Support and training for long-term recovery in Fiji

Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere made landfall in Fiji on 20 February, flattening entire villages with torrential rain, storm surges and winds of more than 300 km per hour.

More than 40 people were killed and thousands of homes damaged. Hospitals, schools, crops, livestock and water supplies were hit and thousands of Fijians were forced to shelter in schools, churches and community buildings. Many remain there today. Thanks to a generous response to UnitingWorld’s emergency appeal – gifts of almost $200 000 – UnitingWorld were able to respond quickly. Funds are being used to assist the Methodist Church in Fiji, a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia, to work alongside the Fijian government and provide humanitarian relief to thousands of people throughout affected communities.

In particular, providing food, shelter, water purification tablets and cooking utensils, which are critically important for preparing the type of food that is distributed in emergencies and for purifying potentially contaminated water. These materials are being bought in non-affected areas of Fiji, helping to buoy the local economy and sustain the livelihoods of local people.Continue Reading

Church partnerships making a difference in Fiji

My husband, John, and I recently went to Fiji to see the partnership at work between the Uniting Church in Australia – through UnitingWorld – and the Methodist Church in Fiji. We travelled with two families from NSW; making a party of 12, with six adults and six young people aged between 12–19. We were very ably led by our team Leader, Megan Calcaterra, UnitingWorld’s projects and administration officer.

Whilst there we met with the president of the Methodist Church of Fiji, Rev Dr Tevita Banivanua and the general secretary, Rev Epineri Vakadenavosa, who spoke about the new changes and challenges within Fiji. The church has a new Constitution, and a new Code of Conduct to be implemented in 2016, and the changes to the logo are more in keeping with their ‘New Exodus’ theme as they move forward.

Due to the disruptions of Military Coups, there were no Conferences – their annual gatherings – allowed to be held in 2009, 2010 or 2011. Succeeding Conferences were of shortened duration, but now with a more stable Government, there is a strong emphasis on appropriate change as they look to the future. There is also a conscious effort to increase the involvement and training of women for and in ministry.

At Davuilevu Theological College we met the principal, Rev Anil Reuben, who is the first Fijian of Indian decent to be elected to that position. The college has one Bachelor of Divinity class and three Diploma of Theology classes and we were told that they can only take 25 new students each year, sometimes from 200 applicants.Continue Reading

The post-Paris challenge for the climate

After plenty of consternation, a previous failed attempt and monumental public pressure, the leaders of 196 nations signed the Paris Agreement in December sealing a global commitment to tackle climate change.

World leaders have committed their nations to keeping temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

This really is a landmark agreement that is both encouraging and challenging. It is a time to celebrate, but also a time to be rolling up sleeves, because fulfilling the commitment will take considerable effort.

Given that the individual pledges currently offered by the signatory countries will only combine to limit temperature rise to 2.7°C, there is still plenty of work to align the pledges with the overall commitment. Australia is no exception. We will need to find bigger cuts to our carbon emissions than the current reduction targets of 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, if we are to contribute our fair share and move up from third last on the Climate Change Performance Index.Continue Reading

Exchange of hope in Tanah Papua

“We cannot forget the value of this program for both the Australian and Papuan communities involved,” Rev Brian Thorpe, minister at the Scarborough and Waterman’s Bay Uniting Churches reflected as he sat waiting for his plane back to Perth. “It truly is an exchange program through which everyone benefits.”

Brian is a member of the Black Pearl Network, a multi-congregation network of the Uniting Church WA dedicated to supporting the work of our church partners in Papua. He recently returned from a trip to Tanah Papua, the eastern most province of Indonesia, along with Kerry Povey from Trinity North Uniting Church, Lee-Anne Burnett from All Saints Floreat Uniting Church and myself, justice and mission officer for the Uniting Church WA.

The beautiful and sometimes troubled province often referred to as ‘West Papua’ has become lodged firmly in the hearts of this small, but dedicated group. Through the Black Pearl Network (a name given to the group by the Papuans they work with), the Uniting Church WA supports a number of projects run by our partner church, Gereja Kristen Injili Indonesia (GKI). This trip was yet another chance to strengthen these relationships and continue the mutual learning the partnership provides.Continue Reading

UN climate chief thanks pilgrims for “every single step” to climate justice

Faith campaigners have presented a total of 1,780,528  signatures gathered worldwide calling for decisive action to curb global warming. The petitions were delivered to leaders of the United Nations COP 21 climate conference beginning its work in Paris.

“We can do it together, we must do it together, and we will do it together,” said Anglican Archbishop and ACT ambassador, Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, as he handed over the petitions to Christiana Figueres, who heads the UN body dealing with climate change, and Nicolas Hulot, French President François Hollande’s special envoy for the planet.

Makgoba is the global climate ambassador for ACT Alliance, a worldwide coalition of 137 churches and affiliated organizations working for positive and sustainable change.

The handover took place at a ‘Faith in Climate Justice’ event on 28 November in St Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, attended by about 400 people including climate campaigners, many of whom had walked hundreds of miles on pilgrimages to the French capital.

“I want to thank you for every single step,” said Christiana, visibly moved. She embraced Yeb Sano, a former Philippines’ climate change negotiator turned campaigner who walked from Rome to Paris as a leader of the People’s Pilgrimage.Continue Reading

Great things, great love: a refugee story

There’s an old saying: “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Sometimes, perhaps we can do both.

Kakuma refugee camp is a sprawling mass of humanity on the border between Kenya and South Sudan. Under canvas and tin supplied by the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the  Kenyan government, more than 150,000 people make their homes, many separated from brothers, sisters and parents by fighting across the border in South Sudan and Somalia. Into this  maelstrom, another little life emerged last month. Her name is Deborah. She might never have been.

It was an ordinary morning for young South Sudanese midwives completing their prac in the Kakuma Mission hospital. Many in their early twenties, they’ve been relocated with the help of the  Uniting Church in Australia from the South Sudanese town of Leer due to heavy fighting. Their training facility was torched. Some of the women don’t know where their families are – many fled  into the surrounding bush as rebels stormed the area. Husbands are missing. Children.

The young women carry on with their studies, supported by UnitingWorld partner, the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency of South Sudan. They’re determined to finish their midwifery  courses and when stability returns, go back to their country and serve their sisters. In the meantime, they study at Kakuma and serve their fellow refugees. Continue Reading

The church in the midst of change

UnitingWorld hosted three lunches at the recent 14th Triennial Assembly which discussed the work of our Uniting Church international partner churches.

At one such lunch, two presenters from church partners in the Pacific joined Dr Deidre Palmer, moderator of the Uniting Church in South Australia in a discussion about gender equality. Later in  the week, Deidre was voted by the Assembly as the president-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Deaconess Martha Yamsiu – the gender officer for the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu spoke of the many challenges women faced in her community. She outlined the disregard of women as religious leaders in the community and the ongoing issues around gender violence – a silent issue for many women living in Vanuatu. Martha spoke of the successful workshops UnitingWorld and  The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu have been undertaking in Vanuatu to educate and inform men and women about respectful relationships.

The second speaker Rev Maleta Rumaroti, secretary for mission, Kiribati Uniting Church, presented on climate impact and rising sea levels in Kiribati. Changing environmental factors due to  climate change have magnified issues of gender inequality with women bearing more of a burden as a result. High tides have led to increased illness with mosquitos breeding and causing dengue  fever. This has resulted in increased workloads for women, as they take care of their partners, children, elderly, sick and the disabled.Continue Reading

Partner church guests take in the sights of Perth

International guests to the 14th Triennial Assembly a tour of local Indigenous sites, visited local enterprises, and enjoyed some local multicultural hospitality on day four of the meeting.

UnitingWorld guests and other ecumenical partners found themselves warmly welcomed at St Aidan’s Claremont Uniting Church as guests of the congregation and the Western Australia  Multicultural Committee at an Assembly Multicultural Dinner.

“The most lovely food and the most lovely people!” enthused Pacific partners in particular as they tucked into traditional taro and other delicacies from their homelands. Domino’s Pizza also put in  a special appearance, as did a youth choir singing grace and Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church in WA.

UnitingWorld guests continued to be impressed with Western  Australian innovation and commitment on a morning tour of the Good Samaritan Industries warehouse in Canningvale. Donning bright fluorescent vests – some of which they were reluctant to hand back later – the team toured the floor of the factory which provides employment for people with disabilities, who sort and prepare donated goods for sale in iconic ‘Good Sammy’ stores throughout WA. Continue Reading

Prayers for a lasting peace in South Sudan

Uniting Church members are urged to join Christians worldwide in praying for peace in South Sudan in the days and weeks ahead.

Warring parties in the 20-month civil conflict recently resumed peace talks in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.  The conflict has taken a heavy toll on the world’s youngest nation, with thousands of lives lost, 1.6 million people internally displaced, and millions more facing severe food shortages.

As the peace talks resumed, the South Sudan Council of Churches, which includes Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) church partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan (PCoSS/S), renewed its call for an immediate and unconditional end to what it called the ‘senseless’ civil war.

In a powerful statement, church leaders have warned the warring parties, “Do not miss this opportunity to end the evil which has befallen our country.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Stuart McMillan says the UCA stands in solidarity with its Christian brothers and sisters in South Sudan.

“We pray for peace to prevail in South Sudan and for an end to the suffering of the South Sudanese people,” said Stuart.Continue Reading

Weapons to change the world

There aren’t many meetings that will change the world, but for a few young lives in a tribal village in West Bengal, this is one of them…

On a dusty patch of ground outside the village leader’s home, the community gather to consider which children are most in need of support for schooling this year. They’ve prepared a survey of  the needs of children in their village, and together they’ll decide which children will be attending the Study Centre. Nelson Mandela wrote that education was one of the most powerful  weapons you can use to change the world. He had decisions like this one in mind.

Today, the community has decided that Sumi’s three daughters will be among those receiving the extra support the Study Centre offers. Seated in the first row of the meeting, she breathes a  sigh of relief. Education might be free, but with another baby at home and no husband to provide income, school books and uniforms are proving very expensive. Not to mention the fact that Sumi, with limited education herself, is struggling to provide her girls with the support they need. Continue Reading