28 December, 2007

A miserly Christmas and a flabby new year!

So I won’t go on an obvious and typical rant about the excesses of Christmas in the Western world. I do love the Christmas season. Mostly I love watching children. They must find the whole occasion bizarre until they are old enough to place it into context. But imagine Christmas from a small child’s perspective. Everyone is happy, everyone is together, everyone gives them gifts and they are able to eat copious amounts of chocolate and desserts without anyone blinking an eye. What I find slightly uncomfortable is the way adults are at Christmas time. It’s like the act of generosity and good will is so stressful they become catatonic. We shop and we cook and we race around just so that everyone is happy! It’s very strange. And the excesses! (Ok, maybe I will go on a rant!) On one day I managed to have two roasts and ate six kinds of animal! (Sorry Sean!) What’s even more disturbing is that after the motherload of Christmas, every man and his dog attempts to park at the local shopping centre to take advantage of the bargains we might ‘need’! Don’t get me wrong, Christmas was great, but I guess I am just lost in the disparity of the world, and on this occasion in particular, the disparity between my actions and my values. You see this morning I woke up to read that Benazir Bhutto, the leader of Pakistan's largest opposition party, had been assassinated. Now I don’t know enough about Pakistani politics or the situation to make any comment worth reading, except that I do know that she was fighting for a better Pakistan and was killed in the process. When asked about her political motives she stated "I feel that what I am doing is for a good cause, for a right cause to save Pakistan from extremists and militants and to build regional security.” She also stated, “I know the dangers are there, but I'm prepared to take those risks.” Here she was fighting for…well let’s not even call it democracy and let’s just label it ‘a quest for stability’, and she lost her life in the battle. One of the worst parts about this, is that is it not surprising! To be honest I am actually surprised she lasted as long as she did. So on one side of the world we have people dying for freedom and peace, and on the other side of the world we have people drowning in it. We don’t even realize that by engaging in the typical excesses of this season, we are compromising our Christian values, the very reason for the season. I say I want justice for the world, but the only pain I feel is vomitous indigestion. I guess what I am saying is that, until we change our world we are not going to change ‘the’ world. As Christians in the ‘first’ world, the ‘developed’ world, the ‘free’ world, it’s time we stopped acting as though we deserve the gifts we have received. We have to start closing the gap between the message we profess and the actions we exhibit. Otherwise, we will be as much use to God in bringing about justice as the singing fish mounted on your wall!

Genevieve

Why?

23 December, 2007

A practical Way to change the alcohol culture in OZ


Have you heard about FebFast?

It is a community initiative that challenges Australians to give up drinking for one month (February) in order to raise funds for organisations that work to prevent alcohol problems among young people.

FebFast emerged as the brainchild of a couple of people who saw they could benefit from slowing down after a feverish time between spring and New Year. It’s also a great way of providing funds for people in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) field.

I think it is a terrific initiative that can do a lot to reduce drinking problems if it catches on. So I hope you will consider joining in. To sign up to participate in FebFast (for the fee of $25) visit http://www.febfast.com.au/

Alternatively, you can sponsor the CAAN / GrogWatch Team. CAAN and Grogwatch are operated by the Australian Drug Foundation, and work side by side with the Salvos at the forefront of advocating for an end to the mis-use of alcohol in Australia. To support the CAAN / GrogWatch team with a donation visit http://www.everydayhero.com.au/grogwatch.

Of course for us Salvos February is going to just another alcohol-free month, but what an opportunity to draw attention to the harms of alcohol mis-use, and how they might be addressed! Maybe we could draw in some non-abstinent family, friends and colleagues.

If there’s anyone who would be happy to coordinate a Salvo team let me know, and I will give you as much support as I can. Email me at michael.coleman@aus.salvationarmy.org .

Mike.

21 December, 2007

Watch and Pray

Reservoir is currently having a 48 hour prayer time and I held a two hour shift yesterday afternoon during the massive rain, thunder and lightning storm. I was distracted by the intense noise and decided to ask God to speak to me through the storm rather than letting it be my undoing. Nothing much happened so I just kept working my way through the list of names of our community that were blue-tacked to the wall. Before I go any further, let me describe a few things to set the scene. Ressie is a smallish corps of about 150 regulars and has developed over the last six years. It is made up of school students and their families and most of our facilities are meager. Our prayer room is a small room in a makeshift bungalow at the back of our mission house. There is power for a stereo and a lamp, there are a few books and some cushions, and stuck to the walls are old prayers and visions, pictures of Jesus, Bible verses etc. You’ve got the idea. So the storm was distracting for a few reasons. Firstly the room has a tin roof, and the intense rain, while good for the drought, was making it difficult to hear my pleasant worship music. Perhaps more importantly, I was concerned that the tin roof would be struck by lightning, and while I was enjoying the irony of being electronically teleported into heaven whilst listening to Tim Hughes singing ‘I can only imagine’, I was none the less starting to get a little edgy. Secondly, as my eyes looked closely at the names on the wall, I realized that the rain was running down the inside of the wall and was soaking the paper. And then God spoke. The water was quite literally, though quite subtly, soaking through the names of every parent, child, youth and leader of our community. And here I was sitting on the floor in prayer (partly in reverence and partly because I wanted to get further away from the roof) sitting below my community and watching God at work. God was moving through the name of every person of my community while I just sat. In this time, I remembered, God goes before. He always does and always has. When we encounter a person or situation, God has moved there. When we consider issues of poverty, abuse, neglect, persecution, sickness, and deprivation, has not God been there and moved through those afflicted with every kind of evil? And yet we move and act and pray as if God is reluctant to get involved in these issues. We limit God’s power with our unwillingness to believe that God is in control and we fail to realize that our role is to merely sit and watch and pray and then follow the path God has made for us. We can’t limit God’s power? You really think so? Then why is this world the way it is?
It is time to let God take control, because I’m not sure the least, last and lost of this world can take much more. As passionate and lively and motivated and clever as we are at social justice, we must stop and sit at the feet of our people and we must watch God move. Just as Jesus begged his disciples to watch and pray in the garden, so too he asks us to watch and pray. If we fail to do this, and act with good intention rather than Godly instruction, we will continue to aggressively cut ears off everywhere! That kind of aggression and passion sounds cool and bloggable, but it is fruitless. May we instead watch and pray as we have been instructed because God is moving.

Merry Christmas everyone,
Gen

19 December, 2007

Ethical dilemas

I was in a very interesting situation yesterday.

I had a meeting with a company who is a big sponsor of a ministry we are involved in. In the area that they support us, there is no ethical issue - no injustice associated with that product.

However, in other parts of their company, there are some massive injustices being carried out - and I have been making a lot of noise about their involvement in it.

I walked away wondering what I need to do! Why did God put me in such a situation? What's my role in this situation? Do I accept their support because we are so linked with them and have been branded with them from the public - something which is a really positive thing, but then on the other hand I so disagree with their practices and what they are doing.

It's interesting when you fight for justice - ethical dilemas all around!

My prayer is that this relationship will open up opportunities to speak into the injustice that I see and that there could be some really helpful and honest conversations and that maybe we can work together to see Justice prevail.

18 December, 2007

Stop Vulture Funds!

Vulture funds are private companies that buy up cheap poor country debts, and then sue for huge profits. Earlier this year Donegal International sued Zambia for $55 million from a debt it bought for $3 million. It was awarded over $15 million - money which Zambia needed to invest in teachers, doctors and clean water supplies.

http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=2893

Muhammad Yunus: Creating a Poverty-Free World (preview)

16 December, 2007

It’s a bit of a clue!

I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who don’t get that Jesus is about a spiritual and social gospel, especially at Christmas.

He was born to an unmarried mother – one of the most stigmatised positions to be in all through history, in almost all cultures. It’s a bit of a clue!

His birth was heralded by shepherds, one of the lowest-paid, lowest-status jobs of the time, something like a toilet cleaner might be regarded today. It’s a bit of clue!

He was born in a building used for animal storage, amidst the characteristic mixed smells of animal faeces and feedstock. It’s a bit of a clue!

His first cot was a disused feeding trough. It’s a bit of a clue!

His family came from Nazareth, one of the most out-of-the-way and uncool places in the country. It’s a bit of a clue!

The political powerhouse of the time (Herod) was so concerned about the perceived threat of his birth he arranged for all boys under four to be slaughtered. It’s a bit of a clue!

He and his family ended up as refugees in Egypt for the first four years of his life. It’s a bit of a clue!

The events surrounding his birth happened entirely outside of the established religious system. It’s a bit of a clue!

And that’s before we begin to look at the rest of his life!

Mike.

14 December, 2007

Revolution time!

I am currently reading the book ‘Revolution’ by White and Court and am beginning to crystallise some thoughts on the lethargy of The Salvation Army in, well I can really only speak for Melbourne. For the longest time I thought our problem was apathy, and yet I meet so many passionate people keen to make a difference for the Kingdom. So instead I nailed the problem down to skill and experience. People are passionate however they just don’t know how they can help. Yet that can’t be it because we have too many conferences, too many books, too many good leaders and too many departments within THQ to blame the lack of transformation on a poor level of knowledge. We have an awesome heritage in both Saviour and founders so it cannot be inspiration or purpose. We often pin our issue on our hierarchical structures or on ‘power hungry’ leaders which is not always untrue, and yet I have rarely known a leader within our Territory to display an ethic that was anything other than Kingdom focused. The longer I serve as a Lieutenant, the more I am sure we are a good Army and movement. We have everything we need in place to see a radical change within our city. So while there are some really good things going on, would we call our current state a radical movement? No, because all around I sense a vibe of complacence, of ‘almost’, of ‘part-time’. Because let’s face it; if we really wanted our city for God, don’t you think God would help us out?
We are an Army, but sometimes I feel like we are an Army on Parade day. All polished, looking spectacular and definitely grabbing attention from the general public. But their conclusions are one of beauty! They don’t see fierce and single-minded. They see quaint and different and ‘good’. A little like when Jesus is painted in soft colours in a lush field with a little lamb. Its meek not might.
But is seems, when our Army starts to get a little more fierce, a little more edgy, a little more impractical, we somehow find a way to stop it. Some say it is not appropriate, some pull rank, some write letters, some threaten to give up, some become frightened, some become selfish. And inevitably the stable, prevailing structures of our organization calm the waters of discontent. But we are an army people! I’m pretty certain that when Lenin made his move in Russia, his fellow Bolshevics didn’t sit around saying ‘well I don’t know, the Provisional government is doing ok, and at least we dethroned the King. Isn’t it ok that he is allowed to hang around? Can’t we just enjoy life for a while?’ No! Lenin gathered together the entire Romanov family and any unfortunate soul who happened to be working for them and had them all killed! Lenin understood that if real transformation is to occur, evil cannot coincide with good, no matter the cost. We of course know who the real evil King is and know he has appointed himself as the royal family of this world. And it is our job to dethrone and destroy him.
There will be casualties. Our uniforms will get dirty. We will be uncomfortable. No more peace time…this is war, and war is not neat. Do we not understand the consequences if our Army fails in its mission?
There may be many reasons why The Salvation Army has not yet been unleashed upon the city of Melbourne. But I can assure you, the problem is not with God, or the unsaved…it is with us.
This city is ripe for the picking. We have the momentum from Connections, we have the leaders in place (a good mix of competent, stable, deeply spiritual and radical), we have the clear mission of God in our hearts and we have a whole army of people ready to go.
So let’s do it! There is no time for hesitation or concern for our own welfare. It is time for a revolution! And the victory will be the complete transformation of our city as souls are won for Christ.

Gen

13 December, 2007

Stir Your World 2007

Justice, Blame or Retribution - A Tightrope

A seven year old Aboriginal girl, mildly intellectually impaired and affected by foetal alcohol syndrome was raped in Aurukum by five juveniles. She contracted syphilis and received severe genital injuries. She was removed from that situation and given to foster families to raise. She was eventually returned to Aurukum. Two years ago as a ten year old she was subject to multiple rape again - this time contracting gonorrhoea from the experience.

Such a case seems straightforward enough for the legal and court system. A vulnerable young girl has been abused by both juveniles and adults. Justice would deem that severe punishment is fitting for the perpetrators of this horrendous crime. It should not matter that the perpetrators were Aboriginal. Justice, applies - or should apply - regardless of race. Justice should be blind - totally unaware of gender, race, wealth, and position.

As a reult there has been enormous public outcry about the minimal sentences and punishment handed down to the perpetrators. Suspensions of officials, public enquiries, intervention by the executive arm of government, and media reaction have all followed.

Yet the questions posed by Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell when commenting on this case, is summarised by the statement - who's justice. "It is no more wrong for the court to consider the attitude of the victim's Aboriginal community to which she will eventually return than it is for Premier Bligh to insist her white community attitudes must prevail. Imposing white rule over Aboriginal society creates the problem."

Mansell suggests that a harsh penalty would not help the girl rebuild her life with family and community. He argues that the judge and prosecutor in the case, did their best to consider all the circumstances and opted for resolutions that would be of most benefit to the girl, to the Aurukun community and the perpetrators. The focus was on restorative justice.

While I am considerate of aspects of Mansell's argument, the horrendous nature of the crime, was not only against the girl, but Aboriginal values, culture and traditions. It leads me ultimately to disagree with him. But I want to be sure that I am not doing so from a white perspective only. I think what happened is unjust - the crime against the girls, the court process and the minimal sentence.

Yet, the issue is extremely complex. Is justice done when considered from only one cultural perspective? Is there a universal justice the pervades and subsumes all cultural interpretations of justice?

As a Christian, the foundation of my justice is in the teaching of Jesus Christ. The difficulty is that Christ taught principles through illustrative stories of his day. A situation such as this requires interpretation.

What is justice in this situations? What do you think?


John

12 December, 2007

The Lisbon Declaration: EU- Africa Summit

You will no doubt have heard the slogan, “Trade, Not Aid”…

“Trade is one of the most powerful forces linking our lives, and a source of unprecedented wealth. Yet millions of the world's poorest people are being left behind. Increased prosperity has gone hand in hand with mass poverty.” (oxfam)

The current trade rules are biased and all power at the negotiation tables with the developed countries, namely the US and EU. This week was an important week for Africa and their relationship with the EU. The EU-Africa summit brought together representatives from the African Union (AU) and European union (EU) in an attempt to build a ‘partnership between equals’…I read a great article on BBC the other day that explained the agenda of the meeting well…all worthy of reading and reflecting on the impact that changes will have on the poorest ...
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7130402.stm (I have also cut and paste article below)

The outcome was the “Lisbon Declaration”… A snippit….
“…We will develop this partnership of equals, based on the effective engagement of our societies, in order to achieve significant results in our fundamental commitments, namely: the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals; the establishment of a robust peace and security architecture in Africa; the strengthening of investment, growth and prosperity through regional integration and closer economic ties; the promotion of good governance and human rights; and the creation of opportunities for shaping global governance in an open and multilateral framework…”
For Full report:
http://allafrica.com/stories/200712110998.html?page=1

Now that's something to pray hard for!


"let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24


Til next time,


Heath




__________________




Immigration
A main aim of the summit is to stem the flow of illegal migrants and instead encourage legitimate migration.
Several thousand illegal migrants die every year trying to travel to Europe by sea, although the numbers making the perilous journey have fallen this year because of joint air and sea patrols, carried out by EU member states.
The European Commission has said it wants to attract 20 million workers from outside the EU over the next 20 years, and it is promoting the idea of a "blue card" work permit to attract highly skilled workers.
In March 2008, the EU hopes to open an office in Mali whose job initially will be to warn of the dangers and disappointments involved in illegal migration but aims eventually to recruit workers.

The EU is expected to agree to work towards full integration of migrants in their new countries of residence and to provide help in developing their countries of origin.

Trade
The EU is Africa's biggest trading partner but Chinese investment and influence in Africa are growing fast.
The EU is keen to use this summit to inject new momentum in its trade with Africa, with the promise of a more equal partnership.
China has imported a third of its oil needs from Africa, but in return has poured money into infrastructure projects, from railways in Gabon to roads in Democratic Republic of Congo and schools and hospitals in Angola.

European funds are linked to adherence to human rights and good governance. African states are attracted to Chinese money because it tends to come without strings.
In a draft agreement prepared for the summit, the EU offers to share its experience in helping to improve regional integration in Africa, as a means of contributing to development, economic growth and eradicating poverty.
In the words of the EU's development commissioner, Louis Michel, Europeans must now clearly understand that Africa is no longer Europe's private hunting ground.
Gone are the old colonial ties to Europe and with them the preferential trade deals enjoyed by African states. In their place, under WTO rules, the EU and Africa are having to agree Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of the year.
Only 13 African nations have so far done so, and many others fear the free-market nature of the EPAs will lead to domestic markets being flooded with lower-cost European goods.
Ghana and Ivory Coast complain their revenues will be hit by the loss of duties imposed on imports from the EU.
Another source of anger for African states is that the EU has chosen to sign the deals country by country, raising suggestions of a divide and rule policy.
The EPAs may not be on the agenda, but Senegal (which is refusing to sign one) has promised to bring them up if no one else does.


Human Rights
The build-up to the summit has been overshadowed by Robert Mugabe's attendance, and there have been claims that the organisers have had to water down a commitment to human rights.
A similar summit planned in 2003 was scrapped because of the prospect of Mr Mugabe's presence and most EU leaders decided that far too much was at stake for that to happen again.
Nevertheless, Mr Mugabe and all the other African leaders are being asked to endorse a commitment to the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
The partnership accord covers the fight against corruption and fraud, global governance and reform of the security sector.
President Bashir of Sudan is also attending the summit and he may baulk at the idea of agreeing that the establishment of the International Criminal Court is important for peace and justice.
The agenda has not impressed a group of African and European writers, ranging from the South African, Nadine Gordimer, and the Nigerian Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, to the Czech president, Vaclav Havel.
They are upset that Zimbabwe and the Sudanese region of Darfur are not high up on the agenda and accuse the organisers of "political cowardice"।



Development
While China has helped finance major infrastructure projects in a number of African states, it has not linked its investment to any push for social development.
The Lisbon declaration will, in contrast, focus on the Millennium Development Goals. Set out by the UN, these include commitments to halve extreme poverty, halt the spread of HIV/Aids and provide primary education for all children by 2015.
The UN has already made it clear that sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to meet any of the goals and aid organisations are concerned that the EU has become pre-occupied with trade rather than development.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has repeated the commitment of member states to increase the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) they contribute to development aid to 0।56% in 2010 and then 0.7% in 2015.



Climate Change
Climate change is widely considered to be among the most serious threats to African stability in the next few years, in the form of floods and droughts and their effects on food security and water management.
One ambitious project under discussion at the summit is said to involve establishing a "green wall" around the Sahara desert. That would take the form of large dams, water collection areas and tree-planting.
The declaration is likely to include EU support for early weather warning systems and tackling illegal logging.
There are also plans for an Africa-EU energy partnership to promote access to efficient energy services and renewable sources.

Peace & Security
The declaration that completes the Lisbon summit is likely to include a package to help the African Union intervene or prevent future conflicts. But the record of both the EU and the African Union (AU) so far in resolving African conflicts is poor.
One region, Darfur, sums up by the inability of both the African Union (AU) and the international community to respond swiftly to four years of conflict.
An international peacekeeping force of 26,000 led by the AU and the United Nations is well behind schedule and has not yet replaced the existing contingent of 7,000 poorly-equipped AU troops. The EU too has struggled to follow through on a commitment to send a 3,500-strong force to Chad's border with Darfur to protect 500,000 civilians displaced by the fighting.
The French-led force was due to be deployed in November but has so far failed to get off the ground. It lacks basic resources such as helicopters, planes and a field hospital and rebel forces in Chad have threatened to attack.


11 December, 2007

Kevin Rudd on relationship between Church & State


In a speech given to New College at the University of New South Wales in 2005, Kevin Rudd outlined his vision of the appropriate relationship between Church and State in Australia.


after presenting four other models he saves his favourite for last: model #5:
"Model Number Five is along these lines. It says that the Gospel is equally a spiritual Gospel and a social Gospel, and if it is a social Gospel, then equally it is a political Gospel. In other words, it is as much about the decisions I make about my own personal life, as it is about how I act in society and how in turn I should act and react in relation to the exercise of the co-ordinated power of society through the State.


This view derives from the simple principle that the Gospel which tells humankind that you must be born again, is the same Gospel that says to the same humankind at the time of the Great Judgment that Christians will be asked not how pious they have been, but instead whether they've helped feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the lonely. In this respect, the Gospel is an exhortation to social action.


Does this mean that the 'fundamental ethical principles' that I've sought to outline earlier in my address concerning the protection of the powerless, the accumulation of wealth, and the great questions of war and peace provide us with an automatic mathematical formula for determining every item of social, economic, environmental, national security, or international relations policy? Well of course not.


But what it does mean is that these policy debates could and should be debated by Christians within an informed Christian ethical framework, rather than arguing the proposition as some do, that these policy debates are somehow simply the practical matters of the State, which should be left to practical men, rather than impractical pastors, preachers and theologians.

09 December, 2007

Save Australian unborn babies from alcohol damage – two days left!


On Friday The Salvation Army and arbias joined forces to present “No Blame No Shame”, a seminar on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Melbourne. The seminar, featuring three speakers from the US and Canada, was the culmination of a week-long media campaign drawing attention to the impact of drinking whilst pregnant.

Arbias and TSA are calling for warning labels on alcohol products, and big funding packages for ongoing awareness campaigns.

Many observers of health policy believe that the incidence of FASD is under-reported in Australia, and it is not easily recognised by Australian medical practitioners, due to gaps in training and awareness.

Currently the new draft Australian Alcohol Guidelines are available for public comment, and they call for no drinking during pregnancy. This is a change from the previous version of the guidelines, which allowed pregnant Mums to drink two standard drinks per day, even though there is no evidence that this is safe.

There is a strong and powerful lobby that want to keep the guidelines as they are so, for the sake of unborn Australians, we need to be vocal in affirming the new guidelines.

Go to this link to read a copy of the draft guidelines and how to comment on them. A simple one-liner email will help to get the message over, but be quick. The opportunity closes on this Tuesday 11th December 2007.

(Want to know more about FASD? Go to this link.)


Mike.

07 December, 2007

JUSTGIFTS online NOW!


BUY NOW in time for Christmas!

Suffering...I love it!

I was involved in a Bible Study on suffering on Wednesday night which ended rather bizarrely in a challenge for God to send us personal suffering. Now don’t worry, we are not a freaky order that delights in our own pain like that one from the de Vinci Code! We were looking at the verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9 which say;
‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.’
I guess we remembered that when we are less, God is more and that we are generally less when we are suffering. The conclusion therefore was a rather simple one. Suffering equals more God!

It got me thinking about justice which is good since I have to write about it once a week. People always comment about spirituality in third-world nations and how they are ‘easy fodder’ for evangelists. It makes sense. They are so desperate and helpless that they understand that God is all they have to hold onto for hope. We in the first-world look to them almost enviously thinking “if only we had that kind of desperation”! Hence the Bible Study prayer.

Is that what it takes to have more of God? Must our lives be stripped bare so that we can know the joy that comes from being fully reliant on God? Must we give up life as we know it in order to experience an abundance of God?

Surely not! That is crazy talk. Surely I can have my cake and eat it too? Surely I can be an incredibly prosperous Christian and still experience the closeness of God. Possibly, but I am pretty certain there is something in the Gospel about a guy who was asked to give up all his belongings. And I think there was a bit about a couple who gave up ‘almost’ everything and were then struck down. And I’m pretty sure there is something about a guy who was really special and important to God, but who ended up losing his dignity, friends, and his life.

I know I am being sarcastic and facetious and simplistic and I know that turns most people off reading my stuff…but I am simply illustrating a very obvious point that we try so hard to ignore or argue away. Being a Christian means taking up our cross, laying down our life and giving it for the sake of the Kingdom. We cannot be precious about our possessions, our time or our very lives! If we remain attached to this world and all it has to offer, we will be left with less of God. A very simple truth, but an incredibly frightening reality.

Feel free to disagree,
Feel free to let me know if there is anything you want me to write about,

Gen

05 December, 2007

DO WE CARE IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME AT ALL?




Thousands of trafficked children are being forced to work on cocoa plantations this Christmas.

What do these children want for Christmas?

They want to go home.

In the UK we will spend over a billion pounds this Christmas on chocolate.

We like to eat chocolate.

These children are slaves.

Something is terribly wrong.

STOP THE TRAFFIK Chocolate Christmas Campaign is about ACTION and CHANGE.

The customer needs to know who picked the cocoa beans that make chocolate.

The retailer needs to know that their customers will change what they buy to force the chocolate industry to change their practices.

The chocolate manufacturers need to realise that this is the time to:


  • SIGN THE CHOCOLATE PLEDGE.

  • KEEP THEIR ORIGINAL PROMISES

  • And GIVE US TRAFFIK FREE CHOCOLATE NOW

For more information and ideas on how to campaign for Traffik Free Chocolate, go to http://www.stopthetraffik.org/enews/choc1107.html


Paul

04 December, 2007

WORLDS AIDS DAY – 1st Dec 2007

In 2007, the UN has estimated that 33.2 million people are living with HIV globally - with the highest proportion living in Sub-Saharan Africa. It remains a global problem, intertwined with all issues of justice & poverty. It cannot be separated from issues such as human trafficking – for trafficked women are some of the most vulnerable to the disease. It cannot be separated from issues of poverty or even climate change because HIV positive people that can grow food and afford a balanced diet will live a much longer life – drought threatens this. But the theme for this year was ‘leadership’ to highlight the need for political leaders to fulfil the commitments that have been made in the response to AIDS – particularly the promise of universal access to treatment, prevention, care and support. But particularly close to my heart, is that the theme acknowledges the work of individuals around the world who have shown leadership in tackling HIV and AIDS in their own communities. Our Salvation Army brothers and sisters are affected by HIV, and having had the privledge to travel a lot over the last 4 years to different parts of the Army world, I can safely say, it is our brothers and sisters who in many places are leading the fight. These people are simply angels and extraordinary visionaries for their communities. I wish every Salvationist could know just how beautiful, brilliant, caring and dedicated our friends in different parts of the world are. So often Africa and the developing world is portrayed to be without hope, with NGO’s appealing for our financial support, the advertising so often suggests that it is up to us in the west to save them…but for those that have been to these places and spent time with the local people – we see strength and hope. And hope is the key to this fight; finding hope in the face of overwhelming struggle. I firmly believe communities have the capacity to lead this fight. I have seen it. The question that needs to be asked is how do we stimulate, accompany and support them in leading the fight?
Blessings, Heath
--- If you are interested in learning more of what the Salvation Army are doing, I cannot recommend enough a book you can find in trade at THQ called “More than eyes can see” by Rhidian Brook, a writer from the BBC in London. “In January of this year I, my wife and our two small children gave up our comfortable and secure family life in London and took off on a nine-month journey through the AIDS pandemic in Africa, India, China and the USA. We were hosted by The Salvation Army and lived in communities in 11 countries. Our mission: to observe close-up and first hand the effect HIV/AIDS is having on communities around the world and to bear witness to The Salvation Army’s work in helping these communities respond to the problem…. 'What the Salvation Army have been doing with Aids is a story in itself. Their philosophy is simple; you cannot dump drugs and money on people and run; you have to be present to help rebuild, educate and support devastated communities; you have to give up time, resources and energy to bring hope and change. Their approach of "being there" with the suffering takes them to the heart of the issue and gives them an insight and authority into the problem that is hard to match. It is also having a major effect in many of the world’s Aids epicentres as well as an influence on other organisations trying to cope with the disaster. In the face of sometimes overwhelming odds, this is a rare example of success and hope.'

02 December, 2007

“Keep them alive, keep them out of prison!”


Major David Brunt, a great warrior for the marginalised and outcast, retired from active service today.

Early in his officership, David and his wife Doreen, and their two young children shared their home with twelve young addicts as they established The Haven, the first youth AOD service of its kind in Queensland.

All through his working life he has remained close to the frontline and now counts many former homeless people and addicts as his friends. At the same time he has maintained effective relationships with the power-brokers and senior bureaucrats in government. He has done much to advance the cause of those caught up in addiction across the nation.

He really lived his life’s motto: “Keep them alive, keep them out of prison”, and was successful coordinating TSAAST’s transition to compassionate and evidence-based principles, and away from restrictive and exclusive judgemental approaches that characterised some alcohol and other drugs (AOD) treatment services prior to that.

Since 2004 David has been in his current role as state coordinator of Prison Chaplains in Victoria. Previous to that he was the Territorial Programme Director for The Salvation Army Alcohol and Drug Services.

In the 1980’s he and his wife, Doreen, began street work in the notorious King’s Cross of Sydney. In this role he was asked to testify against drug gang bosses and corrupt police in a royal commission. He and his family faced the threat of physical violence as a result.

David continues as Chairperson of Oxford Houses, a self-help service for addicts, and will no doubt continue to work for the lost, the last the least despite being “in retirement”

As successor to David’s role, I am particularly grateful for David’s legacy, and his support to me personally. His simple credo is one that can really reform society at a time when so few people understand the vicious cycle of addiction and incarcerations.

"Keep them alive, keep them out of prison."


Mike.

29 November, 2007

Peace like a river, despair like an ocean!

This week has been tough for me. A busy weekend of Connections left me tired but inspired. So much talk of social justice, which for our Army should be a given but which unfortunately surprised me. On top of this, my ‘team’ won on Saturday! These two events combined to leave me in a utopian lala land in which I actually began to believe we were headed for some transformation of both our movement and indeed of our society at large. So why describe my week as tough? Because I am left with a sadness that has in many ways overcome me. A sadness derived from watching the children I work with spiral down at a rate I thought impossible. One child I work with intensely and whom I love like a daughter has such a difficult life. Most people in her life; family, friends, teachers, all predict a grim future. I on the other hand work so hard to prevent this. I attempt to transform her in both life and spirit and pray that God will intercede in a path that seems so directed toward unemployment, drugs, pregnancy, jail and isolation (I know Steve…words have power). But in spite of my actions, the events of this week have been disastrous and I am left wondering if my involvement has made any difference in her life at all. And it leads me to question…what is transformation? What is justice? What am I working so tirelessly for? Do I want a happy life for her? A prosperous one? The answer is yes! I do! I want her to know security and safety and genuine love. I want others to see her as I see her…as God sees her. I want her to be free of anger and violence and emptiness. This is justice in my eyes. But I am coming to the understanding that this is a cheap form of justice in the eyes of God. Not entirely inaccurate, just incomplete.
I think God needs me to do more than want good things for her life. And I think God wants me to do more than fight for the practical aspects of her life to improve. I think God wants even more than prayers for her salvation. I think God wants me to simply have faith that He loves her more than I do and that He is in control. My sadness is strong, and it is a sign of my inability to trust God and to work through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Justice won’t be ushered in by good deeds or intelligent planning or, much to my dismay, the Labor Party. And it cannot come about through a spirit of unbelief, no matter how strong my good intentions. The sadness that overcomes me is the undoing of hope and without hope, I cannot pray with power.
Lord give us eyes to see your children as you do, and to see the world as you know it could be. Let our faith increase and let justice and transformation be its fruit. Amen

Gen

Big Things and Small Things


























What indeed can a relatively insignificant person, such as me do? How can I change the world? These are questions that we all might ask ourselves.

I am frequently challenged by the wisdom of Alexander Mc Callsmith in his series Number One Ladies Detective Agency as expressed through the thoughts of Mma Ramotswe. The series, set in Botswana, captures the simple and ageless wisdom of ordinary people. Folk wisdom has evolved over the ages and has much to offer our world.
Justsalvos and the various causes it embraces are some of the small acts of individuals that can become Globally significant when aggregated. The small things can become big things.
John

28 November, 2007

Red Frog Crew

The past 10 days have seen me on the Gold Coast leading the Red Frog Crew as our nations schoolies have partied hard. It's always an awesome week getting our hands dirty, and serving a generation.

I love this time of the year - a time to be out there, doing it, and not just sitting in my office preparing for something! 10 days on the Goldie getting very little sleep, crashing parties and helping a generation to party hard but party safe.

That's the thing I love about being a Salvo - it's not just all theory, but it is the practical living out of our faith - serving a generation, making a difference, being salt and light to our world.

And as for Schoolies, it's no where near as bad as the media portray it. With the 500 Red Frog Crew on the Gold Coast and other volunteers and emergency services personel, the event is safer and safer every year! This year - the best yet! The education program across 120 schools nation wide is making a huge difference in this event being one of the best the Gold Coast has to offer!

Check out http://blogs.news.com.au/couriermail/redfrog/ and see what else the Red Frog Crew got up to! It's amazing! Maybe you'll want to join us next year!

Paul

TV Turnoff 2007 (Kids)

25 November, 2007

Connections 07 - Exposing seething passion and energy


Connections 07 has been without doubt the most encouraging and inspiring Congress in the Australia Southern Territory in the past thirty years.

Dubbed the "Salvo event of the decade" it had the capacity to be just another Salvofest, in which we indulge in Salvation Army cultural treats without really being moved to do anything differently.

But Connections 07 was successful far beyond previous congresses on a number of fronts. Social program practitioners came, were engaged and became excited in significant numbers. None of the open-air activities carried a cringe factor, and the rally in Federation Square attracted real interest from passers-by. People stayed to listen to the bands and didn't walk away when the speakers got up. Many people experienced salvation in the meetings, and many more will do so in the changed territory, for which Connections 07 was a rallying point, a call to arms.

Passion for the salvation of the lost and marginalised was articulated and affirmed in ways and with passion the likes of which I have never seen before. Passion to make the world a more Christ-like place was evident in so many ways.

I did the unusual thing (for me) of attending every session over the four days of Connections 07, and could not fail to observe that just under the surface of this territory there is a seething passion and energy waiting to burst out.

We don't have to whip up enthusiasm, we just have to get out of the way, and dynamic mission will happen in a myriad of ways all over the territory. So what if it's chaotic? So what if there are some risks involved? So what if it's not neat, tidy and made to fit the boxes? Broken societal structures are being torn down, and broken people are being healed.
Congratulations to our territorial leaders for having the vision and the courage to awake the sleeping giant!
Mike

23 November, 2007

Go to the naughty step and stay there!

In the rush of Connections I don’t have a great deal of time to blog, nor do I think anyone will have time to read these wonderful words…so I have rehashed some info from an assignment I did earlier this year! I said I would talk to you at some point about Social Exclusion, so this is as good a time as any to intro the concept.

Social exclusion has been defined as a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime, bad health and family breakdown. The framework allows policy makers to look beyond what is happening within society and to how many, and into the realm of determining what and whom are involved in the continuation of individuals and groups being shut out. Social exclusion policy is then able to address the structures responsible and focus attention on the social relations, the processes and the institutions that underlie and are part and parcel of deprivation. A report from the Social Exclusion Unit states that ‘the most important characteristic of social exclusion is that these problems are linked and mutually reinforcing, and can combine to create a complex and fast moving vicious cycle.’ The definition of social exclusion makes clear that it is not just individuals but whole communities or locations which can be impoverished and ‘cut off’, and most importantly it suggests social exclusion is preventable.

Social exclusion is most often caused not by the individual but by the structures supporting the individual yet often their disadvantage and in turn the policies given in solution are seen to lie in their exclusion, rather than in excluding structures.

Most of my interest in social exclusion revolves around vulnerable children, and our ability to prevent their demise as adults. It seems absurd to me that we can watch socially excluded communities continue generation after generation. If exclusion is indeed preventable, should we not intervene? Many say to me, ‘our intervention is in employment programs for adults’. The thinking I guess is that the children will be lifted out of poverty and in turn receive a better life whilst also receiving an example of a good work-ethic from their parent. I am not denying the truth in this thinking however I think it is an incredibly small part of the pie.

Do you know that it has been found that the typical middle class child enters prep with 1,000 to 1,700 hours of one on one picture book reading, whereas a child from a low income family averages just 25 hours. Think about that! A child is going into school with little letter or sound recognition, without the concept of sitting and listening and really without much of a concept of fiction or imagination. No wonder they don’t dream big for their lives…they have never seen anything other than their depressing lives or the junk on tv! And recent research has revealed that less than 5 per cent of postcodes in Victoria account for more than a quarter of various social and economic problems such as child abuse, imprisonment and long-term unemployment.
M.Ramphele, Managing Director of the World Bank states;
“The first few years of a child’s life have multiplier effect. Young children who are well nurtured tend to do better in school and are more likely to develop the skills they will need to compete in a global economy. Investing in young children is an essential investment in human and economic development.”

There is entire research that shows the physical damage to a child’s brain when they are exposed to poverty, neglect, violence etc. Their IQ has been shown to be lowered by the effects of social deprivation. And yet to what extent is early education on the political agenda? To what extent are we changing the education system so that these children can at least try to catch up? Instead, we wait till they are adults and expect the same level of participation within the work-force as everyone else. To what extent are we as an Army really focused on improving the structures that hinder children from their potential? To what extent are we prepared to really advocate for children?

Anyway, enjoy Connections and its ripple effect. I have some good topics coming up so stay tuned!

Thanks,
Gen

22 November, 2007

“Where there is no wealth there is no poverty” Tonga (Africa) Proverb

As I survey the political propaganda of the various parties in advance of casting my vote in the coming Australian Federal elections, I cannot help but be disillusioned. What does it mean to be Australian today? I am increasingly disillusioned about being Australian! In the last ten years Australia has lost its social, moral and ethical compass. That is the legacy of the current political economy!

It seems to me that to be Australian is to be greedy, preoccupied with self, willing to exploit others, acting only in self-interest, callous, concerned only with getting along economically, not concerned for the future and willing to exploit earth and its people for short run benefit. Blow the future generations! Blow those who are weak and not so well off! All that counts is I and I alone!

The legacy of the last twenty years of political and economic policy is the dominance of self-interest and greed as the motivator of human endeavour. There is little concern for those less well off. The victim is blamed; equality and egalitarian values are paid lip service.

Those less fortunate in other countries receive the most miserly foreign aid from a country as rich as ours. We fail to honour commitments and promises made to advance goals to eradicate poverty.

Not only do we neglect our international obligations, but our domestic ones too. The division between the poor and the wealthy in Australia grows greater each year. The focus on economics means that common services (We are a ‘Common Wealth’ of Australia) are now out of the reach of many. The poor have to pay. Perhaps the Tonga people have known the truth we have missed. “Where there is no wealth there is no poverty.”

I do not see a vision from politicians to build a society built on traditional Australian values – support for the underdog, egalitarianism, helping each other out, and the common wealth.

This presents even greater dilemmas for the Christian. Too easily, we are caught up in the race to accumulate more and more possessions. We are ruled by values other than those that are communal and Christian. Bonhoeffer in the Cost of Discipleship writes, “Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus. What are we really devoted to? This is the question. Are our hearts set on earthly good? Do we try to combine devotion to them with loyalty to Christ? Or are we exclusively devoted to him?”

While my heart aches for the way Australia society has gone in the last twenty years, my heart aches even more for the way some parts of the church has also gone. Worse still is how the world has infiltrated The Salvation Army. How much money we spend on ourselves’ troubles me.

How can our values be truly Christian? How can we cat differently – collectively and individually? What needs to change? How can The Salvation Army adopt true discipleship models?

John

20 November, 2007

bUY nOTHING dAY

Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh

To me…this is the face of Climate Change in Bangladesh. Whilst cyclones are not a new phenomena, as droughts in Australia are not either, the frequency and intensity of them occurring is set to increase because of it. This weekend as you go to vote at the Federal Election I urge you to look up, get informed of what each party’s environmental policies are because it is an issue that not only affects us, but it affects the world’s poorest…on a far greater scale.

In 2006, the World Bank predicted that the annual cost of developing countries to adapt to climate change could be anywhere between 10 Billion and 40 Billion US Dollars. Developing countries that are more heavily dependent on agriculture and natural resources are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such rising sea levels, drought and flooding and increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters. Further, the capacities of these countries to adapt are hampered by their limited human capital, technology and access to credit markets (WB, 2006).

The question of responsibility has become a very political issue based on equity, with many developing countries arguing on a ‘polluter pays’ basis and therefore developed countries should provide major economic assistance to developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The continual need to adapt to the intensifying impacts of climate change will pose many economic development challenges to the global community into the future and in particular the growth of developing countries as they try to adapt in the face of severe budget constraints. Nowhere more evident is the impact of climate change than on communities in developing countries living off the land, vulnerable to changes in weather patterns. It is vital that the international community help protect the economic development of poorer nations most vulnerable to climate change. If you’re passionate about International Development and Social Justice I urge you to also become passionate about Climate Change – they cannot be separated.

If you want to help Bangladesh by donating to the Salvation Army's International Emergency Response go to:

http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/www_sa.nsf/vw-news/FCF3DF249B570CBF80257398004E0888?opendocument

Til next time, Heath

18 November, 2007

The Miniature Earth

Vote with your eyes open!





Here are some handy resources to help you decide who to vote for in next week's Federal election.


1. The Salvo's election statements are available at http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/salvwr/_assets/main/lib60420/election_2007_web.pdf , and were created to draw the political parties' attention to the needs of those who are marginalised in Australia. It's not light reading, but it does give a good background to the important issues.


2. The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has developed a website which contains responses from six political parties to 25 issues ranging from homelessness and refugees to family life and film classification. It also includes other useful election information and resources. Check out the site at http://www.australiavotes.org/ . (A word of warning though: ACL tends to be well-and-truly right of centre, and traditional and conservative in its view of who Christians are. This is clearly reflected in the questions it asks. Nevertheless its a useful resource for the discerning mind.)


3. The Centre for an Ethical Society, birthed a year ago out of Australia's three biggest mainline churches, Catholic, Anglican and Uniting, has rated the four major political parties against its 'Good Samaritan Index'. Out of a possible 80 points, these are the scores of the major parties:


The Democrats - 77 points


The Greens – 74 points


Australian Labor Party – 66 points


The Coalition – 37 points


To find out more about the index and how each party performed in such areas as poverty reduction, refugees and peace-making go to their website at http://www.ces.org.au/.


Mike

16 November, 2007

Potentially pedantic…

I was at a fundraiser event last night to raise money for Opportunity International and it was the most amazing event I have ever been to! The event was held at the Regent and each aspect of the night was inspired with an Indian theme in honour of the work commencing in India. The food was spectacular, the speakers inspiring and to top it all off they brought out the band ‘Evermore’ to perform a song! It truly was surreal.
Anyway, one of the speakers said something that struck a cord in me immediately. For him it was probably a throw away line, and for you it is perhaps not earth shattering and may even sound obvious. But I shall share it, as it has affected me.
He was speaking in reference to a corporate that had given a large donation and said something along the lines of, “thank you for partnering in this responsibility”. This little line gave me so much to dwell on. It implied that the work to be done is not the responsibility of a charity, or of a sponsor, or of a politician, or of the poor. The responsibility is on as all. The responsibility is on every person on this earth. And we come together in partnership to find a solution. We are all affected by poverty, and we are all responsible for its elimination. It is not up to charities, not up to governments. These are simply tools. It is up to us. And if we don’t and share the responsibility, what will, or rather will not happen? I am not really expressing this well today. But I guess what I am trying to say is that in many ways charitable organizations have claimed responsibility for the solutions to social problems and in turn rely on corporates and donors to help us out with 'our' load. We have limited the market of potential helpers by claiming ownership of problems. Their help is then appreciated as it helps 'us'. But the responsibility is theirs too. And we must ensure that we don’t hold onto our work as though it makes us somehow more noble or worthy and corporates mere capitalists who dabble in philanthropy. Anyway, make of it what you will and possibly express my initial reaction better than I have to date. But I am left with the feeling that there is something very significant to us in that statement.

African Refugees

Please help create awareness and support the following letter from Aubrun Salvation Army.

Dear Kevin Andrews

re: AFRICAN REFUGEES
The Salvation Army Auburn is committed to serving Refugees from all countries.
You would understand that being one of the first places that Refugees come to when they arrive, we have an incredible opportunity to serve these people.
We have found that the easiest people to integrate are the Afrcians. We have people from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe, all now part of The Salvation Army, and prepared to serve others in our community.
Last year we had an integration camp. 180 people attended, with around 100 being African. We worked with the Africans on very practical issues, including:- hygeine, women's health, how to get a job, Refugee Law, Men's issues etc. This was a huge success and we plan to do the same again this year, in December. Integration has not been difficult for us, even with the Burundi's who didn't speak a work of English when they came. We do English Conversation Classes with them, one on one literaracy and numeracy, homework, etc. We have a translation machine so that they understand what is happening. It's a magnificent story of black and white living together in incredible harmony.
We often find ourselves advocating for them, in many and varied ways. Unfortunately, people in Australia often take advantage of our Africans.
Our Church now has 17 different nations within it, and integration is part of who we are. Africans don't want their own services. They want to become "Aussies".
Within the next month we will commence an African shop, which again will give many opportunities for integration.
We therefore do not understand why the numbers are to decrease, and would ask that you reconsider this decision.
We know the stories of these people. Horrific! As Australians we need to do as much as we can to support them and give them a new life. They are so grateful for the help that they receive. The numbers of Refugees in camps around the world continues to increase. We cannot decrease our number of Africans coming in. Many of our people still have family in the camps. We raise money constantly to help them to bring family members here. "Blood diamond" is their story. "Invisible children" (child soldiers) is their story. The world cannot just look on and do little. We must make a difference and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
We would ask that your government look at this issue carefully, and we would be happy to talk to you more about it.

Yours sincerely.

Miriam GluyasMajor
The Salvation Army Auburn

15 November, 2007

An Affordable Housing Crisis

Yesterday I was talking to a woman (Jen) and her son in the Newcastle suburb of Windale. She is a single mother struggling to raise a family on income support and some part time and casual employment. She is renting privately and absorbing over 50% of her income (from all sources)on housing. Jen has been on a public housing waiting list for several years.



One tragedy of her story is that just over 12 months ago she had the opportunity to buy a house. She had some savings, and had made some inspections of properties. They were all in keeping with her requirements. However, in the auction market she never had a chance. Each of the houses she wanted to buy were bought by investors - people with second, third and fourth properties (or more). She is now renting a house that she had a chance of buying.



There are two sides to a housing affordability crisis.



1. The crisis occurs when people are forced out of the ability to purchase a home by rapidly rising prices. Rapid housing increases are fuelled by two things - supply restrcitions and demand increases. Two often housing industry and governemnt commentators blame supply - we just have to make more land available they say. Rarely do they look at what has happened with demand for housing.



Demand increases have been fuelled by many things. Not the least is the rapid growth of the investor with surplus cash, finding housing an attractive investment. Tax laws (negative gearing) provide an incentive to such investors. Thus they bid for properties and force prices beyond which a large number of low income families can afford. The rich (even in these cases the modestly rich) get richer and the poor remain dependant on private rental or social housing.



2. The crisis occurs when private rentals are increased because of demand - rather than a competitive market driving rentals down, the market demand is driving rents up. So my freind is faced with rents that abosrb more than 50% of her income.



Jen wants to get out of the situation she is in. She wants to become a home owner. However, failures to address the housing affordability crisis are making things extremely difficult for her.



How can we overcome this major social and economic crisis in Australia? What can be done to ensure housing becomes affordable for all members of our society?



John

14 November, 2007

Better late than never?

Ok, so firstly - apologies for my late start on the blogging front! After a couple of weeks holiday in Darwin, my brain seems to have gone to mush from the heat and humidity! So we’ll see how I go! Hopefully I can bring something to the table from the short but what for me, has been an amazing ride (and rollercoaster!) that God has taken me on over the last 5 years.

For those that don’t know me, my name is Heather and lately I’ve been wondering when I’ll stop telling people I’m ‘new blood’ in the Salvation Army or that I’m a new Christian. Problem is, just as I think I’ve got a handle on a few things, God continues to blow that assumption out of the water and remind me just how much more I’ve got to learn, and how much deeper I’m called to go with him. I came to the Army through a friend from uni and having explored a few other churches to suss out this ‘God thing’, I never really got ‘the point’ of Christianity - that was, until I saw the Salvation Army’s dedication to the poor and the penny dropped. It didn’t take God long to get me completely hooked on him after that! But that was the easy bit. The hard part was to realize the dreams that motivated me to do Commerce and Information Systems at Uni – the hopes of a well paying job in London and a job that meant no struggles for money – well, they were being squashed very very quickly and being replaced by a very strong passion for International Development. I decided however to finish my course and have spent the last 5 years trying to link what I was learning at Uni to what it was teaching me about the world and how it lined up with how God calls us to live, the economics in the Bible. I changed my major to Development Economics and remained in the belief that God will use it – somehow!

To keep the life story short, God opened the door for me to work for the Asia-Pacific Regional Facilitation Team part-time over the last couple of years (which is apart of International Health Services) and my work with the team has significantly impacted how I view development, and our mission as The Salvation Army. As a facilitation team, our firm belief is that ‘Decisions for change have to be taken and owned by those making the choice. If someone tells you to change, you may change of a short time as a mark of respect, but will it be lasting change? Change has to be wanted. People have strengths within them – this is sometimes called capacity. People have the capacity to talk with each other. They have the capacity to think through their options, they have the capacity to care for each other; they have the capacity to change. In this context, change is an internal process that comes about through knowing that you are not alone in facing the issues and have people that can be a source of support if required, that is, care leads to the hope for something different, and change.’

I think one the biggest challenges in Community Development is trying to find the balance between material assistance and remaining true to the belief that these communities do have capacity within to collectively change their situation. When we’re looking at social justice issues, I believe one of the most important questions is, ‘what capacity do communities themselves have to respond and how can we support that?’ For example, how can communities themselves learn to protect each other from the vulnerability of Human Traffickers?

In my opinion, it is why HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns alone are not enough to combat the pandemic in Africa, and it is why the Australian Government have failed to achieve any significant improvements in Health of our Indigenous Communities. Communities need to own the struggles and issues that affect them. But to achieve that, we need to be prepared to listen, support and journey with them to bring about change. It is the role of a facilitator to stimulate and encourage this conversation.

But I will leave my introduction and rant there for today…if you’ve survived til here, well done! I just hope that gives you a bit more of insight into where I’m coming from – my odd combination of Economics/IT/Health and Community Capacity Development! It all adds up in my brain somehow! :)

Til next time.
Heath

13 November, 2007

No Heart To Tackle the Wealth Gap

report from: The Age
Adele Horin, November 10, 2007

A LARGE and increasing number of people believe the income gap between rich
and poor is too high. Yet at the same time public support for government to
do something about the disparity is at its lowest in almost 20 years.

The paradoxical attitude is revealed in a study that traces changing
attitudes to income inequality and redistribution. It helps explain why
both major parties have steered clear of commitments to help the poor.

As a new Bureau of Statistics survey shows the average net worth of
households went above $500,000 for the first time, the study reveals the
proportion of people worried about widening income disparities has jumped
from about 60 per cent in 1987 to more than 80 per cent in 2005.

But when asked whether the government should redistribute income from the
better-off to the less well-off, the proportion in agreement has fallen
below 40 per cent for the first time.

Gabrielle Meagher, professor of social policy in the faculty of education
and social work at the University of Sydney, who co-wrote the study, said:
"We seem to be happy to live with inequality even though we believe it has
got worse."

She said an explanation for the paradox was that Australians thought of the
rich - those above them - when they decried widening income disparity. But
they thought of those below them, such as the unemployed, when asked about
the need for the government to redistribute income. "Sentiment has hardened
over the years towards recent immigrants and unemployed people who receive
government income support - and the Government has pandered to this idea,"
she said.

More than half, for example, believed welfare benefits made people "lazy
and dependent".

In 1999 almost 48 per cent agreed that "it is the responsibility of the
government to reduce the differences in income between people with high
incomes and those with low incomes". By 2005 only 39 per cent agreed that
"government should redistribute from the better-off to those who are less
well-off".

With Shaun Wilson, lecturer in sociology at Macquarie University, Professor
Meagher has analysed changing attitudes as measured in regular surveys
since 1987. The numbers polled each time ranged from 1500 to 4000.

While the questions were worded slightly differently in the polls of 2003
and 2005 compared to those in 1987, 1992 and 1999, the differences were
unlikely to have affected the findings.

Professor Meagher said the findings helped explain why both parties were
focused on "working families" and both had failed to respond to calls from
the welfare sector to hold a poverty summit. "There's no votes in talking
about redistributing income to the poor," she said. However Labor, in
delaying its tax cuts to those on incomes above $180,000, may tap
unfavourable sentiment on runaway executive salaries.

She said people sensed incomes at the top were leaping ahead even though
past polls revealed they wildly underestimated the actual pay of business
leaders. In 1999 remuneration for the chief executive of a top 50 company
was 64 times average weekly earnings when Australians thought it acceptable
for them to earn five times as much as a factory worker. By 2002, the chief
executives earned 98 times average weekly earnings.

Professor Meagher said the highly targeted welfare system and generous
family payments had ensured income inequality had not worsened in recent
years. But the impact of Work Choices and of welfare-to-work reforms on
people at the bottom might exacerbate inequality.

"If it becomes really bad maybe people will become more willing to say the
government has a responsibility to do something about it," she said.

Make Poverty History

11 November, 2007

Vomit Tax and other local initiatives


Despite the fact that state and federal governments are mostly sitting on their hands in relation to the harms caused by alchol, there are some great initiatives being conducted by local communities.

In Bendigo for example, they have introduced improved lighting, transport, cleaning, surveillance, a "spiked drinks" awareness campaign, supervised taxi ranks, a city-wide liquor accord and an enhanced liquor accord for the entertainment precinct.

In Maroondah, hire of a hall requires party-organisers to agree to the "PartySafe" guidelines and register the party with the police as a condition of hire.

Shepparton and Geelong have introduced what has become know as the "Vomit Tax" to help clean up the entertainment precint after all night revellers have left their mark. Licensed premises that are open between 3.00am to 6.00am are required to pay increased rates that are used to clean up vandalism, vomit, litter and urine left in the street by revellers.

Good onya local communites! I hope you're looking on state and fed governments. We need changes in the way you are (not) handling alcohol issues in Australia!

(To find out more about the Salvos' and others' advocacy work in relation to alcohol issues click on this link. )


Mike

09 November, 2007

Don’t be a goat!

“Two days ago, Prime Minister John Howard told mortgage holders he was sorry for the latest rate rise. Yesterday he was at pains to point out that this did not mean that he was apologizing”

This excerpt was taken from the Age newspaper this morning and instantly struck me as both comical and painful. Comical as it only affirms a view I have held for quite sometime now. That is, politics is as much about good PR as it is about good leadership. Painful in that we place so much credence in what they say and are somehow shocked and disappointed when the reality is quite a way from the rhetoric.

Two points; both cynical, so take them with a grain of salt.

First, as Christians we have a specific take on the concept of ‘sorry’. To be sorry or repentant is to turn away from wrong-doing and turn towards God. It is to deliberately move away from life as we see it and instead to live in holiness as God would have us live. Howard is not reversing his position on interest rates. He is not going to turn away from anything. He said sorry the way we say sorry when your cat gets run over. Sorry, but not responsible. I guess the difference in this scenario is that Howard was actually driving the car that squished the furry creature. He is most definitely partly responsible. But beating up the Liberal Party is not my agenda…today. No, my point is this. To be sorry means you want something to change, and I am not certain this is always the interest of politics. Which brings us to the second and more important point.

Why are we so keen to hear Howard say sorry? Because he told us he would keep interest rates down and they went up? An election promise was broken…what else is new! Politicians will promise they will turn the sky purple to get your vote. This is not earth shattering, this is politics. My concern is not with broken promises, my concern is that as a public we are so quick to believe them and sign on. And when there are consequences like sustained poverty and continuing social injustice, we simply shake our heads in ‘disbelief’ that once again our leaders did not keep their promises and enact policies that would improve social issues in Australia. Really, did we think they would? When an election is just about won and lost over an issue such as interest rates, you have to wonder how committed we are as a nation to social equity and justice in the first place. So what’s to be done? Let’s encourage others to not rely on the major parties to bring about social change. Let’s take responsibility for social issues and stop pretending to be shocked and disappointed when politicians go back on their word and place dollars before battlers.

Forget about John’s apology. Instead, let’s find a way to make a difference ourselves. Otherwise, we shall need to spend some time on our own apology when we stand before Jesus and account for what we did, or did not do.

Gen

08 November, 2007

The War on Terror

On 11th September 2001, a terrorist attack occurred in New York and Washington. On 12th October 2002 terrorists exploded a bomb in a crowded nightclub in Bali. On 11th March 2004 a bombing occurred on public transport in Madrid. In London on 7th July 2005 another public transport bombing occurred. Following 9/11 a war on terror was launched by the USA and key allies. In March 2003 these same groups invaded Iraq.



What are we to make of these events? Where was God on 9/11, 10/12, 3/11, 7/7, and when bombs started falling on Afghanistan and Iraq? Why does God allow wars and terrorist attacks to happen? Should Christians support or oppose the war on terror? Did Jesus really mean for us to love our enemies?



The War on Terror describes the response to terrorist attacks in a number of countries. The response has included the launching of two wars; in Afghanistan to capture Osama Bin Laden and destroy the al-Qaeda network, remove the Taliban government and overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The supporters of this war agreed that new ways of defending and advancing democracy were needed. They argued that civil liberties in those countries were so eroded that the people needed liberation from oppression.



It is interesting that both Osama bin-Laden and George Bush see the wars they are waging as moral. Bin-Laden does stress spiritual and moral reasons for his support of terrorism. He has a list of corrupt and violent practices by the USA and the West that he says justifies his actions. He claims he is waging a just war.



George Bush and his allies claim similar ground - although the patriotic is significant too. For them it is simple - good has to destroy evil. Good being the USA and its allies. It is a war against 'all the murderous ideologies of the twentieth century'. It is a fight to preserve democracy, freedom and tolerance. He claims a just war.



There is a branch of Christian theology that supports the 'just war' concept as a general theological principle. It is necessary, says the tradition, to maintain justice and limit evil. There is also an opposing theological viewpoint - Christian pacifism. It sees all killing as unjustified and contrary to Biblical teaching.



Christians will have their own viewpoints on whether there is such a things as a just war. There will also be considerable debate among us as to whether the current War on Terror is a just war. Too many Christian Groups seem to fall in blindly behind those advocating a just war. But what about yourself? What do you believe?



I am guided in my response by Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:3-10 and 38 - 48 set an exceptional standard of justice for all. But the challenge is, "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (5:48)



Is there such a thing as a justified war on terror as it is currently being waged?



John

04 November, 2007

Send your undies to the Burmese Embassy!




A campaign to challenge Burma's (also known as Myanmar) military regime, is calling on concerned people to flood their embassies around the world with women's underwear.

A pro-democracy group based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai is urging people all over the world to "post, deliver or fling" women’s undergarments to Burma's international embassies.

According to Lanna Action for Burma: "The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power."

The generals who rule Burma provoked international outcry last month when they violently cracked down on peaceful protesters, injuring and killing hundreds of people.

The Australia Government was vocal in its disapproval, but despite the outcry, the junta has shown little sign of moving any closer towards democracy or freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Lanna Action hope that the "Panty Power" campaign can succeed where international diplomacy has so far failed.

"We want to raise awareness first, and we want to target the Burmese government officials, letting them know we are against them abusing their power." said a spokeperson.

Apparently Burma's embassy in Canberra has been targeted by the Panty Power campaign, which began last week.

If you want to be part of this campaign send your panties, preferably used and unwashed to . . .

Embassy of the Union of Myanmar, Canberra
22 Arkana Street, Yarralumla,
Canberra, ACT 2600


To find out more about what has been going on in Burma, click on this link .
Mike.

01 November, 2007

A better future

Hi, Gen here again!
I have just finished reading Cory Harrison’s translation of Catherine Booth’s Aggressive Christianity. Let's just say it's not the best book to read lying by the poolside of your Gold Coast Hotel. Some of the statements are so bold and dramatic you almost laugh. The radical force with which she not only spoke, but expected people to follow is amazing and certainly made me feel less harsh than my Resi leaders let on. But there was one statement in particular that I want to dwell on. That is, “there is no improving the future without disturbing the present”. The world is so reluctant to be disturbed and it drives me insane! We say we don’t want poverty; we join marches and sign petitions and go on famines and sleepouts and boycott chocolate and from time to time even donate money, and yet…when it comes down to it, how much have we really been ‘disturbed’? To what extent will we sacrifice our ideal life? We say we want the world to change and yet our life looks just like everyone else’s. Well, perhaps a little more moral. As parents we encourage our children to do the best they can at school, so they can get into the best course possible and have all the opportunities they could ever hope for. And how many of them end up working for corporates and living the middle class Australian dream of a mortgage and 2.2 children? As students we are still choosing subjects based on the best possible Enter result for the best University for the greatest prestige available. Meanwhile all of the kids I work with head to TAFE in their droves and we have very few Salvationists in there with them! And us ‘thirty-somethings’ all try so hard to get the best house possible in the nicest suburb we can afford with our measly 10% deposit.
There is surely nothing wrong with doing your best and achieving high standards, but to what effect? Are our teachers choosing to work in the most disadvantaged schools, our lawyers choosing to work for Legal-Aid? Are our doctors working in bulk billing centres and our academics performing helpful social research for our Army? We want a better future for all, but it seems we want our present to stay the same. It starts with us! With you and I! Are we prepared to put away our selfish ambitions, our stupid pride and live amongst those who need us? Or will we continue to use our talents for our own well being first, and let any residual wealth and success drip down to the desperate masses. Social justice is more than a campaign. It is more than PR. It is more than being loud and annoying. It is your lifestyle. It is your sacrifice. Please be disturbed and stop being satisfied with the 10% tithe of life we give. Let us choose to love others at least as much as we love ourselves and let our worlds be disturbed for the sake of a better tomorrow for everyone.

Make Indigenous Poverty History

John again trying to make sense of scripture, theology, life and justice.

Three thoughts have engaged my mind this past week. They may seem somewhat unconnected to each other, but I am going to try to link them. The first thought has been the extent of indigenous poverty in Australia, the second the communal nature of the Gospel and the third Bonhoeffer’s statement “Only he who believes is obedient and only he obeys believes."

First, some appalling facts about indigenous poverty (compared against the Australian average) taken from the Productivity Commission Report.
1. Indigenous life expectancy is 17 years lower.
2. Indigenous persons are 1.7 times likely to have a disability
3. Indigenous students are 50% less likely to complete year 12.
4. Indigenous unemployment rates are 3.2 times higher (at 20%).
5. Only 27% of indigenous persons own their own home (compared to 74% population).
6. Suicide rates are twice as high.
7. Homicide rates are 6 times as high.

The list of disadvantage goes on and on.

Now consider the communal nature of the Gospel. Too often, the Gospel that I encounter in the mainstream churches is about my personal spiritual relationship. It relates to how I connect with God and then I am encouraged to give more of myself to God for my spiritual benefit. Thus the message is that when Jesus talked about the coming of the Kingdom of God, it is a personal spiritual experience of Him reigning in my life. I have no argument with this theology. Yet my conviction is that this is noweher near enough. It is an insufficient interpretation of Jesus.

It is much more than matters of personal faith, for the Gospel is also a communal one. It is also about the quality of my relationships with others (including indigenous persons). The Kingdom of God is also about community and a just society. As a member of the Christian Church, I need to have a spiritual view that is both personal and spiritual, and global and communal. And in this Kingdom of God perspective, indigenous persons demand justice. I am challenged! Can I be a Christian and not be concerned for the welfare of Indigenous persons?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the statement, “Only he who believes is obedient and only he obeys believes." Many conservative evangelical and charismatic Christians might object to these two propositions. Salvation is by faith alone, they clamour. Bonhoeffer agrees, and holds these two seeming contradictions in tension. Both propositions are true and equally hold good. Neither can be held without the other. Faith is demonstrated by action. Answering the call of God is first an action, but it means nothing without faith. Now while he goes on to argue the theology around salvation, I want to link it to my concern for the communal Gospel and the plight of indigenous persons.

Faith requires action. The Christian Church has to be at the forefront in challenging all that marginalises indigenous persons. A communal Gospel that demonstrates its power through acting in faith demands nothing less than the community of believers – individually and collectively – does something to eradicate indigenous disadvantage. I am challenged to action that demonstrates genuine faith.

That means I promote reconciliation and understanding of indigenous culture, nurture potentaial indigenous spiritual leaders, acknowldge the disposession of land and multitude injustices that have occurred, listen to and stand with indigenous people in matters of social justice, and work with them according to their agenda. The list of challenges goes on.

By the way, this is not an endorsement of some forms of intervention in indigenous matters, as seen recently in the Northern Territory. The only true way is through gracious invitation into a relationship of mutuality.

John