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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.

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

Attika has been to hell and back. Many of you know her story: her village was destroyed in conflict between Muslims and Christians in 1999; she lived for years as a refugee before returning to a community shattered by suspicion, resentment and economic ruin.

Last year, Attika (pictured above) painstakingly built a new home with $5 weekly savings from a small business our partners helped her establish. A few months later it was destroyed in a series of earthquakes. She lives today in its shell with her daughter, waiting for the chance to rebuild. Due to begin re-construction with a team of Muslim and Christian builders funded by UnitingWorld, the work is now on hold as Ambon goes into lockdown to deal with the global threat of COVID-19.

It’s hard to predict how many of us would react to such a prolonged season of suffering. And yet here’s where this story has a new and delightful twist: Attika has become our church partner’s newest Emergency Team volunteer. Connecting with the Protestant Church in Maluku through livelihood training among a group of Christian and Muslim women, Attika is now a vital part of the volunteer effort. Together, the team deliver food, clean water and emergency supplies to those hardest hit by last year’s earthquakes on the island and check in on people isolated by COVID-19.

“I could never have believed something like this would happen to my home,” Attika told us. “I am so, so sad to see it. But working with the team at Sagu Salempeng Foundation (our church partner organisation) helps me forget my pain and makes me so happy! I have found something to keep me strong.”

N.T. Wright famously said: “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonise earth with the life of heaven.”

Surely Attika’s experience of finding new life in service to others is what he had in mind: absolute dedication to each other in the midst of suffering; the ability to love beyond boundaries; the promise of redemption.

Attika refuses to give in to despair, and nor does she long for release. For her, there’s heaven to be found here and now, among the living. This is the reality of resurrection life.

Thank you to all who’ve been part of Lent Event this year. Your gifts are very much needed to continue this vital project, building peace while giving people the chance to increase their incomes and overcome poverty.

Help us continue this vital work with our international partners.

Click here to donate to Lent Event.



YOUR 2019 LENT EVENT GIFTS IN ACTION!

Our staff have just returned from critical training sessions with IPTL, our partner in Timor-Leste.

They’re delighted to report that more than 17 teachers took part in new training to implement strategies that protect children against violence, including verbal abuse. As a result:

  • Attendance in Sunday School is up among children and their parents
  • Education and awareness among community leaders is increasing
  • Seven focal point workers to keep child protection on the agenda have been newly appointed.

Cycles of poverty and violence are deeply entrenched within Timor-Leste, and you’re playing a critical role in shaping the future for a whole new generation.

Thank you!

Peace. Compassion. Security. They’re the building blocks of a world we all long to see, but how do we make it happen? In a world where extremism, intolerance and fear threaten to turn us inward, how do we build peace and beat poverty?

Lent Event 2020 takes us to the Indonesian province of Ambon, where our church partners are working with Christians and Muslims to overcome decades of suspicion and resentment after religious conflict in 1999 took 5,000 lives and left 70,000 people homeless.

Meet the people, watch video stories together, engage in Bible studies, raise funds for projects that show the future of God’s people alive and at work in the world.

We’re really excited to share the inspiring stories of our church partners during Lent again in 2020 and we hope you’ll join us on the journey.

Preview video series for Lent Event 2020 here

Sign up now: www.lentevent.com

Up close, you can see the brush marks in the walls of Attika’s house. The rendered concrete has been painted by hand – pink inside, bright blue outside.

All over Ambon, Indonesia, the houses are a defiant dazzle in a place where you might easily expect pain to have completely stripped the colour from life. It hasn’t.

Conflict between Muslims and Christians here in 1999 killed 5,000 in hand-to-hand fighting and left 70,000 people homeless. Attika, who fled her village during the conflict and lived for years in a refugee camp, could scarcely imagine ever speaking with a Christian again, let alone working beside women who have since become her closest friends. The transformation is the work of the Protestant Church of Maluku, who’ve been running projects in Ambon that bring Muslims and Christians together to beat poverty and build peace. Their story is one for the ages.

Attika’s smile is radiant as she shows us the home she built with $5.00 a week saved from a business built as part of a group of Christian and Muslim women run by UnitingWorld’s partner in Ambon, the Protestant Church of Maluku. Expressed differently but closely held, the women’s faith in God bound them together as they rebuilt homes, lives, each other’s churches and mosques.

Rev. Jeny Elna Malupane, who coordinates the project in Ambon, says that the work of peacebuilding is central to our identity as God’s children.

“I see the way life is changing for people in the community,” she says. “This is how I see God at work in humanity. It is incredible, actually. It is like nothing else, this grace of God bringing people together.”

A month after we return from Ambon, a series of devastating photographs arrive here in our office. They show Attika’s home completely destroyed by three earthquakes that hit the island in September; in one photo, Attika sits among blue and pink rubble, still selling her home-cooked snacks.

We gaze in silence at the two sets of images of Attika’s home, side by side, and I struggle with the idea that in both, God is present – in and through the relationships that have been built. Jeny’s team, through the Church’s Sagu Salempeng Foundation (SSF), is already on hand providing supplies to people living under tarps in the forest, too frightened to return to their homes. Jeny’s own family are among them.

“People are resilient,” Jeny says. “They dig deep. And they see God providing for them, even in this tragedy. The women’s groups have already been there for one another, sharing their food and resources: Christians, Muslims. They have become like family.”

And again, I’m reminded that in a world of pain and suffering, God’s intimate and powerful act was to come close as a child named Emmanuel: “God with us.” Born into the reality of our lives, sharing our existence, experiencing our hunger, sorrow and even our death. This is the God who is ever-present. This is the God who also, ultimately, overcomes.

God does not do this work alone. ‘God with us’ calls us alongside in partnership as we work toward the love that conquers death. For Attika, for Jeny, for every person digging deep to rebuild a life of dignity: please join us in giving the hope that holds us together this Christmas.

Everything in Common gifts change lives by ending poverty and bringing hope

They’re available at www.everythingincommon.com.au and you can send digital gift cards to loved ones right up until Christmas. Call us on 1800 998 122 to order gifts or donate this Christmas season.

Read about the work of our church partners in Ambon helping communities recover from the devastating earthquake that hit in September; an update about how your donations are supporting our Pacific church partners in their work to address inequality and violence against women; the unique fundraising efforts of Adamstown Uniting Church to support disaster readiness in Tuvalu and other small island nations; updates from Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Timor-Leste; a ‘Prayer During Times of Disaster’ and lots more.

Click to read the latest UnitingWorld Update

Download Update Newsletter as a PDF

Subscribe to get UnitingWorld Updates sent straight to your inbox!

The singing. It’s one of the real joys of visiting our partners across the Pacific, Asia and Africa. Long flights, lack of sleep, hard pews and lengthy sermons in a language I do not understand – these things mysteriously melt away as the opening chords are struck to some old Methodist hymn I’ve known since childhood. Voices lift. I add my own.

There’s something about the language of music that crosses all the boundaries we put in place between ourselves and others. In the swell of shared melody, a person can be lost or found; leading or led. Even when the language is different, it’s enough to know that I am one among many, playing my own small part. My voice matters; my small offering will join others to form something far more beautiful than anything I could accomplish alone.

Much of the work you can read about in our latest Update Newsletter shares that theme – the part played by Rockhampton Uniting in harmony with the women of Kiribati; the carefully crafted Child Protection work that becomes a thing of strength and beauty for the children of Timor Leste; the soaring symphony of millions of voices lifting as one to support the earth in the face of a changing climate.

September is one of my favourite times in the office, because it’s counting time. This is when our team spends days collecting the stories and reports of all the people who have been touched by our projects in the last financial year – people whose lives are changed because of your gifts. Men, women, children, people with disabilities, minority groups, we gather data on all of them – because we want to know how they fared, learn from their experience and figure out how we can do better. Imagine the stories and numbers from villages and towns and churches across Asia, Africa and the Pacific coming together like quavers and crotchets, till we can hear the song that the Spirit sang last year through all of us. It’s a hard work, and takes a lot of chocolate, but it is a humbling and inspiring privilege. Thank you for being part of the song and look out for our Annual Report soon.

I’m interested in your voice too. We’ve launched a supporter survey, from which I hope to learn more about what inspires and interests you as one of the faithful people I report back to each quarter. You matter because without your prayer, love and financial support, the work we do would not exist. Please take the time to add your voice to ours by filling in the survey here. I would appreciate it very much!

Pictured above are two children from the church in Ambon, Indonesia, delighting in the experience of singing for their congregation in a small village about an hour from the city. Twenty years ago, this province was virtually destroyed by conflict that played out in hand to hand fighting between Muslims and Christians, with homes, mosques and churches burnt. We’ve just been in Ambon to capture stories of the peace building process led by God’s people and transforming the entire island. It’s an incredible story of God’s redemptive and reconciling love at work, and we’ll be telling it for the first time for next year’s Lent Event! Stay tuned.

Dr Sureka Goringe
National Director