For immediate release
Uniting Church in Australia President, Reverend Gregor Henderson, has on the occasion of the United Nations International Day of Peace, this Sunday 21 September, called on Australians to believe in peace.
Church leaders from across Australia, including the Uniting Church, gathered in Canberra last Friday to keep poverty on the agenda in the lead up to the Federal election.
Vote  No More Poverty is a joint campaign of the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic Churches and their social services agencies and aims to raise awareness among members of our community and our political leaders about the growing rate of poverty.
The Uniting Church was represented at the launch by UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds and National Assembly ex President, Rev Prof, James Haire.
Ms Hatfield Dodds, said poverty is a growing problem in Australia and not just among unemployed people.
“While Australia has experienced economic growth in the last two decades much of this prosperity has passed by many Australians. Today, we have the dubious honour of being ranked fourth on the OECD list of countries with the highest percent of population living in poverty,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
“Today, 852,000 Australian children live in jobless households and 3.6 million Australians live on a household income of less than $400 a week.
“Agencies like UnitingCare which deliver the majority of community support in this country, see the despair and deprivation of Australia’s poor every day.
“Each year more and more Australians are suffering an unacceptable standard of living and poverty is no longer just about unemployed people.
“Many working Australians now find themselves struggling with poverty and as a caring church it is time we took a stand to see something done. That’s why we started this campaign.”
The campaign was launched at Parliament House in Canberra on June 24 following a national newspaper advertisement in the Australian that day.
Church leaders, including Prof Haire, told politicians and media representatives of the desperate need for the Federal Government to take a national leadership role in tackling poverty.
“Our faith and ethical traditions call us to ensure the health and well being of our communities. With this in mind we believe all Australians have the right to a decent life including access to work, education, housing, food and recreation.
“The message that we sent to our political leaders was that sadly, for more and more Australians, this is a pipe dream.
“There are no easy answers to solving poverty – it is a multi faceted problem often caused by more than one factor. However, the first step is to acknowledge the problem and work together at all levels of government to find real solutions.
“We called on the Federal Government to take a national leadership role on this issue and work through the Council of Australian Governments with State and Territory Government’s to develop a well resourced national action plan working across government and in partnership with the broader community.
“This is an issue we all need to be concerned and we are asking church members for their help to make politicians and political candidates aware of this issue. Please, in the lead up to the next election take the time to write to them or call them and ask …‘Do you care about poverty in Australia and what will you do to address it?”
The importance of good relationships between Indonesia and the Australia and transparency on all sides was the focus of a meeting between Uniting Church Officials and the Indonesian Ambassador in Canberra recently.
Uniting International Mission Reference Committee Chair, Professor James Haire and UIM Executive Secretary, Rev John Barr were received by Indonesian Ambassador, his Excellency, Mr Imron Cotan.
Rev Barr said the meeting focused on the need for transparency from all sides and on developing a good working relationship between the Uniting church and the Indonesian Government.
“Ambassador Cotan indicated his willingness to engage in further dialogue with the Church on issues of concern, especially those which concern out partner churches in Indonesia.
“He listened to our concerns about Ambon and the concern relayed to us by our partner church the Protestant Church in Maluku that Ambonese Christians as being portrayed as separatist and seeking to undermine the unity of the Indonesia Republic.
“Professor Haire and I reaffirmed the GPM's support for the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia and our Churches support for the GPM’s position. He also indicted he would voice these concerns with official in Jakarta,” Rev Barr said.
He said another pleasing aspect of the meeting was Mr Cotan’s generous offer to make himself available to the Uniting Church in Australia to further dialogue with us or to speak at a meeting or a gathering.
“This meeting was an important and strategic meeting. The Ambassador indicated that he is available for further meetings and I believe this may provide strategic opportunities for the Uniting Church in Australia to be an effective advocate on behalf of our partner churches in Indonesia; an effective educator and a positive facilitator concerning the development of positive relationships between Australia and Indonesia. “
Last Saturday (18 September) Julia Baird wondered “why the religious left are such pussycats when it comes to politics”. While she offered several explanations for why this may be the case, she failed to consider that the premise itself may be wrong.
Those of us who stand for a more progressive Christianity and who might be regarded as ‘religious left’ (or just ‘mainstream’ if the point of reference is the ‘religious right’ Christianity made famous by Jerry Falwell) try hard to little effect – the Uniting Church has made a number of public statements every week of the election campaign only to be ignored by the media.
It is distressing that the most prominent Christianity that figures in public consciousness these days is the reductive faith Julia writes about – faith concerned more about personal morality and judgement than caring for our neighbours. While this brand of Christianity may indeed find expression in party politics, most of the mainstream churches express their politics from within the church—speaking to government as the church—and in the day-to-day non-party political work of making life better for people. Through church agencies such as UnitingJustice we also work to encourage people’s participation as active citizens in our democratic state so that we don’t just have ‘leaders’ speaking out but local congregations and individuals enabled to discuss and raise issues in ways appropriate for them. In his piece ‘Labor blunders in bidding war’ (20 September), Robert Manne remarks on ‘the absence of any vision of the future’. It is not a point he comes back to as he assesses the effectiveness of Labor in the bidding war that is this election campaign. So maybe another reason that the mainstream churches appear absent is that we are calling for visionary leadership and this is obviously not what election campaigns are about.
What we do have in this election is a small-minded battle for the same tiny garden – the choice is between two gardeners working with the same plants but with slightly different methods of watering and feeding. The aim is to convince us to trust one or other of them to deliver more produce from that tiny garden.
The social, political and economic agenda that defines contemporary Australia is an agenda held without question by both major parties. This is why there are so few differences between the major parties and why talk about vision is unnecessary. The Church, however, does question the values and ideological assumptions behind this agenda.
When the potential prime ministers are fighting about who will fight better, who wants to talk of peace? When they are fighting over who can put more money into our pockets each fortnight, who wants to hear about homes for the homeless? Who wants to hear about justice when economic growth is what matters most? The pussycats are growling, Julia, but no-one is listening.
Rev. Elenie Poulos
Uniting Church President Elect, Rev. Gregor Henderson has seen refugee camps before. But he was profoundly shocked by what he saw in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.
There are refugees from eight African nations in the camp but most are from Sudan.
Rev. Henderson led a small delegation from Christian World Service, the aid and development arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia, to find out more about the situation of Sudanese refugees in Africa.
We spent 24 hours in Kakuma. We slept in one of the refugee camp huts. Like the refugees we were without food for 24 hours.
“I’m going home with a pretty awful feeling,” Mr Henderson said just before we left Kenya.
“My overriding reaction is one of distress.
“I’m distressed at the circumstances that face these Sudanese people. They’re living in such dreadful circumstances in Kakuma.
“I’m distressed that it has gone on for so many years.
“And I’m distressed that we in Australia are not doing more for them, as churches and as a nation.”
As well as distress, Rev. Henderson feels admiration for the way in which the people of Kakuma seem to cope with their circumstances.
“We saw so many expressions of hope in God,” he said. “We saw so many acts of friendship with us, without any sense of resentment towards us, who have so much when they have so little.
“We even saw their ability to celebrate their culture and their Christian faith in the midst all this poverty, hardship and suffering and heartrending stories.
“In such uncertainty we saw people who seemed to be able to find hope from deep down.
“I’m distressed that people have been there eight, nine, 10 years - and a few even longer than that.
“They’ve had no useful employment in that time. They’ve lived grindingly on one meal a day. There’s a sense of the world passing them by and leaving them largely uncared for.”
Rev. Henderson left Kenya determined to do what he can to try to improve the conditions in Kakuma.
“We can’t just leave it there,” he said. “We can’t just tell their story and leave it at that. We have to do something more active - as a church and as a nation - to respond to their needs.”
Sudan’s future is uncertain. There is the tragedy of Darfur. A similar tragedy is looming in the east. And the peace talks between the north and the south have stalled yet again.
There could soon be fighting on three fronts between the Arab north and the Africans in the west, south and east.
Rev. Henderson said there is a great deal of uncertainty about the peace process between the Arab, Muslim north and the African, Christian south.
“We got such mixed messages about it,” he said. “The people from the church agencies seem to be much more optimistic than the people on the ground and the refugees themselves.
“If there is a peace agreement within the next few months, that will create a whole raft of new needs. And the people will be highly vulnerable as they seek to re-establish themselves in their own homelands with all the difficulties they will face there, not only in the initial few months but also in the months to come.”
Rev. Henderson said he is proud that the churches around the world are trying help these people.
“I’m sure that the suffering Sudanese would be even worse off if it weren’t for the churches,” he said.
“Their own churches are obviously doing a tremendous job in the camp, holding them together and seeking to provide what little support for them that they can.
“The wider church community, including the Australian churches through Christian World Service, is offering them some assistance and offering to walk with them.”
Rev. Henderson wants the Australian churches to look at how we can provide more help to refugees who have been approved for resettlement in Australia to get here more quickly.
Too many refugees get visas to Australian only to find that the Sudanese in Australia can’t afford to pay their air fares. So their hopes are dashed and they go back to refugee camps.
Rev. Henderson said Australian churches have been making statements that congregations would be willing to support asylum seekers to live in the community, rather than in detention centres, while their cases are dealt with.
“We should be able to help Sudanese refugees to get a new start in life,” he said.
“Could churches supply no-interest loans for those the Australian Government has accepted as genuine refugees so they can come sooner, rather than later, and not have to depend on the Sudanese community in Australia to muster the money for their fares?”
He also hoped Australia can generate some concern about the paucity of rations for the people in Kakuma.
“Apparently all they are receiving is three kilograms of maize, with a little salt and cooking oil, per person per fortnight, with occasional lentils thrown in,” he said.
“Surely the international community can do better than that. Surely they’re entitled to more than one small meal a day and a bit more nourishment for them and their children.”
Refugees asked the delegation to take up three points with the Australian Government. They would like Australia:
- To increase the number of refugees.
- To support education for refugees in Africa.
- To be ready to help in the reconstruction of Southern Sudan when a comprehensive peace
agreement is eventually signed.
“There’s plenty for us to speak to the Government about - and there’s plenty we can consider as further assistance from the church,” he said.
Rev. Henderson said he was very glad that the delegation had been invited to share the refugees’ conditions for 24 hours.
“I’m pleased we accepted the invitation of the Presbyterian community to live with them for 24 hours as they have to live,” he said.
“Knowing that we were there for only a night and a day meant it was no great sacrifice on our part. But I’m please we made that act of solidarity. We probably gained in credibility because of that.
“Even that taste says to us that they have one very poor meal each day, and each of those meals is the same - what you could call maize porridge - day after day, year after year.
“Eating would be no pleasure. Your body must accommodate to it somewhat. You would go to bed hungry each night and wake up hungry every morning.”
The delegation slept in a mud hut with very little ventilation.
“We were sleeping only two to a room. They sleep eight, or 10, or even 15 to a room. I can’t imagine that being anything but unbearable, night after night.
“There’s a complete lack of privacy and the sanitation provisions are so primitive. So are the cooking facilities.
“And the heat - and we were at the cool time of the year!
“This small taste we had of life in Kakuma makes me admire the spirit of the people.
“They seem so uncomplaining about their lot. If I had to do it for three or four days in a row I’d be at my wit’s end.
“You wonder what it must do to your long term health. Many of them, of course, said they feel sick. That probably speaks of malnutrition and various infections.
“We weren’t given mosquito nets - and we were blessed that there weren’t many mosquitoes.”
Rev. Henderson said there is a high incidence of malaria and digestive infections. “The level of medical care is very basic,” he said.
“We saw people who had had broken limbs that had never been properly set. We met people who needed operations for bladder and other problems. They can’t have them because the facilities just aren’t there.
“So the taste of their life was depressing. It makes you marvel that they can cope with it.
“We heard that every week children die because of inadequate facilities and lack of nutrition.
“I’ve been in refugee camps in the Middle East and Sri Lanka. These are the worst I’ve seen in terms of provisions and facilities.
“There’s no way that people can grow anything for themselves with that climate and the lack of water.
“The welcome we were given, as members of the fellowship and family of Christ, was extraordinary. We weren’t bringing any solution for them.
“I’m pleased we were able to share their conditions, rather than go off at night to somewhere a little better than where they were sleeping.
“It was a solidarity visit, not a spectator visit.
“The grinding hopeless of it all is terrible. It really turns your heart over. It’s appalling. It shouldn’t be.”
- The Rev. Gregor Henderson is chairperson of Christian World Service, the aid and development arm of the National Council of Churches in Australia. He is also national president-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia
Poverty is about a lack of means to live a decent life. It’s about not having enough money to eat healthy food. Poverty is not being able to take your kids to the doctors or dentist. Poverty is never having new clothes, or holidays. Poverty means standing in supermarket queues, quietly praying you’ve added up your handful of items correctly. If you haven’t, you'll face the embarrassment of having to put something back.
Poverty is about always having to say “no” to school camps and excursions. Poverty means never going to the movies, or out for a casual coffee with friends. Poverty means putting up with rotten teeth and a bad back. Poverty means standing in the rain waiting for busses that never run on time. Poverty means having your name on an endless Government list for somewhere safe to live. Poverty means that other people make decisions about your life most of the time.
Could you and your family live on $400 a week? Four hundred dollars for everything? Four hundred dollars to pay the rent, food, transport, clothes, the doctor and chemist, school and kids sports…. This year more than 3.6 million Australian households are struggling to survive on four hundred dollars a week.
Poverty exists. It’s bad for everyone. Together, we can make a difference.
A new UnitingCare Australia action kit targeting Uniting Church congregations and UnitingCare agencies and missions was launched recently to coincide with National Anti-Poverty week and to help the Church meet its aim of getting poverty, especially child poverty, on the National agenda.
Developed in partnership with congregations and agencies the Not Enough poverty kits aim to enable local mission, by empowering UCA members and UnitingCare staff and supporters to use their gifts, skills, and local connections to act for change for those whose lives are less rich and more troubled than they need to be.
The action kit has four sessions developed in cooperation between congregations, agencies and Assembly Agencies UnitingCare Australia, Uniting Justice and Uniting Education. It aims to develop conversations about how Christian tradition and experience can be brought into focus to encourage us to work together.
UnitingCare Australia National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds, said each session is designed for a small group to work through in one meeting and there are a range of activity choices available in each session, both for those who would describe themselves as people of faith, and for those who work or volunteer in our agencies and share our passion for justice.
“The action kit was designed by people in congregations and agencies for congregations and agencies. If you want to produce resources that excite and engage people you need to have them help shape the project,” she said.
The kit follows on from UnitingCare Australia’s on-going advocacy work on poverty at the Federal level and the recent decision of the UnitingCare National Conference to commit the 450 strong network of service providers to getting child poverty on the national agenda.
“We deliver children’s services, child protection, out of home care, programs for homeless young people, family support and early intervention. Our credibility lies in our direct and daily contact with families, the work that we do and the outcomes we achieve.
“As a nation, we have the knowledge, the skills, and the resources to tackle the causes and impacts of child poverty. As a network, UnitingCare has the experience and knowledge to work with Government to do that.”
Lin said one of the ways to achieve change at a Government level was to mobilise local congregations, UnitingCare providers and communities to act and agitate for change. “Imagine if every Federal politician was contacted in their own seat by locals with the same message about serious, well resourced national action on poverty.”
Poverty exists. Its bad for everyone. Together we can make the difference.
“Working together, we can transform our neighbourhoods, our communities, and our country, one choice and one act at a time, to be places of hope and belonging for everyone”.
‘Every day, UnitingCare community service providers see the tragic effects of poverty and financial hardship and the way these compound for the most disadvantaged in our communities—people who are homeless, those with poor mental health, people living with a disability. We need to turn around Australia’s poor record on dealing with poverty. Working locally through this action kit provides a way for national action and transformation to begin at a grass roots level.”
Want to know more? You can download the kit from the UnitingCare Australia website (www.unitingcare.org.au) where you will find lots of information about poverty and inequality.
Uniting Church Overseas Aid is urgently seeking donations to assist a number of countries in South East Asia that have been hit by natural disasters in recent months.
Donations will be used to assist the work of our partner Churches to provide emergency support in disaster affected regions of the following countries.
- West Papua
- The Phillipines
- How to send donations
(1) Earthquake hits Alor Island in Eastern Indonesia
At 4am on the 12 November 2004 an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter Scale hit the eastern Indonesian island of Alor. Around 17,000 buildings were damaged. Most of these where houses leaving 50,000 people homeless. Reports indicate that 34 people have died and there are approximately 300 people with major injuries. Living conditions are difficult with the onset of the wet season while hundreds of aftershocks have hit the island.
Our partner church in the region, the Evangelical Christian Church in Timor (GMIT) has formed a disaster response team and is distributing food and shelter to local congregations. Most of Alor Island are members of GMIT. The island is very mountainous and the only airfield on the island is out of action. Roads are cut due to landslides. Financial support can be sent to the GMIT Synod in Kupang through Uniting Church Overseas Aid
(2) Earthquake hits Nabire in West Papua
On Friday 26th November 2004 an earthquake registering 6.4 on the Richter Scale hit the town of Nabire in West Papua. This was the second earthquake to hit the town in the past nine months and at least 17 people have died and 180 people are injured. Over 300 buildings in the town have been damaged and Nabire's airport has been severely effected. Planes are not able to land. Some 89 aftershocks were experienced during the following day with a total of 368 aftershocks being measured since the earthquake (some aftershocks measuring up to 5.4 on the Richter Scale). People have been living outside because they fear their houses will collapse. Electricity and water supplies are out of action while bridges have been damaged and roads are cut.
Our partner church, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua is preparing to provide emergency assistance in the area. Financial support can be sent to the GKI di Tanah Papua Synod in Jayapura through Uniting Church Overseas Aid.
(3) Typhoons hit Luzon, Philippines
Six hundred people are dead or missing in the eastern region of Luzon due to a series typhoons that have hit the region. Winds of up to 240 kph and heavy rain have swept away roads, bridges and villages. Mudslides together with huge logs that have been washed down from the mountains and are causing extensive damage. The town of Real (population 30,000) is isolated by floodwaters and many tens of thousands of people are affected in other areas.
Typhoon Nanmadol is now approaching Luzon with 185 kph winds. This will be the fourth storm to hit the region in a week. Uniting International Mission is contacting our church partner in the Philippines, the United Church of Christ (UCCP), to seek further information. It's highly likely that our church partner (UCCP) will be seeking support to provide emergency aid to the region. Financial support can be sent through Uniting Church Overseas Aid.
The above information on the current situation in these countries was current at December 2. For more detailed up to date information can be found via the world news section of the BBC website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/
How to send donations
Please send donations to:
Uniting Church Overseas Aid
Donor Liaison Officer
PO Box A2266
Sydney South NSW 1235
Cheques should be made out to “Uniting Church Overseas Aid”
For receipt purposes please enclose a name and address with the donation.
Contact telephone number – 02 8267 4266
All donations to Uniting Church Overseas Aid are tax deductible
In the wake of the turmoil and instability in the Solomon Islands, a spiritual assistance mission was organised with the help of Methodist Churches in the region and the Uniting Church in Australia.
With the help of Uniting International Mission Rev Sarah Williamson from New South Wales and Bruce Mullan from Queensland joined the Mission in the Solomon Islands recently.
"A jewel of the Pacific still reeling from devastating conflict," was how Queensland Mission Consultant, Bruce Mullan, described the Solomon Islands on his recent return.
In 1998 Guadalcanal, the island scene of so much violent warfare during World War Two, became the centre of a lawless conflict between the locally organised militias and the rival Malaitan Eagle Force. The fight was over land holdings but the ensuing warfare saw almost total collapse of government and society in the Solomon Islands.
"I spoke with one family whose son had been killed in the fighting," said Bruce. "His grave was in the village of Koleasi where I spent a weekend." Originally the young teenager had been airlifted to Honiara's main hospital with a gunshot wound and was recovering well when the opposing militia broke into the hospital and killed him.
Such reprisal violence was endemic in the villages, and people who had lived in peace since the missionary days in the first half of the 1900s found their communities reverting to the "old ways". "We were dying in spiritual death," said Rev Bromley T Chuchu, minister of the Koleasi Congregation in the Guadalcanal mountains. Revd Chuchu told how villagers were affected spiritually, socially, physically and mentally by the ethnic unrest and warfare. "It was all fear and panic," he said.
Led by Australia and supported by nine South Pacific nations, the RAMSI intervention force arrived in July 2003, deploying more than 2,000 men and women in the first wave to restore peace. Calling the operation "Helpem Fren" this Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands quickly restored hope to a country on the verge of political and economic collapse. Now over 3,800 people have been arrested, including militia leaders, suspected murderers and extortionists.
When Revd John Mavor from Uniting International Mission visited the Solomon Islands a year ago the United Church leaders praised the RAMSI but expressed the need for a spiritual assistance mission. The Methodist Consultative Council of the Pacific adopted this idea when it met in Samoa early in 2004.
In November 2004 ten church leaders from the Methodist churches in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa and from the United Church in PNG and the Uniting Church in Australia visited the Solomon Islands to bring encouragement and express solidarity with the United Church. The UCA representatives were Rev Sarah Williamson from New South Wales and Bruce Mullan.
"Just knowing that other churches had not forgotten them was a huge encouragement to the church there," said Mr Mullan. "There is a lot left to do, but God will use the church in the Solomons as an agent for the ongoing peace and stability that will be required after the RAMSI has returned home."
Moderator of the United Church in the Solomon Islands, Rev Philemon Riti expressed deep gratitude for this expression of friendship by other churches in the Region. "We thank God for this bond and the common concern for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.