The West Papua Council of Churches (which includes our partner, GKI-TP) has sent a Pastoral Letter for Easter condemning the increasing militarisation of the Papuan provinces and ongoing human rights violations by security forces. The letter also highlights serious environmental and land rights concerns.
In response to these issues, Papuan church leaders have reiterated a long-standing call for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out an investigation into the human rights situation in West Papua, and for an independent third party to provide for the needs of people living in areas affected by recent military operations in the highlands.
The Papuan church leaders also call for “prayer and fasting support from people and church leaders in the Pacific.”
In a statement released yesterday, the PCC condemned “institutional racism against the indigenous people of West (Tanah) Papua,” and reiterated calls for an urgent investigation into ongoing human rights abuses.
The protests were sparked by an incident in the Javanese city of Surabaya on Saturday. Indonesian authorities raided a university dormitory and arrested dozens of Papuan students over allegations that an Indonesian flag had been damaged by one of them.
During a long standoff leading up to the arrests, nationalist groups gathered and called the Papuan students “monkeys” and other racial slurs, demanding authorities “kick the Papuans out.” Many of the racist taunts were captured on video and were seen throughout West Papua, sparking anger and large demonstrations in major cities.
“In the context of the Pacific family, to call our Melanesian sisters and brothers in West Papua ‘Monkeys’ is to call all Pacific Islanders ‘Monkeys,’” said the PCC statement.
“We call on Indonesia to immediately allow access to Papua by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN mandate holders.”
The call comes after PCC General Secretary, Rev. James Bhagwan visited West Papua as part of a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation earlier this year. It is understood to be the first time that such a large and diverse international delegation has visited the territory since its integration into Indonesia in 1969.
During the visit, the WCC delegation received a joint appeal from the leaders of four churches in West Papua calling for “international ecumenical support for a comprehensive political dialogue for the resolution of the situation in Papua.”
In response, the WCC Executive Committee released a statement of concern and solidarity for West Papua, supporting the church leaders’ joint appeal for a comprehensive political dialogue, and calling on the Government of Indonesia to allow access to human rights organisations and journalists.
The statement also invited all WCC member churches “to pray and act in support of the witness of the churches in West Papua – and that of PGI, PCC and CCA – for justice and peace in the region.”
The Uniting Church in Australia is a member of the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
Image: Totem standing on the site of the first church in West Papua ~1855 | Marcus Campbell
In this edition of Update, you’ll read about families in Indonesia, Maluku and West Papua who, with your support, have been trained in goat breeding, learned about family farming or used micro credit loans to start small businesses. They’re not just seeding a new future for their families, they’re contributing to a better future for all.
You’ll also read about the impact of using the Bible as a powerful lens through which to see the world and drive change for women in the Pacific.
On a small island out on a lake in West Papua, a group of women are crafting themselves out of poverty by keeping a disappearing local art tradition alive.
The banks of their lake home skirt the far limits of Papua’s most modern city, Jayapura, but people here still travel between the islands using wooden canoes.
Traditional bark paintings (malo) have been produced by women from this area for hundreds of years. They spend weeks together making the canvases out of the beaten bark of fig trees, and then paint designs that express their culture, highlighting the theme of ‘harmony between all living things.’
Ask them how they learned the designs, and they all say, “our ancestors taught us.”
But despite everyone in their cooperative being talented artists and hard workers, they struggle to make a living, and their wider community lives in grinding poverty. The isolation of their island and their lack of business experience means that many of them work two jobs while raising children. Most of their husbands are fishermen, but fears of local overfishing has pushed their work out to sea and into the city where they make meagre earnings.
We wanted to invest in the women’s skills and see their business grow. So, after consulting with them about what they need, our local partners have been running business training and are helping them buy industrial sewing machines to help them expand their business to include bags and clothing with their traditional designs.
Together we’re helping them do what they love, get a fair price for their labour and lift themselves out of poverty.
My colleague Meilany, a local project manager, told me that empowering these women has huge flow-on affects for the community.
“You can’t make positive change for women here without also affecting all of society,” Meilanny says.
“These women work hard so that they can afford to send their children to school; many of them never had the chance themselves.”
“And if you teach a woman practical or artistic skills, or to read and write – she will teach her family, her children. That knowledge is passed on.”
West Papua has a staggeringly high number of people living below the poverty line. Upwards of 27% live on less than $2 a day. Our local partners are working to change this at a community level, through strategies that invest in critical aspects of life: food security, health, women’s incomes and the future of children.
They need our support to continue to make projects like these a reality. Invest in these skillful women and projects that are helping people grow a new future in West Papua.
Earlier this year, I made a trip across West Papua. It’s just 150km north of Australia, but it feels a world away – one of the poorest regions in the Asia Pacific. Yet everywhere I went, what struck me most was the profound generosity and sense of community that bound people together. This runs deep in local culture and traditions, expressed so naturally it almost seems to grow up out of the soil. It’s also what makes our work with the local Church so effective.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories of change and highlighting the work of our partners to tackle hunger, empower women and confront communicable disease in West Papua.
I’d like to start with the story of Beni and his family.
Beni and his wife Sarah live way up in the remote highlands of West Papua. When I met Beni in his garden one afternoon, he had been working all day but couldn’t stop smiling – even as he spoke about his recent struggles to put food on the table.
In 2016, the area he lives was gripped by one of the worst droughts in living memory. Crops right across the region failed. Beni and Sarah’s sweet potato, their main food source, was decimated.
“Our crop grew tiny and hard with the lack of rain; it was the same across the entire region, so everyone was worried… The whole village was wondering if we would all starve if we didn’t leave the area,” said Beni.
Thankfully, UnitingWorld’s local church partners were there to help during and after the crisis. Our partners gave Beni seeds and training to nurture the family garden and enter into field-sharing arrangements with his neighbours to test out how different crops grow across the mountain.
Beni says the help provided by the project has allowed his family to plan for the lean seasons.
He was beaming when he showed me his latest soybean plants sprouting up, and was keen to explain how well it had gone – not just for him but his whole community.
Imagine what it’s like to have – for the first time ever – the ability to plan confidently for your future. That’s the experience of Beni and Sarah today. Proud of their hard work and expertise, they’ve now expanded their skills to making tofu, much sought after in the highlands. It’s giving them a small additional income for medical and school needs for their children.
Our partners are providing the expertise and training these families need – but they can’t do it without our support. Your gift can get more workers in the field, supply more seeds and nurture more families to take up life-changing opportunities.
With your support, together with the hard work of people like Beni and his family, we’re helping communities grow better futures.
I’m looking forward to sharing more stories of change over the coming weeks!
This is adapted from a sermon delivered by UnitingWorld’s Rev Dr Ji Zhang in April 2017 after returning from the 15th General Assembly of GKI-TP in West Papua (-Ed).
Romans 8:1-2, 6-11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
The Romans reading is a part last week’s lectionary. I have been avoiding this passage and preached on more “juicy” Gospel readings. After hearing a feminist critique of Christian theology’s treatment of the body, I could not look at the passage same again. This year, having traveled to Papua recently, I have a different insight.
The passage is a part of Paul’s debate of Law and Grace. The Law can be traced to the time of Moses. In the Old Testament books, human behavior and community organisation are defined and written down, and then passed on from generation to generation. In the New Testament, we know Jesus has simplified all laws down to two commandments: to love God, and to love neighbours.
We also know that Paul took the Gospel from Jerusalem all the way to the Romans. On this journey towards a new identity, he discovered a contradiction. Paul tells his Christian community there is a conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. The connecting point for today’s reading is in the early passage where Paul talks about his struggle. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (7:15). This is not just a problem for Paul, but also an existential struggle of all Christians.
By talking about his struggle, Paul names a common problem – “I do what I do not want” (7:17). Like Reinhold Niebuhr once said: Human beings are self-contradictory beings.
Recently I attended the 15th General Assembly of the Papuan Church. Our partner church GKI-TP gathered 5000 people from different parts of the church that has a membership of 1 million. I remember vividly a re-enactment of Gospel arriving in the land over 150 years ago. Church members dressed in traditional cloth to represent their past lives, practicing tribal law and using ‘black magic’ on their enemies. When the Gospel came, it appeared as light in the darkness; people took the old clothes off, and put on the new clothes – representing a new life in Christ.
However, the culture of tribal war still lingers. We see a similar situation in Papua New Guinea. People are always ready to go into battle, and use conflict to resolve difference. These conflicts always cost lives, but never bring peace.
The theme of the GKI-TP General Assembly was “May your kingdom come, on earth as well as in heaven”. After a courageous message from preacher Rev Dr Rumbwas, I spoke on the behalf of the UCA and made this point: “When we listen to God, we are able to listen to each other”.
Our partner church was in a time of major change. The spirit of God chooses this vulnerable time to reshape it. Despite imperfect nature of the process, the church has grown as it receives migrants; but in the transmigration program some of the newcomers have taken the lands and businesses of indigenous Papuans. The church has elected a new Synod leadership team, and by doing this the Assembly has turned a volatile leadership conflict, into and opportunity for peace – not just in the leadership, but in the culture of the whole church.
“You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This passage is real in the life of Papuan church.
From this experience I read Paul’s writing again, and realise that Paul is doing contextual theology. We know his people believed in the Hellenistic worldview, the Body-Soul dualism. In the Neo-Platonic world, the physical is inferior whereas the spiritual is transcendental. Plato once described our desires are like horses pulling in different directions whereas the soul is like the charioteer who wants the wagon to move in one direction.
But here, two key words indicate Paul has different ideas: Kata sarka – meaning ‘after the flesh,’ and Kata pneuma – ‘after the Spirit’. Notice Paul did not use the word ‘psych’ i.e. “the Soul”, but the Spirit, which is the Spirit of God.
Is Paul accepting the Hellenistic thinking: the body bad, the spirit good? No. He is encouraging unity, not duality. By speaking the language of the Romans, he inserts two new ideas: Zwh – Zoe – meaning ‘life’, and Oikei – ‘making its home’. This is the same root word for World Council of Churches – which means ‘becoming a household.’
Paul further uses the word – ‘making its home’ – to stage his key argument about God. God’s life and peace are making home in our lives, more importantly making home in our bodily life. This is a new union between the flesh and the spirit. This indwelling nature of God speaks the beauty of Christian life. I have seen this partaking nature of God among our partners where the Spirit is transforming communities.
So, what does this mean for us today?
We struggle with many things. Yet God is graciously making home in our lives. It calls us not to go after the world of desire, instead to go after the Spirit of life and peace. Desire separates people, but peace unifies us across racial, national and religious divides.
In this season of Lent, we remember the recent Cyclone in QLD, the transition in the Papuan church, the famine in South Sudan, and the millions of people displaced by wars the Middle East. We also remember God is making home in the lives of these people. UnitingWorld’s Lent Event fundraising appeal supports our partners in Africa, India, PNG, and China. The way we support them is by showing how God of peace and justice is making home in the lives of the faithful.
The Church is the Body of Christ. The church is not just aiming for survival, but making an impact through witness and action. By working together we begin to understand Paul’s writing. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you”.
May we live and act according to the Spirit this Easter.
And may we share the same hope of our partners in Papua:
“May your kingdom come, on earth as well as in heaven”.
Rev Dr Ji Zhang
Manager of Church Partnerships, Asia
Amid reports of a deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua, a minute of support for Papuans was issued on 28 June during the closing day to a meeting in Trondheim, Norway, of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
The WCC has followed the situation since before the 1969 incorporation of West Papua into Indonesia.
During peaceful protests of government policies in May and early June of this year, more than 3,000 people are said to have been placed under arrest. A further 1,400 West Papuans are reported to have been arrested on 15 June.
Calling on member churches to pray and act in support of Christian witness in the region, the Central Committee authorized an international ecumenical delegation to be sent “as soon as possible” in order to “hear the voices of victims of violence and human rights violations, and to pursue the pilgrimage of justice and peace in this context.”
There is no place where you cannot reach,
God who made the heavens and the earth.
There is no journey which you have not travelled,
God who is with us, Jesus the Christ.
There are no people beyond your care,
God who is the Spirit, the Comforter.
Stay with the people in Papua now, with your love and kindness;
Lighten their darkness with your consolation and blessing.
When their voices and resources are taken away,
it is to the governments that they have turned with their questions
When their dignity and freedom are endangered,
It is to God and friends in Christ that they have turned for reassurance and comfort.
We pray for
eyes that are open to see what Jesus sees,
ears that are open to truly hear,
hearts that are open to love as Christ loved,
and lives that respond to our neighbour’s crying.
Today, we pray for ourselves
and all those with power to pray and help,
the local and national governments in Indonesia,
the companies that extract resources from the land
our partner the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua.
Let them walk together within God’s goodness,
act justly, relieve suffering, sustain life and rebuild the communities.
Hear our prayers this day
for we pray in the name of Jesus
whose arms were outstretched on the Cross
to embrace all people. Amen.
This prayer was written in response to recent correspondence with the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua ‘GKI-TP’) on political tensions in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
(Rewritten by Rev Dr Ji Zhang, Manager Church Partnerships – Asia. The prayer is adapted from Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Prayers for Life’s Particular Moments, p.99)
The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has called the people of the Uniting Church to pray for our Papuan brothers and sisters in Christ as the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (Gereja Kristen Injili Di Tanah Papua ‘GKI-TP’) lead their people through troubled times.
“We ask for congregations across Australia to hold our partners in prayer as they lead their church towards God’s justice, peace and reconciliation”, said Mr McMillan. Mr McMillan was responding to a letter written to the Uniting Church in Australia and other international partners. In the letter, our partner the GKI-TP has condemned the increasing levels of political tension in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, and has asked for prayers and assistance from its international partner churches.
The GKI-TP outlines four issues it believes must be addressed to reduce political tension and avoid conflict in Papua:
1. Freedom of expression: Throughout May, more than 2000 people were arrested and arbitrarily detained across Papua, including the mass arrest of more than 1700 people in Jayapura for publicly stating their political views and requesting a dialogue with the Indonesian Government. The GKI-TP calls for a commitment to peaceful dialogue, the lifting of media restrictions and respect for freedom of expression.
2. The monopolisation of their region’s natural resources by transnational companies keeping the wealth out of the hands of indigenous Papuans and denying them the opportunity to determine their own development.
3. Alleged human rights violations including assassination, torture, rape and kidnapping, particularly directed against peaceful activists. GKI-TP is calling on the government to resolve cases of human rights violations through the independent national Human Rights Commission (KOMNAS HAM).
4. Greater respect for the ongoing debate in Papua regarding the history of its integration into Indonesia. The GKI-TP requests that the expression of their political views not result in violent crackdowns and unlawful arrests.
“The Uniting Church celebrates Indonesia’s cultural diversity through our extensive church partnerships with Indonesian churches, and that diversity has enriched the life of UCA widely as many Indonesians have found their home in our Uniting Church,” said Mr McMillan.
“However, we are deeply troubled by the situation in Papua as expressed by our partner church.
“We express solidarity with GKI-TP, in its ministry of peace and reconciliation, and in its call for all Papuans to be granted an effective voice in determining their own futures.
National Director for UnitingWorld Mr Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church in Australia greatly valued the courage and commitment of its church partners in Papua.
“The GKI-TP provide wonderful ministry in Papua often under the most difficult circumstances.”
Echoing the concerns raised by GKI-TP, Mr Floyd said, “We call on the Indonesian Government and all parties to make a commitment to peaceful dialogue, an end to violence and a respect for freedom of expression.”