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I came across a music video recently titled “Jesus is my superhero!”

Against a backdrop of fluffy white clouds, a muscular man with a perfectly groomed ‘Jesus’ beard flashed the iconic ‘S’ and extended his fist as a red cape billowed from his shoulders. I was a bit bemused. I understand that it’s for children but putting Christ into a pair of tights seemed a bit much.

It might also miss the point. The Jesus of our faith lived his thirty-three years entirely immersed in our human experience – hungry, thirsty, foot-sore. He sat with children and dogs; attended weddings and told stories. He died virtually alone on a rubbish heap.

In Jesus, God conquered death, but not with a display of force. Jesus’ resurrection is born of suffering and the redemptive power of love – no superpower, but a long slow process of service and witness. Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen that love at work in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ mentioned by the writer of Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Hebrews 12:1-2

I meet so many men and women through our partners in places where redemptive muscle is desperately needed. They’re ordinary people like you and I, not imbued with superpowers of any kind. And that’s the point. Like you and I, they worry, muse, pray, plan and act without the safety net of a cape and tights. Instead, they draw on the same reserves of faith we all share: the love of our communities, prayer, scripture and worship.

These are my heroes and heroines of faith, and they encourage me to persevere. And as

members of one global family, they need us to be local heroes and heroines of faith too. Our prayer, our sharing of the resources we’ve been blessed to receive, our words of encouragement: these are the only superpowers we have.

Thank you, once again, for sharing them with our global family of faith. We are so very grateful.

Sureka.

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.

Ask just about anyone about the state of the world over the past few years and they’ll have shaken their head in dismay. In response to a YouGov study conducted worldwide in 2018, which asked the question ‘All things considered, is the world getting better or worse?” only 3% of Australians chose ‘better.’

Given the general disaster that was 2020, that percentage may have dropped even further. For the first time in two decades, we’re at risk of going backwards on extreme global poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the economic and health impacts are very real for many people we know and love.

In spite of that, the facts are that on balance, almost all aspects of human development are getting better, not worse.

On just about every measure you can think of, we’re in the best shape of our global lives.  

Health, education, gender equality, political democracy, peace, economic opportunity – humanity is in the midst of the most comprehensive, fastest progress we’ve ever made. Even with the impact of the pandemic, we’re still streets ahead of where we were ten years ago.

Alongside people of all faiths and none, Christians have played a significant role in much of this progress, and the Church continues to thrive in large parts of Asia, the Pacific and Africa. In these communities, Church leaders and ordinary Christian people are sharing the hope and dignity of Christ as they roll up their sleeves alongside people working to overcome challenges that include the changing climate, conflict and the impact of COVID-19.

These are significant wins worth celebrating – never more so than when faced with the impact of a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go – there absolutely is, particularly as we face together the critical challenge of climate change. But the same drive that kept our ancestors hyper vigilant in the face of sabre tooth tigers is also powerfully at work among us today – we tend to focus on the negative. And in keeping our eyes on the dangers at our feet, we miss the stunning horizon.

What if we were to zoom out a little, and take a look at where we fit within the broader family of faith? We are members of a vast worldwide network of people who have been shaken and shaped by the love of the risen Christ, and life looks different from within their midst. The longer arc of history is truly bending toward justice.

UnitingWorld is calling congregations to learn and celebrate in a new initiative called Seven Days of Solidarity.

It’s a week to meet the preachers, teachers, farmers, leaders and workers who are behind incredible change in our global neighbourhood, animated by the spirit of Christ. The week begins with a service which includes a prayer and video encouraging people to lift their eyes to see where God is at work in the world. Seven inspiring stories, with ideas for action and prayer points, are available online or as print copies. At the end of the week, gather your congregation again to celebrate and recommit to the work, making use of a sermon (pre-recorded or notes available) and a full order of service, including prayers, call to worship and music ideas.

The Church in Australia has been part of a global family of changemakers – through mission, prayer, giving and advocacy – for decades. Now seems like the perfect time to take a fresh look at all we’ve achieved, to give thanks and to pledge ourselves anew to God’s work together.

Check out www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au for more details and to download/request resources. Seven Days of Solidarity will officially run April 18-25, but you can use the resources any time that suits you best!

 

“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:

 

    1. 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.”

 

  1. 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:

 

  1. 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.

You can find resources on the official World Day of Prayer website: www.worlddayofprayeraustralia.org

Download the above as a PowerPoint

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.

But they have a very long road to travel. Vanuatu, for example, is one of the most difficult places in the world to be female. Rates of violence against women and girls are among the highest on the planet.

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.”

Practical changes

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!

While two thirds of Australians say they’ll definitely get vaccinated against COVID-19, another 27% are still undecided. The number of people who say they’ll never get the jab is on the rise, up to 11% from 8% a few months back. These numbers are higher in other places around the world, and they show how deeply divided we are on the matter of the COVID-19 vaccination.

So what makes the difference in terms of changing minds on controversial matters like vaccination? Good information, or good friends?

Good friends.

Many people are surprised to know that the most important factor in shaping beliefs and decisions isn’t necessarily the supply of good information. It’s good relationships. And that’s because decisions are driven by a complex range of factors, with emotion top of the list.

“Good information”, delivered in a relational vacuum, can even harden opinions rather than change them. When people are drowning in shared global feelings like fear, sadness and isolation, ‘facts’ can be the last thing on their minds.

When a person contemplates taking up a particular position or belief,  she’s considering what makes her feel safest. Will a different view threaten her position among like-minded people who’ve given her a sense of belonging? If so, there’s little chance she’ll risk it – unless she has another safe place to take refuge.

That’s why listening and providing reassurance is the most effective way to engage with those who are cautious or opposed to the vaccine (or anything else, for that matter.) If you know people who are sceptical or fearful, hear them out. If you have a good relationship with them, they’ll likely ask your opinion – the perfect time to share reliable information. Avoid handwringing, scorn or contempt about someone else’s views – you’ve instantly lost the emotional airwaves.

This approach is critical in places around the world where COVID-19 cases are sky rocketing.

In many communities, faith in government is low and fear is high. Hearing information from people who are known and trusted makes all the difference, and following the example of high-profile leaders can be especially influential.

In Indonesia, more than 1.3 million people currently have COVID-19.

A recent poll suggests only 37% of people will take the vaccine voluntarily, with 40% undecided.

The Indonesian Government is delivering an intensive education campaign to help improve knowledge and confidence. But it also plans to implement fines and restrict access to social services in some regions for those who refuse the vaccination. Its ambitious plan is to vaccinate 181.5 million people in the next five months.

How do we win the emotional air waves and create community?

In Bali, UnitingWorld’s partner staff have already built strong relationships through training and support on the issues people care about – health, sanitation, opportunities to earn a living . They’ve often gone to remote areas where people feel forgotten by the authorities.

Years of work have laid the foundation for their information to be taken seriously, and for people to feel a part of a supportive community. With special permission to move within communities impacted by lockdowns, they find people open to reassurance and willing to listen. Their innovations include a new 24/7 hotline for people to call with questions, intensive face to face conversations about the safety of the vaccine as well as social and traditional media drops. With movement largely shut down because of the pandemic, they’ve also developed a website that matches suppliers in remote areas with those who need their products in the cities.

All this firms up people’s sense of belonging and security. In this emotional context, people are far more likely to be open to the new information that vaccination represents.

Relational influence from the top is important too.

Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator of our partner church in West Timor, was contacted by government officials to be among the first to take the vaccine. While happy to get the shot, Rev Mery was still anxious about possible side effects. Unlike many parts of the West where vaccines have become an accepted part of life, millions of people around the world are completely unfamiliar with the concept. Their fears are understandable, and the role our partners play in providing reassurance is significant.

 

Rev Kolimon writes openly here about her fact-finding mission to determine the safety of the vaccine, the feeling of waking up the morning after the shot, and her conviction that the church has an important role to play in helping people understand not only the science of disease, but the role of God in suffering.

 “We entered the beginning of the year with too many wounds,” Rev Kolimon writes.

“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 naming the context and articulating her own anxiety and quest for accurate knowledge, Rev Kolimon helps people feel heard rather than dismissed when they doubt.

It’s one of the reasons our church partners are particularly useful in the war on COVID-19. As people of faith, they have a natural bias toward a relational approach and are well networked in some of the areas others can’t reach. They’re able to develop influential communities who stick together ‘on message’ – an important factor given how much we’re influenced by our ‘herd’.

Please continue to pray for the work of all our partners. They’re constantly innovating while under pressure, and they need our continued love, prayer and financial support. You can make a gift to this work during Lent at www.lentevent.com.au

If you have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccination, talk to your local General Practitioner.

You can find information about the safety, testing protocols, expected side effects and more HERE from the Australian Department of Health.

 

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.

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.

Recently I stood among others and hummed the tune (COVID-19 protocols didn’t allow me to sing) to that great hymn, ‘It is well with my soul.’

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Given the current state of the world, that’s a level of assurance I often find difficult. My soul is more likely to cower and quake; to rollercoaster between many different emotions, perhaps even within the course of a day. Maybe yours does too.

It lifts and steadies, though, when I look around at those who are standing here beside me – physically and in spirit. Within my own congregation, I receive an email from a faithful woman who shares her steadfast compassion and love with us in the most encouraging prose imaginable. At work I join a conversation with the global church in support of human rights in the Philippines, hearing the stories of courageous men and women on the frontline of the work to protect others and fight for justice. Online, I talk with a staff member in Bali, a doctor who has seen members of her church die of COVID-19 and yet who presses on with new ideas to safely serve her community.

Being part of this global conversation is not just a privilege, it’s truly mind-blowing. Indeed, we have a great cloud of witnesses, people of incredible courage and steadfast faith who fight for justice for the oppressed, and risk violence and death. No need to look to history for heroes of the faith.

This Christmas, I pray that you too will find steadfastness and inspiration among your family, friends and faith community. Tell the stories. Share the encouragement, the love and the joy. I’m so grateful that you’ve committed another year beside us as collaborators in the Kingdom.

With love and hope,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Sending our Christmas cards to your friends, family and loved ones is a great way to fight poverty, build hope and inspire others about the work of our overseas partners. The sale of our Christmas cards represent a donation to support our work helping people lift themselves out of poverty in the Pacific, Asia and Africa. Order while stocks last!

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New Everything in Common Catalogue 2020 

Every Christmas, we release a catalogue of gifts that represent many of our projects with overseas partners. It’s called Everything in Common.

In it you can find great poverty-fighting gifts like goats, pigs, clean water, education and livelihood opportunities, as well as gifts that support gender equality and care for creation. Check out our new gifts and shop online!