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Author: UnitingWorld

The United Church in Solomon Islands (UCSI) released the below statement on COVID-19 vaccinations recently. We were encouraged by the faithfulness and wisdom shown by the UCSI leadership to guide people past fear and misinformation. Many more partners across the Pacific, Asia and Africa have been supporting national vaccine rollouts by asking their leaders to set an example and urging every eligible person to get vaccinated.

 

The Stand of the United Church in Solomon Islands on COVID19 Vaccination

The United Church in Solomon Islands has always taken a very positive and supportive stance of the view, policy and strategic actions of the present government regarding COVID19. When COVID19 became a global pandemic, and from the time the government declared a State of Emergency, the UCSI has been proactive and active in its advocacy and educational awareness efforts, utilising the wide reach of its presence and network. While church members were asked to pray fervently for God’s protection, they were also encouraged to listen to and obey instructions from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. The UCSI recognises the reality that COVID19 has crossed into our borders, and affirms the fact that all Solomon Islanders and expatriates who reside/work in our country are vulnerable.

“The United Church in Solomon Islands holds firmly to the truth that grounded faith and sound medical-scientific advice are not enemies!”

The United Church in Solomon Islands holds firmly to the truth that grounded faith and sound medical-scientific advice are not enemies! They are companions on the journey of and toward wellness and wholeness. The church believes that wisdom and knowledge are from God, including medical-scientifc discoveries and breakthroughs. In this light researches into, discoveries and development of COVID19 vaccines are manifestations of such knowledge and wisdom. They are answers to the prayers of all God’s people. Life is God’s gift, and all that affirms, saves, protects, nurtures and advances this one life is within God’s vision for life to thrive on Earth. Contrary to the many negatives that people say, vaccines – including COVID19 vaccines – are life forces within the vastness and depth of God’s immeasurable loving kindness and generosity, which science continues to tap and harness for the wellness and furtherance of human life.

Faith is vital to Christian life and living. Yet, without appropriate action, faith means nothing – it is dead! COVID19 is more a medical infliction than a crisis of faith! COVID19 is not about choosing between faith or taking the shot! It is about both faith and taking the vaccine shot! Taking the vaccine shot validates and actualises faith during these COVID19 times. Leaders of the UCSI who serve at the church headquarters have all been fully vaccinated. Many other church leaders and members have also received their two vaccine shots.

“Taking the vaccine shot is a duty of love for neighbour”

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is a Christian imperative! In COVID19 times, “your neighbour” includes infants and children and youths who are under 18 years old and, therefore, not eligible for the vaccine shot! Taking the vaccine shot is a duty of love for neighbour! “Do no harm. Do the right thing. Do the good thing.” Obviously, these are ethical wisdom from our cultural and traditional moorings. These are also ethical principles from our Christian heritage. Taking the vaccine shot is the best and wisest ethical choice anyone can make during COVID19 times. Emmanuel means “God with us”. This “God with us” is best told and seen when we demonstrate God’s protective, saving and healing presence to our families and communities by doing the right and good thing that does no harm to them – that is, by getting the COVID19 vaccine today!

-United Church in Solomon Islands
Assembly Office

Read the original press statement (PDF)

 

Photo: Reverend Dr. Cliff Bird, Adviser, United Church in Solomon Islands.
Credit: Natasha Holland

A Home for All – Renewing the Oikos of God

The Pacific Conference of Churches has invited members to celebrate the Season of Creation (1 Sept to 4 Oct 2021) by reflecting on our place in the oikos (home/household) of God and what it means to renew our relationship to a creation under threat.

The oikos is a home for all but it is now in danger because of greed, exploitation, disrespect, disconnection and systematic degradation. The whole creation is still crying out. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution the geography where we recognize God’s creative power has continued to shrink. Today only scraps of the human consciousness recognize God acting to restore and heal the Earth. We have forgotten that we live in the household of God, the oikos, the Beloved Community. Our fundamental interconnectedness has been at best forgotten, at worst deliberately denied.

It is our hope and prayer that we can become again this beloved community of intentional discipleship. We hope to move beyond the programmatic and didactic aspects of life to the prophetic and spiritual life to the action and way of life, which is shaped by Jesus.

May we be the champions to renew life, the servant leaders of all life in the Beloved Community, the oikos of God.

(Taken from the introduction to the Celebration Guide)

The PCC’s Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice team has provided a liturgy, activities and Sunday School Bible Studies to guide congregations through the season:

We encourage you to use the resources and journey with our Pacific friends and partners through the Season of Creation.

Thank you to the Pacific Conference of Churches and the Ecological Stewardship and Climate Justice team for sharing these valuable resources.

 

Header photo: A sunset in the Solomon Islands by Alexander Baker

Even before she was conceived, Mery Kolimon had a calling.

Her parents, Timorese nationals from one of Indonesia’s most beautiful archipelagos, dedicated their first child to God’s work even before Mery’s mother fell pregnant. It was a promise with a profound impact.

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon is now the first woman to become Moderator of our partner church in West Timor, the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor (GMIT). Under her leadership, GMIT is deeply committed to helping transform every aspect of the society it serves.

“I’m glad that my parents promised me to the Church and to the world,” Rev Mery says, via a Zoom call squeezed in between many others. She is recovering personally from COVID-19 and leading a team responding not only to the pandemic, but to the worst cyclone in West Timor’s history.

“I believe the role of the Church is to be actively immersed in every part of our society- the economy, environment, socially, politically and spiritually.

It’s not enough for us to teach or proclaim the Good News. We must work hard to become it for those around us.”

It’s an absolutely no holds barred approach to the meaning of faith, refreshingly clear about the role of the Christian church. In a country where COVID-19 is decimating the population and the economy, and where poverty has always stalked families and hollowed out dreams, Rev Mery’s vision of the good news leaves no room for debates between word and deed.

“We are here to strengthen people’s faith and spirituality, but we can’t be only busy with ourselves,” Rev Mery says. “Malnutrition, human trafficking, poverty, disaster – how is the Church the good news in all of this?”

A church relevant to its people

GMIT is right where its community needs it most. They offer prayer, trauma counselling and activities to engage children who lost everything in the recent cyclone.

Their preaching focusses on finding God in suffering, care for creation and environmental stewardship.

They help re-train those who are in desperate need of income, offering small business start up loans and education on everything from livestock breeding to marketing.

They’ve been actively assessing disaster-struck regions to support government efforts to provide help, and on the ground providing their own resources like solar lamps, food, clean water, school uniforms and building material. And they’ve been in touch with other partners in the region to find out how to build back better.

In other words, they’re a people with an impact upon every aspect of life. Their ministry really matters.

Unique perspectives

As the first woman to become Moderator of her church, Rev Mery is often asked what she wants her legacy to be. GMIT has a long history of women’s engagement in ministry, with ordination of women beginning in 1959. But what would a church led by a woman in the top job look like, she’s asked?

“I don’t know if its about gender as much as it is about power,” Mery responds. “I see my role as being about empowering others, about how power is managed especially for those who have the least. This has always been the way of Jesus – standing with those who are poor, bringing liberation to those with heavy burdens.”

Each year, GMIT chooses a passage of scripture to guide its ministry for the next twelve months.  This year, Rev Mery says, Ezekiel 37:10 has provided the vision the Church needs.

“God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy that the dry bones in the valley would come back to life,” she says.

“That’s our role – to breathe life back into that which seems dry and hopeless. We are building something new for the child who dreams of going to school and can’t afford the fees… for the family looking for hope… for the earth itself as we look for ecological renewal.”

Rev Mery and GMIT stand among so many of our partners who share similar holistic, inspiring approaches to their life together. This month, we’re highlighting their work and hope you’ll join us in prayer and giving as we live the gospel among our global neighbours.

Donate here to support our partners like Rev Mery and the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor

The developments in Afghanistan have been heartbreaking.

It’s easy to feel helpless, but there are actions we can take.

As the Taliban entrench their hold on the nation, tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and face an uncertain future.

Despite an outpouring of public support for the plight of people who need to flee Afghanistan, the Australian Government’s position has not changed from its initial commitment of providing 3,000 refugee spaces from within Australia’s existing humanitarian program.

The situation changes daily, but together we have a chance to act now and help people get support and safety.

As people of faith, prayer is our first and last action. But there’s more we must do.

Here’s three actions you can take to help:

1. Join Christians United for Afghanistan

Add your voice and call on the Australian Government to welcome a special intake of an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees, and to support the ongoing wellbeing of Afghan refugees through greater humanitarian aid. The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly has endorsed and signed. Click here to add your voice.

 

2. Donate to help provide food, shelter and safety to people who need it

Your donation will support churches working together through the ACT Alliance to assist about 50,000 uprooted families in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The priority for support will be food, shelter, household items and health care supplies. Click here to donate now.

 

3.  Write to your Member of Parliament

Whenever we speak to MPs about the value of Australian Aid to help end extreme poverty or Australia’s leadership role in humanitarian crises, they often tell us that they rarely hear it from their constituents (and that they need to). Your voice matters.

Here’s a template you can use to draft a letter to your federal MP (we encourage you to edit and make your own). You can find the contact details of your MP on the Parliament of Australia website here.

50 church leaders co-signed a letter to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke advocating for more action on Afghanistan. Click here to read full letter.

The 16th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia approved the appointment of Lin Hatfield Dodds as Chair of the UnitingWorld Board in July 2021.

Lin Hatfield Dodds (pictured centre) brings a wealth of expert knowledge and experience to the Chair of the UnitingWorld Board.

An active member of the Uniting Church from early life, she completed a master’s degree in counselling psychology and worked in the areas of drug rehabilitation, trauma, and abuse.

After working in government and the community sector, she was appointed National Director of UnitingCare Australia from 2002-2016.

She’s held senior leadership positions including Deputy Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Associate Dean in the Australian and New Zealand School of Government, Chair of the Australian Social Inclusion Board, Chair of The Australia Institute, and President of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Lin is a member of the Australia Institute of Company Directors, was ACT Australian of the Year in 2008, received a Churchill Fellowship in 2004, and was awarded a Chief Minister’s International Women’s Day Award in 2002. Lin also serves on the board of Better Evaluation and mentors emerging women leaders.

Lin has been CEO of the Benevolent Society since July 2021 and has served on the UnitingWorld Board since 2019.

We’re thrilled to have you Lin! We look forward to working with you for a world free from poverty and injustice.

As we came to end of the 2019-2021 triennium, UnitingWorld celebrated some significant milestones that required visionary leadership from our Board.

The journey of the past three years has seen UnitingWorld restructure the teams to merge two business units (Relief & Development and Church Connections), integrate finances into a single set of books, unify under a single Mandate and a single Board, with DFAT accreditation across the whole agency rather than one unit.

In 2020, UnitingWorld completed the final stage of this transformational journey, winning the support of the Assembly Standing Committee and successfully registering with the Australian Charities and Non-Profits Commission (ACNC) with our own ABN as a Public Benevolent Institution.

We wanted to acknowledge the excellent work of Dr Andrew Glenn, the retiring Board Chair and the significant contributions of members of the Board during a transformational period.

Andrew Glenn (BSC Hons, D Phil, FAICD)

Andrew’s engagement with UnitingWorld has spanned nine years. As Chair, Andrew has spearheaded the recruitment and induction of new Board members, as well as playing an active role in both Board committees.

In the Board room, Andrew has brought structure and discipline to proceedings, championing the use of the consensus process; encouraged robust debate, never shirking complex challenges; and fostering a generous and inclusive culture where all participants felt welcome and safe to make their contributions.

Andrew’s contributions to UnitingWorld outside the boardroom have been as significant as those inside.

He has been a tireless advocate for UnitingWorld within the polity of the church, leading our engagement with the Assembly Standing Committee, the Assembly Finance, Audit and Risk Committee and the Assembly Investments Advisory Committee. It is a tribute to Andrew’s leadership and vision that UnitingWorld’s relationships with these councils have been both productive and supportive.

His warm pastoral concern for the staff of UnitingWorld has made him well-loved by the team, as has his generosity with his time and expertise. He will be sorely missed.

During his tenure, Andrew has undertaken several additional projects for UnitingWorld above and beyond his role as Chair. He has played a key role in maintaining our quality systems by regularly auditing our compliance with policies and procedures, and once travelled to Papua New Guinea to conduct a hugely successful workshop on the ‘Theology of Good Governance’ with our partners the United Church of PNG.

David Hodges, Tina Rendell-Thornton, Margaret Watt and Paul Swadling.

This past year also marks the conclusion of service for several other Board members who had served their full nine years on the Board.

David Hodges has been an able Chair of the Finance Audit and Review Committee and a thorough and engaged member of the Board.

Margaret Watt stepped down in early 2020 as Chair of the International Programs Committee, but continued to serve on the committee and has been a strong advocate for our partners.

Paul Swadling also finished his service in mid-2020, having thoughtfully contributed to the Church Connections National Committee, and then as Deputy Board Chair of the Board.

Tina Rendell-Thornton served as Chair of the Governance and Compliance Committee of the previous Relief & Development National Committee.

The loss of David’s legal acumen and eye for detail, Margaret’s expertise in international development and government relations, Paul’s understanding of the UCA and fundraising and Tina’s incisive analysis and knowledge of cross-cultural engagement will be deeply felt by the Board.

Above all, their passion and commitment to the work of UnitingWorld, their love for our global church partners and the generosity of spirit and service they brought to us will be profoundly missed.

UnitingWorld has been extraordinarily fortunate to have the commitment, energy and wisdom of the members of the Board.

We honour and give thanks for the contributions during the last triennium of all the Board members spread across the nation, listed here in alphabetical order:

James Batley, Lin Hatfield Dodds (incoming Chair), Andrew Glenn (retiring Chair), David Hodges (retiring), Ashleigh Johnston, John Manning, Renee O’Shanassy, Tina Rendell-Thornton (retiring), Paul Swadling (retired), Warren Tapp and Margaret Watt (retired).

We are also grateful to those who served on Board subcommittees, including Carolin Leeshaa, Kylie Schmidt and Nacanieli Speigth.

They have all overseen a period of significant change and shown discernment on the issues, significant wisdom and great good will. We have been fortunate to have their commitment and assistance.

Thank you so much for your valuable service.

The UnitingWorld Team

The fight to free slaves, incredibly, has a history that stretches back to at least 6ooBCE. But for all the fantastic advances, we still have a long way to go. In 2018, there were 50,000 reported victims of human trafficking from 158 countries. Many, many thousands more cases go un-documented.

Whenever a crisis hits, human traffickers seize the day, and COVID-19 has provided ample cover for exploitation. In Zimbabwe, it’s not uncommon for women and girls to be moved out of the country and trafficked into domestic servitude or sexual exploitation; men and boys, too, are lured far from home to toil in unpaid heavy labour. Children as young as nine-years-old work as nannies, housemaids, and gardeners in urban areas and mining communities; some employers forcing the children to work by withholding wages, denying them access to school, and subjecting them to gender-based violence.

UnitingWorld’s partner the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe is determined to help people recognise and fight the threat. Beginning with their own leadership and then moving to congregations, they’re training people to understand what trafficking looks like in their own communities, where to get help and how to report it. They also work to help communities stand up strong, providing opportunities to generate a living locally and keep their kids in schools close by.

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals include goals and targets on trafficking in persons. These goals call for an end to human trafficking and all forms of  exploitation and violence against women, children and men.

In 2021-22, the Methodist Development and Relief Agency (MeDRA) and the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe (MCZ) will continue to address human trafficking in Zimbabwe as part of the Safety and Inclusion (Leadership) Project supported by UnitingWorld. Over the next year MeDRA and the MCZ plan to achieve the following:

  • Church wide inclusion, safeguarding and gender officer appointed
  • 50 church leaders and 273 ministers trained on Safeguarding, Disability Inclusion, Human Trafficking, including topics and policies
  • New policies and training manual on Safeguarding, Disability Inclusion and Human Trafficking translated to local languages and printed.
  • 422 church representatives receive training manual on Safeguarding, Disability Inclusion and Human Trafficking
  • IEC materials and bulk messaging on Safeguarding, Disability Inclusion, Human Trafficking, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management distributed among church leaders, ministers and communities (including videos of church leaders promoting the message to be circulated via Facebook or Whatsapp)
  • Continued collaboration between the MCZ and other Wesleyan Church Anti Trafficking Taskforce members

Your gifts help our partners MCZ to do this critical work safeguarding people and communities. Thank you so much for your support!

 

Photos:

  1. Header: Boys from a rural community in Gokwe, Zimbabwe taking a look at one of MeDRA’s posters about human trafficking. Photo credit: MeDRA
  2. In-text: Another poster produced by MeDRA to help raise awareness of human trafficking in rural communities. Photo credit: MeDRA

Are you angry during the pandemic? How do you make peace with anger?

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon is Moderator of GMIT, our partner Church in West Timor, Indonesia. Throughout the pandemic, she has shown leadership in public health and coordinated the emergency relief program after the devastation of Cylone Seroja.  I encourage you to read Rev Dr Kolimon’s full reflection below, a truly insightful exploration of God’s presence in the midst of our suffering. I believe the ‘theology of the body’ she articulates is deeply inspirational for Uniting Church members, particularly those living in regions under lockdown.

-Rev Dr Ji Zhang, Uniting Church in Australia Assembly Theologian-in-Residence

At the end of June 2021, my husband began to feel unwell: colds, coughs, weak body, loss of taste. At that time Kupang was windy and the weather was unstable: sometimes hot, sometimes cold. So my husband thought it must have been a cold caused by tiredness from his schedule of long meetings.

I had previously reminded him: “Work should not be too late, too long or too often. It’s a pandemic. Masks should be replaced frequently. If you go home, change your clothes immediately.”

By the end of that week my daughter rang when I was in the office to say she also felt unwell, and I hurriedly finished my meeting and rushed home.

While my husband was still reluctant to test for Covid-19, believing it just to be a cold, I insisted that we were swabbed and we soon found out that our entire family was positive.  Our nephew, Efi, tested negative – Praise God! As long as we were sick he was able to take care of us.

Making peace with sadness and anger

When I found out the result, I felt angry. Why had we not been more careful? Our kids have been learning from home for over a year, but as parents we were always at work, even though as a Synod we help educate others about how to be safe. Often we have adhered to health protocols. But there are times when we are off-guard, such as unmasking to take pictures and eating together in meetings. Everyone should be more vigilant.

It took me a few days to come to terms with the anger and sadness.

We both know we are lucky to have been vaccinated, because while there is still risk of infection, the impact is not as severe. The four of us did not have problems with breathing, something we’re very grateful for.

We also learned once again that the impact of Covid-19 is more pronounced for older people. My 17-year-old daughter lost her sense of smell and had difficulty eating, but it wasn’t as bad as for my husband and I, who had body pain for days. Alberd, 9 years old, had fever and vomiting, a loss of sense of taste for several days and a lack of appetite. Alberd’s spirits stayed high though and he was a great comfort to us.

The Light of God’s Love

On the third day after being declared positive, our situation was quite severe. Our whole bodies hurt, we couldn’t drink or eat; we had fever, nausea, scalp pain. As a Mama, I had difficulty taking care of the family or paying attention to church affairs. I was worried about many post-Cyclone Seroja agendas in GMIT that needed to be taken care of and plans with ecumenical partners and congregations on various islands.

I almost cried in bed. My God, why am I having this experience?

I thought about what might happen if I couldn’t get through this Covid – my mind was everywhere as I imagined how things would be with GMIT. Within our five Daily Synod Assemblies, three people were also infected at the same time as me; all have now improved.

When it all felt very heavy, I told my daughter who was also having difficulty eating:

“Our Covid situation is like walking into a dark alley without knowing if we will ever get out of that dark alley safely. Although it is very dark, one day we will see light at the end of the hallway, as long as we believe that there is light at the end of that dark passageway. Come on, keep eating.”

She replied: “Mama’s dark hallway analogy is horrifying but true.””

We experienced the light of God’s love in many ways: people came to give care and support; some sent Bible verses and messages; my sisters at SoE sent the medicines we needed; others sent herbal remedies; Oepoi Health Center always contacted us to ask about our situation; the Governor of NTT called and sent Chinese medicine; Tanta Yo from the Synod Office guest house cooked for us for a week. There was a friend who sent Timor Island’s best honey; there was a friend who transferred money and said don’t get dizzy with the thought of medical expenses. Fruits and vegetables flowed from all directions.

We really experienced in these dark times the light and warmth of love – even while we struggled with nausea, fever and night sleep disorders, every day we experienced God loving us. Thank you to all who shared the light with us when the night was so intense and we lived as though in a great storm.

What sin?

A question asked by a group of GBI pastors arose: “Are we affected by Covid-19 because we have betrayed the Lord Jesus like Judas Iscariot?”

This way of thinking is very closely related to the understanding of the relationship of disease and curses in our culture. For example, among West Timorese there is a naketi concept. A person can be afflicted by adversity such as illness because there are certain sins or mistakes.  Sin is seen as so powerful that it can jump across generations. Children and even grandchildren a few generations later can get sick because of the sins of their ancestors. To be healed, it is necessary to confess sin.

I myself struggled with the same question as I lay in bed: “What sin have I and my family committed?”

I reflected that perhaps we did not do enough to wear the masks correctly and keep a distance. I also prayed that if something was wrong, the Holy Ghost would rebuke us so that we realized it, opening our hearts to understand His will through the pain we experienced.

But I could not accept the idea that we were so sinful that we were punished with Covid.

I wrote to a fellow pastor who had shared his concern:

“Reverend, test all voices … I remain a believer in all seasons of life, and God’s faithful love is eternal. He allows us, His servant ministers, to experience this like any other person, that we may also experience the deification of the world today and find that even in the valley of darkness, God has not forsaken His creation.”

Shepherd Infected with Covid-19

In 2015 I was elected chairperson of the Synod. I remember one of the intercessory prayers when I was elected was that I would not be sick for four years while I led the church. I wanted to always look good, healthy, and happy, and refused to allow myself to be sick. I promised to live a healthy life with a good diet, rest, exercise, and management of my mental health.

But early in 2019, due to exhaustion, I suddenly got sick quite seriously.

I told my husband one morning: “Yustus, I can’t lift my legs. Help me.”

Friends who came to visit me advised me: “Mery, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick. The body needs rest too.”

In the second period of my shepherding ministry now, I have come to terms with my body more, to embrace fatigue, rest, and pain.

When I was infected with Covid, I learnt to better understand the deepest fears, anxieties, and worries of those who are sick. I was infected in the second wave in Indonesia, when every day there was news that 20,000 to 30,000 Indonesians were infected and more than a thousand people died because of Covid.

Every morning from the bedroom when we woke up, we heard birdsong from our beautiful courtyard, but also sirens roaring in a hurry to deliver the bodies to the cemetery. A shepherd who suffers herself is allowed understand mankind’s deepest fears in front of menacing diseases, and learn to say the most honest prayers to God during threat of sickness and death. But if she is sensitive, she can also see and follow God’s unceasing care. Birds singing, brothers caring, comrades supporting. Life isn’t just about crying and anxiety. In life there is also friendship, love, and genuine care.

As theologians, we often preach too quickly about certain circumstances. We want to directly write and connect Covid with bible verses so that we are able to lecture others. The experience of having Covid helped me not to rush to jump to certain theological conclusions.

Instead, in suffering:

Listen to your body language. Feel the heart. Listen to your own feelings and anxieties. Listen to your deepest hopes and longing. Talk to God honestly and listen to what God is saying. Start theology from there. Connect the experiences of suffering, anxiety, hope, and longing with the struggles of the faithful in biblical times. Learn the deepest struggles of today’s people, and see what can be learned as the gospel message for mankind’s struggles today.

Body Theology

A female pastor friend who served in one of the church denominations in Kupang City, wrote to me thus: “Mama, I am still struggling with the issue of concentration. Although it has been 2 months since my COVID illness, assignments from the campus are abandoned. Although I still can write, it is at a creeping speed… According to some friends who are over 50 years old, COVID weakens the life spirit, and we become apathetic.”

I wondered whether a lot of people have experienced something like that? This is interesting to study and reflect upon theologically.

Our family does not yet know what the full impact of Covid will be: are our lungs going to be okay? What about our stomachs, our hearts, and our brains? How does Covid impact people long term?

This disease helps us to be more sensitive to the body as God’s noble and fragile work. Our bodies are glorious because they were created by God Himself in His image and likeness, and because man has fallen into sin. The realization of God’s redemption encourages us to hold our bodies accountable because the body is the fruit of God’s glorious work. The invaded body must be loved and cared for as a form of involvement in Christ’s work of redemption and restoration. The invaded body should not be forced to work beyond its means.

The virus may go after a certain time, but its traces will remain to teach mankind valuable life lessons to care for God’s created body and honor His given life.  One of the theological agendas as a survivor of Covid is the journey towards self, to seriously care for and appreciate the body, soul, and spirit.

Being infected with Covid helped me to reflect more on body theology. The human body and life are theological sites. The body is where we meet God. The body comes from the ground and God has touched it to bring it to life: moving, walking, jumping, full of joy. There is also a time when the body is sick and sad. Because the body was created by God, we can meet God there, in all experiences of the body: sad, happy, sick, healthy. The body reveals something about the work of the glorious God. But the body is also limited. There’s a time when the body no longer exists. As long as the body is still there, I exist. When the body stops working, I am no longer in the world. Body theology helps us to honor and care for the body with gratitude to God who created it, until it is time for the body to return to the ground.

 

The Language of Faith in Times of Crisis

There is something interesting in my experience of spirituality in this time of crisis. I was raised as a child speaking two languages: Indonesian and Meto-Timorese. In childhood when we started attending school in the interior, our teachers used two languages for children who could not speak Indonesian. Everyday we learnt more of the regional language. For the sake of study, I also learned English and Dutch so that now I speak four languages: Indonesian, Meto, English, and Dutch.

In my deepest times of fear and anxiety, I prayed in Timorese. When I prayed in that mother tongue, I was able to express my deepest feelings. Sometimes I feel angry at myself for not being able to find a word in the language of the area for what I want to express. Now I am more fluent in Indonesian than the local language. But I really felt the depth of the experience with God in my mother tongue.

In that language I told God about my worries, about my family, the impact of this disease on my ministry, and my anxiety over all human civilization. Sometimes when praying during times of crisis using Indonesian or other languages, I wonder if maybe what I express is superficial. But when I pray in the language of the region, there are very deep things that are revealed to the Lord and to myself. The prayer became very personal between God and me.

I think this may be related to the experience of faith that shaped me. I grew up knowing God in a believing community in West Timor. My father, who was from Alor Island, married my mother, a West Timorese woman, and they worked in Timor until the end of their lives. I grew up as a child learning to know God, the Word, and his works in a strong community nurturing the culture and language of the region in that environment. I am reminded of the strong faith of my mother and grandmother formed by Timorese culture, the late Elder Banunaek of Oetoli in the Western Oinlasi Church who prayed for us when we were sick, or celebrated with us in the depths of the language of poetry. It was all absorbed into my heart. When I struggle with the deepest things, it’s this language that expresses all longing, hope, and anxiety.

Embracing Uncertainty, Learning to Know Boundaries

I no longer have a definite list of activities and a series of trips arranged in order and detail. My suitcases remain untouched, and now all of humanity finds itself experiencing uncertainty. There’s no plan that’s currently workable. People again study the Bible counsel: “For my design is not your plan” (Isaiah 55:8a).

Since the Enlightenment era, people have felt they can do anything. Mankind has thought with his brain that he knows all things and conquer all things in the universe: “I think, then I exist.” Human reason is considered very powerful.

But the Covid pandemic at the beginning of the third decade of this century is teaching us that humans and their abilities are limited. Even a virus so small and invisible to the eye can make an entire human civilization chaotic. Man is not omnipotent. Science and technology are important and very helpful. But human intelligence and technology must not make man act arbitrarily over the life of God’s creation.

I think Covid also teaches us humans to take a break from our ambitions and busyness. We’re stuck in an age where everything we do is rushed. Waking up early, our agenda is long and our plans are layered: after this we will continue with something else. Even before we finish one thing, the other is waiting. We force our bodies, souls, and spirits to keep running without adequate rest periods.

Covid interrupts our busy life. Covid invites us to pause: to take time for the body, for the soul and mentally, for the family, for the Lord, to rest. This disease gives us the opportunity to truly take shelter, submit to God, and submit our life plans to His sovereignty.

Ecological Repentance

For almost two years the earth has been left helpless. Perhaps it is rebuking us harshly and giving us a hard lesson?

As Thomas L. Friedman said in an opinion piece in the New York Times,May 30, 2020: “These past few weeks we have learned… our earth is fragile… Our pandemic today is no longer just a biological pandemic, but also a geopolitical, financial, and environmental pandemic.”

Without a radical change in our consciousness and attitude toward Mother Earth, we will experience even greater consequences than what we are feeling today.

The economic system of capitalism makes people compete for profit and accumulate capital. For financial gain, nature is mercilessly plundered. The rich get richer, the poor and nature is exploited. The uncontrollable virus is now alerting us to a disturbed balance of nature.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake up call moment for all human beings. All of us —governments, communities, businesspeople, politicians, anyone—should interpret it as an opportunity to come back to peace with the earth. We are in need of mass repentance for ecological justice. We must stop carrying out development that is solely oriented towards financial gain. Instead we need to commit together to a development oriented towards the sustainability of life.

Claiming Divine Power

Where is God when the whole world struggles with suffering? Does God care about the tears and suffering of the sick or the family’s hope for their brother’s recovery? Where is God when we fight to maintain the lives of our families who are infected by Covid-19? For the healed there is praise to the Lord, but what about those who die? Is God with those who died because of Covid-19? Are the dead unloved by God?

This pandemic invites the church into the midst of the struggle of human suffering. In this great pain, we are challenged to put our ears and hearts on, hear and feel the screams and moans of pain, and the lamentations of life. This pandemic is calling us to see the fragility and dryness of human life.

It is in this context that this year’s GMIT Synod Assembly developed our ministry theme for 2021 from Ezekiel 37:14. Ezekiel was called to be a prophet at exactly the most precarious moment in the history of the Israelic covenant: the destruction of Israel by Babylonia. In the vision in chapter 37, Ezekiel is taken into a valley full of bones. Like Ezekiel, we are not led to avoid disaster, but rather to stand up and acknowledge the existence of it. The Covid-19 pandemic is real, not a conspiracy of certain parties to seek self-and group advantage.

Moreover God gave Ezekiel the task of prophesying to the bones to live again. He was told to prophesy tothe ruakh/spirit of life to enter the bones in the valley. The Spirit is called from the four corners of the earth. Learning from Ezekiel, the church during this pandemic is tasked with voicing God’s intent for the world in disaster.

In human suffering, God does not leave us. The Spirit of Life is with His creation, the Spirit of God gives life and moves the bones that are already very dry (and there is no more life). Just as the work of the Holy Spirit blew when man was created (Gen. 2:7), God continues to work to give life to man. To His frightened and hiding disciples, Jesus was present and breathed His Spirit upon them, restoring them from worry, panic, and fear (Jn. 20:22).  He calls us to repentance, learns from the sufferings of life for the restoration of relations with God, with fellow human beings, and with all creation. He heals us from the worries and anxieties of life.

Where is God in this pandemic? God is in human suffering.

He is in solidarity with those who are terrified in isolation rooms. He hugs the families who have lost their loved ones. God is pleased to use those who care for others as His co-workers for the ministry of salvation.

The message of the book of Ezekiel to the churches this year is that just as God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet in the wasteland, so we must continue to prepare to be ministers of God in this difficult time. On the cross of Jesus, God Himself acted to restore man. He entered into the valley of death as His son gave his life. But no suffering is eternal. No disaster lasts forever. Death has been defeated. Jesus has risen from the dead. God reigns, God cares, God is with us. Although the way of the cross feels very difficult, we must endure to stand by Him, true in faith, hope, and love.

Covid is not just a story about human fragility. Covid also tells about the divine power of God that is conferred so that we hold the promise of hope that He is with us. Even for those who die with Covid, their body is again united with the ground, lying in the everlasting light of God, in the promise of the inclusion of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. ***

Rev Dr Mery Kolimon, Moderator, Evangelical Christian Church of Timor
Kupang, July 2021

P.S. Thanks to my husband and children as the first readers of this paper and for making corrections. A number of friends have read and given some important feedback. I am responsible for the content of this paper.

 

A prayer of the people of West Timor and Indonesia

By Rev Dr Apwee Ting, UCA Assembly National Consultant

Lord

I kneel before you

carrying an immeasurable burden

my body is very weak

my heart is bleeding

from Covid-19

 

I am no longer embracing the bravery

fragility is what I know

I’m not chasing eternity anymore

day by day is in my sight

 

Laughter and crying

joyfulness and suffering

inseparable

 

Lord

come in my dream

presence in my suffering

be real in my loneliness

 

God

is not there

is here

in the midst of pandemic

giving Indonesia

hope and healing

 

I am no longer afraid of

paralysis

vulnerability

death

because

God is walking with me

Restoration is with me

 

 

Doaku buat Indonesia

Tuhan

pada Mu kubersimpuh

membawa beban tak terkira

tubuh terkulai

batin terkapar

oleh Covid-19

 

Kini kusadar

bukan lagi kegagahan kurengkuh

kerapuhanlah yang kudekap

bukan lagi kekekalan kukejar

keseharianlah yang kutatap

 

Tawa dan tangis

senang dan susah

tak terpisahkan

 

Tuhan

hadir dalam mimpi ku

datang dalam derita ku

nyata dalam kesendirianku

 

Tuhan

tidak lagi disana

Tuhan disini

ditengah pandemi

memberi Indonesia

harapan dan kesembuhan

 

Kelumpuhan

kerantanan

kematian

tidak lagi menakutkan

karena

Tuhan berjalan bersama ku

pemulihan ada pada ku

 

 

“There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”

Christian leaders marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict (19 June) with a united message to churches in South Sudan. 

In a statement released last week, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) urged all churches across the country to include messages about the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in services being held over the weekend.

The prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence is a hidden crisis in South Sudan.

The UN Mission in South Sudan documented 193 cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 2020, affecting 142 women, 46 girls and five men. They estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented due to the fear and cultural stigma associated with it.

“The Church commends survivors – both men and women – for their strength in speaking up against sexual violence defying a culture of stigma and fears of retaliation,” read the statement. “There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”

“Acts such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage are crimes under South Sudanese laws and are inconsistent with teachings and principles of Christian faiths”.

“Everyone must uphold the sacredness of human life, the inherent dignity of every human being as well as their physical and mental integrity as reflected in the teachings and values of the Christian faith.”

Read the full statement here.

Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) is a member of the South Sudan Council of Churches. PCOSS Moderator Rev James Choul co-signed the statement. Both PCOSS and SSCC support the World Council of Churches #ThursdaysinBlack campaign to end rape and violence against women.

We had a fantastic night last night chatting by Zoom with our partners from DeafLink in Sri Lanka (a ministry of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka).

Reverend Gnanarajah shared with us his personal call to ministry alongside people with disabilities – his son was born deaf and this prompted him to consider the potential of people with disability in his broader community. He persuaded his church to employ him leading a team who create education, training and awareness for people with disability. Gnanarajah loves the work, regarding it as a real challenge and a call to serve among those who have enormous potential but very few opportunities.

Gnanarajah’s team took us inside a classroom on the East coast of Sri Lanka where some of the teaching staff and students shared with us the challenges and joys of working together. During lockdown, the staff have created workbooks and online resources for their students, and these materials are being shared by other schools with the support of the Government.

At the conclusion of the call, we asked Gnanarajah how we could support his team in prayer and our supporters online also asked the DeafLink team to pray for us here in Australia.

Please pray:

  1. For families who have more than one child at home with a disability. It’s very difficult for them during lockdowns to educate their children while also keeping food on the table.
  2. For the staff of DeafLink and the teachers who are training in inclusive education. Opportunities for children with disability to learn and earn are always very limited
  3. For the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka as people to travel to serve others in remote areas – taking food, health education resources and encouragement. COVID-19 has decimated the tourist economy and many are without work.

We asked our partners to pray for us:

  1. That Australian people might grow in compassion toward refugees and asylum seekers, especially those from Sri Lanka, and that our government might have a change of heart toward people like the Muragappen family.
  2. That Australian congregations would grow in generosity and awareness of the need of our partners and the value of standing in solidarity through prayer and giving
  3. That as individuals we might experience something of the conviction and call displayed by so many of our partners who serve in incredibly difficult places
  4. For all asylum seekers and people living far from home in Australia, including the South Sudanese community represented on the call by a number of young people and pastors in QLD.

Keen to donate to help keep this project, and the work of our partners across Asia, Africa and the Pacific, strong? Please give here:

http://www.unitingworld.org.au/joinhands