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How many times can you say that you were involved in a ‘life-or-death’ situation? A situation where your actions and decisions could make the difference between someone living or dying? Once? Twice? Never? What if I told you that as you read this, that’s exactly where you find yourself…

The word ‘famine’ is used relatively frequently in modern language, but it’s actually not something that happens often. On 20 February, the United Nations declared famine in two counties of South Sudan. It was the first time famine had been declared anywhere in more than six years. Some are saying that the current severity of food insecurity in South Sudan hasn’t been seen since a post-war Europe experienced famine in 1947. But what exactly is food insecurity?

A crash course in food insecurity

There are five official categories of food insecurity: 1) minimal, 2) stressed, 3) crisis, 4) emergency, and 5) catastrophe (i.e. ‘famine’). Currently in South Sudan, there are an estimated 4.9 million people in categories 3, 4 and 5. Of these 4.9 million people, it’s estimated that 100,000 people are in category 5: catastrophe (famine). People in categories 3 and 4 are at risk of severe malnutrition, which causes lasting impacts – entrenching people in poverty and disrupting education for generations.

People in category 5 are dying of starvation. Not tomorrow, not next week… now. And the reality is the majority of the people in category 5 are among the most vulnerable; typically pregnant women, children and lactating mothers.

I was speaking to a friend recently about how dire the situation is, and he asked what he thought might have been a silly question. He wanted to know why, when faced with the imminent starvation of 100,000 of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, the international community couldn’t just “bring them food.” Not a silly question at all, but definitely not as simple as he thought.

And in the coming months it’s about to get more complicated.

$1 today is worth more than $1 in two months

South Sudan is facing more than one crisis. Set among the backdrop of a failing economy, collapsing infrastructure and the constant threat of conflict, famine response is not an easy task. In addition to all of this, May will see the start of the rainy season. Roads will become impassable, and the only option for delivering food and non-food essential items will be by air freight. Air freight is significantly more expensive than ground freight.

Right now aid workers are in a position to be able to ‘pre-place’ food and non-food items into the hardest hit areas, to be distributed now and as the lean season continues. Not only does immediate action mean that we can reduce the number of those 100,000 people who will die of starvation, but it also limits the number of additional people moving into category 5 during the lean season.

Acting at once means that more money can be spent on essential items as opposed to transport costs. More money on food and non-food necessities means more lives are saved.

That’s where you come in

You’re faced with a life-or-death situation, only it’s not your life at stake. Despite this famine happening to people thousands of miles away – people you’ll probably never meet – you can save a life by taking action today. Tomorrow could be too late for the 100,000 in South Sudan who will go to bed on the brink of starvation.

Lots of my friends and family tell me they plan to donate. I tell them: don’t wait.

– Megan

Megan Calcaterra
International Programs Manager, Asia/Africa

Donate now

One in every five people currently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.

Yes, you read that right.

Lebanon hosts the largest percentage of refugees in the world given its population, with over one million Syrian refugees registered in a country with just 4.5 million citizens. All these people living in an area less than a quarter of the size of Tasmania.

Over half of the refugees are children, and 48% of them aged 6-14 are out of school.

That’s 250,000 kids.

The influx of new arrivals fleeing the conflict and persecution by Daesh (or “ISIS”) militants has put an enormous strain on church and government services, particularly educational institutions. In response, the government of Lebanon has restricted Syrian children’s access to state schools, making the role of the church schools more important than ever.

UnitingWorld has launched a campaign to support Syrian refugee children get back to school.

Through our networks, UnitingWorld will support churches in Lebanon to provide education for more Syrian children and prevent them falling further behind in their education.

This exciting new campaign has grown out of the Uniting Church in Australia’s desire to help churches in Lebanon support new arrivals from Syria.

Recently, the UnitingWorld communications and fundraising team were privileged to sit with members of Bankstown Uniting Church and newcomers from Syria, to listen to their experiences of fleeing their home country into neighbouring Lebanon, before resettlement in Australia. They all spoke about wanting to do something to help their friends and families still in Syria and Lebanon.

We hope to raise $80,000 to get the project off the ground.

With your help, together we can make a big impact for the children of Syria.

How you can help

  1. Help us reach our goal by making a donation: https://chuffed.org/project/syriakids
  1. Share the page on social media
  1. Fundraise for us!We can create a team page for you on Chuffed so that you can fundraise at your church, community group or with your friends. Set your own group target and help the overall campaign to get Syrian kids back to school.You could also host a fundraising event or a group challenge that people can support you in.So get a team together and get in touch! marcusc@unitingworld.org.au or (02) 8267 4223

In 2016, the world received a harsh wake up call – we saw the rise to power of Donald Trump and growing support for nationalist and isolationist views from people such as Pauline Hanson, Rodrigo Duterte and Nigel Farage. We watched the heartbreaking situation in Aleppo, the horrific and inhumane treatment of people on Manus and Nauru and the Government’s lack of leadership on climate change. For most of us, 2016 was one big horror film that kept on dishing up the scares.

But we can’t afford to give up or give in because the stakes have never been higher and the importance of people power has never been more important.

That is one of the reasons we’re reshaping the Campaign for Australian Aid as “Up To Us”.  Up To Us is a community of people who lead the resistance to nationalism and isolationism and who support an internationalist approach to tackling global issues such as climate change, inequality, and poverty.  We are harnessing people power toward a vision for a fairer world.

Late last year, we spoke about an incredible opportunity for every Australian to have their voice heard. Right now, the Government is writing a long-term plan for Australia’s foreign policy – they’re calling it a “White Paper.” This White Paper will guide the way Australia engages with the rest of the world.

Make no mistake: we’re living in one of the most turbulent periods in history. It’s vital that the Government listens to all Australians and develops a plan that reflects our views. This means it is critical that people like you and your friends and family have your say on shaping the kind of world we want to live in and the role Australia should have in making your vision a reality. You can have your say today, just by taking the 60 second #UpToUs survey  to create a submission to the Government.

What kind of Australia do you envision in the years to come? If we want Australia to become a global leader on issues like climate change, people seeking asylum and ending poverty, it’s up to us to lead the way. Together, we are powerful – we can inspire thousands of globally minded Australians to make submissions and ask for a more sustainable, welcoming and compassionate country.

The need for the world to work together to address shared global challenges has never been more urgent – the world is facing multiple challenges of war, poverty, hunger, displaced people and climate change. Thousands of submissions from people who care like you , will make a powerful statement about the kind of world we want and the important contribution Australia can make in tackling these challenges.

While we’ve made it easy for everyday Australians to have their say about Australia’s place in the world, our work won’t end here. We’ve got plenty of creative ideas as to how you can amplify your impact with decision makers… stay tuned.

In the meantime, head down to one of the Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane  forums to have an open discussion and share some food (and your ideas!) with like-minded people. (For details on the forums, contact communications@unitingworld.org.au).

After the Government releases its White Paper, we’ll publish a people powered manifesto (The People’s White Paper) that captures the views of our supporters and the public.

Remember, it’s up to us to fight for the change we want to see. Time is ticking – submit your views in just 60 seconds right now and look for the it’s #UpToUs hashtag on social media so you can spread the message. Don’t forget: you can also share this blog post on Twitter and Facebook (look for the buttons at the top right hand side of this page).

Blog written by the Campaign for Aid, of which UnitingWorld is a member (representing the Uniting Church in Australia).

Live simply, reflect on your faith, help free people from poverty – that’s Lent Event!
Join the movement, sign up now to receive your Bread for the Road  daily devotions sent via email each day throughout Lent starting 1st March. Bread for the Road will replace the usual Bible Studies. We’re also preparing a new look Lent Event website! Please visit www.lentevent.com after 8th February to learn how congregations and individuals alike can participate in Lent Event this year. In the meantime, watch the video to learn about the communities and people that Lent Event support.

Since 2005, faithful people have raised more than three million dollars through Lent Event to provide clean water, schooling and health services around the globe. 

“You got me a what?”

Uncle Earl is squinting at your card, breath a little yeasty from the Christmas pudding, and frankly, he’s disappointed. It was socks he wanted. Seriously. Socks. Or a fishing magazine. He also had his eye on a new case for his iphone.

You got him a goat.

“Well, it’s for a family in Zimbabwe, see?” you tell him, a little flustered. “They’ll breed the goats and with the money they can get for them at the market, they’ll send their kids to school. It’s pretty cool, actually.”

Uncle Earl looks sceptical. He doesn’t actually say it, but what he’s thinking – you can see it on his face – is: “So you got me nothing. You got them goats, but you got me nothing.”

Let’s face it: not everyone loves goats, and not everyone gets the idea that you bought them something for someone else. (And actually, some people genuinely need socks).

So here you are, with your desire to do something to change the world this Christmas, and a cranky Uncle. What to do… what to do?

Look, buy Uncle Earl the socks. Buy your seven year old nephew that game he wanted, but maybe not the really flashy one. And tell him the true story of a gift that transforms lives.  Start it with the birth of a child.  But don’t end it there.

Tell him about Amos, who’ll spend the days before Christmas in his ute in South Sudan, bucketing along some of the worst roads you can imagine. He’s travelling to spend time in communities who’ve seen their neighbours literally torn apart by violence. This is Amos’ whole life’s work, devoted to helping people understand and listen to one another, learning to forgive and move on from decades of a war that doesn’t just live in army fatigues but stalks people’s homes and lives in people’s minds. This gift of reconciliation – a microcosm of something even grander – is the ongoing story that begins with the cradle.

If the people you know and love won’t appreciate the idea behind a goat, don’t give up. Simply make your donation directly to the work of someone who continues to live the Christmas story – every day, in some of the  most difficult parts of our globe.

Christmas isn’t just about making sure your nearest and dearest have everything they need. Christmas is about being swept up in a powerful gift of love and sharing that as far and wide as you can.  Every single one of us.

If goats are your thing and also Uncle Earl’s – check out our gifts here at www.everythingincommon.com

If you want to be generous because it’s Christmas and you believe in a world less hungry and more hopeful, please give here.  https://unitingworld.org.au/donate

Either way, know that you’ve honoured the Giver.  Thank you so much.

Coming soon:

Questions my hairdresser asks: how do you even know they get the money?

Do you ever have days, even while you’re still in the middle of them, that you know will always stick with you? My first visit to a village in West Bengal, India, was one of those days.

My colleague Steph and I had driven three hours from the church office with our brilliant partners from the Diocese of Durgapur, through bustling market streets full of people and cows and very fresh butchers, past fields of corn and rice and cauliflower, and eventually along a long and bumpy dirt road to our first village visit of the day.

Before we even got out of the car, the welcome drums began. The pathway to the village was lined with beaming kids and their parents, clapping along as men and boys beat huge drums while women dressed in bright red and orange saris danced ahead of us. Kids began throwing handfuls of marigold petals over us (sometimes with a fairly abrupt whack in the face and giggles from all) and older women played seashells as trumpets. It was one of those moments you just try and drink everything in as quickly as you possibly can – the colours and sounds and sun beating down – but really there’s no way to absorb it all. All we could do was slowly shuffle along in the middle of it all, catching petals, clapping along and grinning back.

Once we made it to the village itself, after squirming a little during the impossibly generous foot-washing ceremonial welcome, the real purpose of our visit began. We were there to hear from women, men and children about what the Community Development Project, run by the Diocese of Durgapur and supported by UnitingWorld, really means. What difference is this making to you, in your everyday life? What has this meant for your community? What is life like here?

Answers were honest and direct. Life is hard, but this project is making a difference. Our children at the study centre are working hard and their grades are improving – they’re no longer at risk of dropping out of school and we’re not scared for them. This woman here (she is pointed out to us) was supported to apply for and access the old age pension, so she doesn’t have to work all day long in the forest gathering leaves anymore. Our community worker, from our village (he stands up), helped us get government grants to build houses and toilets and access to water sources for irrigation. The government health worker is visiting and we know how to stay healthy, how to keep our children well. Our women’s self-help groups (they raise their hands) have saved money this year, and have plans to start their own business.

Of course, life is still hard. The village is far from government services, seasons can no longer be relied upon, water has not reached everyone. But what struck me more than anything, and what we shared together that day, was the fierce sense of community in this place and determination to find solutions together. Even this project itself is not something that is ‘done to’ people here; it’s what they’re doing for themselves and what they’re supported to keep doing, day after day.  It’s just part of who they are – and it’s this determination and dogged effort that will change their futures.

This project is doing good: real, tangible, important things – and can do more. We left the village after dancing and drumming back to the car and went on to the next. And of course it wasn’t the only day like this I’ve had. But this really was one that stuck with me.  How we spend our days is our we spend our lives, and these days are well spent.

For just two more days you can make your donation to these projects up to six times more effective.  We need to raise $1 in supporter donations for every $5 we have access to in Government Funding for our Community Development Projects.  To see your gift multiplied to make a significant difference, please give now at here.

Laura McGilvray, among other roles with UnitingWorld, supports our partner the Church of North India.  She loves her work and wishes everyone had the opportunity to experience days like this one, seeing first hand the impact of long term planning, training and funding.

30 years ago, Christmas 1984, a group of prominent musicians from the UK and USA got together for “Band Aid” and recorded the Christmas anthem “Feed the World”.

Their aim was to raise awareness of, and funds, for people in Africa who were experiencing severe drought and famine. Amidst the well-meaning sentiment and good intentions, many of us didn’t take the time to reflect so deeply on the words – or maybe that was just where we were at that time in the learning journey that comes from living history. But last Christmas, in 2015 this same song was re-released.

It’s hard not to sing along to the old, familiar tune. However have you ever stopped to listen to the words? Here’s just a few:

“But say a prayer, pray for the other ones”

“There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear”

And the Christmas bells that ring are the clanging chimes of doom

“Well, tonight thank God its them instead of you”!

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flows

“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

“Give a little to help the helpless.

At its foundation, this song is based on the “us and them” paradigm with “the other ones” being the ones “we” are thankful that we are not. It portrays Africa as a place where water doesn’t flow, where plants don’t grow and where they won’t see snow, and then poses the question, “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”?  Are you cringing just a little bit? Apart from a few glaring geographical clangers – Africa is home to some of the mightiest rivers in the world, including the Nile, the Congo and the Zambezi to name just a few- there’s the fact that in the Southern Hemisphere, like in Australia, Christmas falls in summertime so snow really isn’t likely any Christmas.

But on a deeper level, there’s a shallow assumption that African peoples are characterised by ignorance, limited capacity, fear and doom. These are people sitting waiting, looking to the “outside” to be the engineers of their survival. It sees all Africans as those hungry, helpless children promoted on our TV screens and appoints Western “developed” societies as the source and bringers of hope and rescue. Yet in essence, this tune reflects more honestly on the perspectives of the writers than any African reality.

Today I’m sitting in a plane on the tarmac in Zimbabwe, waiting for the last passengers to board before embarking on the 35 hour journey home. I have been meeting with MeDRA, our Development Partners of the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe. It is an exciting time for MeDRA, for the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and this Partnership with the UCA through UnitingWorld. And in the light of the last few days, the words in this outdated Christmas anthem couldn’t be further from the truth.

During the Strategic Planning process we reflected on the Partnership between UnitingWorld and MeDRA, a partnership that spans nearly ten years.  The Uniting Church in Australia still remains their strongest partner. Just as I’ve reflected on the above anthem, words matter, and the word partnership is not used lightly. UnitingWorld isn’t just a “donor agency” or “funding partner” to MeDRA, but a genuine Partner. And as partners we share together, learn together and walk together in God’s global mission. Each of us has our role to play. UnitingWorld cannot do the work that MeDRA does – not successfully anyway. Working with MeDRA and our other Development Partners allows us, as the Uniting Church in Australia to participate effectively in this global mission. And partnering with UnitingWorld supports MeDRA by enabling professional capacity building, organisational strengthening as well as funding for their vital work on the ground. This work brings opportunity, hope, dignity and love to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.  It’s a true witness to God.

Let me share just a little about the people who make up this organisation. They are Zimbabweans and they know their country, their culture and the context. They are committed development professionals who know the need but choose to focus on the strengths and opportunities. They don’t do the life-changing work for the people in the communities they serve. Rather they support these communities to develop their own potential and empower them to be the agents of their own transformation. And above all things, they are committed to living out their faith and being a genuine witness to Christ in the communities they serve.

And then there are the people living in the communities themselves. The context in which they live is harsh. They are far away from city services, in places where the soil is dry and hard, the temperatures scorching and the impact of drought an everyday reality. It is a tough existence and yet they are resilient and they survive. Through MeDRA they are accessing training and as community groups, developing livelihoods strategies to increase their access to income. This enables them to send their children to school and look to a future for their children that has more opportunities than they themselves have experienced. And they are embracing this chance with both hands and thriving in it.

But if that wasn’t encouraging enough, here’s the kicker. From the profits that each group makes, some is set aside to reinvest into the business, yet before the remaining profits are shared among the group, some is allocated to support other vulnerable people in their communities – widows, orphans, single mothers, etc. They see this as their social responsibility. They were once the most vulnerable but now they have opportunity, they are building something together, they have discovered their God-given dignity and with that their responsibility to others in their community. It’s hard work, but they embrace it and they do it and they are succeeding in it. And they are paying it forward.

These people are not helpless. They just need a chance. Through the partnership between MeDRA and UnitingWorld, many are now able to embrace such a chance. I visited some of these communities last year, and I saw nothing of our Western Christmas anthem anywhere. Instead I saw potential, I saw hope, I saw dignity and I sat at their feet to learn.

This Lent, let us be the ones transformed, let us have God’s eyes to see hope and potential where others would tell us there is helplessness; give us ears to hear the invitation to participate effectively and give us humble hearts to learn what we need to learn and to give what we can.

And for the record, for those in Africa who share our faith, yes they do know when it’s Christmas time, even without the snow!

Watch the people of Zimbabwe at work here.

UnitingWorld launches Emergency Appeal to support the people of Fiji following Cyclone Winston

Our friends in Fiji are suffering widespread destruction in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which hit on Saturday 20th Feb. Donate Now

Update: 04 March

It has now been confirmed almost 350,000 people were affected by cyclone Winston.

120,000 people are estimated to need urgent humanitarian shelter assistance, over 54, 700 people are still sheltering in evacuation centres and in the hardest hit areas, up to 90 per cent of structures are destroyed.

The north and north western coast of Viti Levu, the south coast of Vanua Levu and some communities in the East and Central Regions have been particularly hard hit. Two villages on Koro Island have been completely destroyed. 42 people have been confirmed dead and some 135 are reported as injured. More than 62,000 displaced people (approx. 14% of the population) are currently sheltering in nearly 900 evacuation centres. Aid, including food rations, is arriving in cyclone affected communities and assessments are now underway across the country.

Methodist Church in Fiji and UnitingWorld’s Response

26 out of the 57 divisions our partner church covers have been badly affected. Complementing the Government of Fiji’s disaster response, the Methodist Church in Fiji will provide clothes, bedding and kitchen cooking/eating utensils.

In some locations it will also provide some food and water purification tablets. Cooking utensils are very important because they are needed for preparing the type of food that is distributed in emergencies and for purifying potentially contaminated water. The Church will provide relief to all community members in areas where it has congregations that are not already receiving relief from other local civil society or non-government organisations. The town of Ba is an example where the MCIF has a significant presence but the relief effort is already being looked after by other agencies. The MCIF will also ensure that vulnerable households (such as those headed by women or with disabled members) are prioritised.

Supplies of the materials our church partner intends to contribute to the relief effort are all obtainable in Suva and Nadi which were not in TC Winston’s direct path. This strategy helps to buoy the local economy, sustaining the livelihoods of local people.

Our church partner is seeking financial support from UnitingWorld to purchase all of these items. Longer term, funds raised will be used to rebuild schools – using a ‘build back better approach’’ to ensure the safety of people in the future.  Our church partner has also requested psychosocial counselling and training for a core group of pastors in the worst affected areas.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 25 February

Yesterday, our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji formed a Disaster Response Committee to lead the Church’s response to the humanitarian crisis. They report that thousands of homes have been destroyed, tens of thousands of people made destitute and are without food, shelter or clothing. Schools and buildings are reduced to rubble. The death toll has now risen to 42.

The committee, which is made up of key leaders from the church’s i-Taukei-speaking, English and Hindi-speaking divisions and includes leaders from Women’s and Youth fellowships, is assessing the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston, developing immediate, short, medium and long-term relief responses and channelling overseas partner support to appropriate church and government relief and resilience programmes.

Immediate Assistance from the National Disaster Management Office includes distributing:

Food Rations, Water, Shelter, Sanitation, Accessibility for all affected people.

In response to gap analysis clothes, bedding, sleeping mats, cooking utensils, Kerosene Stoves and Lanterns and crops for replanting are being distributed.

Please keep our partners and the people of Fiji in your prayers. To donate to our Fiji Emergency Appeal and support the response efforts of our partners, please call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

All funds raised through this appeal will be used to support our church partner’s relief efforts, including re-establishing schools, replanting crops and livelihoods and ‘building back better’ to safeguard communities against future cyclones.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 24 February: Our church partner Rev James Bhagwan has reported this morning that the Methodist Church in Fiji’s disaster response committee is meeting today. Ministers throughout Fiji are reporting back with their disaster assessments and local churches have begun their relief programmes.

29 people are confirmed dead and National Disaster Management Office director Akapusi Tuifagalele said about 14,000 people remain in evacuation centres. Whole villages have been destroyed, particularly on the island of Koro where a relief and assessment ship is being deployed.

UnitingWorld staff member Rev Dr Cliff Bird reports from Suva:

“The destruction has been widespread and very bad. The Lau group of islands, Koro Island, villages on Vanua Levu and their township Savusavu have been hit very badly. Hundreds of homes have been lost, infrastructure damaged, farms, vegetable gardens, livelihoods destroyed. Water and power supply to many areas are still down.”

Photo source looptonga.com and ABC news

Our partner, the Methodist Church in Fiji is the largest denomination in the country, covering an extensive network across 55 districts.

National Director of UnitingWorld Rob Floyd has spoken with President of the Church, Rev Tevita Bainivanua and has offered immediate emergency relief and longer-term disaster recovery.

President Rev Tevita has opened all church buildings for emergency shelter and has directed ministers throughout the country to assess and report on the extent of the damage.

All funds raised through this appeal will be used to support our church partner’s relief efforts, including re-establishing healthcare and schools, replanting crops and livelihoods and ‘building back better’ to safeguard communities against future cyclones.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 8.30am Monday 22 Feb

Message just received from Rev Dr Cliff Bird in our Fiji Office:

Power supply has just come back on in parts of Suva, so able to send this brief email update on the aftermath of TC Winston.

The curfew is still effective and will be lifted at 5.30 a.m. tomorrow, Monday.

The very sketchy information received so far indicates that destruction has been widespread and very bad. The Lau group of islands, Koro Island, villages on Vanua Levu and their township Savusavu have been hit very badly. One village on Koro Island lost all homes. On Viti Levu, Rakiraki, Ba, Nadi, Lautoka, Sigatoka, and villages along Korovou and Tailevu were hit badly. Hundreds of homes have been lost, infrastructure damaged, farms and gardens destroyed, etc. Water and power supply to many areas are still down. Suva was not too badly hit comparatively speaking. So far 5 cyclone-related deaths have been confirmed.

Photo source ABC News

Minister for Education has given directive that all schools will remain closed for the entire week. Many schools have sustained damages. The USP and Fiji National University will remain closed tomorrow and may resume on Tuesday.

The President of the Methodist Church asked all congregations to stay home Sunday in light of the cyclone and curfew. The church office will not open today and will resume on Tuesday.

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church sent instructions to all divisional superintendents and their ministers to make available church halls as evacuation centres if necessary. He has also requested that they begin to do some initial assessment of damages and let the office know.

Will let you know more details when information come to hand. Thank you for your prayers, and continue to keep in your thoughts the thousands who have been badly affected in one way or other.

Update: 9.15am Sunday 21 Feb

We are slowly hearing back from our team members and church partners today. There are some very sad reports about villages, homes and livelihoods destroyed. One staff member texted just now: I am good. It was so bad last night. It is still blackout since last night. The curfew is still on. All shops are still closed, just found a canteen on another street to buy top up cards and water 5mins ago. We’ll see how today progresses. Trees have fallen so some people are cleaning up”. Thoughts and prayers with the people of Fiji.

You can read more here: www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-21/tropical-cyclone-winson-leaves-trail-of-destruction-across-fiji/7187104

Update 12.25 pm 20 Feb: Our National Director Rob Floyd has now spoken with friend and church partner Rev Tevita Bainivanua, President of the Methodist Church in Fiji. He let him know the Australian church community were praying for them – and offered future support, should they need it.

Previous updates:

Please keep our church partners in the Pacific, our staff in the Fiji Office and the people of Fiji in your prayers as they brace for Cyclone Winston.

ABC News reports that a powerful category-five cyclone is lashing Fiji’s outer islands with hurricane-force winds of up to 220 kilometres per hour.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is heading westward and has already hit areas in the Lau group of islands as it tracks towards more populated areas.

The cyclone was about 320 kilometres east-north-east of Suva, the capital, at 5:00am (local time), travelling at 25 kilometres per hour.

The storm was carrying average winds of 220 kilometres per hour, with gusts of up to 315 kilometres per hour, Fiji’s Meteorological Service said.

Forecasters say there’s a chance the cyclone will whip up very strong wind gusts around the capital.

You can read the full article below.

National Director Rob Floyd was in touch with our Methodist Church of Fiji partner Rev James Bhagwan yesterday, and UnitingWorld staff member Rev Dr Cliff Bird at 10am this morning. Cliff reports that strong winds are hitting Suva right now, and people are prepared and in shelters with water and food supplies.

Please keep them in your prayers.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-20/category-five-cyclone-winston-bears-down-on-fiji/7186080