Poverty, chastity, obedience – a winning formula?

According to the BBC, three times more women in the UK entered training to become nuns last year than 5 years ago. The actual numbers are small – 45 compared with 15 in 2009, but it’s still worth noting this faith choice that is also a lifestyle revolution.

In times of conspicuous consumption, casual sex and “life is all about me” attitudes, the fact that 45 women have chosen to commit to ancient vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is a positive message that faith in God calls for radical decisions by all women.[1]

It’s also a choice that will bring life-long friendship and support for the women, plus the freedom to go into the world to serve radically.

I have met with amazing nuns defending refugee rights in Australia; developing pre-school curriculum in the local Tetum language in Timor Leste; and running activity centres for traumatised children in the midst of Sri Lanka’s civil war. I have also seen nuns at the UN calling for justice for India’s widows and I have worked alongside many who have campaigned against landmines and for peace.

Somehow, being a nun (like being in a Salvation Army uniform) bestows authority and garners respect in the community. And that is not just outdated tradition – it is something to do with the recognition that these women have made a pretty radical life choice to serve and love the least.

My friend Felicity has made a similar decision. She is training to become an Anglican vicar. The process to be accepted was arduous and she has faced all sorts of challenges as a young single woman. But she is stronger as a result of her willingness to step out of the world’s path to success to be part of a different story.


And a new friend is Dorothy (in the pink shirt), who decided to move from the States to Thailand to help in any way she could in the refugee and minority communities around Chiang Mai. At 72, she has become ‘grandmother’ to many women and children and has discovered new skills as a textile entrepreneur!

All of us should bear some badge (or ‘habit’) that declares our identity as Jesus followers – people prepared to obey God’s call.

It’s deeply unfashionable but also compelling because it is not just giving things up and clenching our teeth in reluctant service.

It is a call to love, as a response to God’s amazing love. Nuns (and lots of women from different traditions who choose to stay single) take that literally by choosing Jesus over earthly marriage. But I know that whenever we act out of love, other lives are touched by God and our own lives are much richer.

So I celebrate Felicity, Dorothy and the nuns.


Please pray for all the people you know who are radically serving and loving God.

And pray for women everywhere to have a radical habit in loving God.

[1] I’m aware that some of you may have doubts about the whole system of entering Catholic orders. I’m not defending the whole Catholic church structure but within it are amazing women of faith. And of course there are nuns in other church traditions whose vows are different.

A kitten! (and International Women’s Day)


Banksy-Gaza 2

International Women’s Day is still important.  March 8th has only lost its relevance if we use it as a day to promote more privileges for ourselves. But by using it as a day to stand up for women around the world, who are living in poverty and oppression, it is hugely relevant.

Apparently kittens always attract lots of views on youtube. That’s why street artist Banksy did this artwork in Gaza – a cute kitten playing with the debris of bombing. He commented that it was the only way to get attention for the suffering of people caught in the on-going conflict.

So now the kitten’s got your attention, how do we get action for the suffering of millions of women and girls in poverty?

One way is to have an international day devoted to women – and it’s coming up this Sunday the 8th. International Women’s Day.

Do we still need such a day? Does it discriminate against men? And will the day achieve anything for girls and women on all the other days of 2105?

Well, let’s think about Mother’s Day. It’s a short time set aside to celebrate mums but that does not mean we ignore our mothers the rest of the year.

Or wedding anniversaries – try telling your partner that it’s unnecessary to celebrate your anniversary as it doesn’t achieve anything any more. Special days and holidays are reminders of achievement, sacrifice, love and commitment.

Maybe International Women’s Day makes some uncomfortable because it’s a reminder of the continuing low status of women in so many places. Women are more affected by poverty than men and have less stable economic circumstances. All round the world women suffered most in the economic crisis of 2008 – they were the most vulnerable to losing their jobs or having pay cuts. It is their jobs that have been lost in the public service and their children who have been affected by health and education cuts.

In the UK, USA and Australia, if present rates of change continue, it will take another 75 years for women to achieve equal pay. That means not my daughter, or her daughter but my daughter’s grand-daughter may get rewarded fairly for her contribution to society.

Women who have babies never make up the pay gap. And you might say that is OK because life is about more than money, but there needs to be more discussion on International Women’s Day about the economic value of care work, parenting and voluntary work. And men should join that debate. Because the truth is that women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work and produce 50 per cent of its food, but earn only 10 per cent of its income and own one per cent of its property.

In the developing world, women plus poverty can be a deadly equation. The maternal health targets of Millennium Development Goal 5 will fall short – 50% of pregnant women still miss out on adequate health care; and we will not reach the headline target of a 75% drop in maternal deaths (it’s 45%).

I could go on with stories of how women are treated in many places – widows are mis-treated, girls are forced into early marriage, women are cheated out of their inheritance and women who don’t have children are still blamed as failures.

So don’t tell me that a day for women isn’t needed.

Oddny Gunmaer helps women and children affected by conflict to meet basic needs, prevent them being trafficked or exploited, and care for them in crisis situations. So what does she want for women caught in crisis?

“The most obvious answer is that they will be able to have enough to eat, adequate healthcare or the opportunity to go to school. For too many women, these are things they are lacking. I could also say I would wish that they could live in peace without the fear of attacks of soldiers who wish to destroy, rape and kill. This is their daily fear for too many. I wish for freedom to dream, and to pursue those dreams. I wish for their hopes not to die.”

I asked Oddny whether International Women’s Day is still important. She told me, “March 8th has only lost its relevance if we use it as a day to promote more privileges for ourselves. But by using the day as a day to stand up for women around the world, who are living in poverty and oppression, it is a day of great relevance.”


Got another 5 minutes?

  1. Watch a 2 minute video of Banksy in Gaza here (including the kitten)
  2. Check out Partners Relief and Development founded by Oddy and Steve Gunmaer.
  3. Like w2wglobal facebook page – it tells you more about issues facing women and how faith intersects with those issues.
  4. Spend less time watching youtube videos of kittens!

Oddny and the Rohingya

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Psalm 82:2-4

The psalmist’s cry was on Oddny Gumaer’s heart when she recounted the suffering of the Rohingya women she met in Malaysia recently.

The Rohingya women, men and children have fled from the brutalities of oppression and poverty in their homeland, Burma (Myanmar). Not only have they been persecuted and oppressed by their own government, but they have been left undefended by the rest of the world.

In Burma, the Rohingya, a minority group of a million people, are not eligible for full citizenship unless they can meet stringent requirements including tracing their family history in Myanmar back over 150 years. Violence in Rakine state where most Rohingya live has meant that nearly 200,000 are existing in squalid displaced persons camps. Escape across the border seems like a lifeline for the families.

But as undocumented refugees in Malaysia and Thailand, they are still hungry and desperately needy, with no rights to work, no adequate housing and no access to a doctor. Oddny tells me, “They are also fearful because they have no guarantees that they won’t get detained by the police, and either sent back to Burma, or trafficked.”

One young mother’s story has stayed with Oddny. At 19, barely more than a girl, Mawi was forced to work as a slave by the Burma Army. When they threatened to imprison her for reasons she wasn’t told, she ran away to Malaysia.

She has no legal papers, which makes her a target of the police as well as human traffickers. Pregnant and unemployed, Mawi was detained by Malaysian immigration police two years ago. A bribe got her out of prison.

Her son is now 2 years old and she is six months pregnant. Some months ago a car hit Mawi’s husband and son as they were crossing the road. The driver ran off, leaving her husband critically wounded on the road. He is now handicapped and may never be able to work again.

Mawi doesn’t know how her family is going to survive. Without a UN registration card she has no legal right to medical help, so she doesn’t know where and how she will deliver her baby. The family has no income at all and depends on their neighbours’ charity to survive. She is not able to work since she has no legal papers, and also because she will need to look after her two children. She is constantly afraid that she will get arrested. She is frequently hassled by hospital staff telling her that they still owe money for her husband’s treatment.

Oddny has met many women in similar situations but still, Mawi’s desperate need has left her feeling hopeless. She says,

“I found myself feeling desperate, angry and confused. Why wouldn’t God provide justice for them?”

“Why is it always the most vulnerable that keep getting the bad deals? Where are the ones who will speak for them? When will the world decide that every human is valuable, not just the ones with the loudest mouths and the fattest bank accounts? Where is the church?”

Oddny has channelled her desperate confusion into work among the victims of poverty and violence for 20 years. She is the founder and advocacy director of Partners Relief and Development.

She does not let despair conquer her but at the same time she wants more people to become advocates for the poor of Burma where half a million people have fled their homes and where only 4% of children in some areas are in school.

What EXPOSED has achieved

We wanted to go beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?”

Brisbane has returned to the everyday as 3,000 media, 6,000 policemen and 20 world leaders exit. I was lucky enough to hear David Cameron and Tony Abbott at their press conferences and saw the Obama motorcade leave the conference.

IMG_3101              IMG_3088               IMG_3105

Thanks so much for following my blogs about the G20. The EXPOSED campaign landed in Australia after three years of prayer, coalition building, research and planning ideas.

What have we all achieved in that time?

I think I’d give the G20 7/10 and a B minus for effort.

Definitely worth the effort though because we represented the voices of ordinary people – church communities, small and medium size business people and development groups – who want to end the blight of unequal growth and selfish greed.

Information and education. We talked about the C word (corruption) in all sorts of contexts so that millions learned the extent, complexities and injustice of the problem around the world. 

We produced theological material and a report called Open for ServiceWe encouraged prayers of confession and prayer for leaders.

We sought out stories of transformation as we wanted to bring light and hope. Remember Biship Zac in Uganda, whistleblower Michelle Harding in South Africa and work across Nepal on integrity?

Our toolkits addressed corruption in the church and business. And the Global Call recognised that G20 governments needed to act.

Campaigning actions. EXPOSED has always been a call to churches, business and government to model integrity and transparency, that goes beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?” We achieved *1000 vigils, *147,700 signatures on the Global Call in 176 nations, *hundreds of Selfies with a message for Australia’s Treasurer, *the Open Letter from 95 global Christian leaders representing a billion Christians, and *the world’s biggest mock tax haven event

Policy. As a global campaign calling for integrity in business and government we explained that funds could be freed for the poorest communities in the world if we dealt with corrupt and unethical practices. Extra funds from taxes could also be used to encourage business growth and employment opportunities in all nations.

We tried hard to make the policies accessible and to give real world examples from topical issues like corruption in sport, fashion and the oil industry in Nigeria.

Did we succeed in seeing policy change? The G20 committed to ongoing work to addressing all the policies at the heart of the Campaign – global tax dodging and corruption.

There’s still more steps to take but that is the beauty and curse of the G20 – small enough to have honest discussions but large enough for those discussions to end in general promises that need meaty detail at the national level.

G20 nations have agreed to share tax related information with each other and have established high level principles for ensuring that more is known about the true owners and beneficiaries of anonymous companies and trusts. In a bid to consider the interests of low-income countries, the G20 have also communicated plans to support the administrative skills and systems of developing countries’ tax systems through ‘capacity-building’.

So there have been definite steps towards the light of transparency.

Thanks for playing your part.

What do we really want the G20 to do?

Saturday – 1st day of the Summit

My last blog was mainly images, this one mainly words but they’re good, so bear with me.

EXPOSED has always been about a call to churches, business and government to model integrity and transparency, that goes beyond “Is it legal?” to “Would God be pleased with my decisions?”

18 months after we launched, and after….

*1000 vigils, *147,700 signatures on the Global Call, *hundreds of Selfies, an *Open Letter from 94 global Christian leaders representing a billion Christians, AND the *world’s biggest mock tax haven event…..

we are waiting to see how the G20 will take action on issues that affect us all – tax evasion and corruption.

Good governance is vital to all of us – business people, families, teachers, judges. And to do an effective job, governments need tax income.

But corruption robs us all of funds for public services. And the biggest form of ‘corrupt’ practice is tax evasion. Much of it is on the edge of legality but we all know it’s wrong. Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, calls it “theft” and Tim Costello, chair of the Brisbane C20 and CEO of World Vision, asked this week why tax havens are allowed to exist when they do so much harm.

And here’s how unethical practice affects the poor.

In Sierra Leone, they are fighting Ebola with few resources. But, according to OECD sherpa, Gabriela Ramos, (in the centre of the photo) six international companies operating there enjoy tax breaks that are equivalent to 800% of the country’s health budget.

In other words, aggressive tax deals (it’s called the race to the bottom) mean that Sierra Leone is missing out on trained health workers and health infrastructure which in turn has exacerbated their Ebola crisis.

 IMG_3075                IMG_3071

That is why we are in Brisbane (basking in 38° today!) with the signatures, the tax haven media stunt, overseas friends from the Philippines and France and the involvement of hundreds of locals. We take seriously the words of Job in Chapter 24,

There are those who move boundary stones;
    they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan’s donkey
    and take the widow’s ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
    and force all the poor of the land into hiding. …..

[God] may let them rest in a feeling of security,
    but his eyes are on their ways.
For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone;
    they are brought low and gathered up like all others;
    they are cut off like heads of grain.

We want less greed and more good.

For those still reading, this is the ABC of what we are hoping will be included in the communique tomorrow:

Automatic information exchange of tax information between governments. This has been endorsed by all G20 nations to be implemented by 2018.

BEPS is corporations reporting openly who benefits from profits and payments so the real beneficiaries are known. It is also about stopping companies shifting profits and costs among subsidiaries to avoid tax. This will be going ahead under guidance from the OECD over the next 3 years and more and more multinationals are supporting this move.

Country by country reporting is companies reporting exactly where they make profits rather than supplying global figures. Developing countries may not have the where withal to comply if the deal is only ‘reciprocal’. The OECD has released a template that could be a global standard.

Please pray for the communique process. Pray for the will to see the rules applied for the benefit of all.

G20 in pictures

November 13th and the helicopters are buzzing, the police are swarming and Brisbane is waiting to be stung by motorcades and searches.

That’s the media view.

Here are some images from the last 2 days that tell my G20 story.

IMG_0031  C20. Buzz words: inclusive development

IMG_2984 Selfies. Buzz words: Shine the light

IMG_3047 Kms of fencing. Buzz word: security

IMG_3048 3,000 media. buzz words: growth, Putin, protest

IMG_3041 Police. Buzz word: everywhere!

IMG_3044 The weather. Buzz words: too darn hot!

Shape business for God and good

Yesterday was a great day at City Hall in the heart of Brisbane.    IMG_3028                  IMG_3031

An unusual bunch gathered – business people with a wide range of experience; academics, pastors, lawyers, policy analysts and G20 watchers.

We had a couple of things in common: a desire to encourage the best standards in business at every level following God’s values, so that the whole community can flourish; and we wanted to use the G20 presence in Brisbane as an opportunity to explore some of the global injustices that hold back enterprise and development.

When we started the EXPOSED campaign we wanted to engage business people who see their work as mission to take the lead in integrity and provide positive models for the community. We did not want to bash business (or the G20). We just want business to be as effective, honest and successful as possible.

Mats Tunehag from the Business As Mission think tank summed up the important economic role of business in one statistic, “SMEs (small and medium sized business) provide as much as 90% of a nation’s tax base.”

So the vexed question of multinationals aggressively avoiding tax through base erosion (shifting profits around the world to the places where tax is lowest eg 1% in Luxembourg) was immediately relevant to all the business guys at the meeting – they want to do the right thing and feel that complex rules hem them in; but rules are needed to control rampant greed and unethical behaviour.

Professor Graeme Cooper, taxation specialist from Sydney University told us that tax is beautiful because it’s complex and it’s too important to leave to the politicians alone. Yesterday we affirmed that and decided to take personal and communal action because tax affects us all and is vital to development.

The highlights of the day for me?

1. Graham Power telling his story of making the radical decision to step away from corrupt business practice, when God convicted him.

2. the total agreement from everyone that business is not just profit – it must pursue financial, intellectual, cultural, social and spiritual good.

3. the statement that we produced together setting out what we want to see and how. It’s being finalised today but paragraph 2 says,

“As Christian business people committed to integrity, the highest quality service and proper use of all resources, we applaud the plans of G20 to institute effective global rules on tax and business transparency.”

Thanks to the ‘unusual bunch’ for a great day.