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

Nepal earthquake: churches respond

Churches have responded with a number of appeals after a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, followed by a second earthquake weeks later. Over 8000 people have died in the disaster, and  many thousands more left injured, homeless and vulnerable.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) issued a joint statement calling on churches around the world to pray for the families of those who have died,  and for those who have been injured or been affected by property loss and damage.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Nepal and northern India who lost loved ones in their families and among friends in this powerful earthquake and its aftershocks. Our  thoughts and prayers are with all those who are affected by this disaster,” said the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC. Continue Reading

Australian Christians call for boycott of goods made in Israeli settlements

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN), an organisation of Christians nationally who advocate a just peace for Palestine and Israel, is asking consumers to pressure Australian companies selling Israeli settlement goods.

“Illegal settlements are unilateral Israeli land-grabs that now control nearly half of the Palestinian West Bank,” said Uniting Church’s Rev Gregor Henderson, co-convenor of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network. “To buy or sell goods made in these settlements is to support the military occupation of Palestine.

“Guided by the proud history of moral nonviolent movements that have used peaceful boycotts as a tool for seeking justice, we are calling on Australians not to buy goods from these illegal settlements and we are asking Australian businesses not to trade with these illegal settlements and sell their products,” Gregor said.

The boycott call comes in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report that revealed exploitative child labour conditions in many settlement farms, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.Continue Reading