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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

 

Our friends in Tonga are incredibly grateful for the support so many of you have shown since Hunga Tonga-Hung Ha’api erupted on Jan 15, causing a tsunami and massive destruction on remote islands.

With your help we’ve raised over $125,000 so far for our partners to invest into their work caring for people impacted by the disaster. Thank you!

If you would like to add your support for Tonga you can still give here.

Project Manager Aletia Dundas, who is helping support the efforts of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (FWCT) from our office in Sydney, provides an update below.

Would you like to send a message of support?

We’ve organised an e-card that we’ll deliver on Friday to our friends in Tonga. It’s easy to sign and we’d love you to add your prayer or message of support.

Should we collect items to send?

We’ve received many generous offers to donate items for people in Tonga. While we’re very grateful for the support, our partners have requested that people not send items into the country.

Items donated from Australia can clog up ports and prevent much needed aid from quickly reaching those who need it most. The vast majority of donated items aren’t appropriate for the context and tragically, end up in landfill.  Read more here about why cash donations are the best way to show your support.

Your past support in action

We talk a lot about the critical important of disaster preparedness and Tonga is a great example of how your support is making a huge difference!

After Cyclone Gita, FWCT wanted to be able to respond faster to the next disaster. Thanks to your support, they built and stocked a large storage facility to be able to begin repairs to damaged buildings within days and weeks after a cyclone rather than having to wait for supplies to be shipped in from outside. It was used for Cyclone Harold and is now being used to repair buildings damaged by the tsunami.

Back in 2015, FWCT also wanted to create a network of chaplains to support people in the event of disaster or crisis. They requested experts Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson, Rev. Nau Ahosivi and Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau to run a series of training sessions for their ministers and create the network.

When cyclones Gita and Harold hit, the network was deployed and provided valuable support to people who’d lost their homes and were surrounded by devastation. The experience the chaplains gained during these emergencies meant they were immediately ready when the tsunami hit this month, and they’ve been hard at work visiting affected communities.

Through our partnership, FWCT also accessed a grant from the Australian Government to supply water tanks to vulnerable families affected by Cyclone Harold and to support health and hygiene advice for COVID-19 prevention. Eight were 10,000 litre tanks for communal use in vulnerable areas. Access to clean drinking water has been a critical issue since the tsunami hit, and authorities warned residents to protect water sources in advance from volcanic ash fall. We are still waiting to hear how many were able to do it and how the tanks fared.

Thank you so much for supporting our partners in Tonga before and after this crisis. It’s truly making a huge difference.

We’re excited for two big events this half of 2022 and hope you’re ready to be engaged and inspired!

Lent Event

Live simply, so others may simply live.

Lent Event calls you to join other Christians in a pledge to give up or take up something in solidarity with those who live with less. Learn about how to be a good global neighbour through our Bible study series and donate to support our work, knowing that every dollar is part of God’s mission in the world, ending poverty and building hope.

What could you GIVE UP? What could you TAKE UP?
Buying things you don’t need; wasting food; checking your phone; arriving late; gossip; disposable plastic; mindless eating; worrying about things that can’t
be changed; going through the motions; procrastination…
Composting; gratitude; patience; a new skill; prayer; forgiveness; secret acts of kindness; exercise; a budget; a new idea; graciousness; regular giving; meditation; memorising scripture…

Join a team to have more impact!

Join others online who are choosing to walk 10,000 steps a day to raise money for clean water; reducing screen time or technology to support children in school or cut back on plastic use to raise funds for climate change advocacy and disaster relief.

Visit us at www.lentevent.com.au for all the details.

Seven Days of Solidarity

Celebrate with us the work of our global neighbours!

Seven Days of Solidarity is your chance to hear 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 for each day of the week that includes ideas for action and prayer. Get your congregation on board and celebrate over two Sundays with a launch video and original worship music, impact stories, prayers, a sermon and easy ways to support the work in giving. We’re celebrating Seven Days of Solidarity during Lent (28 March to 4 April) but you can choose any time that works for you or your church.

Find out more at www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au

Have you seen the film “Don’t look up”?  

 A stellar performer for Netflix throughout January, it follows the progress of two astronomers as they desperately try to warn a pre-occupied population that a killer comet is on a collision course with the planet. In response, politicians, celebrities and ordinary people find refuge in the idea that if they simply ‘don’t look up’, they’ll be protected from reality. 

It’s an uncomfortable watch, but many of us probably have some sympathy with the desire to keep our heads low and our focus narrow right now. It can feel like the only way to stay sane.  

There are, however, really life-giving reasons to keep looking up.  

Looking up focusses us on the story of Christ.

At the foot of the cross, Jesus’ friends stayed to look up into the reality of his suffering and then to care for his body. They found redemption not only in their own actions, but in the ultimate, astonishing act of God in bringing new life. The same is true for us.

Looking up, and sharing the stories of others, allows us to realise our collective power to bring about change.

Understanding our experience relative to others around the world also helps us celebrate our wins and work against the losses.  

UnitingWorld calls you to embrace this call by taking part in two events in the first part of 2022. 

 Seven Days of Solidarity, during Lent March 27-April 3 or any time that suits you, shares a vision of God at work through our global neighbours. You’ll hear inspiring stories of the challenges faced and changes created by ordinary Christians around the world. Better yet, respond in worship, prayer and giving across two Sunday Services. Find out more and download videos, prayer, sermon and liturgy at www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au. 

 Lent Event, from March 2 – April 14, is a call to live simply so others can simply live. For forty days, take action to bring about change for others. Join a challenge to give or take something up in solidarity with those who live with less. Ask friends to support you, and hear about how your efforts can put power in the hands of ordinary people to earn an income, keep their children in school or get access to clean water. Check out www.lentevent.com.au for details. 

Together, UnitingWorld’s Lent Event and Seven Days of Solidarity point us back to God’s faithfulness and focus our eyes, heart and hands on building a Kingdom of peace and justice.  Look them up this January – you won’t regret it.