View this email in your browser

IRCA eNews 
June 2020

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

What we all need to do is find the wellspring that keeps us going, that gives us the strength and patience to keep up this struggle for a long time. 

Winona LaDuke

Creator God, we are in dire straits. Show us the best path for us to take at this time so our energies and strength will be directed by You. We cannot do this without You. 

Sojourners Reader

From Sojourners Verse and Voice 31 March 2020,


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In 1982, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting in a Christian Church in Beijing, China, one of four church buildings that had been reopened in the country at that time after persecution by the communist government.  My spouse and I were part of a very few westerners present.  I sat next to an elderly Chinese woman whom I suspected had hidden out during the persecution and now celebrated being able to worship openly.  She spoke Mandarin.  I knew a little Cantonese, but no Mandarin.  We sang the hymn “In Christ there is no East or West,” she in Mandarin and I in English.  Suddenly there was a bond between us that overcame differences of race, politics, national boundaries, and language.  It was a bond born of our relationship as a sister and brother in Christ.  That was a powerful blessing to experience.  The words of the first verse of that hymn are:
In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.
As I reflect on that experience and the words of that hymn, I also ponder the power of a tiny virus that threatens the human part of God’s creation without regard to race, politics, national boundaries, and language.  The globe is making its annual change of season from northern hemisphere to the southern. With the movement of winter to countries with dense populations of vulnerable communities, I fear this pandemic virus will exert itself with even more deadly force.  Which global force will prevail: Christ’s one great fellowship of love or the menace of an international epidemic?  I put my trust and hope in Christ and that great love.

As representative of Christ’s one great fellowship, we of IRCA must stand up.  Though we cannot stand together physically at this time, we can stand together spiritually.  I think of St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the Romans, “Let love be genuine… rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer….Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; ….”  Beloved of God, know that your sisters and brothers of IRCA are praying for you in this time of trial.  We rejoice with you and weep with you in the Spirit.  May almighty God give you a full measure of hope, patience, and perseverance.
Join hands, companions in the faith, whate'er your race may be!  All who serve each other in Christ’s love are surely kin to me.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Mark Yackel-Juleen
Chair, International Rural Churches Association


Initial planning is underway for IOWA 2022, the next International Rural Churches Association Conference.  It is to be held in Dubuque, Iowa, USA, to be held in the latter part of April 2022.  The IRCA conference will be designed to overlap with annual rural ministry conference at Wartburg Seminary, increasing the opportunities to interact with local church leaders.

Possible themes, which impact all regions of the rural church world, are climate change, inter-faith relationships (with concerns about persecution and terrorist attacks), and practical aspects of ministry.



Dear brothers and sisters worldwide

The IRCA-Europe conference "Sourdough for the Land" will be postponed until next year due to the current situation.  The new date will be announced will in advance.

The Board of the International Rural Churches Association in Europe. 



The IRCA-Oceania Conference proposed for 2020 is now postponed to 2021.
The proposed re-scheduled date for gathering at the Agricultural College in Longreach, Queensland is Sunday 22 to Thursday 27 August 2021.  Participants will be able to arrive on the Sunday and leave on the Friday.

The theme of Bringing Hope in Challenging Times has a prescience about it. Challenges facing rural churches and communities in Australia, New Zealand, and the Islands of the South Pacific and Melanesia were significant enough even before the pandemic of COVID-19 struck the whole world.   For all of us now, it is vital that we share our stories of lament and stories of hope in difficult times.  We must not wait until we are allowed to gather together again.  

The invitation from IRCA-Oceania, therefore, is to tell us your stories.  Tell us how you've continued to be church even with the limited resources at hand and perhaps in collaboration with others.  

What has been making a difference?  What new insights have been revealed for how we can be good news people within our communities, struggling as they are with sickness, material needs, and social and psychological distress?

Click here to share your stories.




COVID-19 as a global pandemic has brought both extreme fear as well as skyrocketing, irreparable loss of life. In Malawi, we have first heard about COVID-19 in January 2020. Information through electronic media (television) about the Italian catastrophe left Malawi melting with fear and up till now there is still fear that COVID-19 would wipe out the Malawi population in a very sad way.

Our statistics, however, are still below 100 cases. The latest radio information presents 70 cases confirmed, 27 recoveries and 3 deaths. The 70 cases are reported from all the 4 provinces of Malawi (Chikwawa, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Nkhotakota, Mzuzu and Karonga districts).

The Government’s approach to the COVID-19 is palpably poor, in that all that they have done is to create public awareness without a well thought process of thorough community sensitization. The process has been marred with political propaganda which has ended up causing a lot of confusion among Malawians. It has also been visible that our political leadership are hypocritical about the COVID-19 challenge. For example, the Government has advised Malawians to wash hands as often as one can, observe social distance and avoid large gatherings yet when the Government is doing their political activities, both officials and citizens do not wash their hands and they also gather in large numbers.

The Government has also failed to conduct proper training for hospital staff members on COVID-19 and has failed to provide adequate protective prevention equipment (PPE), so much so that some nurses who were treating some patients at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital got infected. In the same vain, the Government has failed to train and deploy Health Surveillance Assistants to sensitize rural communities.

However, some NGOs have taken positive action to sensitize a few rural communities which represents less than 50% of Malawi’s rural masses. Banks and other companies in towns have also provided sanitary services and face masks.

The public response has been very hostile to the Government approach to the extent that they have rejected the lockdown since there were no justification nor safety measures for the poor.

Generally, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to the COVID-19.

The danger in the offing is that neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Tanzania have large numbers of COVID-19 cases and are likely to transfer more COVID-19 cases to Malawi. The Republic of South Africa has ordered to send back Malawians working there while Tanzania has kept the borders open to trade with Malawi. This scenario would increase the risk of COVID-19 on Malawi. 

The government of Malawi has kept some of the institutions in Malawi under lockdown such as all schools so that there is no learning going in the country and this has subjected private schools to economic crisis. All NGOs which are major developmental partners work in shifts or completely work from home.
  1. The general drift is that Malawi’s weak economy has grown even weaker.
  2. Small businesses have plummeted into bankruptcy.
  3. The poor are starving even more.
  4. The closure of businesses is likely to result into greater poverty.
  1. Provide thorough training for hospital staff
  2. Provide adequate PPE
  3. Deploy health surveillance assistants to sensitize rural communities
  4. Provide sanitary equipment
Copeland Nkhata



Prasad reported at the recent IRCA leadership on-line meeting on lockdown in India in response to the Coronavirus.  

In particular he described the agony of migrant workers trying to return home, with no transportation.   The temperature in India has been, and is forecasted to be all summer, extremely high and lives are at stake. 

He also described the devastation for Calcutta and Bangladesh after the recent cyclone.

The Churches are endeavouring to assist in relation to all of these issues. 
*     *     *      *      *      *

James Bandela asks for prayers for a Mission Trip from 10-13 June, to help with the Covid-19 outbreak, going to six village and to 50 remote village pastors. They will travel by hire from Guntur for 165km to Badveedu (where James' wife Prema worked until 2004 as a teacher), to Berinenei Palle (60km), to Ravulapalem for overnight rest (20km). The next day is spent at Ravulapuram then to Kakirala village in the evening on the other side of the forest in that area. The next day takes them 60km to Machera, a colony for people with leprosy who survive by begging. Then 70km to Akkapalem and the village ministry, then back to Ravulapalem. On the next day they distribute supplies to families in Ravulapura, then 140km back to Guntur.

At every stage they will share rice, sunflower oil and some money with the pastors and families.   In all the whole Mission Trip is costings $2,500.  James asks: please pray for God's protection for all of us who are participating and God's mighty help our mission journey. "I don't know God works but I believe expect great things from God do great things for God"

Much love and God's Blessings upon you all.



Here is the situation in Eastern Europe, Romania, Transylvania.

Since few days ago, (15 May) Romania has entered in a phase bit more relaxed like that one before, from state of emergency to state of alert, the pandemic finally it is in a descendant way, less and less infected and dying people, and more and more healed people. As for today (18 May) we have 17,036 people infected, 9,936 healed, and 1,107 have died.

As for my our county there are currently 627 people infected, 292 healed, and 41 have died.

The state of alert phase allows us to travel freely (without needing travel papers) inside village, city or metropolitan area (30 km around the main city). But for travelling to another city outside of the metropolitan area, you still need to fill a request to travel. Despite of many criticisms, human rights infringements, and poor health system management, I think the government managed very well this emergency situation, requiring social distancing and the call to stay at home. The contribution made by people has also very important, that we have today this numbers.

For churches, the government has permitted during the state of alert services for limited persons (16) in indoor places, and unlimited people for outside places, keeping the rules of social distancing also. Some churches has organized already for Sunday outside services, those who have enough place outside but we kept still online service as our congregation it is in lack of enough free place. Despite of this situation, we will try to organise an outdoor service for Ascension Day. Also for Pentecost we try to organize the Communion service  with disposable cups, but only for this occasion.

Personally, we are okay.  We expect the meeting with our members so much, we hope so that will come soon this moment. We are waiting also for summer period to be able to travel somewhere outside of the country...

God Bless all of you
Rev. Laszlo Mark - Négyfalu, Sacele - Transylvania - Romania


In the UK we are moving from Spring into early summer, with all the signs of new life around us.   After a very wet winter which ended with even wetter weather, there was serious flooding in many areas of the country (several of which had barely recovered after the last floods). Since the beginning of April, there has been virtually no rain at all, with warnings of potential drought.  Farmers who struggled to plant crops or saw early planting washed away are now coping with cracked earth, wilting crops and concern about water levels.  Some estimates suggest that crop yields and grazing will be reduced by up to 60% this year.  Added to this is the impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on ability to pick, harvest and process the soft fruits, salad and other crops that are coming into season.  We have realised again how dependent we are on seasonal migrant labour and the skills and expertise that they bring – which come from years of practice and are not easily picked up in a single season.  Agriculture and trade bills are working their way through Parliament and will affect food production and food security – both intentionally and most probably with other unintended and unforeseen consequences.  Life for farmers and rural communities feels even more precarious than usual, and calls to the farming community support networks are constantly rising. 
We are gradually moving out of ‘lockdown’ with small gatherings of people now being permitted and schools beginning to re-open to more pupils.  There are concerns about lifting restrictions when the infection rate is still fairly high, and confidence in the government and its advice has been dented by a lack of clear guidance and leadership.  Our death and infection rate has been much higher than other countries, and those who have been bereaved have carried additional burdens of grief. 
And the implications of withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) are still being worked out, with concern that the government will not be able to negotiate an adequate trade deal with the EU by the end of this year – which is the deadline they have set themselves despite all the additional problems caused by COVID-19. 
However, there are many positive things that have come out of this difficult position.  We are giving thanks that a sense of justice, fair play and kindness have been recovered.  Local communities have pulled together to ensure that the most vulnerable people are cared for; churches have been taking the lead in food banks for many years, and have been adapting their ways of working to continue this increasingly important provision.  Volunteers have been making phone calls and delivering shopping to people who are lonely and isolated.  We have all come to value in a new way the people who are keeping our hospitals and clinics running, shelves stocked in the shops, deliveries made, bins emptied etc and realise how much we rely on their work.  And many more people have been out walking and enjoying the world around us as traffic reduces, noise abates and air pollution has reduced. 
Churches have been closed for a couple of months but this has been an impetus to find new ways to worship and communicate.  Even technophobes have discovered Zoom – and people who have not been able to get out to church physically for many years because of health or frailty are now able to share in worship from their homes through phone-ins, paper copies of services and online streaming.  More people have been turning to prayer and to virtual forms of spiritual support than normally attend Sunday services.  The national rural churches centre (Arthur Rank Centre) has offered a regular, ecumenical mid-week reflection which is widely shared and much appreciated: this can be found here, along with other helpful resources.  Although we miss being together physically, we are finding ‘Together Apart’ has introduced changes that will continue and re-shape us for the future.
As we join in prayer for one another around the world, we realise that we face many similar challenges in controlling disease, coping with economic and social fall-out, ensuring provision of food and support for the vulnerable.  We also have similar experiences of God’s faithfulness, examples of loving care, strengthened community life, acts of kindness, and desire to build a better world.  We continue to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ 

Ann Wright 


Things are still uncertain in Scotland as we deal with the impact of Covid-19 on the country and on our churches.  Scotland is beginning to distance itself from the policies being implemented in England concerning the management of the lockdown and lifting restrictions. 

The lockdown has been extended here with many questioning the possibility of any form of return to "normality" before the end of the summer.  People are already facing significant financial pressure and job losses, increasing the tension within households and communities.  Rural areas of Scotland have high rates of depression during ‘normal’ times and there is a lot of concern about the long-term impact on those with existing mental illnesses.

There is much fear and lack of clarity about the virus and about the appropriate responses.  Medical personnel and carers in the Highlands have a shortage of PPE and are finding it difficult to manage their regular caseload and responsibilities alongside the push towards virus preparation.  People are afraid to go to their doctor or to the hospital for regular treatment or non-Covid related issues, making it increasingly likely that they will experience health complications.  As England relaxes their restrictions on movement, there are increasing fears that those who live in bigger cities may choose to “escape to the country” and bring contagions with them into small vulnerable populations in rural areas.  Prior to the official government lockdown there were hundreds of people who tried coming to the Highlands, putting pressure on local areas and creating problems in tiny villages which do not have the infrastructure to support significant increases in the population.

Where I live in the Highlands many churches are facing the extraordinary situation with creativity and enthusiasm.  Many church members who were previously reticent to use technology are actively engaging with streaming services or participating in prayer meetings and Bible studies via video-conference facilities.  The long-term effects of the virus on meeting together for worship are still unknown and I, for one, am desperately missing the opportunities to gather with the family of God in person.  However, there are exciting stories about people who are accessing church services for the first time, seeking for answers in the midst of overwhelming circumstances.  One friend shared that a member of her church was joining in their videoconference services while her husband was in the kitchen.  He has previously been uninterested in church, but now church is in his home and he is beginning to participate, even contacting the minister with questions following the service.  Their church had roughly 25 members prior to the lockdown and now regularly has 35 or 40 people joining in their videoconference meetings on Sundays.

Churches across the country are working together ecumenically to provide pastoral care and support to those who are the most vulnerable.  Rural towns and villages are prioritising care for each other in ways which are inspiring.  There are still examples of mindboggling selfishness, but there seems to be a shift towards recognising the need to care for each other.  People are looking forward to being able to gather again, but we are all aware that life will never be the same as it was before the lockdown.  Among other things, we will need to grieve those who have died during the times when we were unable to gather for funerals.  We will need to support our ministers who have been struggling desperately with the pain of officiating funerals in the absence of friends and family.  We will need to remember the lessons about church entering homes and communities.

For now, we wait and pray.  The challenges of this time have brought about a sense of solidarity with the world as we all muddle along.  If nothing else, this strange and uncertain time has reminded us that “church” is not about buildings.

Heather Major

North America


Dear IRCA friends
Warm greetings from Canada in these Corona Virus days!  May is here, and although unfortunately it is still quite cold, there are some flowers, the trees are leafing out, and seeding is taking place on the farmlands.

Canada’s churches have been closed since the middle of March in response to the Corona Virus.  Congregations have been learning many new things – how to do online church services, coffee times, study groups, and new experiences of pastoral care.

In Canada, there are about 70,000 people who have been tested positive, while about half that number have been sick and have recovered, and we grieve about 5,000 people who have died, with all that means in these days when we can’t have gatherings.  About 50% of employable Canadians are still going to work, about 30% have made the transition to working from home, and about 20% are presently experiencing being laid off.

On April 14, an online meeting was held among rural United Church of Canada ministers from all across the country.  We heard about the successful rural church conference held in June of 2019 in New Brunswick, called Rural Roots to the Holy – Recognize, Replenish, Rejoice.  Dr. Marvin Anderson, one of Canada’s leading rural life experts, was the speaker at that conference.

The United Church ministers meeting that day agreed they would like to see a coordinated Canada-wide connection of rural ministers, to break down isolation and with the hope we could see regional Rural Life Conferences, in person or online.  At the last General Council of the United Church, money was set aside to support this kind of action, as well as finding innovative ways to provide worship to remote communities.

The Centre for Rural Community Leadership and Ministry, situated at the Saskatoon Theological Union, is looking at the exploration of a visual marker that could be placed on the property of farmers, churches, and other sites that would be a visual reminder of the treaty relationships between First Nations and settler communities.  We will work with communities, First Nations elders and artists to come up with some such markers.  CiRCLe-M was awarded a grant by the Lutheran Alberta Synod, the program of Synod Creative Initiatives, to carry this out.  Two members of the Board were going to meet with First Nations at a Treaty event, but this event was postponed due to the Corona Virus.

CiRCLe-M has a training resource on its website,, a Crisis Preparedness training.  It is to encourage churches to cooperate with their municipal preparedness training, to strengthen local emergency plans so that the gifts of the church will be part of those plans, and they can be put to good use during times of great need.  Although those preparing the program were thinking of crises like floods, traumatic killing, mine disaster, forest fire, etc., I thought  that in the face of this crisis of Covid 19, it could be good for congregations to have the opportunity to take a look at it.

You can learn more about this training: 
1) Click here to watch a video that gives snapshots of what's in each of the nine training videos.
2) Click here for highlights on each of the nine training sessions (pdf format).
3) Click here for web links to the individual training sessions (videos).
4) Click here for a companion handbook designed to accompany and supplement information in the videos (pdf format).

Catherine Christie



Dave reported at the recent IRCA leadership meeting on some of the issues for the churches in the USA, with the Coronavirus continue to be spreading widely throughout communities and concerns about instructions received from the authorities. President Trump has declared the church an essential service which meant that they must be open and has directed State Governors to ensure they opened.   However, churches have chosen differently.  Dave's own church has decided not to open until August 9 and even that will be recieved as the date gets closer. Opportunities for on-line worship are being taken up, with the church continuing its work even without personal contact.

The Rural Church Network has posted its summer meeting in Kentucky indefinitely and the Rural Chaplains Conference for October is postponed.  




I feel very blessed to live in this country.  We are fortunate to have good health systems and governments which for the most part have acted quickly to get on top of this pandemic and also to support the people of this nation in so many different ways.  Our infection rates have been kept  in check and our death rates low.  Being in lock down has proved challenging for many people and the economic cost will be great.  As we begin to come out of lockdown it is vitally important that we remain vigilant and abide by physical distancing rules to reduce the risk of a second wave.
I live in country New South Wales in a community with a population or around 6,000 people.  Many of my parishioners are over the age of 70 so in a vulnerable age group.  As lockdown restriction came into force we needed to find new ways of being church and remaining connected.  I have chosen to conduct worship via video conference as this allows our Church community to meet together and interact in a way that we cannot do with live streaming.  I have been amazed to see the number of our people who are engaging in our worship and embracing technology in ways we would never have dreamed of in the past.  We have even resumed our regular Bible Study group using video conferencing.  The weekly provision of a liturgy and sermon has proved invaluable for those who are not connected with technology.
Our people are picking up the telephone and ringing one another in both an organised system and on an adhoc basis.  The love of our people for each other has shined through in all manner of ways.
Conducting funerals with only 10 mourners in attendance has been particularly challenging for families.  Once again technology has played an important role in allowing people to attend services while safely in their homes.  Utilising video conferencing technology we have even had people in their homes, read eulogies, poems and prayers. 
Within the midst of these challenging times God has continued to be with us and at work within our lives and our communities.  The enforced slow down has created more space in our lives for God and given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities.  The real challenge will come in maintaining our new priorities as our normal lives resume within a new normal.

Angela Dutton


Since the last eNews, stories received from the IRCA family and other items of interest have been posted on our Facebook page.

Go to 

Note in particular:
  • Photos and story from Joshua Amara, Zion Assembly church, Kenya
  • Pastor Ajoy Das' story from Bangladesh
  • A response to the Chair's Easter message from Sri Lankan minister Nishantha Guneratne
  • News from the Punjab, from Mr Sohail of Goodwill Church Mission

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23
Copyright © 2020 International Rural Churches Association, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp