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India recorded 323,144 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, amid a surge that has overloaded its struggling heath system and is causing thousands of deaths per day.

UnitingWorld and the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) have reached out to our partners in the Church of North India (CNI) based in West Bengal and Punjab. UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer and UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe have written to Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy to offer prayers and solidarity during the crisis (read full letter).

Our partners are responding to the outbreak at the community level through existing projects, diverting resources to help prevent the spread of disease and aiding vulnerable people impacted by the economic fallout. You can help. Click here to donate online.

Our partners have sent some updates below.

West Bengal

West Bengal this week registered its highest single-day spike of 15,889 cases pushing the tally to 743,950 on Tuesday. The death toll rose to 10,941. The number of active cases currently stands at 88,800.

At the Eastern Himalayas Leadership project we support, project officer Sanjay recently contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalised but is now feeling better.

The Eastern Himalayas Education project has had to close the school and move all activities online. Teachers are working from home, navigating the difficult task of teaching online while also resourcing children who do not have little or no access to internet or devices. They have been communicating via WhatsApp and leaving printed worksheets in safe places for students to collect.

Several staff members of the Durgapur Education and Social Empowerment project have contracted COVID-19 along with family and friends. The project is continuing as normal with added precautions, personal protective equipment and limited interaction.

Punjab

The number of new COVID-19 cases has passed 7,000 per day in Punjab and a daily curfew from 6pm to 5am has been introduced until 12 May. The state has recorded 339,000 total cases and 8,400 deaths.

Schools have been closed across the area, so girls attending the hostel project in Amritsar have gone home to their villages for at least a month and possibly two.

At the Amritsar Social Empowerment and Education project,  schools have closed again so study centers will continue in each village and the team are doing what they can to support people remotely. UnitingWorld Project Manager Dan Maddingham has been in contact with Project Coordinator Om Prakash (OP) this week.

“There has been a drastic rise in cases every day here in Punjab… in some [rural] villages people have tested positive but the situation seems under control,” said OP.

“The Church is doing well but all religious places are remaining closed until further notice and there is a complete curfew and lockdown on weekends.”

Yesterday the Australian Government announced an aid package for India.

Please stand with the people of India and our partners as they lead and support their communities through this this crisis. Join us in prayer (UCA Assembly National Consultant Rev Dr Apwee Ting has written a prayer for India in English and Indonesian Click here to read) and donate as you are able.

UnitingWorld is continuing to support our partners to divert project funds to the COVID-19 response. Additional donations will be gratefully received to support their work.

 

“Loving God and loving our neighbour are woven together as we open our lives to the transforming power of the Risen Christ.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has shared a sermon for Celebration Sunday, an event to conclude UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity.

You can watch it here:

Download the video.

Download the full transcript.

Find out more about Seven Days of Solidarity

Heavy rains across West Timor, Flores and Timor-Leste in early April caused devastating flash floods and landslides in the region.

The latest:

  • In West Timor and Flores, 181 people have died, 47 people are missing and 49,512 have become displaced. Flooding and landslides have also damaged 66,509 houses, hundreds of them wiped out completely.
  • In Timor-Leste, 45 people have been killed by flooding and landslides and 8,852 have been displaced from their homes. Thousands of homes have been badly damaged or totally destroyed.
  • Our church partners in West Timor and Timor-Leste have been responding through their respective development agencies and have asked for support. The need is currently greater than their resources can meet.

UnitingWorld has launched an appeal and has sent initial funds to support the immediate relief effort. Thank you so much to those who have already donated! It helped us be able to quickly support our partners with financial aid and plan for ongoing support. The need is still great, so please give as you are able. Click here to support our appeal for West Timor and Timor-Leste.

 

UPDATES FROM OUR PARTNERS:

West Timor

Moderator of GMIT Rev Mery Kolimon visited a church shelter on Alor Island, West Timor

Our partners in West Timor, GMIT, have been responding to the disaster through their development agency TLM. TLM staff have conducted surveys using their project networks in villages across five regencies (local councils). Due to transport access difficulties and various level of urgency across disaster locations, TLM have focused assistance on four regencies using funds sent by partners, including UnitingWorld.

Funds have been used to buy food aid such as rice, sugar, coffee and cooking oil, instant noodles, eggs, biscuits, powdered milk, instant porridge for babies and first aid supplies, as well as building material such as nails, zinc and cement.

So far, TLM have assisted 2,643 families across five regencies.

 

Timor-Leste

Many houses were completely wiped out in Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital

Our partners in Timor-Leste, IPTL, and their development agency Fusona, have been conducting a rapid emergency response to provide food for 125 families and 135 students that have become isolated by COVID-19 lockdowns and the floods.

Volunteers were trained in safeguarding before going out to identify vulnerable and impacted families across 13 communities. They have also been monitoring the local food prices, as disasters and scarcity tend to push prices up and make them unaffordable for many people. Funds sent have allowed them to purchase food supplies for the emergency response.

Fusona’s volunteers have identified small communities with small or subsistence incomes and students living in boarding houses that have been at risk of starving because they ran out of food and have no means to buy more. Fusona has focused their humanitarian assistance to these groups.

Thousands of people that have evacuated or become displaced continue to take refuge in church buildings and other public facilities.

 

Please continue to support and pray for our partners in Timor-Leste and West Timor

UnitingWorld has 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.

Header image: A GMIT church in Alor Island, a community that was devastated by flooding and landslides.

The Pacific Conference of Churches’ (PCC) annual Pacific Day of Prayer will be observed this year on Friday 7 May.

The liturgy for 2021 year revisits the theme of the 11th PCC General Assembly: ‘Singing the Lord’s Song in Strange Lands and Times.’ Click here to download PDF

The introduction from PCC General Secretary Rev James Bhagwan has been republished below.

Songs of Lament, Songs of Resistance, Songs of Hope

Warm Easter Greetings from the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat!

I apologise for the delay in this Pacific Day of Prayer Liturgy which this year, revisits the Theme for the 11th PCC General Assembly and is at the heart of our work from 2019 to 2023: “Singing the Lord’s Song in Strange Lands and Times”.

To say that these past 14 months have been difficult would be an understatement. This has been a major challenge for our Pacific people as also around the world, in a way that we have most likely not faced in the last 100 years. COVID-19 has shown our resilience in many ways. Amid sickness and death, unemployment, increased gender-based violence and socio-economic and political challenges, we have strengthened our spirituality, adapted our worship and drawn on our culture of sharing and caring as community and our indigenous knowledge to survive and help others in need.

Yet while the world’s focus is on COVID-19, in our region we continue to face the impacts of Climate Change – rising seas, ocean warming and acidification and extreme weather such as severe tropical cyclones. Lockdowns have been used to impinge due governance and democratic processes in some Pacific Island countries. Our sisters and brothers under the weight of colonial powers face not only economic, ecological and social oppression, their communities are at risk from COVID-19 because of decisions made by their colonizers. Under closed borders our seafares cannot return home, and while larger countries are not sending their citizens as tourists (thus compounding our economic challenges with the collapse of the tourism industry across the region), they are extracting our people as labourers under seasonal worker programmes and labour schemes to fulfil their needs. Under neo-colonialism and neo-liberal economics, extractive industries further desecrate our land and pillage our sea as many of our governments follow policies that lead us further into the foreign debt trap.

And so we cry our songs of lament, protest, hope and justice.

This year’s material includes some information on the impact of COVID-19 in our region, names of some our leaders who have died and the names of 16 West Papuans who were killed in the last 2 years by Indonesian Security forces.
I appeal to our member churches that we endeavour to make this not only a day of prayer observed by women’s fellowships but use this material throughout the church, whether on 7th of May as the first Friday in May, or during your annual conferences and synods or on another day this year.

God’s blessings and our love be with you all.

Rev. James Bhagwan,
General Secretary
Pacific Conference of Churches

We were so encouraged by your response to our appeal late last year, helping us raise $122,000 to support the COVID-19 response and peacebuilding work carried out by our partners in South Sudan and beyond.

Thank you so much!

A few weeks ago, South Sudan has re-entered a lockdown period due to a spike in cases in Juba. Schools, churches and colleges, including the Nile Theological College, are all closed. Our partners are concentrating on helping educate people about the seriousness of the disease. 43 leaders from communities attended a workshop you helped fund, to learn about the pandemic, its symptoms and the precautions to take.

“Corona virus is a real threat to humanity around the whole world,” the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan writes to us. “South Sudan is not exceptional. The Bible says, ‘my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’ and we find this to be true. Although all the countries right now are aware of the Coronavirus pandemic, the majority of South Sudanese are still not aware of it… In Juba city itself, people do not observe safety rules. Wearing of face masks and social distancing are not seriously followed… We thank God our partners are always standing on our side to fight the pandemic together in South Sudan.”

Thank you so much for your support and solidarity during this crisis.

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.

Can you help? Please click here to donate to our emergency appeal today.

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.

With Love,

TLM Foundation

 

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.

Click here to donate now.

 

Prayer

Uniting Church in Australia Assembly National Consultant Rev Dr Apwee Ting has written a prayer for those in the affected areas.

Doa buat Nusa Tenggara Timur

 

Tatkala angin menyampaikan pesan nya dengan topan

Tatkala gerimis menyampaikan kesan nya melalui badai

Air mengalir tidak lagi bersahabat

Angin bergeliat tidak lagi berdesah

Manusia terhenyak

Kita tersentak

Tertunduk

Terkapar

Terkoyak

 

Tangis sedih mengiringi duka yang dalam

Luka dalam menetes darah

Berpisah tanpa kata kata

 

Nusa Tenggara Timur

Ku peluk dalam doa dan duka

Ku sebut nama mu

Ku jemput

dengan kepedulian

 

Nusa Tenggara Timur

Tidak sendirian dalam penderitaan

Ibu Pertiwi memeluk mu

Anak anak nusantara menopang mu

Tuhan pun ada  bersama mu

Prayer for Nusa Tenggara Timur

 

When the wind conveyed its message with a hurricane

When the drizzle conveyed its impression through the storm

Running water is no longer friendly

The wriggling wind was no longer sighing

Human gasped

We gasped

Bowed

Sprawling

Ripped apart

 

Sad tears accompany deep grief

The wound is dripping with blood

Parting without words

 

East Nusa Tenggara

I embrace in prayer and sorrow

I say your name

I’ll pick you up

with care

 

East Nusa Tenggara

Not alone in suffering

Mother Earth hugs you

The children of the archipelago support you

God is with you too

 

Header image: Our partner TLM’s headquarters in Kupang, West Timor after the storm. TLM is the development agency of our church partner GMIT.

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.”

Read the full Pastoral Letter

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.

 

Trapped!

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.

 

Reimagine!

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.

 

Resituate!

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

This message has been republished with permission.
The original text can be found on the Pacific Theological College website here. | 
Download as a PDF

UnitingWorld partners with the Pacific Theological College for the Women in Ministry project.

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.