Thursday, 06 February 2020

Face Masks and Prayers for our Partners

The message via the Chinese messaging app WeChat arrived in Rev Dr Ji Zhang’s inbox on 29 January.

“Ji, may I ask whether you can purchase N95 masks? The China Christian Council and Three Self Patriotic Movement are in need. If you can purchase that item, please help us to obtain 3000 masks and send me the invoice. I will send you the money.”

The request from one of the most senior leaders of the China Christian Council, came in response to the outbreak in China of a new kind of pneumonia named Novel Coronavirus. Twenty-five countries including Australia have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus, with China accounting for over 99% of all cases.

According to China's National Health Commission, as of Wednesday 5 February, there were of 24,442 confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland, of which 493 people had died and 1027 patients had recovered. The Australian Department of Health has so far confirmed 14 cases in Australia: four in New South Wales, four in Victoria, four in Queensland, and two in South Australia. Of the 12 previously reported cases in Australia, three have recovered and the others are in a stable condition.

In a drastic public policy response that has provoked some public criticism, the Federal Government is preventing any Chinese person without citizenship or permanent residency from re-entering Australia. This policy has meant that the majority of 100,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities are now stranded in their home country with the new academic year set to begin. Families have even been separated because of the Government’s decision – which exceeds World Health Organization recommendations.

There has also been a regrettable secondary epidemic – an outbreak of public anti-Chinese sentiment. Rev Swee-Ann Koh of the VicTas Synod has written in Crosslight of some of the racism - casual to overt - that has bubbled to the surface in Australia and around the world.

By contrast the global church response has been positive. The Catholic news agency CathNews reports that since 27 January, the Vatican has sent 600,000-700,000 protective masks to China as a joint initiative of the Office of Papal Charities and the Chinese Church in Italy, in collaboration with the Vatican pharmacy.

So far Rev. Dr Zhang’s search for supplies in Australia has not been easy. All of the normal suppliers are out of stock and suppliers are demanding almost double the regular retail price. The shortage is exacerbated because Australians have bought up lots of N95 masks recently to combat bushfire smoke.

Chinese-Australians too have been buying up masks themselves to send to family and friends in China. Ji Zhang is pushing ahead with the task. So far, he has managed to obtain some masks in Indonesia via Dr Deborah Murthy in UnitingWorld’s South East Asia Regional Office.

The shipment will be supported by the UnitingWorld Emergency Relief fund. The 10-year relationship between the CCC and the UCA blossomed largely through Ji Zhang’s stewardship over a dozen of exchange visits since 2011.

This is the first time though that such a direct request has come to the UCA from the Chinese church partner of 60,000 congregations and 26 million members.

“This request shows that we are a trusted friend of the Chinese Church,” says Ji Zhang.

In a show of solidarity President Dr Deidre Palmer has written a Pastoral Letter to the China Christian Council, which was well received. The Chinese communities within the life of Uniting Church have been deeply concerned about the virus.

Many have been actively involved in community-led activities to raise funds and ship supplies to 16 cities that are now locked down in Hubei Province. 

In response to pastoral needs, the Secretary of the UCA’s Chinese National Conference Rev Enshuo Zhu of Zion Chinese Church in Melbourne has written a prayer in Chinese and English.

“We are part of a community-supported ministry in the time of crisis,” says Ji Zhang.

“I am very grateful to everyone supporting the Uniting Church in this engagement."

One Uniting Church Chinese community leader who didn’t want to be named, said: “We are so thankful to every donor and volunteer, without them, nothing would be possible. The highest honour should go to the medical staff working on the frontline. Without their sacrifice, things would be much worse. God bless them all”.

“Let us pray that our partners in China are very soon enjoying God’s blessing of peace and good health,” added Rev. Dr Zhang.

Pastoral Letter to CCC

Prayer for the Coronavirus Outbreak in China