In the face of the global COVID-19 crisis, we are mindful of our responsibility to care for one another as a human family, especially as we witness the devastating impacts of the pandemic across the world.
For many of our church partners in Asia, the Pacific and Africa, COVID-19 poses a great threat to the safety and livelihoods of their communities. In the midst of their own challenging times, many of our partners have contacted the Uniting Church expressing their concern for us in Australia, noting how we have experienced drought and bushfire, and now COVID-19. Their concern has been for us. Indeed, we have been shown “unusual kindness”.
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer encouraged Uniting Church members to remember our church partners in prayer and action this week.
“As we pray this week for Christian Unity, we celebrate the life we share in Christ with other churches both here in Australia and across the world. We join together as one, in embodying God’s vision for the flourishing of all people and the whole creation,” said Dr Palmer.
“One of the important ways we share in the ecumenical life of the Church is the life-giving relationships we share with our church partners, many of which have significant ties to the culturally diverse communities in the UCA.”
In the face of COVID-19, our church partners, more than ever, need our prayers and our support. Let’s join with them, praying and acting together in unity and love.
Below is information from some our church partners to help you focus your prayer.
Photo: Wuhan Christian Council - Local churches and the Provincial Theological Seminary have delivered PPE supplies to local communities and aged care facilities.
There is grave concern COVID-19 will escalate poverty for already vulnerable communities. Many workers in India depend on daily wages. The coronavirus lockdown measures have left many struggling to feed themselves and their families. Our partner, the Church of North India, in the Diocese of Amritsar and Durgapu, is reaching out to support those in need. More than 2500 families have received emergency food packs including soap for regular handwashing. In Amritsar, 4,000 masks have been made and provided to the community and service sectors
Sri Lanka has been in extended lockdown which has increased the level of poverty country wide. People with disabilities have become especially vulnerable to threats resulting from COVID-19. Our Church partner the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka is providing much needed health packages and food packages to children and adults with disabilities to reduce their vulnerability. They are being distributed throughout project communities as well as in Colombo in the area around the church offices, with 130 households reach so far. They have also developed plans with the Department of Agriculture to support the creation of organic home gardens to meet the expected vegetable and fruit shortage.
Bali is expected to be badly affected by the virus. Already the pandemic has resulted in a sudden loss of jobs, particularly in tourism and associated industries. Our partner, the Protestant Church in Bali and its development agency Maha Bhoga Marga Foundation (MBM) have immediately responded to this need by calling local village leaders and identifying those in desperate need of essential food supplies. Last month they supplied food assistance to more than 2300 people and distributed health packages containing masks, soap and vitamins to 320 families. They continue to support villages and have planted fruit and vegetables to improve the long-term food security and nutrition of people who lost work and must stay at home.
In Timor Leste, less than 30 per cent of the population have access to handwashing facilities and more than 40 per cent live below the poverty line. While the number of cases are limited, COVID-19 lockdowns have badly affected the country. Most people rely on going out to work each day in order to have enough money to put food on the table, however for two months people have been unable to do this. Our partner, the Protestant Church in Timor Leste (IPTL) is responding to this need by providing food packs to support the most vulnerable households.
Our partners, the China Christian Council (CCC) have responded with great generosity to the desperate need for protective equipment to protect medical and community workers serving on the frontline. A relief program coordinated by a small team from Social Service Department resulted in 150million RMB ($A60 million) being raised to source supplies domestically and internationally.
CCC has supported frontline hospitals and aged care facilities in cities undergoing lockdown. Many congregations have had volunteer teams assisting local communities, particularly in Wuhan. Volunteer teams have distributed care packages at subway stations in Shanghai.
Finally, in the weeks before the Australian Government was able to source enough personal protective equipment (PPE), the CCC assisted the UCA by arranging shipments of masks which were distributed through the Uniting Care Australia network to the services most in need.
We pray for the people of Asia who are vulnerable in the midst of COVID-19 outbreak. We especially pray for those desperately in need of food to survive, for the medical teams, workers and volunteers serving on the frontline. We pray with our Church partners faithfully serving those who are sick and in need.
Photo: (from left) Kiribati Uniting Church Secretary for Mission Rev. Maleta Tenten, Principal of Tangintebu Theological College Rev. Dr Tioti Timon and Women’s Fellowship Project Coordinator Bairenga Kirabuke. Credit: Natasha Holland.
Papua New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea, COVID-19 creates new challenges, particularly for isolated rural communities where access to clean water is limited. Our church partner, the United Church in PNG, has been one step ahead with their WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) campaign aimed at helping prevent the spread of infectious diseases by showing people how to protect themselves and others. The team has been refocusing activities to include spreading important information about the virus far and wide.
For our partners in Tonga, the Free Wesleyan Church, Cyclone Harold struck Tonga in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown. Food and water have become limited and, following Government initiatives, the Church is supporting all communities to start home and community gardens. They are also identifying the most vulnerable families to supply water tanks. The Disaster Chaplaincy Network established in partnership with the UCA are currently deployed in to communities and supporting those identified and suffering and at risk.
In the midst of COVID-19 lockdown, Cyclone Harold hit the Northern and central Islands of Vanuatu at full strength. People were forced into evacuations centres where social distancing became extremely difficult. Our Partners, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) co-ordinated the collection of food, soap and other items to be delivered to the evacuations centres, while sharing messages of protection and care of the most vulnerable. Aware of a potential escalation in family and gender-based violence, the PCV has re-released their “Violence is a Sin” video message by PCV leaders which is currently being aired daily on National TV.
With the threat of COVID-19, rural communities in the Solomon Islands have been flooded with people from urban areas after the government issued a directive for all non-working citizens to return or relocate to their home provinces immediately. This has created a difficult situation for many families and communities, as well as escalating the risks of domestic violence. The United Church in the Solomon Islands (UCSI) have created educational resource packages, ‘Safety and Protection at Home Under COVID-19’.
In Fiji, the community is dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 and the devastation caused by Cyclone Harold. The Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF) has played an active part of the national COVID-19 program to engage their large national network in precautionary efforts and community education. MCIF President Rev. Vakadewavosa has been outspoken on the need to listen to health advice and respect government restrictions, as well as giving theological and pastoral guidance on responding to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, MCIF have conducted assessments of the damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold with widespread damage on most of the islands in the south and south eastern part of the country. This has brought about scarcity of food, water and transportation. Together with other church partners the MCIF will be taking the lead in providing psycho-social support (trauma counselling) to those affected by this disaster and by COVID-19.
In Kiribati, it is anticipated that as a result of COVID-19, there will be an increase in stress and anxiety as a result of isolation, uncertainty, decreased income, food security concerns and an increased risk of domestic violence. Our partner, the Kiribati Uniting Church and its Women’s Fellowship Reitan Aine ki Kamatu (RAK) have been producing and broadcasting biblically based messages responding to Gender Inequality and Violence against Women and Children on Radio Kiribati - the primary communication platform in an emergency and the only form of mass media that reaches all islands.
Pacific Conference of Churches
On 8 May, the Pacific Conference of Churches held their annual Day of Prayer, using the theme Christ our Living Hope. Rev. Maleta Tenten, Secretary for Mission in the Kiribati Uniting Church, called us all “to see and hear the cry of those who suffer, the oppressed, those deprived of their human rights and dignity, the poor, women and girls and children being abused and violated, those with a bleak future for their children and future generations because of climate impacts.”
In a letter to Pacific Churches, Rev. Dr Tevita Havea, Moderator of the Pacific Conference of Churches, called for prayers of thanks for the frontline medical staff, volunteers and counsellors serving their communities. Rev. Havea expressed sincere condolences for those who have lost loved ones and to those who are fearful, writing, “our prayer is that you will find peace, comfort and fortitude in God’s love and care”.
“If we work together, even with our fears and uncertainties, we will be offering our children a much better story for them to share with their children in the journey ahead. We also acknowledge the tremendous work of the governments, churches, civil society organisations and countless volunteers who attend to the needs of our people in the aftermath of Cyclone Harold in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.”
The Pacific Conference of Churches represents our international partners in the Pacific together with other ecumenical church partners. The Uniting Church in Australia is a full member of the PCC through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Council (UAICC)
We pray with all our partners in the Pacific as they face COVID-19 in the aftermath of Cyclone Harold. We join the Pacific Conference of Churches in praying for those who are mourning, those who are fearful, and for governments, churches, organisations and volunteers working together to support their communities.
Photo: Methodist Development and Relief Agency (MeDRA) in Zimbabwe - project staff provide guidance on hand-washing in rural communities as part of their COVID-19 response.
In South Sudan, managing the spread of COVID-19 will be incredibly challenging. With a population of 12 million people, there are only 12 intensive care unit beds and four ventilators. That's one ventilator for 3 million people. Almost 200,000 people are sheltering in UN civilian protection camps, including nearly 30,000 in Juba. The first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the camps on 13 May 2020. To add to this, many people don’t have access to internet, televisions or newspapers, meaning it is hard for them to access timely information and updates about COVID 19.
More than five million people in South Sudan rely on food aid to survive. The outbreak is slowing down humanitarian operations that deliver essential food supplies and lockdowns have restricted people from earning the money they rely on to meet their basic food and water needs. Women are more vulnerable to gender-based violence with the virus restricting options to seek help. The pandemic is also anticipated to slow down peace processes within South Sudan, already there have been reports of rising tensions in parts of the country. Our Partner, the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) has been engaged in peace building and trauma healing initiatives to support people following years of conflict. Now they are preparing to respond to COVID-19, by delivering food, wash items and psychosocial support to people most in need.
In Zimbabwe, COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time. In 2019, around 34% of the population were living in abject poverty (less than $1.90/day). Around 90% of the population are unemployed and annual inflation was recorded at over 600% in March 2020. Already people are struggling to put food on the table. Lockdown restrictions have meant that people have been more worried about starving to death than about COVID-19, as they have no means of making money to buy food unless they go out to work, often in the informal economy. They don’t have the luxury of stocking a pantry with items to last the next few days.
Many communities have also recently been impacted by natural disasters, such a severe drought and Cyclone Idai which hit in 2019. These disasters have impacted food production, especially for rural villages.
Our Partners the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and its relief agency the Methodist Development and Relief Agency (MeDRA) are supporting vulnerable communities by sharing materials about preventing COVID-19 and recognising symptoms, delivering food, tapped buckets and soap to households most in need, and spreading awareness in communities to reduce gender-based violence.
Churches and faith organisations in Africa have declared 22 May “Africa Prayer Day” to curb the outbreak of the pandemic.
We pray for all frontline medical staff and others working with the threat of COVID-19. We pray with the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe in their work supporting the most vulnerable and we pray with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan as they seek to offer love and assurance to an already traumatised community struggling to survive with the new fear of COVID-19.
“Our partners are not just looking for aid – they are looking to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, in the prophetic, practical and pastoral work of the church. Please come with us on this journey, as we strive together for God’s kingdom everywhere.”
Dr Sureka Goringe, National Director, UnitingWorld
For more information and to give financially to support those in desperate need, visit UnitingWorld: www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow
Other resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are available here: https://www.ncca.org.au/faith-and-unity-resources and you can read a message from the World Council of Christian Churches, "Prayer for Christian Unity prepares the way for Pentecost".
Download this resource as a PDF below.