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“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

It is with great distress that the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has been receiving disturbing news about the violent response and firing of bullets by Police on 6,000 farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, a southern island of Mindanao, on 1 April. It is unfortunate that the legitimate rights of poor farmers, who are demanding appropriate action by the government to provide assistance to the sustenance of farmers in the drought ravaged area, are being ignored. We understand from reliable sources that at least three persons were killed and hundreds of people were wounded while the police opened fire against the protesting farmers, who were insisting for a dialogue with the Governor of the Province, and for 15,000 sacks of rice that were previously promised to them.

It was during the firing against the protestors that the farmers sought refuge in Scottswood Methodist Centre and took sanctuary in the Methodist Church compound. We are deeply disappointed that the Governor’s office has threatened Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco for harboring protestors, and the United Methodist Church with legal action in the form of revoking their legal permit.

The Christian Conference of Asia extends solidarity and prayers to the members and leadership of the United Methodist Church in their continuing protection of some 3,000 farmers and tribal leaders, who were faced with bullets fired on them by the Philippine National Police on 1 April 2016.

While CCA condemns this violent response to the protesting farmers, we applaud the efforts of the United Methodist Church in their perseverance in sheltering the farmers and tribal leaders as they continue their struggle for rightful sustenance. It is a known factor that the lumad farmers in the area have been continuously faced with discrimination and persecution. There is no justification for violent oppression as response to the legitimate demands of farmers for their right to food and livelihood.

On behalf of CCA, I convey our prayerful regards to Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and express our solidarity with the United Methodist Church at this time of their travail. We join hands with those who are struggling for basic human rights and justice, and urge the government and provincial authorities to provide adequate provisions and security to the farmers, who are legitimately registering their concerns. We pray and hope that peace with justice will prevail in the area and rights and dignities of the persecuted farmers involved in the struggle will be upheld. We appreciate the commitment of those who are demonstrating the values of the love of Jesus Christ and the biblical spirit of compassion, as has been shown by the United Methodist Church in sheltering the wounded and unprotected: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary

Letter originally published by The Christian Conference of Asia of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

National Council of Churches in Pakistan
Church of Pakistan
Presbyterian Church of Pakistan

Respected church and ecumenical leaders in Pakistan,

We are deeply shocked and saddened to receive the news of a suicide bomber killing more than 70 people and injuring more than 300 others at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on the Easter Sunday. We learnt from some of you that the deadly suicide attack on Easter evening caused untold sufferings for many people while several families from predominantly Christian settlements in Youhanabad and Bahar Colony areas were spending time with their children in the park on Easter services in churches.

Candlelight vigil in India for the victims of the bombing in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore

 

It is unfortunate that sectarian violence and blatant terrorism continuously takes place in Pakistani society due to the widespread of religious hatred. Such cowardly actions in fact destroy the very core of the social fabric and communal harmony in the country. The recent attack on innocent people, affecting mostly children and women, is a heinous crime. The increasing trend of attacks against innocent people raises questions over the security measures by the government to protect the lives of its citizens. It is our sincere appeal to the government of Pakistan not to allow these savage inhuman actions to over-run the lives of people who have every right to live in peace, security and freedom of movement.

The Christian Conference of Asia is concerned about the plight of the minority Christians in Pakistan, who are constantly faced with deadly attacks but the perpetrators continue with impunity. In fact, we are also reminded now of the suicide attacks carried out in 2013 at All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding hundreds as well as other suicide bombings at two churches in Youhanabad area in March 2015. These incidents are clear indications of the vulnerable situations in which Christians in Pakistan are forced to live. While we express our solidarity with you all at this time of grief and ordeal, we send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those loved ones killed and injured during the blast. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people and communities affected with this tragedy. Please convey our profound sorrow and condolences to the bereaved families and the injured.

The CCA will also hasten to assure the people of Pakistan that the Christians are nurtured on the best practices of peace and harmony and the values of fairness, justice and unconditional love. We urge all member churches and councils of CCA to pray for the comfort and solace of numerous victims irrespective of their religion or faith.

Yours along the journey.

Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary, CCA

Letter originally published by The Christian Conference of Asia of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

Over the past two years, UnitingWorld has worked with our partner churches, Indonesia Christian Church (GKI) and Evangelical Church in the Land of Papua (GKI-TP) to form a three-way partnership. The partnership is designed to improve the quality of Christian education in two provinces of Papua and West Papua.

The Indonesian government has introduced a regulation that requires all teachers to have a university degree by 2020. However in Papua, this task is extremely difficult to achieve as 80% of teachers currently do not have a degree. Unless they gain the qualification, they could be replaced by teachers from other parts of Indonesia. Time is running short, and the need is extensive. For GKI-TP, this is a ministry to preserve their indigenous identity and UnitingWorld will support them.

The project uses internet and satellite communication to deliver in-service training in three locations: the capital city of Papua, Jayapura; the highland city Wamena; and the island of Biak. The purpose is to improve academic qualification of school leaders and teachers. It also aims to strengthen the leadership capacity of the Papuan church to manage community development programs. A joint Coordinating Committee of three churches will work together on the principle of equality to share the oversight of design and implementation of the program.

We invite the friends of Papua in the life of Uniting Church to pray for the Papua education project. We’d love for you to support this great program.

Thousands of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims gathered in New Dehli yesterday to demand the same rights as Dalit Hindus. See attached for a press release from our Partner, the Church of North India and look out for the photo of Bishop ‘Bunu’ Samanataroy – a great friend and partner of UnitingWorld’s!

Silent Rally to demand justice for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims PDF March 11 2016

30 years ago, Christmas 1984, a group of prominent musicians from the UK and USA got together for “Band Aid” and recorded the Christmas anthem “Feed the World”.

Their aim was to raise awareness of, and funds, for people in Africa who were experiencing severe drought and famine. Amidst the well-meaning sentiment and good intentions, many of us didn’t take the time to reflect so deeply on the words – or maybe that was just where we were at that time in the learning journey that comes from living history. But last Christmas, in 2015 this same song was re-released.

It’s hard not to sing along to the old, familiar tune. However have you ever stopped to listen to the words? Here’s just a few:

“But say a prayer, pray for the other ones”

“There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear”

And the Christmas bells that ring are the clanging chimes of doom

“Well, tonight thank God its them instead of you”!

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”

“Where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flows

“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”

“Give a little to help the helpless.

At its foundation, this song is based on the “us and them” paradigm with “the other ones” being the ones “we” are thankful that we are not. It portrays Africa as a place where water doesn’t flow, where plants don’t grow and where they won’t see snow, and then poses the question, “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”?  Are you cringing just a little bit? Apart from a few glaring geographical clangers – Africa is home to some of the mightiest rivers in the world, including the Nile, the Congo and the Zambezi to name just a few- there’s the fact that in the Southern Hemisphere, like in Australia, Christmas falls in summertime so snow really isn’t likely any Christmas.

But on a deeper level, there’s a shallow assumption that African peoples are characterised by ignorance, limited capacity, fear and doom. These are people sitting waiting, looking to the “outside” to be the engineers of their survival. It sees all Africans as those hungry, helpless children promoted on our TV screens and appoints Western “developed” societies as the source and bringers of hope and rescue. Yet in essence, this tune reflects more honestly on the perspectives of the writers than any African reality.

Today I’m sitting in a plane on the tarmac in Zimbabwe, waiting for the last passengers to board before embarking on the 35 hour journey home. I have been meeting with MeDRA, our Development Partners of the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe. It is an exciting time for MeDRA, for the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe and this Partnership with the UCA through UnitingWorld. And in the light of the last few days, the words in this outdated Christmas anthem couldn’t be further from the truth.

During the Strategic Planning process we reflected on the Partnership between UnitingWorld and MeDRA, a partnership that spans nearly ten years.  The Uniting Church in Australia still remains their strongest partner. Just as I’ve reflected on the above anthem, words matter, and the word partnership is not used lightly. UnitingWorld isn’t just a “donor agency” or “funding partner” to MeDRA, but a genuine Partner. And as partners we share together, learn together and walk together in God’s global mission. Each of us has our role to play. UnitingWorld cannot do the work that MeDRA does – not successfully anyway. Working with MeDRA and our other Development Partners allows us, as the Uniting Church in Australia to participate effectively in this global mission. And partnering with UnitingWorld supports MeDRA by enabling professional capacity building, organisational strengthening as well as funding for their vital work on the ground. This work brings opportunity, hope, dignity and love to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.  It’s a true witness to God.

Let me share just a little about the people who make up this organisation. They are Zimbabweans and they know their country, their culture and the context. They are committed development professionals who know the need but choose to focus on the strengths and opportunities. They don’t do the life-changing work for the people in the communities they serve. Rather they support these communities to develop their own potential and empower them to be the agents of their own transformation. And above all things, they are committed to living out their faith and being a genuine witness to Christ in the communities they serve.

And then there are the people living in the communities themselves. The context in which they live is harsh. They are far away from city services, in places where the soil is dry and hard, the temperatures scorching and the impact of drought an everyday reality. It is a tough existence and yet they are resilient and they survive. Through MeDRA they are accessing training and as community groups, developing livelihoods strategies to increase their access to income. This enables them to send their children to school and look to a future for their children that has more opportunities than they themselves have experienced. And they are embracing this chance with both hands and thriving in it.

But if that wasn’t encouraging enough, here’s the kicker. From the profits that each group makes, some is set aside to reinvest into the business, yet before the remaining profits are shared among the group, some is allocated to support other vulnerable people in their communities – widows, orphans, single mothers, etc. They see this as their social responsibility. They were once the most vulnerable but now they have opportunity, they are building something together, they have discovered their God-given dignity and with that their responsibility to others in their community. It’s hard work, but they embrace it and they do it and they are succeeding in it. And they are paying it forward.

These people are not helpless. They just need a chance. Through the partnership between MeDRA and UnitingWorld, many are now able to embrace such a chance. I visited some of these communities last year, and I saw nothing of our Western Christmas anthem anywhere. Instead I saw potential, I saw hope, I saw dignity and I sat at their feet to learn.

This Lent, let us be the ones transformed, let us have God’s eyes to see hope and potential where others would tell us there is helplessness; give us ears to hear the invitation to participate effectively and give us humble hearts to learn what we need to learn and to give what we can.

And for the record, for those in Africa who share our faith, yes they do know when it’s Christmas time, even without the snow!

Watch the people of Zimbabwe at work here.

A group of West Papuan students have formally joined the Uniting Church as they become members-in-association.

They come from various parts of Papua and West Papua provinces in Indonesia, and currently attend St John’s College in Darwin. The congregation at Philadelphia Indonesian Uniting Church in Karama welcomed the students as a part of their growing community. They have also provided pastoral care to the young people away from home.

This has been a long pastoral journey for Rev Dr Tony Floyd, who as the former national director of Multicultural and Cross-culture Ministry, has mentored the congregation over the last 6 months. He has been building and nurturing new relationships and encouraging the growing multiculturalism within the Indonesian-speaking congregation. On this joyful occasion, the students stood before the church, and sang with the wonderful voices of their homeland, Papua.

Rev Thresi Mauboy welcomed the new members into the life of UCA, and blessed the congregation as the Moderator of the Northern Synod.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to stand alongside those who are working for justice around the world and particularly to help give a voice to those who struggle to be heard.  We’re the modern day prophets:  defending those who are weak, speaking the truth to those who are powerful.  It’s not an easy job.

This week, we hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the work our partners are doing in their own communities to speak up for justice and peace in places where it’s desperately needed.  Throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific, these communities are passionate, well equipped and vocal about their own needs and how they can bring about solutions to their own problems.

In Fiji, for example, the Methodist Church is deeply committed to finding solutions to the problem of changing climate, which has a major impact on the poorest among them but impacts most of their islands in various ways.  45 communities already need to be relocated because of high tides that are reclaiming homes, schools and graveyards.  The Church is holding four days a year where local congregations reduce their use of energy – using public transport – get involved in clean ups, plant trees and speak up about the need to care for creation.  It’s a humbling display given that Fiji’s environmental footprint is so small in contrast to Australia’s.

Pacific nations have also been vocal at the Paris Convention calling upon leaders to commit to targets that will impact most upon the most vulnerable nations of the world.  These leaders understand the nature of changing climate and are not silent in the face of the future.  They need our support to convince western nations to take responsibility for the burdens they place on those who have not caused, and have the least resources to deal with, the impact of changing climate.

You can find out how to SPEAK UP for responsible environmental policies  by checking out the work of our partner here in Australia, Micah Challenge.

Another organisation doing great work among our partners is MeDRA – the Methodist Relief and Development Agency.  Read about the creative work of people who’ve been equipped to speak up for the poor in their midst through MeDRA’s training.  And find out about how YOU can advocate for more support for excellent in-country initiatives like this by speaking to our political leadership about the need for us to continue our Australia Aid program.  You can join the campaign for Australian Aid here.

UnitingWorld is committed not only to seeing you, our supporters, well equipped to providing support for people who struggle with poverty, but also to equipping our partners to find their own solutions and give voice to their own needs.  You can be part of that through our crucial leadership training programs.

Deeply troubling news from the Philippines – we stand with our partner the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in prayer and concern at this time.

“Doom to those who plot evil, who go to bed dreaming up crimes! As soon as it is morning, they’re off, full of energy, doing what they’ve planned. They covet fields and grab them, find homes and take them. They bully the neighbor and his family, see people only for what they can get out of them.” Micah 2:1-2

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) joins the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in expressing outrage over the assault on the Lumads at its Mission Center in Haran Davao City in early morning of February 24, 2016 by burning cottages housing refugees which injured five people including a two year old child. The NCCP vehemently condemns such inhumanity. It is also an utter disrespect to the sanctuary which took in those been displaced from their communities as a result of military operations in their houses, schools and communities purportedly to “protect them.” It is also a repugnant affront to the mission of the UCCP which calls for shelter to those displaced from their communities due to natural and human-induced calamities.

With these series of atrocities inflicted against the Lumads and the Church which comes to their aid, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines firmly maintains its stand against all destructive and unjust activities that exacerbate poverty and threaten life. We join the call for responsible agencies of the government to conduct an investigation on the incident and to apprehend the perpetrators responsible for this deliberate and malicious burning of the UCCP Haran properties that also injured the Lumads. We reiterate our call for the total pull-out of the military from the Lumad communities, and the disarming the paramilitary groups so that the Lumads can return to their respective homes and live peacefully.

As advocates for peace and righteousness in this broken world, the NCCP will continue to stand and speak for those who are oppressed and to journey with the struggling people in the country against the imperial powers of our time. This event and the Lenten Season reminds us of the words of Prophet Isaiah, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (58:6-7) In a world of greed and power where too many are powerless, we take a stand. It may be dangerous but we need to find the courage and vision to emulate Elijah and stand with the oppressed in the struggle for dignity and justice.

NCCP’s Statement on the Burning of UCCP Haran

http://nccphilippines.org/blog/2016/02/the-nccps-statement-on-the-burning-of-the-uccp-harans-shelter-for-the-lumad/

 

 

UnitingWorld launches Emergency Appeal to support the people of Fiji following Cyclone Winston

Our friends in Fiji are suffering widespread destruction in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which hit on Saturday 20th Feb. Donate Now

Update: 04 March

It has now been confirmed almost 350,000 people were affected by cyclone Winston.

120,000 people are estimated to need urgent humanitarian shelter assistance, over 54, 700 people are still sheltering in evacuation centres and in the hardest hit areas, up to 90 per cent of structures are destroyed.

The north and north western coast of Viti Levu, the south coast of Vanua Levu and some communities in the East and Central Regions have been particularly hard hit. Two villages on Koro Island have been completely destroyed. 42 people have been confirmed dead and some 135 are reported as injured. More than 62,000 displaced people (approx. 14% of the population) are currently sheltering in nearly 900 evacuation centres. Aid, including food rations, is arriving in cyclone affected communities and assessments are now underway across the country.

Methodist Church in Fiji and UnitingWorld’s Response

26 out of the 57 divisions our partner church covers have been badly affected. Complementing the Government of Fiji’s disaster response, the Methodist Church in Fiji will provide clothes, bedding and kitchen cooking/eating utensils.

In some locations it will also provide some food and water purification tablets. Cooking utensils are very important because they are needed for preparing the type of food that is distributed in emergencies and for purifying potentially contaminated water. The Church will provide relief to all community members in areas where it has congregations that are not already receiving relief from other local civil society or non-government organisations. The town of Ba is an example where the MCIF has a significant presence but the relief effort is already being looked after by other agencies. The MCIF will also ensure that vulnerable households (such as those headed by women or with disabled members) are prioritised.

Supplies of the materials our church partner intends to contribute to the relief effort are all obtainable in Suva and Nadi which were not in TC Winston’s direct path. This strategy helps to buoy the local economy, sustaining the livelihoods of local people.

Our church partner is seeking financial support from UnitingWorld to purchase all of these items. Longer term, funds raised will be used to rebuild schools – using a ‘build back better approach’’ to ensure the safety of people in the future.  Our church partner has also requested psychosocial counselling and training for a core group of pastors in the worst affected areas.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 25 February

Yesterday, our partner the Methodist Church in Fiji formed a Disaster Response Committee to lead the Church’s response to the humanitarian crisis. They report that thousands of homes have been destroyed, tens of thousands of people made destitute and are without food, shelter or clothing. Schools and buildings are reduced to rubble. The death toll has now risen to 42.

The committee, which is made up of key leaders from the church’s i-Taukei-speaking, English and Hindi-speaking divisions and includes leaders from Women’s and Youth fellowships, is assessing the impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston, developing immediate, short, medium and long-term relief responses and channelling overseas partner support to appropriate church and government relief and resilience programmes.

Immediate Assistance from the National Disaster Management Office includes distributing:

Food Rations, Water, Shelter, Sanitation, Accessibility for all affected people.

In response to gap analysis clothes, bedding, sleeping mats, cooking utensils, Kerosene Stoves and Lanterns and crops for replanting are being distributed.

Please keep our partners and the people of Fiji in your prayers. To donate to our Fiji Emergency Appeal and support the response efforts of our partners, please call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

All funds raised through this appeal will be used to support our church partner’s relief efforts, including re-establishing schools, replanting crops and livelihoods and ‘building back better’ to safeguard communities against future cyclones.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 24 February: Our church partner Rev James Bhagwan has reported this morning that the Methodist Church in Fiji’s disaster response committee is meeting today. Ministers throughout Fiji are reporting back with their disaster assessments and local churches have begun their relief programmes.

29 people are confirmed dead and National Disaster Management Office director Akapusi Tuifagalele said about 14,000 people remain in evacuation centres. Whole villages have been destroyed, particularly on the island of Koro where a relief and assessment ship is being deployed.

UnitingWorld staff member Rev Dr Cliff Bird reports from Suva:

“The destruction has been widespread and very bad. The Lau group of islands, Koro Island, villages on Vanua Levu and their township Savusavu have been hit very badly. Hundreds of homes have been lost, infrastructure damaged, farms, vegetable gardens, livelihoods destroyed. Water and power supply to many areas are still down.”

Photo source looptonga.com and ABC news

Our partner, the Methodist Church in Fiji is the largest denomination in the country, covering an extensive network across 55 districts.

National Director of UnitingWorld Rob Floyd has spoken with President of the Church, Rev Tevita Bainivanua and has offered immediate emergency relief and longer-term disaster recovery.

President Rev Tevita has opened all church buildings for emergency shelter and has directed ministers throughout the country to assess and report on the extent of the damage.

All funds raised through this appeal will be used to support our church partner’s relief efforts, including re-establishing healthcare and schools, replanting crops and livelihoods and ‘building back better’ to safeguard communities against future cyclones.

Please give your most generous gift today.

Call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or click here to donate to our Emergency Contingency Fund.

Funds raised for this appeal will be used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for affected communities and assistance over the longer term.  Any excess funds will be held in our Emergency Contingency Fund and used to respond to future emergencies in the region. All donations are gratefully received. Donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Please click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Update: 8.30am Monday 22 Feb

Message just received from Rev Dr Cliff Bird in our Fiji Office:

Power supply has just come back on in parts of Suva, so able to send this brief email update on the aftermath of TC Winston.

The curfew is still effective and will be lifted at 5.30 a.m. tomorrow, Monday.

The very sketchy information received so far indicates that destruction has been widespread and very bad. The Lau group of islands, Koro Island, villages on Vanua Levu and their township Savusavu have been hit very badly. One village on Koro Island lost all homes. On Viti Levu, Rakiraki, Ba, Nadi, Lautoka, Sigatoka, and villages along Korovou and Tailevu were hit badly. Hundreds of homes have been lost, infrastructure damaged, farms and gardens destroyed, etc. Water and power supply to many areas are still down. Suva was not too badly hit comparatively speaking. So far 5 cyclone-related deaths have been confirmed.

Photo source ABC News

Minister for Education has given directive that all schools will remain closed for the entire week. Many schools have sustained damages. The USP and Fiji National University will remain closed tomorrow and may resume on Tuesday.

The President of the Methodist Church asked all congregations to stay home Sunday in light of the cyclone and curfew. The church office will not open today and will resume on Tuesday.

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church sent instructions to all divisional superintendents and their ministers to make available church halls as evacuation centres if necessary. He has also requested that they begin to do some initial assessment of damages and let the office know.

Will let you know more details when information come to hand. Thank you for your prayers, and continue to keep in your thoughts the thousands who have been badly affected in one way or other.

Update: 9.15am Sunday 21 Feb

We are slowly hearing back from our team members and church partners today. There are some very sad reports about villages, homes and livelihoods destroyed. One staff member texted just now: I am good. It was so bad last night. It is still blackout since last night. The curfew is still on. All shops are still closed, just found a canteen on another street to buy top up cards and water 5mins ago. We’ll see how today progresses. Trees have fallen so some people are cleaning up”. Thoughts and prayers with the people of Fiji.

You can read more here: www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-21/tropical-cyclone-winson-leaves-trail-of-destruction-across-fiji/7187104

Update 12.25 pm 20 Feb: Our National Director Rob Floyd has now spoken with friend and church partner Rev Tevita Bainivanua, President of the Methodist Church in Fiji. He let him know the Australian church community were praying for them – and offered future support, should they need it.

Previous updates:

Please keep our church partners in the Pacific, our staff in the Fiji Office and the people of Fiji in your prayers as they brace for Cyclone Winston.

ABC News reports that a powerful category-five cyclone is lashing Fiji’s outer islands with hurricane-force winds of up to 220 kilometres per hour.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is heading westward and has already hit areas in the Lau group of islands as it tracks towards more populated areas.

The cyclone was about 320 kilometres east-north-east of Suva, the capital, at 5:00am (local time), travelling at 25 kilometres per hour.

The storm was carrying average winds of 220 kilometres per hour, with gusts of up to 315 kilometres per hour, Fiji’s Meteorological Service said.

Forecasters say there’s a chance the cyclone will whip up very strong wind gusts around the capital.

You can read the full article below.

National Director Rob Floyd was in touch with our Methodist Church of Fiji partner Rev James Bhagwan yesterday, and UnitingWorld staff member Rev Dr Cliff Bird at 10am this morning. Cliff reports that strong winds are hitting Suva right now, and people are prepared and in shelters with water and food supplies.

Please keep them in your prayers.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-20/category-five-cyclone-winston-bears-down-on-fiji/7186080