For Everything There Is A Season
'Wa Wa Wa!" this is the cry that rings across the crowded room. Twenty or so Papuan women walk down the middle aisle, making a colourful and joyful entry. It is August 2019; I am in Fiji attending the five-yearly conference for the Pacific Baptist women. There is a sense I am wrapped up in a vibrant godly moment of time purposed by God.
The chanting women are dressed in colourful woven dresses, wear elaborate head dresses made with shells and feathers and chant their traditional welcome. As they arrive at the front stage, they begin to sing a worship song in their language. I have no idea what the words mean but I smile broadly at their passion and our shared love of Jesus.
By the end of the conference I join in with everyone, regardless of our cultural heritage, all calling out, "Wa Wa Wa" with our sisters. By the end of the conference I have also danced like a Fijian with flowers in my hair. I have been given a lovely plaque from our newest member country, Tonga, resplendent with palm trees and turtles. I have bought myself a rainbow striped woven dress from Papua and laughed with my Papuan sisters as I modelled it like I was strutting down a catwalk.
I soaked up a message regarding the role of women in faith taught by a New Zealander sister who serves faithfully using her Doctorate in Theology. I have marvelled at testimonies of supernatural healing from Papua New Guinea. I have wept at the reports of domestic abuse, unplanned teen pregnancies and governments endorsing abortion laws. For everything, God's word tells us, there is a season, a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance. This conference is that time!
At this conference, I have been selected as the new President of the Baptist Women of the Pacific
(formerly known as BWUSWP - Baptist Women of the South West Pacific). In that moment I am told I have been selected, I feel an equal portion of excited anticipation and the mantle of responsibility. I have hung the plaque from Tonga in my office to remind me of this weighty moment in time. I do not want to lose sight for even a second that the BWP represents precious women.
The BWP - Baptist Women of the Pacific is a network of Baptist Women in the Pacific. Our purpose is to connect, equip and mobilise the Baptist women of the Pacific to love and serve God. Our membership countries include Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Papua, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Each country has its own unique and wonderful culture, but we are connected by a vast ocean, and shared geographical, political, and economic concerns.
The current government of Australia has a renewed interest in its involvement in the Pacific. In November 2018, the Australian Prime Minister announced the Pacific Step Up foreign policy. As the most populous and resourced country in the region, this is significant. Nearly as significant, is Australia's Prime Minister is a Christian who had early ministry experiences in the Pacific. His government endorses, through policy and funding, church groups as significant social civil actors.
I cannot help believing God has positioned Baptist leaders in the Pacific, "for such a time as this"
(Esther 4:14). As an Australian, I believe I have a godly opportunity to be placed to take advantage of this current political climate. This climate enables Pacific countries to unite for the common call of advancing each other's health and prosperity using the church and her people as a powerful platform for growth.
Both Australia and New Zealand, another bountifully resourced country, have political ties to these Pacific nations including the advancement of women's status in these countries. Pacific Women, an initiative of the Australian government, has committed AU$320 million to improve the political, economic, and social opportunities of Pacific women (1 ). An initiative that welcomes church involvement. Additionally, after the recent disaster of cyclone Harold, both the Australian and New Zealand government sent significant aid to Fiji, Vanuatu, and Tonga.
The BWP also banded together with our sisters to raise money for our sisters in Vanuatu, devastated by cyclone Harold, to buy health, and hygiene products for the women. For there is a time to tear and a time to mend. This was not just about mending torn and storm battered homes but sending the message that their sisters love them and care for them.
For there are times in a Christian walk, as a woman that only another sister can fully underÂstand the unique pain women may endure. As sisters we are called to step into this unique place of hurt and need. For example, among the highest rates of domestic violence against women in the world are the Pacific especially in Papua New Guinea. In the same manner, women can also struggle to find their place in church and ministry life, confronting cultural limits that hold them back from becoming all God has placed within them. Rates of maternal and infant death is high is parts of the Pacific. There is a unique pain that women share regarding the loss of a precious life you have carried within your womb for months.
The BWP desires to share these unique experiÂences as women, to be a sister during these times of trial and growth. To care for one another during Covid-19 and the challenge it presents to us as women. To know there is "a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing" (Ecclesiastes 3:5). For example, in countries which have prescribed social isolation, domestic violence has risen on average 30%. Additionally, women make up 70% of the health and social care sector, this means it is mostly women on the frontline fighting Covid-19. This is time for BWP to step up and serve our women diligently. I have such faith in these women, their passion, their dependency on the Spirit, will all be harnessed to serve the kingdom of God. Let us step into this season, embracing this time." But I trust in you, 0 LORD; I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hands" Psalm 31 :14,15.
by Ms. Elissa Macpherson, President, Baptist Women's Union of the South West Pacific