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India’s COVID-19 surge has overloaded its struggling heath system and is causing thousands of deaths per day.

Our Uniting Church partners, the Church of North India (CNI), are not immune. Battling to keep people fed as a second lockdown wreaks havoc, and spreading critical health information to help beat the spread of the disease, they’re on the frontline of the response in their communities.

“The ‘Corona ‘Tsunami’, if one could say that, has left all of us paralysed,” Bishop Khimla of the Diocese of Durgapur told UnitingWorld.  “There is immense suffering as the medical and social infrastructure struggles to cope with the pandemic. The Church has also lost many ministers, both Pastors and Bishops.”

Project Officer Sanjay Khaling was recently hospitalised after contrating COVID-19, while several staff of the Durgapur Education and Social Empowerment project have contracted COVID-19 along with family and friends.

Despite the dangers, the church continues to serve the community as best they’re able. Bishop Samantaroy of the Amritsar Diocese said the church is working on immediate interventions including free distribution of cooked food, dry rations and hygiene products like masks, sanitiser and soap.

Schools have been closed across the area, so girls attending the hostel project in Amritsar have gone home to their villages for at least a month and possibly two. At the Amritsar Social Empowerment and Education project, study centers will continue in each village and the team are doing what they can to support people remotely.

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

While this team has experience from last year’s lengthy lockdown, the pandemic is reaching new heights in other areas.

The Eastern Himalayas Education project has had to close the school and move all activities online. Teachers are navigating the difficult task of teaching online while resourcing children who have little or no access to internet or devices.

“We are assured that UnitingWorld continues to be with us in spirit and prayers and believe that this too shall pass,” Bishop Khimla said yesterday. “We very much appreciate your prayers.”

UnitingWorld is supporting our partners to divert project funds to their COVID-19 responses where needed. Donations will be very gratefully received to support their work.

Click here to donate online.

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

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

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

Our partners have sent some updates below.

West Bengal

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

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

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

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

Punjab

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday the Australian Government announced an aid package for India.

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

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

 

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

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

You can watch it here:

Download the video.

Download the full transcript.

Find out more about Seven Days of Solidarity

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

The latest:

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

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

 

UPDATES FROM OUR PARTNERS:

West Timor

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

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

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

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

 

Timor-Leste

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

UnitingWorld has launched an appeal to support the emergency relief work of our partners. Funds raised will help provide displaced and vulnerable people with immediate needs of food, shelter and health care. In the longer term, it will support rebuilding, rehabilitation and the re-establishment of people’s livelihoods. Your support will make a huge difference and will be a powerful gesture of solidarity with our close neighbours dealing with the double crisis of floods and COVID-19.

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

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

Thank you so much!

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

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

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

A huge thank you to everyone who has taken part in Lent Event and donated to projects that are helping our global neighbours stand strong against COVID-19. Over just the past few weeks, we’ve received $140,000, well on the way to our fundraising target of $330,000.

People like Wayan and his wife (above), who benefited from funding you’ve helped provide to our partners to supply goats and livelihood training, are desperately trying to avoid a return to the challenges they faced a few years ago.

“The food situation for my family is not too bad right now, but my wife has been sick for two weeks now and we have no money for the medicine,” Wayan told us.“14 people in my village area have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and we are really worried, not just because we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, but because we need to be able to keep working. Thank you for giving us a chance in the past, and my dream is that I will once again be able to earn a daily living and provide for my family.”

These are the people for whom your gifts continue to provide hope. Thank you so much! To make a donation, visit www.lentevent.com.au or call us on 1800 998 122.

The West Papua Council of Churches (which includes our partner, GKI-TP) has sent a Pastoral Letter for Easter condemning the increasing militarisation of the Papuan provinces and ongoing human rights violations by security forces. The letter also highlights serious environmental and land rights concerns.

In response to these issues, Papuan church leaders have reiterated a long-standing call for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out an investigation into the human rights situation in West Papua, and for an independent third party to provide for the needs of people living in areas affected by recent military operations in the highlands.

The Papuan church leaders also call for “prayer and fasting support from people and church leaders in the Pacific.”

Read the full Pastoral Letter

As Easter approaches, we’re excited to let you know about a new initiative.

Beginning April 18, Seven Days of Solidarity is inspired by the work of our partner churches, celebrating where the risen Christ is at work changing lives.

Celebrating the good things God is doing seems important after a year of strain and struggle to adapt to a pandemic that is still the source of pain for millions of people. COVID-19 continues to make life so incredibly difficult for our partners, but through it all, God is faithful. Their incredible lives remind us that we’re surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who keep the faith, and giving up is not an option.

UnitingWorld holds these partnerships on behalf of the people of the Uniting Church, and we wanted to take the opportunity to share some of their stories and inspire you in faith and action.

In the weeks immediately after Easter, when we celebrate resurrection life and the birth of the Church, this is an opportunity to bear witness to where the risen Christ is at work. Join us to celebrate our partners, give thanks, and share resources to keep this mission alive.

Find everything you need to sign up your church for Seven Days of Solidarity at www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au You can order copies of the Seven Stories of Inspiration or download online, as well as access the videos and worship resources.

NOTE: You and your congregation can run Seven Days of Solidarity at any time during the year that suits you. Just register to get the resources, convince your friends and plan your event!

We hope you can join us for this exciting celebration of our partners and global neighbours.

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