"We are on alert, but do not panic," writes Fotani Ziliwu of the Theological University STT Sunderman of the BNKP Church on Nias (Indonesia) in his prayer alert of April 8. His status report reflects in an exemplary way the situation in many churches of the UEM communion. All prayer alerts, which we have received from the member churches, can be read in the original here on our website.
To get an overview of the situation in the member churches, at the end of March we asked our members in the three UEM regions what protective or preventive measures they had already taken to contain Corona and what support they would expect from UEM. We also enclosed our application form for project funding with our request. Only a few days later, on 7 April, our Management Team decided to make project funds available to members for the historically unique amount of 1 million euros in their fight against the Corona pandemic. At the same time, a Corona task force was set up to coordinate the many requests from the three regions.
The following overview is based on the prayer requests, initial feedback and project proposals we have received from our member churches to date. Since the situation around Covid-19 changes daily, this situation report cannot be complete or detailed. Nevertheless, it gives an insight into the needs of the people, which we - regardless of our own situation - must not forget.
From the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Botswana (ELCB) we received a project proposal from Bishop Letlhage entitled "COVID-19 Outbreak - Lets Protect the San". Although it does not tell us what action the ELCB has already taken, the 2018 experience when the San community was scabbed taught the church that San ethnicity members usually live as a family of 5-7 people in temporary one-room houses without access to drinking water.
With the project approval, the church intends to produce a brochure in San language to inform San communities about the corona virus, its dangers and the necessary preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus. It also aims to improve hygiene conditions in the communities and families of the San ethnic group and to provide access to drinking water.
Following the declaration of a state of emergency by the President of Botswana following the outbreak of corona, the ELCB's Mission and Diaconia Department developed a programme to raise awareness of the transmission routes of Covid-19. In addition to education, support, prevention, and food security programs, the Church provides temporary shelter to prevent people, especially those from remote areas, from being crammed into confined spaces during curfew periods.
From the Evangelical Church in Cameroon (EEC), our colleague Elie Leuwe reports that the UEM emergency aid is mainly needed for the production and distribution of protective masks. In addition, people are being educated about the infection paths of corona disease.
From the crisis-ridden east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the CBCA member church is sending us a collection of 1,800 US dollars for the UEM campaign against Covid-19.
CDCC church president Eliki Bonanga from Western Congo has personally committed himself to the campaign against COVID-19 and is actively involved in educating people about Corona's routes of infection. Since the last Ebola epidemic in Congo was not so long ago, the church has already gained experience in dealing with health crises and now wants to implement the following measures:
- Sensitization of the population from Mbandaka to Boende with a view to practical prevention measures against COVID-19, including songs to carry the prevention message against Corona.
- Expansion of hygiene measures in the health stations.
- Equipping the health stations with the necessary materials and medicines for basic care.
- Provision of special hygiene kits for the women and girls in quarantine.
- Training of an interdisciplinary coordination team to coordinate church measures against COVID-19 under the direction of Dr. Bosolo, the coordinator of the medical department.
According to feedback from Naomi Kisting, Partnership Adviser of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN), when the government declared a state of emergency, the bishop's office in Windhoek issued two circulars to all congregations on how to comply with government guidelines in a church context. The circulars, which also provide spiritual comfort to church members, also include information on awareness and education to effectively counter the spread of the pandemic.
Furthermore, the Social Development Department and the ELCRN's partnership office decided to cooperate with the organisations working in the townships in Namibia in order to establish a focus for intervention. The following measures, among others, have been prioritised for the support of people in the nationwide townships:
- Ensuring that households whose water supply has been cut off due to non-payment have access to the public water supply again, as ordered by the central government in Windhoek. This also applies to municipal water connections in the townships.
- Lobbying the local authorities and private water companies to enlarge the water tanks in the townships so that the families living there have sufficient opportunities to wash their hands, as required for COVID-19 prevention.
In Rwanda, the Evangelical Anglican Church (EAR) also distributed the first food parcels at Easter as part of the Corona education campaign in the congregations. The situation is similar with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Rwanda (EPR), which provides basic food for the families affected by Covid-19.
These aid measures illustrate the fatal consequences of the state-imposed curfews in many countries of the world to protect the population: people are prevented from earning their daily bread. Especially the day labourers usually have hardly any money reserves and live with their families from hand to mouth. If the daily wage is not paid, this quickly leads to an acute crisis in the food supply.
From Tanzania, Dean Rev Chediel Lwiza of the East Coast Diocese (ECD) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCT) reports in his prayer request, among other things, that the ECD is careful with misleading theologies about the pandemic. However, the church encourages its members to pray for the healing of the sick in all countries of the world.
The Tanzanian government has begun to impose strict restrictions to stem the spread of the corona virus, for example on the use of public transport. Schools are closed and public gatherings such as sports and music events or political meetings and community events are not allowed.
To raise awareness among the population, the ECD church mainly uses its media network "Upendo", consisting of newspapers, radio, television and the social media. For example, context-related biblical messages of hope, trust and confidence are developed and broadcast for the television programme. The Upendo newspaper will publish articles by doctors and theologians to educate the readership about the pandemic. The younger generation reaches the ECD via the social media, which are regularly covered with its messages.
The young girls of the "Teenage Mothers" project provide very practical support under the guidance of the UEM co-worker Pastor Birkenstock-Koll: they sew protective masks with the UEM logo.
In order to support the Karagwe diocese in Tanzania, UEM has decided at short notice to extend the assignment of the Congolese doctor Dr. Furaha Kahindo for another 6 months.
From South Africa, Pat Solomons of the Rhenish Church (RC-SA) reported on a workshop that was held to educate older people in particular about how they can protect themselves against infection with Covid-19.
Desiree Brown, general secretary of the Uniting Reformed Churches in Southern Africa (URCSA), explains how the work is coordinated at the congregational and presbyterial levels. Here above all the networking between the seven regional synods of the URCSA plays a decisive role when it comes to educational and preventive work to protect one's own family, but also the respective congregation. This includes hygiene measures, keeping away from neighbours and the distribution of disinfectants to community members. Some communities run feeding programmes for children, the elderly and other vulnerable people, such as the homeless, who are unable to get a free meal due to curfew.
A presbytery has also decided to reopen a former HIV/AIDS hospice to house homeless women and people with disabilities. This facility also offers the possibility of isolation should this become necessary.
Both the General and Regional Synods of the URCSA Church have issued statements aimed at increasing solidarity among parishioners and awareness of the need for the measures envisaged to prevent infections.
Together with the respective national governments, our member churches in the Asia region are helping to stop the spread of Covid-19. The measures taken so far include keeping social distance, washing hands, a health-promoting lifestyle and online schooling from home. Both private church attendance and holding public services in the church are not permitted. Although governments have called for people to stay at home, the economic constraints of many people often do not allow them to fully comply with this instruction.
In his project application, Ephorus Tuhoni Telaumbanua from the BNKP church in Nias (Indonesia) writes that many people have lost their jobs in the big cities because of the corona pandemic and are now streaming back to the island of Nias. In addition to the lack of protective equipment, there is a growing need for basic foodstuffs, which have become scarce due to the panic buying of the richer population.
The BNKP informs its members about the measures to contain the corona virus and offers all congregations until the end of May to broadcast their services and sermons via live streaming.
The funding applied for therefore includes the purchase of protective equipment and washing facilities as well as food to cover the basic needs of the congregation members. In addition, the congregations are to be technically equipped to enable them to stream church services live.
According to its leader Agustinus Purba, the Karo Batak Church in North Sumatra (GBKP) has also set up a task force to coordinate prevention measures during this time of crisis. In three pastoral letters, the church leadership informed about the responsibility of each member of the congregation with regard to the necessary protective measures and asked for solidarity with poorer congregations that are suffering more from the virus in social and economic terms. One of the letters also contained a very practical instruction on how to easily produce disinfectants, for which the GBKP provided the ingredients.
Rosmalia Barus, the director of the GBKP's Diaconia Department, said that the medical staff provides food and vitamins especially for older church members. In a number of villages and towns, the church also distributes staple foods such as rice and sugar to Christians and Muslims who are economically particularly affected by the Corona crisis, such as rickshaw drivers, cleaners and other day labourers.
In its call to prayer, the Church leadership also reports on its decision to postpone the synod planned for 13-18 April 2020. All GBKP are praying at home. Wherever possible, modern digital technology is used for online worship and children's services.
From the project application of GKPI, another UEM member church in North Sumatra, it can be seen that hygiene and education measures are also to be carried out here. Bishop Oloan Pasaribu and General Secretary Ro Sininta Hutabarat also report that social distancing is part of daily practice, as is the support of needy members of the congregation with basic foodstuffs.
The GPKB Church informs that its planned measures range from joint prayer to the distribution of personal protective clothing. In addition, the church urges that health protocols be followed and false reports stopped in order to avoid public fear and panic. With its information through the social media, the Church wants to contribute to calming and prudence. In addition, Church representatives stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle for a strong immune system and adherence to the hygiene rules for the containment of corona virus.
In its project application from its diaconal department, the HKBP church describes various measures for securing the food supply, health care and supporting poorer sections of the population, such as day labourers who can no longer carry out their work, with basic foodstuffs. In addition, the members of the congregation are encouraged to use even small areas of land, for example to grow vegetables or to build fish ponds and raise chickens. In order to keep the pupils busy at home, the deaconry department has encouraged them to take part in various competitions. The Diakonia radio channel and FM HKBP report on these and other church activities. With the help of stickers and leaflets, the department carries out its campaign to combat the corona virus. In addition to health advice and its own production of disinfectants, the Church supports the purchase of protective clothing. In addition, the crisis centres in the various districts receive financial support, while at the same time donations are called for to finance prevention measures. The HKBP has also set up a prayer team that provides spiritual support for the social workers and calls upon God's help for the health of all people. And, of course, in the HKBP church, too, services are held only within our own four walls.
From the project application of the general secretary of the HKBP church, Dr. Batara Sihombing, it is clear that the church plans to provide especially low-income families with food, to distribute hygiene products and water tanks as well as to have protective masks produced in order to financially support the seamstresses. In addition, the members of the congregation are to be informed about the dangers and preventive measures around the corona virus.
The UEM member church GKPM from the island of Mentawai has reported that it is carrying out educational measures about the corona virus in particular. The church is also making efforts to comply with hygiene regulations and to provide hospital staff with protective clothing.
The member church GKE in Kalimantan/Borneo has also switched to crisis mode. Since the first reports of the Indonesian government about corona infected people in early March, the GKE Synod has taken important steps to support the government's instructions. They informed the congregations to hold their Sunday services at home instead of in the churches. For this purpose the church provided simple liturgies to the families. Worship services can now also be followed through the social media. Weddings and other events are also prohibited. Practical advice on hygiene and social distancing was given to church members.
According to the project application of the GKJTU Church of the Island of Java, the church is continuously educating about the corona virus, its dangers and suitable prevention possibilities. According to the head of the Diaconal Department, Debora Suparni, the Church has distributed 200 food packages consisting of rice, oil, sugar to reduce the economic burden on the community due to the effects of the pandemic. In fact, there are many more needy people than the church can support, but due to limited financial resources, the GKJTU had to make a strict selection for distribution based on criteria such as "widowed" or "without income".
In order to prevent the spread of the virus, the GKJTU carries out the following activities, among others:
- Making sinks and providing soap in several easily accessible places, such as two primary schools, the Christian Middle School, Tarunatama Vocational School and the Sion Office.
- Instruction of the student body, especially in the primary and middle schools, on the technique of effective hand washing with soap.
- Distribution of protective masks to Sion Foundation communities, including 3000 masks in Merapi and Getasan.
At present, fabric masks are produced in large numbers to support the communities when the wearing of protective masks should become mandatory. In the meantime, all commercially available protective masks are almost sold out or only available at very high costs. It is therefore planned to give the vocational students of Tarunatama the opportunity to sew fabric masks themselves and thus earn an income.
In the Philippines, the UCCP member church, together with other representatives of civil society, has advocated for mass tests to be carried out on people with corona symptoms in order to obtain a rapid diagnosis and enable the people affected to receive appropriate treatment.
In addition, the UCCP Office of the General Secretary has issued a pastoral letter and guidelines on how to respond to the pandemic and protect congregations from infection with the virus. The usual worship services have been suspended in favor of home worship. Financial assistance is being provided to poor and needy church workers to alleviate their precarious economic situation.
UCCP leadership is also encouraging church hospitals to respond appropriately to the Corona pandemic. Further assistance is being planned and will be implemented in consultation with the Government's Ministry of Social Affairs and Development and the National Council of Churches.
Our regional office in Pematangsiantar, Indonesia, received a notification that the UCCP management wants to support seamstresses in the production of protective masks. 80% of the proceeds from the sale of the masks will remain with the seamstresses, while 20% of the proceeds will go to the United Metropolis Conference as part of the fundraising campaign to support church workers in financial need.
Asiri Perera of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka informs that the church leadership has immediately called upon all its congregations to stop all Sunday worship services and to stop holding prayer meetings and gatherings in church districts. Pastors of all congregations were advised to inform members to hold their services and prayers at home.
Concerning the supply of food, the pastors of the church districts were advised to make a list of members in urgent need of food. The food distributions are then financed by the local churches.In addition, it is planned to intensify the interreligious programs in order to improve the relations between the different religious communities with a view to mutual economic support.
In view of this enormous need for support measures, UEM has decided at short notice to pay each member church a sum of 10,000 euros upon request and without red tape.
The Corona crisis is also changing life and work in the von Bodelschwinghschen Foundations Bethel in an unprecedented way. Due to the large number of at-risk patients, protective measures are very high and all facilities are closed to visitors. As a result of these efforts, there are only 52 confirmed corona cases in over 100,000 patients and 20,000 employees. All sheltered workshops had to be closed, which caused a major supply problem, but this was solved by individual home care and the commitment of many volunteers and employees from other departments. In the hospitals, all postponable treatments and operations were cancelled, several wards were cleared and equipped with respirators for the treatment of corona cases. Due to the positive infection development in Germany, most Corona beds are empty. However, the cancellation of planned treatments, the evacuation of wards and lost income from workshops for the disabled are increasingly aggravating the economic situation in Bethel. At the same time, signs of cohesion, confidence and comfort can be seen in many places in Bethel as small encouraging gestures and lived solidarity. Below are a few examples:
The team of the "Neue Schmiede", a leisure and cultural centre for senior citizens and people with disabilities, came up with a particularly nice and delicious surprise for the customers: As all events of the centre have been cancelled, the deaconesses packed small Easter packages which were distributed to the regular guests. "We now often talk to the seniors on the phone and want to leave them a surprise for Easter so that they can see that we are thinking of them," explains one of the deaconesses. They also ordered 150 postcards from the bookstore on the Bethel campus to send greetings to the regular course and project participants as well as to the volunteers and companions.
Bethel has become a centre for sewing heroines. In many places, mouth and nose masks, which are currently urgently needed in the facilities, are sewn together with the residents. In the Ophra residential home, for example, staff from the PR department supported the residents by recycling unsold materials from the "Brocken collection", the well-known large second-hand shop in Bethel.
Chungtay means "to help together" in the Vietnamese language. Under this motto a large Bethel hospital in Berlin and the Vietnamese speaking community in the neighbourhood continued to grow together. At the end of March, members of this community, which is one of the largest Vietnamese communities in Germany, donated mouth and nose protection products, sterile gloves and disinfectants to the hospital. The medical protective equipment comes from the cosmetics industry, which does not currently need these products.
"Emotions that spread like sound waves are the breeding ground for what we call trust," explains the head of the Trombone Mission in Bethel with conviction. This is one reason why the Trombone Mission has launched a special campaign: Since the musicians are no longer allowed to meet for joint rehearsals, they now play their instruments from home. Every evening at 6 pm they stand at their windows, on their balconies or in their gardens and play evening songs. This creates a wonderful carpet of sound over the village of Bethel. The twenty-minute open-air concert always ends with the blessing song "Bless us and preserve us through your grace".
Our General Secretary, Volker Martin Dally, summarised the situation within the international Protestant community on 17 April as follows: "The UEM's Corona relief fund is developing steadily. On the one hand, there are now further donations from private sources and promises by German UEM members to increase it in order to be able to at least partially meet the immense demand, especially for basic supplies for people in Africa and Asia. For example, an initial disbursement to the applicant churches has made it possible to distribute food parcels and provide the people with hygiene articles.
Most UEM members also lack the financial resources to respond to the need of the people, since with the bans on assembly the financing of the churches through collections has also collapsed. It is to be feared that the development in these regions of UEM will not relax for the time being, since the daily income is also missing there due to the ban on contact.
Even if many people in Germany will have painful losses on the income side, we are nevertheless in a much better position thanks to functioning government aid programmes and a well-organised health service."
Martina Pauly (Head of Communication & Media)
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