It was the October 17th 2015 and thirty 350.org Pacific Climate Warriors had just blockaded the largest coal port in the world in Newcastle, Australia. They had done this using traditionally made hand carved canoes to send a very clear message to Australia: that the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry was exporting destruction to the Pacific.
Sea levels rise day by day and our atmosphere is increasingly polluted with toxins. For more than 20 years we have asked world leaders to take action, but we couldn’t wait any longer. We decided to take lead.
To this day, when people refer to that ‘canoe flotilla’, they say it was like a modern day version of David vs Goliath, where a small group of Pacific Islanders went up against giant coal ships in tiny canoes. In many ways, this story is about the strength of the Pacific in the face of climate crisis. It’s a story about the spirit of perseverance of many small Island nations in the face of climate change.
In many ways, the canoe flotilla also told another Biblical (and less well known story) similar to that of Shammah and his lentil patch. The Bible’s Old Testament tells the story of Shammah, who fought for a tiny lentil patch. Shammah was actually one of David’s mighty men, who proved himself worthy as he defended a field of lentils.
As recorded in the Bible, Shammah defended that lentil patch and claimed victory. His story is a story about standing your ground. It’s a story about a man protecting the inheritance he got from his father. The Pacific Climate Warriors, like Shammah, are also fighting to protect their inheritance. For Shammah, it was his lentil patch. For the Warriors, it’s their island homes.
Since the canoe flotilla in Newcastle, the Pacific Climate Warriors have not stopped standing their ground and setting their boundaries. They stand to lose everything if the fossil fuel industry continues to choose profit over people, and are therefore continuously connecting communities in the Pacific to build a powerful base of Pacific Climate Warriors.
This September, thousands of Pacific Islanders stood up for the Pacific by uniting as a region in prayer as part of the second #PrayForOurPacific Campaign this year. It was first launched in July with more than 120 registered events around the Pacific and the world.
When Tropical Cyclone Winston tore through Fiji earlier this year, people turned to prayer which helped carry them through the chaos. Then, as a community held together by prayer, they started rebuilding and will continue to rebuild, and pray, for as long as is needed.
In the face of the climate crisis, it will be our neighbours and our congregations who will help us through it. They will be the ones who will be there through the times of trial, to deal with floods, storms and more. That’s why we must work to support building stronger communities across the Pacific.
When a child in Fiji experiences trauma after losing his home, or a mother in Kiribati can’t fetch safe drinking water anymore for her child because their well is filled with salt water, or a young woman in Papua New Guinea feels sadness as she witnesses her ancestral burial ground disappearing under rising tides, I can guarantee you, prayer helps carry them through and helps them persevere.
For the people on the front lines of climate change, prayer connects their lives with each other and to something bigger than themselves. Prayer offers hope and encouragement, it offers strength and solidarity, and it is also a powerful call to action.
This September, Pacific Islanders joined across the region through prayer, and came together to make this movement more powerful. All across the Pacific, a diverse range of faith-based communities turned to prayer to stand their ground and set their boundaries.
In Samoa, a children’s Sunday School group used their time together to pray for those on the front lines of climate change. Young women of the Young Women’s Christian Association gathered to talk about how climate impacts young girls and women, and the role of women in building the climate movement. Youth members of the Baha’i faith in Apia, organised an evening to discuss the power of prayer and the impacts of climate change on their island home.
In the Solomon Islands, 350 Solomon’s worked with over thirty church youth groups to organise a combined youth service. They also organised a national broadcast of the #PrayForOurPacific event at the Wesley United Church in Honiara.
Beyond the Pacific Islands, Friends of the Earth, Rize for West Papua, Fossil Free UQ, Brisbane Solidarity Group, 350 Australia, as well as members of the Brisbane community formed a prayer circle at the Picnic Island Green in South Bank.
We are confident that, in order to win this fight against climate change, the Pacific region must stand together in camaraderie. We are also confident that when we pray together, stand our ground together and set our boundaries collectively, we send a clear message:“We are not drowning, we are fighting!”