“When a tree falls in the forest, you hear the sound. When a tree is growing, you hear nothing.”
This wisdom was shared at the Pacific Church Partnership Advisory Network (PCPAN) meeting in Canberra recently, where I had the great pleasure of listening to Christian leaders from across the Pacific region as they expressed their hopes, joys, struggles and dreams for the future. It was the first meeting of its type in-person, where the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) facilitated the gathering but allowed the agenda and conversation to be guided by the participants, particularly Pasifika and First Peoples.
Naturally, it followed a “talanoa” and “yarning” process of dialogue, which meant deep listening, reflection and then speaking. The government representatives mostly listened in from the sidelines. The conversations were rich and comprehensive, expressing the need for the sector to move away from paternalistic interventions based only on human needs and towards partnerships that allow families and people groups to determine their own futures.
There was an outpouring of compassion about the injustices suffered by Australia’s First Peoples after reflections from Rev. Mark Kickett and Alison Overeem from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and ‘Aunty’ Pat Anderson, co-Chair of the Uluru Statement. I looked around and there was barely a dry eye in the room. It reinforced the desires of Pasifika church leaders to centre the voices of First Peoples in all their engagements with Australia. We can each learn from that approach as our nation continues to grapple with issues of justice and reconciliation.
I also recently made a visit to meet three groups of amazing UnitingWorld supporters in Queensland. Meeting face to face for the first time in years, it struck me anew that the Uniting Church is filled with people whose lives seem ordinary, yet are utterly extraordinary.
It brings me back to the quote I picked up at the PCPAN meeting. The dozens of people I met on my trip are not public or loud. They dodge acclaim and recognition, but the depth of their commitment to leaving our world in a better place than they found it is truly inspiring.
Quietly but surely, people are making positive change, big and small, local and global, through community outreach and supporting our international partners. Though we may not hear it or perceive it, the tree is growing. It is a hopeful and motivating thought.
With thanks for all you do with us.
Dr Sureka Goringe