begin again.

This fear would only be intensified by the threat that global warming places on them – of bigger, more powerful, more unpredictable cyclones. Add to this the sheer frustration they must feel watching the powers of the world – who could do something to help them or to help prevent global warming – yet who debate that it exists.

After this conversation, I began to wonder: in the midst of all of this, how do people on that island find true peace and happiness, when they are under such threat and have so little? And the people that we met did seem happy and were welcoming.

And it reminded me of a Bible passage from Matthew 6:19-24: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Thanks to sixteen year old Hannah for allowing us to share her reflection with you.

If you’re keen to find out more about what the Pacific church is doing to protect against cyclones and how they’re working to save lives in disaster, read more about the project or make a donation here.

 

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has called for the urgent implementation of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and for leaders to hear the voices of Pacific Islanders – the most vulnerable people to the impacts of climate change.

The PCC made its statement during a meeting of church leaders in Auckland, New Zealand this week.

The meeting comes as Fiji prepares to chair the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23), the annual climate change conference of 196 countries to be held in Bonn, Germany in November.

The statement calls on governments to increase their pledges to keep the global average temperature rise below 1.5℃, and to support local and community-based approaches to risk management and climate change resilience.

The Pacific Church leaders said: “We exercise our prophetic voice as churches and believers of the faith to amplify the cries of our people and Moana (ocean) who are directly or indirectly affected by climate change and encourage the spirit of stewardship among ourselves as custodians of God’s creation.”

“We recognise the existing local knowledge and community strengths as an important factor in building a more sustainable and climate resilient Pacific. We call for full consultation and participation of our communities in national climate adaptation planning processes… and to create a new culture of proactive rather than reactive risk management.”

UnitingWorld this week launched an appeal to support our partner churches in the Pacific as they build critical resilience to disasters and climate change. Our partners have highlighted their urgent need for disaster preparation and how it will save lives in their communities.

The PCC also issued statements on nuclear proliferation in the region and a series of ‘calls to action’ on the self-determination of Papua New Guinea’s Autonomous Region of Bougainville, the French territory of New Caledonia and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Pacific church leaders also called on churches in Australia and New Zealand to be spaces where Pacific Island diaspora communities are affirmed of their identities.

The PCC is a fellowship of 27 churches and nine member councils of churches in 17 island states across the Pacific. The Uniting Church in Australia is a member.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Australia’s worst maritime disaster, the sale of Margaret Reeson’s books will support UnitingWorld’s work in the Pacific.

On 1 July 1942, the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru was sunk by an Allied submarine off the coast of off the coast of Luzon, Philippines. It was later revealed that it was carrying more than 1000

Montevideo Maru memorial at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

prisoners of war, mostly Australians, all of whom died in the sinking. The tragic event remains Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

A lesser told story, is that among the prisoners were ten Methodist missionaries who had been captured by the Japanese in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and were being transferred to Hainan, off southern China.

Margaret Reeson, a prominent author, historian and leader in the Uniting Church in Australia has written two books on the sinking of Montevideo Maru, recounting the untold stories of the prisoners, survivors and the families who waited years for reliable news about their loved ones. Margaret herself was a Methodist missionary who worked in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 70s.

To mark the 75th Anniversary of the Montevideo Maru, Margaret Reeson’s two books are on sale and 75% of the proceeds will go to UnitingWorld’s work in the Pacific.

A Very Long War (2000) $20

Describes the deep impact on those affected by the sinking of the Montevideo Maru, the families of the missing and the wider Rabaul community.

“A respectful narrative, beautifully told…shocking stories treated with insight and restraint. A book of hope and healing.”

“A tragic and largely uncommemorated episode of Australian war history, although this sensitive book, generously illustrated, goes some way towards rectifying that omission.” —The Australian

Whereabouts Unknown (1993) $24  

The moving story of those who disappeared after the fall of Rabaul in 1942, the mystery of the loss of over 1000 POW’s with the sinking of the prison ship Montevideo Maru, and the pain of wives and families who waited in vain for news. It also recounts the experiences of a handful of Australian nurses, captured and transported to Japan, four of them Methodist missionaries.

  

To Purchase

Contact  Ron Reeson rdreeson@bigpond.com Ph 02 6262 3677

Payment by cheque or bank transfer (details can be provided)

Postage (anywhere in Australia) 1 book $6; 2 or more books $10

Media Release
5 May 2017

UnitingWorld will facilitate it’s fourth Annual Regional Workshop for Women’s Fellowships to be held in Nadi, Fiji from 22 – 26 May, 2017. This year the workshop will focus on gender equality, church transformation, partnership and projects.

The workshop will continue to build on the shared learning and experiences of participating organisations from across the Pacific, with practical assistance for running effective community development projects; understanding and advancing gender equality within churches; and promoting the leading role of women and women’s fellowship organisations in transforming churches and communities.

Having facilitated workshops in previous years, UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser has seen the power of women leaders coming together from across the Pacific to share resources and learn from one another’s experiences.

 “Bringing these women together to share knowledge and stories from the field is not only an excellent way of learning from one another, it’s also valuable self-care and solidarity for them – knowing there are many other women out there working to overcome the same challenges,” she said.

There will also be sessions the on theology of gender equality and God-given human dignity for women, reflecting on Rev Dr Cliff Bird’s recent Bible study resource, ‘God’s Vision for Human Relationships Vol. 2’. As in previous years, the workshop will continue to focus on the practical, discussing how to embed gender equality within churches and how women’s fellowship organisations can implement practices of gender equality in their development projects.

 “Participants will be invited to discuss how traditional interpretations of the Bible have defined women and how God’s view of equality shifts these expectations and provides women with the opportunity see their worth as equally created in God’s image and likeness for abundant life,” said Bronwyn Fraser.

This workshop, part-funded by Australian Aid, is part of UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program (PW4C), which focuses on the strength of women to identify and address key development challenges in their own countries and communities. UnitingWorld works with churches and ecumenical networks to challenge traditional patriarchal views of the Bible, in favour of a framework that sees the Bible as a foundation for advancing equality, inclusion and dignity of all human beings. The PW4C Program also works closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.

The Partnering Women for Change Program is partly supported by funding from Australian Aid.

Dated: 5 May 2017
Contact:
Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756
bronwynf@unitingworld.org.au

Read more:

UnitingWorld: Gender Equality in the Pacific Through Theology (Pacific Women)

A Biblical take on Human Rights – Bridging the Gap for Gender Equality in the Pacific

Case study: Faith and Gender Equality in the Pacific (DFAT)