Fraught with many challenges, the likes of which are unprecedented, the people of Kiribati are looking to the church to provide guidance and to lead them in journeying unchartered waters.
A 2008 study found that 68% of Kiribati women between the ages of 15 and 49 experience violence, one of the highest rates in the world.
Climate change and the higher tides it brings has caused the loss of shorelines, farm lands, homes and the displacement of families within their own country.
The onslaught of modern digital gizmos fosters the imports of negative behaviours contrary to the Kiribati way of living that often gives rise to conflict and the general degradation of the moral fabric of society.
‘We are at a point of crisis,’ said Rev. Mileta Tenten, the Mission Secretary of the Kiribati Uniting Church while addressing students of Tagintebu Theological College at a recent Social Justice Workshop.
The Social Justice workshop is coordinated by the Institute for Mission and Research for interested churches across the Pacific region.
‘What the people are looking for are leaders that can speak to the issues they face and provide guidance,’ Rev. Tenten said.
‘They no longer just want to listen to a pastor that preaches spiritual concepts but one that can apply these concepts to the real issues people face and one that can innovate and offer solutions,’ she added.
The students, consisting mostly of third (final) year students, will be posted as pastors in the various communities that KUC works in across the country.
Some in remote locations, on atolls where life is both a physical and mental challenge.
‘What will you do, what kind of leader will you be?’ she said.
‘As a pastor, many things will be expected of you. How will you deal with domestic violence in your community?’
‘Will you turn a blind eye and say that it is none of your business?’
‘How will you deal with the overconsumption of kava?’ she further challenged students.
The Social Analysis training helps the students understand the issues that people face and the leadership skills that best address them.
Some of the skills include managing crises, communications, financial integrity and combatting corruption, having innovative ideas to help young people with their problems, earn an income, dealing with the various problems people face.
Being beacons of hope by actively participating in the resolution of social issues.
‘Ultimately, this is about having pastors for the people and not just for the pulpit,’ said College Principal Rev. Dr. Tioti Timon.
Stakeholders from the Government were also invited to speak on various social issues facing Kiribati that ranged from domestic violence to the over-consumption of kava and alcohol. Growing rates of teenage pregnancies, sex related crimes, and unemployment increasingly confound.
Pastor in training Etita Bauro appreciated having a clearer perspective she would need to play as a pastor.
‘It’s good to have a basic understanding of the various issues we face as a society and of course this will vary within communities,’ she said.
‘This course is helping me be better prepared for the work.’
The Social Analysis Course plus Leadership and Management, Pastoral Counselling, Peacebuilding, Gender Voices for Dignity, and a Personnel Exchange programme to better assist the Christian community of the Pacific Islands region change the story of development and society.
The Social Analysis Course teaches participants the eight steps of social analysis, dissecting social issues in various contexts to assist in the formulation of strategies and solutions to manage them.
In dealing with these social issues, pastors are encouraged to view solutions and issues through the lens of Jesus or what Jesus did.