With climate crisis threatening island nations, Pacific Basin Initiative launches at General Synod

As a boy growing up in Tuvalu, an island nation in the South Pacific — where the highest point for its 12,000 residents is about three meters above sea level — the Rev. Tafue Molu Lusama was taught you plant a tree to replace the one cut down and you only fished for what needed that day.  

“You didn’t fish to stock the freezer. If you caught more fish than you needed, you shared with neighbors,” said Lusama.  

He also remembered that in times of drought, there was always water to draw from the many wells. Today, though, the wells are no longer a viable resource as rising sea water has tainted the fresh water.  

“If there is a drought there is nothing to draw from. We now depend solely on rainwater,” said Lusama, adding, “Water security is not secure.”  

Climate change is changing the once sustainable life for islanders and has led Lusama to becoming a climate activist. He now serves as director of the Institute for Indigenous Climate Knowledge at the Pacific Theological College in Fiji. 

Lusama — one of the 10 international partners of Global Ministries who are attending the 34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ — as part of a workshop Saturday, July 1 introducing Global Ministries’ Pacific Basin Initiative, sharing firsthand with others the plight of these island nations.

Threats from climate change 

According to Derek Duncan, area executive for East Asia and the Pacific for Global Ministries, the initiative focuses on the many climate change challenges facing communities throughout the Pacific Basin.  

Among these challenges are the erosion of land of many small island nations due to rising sea levels and the increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tsunamis. With changing weather patterns also comes the increase of climate migration as people are forced from their homes to find a new sustainable residence.  

The Pacific Basin Initiative also addresses issues of justice such as the long-lasting effects of radiation left from the days of the United States military testing nuclear weapons in places such as the Marshall Islands. Duncan added that Pacific Basin Initiative will focus on Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Fiji.  

The work for this initiative, which runs till the next Synod in 2025, is already ramping up as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will be sending a delegation to Japan and Korea this September. 

“It is the first one in the initiative,” said Duncan.  

Pacific theology 

As for Lusama, he noted that a lot of the work in helping the Pacific Basin communities often involves bringing a new understanding of God to the people.

“Due to colonialism, many believe that God is a divine judge and that the effects of climate change is something the people brought on themselves,” he said. “It is time to redefine God using Pacific theology, which is more relational. Our belief in a triune God is one of God in community: you, me and God — together.  

“We need to also listen to the elders in these communities. We need to have room for Indigenous spirituality. Give the Indigenous a voice in the climate change conversation, for their knowledge has sustained a people for centuries. Their voice will influence policy.”  

Wider Church Ministries also is hosting an exhibit on the Pacific Basin Initiative during Synod. You can also learn more here

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is the communications specialist for the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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