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COVID-19 cases are rising uncontrolled in Papua New Guinea, putting thousands of people at risk in remote areas without access to clean water or adequate health care. The outbreak has also exposed Australia’s north to a new wave of infection.

The Australian Government has responded to the emergency with a plan to immediately send 8,000 COVID-19 vaccines to PNG alongside an Australian Medical Assistance Team. The aim is to protect front line health workers, but the long-term race to vaccinate people in the provinces faces severe challenges.

“In the Highlands there are strong beliefs about witchcraft and people have traditionally used poisoned arrows and foods against others, so people are very suspicious of anything that is injected into the body,” says Bena Seta, who manages the community services projects of UCPNG.

“A focus on the book of Revelation and the apocalypse complicate people’s understanding of the pandemic, and there is also just not a great deal of awareness about modern medicine or the use of vaccines in general.”

Rumours about the vaccine have been running rampant in PNG, with some members of parliament supporting the idea that they are unsafe.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) have recognised the critical importance of working in partnership with PNG churches, who have reach and influence in areas where the virus is growing unchecked.

We have joined with other churches and are working urgently to talk with people about their fears and reassure them that the vaccine is safe,” Bena says. “We did the same with polio and measles vaccinations, and we had good success. We know how to make this work but we need the time and resources to do it.”

High rates of infection

Staggeringly high infection rates have been recorded. Of 91 people tested in a single day, 82 returned a positive test, leading Queensland to suspend flights to Cairns from Papua New Guinea. Movement in and out of communities in the mining industry could be driving the spike in infections, with workers transmitting not just within the country but also to North Queensland.

“We are not even sure how much community transmission there is because the rate of testing isn’t good,” says Bena, who waited five hours in a line for his test at the local hospital. “And isolating while you wait for a test result is very difficult for people in both the city and rural areas. What about work? What about food?”

UnitingWorld supports UCPNG to run a widespread behaviour change campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across communities in PNG

Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UnitingWorld donors, UnitingWorld’s partner UCPNG has been offering practical training to health workers, trying to increase the number of sanitation stations in schools and going village to village to encourage social distancing, hand washing and the wearing of masks.

“To be honest we are very fearful – we have seen what can happen in even affluent countries with this disease,” Bena says.

“If this really spreads to rural areas, where there is not much access to clean water or health workers, things will be very very difficult. We know we need to act very quickly here.”

How you can help

You can support our ongoing work with UCPNG to provide critical public health advocacy on COVID-19 and vaccines; as well as clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education and infrastructure in rural communities by making a donating today.

Please make your donation online at www.lentevent.com.au or call us on 1800 998 122

The United Church in PNG Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project and COVID-19 response activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

“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

We’ve just been in touch with our partners from the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and heard the very sad news that four ministers have died from COVID-19 in just a few short weeks.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing a second COVID-19 wave, with more cases in January than all of 2020 combined. Gathering for worship is currently suspended, which means congregations have no money to pay their staff or look after their members.

We’re using your gifts to respond immediately to these threats, as well as maintaining our funding for projects

    • Providing a small daily allowance to meet the critical needs of people without income who serve within the church
    • Providing personal protective equipment for people so they can continue to serve those in poverty
    • Helping ensure clean running water in our partner’s office so that leadership can stay safe to serve others.

Meanwhile, the longer term work of our partner MeDRA (Methodist Development and Relief Agency) is proving incredibly effective in shoring up people’s resilience during the pandemic.

We recently received this report from Mavis, describing the ways her training with MeDRA is relieving economic stress for her family.

My name is Mavis, I’m thirty-eight and  a member of an Internal Savings and Lending (ISAL) group in a village in Gokwe South.

On a monthly basis, my group meets to assess our savings and share investment with each other, as we have been trained by MeDRA. As members we have been able to buy each other household utensils like pots, plates and cups, and at times we also share groceries.

With support from MeDRA, the group was advised to aim high and start investing money in more valuable assets. Equipped with the advice, the group changed its strategy in July 2020, and members were encouraged to invest in projects or buy high value assets that have good returns in the future.

When my turn came in the month of December, I received USD215 from the group. I had to consult my family on a project that would give us more benefit, while still being able to pay back the group loan.

As a family we settled for a broiler poultry project and with the loan from the group, I managed to start the project with seventy-five chicks. They matured into good broilers after six weeks and were bought like hot cakes. I am now doing a batch of 100 broilers per cycle.

The loan has helped to increase the family income and I can also pay back into the group loan. I sell at the local shopping centre to customers who come to the grinding mill or buy basic groceries at the shops. Access to the bigger Gokwe Town center has been limited by the lockdown regulations.

ISAL has opened doors for me to start a project on my own because my household income has been pushed to better levels. I get a lot of support from my family in looking after the broilers and collectively we participate in poultry management and the marketing of broilers. I get technical support from MeDRA and Agritex on how to look after the broilers.

Especially during this pandemic, I am so proud to be the owner of a project that is giving access to good income. I am no longer so worried about food security and school fees for my family, as my project can meet the expenses. For each batch of 100 broilers, I am managing to make a profit of USD 100. With proper guidance from the group and from MeDRA, I feel I can never go wrong in life. I look forward in expanding my enterprise by diversifying to other businesses like opening a Tuckshop that sells grocery items. Thank you for this opportunity!

PLEASE PRAY:

  • For the leadership of the Church in Zimbabwe, especially for those who have lost family members
  • For people like Mavis, who show such great resilience and courage
  • For Zimbabwe’s leadership as they struggle to combat new lethal variants of COVID-19 and source vaccinations.

 

Image: Mavis with some of her chickens – earlier in the month there had been a flock of 400!

Do you remember Paramjit, from Amritsar in India?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Visit www.blackstarcoffee.com.au/pages/uw-offer and use the code: 𝗨𝗪𝗖𝟰𝗧𝗜𝗠𝗢𝗥 to order a subscription or sample pack with the discount.

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

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

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

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

Order coffee today! CODE: UWC4TIMOR

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

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

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

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

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

Join us for Lent Event 2021:

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

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


What about churches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a video invitation you can show them:

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

Grow your networks and experience.

Serve church and community with your unique skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a full description of the opportunity.

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

andrewroderickglenn@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Together we are going to End COVID for ALL”

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

Thank you for standing with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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