23 November, 2016

Two Seventh-day Adventist women from Kiribati have shared stories of how climate change is impacting their nation and called for greater action against climate change as guests of the Voices for Justice conference, hosted by Micah Australia in Canberra on November 19–21. Tinaai Teaua and Vasiti Tebamare are youth leaders in their local SDA church in Kiribati, as well as being active members and representatives of the Kiribati Climate Action Network (KiriCAN).

“Climate change is real—and it is happening right now in Kiribati,” Ms Tebamare told conference participants. She reported the effects of rising sea levels on their low-lying island home, including regular inundation from king tides and storm surges, contamination of ground water, salination of limited agricultural land, erosion of beaches and more severe weather events.

“Of our 33 coral atolls, our highest point is only three metres above sea level,” she explained. “We are at risk of losing our home. We are fighting for our land, which is so important for our culture, our traditions and our people.”

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Hosted by Micah Australia, the annual Voices for Justice conference brought together Christians from across Australia in a coalition of 15 Christian organisations—including ADRA Australia—for training and worship, and to speak with Australia’s elected leaders on issues of Australian aid and the nation’s response to climate change, particularly as it affects the world’s most vulnerable people and Australia’s Pacific neighbours.

Christian leaders and activists from a number of Pacific nations shared their stories, challenges, responses and hopes, before they addressed a public event on the lawns of Australia’s Parliament House that included parliamentarians, ambassadors and church leaders.

“By telling our stories, we hope people will feel something of our experience,” Ms Teaua said. “Political leaders are key people in making decisions that can help our people. We are asking world leaders to honour their commitments to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees because that is important for countries like Kiribati.”

Yet these youth leaders insist they are not victims, but survivors. Their church youth program includes an unusual activity in response to these challenges. “Our Adventist young people work with us regularly to plant mangroves on our beachfronts to protect against waves and erosion,” Ms Tebamare said.

These local church youth leaders would also like to hear their wider Adventist family speaking up on their behalf. “As a church as Adventists, we need each other,” Ms Teaua said. “As Christians, we have hope. We are looking forward to Jesus’ second coming—but we also need to do our part in caring for each other.”

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For one fellow Adventist young person, Voices for Justice was an opportunity to respond to the world in a different way—but one that brought these two cultures together in their one faith.

“Unsettled by recent national and international political news, I was looking for some useful way to make a small positive difference in these conversations,” Gold Coast-based doctor Ruth-Ellen Marks said. “The opportunity to learn, meet with other Christians and engage with politicians around issues of justice has energised and empowered me to do more.

“But a huge highlight of the conference for me was meeting Vasiti and Tinaai,” Dr Marks said. “It felt like meeting up with long-lost sisters! Their stories of the beautiful island home had me riveted. And their passion for people and their environment has also really inspired and encouraged me to move forward in advocacy for justice.”

As well as sharing their stories with Voices for Justice participants, Ms Teaua and Ms Tebamare joined some of the Micah lobby groups that met with more than 90 of Australia’s elected leaders, spoke to media representatives and visited local high schools.

Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing Company. He attended Voices for Justice in November.