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We’ve been blown away by your response to help our neighbours in Tonga after the devastating volcano and tsunami that hit in January. Our partners the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWCT) immediately rolled out the Tekina ‘I Moana initiative, the disaster management and recovery arm of the church. Your support helped our partners to visit eight villages in the hardest-hit areas across Tongatapu and the Ha’apai islands to provide essentials like food, clothes, and shelter, as well as disaster chaplains to offer counselling and spiritual encouragement to those displaced by the tsunami.

Surveys were conducted during the visits to evaluate the loss and damage, although it was recognised that for many people it was too soon to even contemplate their future needs. Our partners say it meant a lot to the communities that the church visited them so soon after the disaster.

Disaster preparation helping long-term recovery

Back in 2018, UnitingWorld supported FWCT to build and stock a large storage facility for building materials (pictured) to be able to begin repairs to damaged buildings quickly after disasters rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from outside. It was used for Cyclone Harold and is now being used for reconstruction work on the most affected homes.

 

Your support means UnitingWorld can help re-stock this facility and ensure significant reconstruction of destroyed homes and public buildings.

Going forward, your gifts will enable the FWCT to provide urgently needed supplies of small boats, tents, temporary toilets, school bags, basic tools, petrol, generators, water tanks and fishing gear to island communities whose homes were destroyed. Thank you so much!

Please continue to pray for the response efforts. A COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent restrictions on movement have hampered visits to the affected areas, needs assessments and the overall recovery.

A woman is raising up the powerless in her community with the truth that they’re made in the image of their creator. Another is working to prevent violence before it happens and inspiring her peers to join her. A man is showing whole communities how to work together in disasters and care for the most vulnerable. Another is tackling inequality by overturning the structures keeping people oppressed.

These are just some of the stories we’ve shared during our Seven Days of Solidarity. Each story is a tiny star that pierces the darkness that seems to shroud our view of the world these days.

Right now it seems impossible to think of much outside the shadow of crisis stretching across the globe. War in Europe, floods at home, Sri Lanka being crushed by an economic crisis and COVID-19 still haunting our lives.

The feeling of dread that comes with living under such continuous threats can be overwhelming. It makes us feel tired, fragile and small. This may be true for you. My staff and I, and all of our overseas partners are no exception either.

Yet we strive to count the stars in the darkness. These stories seem small, but like stars in the night sky, together they tell a beautiful story. They remind us that the God who formed the stars and galaxies, names each of us the same. You are the light of the world.

Every act of sacrifice and service, every gift from a generous heart, every word of kindness and grace, is an unquenchable act of defiance against the darkness; beautiful and enduring.

The wonder of God’s grace is never only in size and power but in the ordinary and hidden. You are the salt of the earth. Grounded in the earth and carried in the seas, salt is everywhere enriching, preserving and essential for life to flourish. The change it brings isn’t imposed from the outside but from within.

Thank you for letting us share with you the stories of salt and light that we have seen. And thank you for being salt and light for us and our partners through your prayers, generosity and sacrificial love.

Together, we are witnesses to the light which the darkness cannot put out.

With thanks for all you do with us, 

Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

Click here to read our latest UnitingWorld Update Newsletter

On Monday 9 May, the Philippines will hold national and local elections. Our partner the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) has called for prayer amid political violence, disinformation and fears of vote-rigging.

Already on 27 February, 60-year-old UCCP elder and local mayor Filipina Grace America was shot four times by a gunman while getting into her car after church. She survived the assassination attempt and was transferred to a hospital in Manila.

Filipina was running for re-election at the time of the shooting, and had been leading her local community in opposing the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. The mega-dam project sits on an earthquake fault and will also destroy the ancestral land of the Dumagat tribes. Filipina had received threats due to her activism about the dam.

Our partner UCCP has reported that some political parties and candidates in the Philippines have engaged in campaigns of disinformation and propaganda against their political rivals in the lead up to the election.

UCCP is working with local youth organisations in the Philippines to promote good governance. They are encouraging voters to advocate for peaceful and honest elections, and have released informational graphics to combat fake news and disinformation.

They are also mobilising people to monitor the ballots and election-related human rights abuses to protect against vote-rigging.

The Uniting Church in Australia has provided some funding for these activities.

Please use and share the below prayer in solidarity with our partners and neighbours in the Philippines.

Prayer for the Philippines elections

[Leader:] Be with us, O Lord our God, as we pray with the peoples of the Philippines, including those overseas, in this time of elections marked by deep division, uncertainty and pain.

We pray for all public servants and electoral authorities in the Philippines, especially those who remain upright and motivated by a genuine sense of duty and respect for good governance.  

We pray for those who peacefully challenge human rights violations and disinformation. Give them strength and courage to stand their ground for truth and justice. Protect their lives from those who seek to harm them when they hold firm to Your righteousness.

May the crises brought about by political differences everywhere bring about conversion and a change of heart in all.   

May You teach all people to rise above personal and political loyalties, redirecting our efforts towards the common good and celebrating the gift of diversity in life.

May we be guided by your Spirit to respond with mercy and compassion for those in need, the persecuted and the most vulnerable members of our societies.

For we know that what we do for others in need, we do for You.

[All:] In the spirit of solidarity, we pray for the Filipino people as they face their forthcoming national and local elections on 9 May. We pray that the elections may be peaceful, honest, and clean. We further pray that those elected will serve the common good.

 

Thank you to Dr Mark Zirnsak and the Justice and International Mission cluster of the Victoria/Tasmania Synod of the UCA for providing this information and prayer. 

The Uniting Church in Australia remains deeply concerned about the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

In a letter to international partners, the West Papua Council of Churches has detailed ongoing violence and marginalisation experienced by indigenous Papuans, and fears that a planned division of new regional provinces will exacerbate the problems.

Uniting Church partner, the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua (GKI-TP), is a member of the West Papua Council of Churches, and GKI-TP Moderator Andrikus Mofu signed the statement with three other heads of churches.

“We have received reports of torture, hit-and-run killings and enforced disappearances experienced by people including God’s servants in Ndugama, Intan Jaya [and the] Star Mountains carried out by the Army and Police personnel. Several facilities belonging to church members and belonging to the church have been taken by the army and police troops. We continue to witness and mourn the suffering of our congregations in the interior of Papua,” reads the statement.

“As a result of this conflict, around 60,000 civilians have fled their homes to other locations, including to neighbouring Papua New Guinea.”

The church leaders fear that a plan by The Ministry of Home Affairs to create six new provinces in place of the current two is a way to aggressively assert greater military control and exploit natural resources.

“Year after year the Papuan people continue to be increasingly excluded and marginalized on their own land… The division of regencies, cities and provinces in Papua has become a powerful weapon for the government in the carrying out of the politics of control and occupation in Papua.”

In the statement, the church leaders appeal for an end to the increasing militarization and for the government to make good on their agreement to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit the Papuan provinces. They also reiterate their call for dialogue between the Government of Indonesia and the ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) to end the protracted conflict.

The statement was released just weeks after three United Nations-appointed human rights experts called for urgent humanitarian access to the region and urged the Indonesian Government to conduct full and independent investigations into alleged human rights abuses by security forces.

 

Pray for the People of West Papua

Uniting Church in Australia President Reverend Sharon Hollis has encouraged UCA members to pray for the people of West Papua and for a just and peaceful end to the conflict.

“With all that is going on in Australia and the world, we cannot forget the devastating conflict among neighbours right at our doorstep,” said Rev Sharon Hollis.

“We remain deeply alarmed about the human rights and humanitarian crisis described by our partners in West Papua and I will be writing to the Foreign Minister and Shadow Foreign Minister about our concerns.”

“I encourage members of the UCA to pray for peace and justice in West Papua, that human rights be upheld, and the desires of indigenous Papuans be heard and realised,” she said.

 

The Uniting Church in Australia has a partnership with the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua (GKI-TP), managed by UnitingWorld. We work together on a livelihoods project to reduce poverty and improve health and nutrition.

The UCA is a member of the International Coalition for Papua (ICP), a coalition of faith-based and civil society organisations that are concerned about human rights violations in West Papua and seek greater transparency and peaceful solutions to conflict.

More

Church leaders call for UN human rights investigation in West Papua (ABC, 16 April 2022 )

Chairperson of the Women’s Department of Evangelical Church of Indonesia, Rode Wanimbo spoke to ABC’s Meredith Lake recently on the situation in West Papua, decolonising the Bible, and the powerful role of women in community development and peacemaking. Listen here.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Soaring inflation has caused devastating shortages of food, medicine and fuel across the country. Energy is being rationed by the government, causing prolonged blackouts.

The blackouts and shortages set off huge public demonstrations last month, which started as a series of candlelight vigils but have intensified in recent days after the government deployed troops to quell unrest.

Dr Sureka Goringe has been in touch this week with Bishop Ebenezer Joseph, President of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka (MCSL) to express our concern and solidarity.

While the world is rightly rallying around Ukraine in their darkest hour, Dr Goringe says we cannot ignore emergencies like Sri Lanka and the worsening food crisis expected to hit the global south hardest.

“We’re deeply concerned about what is happening in Sri Lanka. Our partners are describing the situation as ‘chaos’ – with no power for refrigerators or fuel for transport, people either can’t afford food, or can’t store it,” said Dr Goringe.

“We particularly think of our project with Deaf Link on disability inclusion, serving some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Please join us in praying for the work of our partners, the people of Sri Lanka and their family and friends here in Australia. We stand with you.”

Uniting Church in Australia President Reverend Sharon Hollis has also encouraged UCA members to pray for Sri Lanka.

“We’re deeply concerned by what is happening in Sri Lanka and by what we’re hearing from our church partners and Sri Lankan-Australian members of the UCA,” said Rev Hollis.

“The situation is dire. We must pray in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka suffering through this crisis, as well as Sri Lankan Australians who are concerned for their country, families and friends.”

The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka speaks out

Our partner church MCSL has been part of the peaceful demonstrations and has called on the government to prioritise the wellbeing of the people.

“The country is gradually sliding into chaos, as the genuine concerns of people remain unattended,” said MCSL President Bishop Ebenezer Joseph in a statement shared to UnitingWorld and other partners.

“We call upon the government to take adequate steps to immediately supply the basic essentials needed by the people and ensure that what is available is equally distributed to all in a transparent manner.”

Rev. Joseph also called on demonstrators to act with discernment and nonviolence while exercising their right to protest, and pledged MCSL to do everything they can to help alleviate suffering.

“We pledge as a Church, that we will do all within our means to alleviate the sufferings of the people regardless of creed, colour or ethnicity and calls upon it’s faithful members to respond by sharing our resources sacrificially with those who are under privileged, give voice to those affected, adopt a simple lifestyle and engage in prayer for the early resolution of the crisis,” read the statement.

“We believe in God of transformation that instils hope that even the worst social scenario can be changed into something beautiful.”

Read the full statement here.

MCSL choir singing a song of hope and unity to the nation.

Lent Event in Australia encourages us to give up something we can live without in solidarity with those who live with less, donating what we save to projects that fight poverty. But for our brothers and sisters living in Sri Lanka, giving up basic items is no simple 40 day challenge.

In the wake of the 2019 Easter bombings, the pandemic and crippling foreign debt, the country is facing an economic crisis that means food, water and electricity is in critically short supply.

“We are experiencing shortages of sugar, flour, milk powder, rice, gas and now fuel leading to unprecedented power cuts,” writes Rev Jospeh. “The poor and the vulnerable are most affected. Many suffer silently. Always remember that our little acts of sacrifice will contribute to relieve the pain and suffering of at least one other.”

What does Lent and Easter look like for Churches in this kind of context?

Rev WP Ebenezer Joseph, President of the Conference, Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, gives us an insight into the focused determination of the people he serves. In a pastoral letter to Churches he calls members to remember who they are and why they exist:  as a caring community bringing solace, relief and hope to others, standing for truth and becoming the voice of the voiceless.

“We need to pray in faith, a faith that will disturb our comfort zones of complicity, a faith that will lead us to plunge into the miseries of our people and enable them to move ahead in hope,” he writes. “We need to take the first step in the assurance that God is ahead of us and God is with us.”

The pastoral letter, reproduced in full below, gives practical tips about avoiding food waste, using paper, water and electricity sparingly and making the most of available land to grow food for families. It challenges people to look at their lifestyles and make changes that reflect the priorities of John Wesley – simple, grounded, generous.

Rev Joseph’s letter is well worth a read for a compelling insight into the way our fellow Christians engage in the season of Lent and Easter in situations that feel far removed from our own.

“There is always a beauty in simplicity and a joy in sharing…” Rev Joseph concludes. “Lent is a season of preparation. As the days lengthen and green leaves begin to peek through the soil, we prepare for the both the darkness of Good Friday and the joyful flowering of Easter.”

You can support the work of Pastors like Rev Joseph in Sri Lanka and beyond by giving to our work. Learn more about the challenges of the global church, and celebrate their successes at Seven Days of Solidarity.

Pastoral Letter – Lent 2022

 

A new worship song has been written for UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity 2022.

The song, titled ‘One in Christ,’ is a powerful expression of hope and unity at a time we’ve never needed it more. 

Written by Roxanne McLeod and performed with Rev Ellie and Andrew Elia, Kelly and Julian Elia, Rev Radhika and Rev Adrian Sukumar-White, Melissa Coleman and Matt Potts, it will be sung by churches across Australia as part of UnitingWorld’s Seven Days of Solidarity.

Light of the world
Let us be
Beacons of hope, justice and peace
God be at work
Through our lives
People of faith, one in Christ

Hear the full song:

 

Sing it with us during Seven Days of Solidarity!

Seven Days of Solidarity is a week of inspiring stories of Christians at work in some of the world’s most challenging places. When you sign up, we’ll send you a story each day that includes ideas for action and prayer. Get your congregation on board and celebrate over two Sundays with a launch video and above worship video, impact stories, prayers, a sermon and easy ways to support the work in giving.

Click here to sign up!

We’re celebrating Seven Days of Solidarity 27 March to 3 April but you can choose any time that works for you or your church.

The music, lyrics and above video for ‘One in Christ’ are available at the Seven Days of Solidarity resources page here.

Early in their retirement, New Lambton Uniting Church members David and Patricia Mileham found themselves unexpectedly boarding a plane to spend time as UnitingWorld volunteers in West Timor.

Trish, a former teacher, and David, with management experience, spent parts of the next twelve years working with the local church in one of Indonesia’s most disadvantaged provinces.

“I think God put us in the right place at the right time to work in Timor,” Trish says. “We grew so much in our understanding of the culture and were part of a team helping people through micro-finance and community development. The blessings were many!”

The Milehams were also fortunate to visit North India as part of an exposure trip, where they experienced again the powerful impact of prayer, advocacy and giving. Wanting to find an opportunity to share their experiences and the stories of those they met, they’re now UnitingWorld Ambassadors.

“The work of the wider Uniting Church in Australia through UnitingWorld is inspiring: respecting, training and supporting others so that we can share what we have in the most effective, transformative ways,” Trish says.

We saw first-hand how carefully projects are overseen and partners trained. We know the money is used wisely and we’re glad to be able to share the impact of the work with others.”

Want to join our Ambassadors team?

If you’re interested in telling the stories of God at work in the world, we’ll give you everything you need to share the word.

Contact Niko at nicolasd@unitingworld.org.au or 0451 097 803

Indonesia has the highest COVID-19 caseload in all Southeast Asia. More than 4.23 million infections were reported nationwide to the end of 2021, and over 143,000 deaths. Only 22% of the population has been vaccinated, and local governments lack capacity to respond in the most hard-hit provinces.

The World Health Organization predicts an increase in case numbers, likely in outer-lying provinces and islands due to low vaccination rates, easing of movement restrictions, weak community observance of health protocols, and the gradual reopening of schools.

It’s estimated that 2.8 million Indonesians have fallen into poverty due to the pandemic. Indicators relating to livelihoods, food security and gender-based violence have also deteriorated dramatically since 2020.

In response, UnitingWorld is working as part of the ‘CAN DO’ Consortium (Church Agencies Network – Disaster Operations) to provide health messaging, increase vaccine education and create opportunities to restore lost income.

Our partner the Protestant Christian Church in Bali, for example, will distribute emergency cash transfers to over 500 households, as well as provide small business training and thousands of chickens to kickstart new businesses. The programs have been designed by our partners in local communities to particularly target vulnerable groups including women, elderly people and those with disabilities.

Supported by the Australian Government, the project will include psychosocial support and referrals for those experiencing mental ill-health or domestic violence as a by-product of the pandemic. Monitoring and evaluation of the project will be rigorous, with the network learning from each other to increase impact right across Indonesia. Please pray for our partners as they enter their third year of emergency COVID-19 activities. They’re exhausted, many have lost family and friends, and are deeply appreciate our love, prayer and financial support.

“After the first explosion, we knew what is coming next, everyone rushed to the mountain; after the 2nd explosion the whole population is on the mountain. We started singing hymns and songs and we prayed as the night fall. We have no time to worry and listen to the destruction of the whole island by the tidal waves” – resident of Fonoi island.

As communication with Tonga gets a little easier, we continue to hear reports of the damage caused by the Volcanic explosion on Saturday 15th January 2022. We’ve heard stories of trauma and loss faced by those who relocated to Tongatapu, and those who were visited by chaplains from the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWCT). There is extensive damage to homes, churches, hospitals, schools and other property and possessions. Thankfully only three people lost their lives. Destruction of boats, roads, wharves, internet cable, airports, cars and trucks mean that reaching those affected has not been easy. People must line up for an hour of internet access, and so information comes to us in snippets and phone calls happen whenever folks are available. COVID-19 is now in Tonga, adding further stress and the resulting lockdown has restricted movement.

What is being done to assist people?

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga “Tekina ‘I Moana” initiative is the disaster management and recovery arm of the church, and has been busy packing and distributing care packages for affected people.

  • They have done rapid needs assessments in affected villages, and developed a three-staged approach to recovery. They will respond, reconnect and rebuild.
  • They’ve already visited eight villages to distribute water, food, clothes and provide counselling.
  • Within the next two months they plan to provide larger items – tents, temporary mobile toilets, beds, blankets, school bags and materials, boats, chainsaws, generators, petrol and the means to replant root vegetables.
  • In the rebuild phase, several residences and public buildings will be repaired.

Your donations to UnitingWorld have been used to support this initial response work, and funds will be targeted to support some of the ongoing and longer-term efforts.

Thank you so much for everything you’ve done to build the strength of our friends in Tonga. We and the Free Wesleyan Church appreciate your prayer and giving so much! You can find an extensive report on the ongoing recovery and rebuild plans prepared by the Free Wesleyan Church here – it’s absorbing reading and speaks to the competence and commitment of our partners. 

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga have other funding partners and are working closely with the Tongan Government. UnitingWorld is working with FWCT to determine which aspects of their plan the funds you helped us raise will support. For more information, please contact us at info@unitingworld.org.au and we’ll do our best to answer any questions.

Cyclones and droughts are increasing the frequency and intensity across the Pacific. We support our partners to prepare vulnerable communities and reduce the impacts of natural disasters.

Please consider a gift to help communities build resilience to disasters; building better homes, preparing shelters and evacuation plans and increasing our partners’ capacity to provide emergency support and pastoral care.

Support disaster preparation work here