Wednesday, October 12, 2016

International Day of the Girl Child, October 11th: Girls Thrive = Society Benefits

I wonder in what ways the diaconal associations recognised the International Day of the Girl Child? And what programs and priorities there are amongst our diaconal associations that address the challenges girls face, and to promote girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. 
Below are two articles I found helpful reflecting on the International Day of the Girl Child, one from the UN and one from Australian Mike Frost on his blog. It is followed by a prayer for the girl child and women, prepared by Rev Thomas Jacob. 
(from the UN):
The International Day of the Girl Child recognises girls' rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.
Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.
Over the last 15 years, the global community has made significant progress in improving the lives of girls during early childhood. In 2015, girls in the first decade of life are more likely to enrol in primary school, receive key vaccinations, and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than were previous generations. However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they enter the second decade of their lives. This includes obtaining quality secondary and higher education, avoiding child marriage, receiving information and services related to puberty and reproductive health, and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and gender-based violence.
The theme for this year's International Day of the Girl (11 October) is Girls' Progress = Goals' Progress: What Counts for Girls. While we can applaud the ambition and potential of the Sustainable Development Goals for girls, and recognize how girls’ progress is good not only for girls, but also for families, communities and society at large, we must also take this opportunity to consider how existing gaps in data on girls and young women, lack of systematic analysis, and limited use of existing data significantly limit our ability to monitor and communicate the wellbeing and progress of half of humanity. 
When we invest in girls’ health, safety, education and rights - in times of peace and crisis - we empower them to reach for their dreams and build better lives for themselves and their communities. Only when investments in programs for girls on issues that particularly affect them - due to both their age and gender - are complemented with corresponding investments in data on girls, can we make real progress towards greater accountability in domains of critical importance to them. 

From Mike Frost, an Australian pastor and theologian reflects on the girl child in his daily blog
Exiled Iranian politician, Mahnaz Afkhami once declared, “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life. The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace is increasingly apparent.”
In other words, if you want a more peaceful society, let girls and women flourish.
No seriously, if there’s a silver bullet or a shortcut to world peace it’s this: remove the barriers that inhibit opportunities for girls to become successful women.
And this week I discovered if you want the best opportunities for your daughter, you’d better move to Sweden or Norway or Denmark or Finland. To coincide with International Day of the Girl, Save the Children released their ranking of the best and worst countries in which to be a girl, and those four countries topped the list. Scandinavia is definitely known for peace.
Embarrassingly, some other wealthy developed countries like Australia (21), South Korea (27), USA (32), and Japan (35) ranked down the list.
In fact, it’s better to be a girl in Kazakhstan than America, or in Serbia than Australia (ouch!!).
So how does that work?
Well, Save the Children identified five key predictors of the ability for girls to thrive:
  1. Rates of early marriage (child marriage triggers a cycle of disadvantage across every part of a girl’s life);
  2. Adolescent fertility (teen pregnancy impedes a girl’s ability to thrive);
  3. Maternal mortality (complications during pregnancy or childbirth is the second leading cause of death for adolescent girls);
  4. Women in government (indicating a girl’s freedom to speak out and influence decisions);
  5. Lower secondary school completion (a limited education also limits employment options). 
Obviously, countries where girls may face sexual and gender-based violence or harassment crashed to the bottom of the list, as did countries in war zones. The bottom 25 places went to African countries. And Afghanistan.
But while rich countries might be doing okay with their lack of conflict and child marriage, many of them slipped down the ranking because their low proportion of women politicians and their relatively high rates of teen pregnancy. Australia, UK and Canada were all dragged down the ranking by these factors.
The USA, the world’s biggest economy, ranks down at position 32 because it also has high teen pregnancy rates and low women’s representation in government. Women hold 19.4% of the 535 seats in Congress, while the Swedish parliament comprises 44% women.
But America was also let down by relatively high maternal mortality rates. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the USA in 2015; a similar number to Uruguay and Lebanon, and far higher than the three deaths per 100,000 in Poland, Greece and Finland.
Long story short: not enough women in politics; too many teen pregnancies; too many women dying due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth; too many girls dropping out of high school.
Wealthy countries are sometimes oblivious to the degree to which girls are women are held back in their societies, presuming that economic wealth is the only indicator of freedom. But if we want to address brokenness and violence in society, if we want to reduce injustice and poverty, make it a better world for women and girls. Provide greater opportunities for political representation. Provide better sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare. Provide better educational opportunities.
Oh, and if we want to bring peace and democracy to other parts of the world, instead of invading or bombing them, maybe we should just help make it a better world for the girls there.
If we did that we could change the world.

This prayer was prepared by Rev Thomas Jacob (India). It has a particular focus on the girl child in India  but could easily be used or adapted to pray for girls and women in other places. 

Leader: Gracious Lord, we thank you for creating us, both male and female, in your image, out of your love, and in your divine plan and purpose. We are grateful that Christ died on the cross to redeem all humankind. Yet, we confess that we have not always seen ourselves and each other as created in your image. We have treated one another as less than what you have created us to be. Transform us with the power and hope of your resurrection.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: Lord Jesus, during your ministry on earth, you showed how precious little children are to you. We have failed to show the same love to them, particularly towards the girl child. We have discriminated against the girl child from the womb till the tomb. We have destroyed life, often even before she could come into this world. Forgive us.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: Lord Jesus, we learn from the Gospels that you loved, healed and restored women in a society where she was discriminated against both in social and religious life. Yet, even today, we face the same challenge of exclusion of women, and discrimination and violence against the girl child at all stages of her life. We confess our guilt.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for the Church that she would bring the message of love and hope to every girl child who feels unloved, unwanted and rejected. May we be facilitators in helping her to grow to her God-given potentials in her service to humanity.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We confess that we have not acknowledged the gifts and abilities of the girl child and women, and have not provided them opportunities to exercise those gifts for the good of the Church. Help us to nurture the girl child and equip her to contribute through any role in the Church that the Spirit might call her to, including that of leadership.
Lord, in your mercy All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We bring before you every daughter, sister, wife and mother that you may shower your blessings upon them and on all that they do in different roles. Help them and us to uphold the dignity that you have given them.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all those who oppress and exploit the girl child or woman that they would realize the harm that is caused to another person created in the image of God. Help them to see that what they do to the girl child is an offence against you. Change their hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all victims of gender discrimination and violence. We know that you are moved by their silent tears and sighs. Comfort them with your love and stretch forth your hand to heal them.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We pray for all those in authority – in organisations, Church and society – that they would be sensitive to the issues affecting the girl child and women, and would take measures to protect and to provide equal opportunities for their growth and development.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: God of love and life, fill us with your love and compassion. Help us to see every person as you would see her. Teach us to see you in every girl child. Let every girl child know that she is precious, loved and wanted.
Lord, in your mercy. All: Hear our prayer.
Leader: We offer these prayers in the name of Christ who is the hope and authority of the future. Amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Methodist Deacons in New Zealand

It was a pleasure to spend time with the Deacons in New Zealand, at the NZ Methodist Conference on the first weekend of October. It was great to learn more about their work and their relationship with Presbyters.

It was also great to be at the Conference when Shirley-Joy's Barrow's retirement was acknowledged.

Typhoons and hurricanes

Typhoon Chaba has unleashed heavy rain and damaging winds on southern South Korea and southwestern mainland Japan. At least five deaths have been reported in South Korea while another person remains missing. Floodwaters have raced through the streets of Busan, and structural damage was also reported. Power outages were also report, as well as travel chaos and dozens of flight cancellations. Many schools were forced to close. 
Thankfully, across mainland Japan, impacts have been less extreme. 
Meanwhile in the USA, there are mass evacuations as Hurricane Matthew begins to descend upon the East Coast, having already passed through areas in the Caribbean.

And in Haiti the damage has been extreme, with many hundreds reported to have died.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by these devastating storms, and with our diaconal sisters and brothers in the Caribbean, United States, South Korea and Japan.

people in Haiti, after a bridge had collapsed

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Becky Louter

March 16, 1970 - September 16, 2016
It is with deep sadness that the diaconal community has learned of the passing of Becky Louter on September 16th, 2016, after a courageous battle with breast cancer for several years.

Like her mother, Becky was a Deaconess in the United Methodist Church. Consecrated as a Deaconess in 2001, she served as Executive Secretary of the Deaconess Home Missioner Order of the United Methodist Church, which oversees the lay order of the church dedicated to workers in vocations that alleviate suffering.

The United Methodist Women's website reports, 'Ms Louter was a tireless advocate for the lay office, and the community grew. During her tenure, laymen were added as home missioners by the 2004 General Conference, and the 2016 General Conference recognised the deaconess/home missioner community as a lay order of the church'.

Harriet Jane Olson, chief executive officer of the United Methodist Women says, 'I am profoundly grateful for Becky's life, for her commitment to following Jesus and for her leadership. She was a model of committed lay leadership focussed on love, justice and service'.

Becky's mission was to help share God's love through service and social justice. In a 2006 interview she said, 'I had always felt a sense of calling. I thought I was looking for a job but I discovered I was called to be in ministry. As a deaconess, I may have 30 jobs in my life, but one calling, one relationship...God does the calling'.

Becky is survived by her husband, Michael, and their four precious children, John, Andrew, Hanna and Elizabeth. Our thoughts and prayers are with Becky's family.

Becky's gentle and deeply rooted faith and confidence in Jesus, her strength, courage and love, and her tireless advocacy for diaconal ministry will continue to inspire those who knew and loved her, and those whose lives were touched by her presence.While there is deep sorrow at Becky's passing, we can all affirm together: well done, good and faithful servant.

And we can have confidence Becky is indeed held in the embrace of God, as she has given testimony to all her life.

(A GoFundMe appeal has been set up for Becky's family and you may consider making a donation). 

Monday, September 19, 2016

DOVE: Diakonia Overcoming Violence Experience

Please remember the delegates as they meet for the 2016 gathering of DOVE: Diakonia Overcoming Violence Experience, September 19-23, 2016 at Crieff Hills Conference Center, Punslinch (near Toronto), Ontario, Canada. 

This gathering builds an international team that will participate in a multicultural, hands-on, action-reflection experience related to overcoming violence in the world 

Participants promise to:
  • find ways to initiate action/reflection experiences in their own countries
  • write reflections to share with the group, their own community, and DOTAC (Diakonia
    of the Americas and Caribbean)
  • seek ways to provide leadership and develop networks to assist others in overcoming violence.

    Learning about... 
  • Overcoming Violence through Empowerment & Being a Strong Ally
  • Restorative Justice Approaches
  • Toxic & Healthy Masculinities
  • Advocating For & Empowering Sex Trade Workers
  • Residential Schools and Relationships with First Nations People

    DOTAC attempts to select three people from each region (Brazil, Caribbean, United States, and Canada) to attend. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A reflection on 9/11 (15th anniversary)

The sculpture consists of an iron beam pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center held up by two stainless steel hands. The hands holding it up are constructed from 2,976 individually crafted stainless steel doves – each representing a victim of the attacks.

Fifteen years after 9/11
what is worth remembering?

How fragile we are.
How deeply we need each other.
How little our differences matter.
That in our vulnerability
we are most human.
That we can always respond to violence
with violence or with peace.
That violence begets violence.
That in danger, chaos and trauma
we can choose to come together.
That you always have a choice
to contribute to the world's hurt
or its healing.
That we are one.
That entering into the world's suffering
is divine.
That the world is not ending yet.
How beautiful it is
when we care for each other.
Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Remembering Warruwi

On Wednesday 27 July, 2016, over 60 people from across the country arrived in the Warruwi (South Goulburn Island in Northern Australia) community to mark the centenary of mission activities that commenced in the region in 1916. It was a significant day for many people who worked in Warruwi and Arnhem Land mission communities over many years.
Warruwi is a small island north east of Darwin and across the Coburg Peninsula, and is home to a mostly Indigenous community of approximately 500 people (more information here). The traditional language of the local community is Mawng, with a number of other languages also being spoken. Several Mawng community representatives took part in the centenary event, along with other Warruwi locals, and ex-mission workers from locations across Australia.
Amongst those who gathered were a number of ex-mission workers from South Australia and members of their families – including Rev Deacon Bill Harris, his wife Margaret, and daughters, Michelle and Anne). Other South Australians passed along their greetings, while still more were discussed as making significant contributions to mission work.
The Warruwi site was chosen by Rev James Watson in 1915. He had been sent to the Northern Territory by the Methodist Church’s Board of Missions to survey possible sites for mission work in the area. As a result of his survey and report South Goulburn Island/Warruwi was selected as the most suitable site to commence mission activities. James arrived to establish the mission on 22 June 1916.
Those gathered for the event recalled many aspects of the Warruwi mission’s history. Attendees also took part in a re-enactment of Rev James Watson’s 1916 arrival by boat. 

The group then gathered at the site of the original church, where a replica now stands (pictured) and serves as the base for the current Warruwi Uniting Church congregation. The old church building is no longer suitable for many of the community’s worship services. A large external stage has been built facing into the town square and this is used for larger worship gatherings.
As part of the celebrations, visitors were welcomed by local pastor Billy Nowaloinba, who later preached at the centenary service. Music was provided by the church band, and dancers performed a smoking ceremony and welcome dances. 
The event also provided a platform for Rev Dr William Emilson to launch his new book, Fighting Spirit: A History of Christianity at Warruwi, Goulburn Island, and for the handing over of the Mawng translation of the Gospel of Mark. The latter work was started in the 1960s and finally completed in time for the centenary celebrations.
The Warruwi centenary event served as a reminder of the history of the Methodist Church and the Mawng people, and how their past dedication and faith has helped to shape the Warruwi community today.
This article has been edited from the original sent by Rev Bill Harris and appears in the online version of New Times, a publication of the Uniting Church in Australia (SA Synod). The article contains his own reflections and understanding of the Methodist Mission on Warruwi and the recent centenary celebration.