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

GKPB: nurturing in faith

I recently returned from my third visit to the Gereja Kristen Protestant Bali, the Protestant Church of Bali (GKPB). During these trips, and with visitors from Bali coming to Perth for short and  long-term stays, I have made many friends. It was wonderful to catch up with them and to make new ones.

My latest visit was as chairperson of the WA Uniting Church Adult Fellowship (UCAF), with Jane Robertson, our WA UCAF Secretary. We enjoyed an itinerary prepared by Dr Debora Murtha,  chairperson of the GKPB Women’s Fellowship.

We all know Bali as a popular tourist destination for Australians; luxury relaxation is available at bargain prices and airfares are more affordable than to Sydney. Balinese people are graceful and  gracious, welcoming and courteous. Balinese markets are fun, beaches are beautiful and scenery is sensational. Happy hour lasts for hours and mocktails and cocktails are cheaper than at home.  Balinese lifestyle seems to flow like the traffic – without haste or jostle, with conventions for rightof- way and give-way gently absorbed with the culture.

Balinese society has many faith traditions and religious observances are visible everywhere. Festivals are frequent and acceptable; some businesses closing and others opening on various days of  the week, or weeks of the year, and everyone manages without inconvenience. It is not uncommon to see Christians setting off every evening for Bible study, Buddhists meditating in parks during the morning, or Muslims praying throughout the day on street verges. The predominant religion of Indonesia is Islam. However, in Bali, the majority of the population is Hindu. It is delightful to  see the Hindu flower and food offerings freshly placed each morning on doorsteps or footpaths, and Hindu sculptures occupy privileged positions at gateways, on pedestals, and even in the centre   of road intersections. Daily Hindu rituals demonstrate dedicated devotional time spent morning and night to thank the good spirits and conciliate the bad spirits. Continue Reading

Emerging faith leaders calling for action on climate change

Jessica Morethorpe, First Third specialist for the Metro West Region of the Uniting Church in WA, recently travelled to Rome to join hundreds of other faith leaders in thanking Pope Francis for  his encyclical, Laudato Si’. She shares her experience with Revive.

We came from all over the world, from many faiths and many countries, but with one cause and one message: we need to act on climate change. We came to thank Pope Francis for taking leadership in this area by releasing Laudato Si’ (his teaching letter on care for our common home – the Earth), and to ask world leaders to prepare to take action at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s supreme decision-making body, COP climate negotiations to be held in Paris in December. We brought our stories of the effects of climate change we are already experiencing in our countries, and our hopes and dreams for a better future for ourselves and our children than currently seems possible.

We had come to Rome for the Emerging Leaders Multi-Faith Climate Convergence (ELMCC), a meeting of about 100 delegates chosen from over 400 applications worldwide to discuss the climate  crisis and what we can do together to create change. To launch the convergence, on 28 June we joined about 5000 people to march from Piazza Farnese to St Peter’s Square, with a range of signs  and artistic symbols telling a story of what needs to happen. We also handed out large leaves with quotes from major faith leaders about climate change on them. They were so popular the whole  square turned green for the Pope’s weekly message. Continue Reading

Papuan students experience WA’s wheatbelt

Eleven students who took part in the Australian Papuan Cultural Exchange Program, hosted at All Saints Floreat Uniting Church, took a weekend away from their studies to travel up to the northern wheatbelt town of Coorow in March and experience some of Australia’s rural lifestyle. The program hosts students from West Papua in Perth while they build up their English skills.

Inez Davies, a member of Coorow All Saints Uniting Church, learnt about the program whilst attending a Summer Spirit event years ago in Perth. The Coorow congregation, a joint Anglican and  Uniting Church, have followed its progress and offered support – this year by hosting the group in their home town for some time out from their busy schedule. The students arrived for  lunch on Saturday 29 March at Inez’s farm, followed by a drive around the property to see some of their crops. Dinner was provided in town by the congregation before an evening of music and  joy.

“We were all just sitting around talking and they all burst into song,” said Inez. “My son took his guitar and he yodelled for them and they were absolutely ecstatic.” Continue Reading

Pilgrimage of a lifetime

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In November and December this year, a group of twenty Christian young adults will travel to the Holy Land on an adventure and spiritual journey like no other – and you could be part of it. For  two weeks the group will be visiting historical and biblical sites, and will return home forever changed by the experience.

The Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land will be jointly led by Rev Dr Ian Robinson, chaplain at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and spiritual retreat leader; Rick Morrell, First  Third co-ordinator at the Uniting Church in WA; and Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, multicultural ministry co-ordinator at the Uniting Church in WA; with the help of John Snobar from Christian Pilgrimage Inc.

Beginning in Jordan, the pilgrimage will travel through Israel and Palestine, touring ancient cities and visiting significant sites such as where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, where Jesus met  the woman at the well, and Capernaum, where Jesus based his public ministry. Along the way, the group will be meeting a range of people, from locals to fellow pilgrims, and encounter new  cultures and languages.

Ian Robinson has been on such a pilgrimage five times, and is excited to share the experience with a new group of young Christians. He believes the trip will be a life  changing experience for those who are up for it. Continue Reading

English classes for more opportunity

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Throughout March and April this year, 11 students from West Papua immersed themselves in Australian culture as part of the Australian Papuan Cultural Exchange Program. Through this  program, the students, aged between 18–25, are able to build-up their English language skills, giving them more opportunities back home.

The idea originally sparked within All Saints Floreat Uniting Church after a visit to The Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI di TP), a partner church of the Uniting Church in  Australia. In its third season since 2010, this year the program was run with the assistance of many Uniting Church congregations across WA, including Scarborough, Trinity North, North  Midlands and Foothills St Martins. From teachers and conversation partners to host families and bus drivers, this program is no easy feat to pull off – but its rewards are immeasurable.

Whilst in Australia, the students lived with host families in Perth, spending their days learning English in a classroom held at the Floreat church. It’s not all hard work though, as they also spent  time exploring some of the city’s attractions, as well as heading south to Busselton and north to Coorow for some fun and time-out. Continue Reading

Adnyamathanha pilgrimage: Look, listen, there are no straight lines

“You asked about how to approach Aboriginal people,” Aunty Denise Champion picks up our conversation from several days ago. “This is how,” she says as together we step onto a path leading  to a low circular monument.

Nothing would have kept me from walking directly to the sinuous rust stone carving that mimicked the two snakes of Ikara (Wilpena Pound), the vast geological monument that surrounds us.  There were no barriers, no instructions, no protocols, just a stone marker at the mouth of the path announcing, “Ngarlparlaru yata”.

“This is our country,” Denise translates as we walk the two-toned gravel walk that wound its way to the centre. In the Aboriginal world, nothing is direct, the subtleties confound.

I am saved by the saying ‘relationship before stories before questions’, a way so counter-intuitive to the journalist in me. At the brown centre of the monument, however, on a grim grid, no  words were minced, “We lost our traditional way of life to pastoralism and our land to pastoralism–and adapted to an alien culture, a new language and religion.” “My dad couldn’t vote, he was  under the Dog Act. I felt so bad.” “If the missionaries heard us kids speaking our language, they would refuse to sell our mother groceries at the store. She would have to wait for the next week  or travel to the next town to buy flour and sugar.” “After years of pastoral settlement, our traditional life has disappeared.” Continue Reading

Social issues high on conference agenda

The high rate of indigenous incarceration Australia-wide, the availability of adequate education and employment opportunities, threats to remove services from remote West Australian  communities and the covenanting relationship with the wider church were among the topics discussed last month at the week-long Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress’ 2015  National Conference.

More than 150 people from every corner of the nation descended on Poatina, a small former Hydro village in Tasmania’s north, for the gathering. Daily business sessions were accompanied by  Bible teachings and workshops under the theme Holy Mountains, Healing People. Among attendees were participants in the 2015 About FACE program. About FACE stands for Faith And Cultural Exchange and has been an activity of the Uniting Church in Australia since 1984 with the aim of building meaningful relationships with Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian  Congress (UAICC) communities. Continue Reading

Margaret and Haileigh face a different future

Hobart woman Margaret Collis admits she was quickly struck by the lack of blame for past white atrocities she felt laid at her feet by Aboriginal community members in Northern New South  Wales, she met during her participation in the About FACE program at the beginning of this year.

“I have heard of places where some Aboriginal people are [understandably] still very angry with white people and want to hold it [what happened in the past] over them,” she said. “But, that was  not my experience. There were no accusations directed at us.”

Margaret, who worships at Bellerive Uniting Church on Hobart’s eastern shore, was one of 17 participants in About FACE 2015 which was organised by the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania’s Commission for Mission, running for 16 days in January. She was one of 3 aged over 50, with the remaining 14 under the age of 30.

About FACE stands for Faith And Cultural Exchange and has  been an activity of the Uniting Church in Australia since 1984 with the aim of building meaningful relationships with Uniting  Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) communities. It celebrates the covenant relationship between the Uniting Church in Australia and the UAICC, and encourages participants  and those supporting them to be actively involved in covenanting and working together for reconciliation in the church and in the wider community. Continue Reading

GKI on the move

One of the outcomes of our recent Annual Meeting of the Presbytery and Synod of the Uniting Church in WA was the commitment to continue our partnership with the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI).

The partnership began over two decades ago and has led to the growth of the GKI Perth Uniting Church congregation in Mosman Park and a special Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that points to various ways we can co-operate and learn from each other.

IMG_0043Rosemary Hudson-Miller, acting general Secretary of the Uniting Church in WA, and I, moderator of the Uniting Church in WA, were very privileged to be able to visit Indonesia in September to  attend the GKI West Java Synod and sign the MOU. This was a tremendous privilege and richly rewarding for us. We were able to witness a church that is growing and dynamic in many areas of its life.

We stayed in the climatically cool Zuri Resort and Convention Center, owned by GKI, about three hours out of Jakarta, near Bogor in the mountains. It was very special being part of their synod  meetings. About 270 members attended from eight presbyteries across West Java.Continue Reading