A huge thank you to everyone who has taken part in Lent Event and donated to projects that are helping our global neighbours stand strong against COVID-19. Over just the past few weeks, we’ve received $140,000, well on the way to our fundraising target of $330,000.
People like Wayan and his wife (above), who benefited from funding you’ve helped provide to our partners to supply goats and livelihood training, are desperately trying to avoid a return to the challenges they faced a few years ago.
“The food situation for my family is not too bad right now, but my wife has been sick for two weeks now and we have no money for the medicine,” Wayan told us.“14 people in my village area have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and we are really worried, not just because we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, but because we need to be able to keep working. Thank you for giving us a chance in the past, and my dream is that I will once again be able to earn a daily living and provide for my family.”
These are the people for whom your gifts continue to provide hope. Thank you so much! To make a donation, visit www.lentevent.com.au or call us on 1800 998 122.
Devastating flash floods and landslides have killed at least 113 people in Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Timor and Flores since the Easter weekend. Officials expect the death toll to rise as there are still dozens of people missing. Our partners are responding.
This GMIT church in Kupang is one of the many churches providing shelter for people impacted by the floods.
Across Timor-Leste and West Timor, home to some of the poorest communities in our region, storms and heavy rains sent torrents of water through towns and villages, turning streets into canals and destroying homes and businesses. 30,000 people have been affected and thousands are now taking refuge.
We are still gathering information, but our partners in Timor-Leste, IPTL, have reported being badly impacted. They are reeling from severe flooding and now facing the challenge of communities being cut off from food, water and electricity.
Our partners in West Timor, GMIT, have also been hit hard. Several people have died and a project we support on Rote Island has been devastated. Partner staff have flooded homes and their headquarters in Kupang is badly damaged (see header image). GMIT church buildings have been opened for use as emergency shelters (see image right).
This crisis, of course, is unfolding during a global pandemic among communities who were already highly vulnerable to it’s impacts. Thousands of people have had to access temporary refugee centres, where there is the danger of COVID-19 transmission and experts fear it could cause the number of cases in the region soaring.
Our partners in West Timor have asked for prayer:
Greetings from Us here in Kupang, we hope that everyone is fine in the midst of Covid-19 Pandemic.
In the joy of welcoming Easter 2021, we had to face The Seroja Tropical Cyclone which took place on April 5 at 11.00 WITA and ended on the 6th, at 9.30 AM. This storm is really a tough test for us in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic because it has brought the impact of hydrometeorological disasters ranging from heavy rain, flash floods, and strong winds. The areas affected by this disaster were the City of Kupang, Kupang Regency, TTS, Belu, the islands of Flores, Alor, Rote, Sabu and East Sumba.
The congregation who lives in the coastal areas and its surroundings have moved to GMIT churches because their houses were flooded/damaged by storms … the electricity went out since last night until now because the electricity cable was hit by a fallen tree, we do not have internet access except in certain places .. but Praise God that after the storm God gave us sunny weather so that the cleaning/evacuation process can run well today and the situation has started to be conducive, Thank GOD!
The recent number of victims due to the Seroja Tropical Cyclone reached 2,655 households due to damaged infrastructure, 68 people died, 15 people were injured, 70 people were missing (data as of today and will be updated).
We ask for your prayers and support so that we are strong and able to get through this situation, and can even support one another.
Once again Happy Easter, May God’s love surround us in any situation.
Help us support our partners in Timor-Leste and West Timor
We have launched an appeal to support the emergency relief work of our partners. Funds raised will help provide displaced and vulnerable people with immediate needs of food, shelter and health care. In the longer term, it will support rebuilding, rehabilitation and the re-establishment of people’s livelihoods. Your support will make a huge difference and will be a powerful gesture of solidarity with our close neighbours dealing with the double crisis of floods and COVID-19. Please give generously.
The West Papua Council of Churches (which includes our partner, GKI-TP) has sent a Pastoral Letter for Easter condemning the increasing militarisation of the Papuan provinces and ongoing human rights violations by security forces. The letter also highlights serious environmental and land rights concerns.
In response to these issues, Papuan church leaders have reiterated a long-standing call for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out an investigation into the human rights situation in West Papua, and for an independent third party to provide for the needs of people living in areas affected by recent military operations in the highlands.
The Papuan church leaders also call for “prayer and fasting support from people and church leaders in the Pacific.”
Easter Message from the Principal of the Pacific Theological College, Rev Dr Upolu Lumā Vaai
This time last year we sailed into the Easter week under a newly arrived phenomenon that amended significantly the texture of normal life for all of us, the Covid19 pandemic. Since then, our lives have been altered forever. As we draw closer to Easter, one year since the pandemic infiltrated our shores, we must thank God and be grateful. The spirit of gratitude must always precede the spirit of negation. The former Principal of the college, Rev Dr Sione ‘Amanaki Havea from Tonga, has reminded us in his theology of celebration that because the Pacific is founded on communal sharing, the idea of celebration underpins life. Every gift should be matched initially with celebration. The gift of life, community, and the Earth. To lose this gift of celebration is to lose the realization of being gifted.
As we sail into the Easter spirit this year, while we normally focus the faith spotlight on the death and the resurrection of our Lord as the main events, it is natural that what happened on Easter Saturday (other Christian traditions called it Bright Saturday) is dismissed. Throughout history questions have been raised: What really happened on Saturday? Was Jesus really in the tomb? Was he sleeping? Was he really dead? Whatever happened on that day, it is clear from the biblical storyline that Saturday is part of the salvation process that God intended through the life of Jesus Christ. Easter Saturday, just like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is not just one of the three days Jesus was dead and back to life again. Rather, personally, I would prefer to think of Saturday as symbolic of God’s time to expose our fragility and vulnerability. A time to remind us that God’s willingness, through Jesus, to be in the tomb is a divine resolve to be in deep solidarity with those still trapped in dark depressing tombs ― whom S.J. Samartha named in his poem “Saturday people”.
Squeezed between Good Friday and Easter
Ignored by preachers and painters and poets Saturday lies cold and dark and silent
An unbearable pause between death and life There are many Saturday people
To whom Easter does not come
There are no angels to roll the stones away
In the pre and post-Covid19 era, some people have moved on, resurrected from the torture and agonies imposed by uncontrollable forces such as pandemics and climate change. Some are still struggling, still carrying an unbearable cross in a never ending road to find one thing: Release! However some are still trapped in dark tombs, unable to see the dawn of the resurrection day, immersed in an unbearable pause between death and life, the now and the beyond, the here and the not yet, with no angels to assist to move them out of the tomb. Like some Israelites and prophets in the wilderness, they never get the chance to move into the promised-land. They dreamt of milk and honey but never tasted it.
Most Saturday people are not strangers to us. These are the people who are unable to press further, trapped in depressing tombs endorsed by rapacious systems designed to unroll tomb stones and eliminate hope for life in the beyond. There are children who never grow old because they die from the malnutrition and the scarcity of food and water due to unjust economic systems in many countries. In the midst of wars and crises refugees sail on crowded, poorly equipped dinghies ― never arriving on dry land to find the peaceful, normal place where they hope to raise their children. Climate displaced communities never have the chance to heal from climate induced disasters. Vulnerable women, men, and children never see another day, due to constant beating and to extreme family violence that is also systemic. Adults never see the success of their children because they suffer from non-communicable diseases due, not just to individual choices, but more to the breakdown of the national health and socio-economic system. Detainees and immigrants never see a courtroom to fight for justice as they seek a home away from their troubled and war torn homes. Students fail before even trying, never see their full potentiality because their cultural and distinctive worldviews are normally denied by the established education system. Covid19 victims never see their loved ones for the last time before they die, abandoned by a failed health system. Many indigenous peoples are pushed not just to a margin, but to a margin of margins by rich corporations who flourish by turning lands and oceans into crucified ecologies. Economic systems, assisted by political complicities, are designed to make people accept without question the modern human-made tombs such as poverty, slavery, and secularism, to name a few. These are Saturday people that require our attention as we move into the Holy Week.
This Easter, one year after the start of the Covid19 pandemic, we are invited to resituate and realign our mission strategies to target those who die outside the promised-land. Those who continue to carry crosses built by empires, trapped in crucified bodies. Who remain in depressing tombs not because they want to but because they’re forced to.
But in order to do this, the church needs to redeem itself first from the traditional priestly plinth that normally situates priesthood and Christianity as a heavenly elitist society. The church needs to resituate its story within the radical justice-oriented earthly mission of Jesus on behalf of the Saturday people: the poor, the orphan, the outcast, the marginalized. A church that disturbs and unsettles rapacious systems that are Babylonian in nature ― in order to set free the vulnerable bodies of women, sick people, marginalized communities, and tyrannized ecologies; that assists in “opening up graves” in order to “bring out the dead” who have been turned by war hawks into “dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:10-12), giving them fresh breath, growing sinews, flesh, and skin. Saturday people are normally those who never reach resurrection, who suffer and die with Jesus “outside the city gates” (Hebrew 13:13). We need a church that dares to upend the curse of these depressing tombs to invite the light of the hope of the resurrection to these people.
Resurrection should not be just a bygone phenomenon that vaguely affects our lives, that finds its cadence only in worship liturgies nor should be about a supernatural otherworldly escape. Rather it should be about being in the world to make a difference. As Anthony Kelly reminds us, “the effect of the resurrection is to see the world and to live in it otherwise”. In Luke’s gospel, after the resurrection, Jesus hit the road again, ate and broke bread with disciples. In John’s gospel, Jesus went back to cooking fish and feeding people on the beach. The “resurrection effect” starts with fresh empowerment to go back to deal with real stuffs, real people, real issues, and the real world. It draws its mana and strength from the resolve to enter the darkest experiences of victims for the sake of liberation. For God to be in the tomb changes the whole meaning of following the resurrected Christ. It involves empowerment to be part of the real struggle of real people to help dismantle the systems that prevent them from realizing the promise of an empty tomb.
Let us remember the many victims of Covid19 during this Holy Week. May this post-covid19 Easter set a new tone of response to the crucified Saturday people, and a resurrection-filled cadence to those still trapped in dark depressing tombs! Manuia le Eseta!
Upolu Lumā Vaai Pacific Theological College 29 March, 2021
As Easter approaches, we’re excited to let you know about a new initiative.
Beginning April 18, Seven Days of Solidarity is inspired by the work of our partner churches, celebrating where the risen Christ is at work changing lives.
Celebrating the good things God is doing seems important after a year of strain and struggle to adapt to a pandemic that is still the source of pain for millions of people. COVID-19 continues to make life so incredibly difficult for our partners, but through it all, God is faithful. Their incredible lives remind us that we’re surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who keep the faith, and giving up is not an option.
UnitingWorld holds these partnerships on behalf of the people of the Uniting Church, and we wanted to take the opportunity to share some of their stories and inspire you in faith and action.
In the weeks immediately after Easter, when we celebrate resurrection life and the birth of the Church, this is an opportunity to bear witness to where the risen Christ is at work. Join us to celebrate our partners, give thanks, and share resources to keep this mission alive.
Find everything you need to sign up your church for Seven Days of Solidarity at www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au You can order copies of the Seven Stories of Inspiration or download online, as well as access the videos and worship resources.
NOTE: You and your congregation can run Seven Days of Solidarity at any time during the year that suits you. Just register to get the resources, convince your friends and plan your event!
We hope you can join us for this exciting celebration of our partners and global neighbours.
The Australian Government has responded to the emergency with a plan to immediately send 8,000 COVID-19 vaccines to PNG alongside an Australian Medical Assistance Team. The aim is to protect front line health workers, but the long-term race to vaccinate people in the provinces faces severe challenges.
“In the Highlands there are strong beliefs about witchcraft and people have traditionally used poisoned arrows and foods against others, so people are very suspicious of anything that is injected into the body,” says Bena Seta, who manages the community services projects of UCPNG.
“A focus on the book of Revelation and the apocalypse complicate people’s understanding of the pandemic, and there is also just not a great deal of awareness about modern medicine or the use of vaccines in general.”
Rumours about the vaccine have been running rampant in PNG, with some members of parliament supporting the idea that they are unsafe.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) have recognised the critical importance of working in partnership with PNG churches, who have reach and influence in areas where the virus is growing unchecked.
“We have joined with other churches and are working urgently to talk with people about their fears and reassure them that the vaccine is safe,” Bena says. “We did the same with polio and measles vaccinations, and we had good success. We know how to make this work but we need the time and resources to do it.”
High rates of infection
Staggeringly high infection rates have been recorded. Of 91 people tested in a single day, 82 returned a positive test, leading Queensland to suspend flights to Cairns from Papua New Guinea. Movement in and out of communities in the mining industry could be driving the spike in infections, with workers transmitting not just within the country but also to North Queensland.
“We are not even sure how much community transmission there is because the rate of testing isn’t good,” says Bena, who waited five hours in a line for his test at the local hospital. “And isolating while you wait for a test result is very difficult for people in both the city and rural areas. What about work? What about food?”
UnitingWorld supports UCPNG to run a widespread behaviour change campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across communities in PNG
Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UnitingWorld donors, UnitingWorld’s partner UCPNG has been offering practical training to health workers, trying to increase the number of sanitation stations in schools and going village to village to encourage social distancing, hand washing and the wearing of masks.
“To be honest we are very fearful – we have seen what can happen in even affluent countries with this disease,” Bena says.
“If this really spreads to rural areas, where there is not much access to clean water or health workers, things will be very very difficult. We know we need to act very quickly here.”
How you can help
You can support our ongoing work with UCPNG to provide critical public health advocacy on COVID-19 and vaccines; as well as clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education and infrastructure in rural communities by making a donating today.
“Prayer is a vital discipline for me. It is talking to our father for wisdom and strength. It’s a place to take refuge.” -Pastor Dorothy Jimmy, Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, Vanuatu.
The World Day of Prayer is a global ecumenical movement led by Christian women who welcome you to join in prayer and action for peace and justice. It is run under the motto “Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action,” and is celebrated annually in over 170 countries on the first Friday in March. The movement aims to bring together people of various races, cultures and traditions in a yearly common Day of Prayer, as well as in closer fellowship, understanding and action throughout the year.
Here are three prayer requests from our partners in Vanuatu:
Pray for those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis
Cindy Vanuaroro, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union in Vanuatu and Chair of the World Day of Prayer Committee has asked the Australian Church to pray in solidarity with the people of Vanuatu struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic:
“While we are thankful for achieving zero cases of COVID-19 in Vanuatu, the economic impact of the pandemic has been huge here. Thousands of people have lost jobs in Vanuatu, particularly in the travel and tourism sectors. People are living day-to-day to provide for their families. I often see newly unemployed people are walking the streets not knowing what to do.”
Pray for women and men in Vanuatu working to end violence and build equality in their communities.
Cindy has also asked us to pray for the work of the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu to help people and communities understand God’s plan of equality between women and men.
Currently, 72% of women in Vanuatu will suffer violence at the hands of men in their lifetime (double the global average), so the work of the Church is critical in creating advocates for anti-violence and equality, using he Bible to speak powerfully to hearts and minds.
Here’s a great story of change showing their work in action:
Pray for the next generation in Vanuatu: the children of today and leaders of tomorrow
Pastor Dorothy Jimmy, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu Women’s Missionary Union asked us to pray with the PCV for wisdom in help guide their youth during so many modern social changes and uncertainties, and that they hold onto what is special and unique about their traditional cultures.
“I would like the church in Australia to pray for the church in Vanuatu as we lead our youth to uphold cultures and traditions that are important to us. The importance of family, social connectedness and all the things that unite us as a people. May we hold onto it and continue to pass it on to the next generations.”
Thank you for joining us in prayer in solidarity with our partners and neighbours in Vanuatu.
In so many places around the world, relationships between men and women can be a source of much pain, anger and suffering. Violence against women is distressingly widespread, not only in less developed nations but in our own communities. And attitudes are so deeply entrenched, in some places neither men nor women understand where their beliefs and actions come from, let alone how to change them.
In the Pacific, churches are starting with the heart, and their approach is proving incredibly successful.
Like most places in the Pacific, Vanuatu regards itself as a deeply Christian nation. The Bible is revered and on Sundays, large numbers of people attend worship. How is there such a disconnect between the love of God and record levels of gender based violence?
Pacific churches are realising how much change is needed to transform the relationship between women and men, and in partnership with UnitingWorld, are working on ways to make it happen.
The most effective tool by far?
The example and teaching of church leaders who have personally undergone huge shifts in how they understand the role of women and men. These men have the reach and influence to create change at local and national levels- and they’re up for the challenge.
Elder Jennery, pictured above with his wife Faina, is from Tanna, one of the southern islands of Vanuatu’s archipelago. People live in traditional ways and are proud of what it means to be ni-Vanuatu. Jennery took part in a Gender Equality Theology (GET) workshop back in February 2016, and his views and lifestyle were completely transformed as a result. You can hear him talk about the experience, alongside his wife, here.
“When I arrived home, I went straight to my wife and called her “Darling” and hugged her,” he relates. “She was confused because I never did this to her. I then apologised to her and told her about the GET workshop.”
So what’s a GET workshop, and does it produce more than affection for wives?
Elder Jennery and other workshop participants heard from the Scriptures that men and women are created equal in God’s sight.
They read passages that revealed Jesus’ love and inclusion of women, and heard about God’s desire that women and men work together, serving one another and the community in love.
For many men, this is completely eye opening information. The insights have never been presented in quite this way before – and certainly never really heard. The casual superiority of men, and their abuse of this power in the form of violence, was entirely debunked. There could be no justification of the treatment of women as possessions, or of the way they are systematically repressed within many Pacific cultures.
Elder Jennery took the new information to heart.
Keen that his wife understand the full extent of his transformation, he encouraged her to attend a five-day workshop, run by the Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union (PWMU), “so that she could develop her understanding and knowledge, and especially take a break from the housework.”
In response to her concerns that the housework would go untended and the children neglected if she were to attend, he made good on his new values.
“I told her that I would take care of the children, bought her a new dress and took out from my pocket 2,000 vatu for her needs,” Elder Jennery says.
“For the first time for both of us, we did something new. I took care of the children during the absence of my wife, did the cooking, washing of plate and clothes, preparing the children’s lunch box, and my wife left the housewife responsibilities and attended a workshop…
Friday, the end of the week, I was in the kitchen peeling the tapioca [root crop] when she came back from her five days’ workshop. She sat outside the kitchen and started to talk about her experience and what she had learned. She was so excited.”
For good reason. This is how change begins – in the hearts and lives of ordinary people.
Church communities are by no means exempt from the darker aspects of the patriarchal culture they’ve inherited. It’s commonplace for men to discipline their wives with violence of all forms. Women are mostly left in sole charge of household duties and care of their children, meaning they can’t work outside the home or create any economic independence.
Even a simple change in the way men and women relate will have far reaching consequences both now and for the next generation.
“My husband started to help me with the responsibilities at home and with the children and also looked after them when I went to work,” says Jennery’s wife, Faina. “After he did the training I realised he loves me and loves the children – that’s when I saw change.”
Confidence in the love of men for children, too, is critical. Children learn quickly from their parents and community what their culture permits and restricts – and violence has long been condoned.
In a study on Vanuatu by UNICEF in 2015, 17% of women who experienced violence from their partner said their children were beaten at the same time.
They reported that their children:
experience nightmares (16% increase)
display aggressive behaviour (19% increase)
need to repeat a year of school (12% increase)
drop out of school (14% increase).
Elder Jennery has become aware of these statistics and their implications for the future of his people.
“I really want my children to live this kind of life, with women and men equal,” he says. I want my children to follow a new path. We need more of this program, to help run more courses.”
For Elder Jennery, the commitment to a better way for his children has meant exerting his influence as a leader within his community. He travels with his wife more often and they share their educative work. One area of practical change has been in the way their community now involves women in decision making.
Women in Tanna have been traditionally excluded from a direct role in village decision-making through the ‘nakamal’ (meeting place). Every day at 4pm, all the men and boys have to be at the nakamal to have men’s talk. This exclusion is echoed in higher levels of leadership where Church, provincial and national governance structures remain male-dominated.
Due to the influence of Elder Jennery and others, men in his community now accept that women can take leadership roles and have the right to speak in a public place. Since 2018 they have ordained six women as Elders in his session.
Jennery also encouraged his wife to learn Bislama and go to a midwife workshop – she is now the village midwife and has helped reduce the number of maternal deaths and stillbirths in the area. More children are in school, too: both girls and boys.
The community has also seen a reduction in violence against women. Elder Jennery and others have continued to run GET workshops, and the outcomes have been significant.
“On the second day of the workshop I realised that I was abusing my wife and children,” one prominent village Elder admitted after he attended the training.
“My community know about me and knew that I am an Elder, but I am abusive. I have used knife, axe and physical force to abuse my wife, but this workshop helped me to realise that my actions are wrong and I would like to openly confess to my community that I will never again practice violence in my home. The GET workshop has helped me understand that we men and women are equal because we are created in the image of God and we must love and treat each other well.”
Perhaps most significantly, the change is being recognised as necessary not simply because some men behave badly, but because of deeply entrenched cultural attitudes that require an overhaul. Opening the Scriptures, and with them the hearts of both men and women, holds real potential to make it happen.
“I think we need to admit that this part of our culture is not in line with God’s word,” a significant village leader declared after attending the Gender Equality Theology workshop. “It is time for us to start to choose God’s way instead.”
This is the life changing, deeply transformative work that your gifts are helping to fund. Thank you!
We’ve just been in touch with our partners from the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and heard the very sad news that four ministers have died from COVID-19 in just a few short weeks.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing a second COVID-19 wave, with more cases in January than all of 2020 combined. Gathering for worship is currently suspended, which means congregations have no money to pay their staff or look after their members.
We’re using your gifts to respond immediately to these threats, as well as maintaining our funding for projects
Providing a small daily allowance to meet the critical needs of people without income who serve within the church
Providing personal protective equipment for people so they can continue to serve those in poverty
Helping ensure clean running water in our partner’s office so that leadership can stay safe to serve others.
Meanwhile, the longer term work of our partner MeDRA (Methodist Development and Relief Agency) is proving incredibly effective in shoring up people’s resilience during the pandemic.
We recently received this report from Mavis, describing the ways her training with MeDRA is relieving economic stress for her family.
My name is Mavis, I’m thirty-eight and a member of an Internal Savings and Lending (ISAL) group in a village in Gokwe South.
On a monthly basis, my group meets to assess our savings and share investment with each other, as we have been trained by MeDRA. As members we have been able to buy each other household utensils like pots, plates and cups, and at times we also share groceries.
With support from MeDRA, the group was advised to aim high and start investing money in more valuable assets. Equipped with the advice, the group changed its strategy in July 2020, and members were encouraged to invest in projects or buy high value assets that have good returns in the future.
When my turn came in the month of December, I received USD215 from the group. I had to consult my family on a project that would give us more benefit, while still being able to pay back the group loan.
As a family we settled for a broiler poultry project and with the loan from the group, I managed to start the project with seventy-five chicks. They matured into good broilers after six weeks and were bought like hot cakes. I am now doing a batch of 100 broilers per cycle.
The loan has helped to increase the family income and I can also pay back into the group loan. I sell at the local shopping centre to customers who come to the grinding mill or buy basic groceries at the shops. Access to the bigger Gokwe Town center has been limited by the lockdown regulations.
ISAL has opened doors for me to start a project on my own because my household income has been pushed to better levels. I get a lot of support from my family in looking after the broilers and collectively we participate in poultry management and the marketing of broilers. I get technical support from MeDRA and Agritex on how to look after the broilers.
Especially during this pandemic, I am so proud to be the owner of a project that is giving access to good income. I am no longer so worried about food security and school fees for my family, as my project can meet the expenses. For each batch of 100 broilers, I am managing to make a profit of USD 100. With proper guidance from the group and from MeDRA, I feel I can never go wrong in life. I look forward in expanding my enterprise by diversifying to other businesses like opening a Tuckshop that sells grocery items. Thank you for this opportunity!
For the leadership of the Church in Zimbabwe, especially for those who have lost family members
For people like Mavis, who show such great resilience and courage
For Zimbabwe’s leadership as they struggle to combat new lethal variants of COVID-19 and source vaccinations.
Image: Mavis with some of her chickens – earlier in the month there had been a flock of 400!
Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator of GMIT (the Christian Evangelical Church in Timor) writes about receiving the vaccine to inspire others, the role of the church and where she sees God at work during a disaster like COVID-19.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not intended as professional medical advice. Please talk to you doctor if you have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines.
A few weeks ago I was contacted by an official at the Nusa Tengara Timur Provincial Government Bureau to become one of the first public officials to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
I’d heard that President Jokowi had received the first vaccine, along with a number of public figures in Jakarta. I suspect that involving community leaders as recipients of the first vaccine is the government’s way of convincing the public to take part. Many of them are still caught up in the pros and cons of receiving vaccines.
We have a role to play helping overcome the doubts that still exist in the community about vaccines. I didn’t believe the government would offer a vaccine that might harm its people. But I didn’t want to just believe it. I quickly started looking for information about the safety of the vaccine, as well as thinking through a number of theological considerations that are important too.
Searching for information
I had already been looking for information about the safety of the vaccine. To be honest, I was happy to receive a vaccine shot right at the start of the campaign in Nusa Tenggara Timur province. Vaccination is part of the struggle against COVID-19 which threatens human life. But on the other hand, I also felt a little worried about the side effects of vaccines because I had heard some skewed information about their safety.
The first thing I did was contact friends who could give me good information, and I was grateful to receive their advice immediately. I also received a screening list, with a large number of issues to look into, to help determine whether I was ready to receive the vaccine.
The list explained that people who are pregnant and breastfeeding, have shortness of breath, cough and cold, a history of allergies, blood disorders, heart disease, autoimmune issues, chronic digestive tract, autoimmune hypothyroidism, cancer, blood sugar / diabetes mellitus, or lung diseases (such as asthma and tuberculosis) should not receive vaccines.
To determine whether I could get the vaccine, I immediately consulted a number of doctors. I received tremendous support from a fellow epidemiologist, a doctor friend in Maumere, as well as doctors in Kupang and in Denpasar. I am grateful that I do health checks every six months so that my doctor friends found it easier to analyze my condition. In times like these, check ups are critical, and I want to encourage everyone to do routine check-ups at health facilities.
In addition, I coordinated with my fellow church and ecumenical leaders in Jakarta regarding their views on vaccines. Some of my friends were hesitant, but most of them encouraged me to receive the vaccine. Church leaders in Jakarta, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) and a number of friends of the chairmen of the synod council of several churches in the WA group, plus the leadership of the PGI member churches, strongly supported me to receive the vaccine, provided that my health was good based on a consultation with a doctor.
My sister, who is a nurse, gave her considerations based on reports of the implementation of Sinovac vaccinations in Brazil. According to the information she received, of those vaccinated 100% did not experience severe symptoms while 78% experience mild-moderate symptoms. Those things gave me the strength to receive the vaccine. My husband and children also looked for information on the internet to be a basis for our mutual consideration.
Observing the Body’s Reaction to Vaccines
The morning after the vaccination, I woke up with mixed feelings. There was gratitude because I slept quite soundly. There was also a feeling of anxiety: how would my body react to the COVID-19 vaccine? The night before, I went to bed with the realization that my body had been injected with a disabled coronavirus to build immunity against it.
I had heard that after the vaccine, everybody reacts differently. Some people report feeling achy, very drowsy, etc. After the vaccine, I felt sore in my hands. But my ability to concentrate was good. I chaired a meeting with fellows online and took part in an online seminar. The two events were consecutive and I was able to stay focused. To this day my health is good, and I ask for prayers for all who have been vaccinated to stay healthy and be a sign of hope for efforts to overcome the life-threatening power of COVID-19.
Theology in Disaster
We entered the beginning of the year with too much sad news and wounds. Facebook pages are full of sad news that drains inner energy. The young and old are dying every day. The threat is now so close. We all ask: When will this end? In an online seminar we conducted at GMIT regarding service planning during the pandemic, a resource person helped us see the global map of the development of COVID-19. They said this pandemic could last until 2025. This is a pretty tough situation for everyone, including the church.
“Some claim to have God’s vision not to receive vaccines: just pray, they say, don’t take any action.”
With vaccination starting, the debate continues: Is this vaccine useful or will it damage the human body? There has been a lot of news circulating. Some claim to have God’s vision not to receive vaccines: just pray, they say, don’t take any action. I personally see this as a psychological reaction to the threat we feel as humans. But at the same time, it is very important for us to train ourselves to find information from reliable sources. God gave us the intellect to test all news and information, to test all voices that claim to hear God’s voice. The church learns to understand God’s voice (theology) first and foremost from the Bible. Another source of theology is the conscience of every believer, as well as from the revelation of God in history, in culture, science, and in the experience of human life, including the experience of suffering.
The Spirit of God Blows Over the Dry Bones
This year, Ezekiel 37:14 is the text guiding GMIT services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
God brought Ezekiel into the valley of suffering that was full of dry bones that were scattered, the symbol of a life cut off from God and a loss for the future. God told Ezekiel to speak with the bones. God also told him to call the spirits from the four winds into the dry bones that give life.
“God did not allow the Church to avoid disaster.”
God did not allow the Church to avoid disaster. Instead, God led the church into and struggled in the midst of the valley of life’s threats. But the church’s task does not stop in the midst of suffering. The church is called to testify of the living power of God’s Spirit. Ezekiel has the authority to prophesy to the Holy Spirit to bring to life those dry bones.
I see the task of the church at this time is to learn to understand the reality of “dry bones”, namely the threats to life caused by this pandemic.
“We must not lose hope. Instead, the church is called upon to proclaim and work the good news in the midst of disaster”
We must open our eyes to hear and study the findings of scientists about the development of this virus around the world. We also need to be realistic about the dangers and threats we face. But we must not lose hope. Instead, the church is called upon to proclaim and work the good news in the midst of disaster situations. Within this framework, vaccination by the government needs to be positively accepted as the church’s involvement in God’s work for the restoration of human life. At the same time we need to remain critical of practices that can injure humanity where people resist vaccination or it is unavailable.
I believe that in all situations, our God is Immanuel; He is with us. The Trinity God with us is not passive, but God is with us actively. He acted for the salvation of the world He created. The power of sin destroys human life and the universe, but God does not stop helping humans and the fragile world. I believe that God has given humans the power to work together to fight the power of pain and death amidst the current threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccine is part of God’s gift for human minds to process knowledge into a safety tool. Receiving vaccines is part of a commitment to caring for life.