NEWS/OPINIONS

Jun. 29, 2022



The World Council of Churches (WCC) is celebrating the life and legacy of Archbishop (Ephorus) Willem T.P. Simarmata, who was the moderator of the Christian Conference of Asia. He passed away on 17 June at a hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, in Indonesia. He was 68 years old.
https://www.oikoumene.org/news/wcc-celebrates-life-and-legacy-of-archbishop-willem-tp-simarmata
Archbishop (Ephorus) Willem T.P. Simarmata, moderator of the Christian Conference of Asia and member of the WCC central committee since 2013. Photo: Plaisir Muzogeye/UEM
29 June 2022

The Christian Conference of Asia organized an online memorial service on 29 June.

During the service, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca expressed great sadness at receiving the news of Archbishop Simarmata’s passing. He had served on the WCC central committee since 2013.

“For us, Rev. Dr Simarmata was a leader of the largest member church of WCC in Indonesia Batak Christian Protestant Church—Huria Kristen Batak Protestan,” said Sauca. “He was an international ecumenical leader, as the moderator of the Christian Conference of Asia during past seven years and the present moderator of the United Evangelical Mission.”

His life and work not only influenced the spiritual life of people, as his leadership extended to the secular realm, Sauca noted. “He was currently a member of the House of Regional Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia (Upper House),” said Sauca. “As a truthful, accountable and inspiring leader, he was a shining example of exemplary leadership to people all over the world.”

Sauca extended condolences to Archbishop Simarmata’s family members and friends. “Let us celebrate Rev. Dr Simarmata's life and let us emulate his inspiring life,” said Sauca.

Archbishop Simarmata was the Ephorus (supreme head) of the largest Protestant church in Indonesia, the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP), from 2012 to 2016.

A prominent leader of the Asian churches and the modern Asian ecumenical movement, Archbishop Simarmata was elected as the moderator of the Christian Conference of Asia at its 14th General Assembly of the CCA held in 2015.

Christian Conference of Asia general secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara, said that Archbishop Simarmata’s unexpected death was a great loss to the Asian ecumenical movement.

“He was a very fine human being, and was pastoral in his approach,” said Chunakara. “He dealt with everyone in a true spirit of nobility.”

Chunakara added that Archbishop Simarmata consistently stressed the need for following the Christian social call of stewardship and care of creation and also promoted gender equality and the wellbeing of the marginalised and vulnerable groups in his communities.

“His deep commitment and passion enabled him to strive for communal harmony by developing strong interfaith relationships, especially with the Muslim majority in his country, for the common good,” said Chunakara. “This was widely recognised by the people in his country and it was for precisely this reason that he was elected to the country’s parliamentary bodies in recent times.”

Archbishop Simarmata was associated with the Christian Conference of Asia since the early 1990s, and was ordained as a pastor in 1983. A funeral service took place on 21 June at Samosir Island, North Sumatra. He is survived by his wife, H. Lersiany Purba, and five children.

Jun. 29, 2022






Photo credit ,Healthndevelopment magazine and media archives . REV DR JOHM GRAHAM AND REV DR NTUBA THOMPSON AKWO at ISH TEXAS MEDICAL CENTER USDA .

I am writing to let you know I am retiring as President/CEO of the Institute of Spirituality and Health after twelve years of service. On this occasion, I want to share some of my personal experiences that have created special memories.



My practice is to ask God to open doors that only God can open and to bring people to serve on our staff. As a result, doors opened, and outstanding men and women have come to be part of our work. We have accomplished much and had fun while doing so, attending an Astros game, touring exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts, eating lunch at Olive Garden (more than once!), and even inspecting the fascinating light show at Houston’s underground Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. We made trips together to Boston, Chicago, and Portland for the Conference on Medicine and Religion. Even at the height of the pandemic, we stayed connected with daily Zoom meetings to meditate and plan our days. This kept us close, and there were several deeply profound moments that we considered holy (yes, even on Zoom).



I have learned much by working with each member of our staff, and over the years my colleagues have inspired me to keep learning. Shannon Sims, for example, came to ISH to complete her doctoral dissertation, teaching medical students mind-body skills. The term “mind-body skills” was new to me, so I began taking classes at Saybrook University to learn more. Two years later, Shannon received her Ph.D. diploma the same day I received my master’s degree in Mind-Body Medicine. I recently completed the required courses for my Ph.D. and will now work on my dissertation.



Being introduced to Mind-Body Medicine opened a surprising door as I searched for a way to help people whose homes and lives were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. We heard Dr. James Gordon of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC wanted to come to Houston to train people in mind-body skills to help manage stress. Weeks later, after forming a coalition with several other non-profit organizations to bring Dr. Gordon to Houston, 120 individuals were trained and certified to teach mind-body skills to those in need. As of today, under Cyrus Wirls’ oversight, over 20,000 people in the Greater Houston area have been exposed to these skills, and all involved have found this to be a very meaningful experience.



Another meaningful memory for me is facilitating a Bereavement Support Group for ten years. I am deeply touched by those who have lost a loved one and are experiencing their journey with grief. For eight years, the group met face-to-face at ISH for lunch. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we moved the meeting online and gained new people from across the nation and even from two foreign nations.



A beloved member of our group, Tom Conry, asked me to give the Eulogy at his funeral. Although he looked to be in perfect health at the time, Tom died a short time later. He also asked Fr. Donald Nesti, a member of our Board, to officiate at his memorial service. Although I had only known Tom in our group meetings, I had no difficulty speaking from my heart about what Tom meant to all of us. When I finished, Fr. Nesti said, “Well, now we know why Tom asked John to deliver his Eulogy.” Interestingly, a dozen of our former face-to-face group, who had not been on Zoom, attended Tom’s memorial service. It was a blessing to be with them again.



And there is so much more! Of course, our major conferences – the annual Nursing Conference, the Psychotherapy and Faith Conference, and the Conference on Medicine and Religion – have created an armload of memories for me and many others. New, developing programs are Cities Changing Diabetes, the Interfaith Spiritual Care Coalition, The Yoga Institute, the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Center, and Via Colori.



ISH’s remarkable 67-year history continues to this day with an outstanding Board of Trustees, superb staff, and financial support from many foundations and philanthropically minded individuals. I am deeply grateful for their support and words of encouragement. I am confident ISH will continue to be a dynamic ministry connecting men and women to the spiritual core of their being, for health and healing.



I am blessed to have served at this great Institute for the past twelve years. As President Emeritus, I will remain active at the Institute and enjoy the continued friendship of board members, staff, and those who love ISH. I have mentored and worked with our Executive Vice President, Stuart Nelson, for over ten years, and he will serve as Acting President while a search process takes place for my replacement.



I sincerely appreciate everyone I met during my years at ISH. My happiest memories have been seeing you and others come to ISH over the years to take classes and learn about the mind-body-spirit connection. I took classes with many of you and received instruction from Henderson Smith in Tai Chi, where we learned to move together. May we all continue to move together in the years ahead.



With Blessings,


John K. Graham, M.D., D.Min., MSc., President Emeritus

Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center

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Jun. 29, 2022


Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

Over the past week, I have met with leaders at both the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda and the G7 in Germany to discuss the interconnected crises that need coordinated action.

Today I will cover health and humanitarian challenges that the world is facing.

Only with concerted action by governments, international agencies and the private sector can we solve the converging challenges.

On COVID-19, driven by BA.4 and BA.5 in many places, cases are on the rise in 110 countries, causing overall global cases to increase by 20% and deaths have risen in three of the six WHO regions even as the global figure remains relatively stable.

This pandemic is changing but it’s not over. We have made progress but it’s not over.

Our ability to track the virus is under threat as reporting and genomic sequences are declining meaning it is becoming harder to track Omicron and analyse future emerging variants.

We’re close to the mid-point of the year, which is the point at which WHO had called on all countries to vaccinate at least 70% of their population.

So let’s review:

In the past 18 months, more than 12 billion vaccines have been distributed around the world.

75 percent of the world’s health workers and over-60s are now vaccinated.

The Lancet estimates that 20 million lives have been saved because of vaccines.

On the flip side, hundreds of millions of people, including tens of millions of health workers and older people in lower-income countries remain unvaccinated, which means they are more vulnerable to future waves of the virus.

While the hoarding of vaccines by rich and manufacturing countries was the major barrier to access last year, increasingly political commitment to getting vaccines out to people - and challenges of disinformation – have been hurdles at the national level in 2022.

With only 58 countries hitting the 70 percent target, some have said it’s not possible for low-income countries to make it.

I was just in Rwanda where second dose vaccination rates are now above 65% and still rising. And others like Nepal and Cambodia have shown it’s possible.

Yet the average rate in low-income countries is 13 percent.

But if there is enough political will domestically, support to ensure rollouts to communities and disinformation tackled, high vaccination rates are entirely achievable.

When vaccine rollouts began, WHO called for all countries to start with a layered approach targeting older people and health workers who were most at risk from the virus before moving to cover the rest of the population.

Going forward, to prevent deaths and severe disease, it’s important to keep the most at-risk groups up to date with vaccination.

In all countries, 100 percent of at-risk groups should be vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.

For the general population, it also makes sense to keep strengthening that wall of immunity, which helps lessen the severity of the disease and lowers the risk of long- or post-COVID condition.

Even relatively ‘mild’ cases are disruptive and damaging, keeping children out of school and adults from work, which causes further economic and supply chain disruption.

Do I think countries should continue to vaccinate 70 percent of the population, starting with the most vulnerable?

Yes, I do. If we don’t share the fruits of science equitably, then we undercut the philosophy that all lives have equal worth.

If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as six months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at risk and then work to strengthen their own walls of immunity.

On the research and development front, it is critical that there’s funding for second-generation vaccines as well as tests and treatments.

While honing vaccines to the evolving virus variants makes sense, I am concerned that the pace of mutation means the world is continuing to play catch up.

Building on existing vaccines that limit severity and prevent death, developing second generation vaccines that stop – or at least lower infection – would be a major step forward.

And the ideal solution would be the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine that covers all the variants so far and potentially future ones.

This is feasible, WHO continues to convene scientists and researchers and there has been a lot of research into this virus and understanding immunology overall.

With WHO’s Solidarity Trials we can also offer global trials of vaccines to establish the safety and efficacy of quickly and effectively.

So going forward, the world should target 100 percent vaccination of older people and health workers, as well as strengthening the wall of immunity against COVID-19 towards and beyond 70 percent.

As I said at the turn of the year, tests and new treatments like anti- virals should also be available in every country.

Now is the time for Ministries of Health to integrate tests and anti-virals into clinical care so that people that are sick can be treated quickly.

With new variants of concern likely - genomic sequencing remains critical.

I also call for accelerated efforts and incentives to be developed around the moonshot of developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine.

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On Monkeypox, while the Emergency Committee did not advise that the current outbreak represents a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, they acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread requires intense response efforts.

They advised that I should reconvene them quickly based on the evolving situation, which I will do.

Nigeria, which has been battling an outbreak since 2017, has reported more cases this year, which could mean it matches or exceeds previous peaks.

Furthermore, the virus has now been identified in more than 50 new countries and that trend is likely to continue.

I am concerned about sustained transmission because it would suggest that the virus is establishing itself and it could move into high-risk groups including children, the immunocompromised and pregnant women.

We are starting to see this with several children already infected.

Right now this is the action WHO would like to see:

One, countries should increase surveillance by boosting testing as quickly as possible.

Two, countries should take a best practice approach to managing the response. WHO has already published clinical guidance to assist public health agencies and health workers on the frontlines of this outbreak.

Three, actively engage communities. With large gatherings happening around the world there are opportunities to both squash the stigma around the virus and spread good information so people can protect themselves.

WHO is actively working with LGBTQI+ communities to do just that and we encourage groups to get in touch with us if we can support.

Four, ensure that we provide equitable access to counter measures like vaccines and anti virals and also ensure the systematic collection of clinical data and efficacy to inform future recommendations.

WHO has been convening scientists via the R&D blueprint for epidemics to speed up research and development into tests, treatments and vaccines for monkeypox and develop a protocol for therapeutic development and rollout.

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The food crisis: Across the globe, spiking prices of not only food but fuel and other commodities are leading to millions of people missing meals and going hungry.

This is having major physical and mental health repercussions.

People need access to affordable and nutritious food, as well as support through these difficult times.

Some regions like the Horn of Africa are facing extremely serious food insecurity issues that could lead to famine.

Over 80 million people, one in four, in the Eastern Africa region are food insecure and resorting to desperate measures in order to feed themselves and their families.

Lack of food and nutrition weakens people’s immune system and puts them more at risk of disease.

Children that are undernourished are at higher risk of death from pneumonia, diarrheal disease and measles.

As I said at the G7, WHO is working with partners on the ground to respond to this health and nutrition crisis.

This includes getting essential health services to those in need, treating sick children with severe malnutrition, and preventing, detecting and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.

WHO is setting up a hub in Nairobi, from where it will coordinate the response and organize the delivery of live-saving medical supplies to where they are needed most.

These supplies include medicines, vaccines, as well the products and equipment to treat children who are severely malnourished.

WHO is working with Ministries of Health in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda to set up robust disease surveillance system to be able to quickly detect and respond to disease outbreaks.

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Finally, in light of the decision by the US Supreme Court overturning the ‘Roe v Wade’, I want to reaffirm WHO’s position.

All women should have the right to choose when it comes to their bodies and health. Full stop.

Safe abortion IS health care.

It saves lives. Restricting it drives women and girls towards unsafe abortions; resulting in complications, even death.

The evidence is irrefutable.

Limiting access to safe abortion costs lives and has a major impact particularly on women from the poorest and most marginalized communities.

Over the last 40 years, the global trend is toward women having greater access to safe abortion and while last week was a set-back, it is more important than ever to come together to protect women’s right to safe abortion - everywhere.

I thank you