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Do you consider yourself a visionary? 

Maybe it sounds a bit lofty and idealistic, beyond your pay grade… And yet, people with vision are probably just those who can keep the big picture front of mindthe destinationamid the weeds of the journey.

I see it all the time in the work of our partners, who keep their eyes fixed on their hopes for the future, their faith in God and their capacity to bring about change. Rev John in South Sudan is only one example of the way perspective shapes our daily action and behaviour. He’s not impatient for change. He believes, like Martin Luther King Jr, that the “moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

He’s in it for the long haul, and he’s weathering the storm. I see the same vision among our partners right across the globe as they adapt to new realities born of the terrible, heart-rending impact of COVID-19. They’re down in the weeds discussing how to sell products without being able to travel to physical marketplaces; accessing available government grants and subsidies; re-training people to sew masks and distribute them. But their eyes are always fixed on the bigger picture: the promise of a better world for all, where God’s love is known and made known.

That same perspective has always animated you too, and it gives the whole team and I here at UnitingWorld great encouragement. The last few months have been difficult, yet I’ve been blown away by your continuing love, dedication and generosity.

Thank you. Let’s keep holding the vision high.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld

“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only come through understanding.”
-Albert Einstein.

One of my favourite moments as a kid was blowing out my birthday candles. It wasn’t just the seductive sight of tiny flames snuffed out in an instant – very early on, I’d heard that if you made a wish while you blew, it would come true. Every year I asked for the same thing, more or less: world peace. For people everywhere. Just peace. (Once or twice I may have also requested a guinea pig, which came to fruition).

Still hoping for peace.

In a world where we often feel powerless, here are four practical steps to move beyond wishful thinking.

1. Learn

Understanding is at the heart of peace – peace in the heart, peace in the home, peace in the nation. But where does understanding come from? It’s the intersection of listening, experience and knowledge – all of which has never been more accessible. We’re flooded with opportunity – an internet that opens the worlds of others to our gaze; self development in the form of talks, groups, courses; news that’s instant and graphic and not always reliable. As the lines between fact and fiction blur, it’s tempting to opt out altogether in the quest for genuine understanding – of others, ourselves and the world. Hang in there. Keep learning. Keep seeking. This is where peace begins.

2. Pray

 “While I follow closely all  your stories and updates, I want you all to know that I am particularly and prayerfully aware right now of Rev John Yor,” a beautiful donor wrote to us recently.  “Just ‘knowing about’ these people and communities touches me deeply – I find myself praying for Rev Yor throughout the day as I go about the activities with the people who are part of my day.”

The Apostle Paul suggested to the Church at Thessalonica that they should pray without ceasing. Is it practical? Is it possible? Many of our supporters say yes, extending their knowledge of people and places into their daily prayer routines.

  • Scroll down here for our prayer points for the people of South Sudan, who are desperately in need of peace
  • Set an alarm that reminds you to pray during the day; take time to write a short prayer and send it to us to pass on to our partners peacebuilding on the front lines at info@unitingworld.org.au

3. Give

John Wesley flipped the idea of giving on his head when, as a young minister, he set a budget for his annual needs and regarded any extra as belonging to God and others. In the first year he earned 32 pounds, lived on 28 and gave the rest away. As his income increased, doubled and then tripled, he continued to live on 28 pounds. Wesley began a school, a sewing co-op, a free health clinic and a lending agency for the poor: he preached that using financial resources for others was a central part of faith. In a world where poverty and gross inequality drives a huge amount of conflict, what’s your approach to giving? How are you passing on your approach to others, and are you planning to leave a legacy?

4. Speak & act

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
-Matthew 5:9

While most of us like to think of ourselves as peacemakers, often what we’re really doing is avoiding or delaying conflict. Genuine peacemakers are pro-active, not re-active. They have a strategy – they observe, they listen, and they act to help restore shalom – the wholeness of God – wherever they can. What are your personal peacemaking skills like? How much do you understand about the process and how committed to it are you in your everyday relationships?

  • Read up on resources like this one: How to be a peacemaker
  • Write a letter to your local MP about your commitment to building wholeness for everyone, not simply for the affluent here in Australia. Ask what financial resources are being put into developing relationships with our neighbours and what Australia’s vision is as a peace building nation in our region.

Can faith really heal a nation?

If you tried to make a plate of bean stew in South Sudan right now, you’d spend up to 201% of your daily wage simply on ingredients. The same meal here would absorb less than 1% of a typical income.

South Sudan’s food crisis is just one swirl in the vortex of a perfect storm. Drought, locusts and flooding have decimated crops. COVID-19 lockdowns have slammed borders shut and are choking off food, fuel and water supplies. An economic crisis has sent the cost of living through the roof. And simmering away beneath it all, conflict has driven 1.4 million people into makeshift refugee camps and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

And it’s not a new problem. Sometimes, when we share news on Facebook of South Sudan and other places in conflict, we attract comments that are scathing about the ‘dysfunction of African countries.’ While there’s often not much insight behind the sentiments, they tap a frustration with the devastating long term disorder that seems to characterise life in places like South Sudan.

Why? Why is famine and war and corruption so deeply entrenched? Why does foreign aid seem to leak through such places like a sieve?

The answers aren’t simple, but you don’t have to look that far to find them.

It’s history: the impact of decades of colonial rule stunting the development of good leadership and allowing corruption to prosper.

It’s poverty, crippling everything from education, healthcare and hope.

It’s living in some of the most volatile places in the world in terms of climate and natural disaster.

And it’s the heart breaking normalisation of violence among people who are desperate for land and stock for food.

If these are the problems, what are the solutions? Those living in South Sudan itself say the most critical underlying need is for peace: stability in government and society from which to build a better future. But peace requires a movement – a deeply committed, organised base from among local people themselves. And in the context of such long term deprivation, where is the leadership for such a movement to be found?

A recent study by the US Institute of Peace found that faith-based people and organisations in South Sudan are the most important peace actors in the country*. Since independence in 2011, and indeed well before, it’s the churches who’ve stood at the forefront of peace negotiations and trauma healing. It’s people of faith who’ve risked their lives to travel to places where rape is a routine weapon of war against women and girls. It’s people of faith who are restoring unity, one by one, amongst people tired and suspicious of government efforts.

Many people, of course, find that hard to believe. Isn’t religion divisive? Doesn’t it tend toward the submissive, preferring to rely on the heart of God rather than the hands of people?

Sure, sometimes. As in most developing regions, religion is central to life in South Sudan, and the way theology is applied differs from place to place.

But right at the heart of religion is the unshakeable belief that transformation is possible, that love wins over death. And that’s a powerful force. Ask any of the faith leaders why they stay, and it’s a rock solid sense of call. “God hasn’t left us orphans,” they say. “God is at work in the world, healing and renewing. And we are part of it.”

It’s a shared conviction. Religion in South Sudan isn’t the major flash point of conflict – it’s cultural differences between tribal groups that go back centuries. While Christianity is the majority faith (around 60% of the population), since 2011 there’s been relative harmony between Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional African religions. From city cathedrals to mosques and village chapels, the leadership of faith communities have the confidence of the people and are united in their desire for peace. But is it enough? Why isn’t change happening faster?

The South Sudan Council of Churches, the country’s largest unifying faith-based body, is working on it. With more than six million members from seven denominations, they’ve developed a strategic plan which represents South Sudan’s most comprehensive road map out of conflict – nothing quite like it exists even within government. Based on four pillars – advocacy, neutral forums for negotiation, reconciliation and organisational strengthening – the Council of Churches’ Action Plan for Peace was officially adopted in 2015. But what does it look like in practise?

Rolling out a peace action plan

The Uniting Church in Australia, through UnitingWorld, has some insight into the process. In 2012, it developed a partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS), a pivotal member of the Council with networks that reach well beyond the cities into regional areas and places ravaged by conflict, including refugee camps outside the country. Simply put, the Action Plan for Peace is the sending of ministers to teach, preach, counsel and care – treacherous journeys to communities where hunger and despair are woven into the fabric of life. It’s developing leadership skills and training theological students in Juba. It’s women marching for peace, month after month, in the capital, Juba. And it’s working alongside government to advocate for change in a context where deliberate neglect of certain groups – sometimes to the point of starvation- is seen a legitimate tactic in quelling dissent.

Christian women marching for peace in South Sudan, 2017

It’s clear that the wisdom and spiritual care of church leaders really matters: 82% of Peace Institute Survey respondents, when asked where they would turn for help aside from immediate family, mentioned their religious leaders. Research found that 39% of people regarded their community and religious leaders as their main source of information – combined with the fact that only 8% of people have internet and 20% have mobile phones, the equipping of leaders with accurate, harmonising and life giving messages is critical. These messages often come direct from the pulpit – 54% said the most useful contribution of the faith community towards peace is through sermons and prayers*, and UnitingWorld’s partners are certainly hands-on in terms of changing hearts and minds at the local level. But it’s not their only tactic.

25% of survey respondents said that more important than spiritual care was the organisation by faith groups of peace conferences and workshops. These are the teaching moments – often in hard to reach, conflict ridden places – that bring together the leaders of warring tribes to negotiate, listen, learn conflict resolution skills and support trauma healing.

A UnitingWorld-funded conference took place earlier this year in Cairo, Egypt. It was a tough assignment, drawing on refugees from different tribal groups who’ve traditionally resisted reconciliation. A second workshop in Juba, attended by church leaders, led to the resolution of a conflict between groups in one community. Three trained ministers intervened after negotiations about leadership became heated; they were able to bring the groups together and the leadership appointment went ahead without violence.

It’s these local leaders who’ll go back to their tribal groups, one by one, to share the skills that underpin peace. Without them, the movement can’t gain momentum. Very little will change.

What makes the critical difference?

The churches’ ability to capitalise on this reach and influence depends very much on developing their own capacity. Within the Nile Theological College, students are learning not just theological ideas but practical skills like peace building and fundamental human rights values that have gone undeveloped for decades. National Assemblies of various denominations strive to bring together their members to seek spiritual guidance and encourage one another. And leaders are being invited to advise government and demonstrate their negotiation skills in forums as significant as the 2018 Peace Negotiations in Addis Ababa, Egypt.

Right now, all eyes are on the need to safeguard South Sudan from the likely ravages of COVID-19, providing food, water and medicine to stave off hunger – and the need is huge. But in addition, the churches haven’t wavered from the big picture. They’re fiercely committed to investing in the peace process and the nurture of leaders who’ll shepherd their nation toward long term stability.

It’s incredibly difficult work. In Juba, members of the PCOSS leadership are hungry, without reliable food supplies, electricity, water or internet. Their own day to day existence is absolutely precarious, even as they care for others.

That’s why over the coming year, UnitingWorld is even more committed to supporting our partners. We’re funding two more peace workshops, the training of theological students through the Nile College, upgrades of vital transport to allow travel to remote area and investment into helping the Presbyterian Church bring together people for its General Assembly. All of this is in addition to humanitarian work in response to the pandemic. It’s long term, painstaking work and it often lacks the immediate punch of livelihood investment, or water and sanitation projects. But it’s also exactly consistent with the way transformation happens – incrementally, in small steps. Most significantly? The church is investing in individuals who drive change.

If faith really can heal a nation, this is how it happens.

UnitingWorld is looking for people with a heart for nurturing Christian leadership to bring lasting change in South Sudan and other places around the world. You can contribute by praying and sending messages of solidarity to partners in South Sudan, or help meet some of the long term costs of the project. If this project is your call, please be in touch with our Partnerships Team on 1800 998 122 or email us on info@unitingworld.org.au.
You can donate here

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…
A time for war, a time for peace… A time for mourning and a time for rejoicing…”

They’re words from the writer of Ecclesiastes, but like a lot of people, I heard them first in the classic song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ by The Byrds. I was 16, devouring all the classics from the 50’s and 60’s. Pete Seeger’s melodic conjuring of the seasons – nothing out of place, nothing unexpected – was reassuring. It was also biblical: a win win.

Fast forward to the chaos facing so many around the world – an estimated 265 million people are facing acute food insecurity due to COVID-19, for example – and I’m not so sure.

This is a season of suffering, and I want it to end.

I spoke recently to Rev John Yor in South Sudan. The line was terrible – electricity is reliable for only a few hours each morning in the capital Juba – and he’s softly spoken, with an undercurrent of strength that makes you think of the tallest tree in a silent forest. I had trouble hearing everything he said, but what I heard was enough.

He’s put aside two pieces of bread for his dinner, he tells me when I ask about hunger, and will look for more food in the markets with hundreds of others. Food prices, he says, are through the roof. Local crops have been destroyed this year by drought, a locust plague and now flooding; border closures, lockdowns and conflict have choked supplies coming in from Kenya and Ethiopia. In his church compound, he finds people who have walked for days to beg for food, water and shelter. His heart is breaking as he struggles to respond. “We have little but prayer,” he says.

South Sudan’s long season of suffering is well past it’s due date. Her people are vibrant and her land a diamond in the rough, but the country holds the dual honour of being the site of Africa’s longest running civil war and its worst refugee crisis. The causes of this tragedy reach deep into history – Egyptian and British rulers who favoured the north (known simply as Sudan since the South won independence in 2012) and provided basic infrastructure like roads, hospitals and water systems that the South still lacks; brazen raiding of the South for slaves; tribal groups warring over access to land and livestock to feed themselves as natural disasters constantly push the country to the brink of famine.

And now COVID-19. Last year the World Food Bank fed five million people in South Sudan; this year the numbers are expected to double. Mask wearing, soap and water for hand washing – these things are far beyond the reach of ordinary people, even if they had access to the televisions, radios and social media that carry public health messages. In rural areas where Rev John and his team from the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan work, people look to the skies for food drops from the UNHCR. They live in tents and shacks thrown together in places where tribal fighting hasn’t yet left homes looted and burnt. They’ve fled with the clothes on their back and little else. Since 2013, 1.4 million people have become refugees inside the country and another two million live in camps across the border in Kenya and Ethiopia.

I watched a report from Al Jazeera on YouTube that brought the painful reality of life in South Sudan into agonizing focus. And I looked at images sent to us by John and his team of their time in a refugee camp, giving out food, masks, hand sanitiser and clean water. The people they meet simply cannot believe that on top of everything else, a deadly virus stalks their country. South Sudan has 80 beds in its new infectious unit facility, and only one COVID-19 testing center in the capital. John and the Presbyterian Church have been out in communities teaching about social distancing, a massive challenge in place where hundreds of people touch the same bore handle for water and families live shoulder to shoulder under tarps.

“John,” I said to him, heart as low in my chest as it’s been in a long time, “How do you maintain your hope through all this?”

His reply was both as strong and as gentle as his description of South Sudan’s pain.

“I hold close the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes,” he said. “For everything there is a season – a time to be born, a time to die. A time for war, a time for peace; a time to mourn and a time to rejoice. And God has made all things beautiful and set eternity in our hearts.”

This is no wishful thinking – no glib quote to justify an indulgent life backed by the belief that God has everything under control and there’s no need to act.

It’s the lifeblood of a faith that drives a man to risk his life daily for others, alone in a city too dangerous for his family to make their home. It’s the steely heart of a commitment to God’s world and God’s people no matter what; a rock-solid anthem that life can and will be redeemed. It’s the language of call and conviction and all the weight of intimately knowing an unshakeable love that transforms.

It leaves me, to be honest, a bit torn apart. My own faith is a pale shadow in comparison; I have questions and doubts and anger that simmers. I have no doubt John does too.

But John is the man in the moment, the person for whom all this is more than simply a phone call. His eyes are on eternity and his hands and heart are raw from the ruthless realities of here, of now – and still he hopes. Still he proves the presence of Christ, alive and at work in the world, forever faithful.

If that isn’t enough to galvanise us to action, then what is?

Life in Australia has its own share of sorrows right now: there’s a breath-holding claustrophobia as case numbers rise and fall and many of us remain locked away from each other and our ordinary dreams of work, family, future. Part of the antidote to this suffering is opening the window to a bigger picture, a wider world into which we’re woven through our shared experiences of loss and love. John’s voice, the steadfastness of Christian people scattered throughout South Sudan, India, Zimbabwe, Indonesia – these are the flickers of hope that warm us, the places where we see God’s presence in the midst of absolutely ordinary people like us.

We might long for a new season, but the truth John and others reveal is that whatever our pain, whatever our joys – God is present and God’s people are faithful. Our brothers and sisters in South Sudan call us to a season of steady determination, the bending of our hands and hearts to give and pray and reflect, the quiet faith that grows with solidarity. It feels familiar, but with each story we collect of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary, it becomes new. There’s strength in that. It’s enough.

Our church partners in South Sudan are racing against the clock to get food and water to people in lockdown and in refugee camps, and providing masks, sanitiser and health messaging. Please give, pray and learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in South Sudan here: www.unitingworld.org.au/southsudancrisis

Brooklyn Distephano blogs on life as a student in Ambon during COVID-19. Brooklyn is a 17-year-old Ambonese high school student and UnitingWorld Peace Workshop participant.

The COVID-19 pandemic first spread to Indonesia on 2 March 2020 when a dance instructor and her mother were infected by a Japanese national. By 9 April, the pandemic had spread to all 34 provinces in the country after Gorontalo confirmed its first case, with JakartaEast Java, and West Java being the worst-hit.  Today, there are almost 49,000 cases with 2,500 deaths.

On 19 March 2020 I went to school, and when I arrived there was an announcement saying that there was going to be a teachers’ meeting. After the meeting our teachers went to each class to give assignments to the student because we were going to be learning from home due to Covid-19.

When I first heard that I felt so happy! In my mind I could sleep late, wake up late and go on vacation etc. After our teachers finished giving the assignment, we were allowed to go home. Within the first week all my assignments were finished and I thought, “During this learning from home I’m going to be so happy!”

It didn’t turn out like that.  Everyday, there’s more bad news than good news. Everybody has become sad, and so am I. My life has became very boring because all I can do is wake up, eat, and play on my phone until I got to bed again. Also I can’t meet my friends so that has made the situation even worse.

In the middle of this pandemic, things in Ambon have become very different. Most of the places that are usually crowded have become very quiet. The Government has said to the people that we must always wear a mask if we want to go outside. But still there are a lot of people who do not obey the rules. That’s why there’s so many police and authorities patrolling in Ambon. If they catch people who don’t wear a mask when they go outside, usually they get punished. If a man is caught and he doesn’t have a mask, he will be asked to open his t shirt and use that as his mask. But many people can’t stay home because they have to work – if they don’t work they will have no food. So it is very hard for us here.

I’m afraid that if we don’t obey the Government and wear masks then this pandemic will end with so many casualties. And I also worry for the people who can’t stay at home and be safe. I appreciate so much the people that are fighting Covid-19 at the forefront. Please respect them because while we are able to sit down in our house and talk to our family, they can’t. So let’s give these fighters big respect and appreciation.

Thank you for reading my story of being a student in Ambon during this pandemic. All I want is to go back to school, to see my friends and be part of building a better future for Ambon.

-Brooklyn.

Lent Event 2020

A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting Brooklyn, other young leaders, women’s groups and small business start-ups through gifts to this year’s Lent Event.

Disaster and crisis are a part of life for us here at UnitingWorld. Each year, at least one of our partners is swamped by the impact of a cyclone, storm, war or famine. We mobilise, we strategise, we fundraise, we act. We’re good at it.

COVID-19 is different. It has plunged every single one of our partners, in every part of the globe, into crisis all at once. We’re traveling at speed through territory we’ve never traversed before, and there’s little light to guide. We don’t know exactly how the pandemic will play out for each of our partner communities – how many lives lost, what cost to the economy. As unemployment soars and productivity declines here in Australia, we don’t know what resources you, our supporters here in Australia, will muster to continue to support our brothers and sisters internationally. We don’t know how the Australian Government will allocate precious funding under the pressure of a massive deficit and to what extent the foreign aid budget will bear the brunt of the scramble to claw back dollars.

Our partners tell us they’re living by faith. I am too. It’s not the kind of blind belief that asserts everything will be fine—despite all evidence to the contrary—and claims immunity from fallout. It’s about faithfulness, staying true to our call. And it’s about trust, in God’s character and promise. This faith is about relationship, as is so much of our shared life with God, our partners and with each of you as our co-workers. We are bound to each other in covenant, the promise that through the darkest nights and the deepest valleys, Christ is beside us and through us and alive in this world. I can’t tell you how reassuring that knowledge is to me in the midst of the chaos of budgeting, planning, responding in the blackness of ‘not knowing’. Please continue to stand with us in giving, praying and hoping. We were made for times like these, and we are not alone in God’s world.

In hope and determination,

Sureka

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director
UnitingWorld


COVID-19 update 

While many project activities have been put on hold due to lockdowns, we are redirecting people and money to meet immediate COVID-19 related needs. Our partners are continuing to serve their communities in innovative ways and working hard to retain the development gains you’ve helped make happen.

Thank you so much to all our regular givers and all of you who’ve helped resource our partners to respond to this crisis. Your donations are being put to use protecting lives, preventing hunger and building the long-term resilience of communities in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

Thank you for supporting this critical work.

www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow

A reflection by Brooklyn Distephano, 17-year-old Ambonese student and UnitingWorld Peace Workshop participant.


In 1999 Ambon suddenly became a war zone. A conflict between religions caused over five thousand people to lose their lives and half a million to lose their homes. Many children and teenagers became child soldiers and risked their lives for something that destroyed them. The conflict ended in 2002 after the signing of the Malino Agreement.

Right now, Ambon is more peaceful, and tolerance between religions is becoming so good here. There are a few lessons about peace from Ambon for the world.

The first is the past conflict. It made the people of Ambon know that conflict will only bring chaos, death, and that nobody can win. They wanted to change for the future.

The second is the people in Ambon. The people who suffered because of conflict of course didn’t want the next generation to have the same suffering as them, so they teach their kids about peace and love. In fact the conflict ended not only because of the signing of Malino Agreement but also because the people who were tired of living with conflict and fear made a movement to end the conflict.

The third is this movement joining with world organizations like UnitingWorld to make workshops about peace for kids, teenagers and all people. The workshops are really important for the people of Ambon because they can end the trauma that some people still have and give learning for the new generation.

I take part in the workshops and I am very thankful. It’s not just important for the people in Ambon, but to all the people in the world who can see how Ambon turned from being a warzone to a city of music. Even from the dark past and conflict, Ambon is finding its way back to the light and hopefully to the brighter future. When we all learn from this, the world can have peace.

Now it is just up to us – each living human being. Are we going to turn this world to a warzone or to a better place? This is every person’s choice. So what’s your decision?

Brooklyn Distephano

Lent Event 2020

A huge thank you to everyone who has been supporting Brooklyn, other young leaders, women’s groups and small business start-ups through gifts to this year’s Lent Event. There’s still time to learn more about the projects, watch our video series and donate at www.lentevent.com

Almost exactly three months ago, a colleague and I threw on medical masks to board a plane for Colombo, Sri Lanka. We snapped off a few pics for laughs and then chucked them in our bags for the rest of the trip…I haven’t seen them since.

Over five steaming hot days (think humidity so solid you can eat it), I met people who left me feeling inspired and hopeless and uplifted and angry and helpless and all the usual things because #Cathgetsfeels… but one young guy in particular, let’s call him Raj, put down a little anchor in my heart. He has Down syndrome and went through schooling provided by the disability unit of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, mainstreamed within his local school. His teachers remember him as ‘cheeky, talkative and always ready with a laugh ❤️

Finding people who love and respect the value of others, especially those with disabilities, can be a challenge anywhere in the world, including right here in Australia, yes? But in developing countries, that heartbreak is magnified tenfold. The staff in that school weren’t just pinpricks of light in the lives of individuals, they were a blazing counter-cultural beacon. Raj’s family knew it, too. They were anxious about what would become of him once he outgrew formal schooling. Poverty among Tamil people on the east coast of Sri Lanka is much higher than for the rest of the population – and many times worse for people with disabilities.

But Raj struck gold again – the church approached his neighbour, a mechanic, who took him on as an apprentice. When we met him, he was welding bike bits and dreaming of, “never marrying. Just buying as many shoes as I like.” 🙌🏻 What’s not to love about that ambition?


His sense of freedom was as radiant as the sparks from his tools. Inclusive education and an advocate who believed in him have changed his future forever.

We left with his tale and his pics and I promised him we’d tell his story far and wide. Within two weeks of our return, Australia’s borders were shut; since then 349,000 people have died from COVID-19. And this is the first time I’ve spoken about Raj to anyone other than family.

Do you know how many people like Raj, who took the opportunities in front of them and ran for life, face the prospect of being dragged back to poverty’s dungeon as a result of COVID-19?

Half a billion. Half a billion.

In Sri Lanka, the streets are quiet. There are no bikes to fix and no school; those with the means clean out the supermarkets on the few days they’re open, and people who relied on a daily wage – like servants, construction workers, small stall holders – have no money for food. Raj isn’t working, isn’t earning an income, and doesn’t have a place to share his grin – not now, and not for the foreseeable future. This is what COVID-19 will take from him and millions of others.

I know it’s not only Raj and people in the developing world who are struggling; it’s also our own families and friends who’ve had jobs and income snatched away, and lost maybe just as much at the visceral level of anxiety and loneliness and hopes eroded. Acknowledging our local need is deeply significant, but it’s not the whole story, and it’s not forever. What comes next?

There’s been so much talk of ‘in this together’ but how long can it last? As our own restrictions start to lift and we put toes back into social and economic waters, how long will we still speak about ‘together’? And who’s included in that category? It’d be so easy for us to try to just ‘get back to normal’, albeit with an even greater commitment to safeguarding ourselves physically, emotionally and economically from another event like this one.

And yet for a few more weeks at least, here we are, still a bit raw and nervy with our bellies exposed. For just a few more weeks, the absolute fragility of our lives still hangs in the balance and we feel, perhaps a little, what it might be like to be without job security, or deflated entirely by the reality of what’s hit and what’s to come. And maybe even a bit alone.

We know that when budget time comes around next, the Australian Government will most likely raid the foreign aid budget to help make up the massive debt we’ve racked up rescuing ourselves from this train wreck. And we know that most Australians will get behind the move, because even though we give 0.21% of GNI (Gross National Income – about 21c for every $100 Australia earns) to support our neighbours, the population in general THINKS it’s about 14%, which they believe is too high and should be reduced to 10% 🥴. Every single country in the world will do the same. And the people with the least means to survive this thing, once again, will suffer the most.

Unless?

Tonight, flicking through the pics on my iPhone, I found Alex, me and Raj in a selfie (okay quite a few selfies) and I wonder: how is he doing? What is he thinking? Is there any hope for his future?

Actually, there is. But it means each of us continuing to embrace the vision of ‘together’ and walking away from the fear that makes us wonder if we have the means to look after anyone but ourselves.

We do. We can. If we were each to give even just a small amount, today, or even better each month, we could be part of making life immeasurably, unimaginably, better for someone like Raj. It really doesn’t take that much- but it gives back out of all proportion.

The video below is the story we told, when we got home, instead of Raj’s. I feel sadder about that than anything. Please take a look and if you can, act. Donations to UnitingWorld can go up to six times as far for people like Raj right now thanks to the help of Australian Government funding.*

I’m delighted to see the way we’ve managed this crisis as a nation and the steps we’re making toward recovery.  But it also breaks my heart that once again, that recovery will be deeply uneven around the world.  Please don’t chuck your mask in your bag and move on forever. This story still needs telling.



*As a valued partner of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), we are eligible for funding that means tax-time donations can go up to six times as far in the field saving lives. We’ve committed to raise $1 for every $5 for which we’re eligible, and that’s where your donation has its power.

Every dollar will be used for immediate COVID-19 responses providing food and sanitation packs, health information and hand washing facilities, as well as fighting to keep poverty at bay long term through sustainable development projects.

Please give at www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow or call us on 1800 998 122

UnitingWorld is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

The word is out.

COVID-19 is God’s global hammer against sin – and only those who maintain purity of faith will be spared.

In one place, the ‘evils of homosexuality’ are to blame; in another it’s women in ministry, globalisation or loss of family values. On Facebook, people boast of relying on the ‘protective Blood of the Saviour’ rather than sanitiser; in the US, Kenneth Copeland has attempted to “blow” COVID-19 away with the wind of God, an anti-lockdown protest rallies around the slogan “Jesus is my vaccine”; and in New Zealand a pastor is quoted as calling his congregation to continue to gather because “I’m not about to let a filthy virus scare me out of worship.”

You might shrug off such examples as fringe territory, but the temptation to fall back on the truism of ‘faith alone’ doesn’t only loiter at the edges. And as part of the scrutiny of ideas spawned by COVID-19, we have the chance to ask ourselves anew: how do we live out the heart of authentic faith?

“The simplistic option during a crisis like this one is to turn to religion and prayer as the only solution,” says Rev James Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. “That’s not only problematic, it’s risky and reckless. Yes, Christians are saved through the gospel of God’s grace. However, this salvation does not mean we escape physical corruption, futility, and death.”

That reality has seldom been more evident among the poorest on our planet, where the arm of this disease is longest and its grip most devastating.

Half a billion people – or more – confront the prospect of being tipped back into poverty as the economic fallout from COVID-19 bites hard. Alongside the terror of the virus itself lurks hunger and loss of hope. For decades our international church partners have poured heart and soul into communities fighting poverty across Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. Now they face their greatest challenge in a generation.

Some struggle personally with lockdowns, unreliable electricity or lack of clean water. But each, with the support of Uniting Church communities through UnitingWorld, has immediately turned their efforts toward meeting urgent needs.

Critically, it’s not just health and hunger that weigh on their minds. Worldwide, in a context where 84% of the population identify with a religious group, the pandemic is seeding big questions – where is God? Who is to blame? What of faith? What of fear?

Rev Bhagwan, like others across the Pacific, Asia and Africa, is helping communities hold and heal together. As people wrestle with sovereignty and suffering, our partners are coming out strong to emphasise the interconnectedness of faith, prayer, science and human responsibility in tackling the virus from all angles.

“We’re called to join our hearts in solidarity with each other, to mourn with those who mourn, to share peace with those who are anxious,” says Rev Bhagwan.

“In many of our regions and across the planet, access to clean water and soap, shelter for protection, and other basic services are a real challenge. Our role is to provide hope and manifest the love of God in practical ways.”

In places where the need is overwhelming, our partners are holding faith, resilience and action together – and that’s a beacon. But their example goes even further.

It calls us to hold our own theologies and practices up to scrutiny too. The connectedness of our world has been laid bare by the virus; our need to take seriously the ecological damage that threatens to unleash new strains of disease; our commitment to ‘one global Catholic church’ united in Christ.

Crisis always prompts innovation and reflection. Keeping these questions at the heart of our journey, even as we grapple with local suffering, is proof of the risky, all-encompassing love of God. And that, right there, is what it means to live an authentic faith.

– Cath Taylor


Join the power of people uniting by praying and giving to save lives and share hope during COVID-19.

Right now your donation has six times the impact! Every donation you make to this appeal will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs!

Please help bring hope, health and good theology. Read more at www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow

As a valued partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld receives flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas.

This Lent, I took up a Lent Event challenge. In an act of defiance against the gathering gloom of a world bent on madness, I decided to seek each day a story of the Kingdom coming. Not just any feel good story. A story of people, faith and God, making a difference. It was my act of re-commitment to mission – for a world renewed and reconciled.

When your brain is the kind that turns everything a day brings into a list of problems to be solved, then this is a difficult challenge.

I managed 20-something days straight before I flagged. They were the 20 days in which a disaster story from China became a global pandemic.

I learnt the obvious lesson. As I looked for and wrote up my stories of God working in the world, I remained hopeful and resilient. I was calm, I wrote my COVID-19 risk management plan, put in business continuity provisions for my team and slashed our income forecasts. But it got harder to do. The news got grimmer from our partners in lockdown. I was worried about my staff, our partners, my kids, my parents, my minister husband trying to pastor a community that couldn’t meet. And soon, I couldn’t see past the tsunami of problems, I was too tired to go hunting for that elusive glimpse of God at work. I stopped doing the stories.

The day I got the email from South Sudan, from my friend who reminded me that hand-washing was the privilege of those who had clean water, that staying home was only an option for people who owned fridges and spare food.

That was the day I lost it.

That email was on my mind as I dropped into the supermarket to pick up some stuff. But my fellow Sydney-siders had cleaned out entire aisles. With our wealth, our security, our abundant food and our healthcare systems, my brothers and sisters thought they needed to hoard toilet paper and dishwasher tablets, leaving none for others.

I wasn’t sad or scared. I was furious. The rage and contempt I felt in that moment for my fellow humans was such that I had to run out of Town Hall Woolworths before I yelled at someone. In that moment, I felt that no race so greedy, selfish and stupid should survive; that dying in our millions was exactly what we deserved.

And then into my black mood came the little messages. People telling me that they were holding me and my team in their prayers. People asking after my husband and kids. People telling me what a great job my staff were doing. They’ll know who they are when they read this.

And slowly, in the darkness, I could see God at work again. In the thoughtfulness of people, who were not my close friends or family, but who reached out to bless and encourage me. When I was too downhearted to see great works of justice and reconciliation that God was doing in the world, what saved me was seeing God in the acts of kindness extended to me. God, acting through people, to pull just one insignificant person out of my own mire of despair.

I’ve always loved the story of Peter stepping out of the boat onto the water at Jesus’ invitation. It’s a lovely metaphor for how we stay above the waves when we keep our eyes on Jesus, but get overwhelmed by the tumult when we lose focus. But I’ve always thought that keeping my eyes on Jesus was about my personal devotional practices – to pray, to study the scriptures, to gather in worship.

But now I think it’s more than that. It’s keeping your eyes peeled for Jesus out and about in the world. Training myself to seek out and recognise the breaking-in of the Kingdom in everyday life is a necessary discipline. To be Christian is to believe in a God who is alive and active in the world. Easter isn’t just a celebration of the resurrection two thousand years ago, it’s a celebration of Jesus alive today – changing lives, changing communities, getting stuff done. How can I join in this great work, if I’m not training myself to see it, recognise it, bear witness to and celebrate it?

So I encourage you to do it too. Keep looking for Jesus in the world – he’s out there walking on water every single day.

–Sureka

[P.S. I also gave up eating between dawn and dusk during Lent – which makes it sound grander than simply skipping lunch and daytime snacks between breakfast and dinner, which is what I did. But I did manage to stick to that one, which wasn’t hard after the first few days. And the $$ I saved has gone to Lent Event, with a big thank you to all those who sponsored me.]

Dr Sureka Goringe is the National Director of UnitingWorld. This reflection was originally posted on her Lent Event fundraising page here.

Click here to donate to Lent Event.