First impressions may be that this looks like a tropical paradise – blue skies and blue water. Taken on the island of Ambae in the Penama Province of Vanuatu, that is what you are seeing, except you aren’t.
According to Fr. Willie Ben Tabi, the manager of Torgil Rural Training Centre, about 12 years ago the sea line was about 15-20 metres further out. The tree stump being lapped by the waves originally lined a ‘road’, which is now a rocky beach, and the ‘spit’ in the top right-hand side would have not jutted out into the sea. The ‘road’ has been moved about 10 metres further inland, and even that was flooded when Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu a couple of years ago. In another 5-10 years, Fr. Willie expects the ‘road’ to go further inland again, and this time people’s houses will have to move as well. Whichever side you take on the debate about climate change, for the people of Ambae the sea is rising and it is not going to stop any time soon.
A recent United Nations Risk Report puts Vanuatu at the top of the list of most at-risk countries in the world for being vulnerable to extreme weather events. Out of 171 countries, Australia comes in at 121, and is in the ‘low risk’ category.
As Christians we have a strong biblical view of the earth as God’s creation, and that we are called by God to be stewards of it. Along with the call to love our neighbours, what does this mean for Christians everywhere, those Christians who are most vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather, and those Christians who are at the least risk? According to our partners, it is not uncommon for Christians in rural communities in the Pacific to see their vulnerability as a sign of God’s displeasure and his punishment for their sin. If this were the case, could one say that Australians are less sinful than people from Vanuatu?
In response to such a situation, agencies like Anglican Overseas Aid see two important approaches we can take: practical and theological. From a practical perspective, we are working with our partners in the Pacific to help reduce the disaster risk through planning and preparedness. Theologically, we are working with churches to understand what people’s theological view is, and how the church can teach a more proactive, stewardship-focused biblical vision, rather than a fatalistic or judgmental approach. We also want to work with the church and Christians here in Australia to understand better what we see as a biblical theology.
We would love you to join us on this neighbourly journey. As we explore what it means to live faithfully in the face of fear and uncertainty about a changing climate, we ask that you join with us to learn more about what is going on, and listen to the voices and stories of fellow Christians in the Pacific to inform our prayers and own lives.
If you would like to donate to our work in Vanuatu, click on the ‘Please Donate’ button (choose ‘Vanuatu – Solar Lights and Women’s Empowerment’ from the ‘Donation’ drop-down menu):