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Author: UnitingWorld

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!

PLEASE PRAY:

  • 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.

Rev Mery Kolimon is the Moderator of our partner GMIT (Christian Evangelical Church in Timor). Read more about our projects in West Timor.

Do you remember Paramjit, from Amritsar in India?

We bought you here story a few years ago as part of Lent Event. Watch it here!

A mother of four and the sole provider for her family, she was struggling to put food on the table until our partners, the Church of North India, offered her training to work in one of their education centres.

Paramjit grabbed the chance with both hands – and life dramatically improved. But where is she now? 

India has been through the throes of one of the world’s most serious outbreaks of COVID-19, and many families in the Amritsar region have relied on the church to bring them food during the lockdown. Over the past months, cases have dropped and work has now resumed where possible. Schools are back. And Paramjit? 

“Life is so much easier than it was five years ago, even though the pandemic has made things difficult for so many,” she told us. “I’m still working, my husband is around to support the family, and we are all happier now.”

It’s fantastic news considering everything they’ve been through.

“The Church has always been there for the community, not just spiritually but spreading information about the importance of education and helping children right through to graduation,” Paramjit told us. “During the Pandemic, they were there to help people survive with food, masks and sanitisers.”

Paramjit says her greatest hope is that she might be able to continue to reach people in the villages, and that others would have the same opportunity as she has had. She’s determined to use all the support she’s been given to help others.

COVID-19 threatens 150 million people just like Paramjit with a return to extreme poverty. Help us keep the good news stories coming – get on board with Lent Event this year and help our neighbours stay strong www.lentevent.com.au

 

The world is turning to Lent in record numbers. But why? Isn’t it just an outdated Catholic attempt to demonise chocolate?  As enlightened people who live by grace, why would we get involved?

Lent provides an opportunity for us to reset.

It’s a call to refocus, reflect and refresh our souls. A 40-day commitment to the “time out” we need.

And this is not just a religious yearning. “Lenten” practises have grown in popularity over the past couple of years – Mindfulness May focuses on mental health; Ocsober, Dry July and FebFast suggest giving up alcohol or sugar to kickstart body and mind while raising funds for others.

Lent, though, is unique in that it combines body and soul to concentrate on spiritual growth. Like its Islamic counterpart, Ramadan, Lent emphasises reflection and generosity, driven by a conscious turning to God and others. It calls us to slow down; to become aware of our bodies as well as our hearts and minds.

At the end of Lent, we’re different. We’ve tended the soil ready for new life.

Lent is as old as the Church itself. In 300AD, the Nicaean Council (from which the Nicaean Creed developed) referred to the forty days leading up to Holy Week as a special time of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Commemorating the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, it imagined that people would pray, fast, give and celebrate.

The preface written to the very first Lenten Mass puts it nicely:

Each year you give us this joyful season
when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery
with mind and heart renewed.

You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our Father,
and of willing service to our neighbor.

As we recall the great events that gave us a new life in Christ,
you bring to perfection within us the image of your Son.

And while Lent is most often associated with the Catholic tradition, it’s always been an Ecumenical practise. The Church of East and West were united at the time of the Nicaean Council that gave it life, and more than a billion Christians worldwide are on board every year. Some Evangelicals and Pentecostals have been suspicious of spiritual disciplines as an attempt to buy God’s favour, but Lent has evolved with us to represent far more than empty rule keeping. It’s an increasingly well recognised part of the Christian calendar, and growing in popularity as secularism and commercialism continue to cannibalise the meaning of Christmas and Easter.

What could you do for Lent?

Reflect: Set time aside to meet with others and explore the Scriptures using some of the many excellent resources available.

Say sorry: Repentance is a central part of the Lenten tradition. Most of us aren’t great at apologising, but there’s bound to be someone who would benefit from our confessing where we’ve failed. At the same time, take the opportunity to forgive someone. It’s good for everyone.

Sit with grief: The lead up to Jesus’ death saw his friends and family grappling with the vacuum soon to be left in their lives. While most of us prefer to ‘move on’ from difficulty, our loss, sorrow and suffering are no less real for our efforts to distract ourselves. Setting aside time to acknowledge our grief nurtures self awareness, gratitude and compassion for ourselves and others.

Fast: early Lenten practices encouraged fasting with the idea that hunger increased our awareness of our bodies and cultivated a sense of gratitude. These days, people fast from all sorts of things, from impatience to social media to caffeine. It’s the impact of fasting that matters – how does it stimulate our awareness of ourselves and our world? Find ideas about what to give or take up here.

Be generous: Lent is designed to sharpen our focus and extend it beyond ourselves and our own concerns. It’s about making space in your mind and heart for those around you. Extending generosity by setting aside some of your financial resources for others can have a big impact.

UnitingWorld is the part of the Uniting Church with the privilege of nurturing relationships with our global church family, and we love the season of Lent! Through Lent Event, we provide a Bible Study series to help you think through what it means to be a global neighbour, and encourage you to take action with a 40-day challenge to give or take up something that helps make the world a better place. With stories that show how your prayers and gifts are building hope and ending poverty around the world, we aim to cultivate generosity, compassion and awareness of others.

If you’re ready to take a new look at Lent, go for a deep dive online to find resources, and check out www.lentevent.com.au for simple ways to get involved.

Thanks to an exciting new partnership, you can now support our work by drinking great coffee!

As part of their commitment to creating a more just world, Brisbane-based coffee company Blackstar Coffee Roasters have agreed to donate 10% from each coffee subscription towards our projects in Timor-Leste! 

UnitingWorld supporters can also enjoy free delivery as well as a 10% personal discount on subscriptions.

AND for every kilogram of coffee sold, Blackstar will plant three trees here in Australia with Landcare and overseas through TREES.ORG.

If you’d like to try out the beans/grinds before signing up for a regular delivery, enjoy a sample pack with 30% discount.

Visit www.blackstarcoffee.com.au/pages/uw-offer and use the code: ???????????????????????????????????? to order a subscription or sample pack with the discount.

While most of us love a good brew, you’re probably also aware that the farmers who supply the world’s coffee aren’t always well paid and the land on which they farm is sometimes not protected from clearing practices that damage the environment.

Where possible, Blackstar buys green beans directly from the coffee producers. Where that isn’t the case, they commit to only buy from importers that have a direct relationship with the farmers and cooperatives. Blackstar place a high value on community, environmental and specialty coffee projects funded and supported by their suppliers. You can find out more about their commitment to ethical coffee supplies and social justice by visiting their website here.

We’re really excited about this new partnership to fight poverty in Timor Leste and hope the coffee fanatics out there are too!

Together we can make a big difference by making a little switch.

Order coffee today! CODE: ????????????????????????????????????

Since 1980 the number of people living on less than $2 a day has halved.

Through Lent Event, you have been part of that success story, taking action to help provide access to education, healthcare and income opportunities that have helped break the cycle of poverty.

COVID-19 and its economic impacts are now threatening those gains. The World Bank estimates that 150 million people are expected to slide back into extreme poverty by 2022.

The season of Lent is an opportunity to reflect on the life of Christ, and re-dedicate ourselves to following in his way of justice and compassion.

And it’s an opportunity to take action alongside the global church!

Join us for Lent Event 2021:

  1. Download our Global Neighbours Bible Study or order a hard copy booklet and read a chapter each week of Lent.
  2. Give up something in solidarity with those who have less, or take up a new spiritual discipline for forty days.
  3. Donate to our global neighbours in places of critical need.

You can also take up a 40-day challenge and create your own fundraising page! Click here to create a page for an individual or church.


What about churches?

We encourage you to use the Global Neighbour Bible studies with your congregation and small groups over Lent (they’re really great!). But due to COVID-19 we’ve not been able to visit our partners and those they care for to produce weekly stories of transformation during the six weeks of Lent. We’re sorry that we can’t resource you for Lent as much as we would like.

Instead, we want to invite you to something brand new.

UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity invites you to celebrate the risen Christ with us and bear witness to how and where God is changing lives through our partners.

After Easter, for seven days starting on April 18, we’ll provide you and your congregation with videos, stories, prayer requests and action ideas to encourage you to lift up your eyes to see where God is at work in the world.

Each day, you’ll encounter the faithful Christian leaders who are training others, equipping people to make a living, working for peace, raising up women and girls, empowering people with disabilities and responding to disasters and a changing climate. Pray and take action as part of our global family of faith.

On April 25, come together with your congregation to celebrate God’s faithfulness and pledge yourselves anew to God’s global mission. We’ll show you the incredible gains the Church is making around the world in Christ’s name, and invite you to make a response in prayer and giving.

We believe this is the faith-fuel our Church needs right now, and I’m really excited by this new initiative! If you are too, please ask your minister and organise your church to take part in UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity.

Here’s a video invitation you can show them:

Visit the website for more information: sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au

Grow your networks and experience.

Serve church and community with your unique skills.

UnitingWorld is the agency of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) driving international church partnerships to address poverty, injustice and violence. It is funded by faithful supporters in the UCA and accredited to distribute aid funds from the Australian Government.

Our skills-based Board has oversight over governance and strategy and has membership drawn from a range of professional fields within and outside the UCA.

We’re looking for up to four passionate members of the UCA to join the team. 

Basic skills in governance and strategy are vital, but we are also looking for a rich diversity in life experience.

We are keen to attract people who reflect the social and cultural diversity of the communities we partner in Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Experience in international/community development, fundraising, finance and law are particularly valuable.

Click here for a full description of the opportunity.

Contact Dr Andrew Glenn, Chairperson of the UnitingWorld Board to express your interest.

andrewroderickglenn@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

The people of Fiji are bracing to be hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasa, a destructive category five super-storm in the Pacific.

General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches Rev James Bhagwan has written today about what it means for his nation and the Pacific region.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasa remains at Cat 5 and continues to track towards us bringing destructive winds, storm surges and swells in coastal areas of at least 10metres in height – probably more, and heavy rain and flooding.

The cyclone is coming in from the West and so will severely damage the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups which are already struggling because of the collapse of the tourism industry. It is currently tracking to go between the two main islands and then down through the middle of the group. This is a huge system so Suva will take a bigger hit than in 2016 with Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston, and as you know, the many squatter and informal settlements in the greater Suva area have very ill-constructed homes so this is a major worry. 

Yet our faith, our traditional knowledge and wisdom and experiences of the past keep us resilient. We have been expecting this weather since the early and abundant breadfruit season and prolonged mango season (see how God through His creation speaks to us and provides for us). 

Thank you for keeping us in prayers. It will be a tough Christmas. We really need to shift gear on Climate Change as these are all climate change induced extreme weather events. When we talk about loss and damage in climate negotiations – this is part of it. 

At times like this I question your government’s commitment to their Pacific family. How much of the support that will flow in after this cyclone in terms of relief is to their “Vuvale” Pacific Partnership and how much is a guilt offering on their failure to be the world leader they could be on climate change. 

It breaks my heart that the Pacific Church Partnership of DFAT will engage on many things but we are not able to leverage it on the urgent matter of climate change. Nevertheless we will remain the persistent widow until things change. 

We’re standing ready to support our partners the Methodist Church in Fiji in their emergency response and we’ll keep you informed about how you can help.

Please continue to hold Fiji in prayer as they make final preparations and lock down for the storm.

Header image: Boy living in an informal settlement near Suva, Fiji

The Uniting Church in Australia is a member of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

Thank you so much to all those who signed the pledge to urge the Australian Government to provide vital support to nations hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

You were among more than 25,000 Australians whose signatures were passed on to government to let them know we care about our neighbours. In the 2020-21 Budget announced in early October, the government committed $304.7 million of additional money for the Pacific and Timor-Leste to help them recover from COVID-19. This is critical assistance for nations whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic and a real win for the campaign you’ve been a part of. Thank you!

Your support and action has helped make announcements like these possible:

Micah Australia has released a video to say thank you and highlight the achievements of the campaign. Click the post below to share the good news!

“Together, we are showing what it’s like to be a generous nation and to step up,” said Tim Costello, Executive Director of Micah Australia.

“Together we are going to End COVID for ALL”

It’s critical that we keep speaking up for aid and collaborating for a more just world in these challenging times.

Thank you for standing with us.

The End Covid for All campaign is an initiative of Micah Australiaa coalition of churches and Christian organisations raising a powerful voice for justice and a world free from poverty. Click here to visit the campaign homepage.

Our partners, the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG), have been running a successful behaviour change campaign for many years, teaching thousands of people about the importance of clean water and good hygiene. When the pandemic hit Papua New Guinea, they were ready to expand this work to include COVID-19 awareness and prevention, and they’ve been out in force educating communities about the threats of COVID-19 and the importance of regular hand washing.

With the permission of the PNG Government, over the past six months the UCPNG team (along with volunteer change agents) have:

  • educated 14,500 people on best practice water hygiene and sanitation
  • distributed 687 pamphlets, 2505 posters, six banners and 3840 bars of soap
  • worked with 11 congregations, 14 communities and six schools along the East Cape Coast

A team of three theologians also shared COVID-19 safety messages to help people understand this and other disasters from a theological perspective. One of them was Kerron, a recent Master of Theology graduate of Raronga Theological College. “Every home now is implementing the tippy tap approach to wash hands in the villages we visited, church seats are marked a metre apart and masks are sewn by women to help with schools and public,” said Kerron.

Thank you for supporting the work of our partners UCPNG and helping them make a huge impact in their communities!

 

The United Church in PNG Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

 

 

 

 

 

Header image: A Volunteer with UCPNG’s ‘Rait Mama’ behaviour change campaign.