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“There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”

Christian leaders marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict (19 June) with a united message to churches in South Sudan. 

In a statement released last week, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) urged all churches across the country to include messages about the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in services being held over the weekend.

The prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence is a hidden crisis in South Sudan.

The UN Mission in South Sudan documented 193 cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 2020, affecting 142 women, 46 girls and five men. They estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented due to the fear and cultural stigma associated with it.

“The Church commends survivors – both men and women – for their strength in speaking up against sexual violence defying a culture of stigma and fears of retaliation,” read the statement. “There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”

“Acts such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage are crimes under South Sudanese laws and are inconsistent with teachings and principles of Christian faiths”.

“Everyone must uphold the sacredness of human life, the inherent dignity of every human being as well as their physical and mental integrity as reflected in the teachings and values of the Christian faith.”

Read the full statement here.

Our partner the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) is a member of the South Sudan Council of Churches. PCOSS Moderator Rev James Choul co-signed the statement. Both PCOSS and SSCC support the World Council of Churches #ThursdaysinBlack campaign to end rape and violence against women.

Darshi was born without hearing in an area of Sri Lanka’s west coast which was devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. The population are mostly Tamil, and they’ve worked hard to recover and build a better life for their kids. But people with disabilities are up to five times more likely to live in poverty. They represent the most vulnerable group in the world.

Darshi’s parents were understandably worried about her future.

The Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, through Deaf Link, are committed to overcoming extreme poverty by advocating for structural changes in their communities and equipping people with disability to take control of their own lives.

They don’t believe in charity. They believe in long-lasting change, at all levels and by all members of society. Your gifts, combined with investment from the Australian Government, are helping make it happen.

Deaf Link invited Darshi to take part in a disability inclusion class – rare in many parts of Sri Lanka. All the children in the class use international sign language to communicate with one another and here Darshi discovered not just the power of a community, but a love of dance and talent for art.

When we met her last year, she told us she hopes to be a teacher in a class similar to her own, where she wants to give other children with disability the chance to succeed.

You can give Darshi and others like her a hand so they can go on to change their worlds. Right now, your donation can have up to six times the impact beating poverty and building hope.*

Your tax-deductible donation will help provide urgent resources for our partners in Sri Lanka, India, Papua New Guinea and more as they work against the pull of poverty, which is the strongest it’s been in decades due to COVID-19. You can read here about exactly how it will go up to six times as far to build hope and beat poverty.


*How your gift can go up to six times as far

UnitingWorld is a valued partner of the Australian Government, receiving funding each year to carry out poverty alleviation, gender equality and climate change projects overseas.

Every donation you make to this appeal will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committedto contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the government, which means your gift can go up to six times as far helping us extend the reach of our programs.

 

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.