Refugee Week, Working Together for Refugees, Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees: 17 to 23 June

In this email:

  • Refugee Week 
  • Working Together for Refugees
  • Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees

One theme of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings is God’s use of what is seemingly small and insignificant to do great things for God’s Kingdom. It’s a reminder that all of us, however apparently small or great, are made in the image and likeness of God and can be the source of great blessings by God’s grace. As we approach Refugee Week, how can we promote this sense of the preciousness and potential for blessing in each person?

Refugee Week

Refugee Week takes place from the 18th to the 24th of this month – and our email pieces this week have positive stories to tell about work that is happening locally and about a conference held at the UN looking at faith responses to refugees.

We need positive stories since it often feels that, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al Hussein, recently said, we are moving “backwards to an era of contempt for the rights of people who have been forced to flee or leave their homes because the threats they face are more dangerous even than the perils of their voyage.” In recent stories from Europe alone, Italy and Malta refused to admit the SS Aquarius rescue ship; a report stated that French police mistreat child refugees; measures were proposed that could criminalise helping migrants seek asylum in Hungary;  and Caroline Lucas spoke of the psychological impact of the UK’s use of  indefinite detention.  And there are many more examples from other countries.

Please pray fervently for the safety and well-being of all who have been forced to flee their homes. We would also encourage you also to show your concern for refugees by coming to some of the varied local events celebrating Refugee Week.

Working Together for Refugees

Only about 0.2% of the world’s refugees are hosted by the UK, according to UN statistics, and the Thames Valley has become home to only a small proportion of those. But our area has a long history of welcoming people seeking asylum and continues to do so, including, since 2015, through the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).

Many Christians and others of goodwill across the Thames Valley have felt moved to assistrefugees, both those overseas and those on our doorstep. CCOW is helping network these churches, groups and individuals, and to connect and resource those who are interested in joining them. If you’d like to know more about the groups we work with, or explore some of the resources we offer, see our webpage.

A major step in bringing people together was “Partnerships of Hope – Working Together for Refugees”, organised by CCOW at New Road Baptist Church in Oxford on 21st April 2018. Around 100 people took part, all active in supporting refugees or interested in doing so. During the day’s talks, workshops and networking times, the harsh realities faced by refugees and the frustrations and challenges experienced by those wanting to help were voiced. But the atmosphere of the day was extremely positive, as we also heard and learned from many examples of good practice and great achievements for and by refugees. You can read the summary of the day here.

Among the themes emerging from “Partnerships of Hope” was a desire for more networking opportunities, ongoing communication between the different groups supporting refugees and more effective external communication. In response, we are planning a day in the Autumn, kindly facilitated by Jillian Moody, media consultant, for the groups to think through communications strategies. We’re also thinking of networking local churches engaged in assisting refugees, by creating an online forum and organising a retreat day.

Please pray

  • for people who have come here as refugees. Pray that they would be made welcome and receive whatever help they need as they integrate into the UK
  • for local groups and organisations seeking to walk alongside refugees, for adequate funds and volunteers and good communications
  • for a greater culture of welcome and celebration of diversity in the UK
  • for more local churches and individuals to engage with topics relating to refugees and forced migration, and to get involved
  • for wisdom and direction for CCOW’s ongoing work around refugees and forced migration

Action Point: Please contact Joanna if you are interested in any aspect of our work around refugees.

Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees  

This is less about subtle negotiations of words and phrases, and more fully about real people’s lives.”

Revd. Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance


In September this year, two major new compacts on migration and refugees will be presented for adoption by member states at the United Nations General Assembly. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be the first global agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN that addresses ‘all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner’. The complementary Global Compact on Refugees seeks to establish a wide-ranging and more equitable global response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations. It is hoped that this response will better support both refugees and the communities that host them.

Both compacts will have involved almost two years of consultations and negotiations following the New York Declaration in December 2016.

Ahead of the latest round of consultations on the compacts, Caritas Internationalis and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN recently co-hosted an interfaith conference at the United Nations in New York. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders brought different perspectives to the question of how the global community can achieve effective international cooperation and shared responsibility to alleviate the suffering and build hope for millions of refugees and migrants. The voices of migrants and refugees were also heard. Reverend Rachel Carnegie, the co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, was invited to offer the concluding remarks at this significant event.

We’ve excerpted some of the discussions here; you can read a fuller summary involving all the participants on our website.

Faith based organisations not only relevant but crucial

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the UN, who chaired the session, described how faith-based organisations provide so much of the infrastructure for the immediate and long term support for refugees and migrants. He talked of a person-centred, holistic approach, helping refugees and migrants to achieve their full potential while enriching their new societies through the exchange of talents and culture. “Even when [a migrant] is of a different faith, many know of the reputation of faith based organisations to extend care to anyone in need, because of the principles of charity, mercy and solidarity flowing from that faith. Faith based organisations start not from political or economic perspectives, but from the affirmation of the human dignity of all people before all else. This person-centred approach, while not unique to faith based organisations, is at the heart of all their work. It also inspires a more holistic approach to caring for the migrant and their families, rather than addressing migration simply as a political or economic problem. Faith based organisations typically address the needs of every person as an individual in communion with others and the common good of all society.”

After outlining the wide range of practical responses of faith based organisations in the care of migrants, Archbishop Auza said, “During negotiations towards the global compacts there has been discussion on the role of faith based organisations. Some have questioned their relevance but as today’s event hopes to show, we are not only relevant but crucial to help migrants and refugees and also to the work of states in caring for them. The pivotal part they play in welcoming, protecting, promoting, integrating and sharing the journey of migrants and refugees should be noted and lifted up as an example for all of civil society and receive explicit reference in the global compacts.”

There must have been a refugee or migrant in all our pasts

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the President of Caritas Internationalis and the Archbishop of Manila, reflected on the guiding principles set out by Pope Francis – the four verbs that articulate our shared responsibility – to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees at all stages of their journey. He reflected on his own family history of migration, and said,

“We invite everyone here never to forget that in our families, clans or peoples there must have been a migrant or a refugee some time, somewhere. In their name the God of Israel calls us to love the stranger, but will we remember or choose to forget? …. Christians believe that Jesus migrated from the condition of being God’s glorious son to that of being a lowly human being. As a baby he became a refugee in Egypt with his parents to escape the ire of Herod. He praised outsiders in his stories, like the Good Samaritan, and presented strangers as models of faith, such as the woman of Samaria at the well, the grateful Samaritan healed of leprosy, the persistent Syro-Phoenician mother, the Roman centurion who cared for his servant and believed his word, and to cap it all, Jesus identified himself with strangers. ‘When I was a stranger, you made me welcome’ (Matthew 25) declaring that what we do, or fail to do, to strangers we do, or fail to do, for him.

For Christians a stranger has a human face – the face of Jesus”.

To turn one’s back on migrants is to turn one’s back on God himself

Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, spoke about the duty of a society to its own citizens, alongside its obligation to maximalise human dignity and freedom for all – preventing exploitation, and enabling safe and secure passage for people on the move – as well as ensuring decent living and social conditions for refugees and migrants. As did Cardinal Tagle, Rabbi Rosen reflected on the Biblical mandate to care for the “stranger” and the centrality of the experience of migration to the Biblical narrative.

“We are commanded not only to love our neighbour in the Bible, but also specifically to love and empathise with others who seek to dwell in our community…. The Hebrew word ‘ger’ that is commonly translated as stranger is better translated in terms of the meaning in Hebrew as sojourner. … As it is written in Leviticus and Exodus, ‘for you know the soul of the sojourner for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’. The ancient Jewish sages point out that our historical sojourner experience is referred to more than anything else in the Hebrew Bible, some 36 times, precisely in order to serve as inspiration for our moral conduct.

“Not for nothing does the history of Biblical salvation begin with a story of a migrant, Abraham, who leaves his birth place in Ur of the Chaldees, in today’s Iraq, for a better future for himself and his family, to contribute to a better future for humanity…. The orientating event of Biblical sacred history is the emigration experience, being delivered from persecution and journeying towards a better future in a promised land.

“To turn one’s back on another in need, but especially those whose very existence is vulnerable, most dramatically evidenced in the plight of refugees and migrants, and especially the children among them, is to turn one’s back on God himself.”


Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves

Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, spoke of faith communities as bridge builders. He talked of the need to re-humanise the other, through encounter, reflecting in particular on the responsibility to care for young people on the move seeking safer lives, better opportunities, futures of hope.

“Most people want to reside and prosper in the land of their birth. This is natural. Yet to do so they require safety, food security, economic opportunity, freedom from environmental distress and prospects for their children’s future. Forced migration is the result of war, poverty and environmental degradation and climate change that compel people to leave their homelands. Because of these factors we are currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And the face of the migrant is increasingly a youthful face. For the first time in history, half of all refugees are children and youths and one in every 200 children in the world today is a refugee.

“ ‘Otherness’ is another item connected to migration. It is a perception based on our territory. The imagined ‘other’ is often part of a narrative in which the definition of oneself comes with limits and borders… Speaking about identity or even multiple identities remains a taboo in many societies because it goes against the grand narrative of many nation states that base the concept of national identity on this grand national narrative. However, globalization continues to challenge the ethno-national model and exposes us to ethnic, religious and cultural otherness to a degree never before seen in the history of the world…. Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves – with the many layers of identity that make a person unique.

“We must continue to think that we are bridge builders rather than the builders of walls. And we must bring hope and peace to this world that it needs more and more today.”

A key theme running through the session was the importance of bringing a human face to the statistics of migration and to acknowledge all that migrants and refugees contribute to their new societies.

The moment I was on my feet, I wanted to help and give back

A refugee from Iraq shared his own story. He spoke of how before the Iraq war of 2003 his family had lived a very comfortable life in Iraq. After the war, as people were being kidnapped and killed his family resisted moving, determined to stay in their home country. Even when his family was robbed at gunpoint in their home, his parents still would not leave the country. ‘Leaving the country – for anyone it’s a big decision’, he said. ‘It’s really, really hard’.

Another year later, in 2006, he was kidnapped and a ransom demanded. For 9 days he was tortured. On his release the family was told they would be killed should they be seen again in Baghdad, at which point they finally decided to flee the country. Leaving with hardly anything, they went first to Syria where their passports were stamped ‘not allowed to work’ on entry. ‘Imagine starting a new life somewhere you can’t work’, he said. ‘How’s that going to work?’

With the family’s life savings completely used up, the family applied to the UN for refugee status and after two years of vetting the family was given the opportunity to move to the US.

‘We’re very grateful that we’re here, but it’s not easy. Being a refugee in a new country with new language, new everything – I almost felt that I was in a different world’. Watching his parents, ‘the strongest two people in my life’, struggle with the challenges of their new life – worrying about how they would find work, provide food and pay their bills – motivated him to work three jobs along with his college studies so he could help his family. ‘The moment that I felt I was on my feet, the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to help and give back to the community. I’ve been working for a charity since 2012 helping immigrants, refugees and people from here just helping whoever needs help. I am just one example out of millions.’

Representatives from various member states of the UN attended the session and were warm in their appreciation for the faith perspective and contribution to inform the upcoming negotiations. Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, the Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the UN, said, ‘As a member state of this organisation, I am very happy and glad that I came. It is not every day that you see such an inclusive panel… A better world is possible, we all know that, but it has to take a lot of understanding from our part… This has been very clarifying for me… we thank you for giving us a very clear vision. My delegates and I are going into the next stage of negotiations with the four points you have mentioned very clearly: welcome, promote, protect and integrate’.

Ambassador Saint Hilaire of Haiti also expressed his gratitude for all the panel were doing. ‘Your actions are very inspiring to us as member states, he said. ‘You are making the difference. Thank you so much’.

Keep the image of a migrant or refugee actively present in our minds

In her concluding reflections, Revd. Rachel Carnegie appealed to all to ‘keep the image of a migrant or refugee known personally to us actively present in our minds as the discussions move forward’.

And she articulated four key challenges for the journey ahead:

  1. How can we make the Global Compacts a vision of hope, of humanity and our common good?
  2. How can we make them stronger in upholding the dignity of migrants and refugees?
  3. How can we overcome our internal barriers and become inclusive societies in an interconnected world?
  4. How can we renew, as the United Nations of the world’s peoples, our commitment for peace, solidarity and justice?

Please pray:

  • that the ongoing negotiations around the global compacts will result in documents that genuinely offer a vision of hope, humanity and our common good.
  • for all who are working to assure recogntion at local, national and international level of the dignity of migrants and refugees
  • in thanksgiving for the work people of faith are doing to promote the dignity of migrants and refugees      

‘The Contemplative Gaze’, Christian Unity, Yemen, Martin Luther King, Jr: 14 to 20 Jan 2018

In this email:

  • Peace Sunday – The ‘Contemplative Gaze’, Migration and Peace
  • Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January)
  • Short Notes: Yemen; Martin Luther King, Jr Day

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9, from the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday) Lord, help us  always to be open to your voice.

Peace Sunday – The ‘Contemplative Gaze’, Migration and Peace

“All indicators available to the international community suggest that global migration will continue for the future. Some consider this a threat. For my part, I ask you to view it with confidence as an opportunity to build peace.”

Pope Francis

Using materials from Pax Christi, many Roman Catholic churches celebrate ‘Peace Sunday’ this weekend. It’s an occasion to highlight the Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace (1 January). This year, Pope Francis’ message focuses on migrants and refugees as people who are in search of peace and who offer opportunities for peacebuilding to the countries in which they arrive. The 14th of January is also the Catholic church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees – a helpful concurrence.

The Pope’s message comes at a disheartening time: political leaders and news media in many countries have stirred up hostility against migrants and refugees; one hundred ninety-two people have already drowned in the Mediterranean this January; conditions in Greek camps such as Moria remain inhumane; migrants and refugees are sent back  to Libya and its detention centres, despite a known risk of abuse, enslavement and violence; the US has removed Temporary Protected Status from 200,000 Salvadorans; and repatriations to some of the world’s most dangerous countries (Afghanistan – from Europe and Pakistan, Somalia, Myanmar) continue apace.

Pope Francis’ message acknowledges and names the complex realities of today’s situation – large numbers of people fleeing conflicts, hunger, environmental degradation, oppression and poverty; difficulties in finding safe passage; the challenges of managing new situations in a way that respects the needs of all people and communities;  the possibility that not all people seeking sanctuary are people of good will; the rise of people who foment fear of migrants; and the resultant devaluation of some people’s human dignity.

The Pope calls on Christians, however, not to give into fear, but to respond in the first instance by exercising what he calls ‘the contemplative gaze’. This is a phrase which appears frequently in his work.* It signifies a way of looking at the world which is shaped by contemplative prayer, time spent with “our eyes fixed on Jesus.” One who is shaped by such openness to the self-giving God begins to see God’s presence in all that is created – and thus to value all aspects of creation not for how they can be used for our benefit, but because, beloved and precious in themselves, they reflect, each in their own way, the Creator: “For the contemplative, everything speaks of the Most High!” (Vultum Dei quaerere 10)

The ‘contemplative gaze’ Pope Francis says (going on to quote his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI) recognizes that all of us “belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them, and all have the same right to enjoy the goods of the earth.”  It sees in the places where we live not simply the issues highlighted by the news but “God dwelling in [the] houses, in [the] streets and squares… fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice.” It sees in those who change their place of residence people who “bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures.” It recognises “the creativity, tenacity and spirit of sacrifice of the countless individuals, families and communities around the world who open their doors and hearts to migrants and refugees, even where resources are scarce.” And it “should also guide the discernment of those responsible for the public good, and encourage them to pursue policies of welcome, ‘within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good’– bearing in mind, that is, the needs of all members of the human family and the welfare of each.”

The Pope calls all Christians – and all countries – to offer migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking “an opportunity to find the peace they seek” by implementing a strategy combining four actions: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating” General definitions of the four areas of action follow: for example, “‘Welcoming’ calls for expanding legal pathways for entry and no longer pushing migrants and displaced people towards countries where they face persecution and violence. It also demands balancing our concerns about national security with concern for fundamental human rights.”

The Vatican messages are not given in isolation. This year, following on from the UN General Assembly’s New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the international community is due to negotiate two Global Compacts, one for migration and one on refugees. The Vatican has prepared material that translates the Pope’s theological imperatives and general tenets into “Twenty Action Points, policy points specifically intended as a contribution to the process of preparing the Compacts. The points repay study and are profoundly useful for advocacy.

But it is no accident that the Pope focuses his World Peace Day message on the call for the ‘contemplative gaze’  Solutions to the questions posed by today’s mobile and conflicted world will not originate in the details of policy – though getting the policy details right matters hugely and must, in the coming days and weeks, be a topic of prayer. What is first needed is a conversion of the heart – a willingness to see with eyes that have grown accustomed to looking at God. It’s a conversion which brings with it love and joy and ensures that “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” (Laudato Si 12). In this lies hope – for migrants, refugees, and all people.

Please pray:

  • for safety for migrants and refugees in difficult and dangerous situations
  • for migrants and refugees, that they may find peace amidst the many changes in their lives
  • for people in host communities, that they too may find peace amidst the many changes in their lives
  • that leaders may be guided by the ‘contemplative gaze’ as they seek to discern the common good
  • in thanksgiving for Christ’s offer of self-revelation to those who seek Him
  • in thanksgiving for Christ’s transforming love, which creates opportunities for peacebuilding amidst change and conflict
  • that all Christians – and all people – may see the beauty and dignity of each human being, and treasure the gift God has given us in other people

For Further Reading

  • *See Douglas E Christie, “Becoming painfully aware: Spirituality and solidarity in Laudato Si'”published in The Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si’: Everything is Connected, ed Vincent J Miller (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
  • Rowan Williams speaking to the Synod of Bishops in Rome on the relationship between contemplation and evangelisation.

For Action
Sign the CAFOD ‘Share the journey’ petition, asking the Government “to make global commitments which place the human dignity of people on the move at their heart.” Or take a more specific online action – such as Amnesty’s on Libyan refugees.

Donate to organisations that are working to protect refugees and migrants. Last week, for example, we published links for supporting appeals to assist the  Rohingya.

Are you interested in finding out more about how churches locally are helping to welcome refugees? Take a look at our new pages on refugees and forced migration to see the location of local groups, case studies of how they work, and opportunities to engage with them. If you’d like more information, contact our Churches Refugee Networking Officer, Joanna Schüder.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January)

Each year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’s international materials come from Christians in a particular region, who choose the Biblical passage that forms the week’s theme and who develop the theme in prayers and reflections.

This year, the region is the Caribbean, and the Biblical passage they have chosen is Exodus 15: 1-21, the Song of Moses and Miriam following the crossing of the Red Sea.

Why this passage? The organisers note the historical context:

“The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation … [which] attempted to strip subjugated peoples of their inalienable rights: their identity, their human dignity, their freedom and their self-determination”

But while “Christian missionary activity in the region, with the exception of a few outstanding examples, was closely tied to this dehumanizing system and in many ways rationalized it and reinforced it,” nonetheless, those who were enslaved encountered the liberating power of God. The same Bible that colonisers used “to justify their subjugation of a people in bondage [became] in the hands of the enslaved … an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them into freedom.”

“Today Caribbean Christians of many different traditions see the hand of God active in the ending of enslavement. It is a uniting experience of the saving action of God which brings freedom. For this reason the choice of the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15:1-21), as the motif of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 was considered a most appropriate one.”

The choice of passage, however, is more than a reflection on God’s liberating work in the past.  The authors name current threats – such as injustice, poverty, violence, addictions, and unjust economic structures – that still keep people in bondage and imperil human dignity. Their reflections outline a theological response to these threats, discuss the ways in which God is working through the churches to heal people and societies, and call on God for help – that God’s power may once more be seen in the redemption of God’s people.

From the 18th to the 25th, please consider using the materials for daily reflection (either the international version  or the UK version).Pray for the unity of all Christians, and pray that all people enslaved by oppression, poverty, injustice and sin may be liberated by God’s righteous power.

Prayer from the materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
(Main text from the international version; responses from the UK version)

God of the Exodus, you led your people through the Red Sea and redeemed them. Be with us now and free us from all forms of slavery and from everything that obscures human dignity.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of abundance, in your goodness, you provide for all our needs. Be with us now, help us to rise above selfishness and greed and give us the courage to be agents of justice in the world.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of love, you created us in your image and have redeemed us in Christ. Be with us now, empower us to love our neighbour and to welcome the stranger.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of peace, you remain faithful to your covenant with us even when we we wander from you, and in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Be with us now and put a new spirit and a new heart within us that we may reject violence and instead be servants of your peace.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of glory, you are all-powerful, yet in Jesus you chose to make your home in a human family, and in the waters of Baptism have adopted us as your children. Be with us now and help us to remain faithful to our family commitments and our communal responsibilities, and to strengthen the bonds of communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God, One in Three Persons, in Christ you have made us one with you and with one another. Be with us now and by the power and consolation of the Holy Spirit, free us from the self-centredness, arrogance and fear that prevent us from striving towards the full visible unity of your Church.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

 

Short Notes: Yemen; Martin Luther King, Jr Day

  • Yemen
    Please continue to keep the people of Yemen in your prayers. Looking at the latest humanitarian updates, please give thanks that shipments of fuel and food have been allowed to come into Yemen’s Red Sea ports and pray that the ports are allowed to remain open. Pray for all affected by the cholera epidemic and the diphtheria outbreak – and for all working against the odds to maintain public health services.The UN has accused Iran of violating the UN’s arms embargo in Yemen, and has also criticised the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes, which have killed numerous civilians. Concerned by the coalition airstrikes, Norway has recently suspended its arms sales to the UAE over concerns that the arms could be used in Yemen. Give thanks for Norway’s decision to use the precautionary principle and pray that countries everywhere may seek justice and a stable peace for the Yemeni people.At a time when we hear so much that is a cause for sorrow, it’s good to be reminded by Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser that there are also causes for hope. Read her story on coffee entrepreneur Hussein Ahmed and pray for the well being of all who are working to build up rather than to tear down.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr Day
    The US will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr Day on Monday. To mark the occasion, below are one of Martin Luther King Jr’s most well-known reflections and two of his sermons. Please pray for racial justice. Pray, too, that by God’s grace churches may be places where people from diverse races and ethnic backgrounds can come together, genuinely listen to each other’s thoughts and experiences, recognise and repent of their own prejudices, rejoice in each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for justice and mutual love.

2018 Dates for Prayer and Action, One Small Step, Short Notes: 7 to 13 January 2018

In this email:

  • Dates for Prayer and Action 2018
  • One Small Step: Diana’s Story
  • Short Notes: Cholera Outbreak, Christmas in Mosul, South Sudan, Rohingya Repatriation, Meltdown and Spectre

Whether you celebrated with the readings for Epiphany, the Baptism of Christ or the Orthodox Christmas this Sunday, we hope that it was joyful! And we pray that this year will be full of opportunities to see Christ more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly.

Dates for Prayer and Action 2018

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only son ….” John 3:16

Throughout Christmas and Epiphany, we’re reminded of the many ways that the wider world is engaged in the story of Christ’s Incarnation. Christmas is anything but private. >Mary, Joseph and their new baby boy find themselves interacting in unexpected ways with creation itself, marginalised shepherds, foreigners seeking truth, a hostile governing power, and servants of God in the temple. The heavens show God’s glory; outsiders are invited in to worship; political powers are shaken; the quiet, hidden faithful rejoice at what God has revealed to them.
As servants of the Incarnate Christ, we’re called today to pray for and serve the world to which he came and of which we are a part. As we seek to help our churches – and ourselves – live out this calling, we give thanks for those who provide resources to help us. Some of those resources are gathered in the attached list of dates for prayer and action. We pray that God will guide and bless the prayer and work that they inspire.

One Small Step: Diana’s Story

As ever, for the New Year, there’s a lot being written about New Year’s resolutions … much of it focusing on why we do or don’t follow through on them. There’s lots of good advice about the need to set achievable goals and to take simple steps to change our habits.

Even doing that, though, can be harder than it looks. We need to have a sense that what we are doing will genuinely make a difference. And sometimes we can get stymied as we consider how we’ll work out the practicalities – figuring out not only what we want to do, but also how we can do it without spending more time, money or effort than we feel we can afford.

For many of us, when practical changes do take place, it’s often because we’re inspired by someone else – seeing them doing something or acting in a certain way. Sometimes they might be doing something we’ve half thought about, but their example shows that a theory can be a lived reality, and their practice can help us turn our idea into a practical proposition. Sometimes they may have an insight about what to do and how to do it that would never have occurred to us. Either way, their story can help us to a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ – and how we can do it in specific ways.

With this is mind we at CCOW want to share stories of change – the small steps individuals have taken to live more in keeping with their faith – to help inspire and encourage others on their journeys.  Appropriately enough, in a week when the scale of waste caused by single-use coffee cups is much in the news (did you know that around 500,000 coffee cups are littered every day in the UK?!), the first of our ‘One Small Step’ series starts with a reusable coffee cup. We hope you’ll enjoy and be inspired by the story, and please pray:

  • that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on disposable coffee cups (very readable, and fascinating – and here’s a summary, too) will lead to real change in the industry and in people’s consumption patterns
  • that stories like Diana’s will inspire people to make a switch to reusable cups – and that they in turn will inspire others, creating a critical mass and shifting norms
  • that this will be part of a larger effort to reduce the unsustainable amounts of waste that are contaminating our environment

Action Point: If you’re looking for reviews of reusable cups to decide which one you want, here are some suggestions and reviews from The Independent, Friends of the Earth, and Wirecutter.

Short Notes: Cholera Outbreak, Christmas in Mosul, South Sudan, Rohingya Repatriation, Meltdown and Spectre

  • We’ve had a prayer request relating to a cholera outbreak affecting Lusaka and other parts of Zambia. The outbreak is reported to have caused 50 deaths in the country; schools are closed, and churches are either restricting their services or, in some cases, not holding services to avoid spreading the disease.Please pray for all affected directly through illness or death of loved ones and for all affected indirectly, especially students and those with particular pastoral needs. Pray for all working to contain the epidemic and for the success of the forthcoming vaccination programme.
  • Read this article quoting the Chaldean Patriarch – and give thanks for the celebrations of Christmas that took place in Mosul and other parts of Iraq this year, as well as for the wide support for them.
  • The South Sudanese ceasefire, which was supposed to take effect on 24 December, has reportedly been violated by all sides. The US, UK, and Norway – the troika that supported negotiations leading to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord – have called for an end to violence and threatened sanctions against those who violate the ceasefire.Please pray for all parties to observe the ceasefire, and for it to be a step towards a lasting and just peace in South Sudan. Pray for all affected by the conflict, and all working to provide short and long-term assistance.
  • There are very grave concerns about the proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, for which the Myanmar government has been preparing  and which it says is ‘on track’ to begin in a little under two weeks. In actuality, Rohingya have been continuing to arrive in Bangladesh; the conditions for repatriated Rohingya are worrying; and the level of trauma experienced by  refugees – many of them minors – makes them fearful of returning. Agencies such as the International Crisis Group have expressed their worries.Please pray that the UN and international community will take steps to ensure that no repatriations take place that would put people at risk. Pray for those who are uncertain about their future – that God will give them calm and time to heal. And pray for all who are working to ensure a long-term outcome that gives justice and peace to the Rohingya people.Action Point: Donate to a Rohingya Crisis Appeal, such as those run by CAFODChristian Aid, or Tearfund.
  • First a public service announcement relating to Meltdown and Spectre: if you haven’t already applied the relevant updates to your computer’s and phone’s operating systems, checked your system’s vulnerability with Intel’s detection tools, updated with the requisite firmware, and taken steps to protect your computer and phone browsers – please do!  (Email us if you’d like links)More broadly, the discovery of these weaknesses reminds us of the vulnerability of the networks on which we increasingly depend. Pray for all who are working to find ways to mitigate the risks from Meltdown and Spectre. Pray that the vulnerabilities aren’t exploited in harmful ways. And pray that this may be a reminder to us all to think about the technology we use and how we use it, rather than just taking it for granted.

CCOW Prayer Email: World AIDS Day, Advent Resources 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Advent Resources for Prayer and Action
  • World AIDS Day: Children and the ‘Right to Health’
  • To Do … To Watch … To Read
  • Events

Advent Resources for Prayer and Action

New Lectionary-Based Prayer Resources

He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants for ever, just as he promised our ancestors.

Luke 1:52 -55

The songs of Zechariah and Mary in the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel are profound declarations of God’s ongoing story of love for the world and its people. These glorious prayers precede the Christmas birth narrative and reflect many of the great themes of Advent: the songs look both back and forward – back to God’s covenant with Abraham and forward to God’s unfolding salvation; they are full of waiting and watching – waiting for God’s purposes to be revealed, watching for the Lord’s coming; they are about now and not yet – singing of an upside down kingdom, which is both here now and still to come; and they are shot through with the confident hope that light will overcome darkness.

During Advent we will be offering four reflections that develop these themes, based on the Sunday readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary. Each week, a short written reflection will be accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of images and selected verses from the set passages.

The four reflections show a progression through the season of Advent: the first, for example, focuses on longing and lament; the next on promise and preparation; the last on revelation and response.

We hope you will find these reflections helpful for both personal prayer and in church services: we will be bringing the prayer email out on a Friday so that they are available for Sunday service planning.

A Challenge

This Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel is Matthew 25:31-46. Christ in glory separates the ‘sheep’ from the ‘goats’, inviting into the Kingdom those who fed the hungry, gave drink to those who thirsted, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited those who were sick or in prison.

“But when did we see you?” both groups ask Jesus. He responds “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

During Advent, we often talk about being prepared so that we recognise the Messiah when He comes. What Christ reminds us is that we are called to see Him every day in the people around us. So as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ seen as a vulnerable baby in the manger, our Advent Challenge will call us to see and serve Christ by following his command to serve Him in His brothers and sisters.

Each week of Advent we’ll take one of the areas mentioned in this week’s Gospel and tweet (@ccowinfo) daily suggestions for living it out. We’ll retweet other people’s suggestions, too – so please follow and send us your thoughts!

 

World AIDS Day: Children and the ‘Right to Health’

This Friday we mark World AIDS Day.

The theme that UNAIDS has picked for this year is ‘Right to Health’. What is the ‘right to health’? In his World AIDS Day statement, UNAIDS Executive Director Michael Sidibé uses the definition from the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”  The UNAIDS 2017 Report gives a detailed and rich history of the concept in various international agreements  – which involves guaranteeing access “to the information, services and conditions [including social and economic conditions] that we need to be healthy and to stay healthy” and within that making sure that healthcare is accessible, available, acceptable (treating all with dignity) and of good quality.

In the UNAIDS report, Sidibé notes the strong role that people living with AIDS have played in promoting this right: “The AIDS response,” he says, “has been a pioneer in the expansion of the right to health. Its hallmark has been giving a voice to people living with HIV and giving affected communities and civil society the means to demand their right to health. People took to the streets, demanded access to life-saving  medicines and for prices to be brought down. They demanded confidentiality and treatment with dignity and without discrimination …They became part of the solution, at the forefront of service delivery.”

The report recognises, however, that some groups living with HIV and AIDS still do not have access to the information, services and conditions that would qualify them as enjoying their full rights. A poor family in a rural area, for example, may have no means of receiving vital information about HIV testing, live at a distance from the nearest clinic – and hence be hesitant to go for testing or treatment, be unable to access medication even if they can attend the clinic, lack sufficient income for nutritious food,  be in an area without ready access to proper sanitation, and fear knowing their status because of their community’s stigmatising of people living with HIV.

Among those who often have difficulty accessing their rights are children and young people. Because of the considerable successes in breaking mother-to-child transmission, we tend to hear less about children living with HIV and AIDS.  The reduction in transmissions is cause for rejoicing. In the report, Chip Lyons,  President and Chief Executive Officer of the Elizabeth
Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), notes that since 2010, “the number of new paediatric infections has been reduced by 53% in the 21 priority countries.” The latest UNAIDS data show that overall, new infections among children have decreased by 47%.

But the successes don’t cover all children. According to UNAIDS,  2.1 million children (aged 0 to 14) globally are living with HIV.  Dependent on adults for access to both testing and treatment, many receive neither: in 2016, AIDS charity CABSA and the WCC state, “only 43 percent of HIV-exposed infants received the recommended diagnostic test within the first two months of life.” Unsurprisingly, only the same percentage of children are receiving proper treatment. “Without treatment,” CABSA and the WCC note, “half of children with HIV will die by their second birthday.”

For young people, the situation is equally critical. Young women between 15 and 24 account for 20% of all new HIV infections; young men in the same age group account for about 14%. These figures reflect economic and social vulnerabilities and – clearly – gender imbalances.

In recognition of the particular difficulties faced by children and young people, this year’s CABSA World AIDS Day service, produced in conjunction with the WCC, focuses on prayer for and with children and adolescents.

Please join in praying for a world in which “no child is born with HIV, children and adolescents stay free from HIV, and those who are living with HIV will have their rights fulfilled.”
You might wish to use this prayer, adapted from the service:

Gracious loving Father,
Today we pray for the 5 million children who have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the HIV epidemic.
We pray for those living with, or affected by, HIV and for their loved ones.
We pray to receive strength and courage to fight injustice and inequalities and to work so that HIV testing and treatment are accessible to all, including those living in poor settings.
Forgive us, Lord, if we do not always stand up against a system that perpetuates injustice. Show us how we can serve your children.
If we are to see a day when there are zero AIDS-related deaths, zero new HIV infections and zero discrimination, guide us, oh Lord, to work together to ensure that the practical
efforts, political will and financial commitments continue.
As we give thanks for what has been achieved, we commit ourselves anew to doing all we can to make sure that no one is left behind.
Amen

To Do … To Watch … To Read

Every week we come across a variety of interesting materials on areas related to our work. Links to films or reading materials do not necessarily indicate CCOW’s endorsement of particular media outlets, organisations or positions.

  • To Do:
    • A simple 16 Days action from the Mothers’ Union: “link hands with one another to represent our unity in ending gender based violence; reach out hands to represent our connection with those around the world affected by, or campaigning against gender-based violence; and lift hands up, as a sign of prayer for an end to gender-based violence.” A way to engage churches or small groups in prayer around an issue many find difficult – could you try it?
    • Sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, calling on the UN Secretary General to use his good offices to secure legal rights for all citizens in Syria and Iraq, ensure dignified living conditions for the displaced, and identify and equip religious leaders and faith-based organisations to play a constructive role in reconciling and rebuilding after conflict

  • To Watch:
    • Two videos from Carbon Brief
      • a href=”http://bit.ly/2i6ncQt”>Transcription and video clips of an interview with evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.
      • Three need-to-knows from the recent UN climate talks in Bonn

  • To Read:

16 Days, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Act/Watch/Read: 19 to 25 Nov 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • 16 Days of Activism
  • Prayer for Zimbabwe
  • Yemen
  • To Act … Watch … Read
  • Events

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We live in uncertain times …. but as this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings make clear, that’s nothing new. At times of uncertainty, there is a risk of fear, and of paralysis. It’s easy to feel that we can’t do much, so we won’t do anything. But the Gospel message reminds us that God has given us gifts, and that we’re called to use them in a spirit of trust and love. What gifts can we use this week in the service of God and neighbour?

16 Days of Activism

Saturday, November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the beginning of the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. CCOW’s guide to online resources for the 16 Days is attached: we hope they are helpful.

Prayer for Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean Defense Forces’ action against Robert Mugabe’s government has brought both hope and uncertainty to many Zimbabweans. (Coverage and analysis: Independent – Zimbabwe, BBC, New York Times, Daily Maverick – South Africa, Independent – South Africa, Daily Nation – Kenya/AFP) The question facing everyone is: what happens next?

Responding to the situation, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations, which includes the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Zimbabwe Catholic Church Conference, UDACIZA,  and the Evangelical Fellowship  of Zimbabwe, have issued a statement and a call to prayer (both are videos).
In the statement, the churches cite Jesus’ comment to Jerusalem “You did not recognise the time of your opportunity – or Kairos – from God”  Luke 19:44 – and call on the country to see the current situation as Zimbabwe’s Kairos moment.

“While the changes have been rapid in the last few days,” they say, “the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the public political rallies of the ruling party coupled with the deteriorating social [and] economic conditions … We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless; we see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”

The churches move on to analyse the underlying issues that have caused “loss of trust in the legitimacy of our national processes and institutions”: failure to take the Constitution seriously and to ensure that the system of checks and balances in government functions, a lack of distinction between ruling party and government, relegation of the “priorities of the poor … to charity … without proper commitment to recognising the root causes of their problem,” and a sense that overall “the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalised politics.”

“All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately,” the churches say – and all must work together to find a solution. They make five calls:

  • for national prayer,
  • for calm and peace at a time where lack of information is feeding concern – “let us not sensationalise the situation”
  • for respect of human dignity – “we want to make it clear to [the Zimbabwe Defense Forces] that it is their responsibility to ensure that human dignity and human rights are respected. This is not a time to allow for lawlessness and vindictive or selective application of the law”
  • for a transitional government of national unity “that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election”
  • for a national dialogue – “we are in a new situation that cannot be resolved without dialogue…a national envisioning process that will capture the aspirations of all sectors of society” They offer the church as a partner in establishing a platform for dialogue.

The call to prayer states: “We have made a call today that every Zimbabwean, wherever they are … and all friends of Zimbabwe, wherever they are, to spare some time from 12 to 2 o’clock every day, just whether they can take five minutes, whether they can take one minute, but that they must come together and say a word of prayer …. We are at that break point where we need God to intervene in a very special way as we go through this very important moment. We are calling therefore that everyone goes before God in prayer that God may intervene in the healing of our land.”

The Anglican Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, has also sent a description of the situation as of the 16th and has offered points for prayer. There is also a prayer for Zimbabwe released by a Zimbabwean living in the Community of St Anselm. Whatever prayers you use, please do join in prayer for the country and all its people.

Yemen

This week, the heads of the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization issued a joint call for the lifting of the blockade on Yemen.

Calling the country ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,’ they noted that “the space and access we need to deliver humanitarian assistance is being choked off, threatening the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families.”

“More than than 20 million people,” they stated, “including over 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, at least 14.8 million are without basic healthcare and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases.” There are particular concerns around a further increase in cholera, as the blockade on fuel has left major cities without access to clean water.

In addition, levels of hunger are a serious issue, with much of the population facing food crisis or food emergency situations, and the potential for famine. “Some 17 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from,” the UN agencies stated, “and 7 million are totally dependent on food assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children. As supplies run low, food prices rise dramatically, putting thousands more at risk.” The Famine Early Warning System has added: “Yemen continues to face a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in a worst-case scenario in which there is a significant disruption to imports through the ports of Al Hudaydah and Salif and internal trade becomes significantly disrupted. Even in the absence of additional disruptions, populations may begin to move into Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) as worst-affected households begin to exhaust their coping capacity. The recent closure of all maritime ports into Yemen is highly concerning and the resumption of port operations is needed to prevent a severe deterioration in outcomes.”

At the Committee to Protect Journalists awards, Independent Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser had difficulty keeping from tears as she described the sufferings of her country’s people. “My story might sound dreadful,” she said, “but it’s nothing comparing to what my colleagues suffer in the war in Yemen: intimidation, displacement, forced disappearance, detention, torture, persecution, and even being used as human shields at military checkpoints, being killed in airstrikes or on the battlefield and even getting assassinated. What’s happening to Yemeni journalists gives a glimpse into a suffering our society suffers as a whole. Death has become the norm in every household in Yemen, and yet the blockade imposed on Yemen by all warring sides has also prevented Yemeni’s stories from reaching the world.”

“Yemenis…feel abandoned by world leaders and international media that are not covering their sufferings sufficiently … let’s call for world leaders not to watch with apathy as atrocities are committed in Yemen, let’s use the power of the media in solidarity with the weak”

Pray for an end to the blockade on essential goods and on humanitarian flights to and from Sana’a. Pray for a just political solution to the conflict in Yemen. Lift before God the wider turmoil in the region as struggles for power within Saudi Arabia and between Saudi Arabia and Iran have repercussions for many people within and outside those two countries. Ask God’s comfort for those who suffer and who mourn. Pray for wisdom, courage and strength for those who are seeking to offer humanitarian assistance and to tell Yemeni’s stories to the world. And pray that all world powers, including the UK, press vigourously and vehemently – in both words and actions –  for the protection of civilians … and withhold support that could be used to violate human rights and international humanitarian law where credible evidence suggest that it is doing so.


To Act … Watch … Read

Every week we come across a variety of interesting materials on areas related to our work. Links to films or reading materials do not necessarily indicate CCOW’s endorsement of particular media outlets, organisations or positions.

  • To Act:
    • Would you like to help people in your church order Fair Trade goods for Christmas? CCOW can help you find local sources or organise group Traidcraft orders. Email us for more information.
    • A friendly card can be a huge encouragement to someone in difficulty. Could you and/or your church send a Christmas card to someone experiencing injustice or persecution? Action by Christians against Torture has a list of people, with addresses.
  • To Watch:
    • From COP 23: Tearfund interviews Clare Perry, MP, Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, on the role of churches in talking about climate and the UK’s role in fighting climate change
  • To Read:
    • Psalm 85: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation”
    • Pope Francis‘ challenging call to the church in establishing the World Day of the Poor. CAFOD has suggestions for following up his call with prayer and action.
    • Save the Children’s “Horrors I Will Never Forget: The stories of Rohingya children” (please keep praying for this situation – and donating to those working to help)
    • Economist: “Once considered a boom to democracy, social media have started to look like its nemesis”
    • The website for World Toilet Day (19 November) It’s not the easiest topic for prayer and conversation … but sanitation is vital.

Events
Please do take a look at our calendar, which lists a variety of relevant events both locally and nationally.

Trading out of Poverty, Freedom Sunday, Food Justice: 15 – 21 October 2017

Trading Out of Poverty

This week, we celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October).

A few weeks ago, I (Maranda) had the privilege of visiting Fair Trade producers in Swaziland.

Swaziland is a beautiful country, a little larger than Northern Ireland and a little smaller than Wales. It’s landlocked, surrounded largely by South Africa, but sharing more than half its eastern border with Mozambique. The western side of the country contains mountains which gradually shift into the Middleveld of rolling hills; the eastern side is a lowland plain leading, on the border with Mozambique, to the Lebombo Plateau.

Though beautiful, however, Swaziland faces many development challenges. While the size of its economy makes it  nominally a lower middle income country, the distribution of wealth is unequal, and as of 2010, 42% of its population lived on less than $1.90 a day. Work is hard to find: unemployment is over 25% for the whole workforce and over 50% for young people. And health-related issues – and their impacts – are serious: UNAIDS lists Swaziland’s adult HIV prevalence as the world’s highest at 27.2%; and the World Food Programme estimates that over a quarter of all children are stunted because of malnutrition and 45% of children are orphaned or vulnerable.

In short, pro-poor development is essential, and exploring options that can deliver it is vital. One possibility for farmers is Fairtrade – the production of commodities certified with the FAIRTRADE Mark – and three sugar producers in Swaziland are Fairtrade certified. We are focusing, however, on Swaziland’s manufactured goods and crafts, and so I was looking at Swazi groups that are, or are working towards becoming, Fair Trade Organizations as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)’s ’10 Principles of Fair Trade’.

For Fair Trade Organizations, of which the best known in the UK is Traidcraft, it’s not so much a question of setting standards for the production of individual products, but of ensuring that everything the relevant business does is done according to Fair Trade principles – starting with the fact that “poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organisation’s aims” and “the organisation supports marginalised small producers…[and] seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership.”

What can organisations working to these principles, whether certified as yet by the WFTO or not, contribute to human flourishing in situations such as Swaziland’s? Here are five initial reflections:

There are enormous reserves of artisanal skill within Swaziland – and great pride in the work people do. Fair Trade builds on and enhances that.

Much of the work produced by both individual artisans and groups is truly beautiful: Swaziland’s Fair Trade products are not a ‘charity buy’ but are worth purchasing because of their quality. People connected in different ways with Fair Trade emphasised the businesses’ role in giving skilled creative people an outlet, recognising the artistic merit of what they are doing. That recognition was in itself important.

Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT), a Fair Trade business network, is helping individuals and groups overcome the initial obstacles to making a fair income from the goods they produce.

SWIFT is a member-based association which aims to make Swaziland a leading supplier of “world class, ethically produced products resulting in the upliftment of communities throughout the country.” To that end, it provides training and support services to individuals and groups starting or growing Fair Trade businesses. At entry level, it’s helping ‘Level 1’ members, artisans still involved in very small-scale production, to develop sustainable business models, an understanding of the quality control needed to sell their goods formally, and access to local and wider markets. This involves a range of services in addition to in-class training: for example, SWIFT takes artisans to trade shows so that they can see the markets they’re trying to enter, and all SWIFT members are able to display information on the SWIFT website and to sell their goods at SWIFT’s store. Thanks to funding from Comic Relief via the Shared Interest Foundation, some artisans have also received seed funding to improve their manufacturing or retail capacity.

SWIFT states that 25 new businesses have been established since 2011.

Larger Fair Trade enterprises are also reaching some of the people who are often the most marginalised, enabling them to gain an income.

There are numerous examples of this among SWIFT members at ‘Level 2’ (larger, formally registered businesses) and ‘Level 3’ (the largest, export-ready businesses). For example, ‘Level 2’ member Amarasti offers rural women the chance to do embroidery work at home, enabling them to earn a living while caring for family members. The women pick up piece work, take it away, and then return the finished work to the organisation’s base. The work is highly skilled: Amarasti has recently been able to fulfill an order for a large retailer that demanded high standards of workmanship and uniformity.

‘Level 3’ member Eswatini Kitchen, meanwhile, buys produce for its jams and chutneys from local small producers – while the carved wooden spoons that form part of their gift sets are carved by disabled people in remote communities. In another instance, Traidcraft has written about the grandmothers growing chilli peppers for Level 3 member Black Mamba, and the difference that Fair Trade has made to them and their community.

While what has happened so far is encouraging, there is scope for far more.

It’s inspiring to hear people talk about the difference Fair Trade has made in their lives – and we’ll be sharing some more of that with you over the months to come. But one thing that emerged from conversations was that there is the capacity for much more. True, for some individuals and organisations, the orders they are receiving match their current ability to deliver. But others have the capacity to export new lines or significantly larger amounts of already available products. Especially for those businesses that have relatively large permanent workforces, expanding the volume of orders is crucial to maintaining stability … and to perhaps being able to increase the number of staff they can hire.

Eradicating poverty is a shared enterprise

What we do matters.

Early on in the conversations with Eswatini Kitchens, I’d confessed to a fondness for their lime pickle and Swazi fire. As we entered their honey processing facility, one of the staff turned to me and asked, “How do you eat the lime pickle?” In that moment, the connection between my daily life at home in my kitchen and what I was seeing in rural Swaziland came together with a sudden clarity.

In reality, those connections between our lives and the lives of other people around the world happen all the time, every day. We just don’t see them. But as we know, the products we buy and the energy we use and the things we support politically and the way we pray matter. And if we can help ourselves and others to see the choices we make in our homes and gardens and schools and churches and and workplaces for what they really are – choices that affect local and global neighbours – we can begin to try to choose a way of life that works to end poverty, to reduce inequality, to seek the restoration of creation.

That’s not a new thought for our supporters. But it’s a thought worth holding onto – and sharing and praying about – this next Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Please pray:

  • for work people are doing around the world to help themselves and others overcome poverty in all its dimensions
  • that all people may be able to access the resources and freedoms they need to flourish
  • that all people may understand the deep interconnection that links us with each other – and seek to act in ways that benefit neighbours near and far
  • in thanksgiving for the work of Fair Trade businesses and networks in Swaziland and around the world
  • that the Fair Trade vision of a more just, sustainable world may continue to inspire action for good in Swaziland and elsewhere

Short Notes: Freedom Sunday, Food Justice

Freedom Sunday
The 18th of October is observed as ‘Anti-Trafficking Day’ – a time to resolve to pray and act on behalf of the millions of people who are trafficked and/or trapped in forms of modern slavery. The Clewer Initiative is asking churches particularly to think about how we may be connected to people who have been trafficked or enslaved, either through the goods we purchased or through what’s happening in our own communities. The Initiative has produced a wide range of excellent resources, ranging from a collect, full ecumenical service and materials for individual prayer times to simple-to-print posters alerting people to the signs that someone may be enslaved – and how to respond. They’re heartily recommended.

Some churches will be using these resources this Sunday or next Sunday, as they’re close to the 18th. It’s a busy week, though, and The Clewer Initiative stresses that the resources can be used at any time during the year. Please pray:

  • for an end to human trafficking and modern slavery
  • that our churches may be aware of the issue and may offer appropriate support to help people who have been trafficked and/or enslaved
  • in thanksgiving for organisations seeking to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, to end these practices, and to protect those who have already been harmed by them

And please consider introducing these (or other) resources into your church’s worship at some time in the coming year.

Food Justice

Let us share in this bread of life that God gave to us this day. Remember those who hunger and thirst on their journey in search of shelter.
Response: As we eat a piece of this bread, we commit to stand in solidarity with those who are hungry and stateless. We pray earnestly that God may use us as instruments to eradicate homelessness and hunger. Amen.

World Food Day is on Monday the 16th; the UN theme for this year is “Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”

The choice of theme reflects a recognition that the factors forcing people to leave their homes are not only conflict, persecution and political instability but also “hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization is calling on the global community to invest in rural development, “creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods” as well as providing “increased food security … better access to social protection, reduced conflict over natural resources and solutions to environmental degradation and climate change.”

“By investing in rural development,” the organisation notes, “the international community can also harness migration’s potential to support development and build the resilience of displaced and host communities.”

The World Council of Churches and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is inviting churches to celebrate the Churches’ Week of Action on Food around World Food Day (week of 15 to 22 October) and has adopted the UN theme. As part of marking World Food Day and the Week of Action, could you perhaps use the prayer above, taken from this year’s WCC-EAA prayer resources, to signal your (and your family’s, or home group’s, or church’s) commitment to food justice? Please also pray:

  • for all who have been forced to leave their homes because of food insecurity and hunger
  • for greater investment in ecologically and socially sustainable rural development

Care for Creation, Crisis for Rohingya, Prisons Week, Kenya: 8 to 14 Oct 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Prayer for Creation
  • Crisis for Rohingya
  • Short Notes: Prison Week, Kenya, Keep on …

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Prayer for Creation

The 4th of October was St Francis’ Day, when many churches recall the saint who so beautifully expressed the way Creation reveals – and revels in – God’s love and glory. In honour of that, we’re releasing Elizabeth’s new prayer powerpoint of Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer in union with creation’.

It’s available to download from our website: we hope it will be a blessing to you and those with whom you share it.

Crisis for Rohingya

Long-time readers of the prayer email will know that concern for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been escalating for some time.

The group are in an area which has been a source of contention for centuries. Since Burma became independent in 1948, the Rohingya have experienced discrimination, and the majority were effectively rendered stateless by the government of Myanmar when citizenship laws were revised in 1982; they are not on the list of indigenous ethnic communities eligible for citizenship and their language is not recognised as an official language. The government labels them ‘Bengalis’ and, despite the fact that some Rohingya have lived in Rakhine State for centuries, it (and others in the country) regard them as having immigrated illegally during the time of British rule from the area that is now Bangladesh. In recent decades the Rohingya have repeatedly suffered the destruction of their property as well as violence against individuals, families and communities. On several occasions, there have been episodes of mass forced displacement: in both the late 1970s and early 1990s hundreds of thousands crossed the border to Bangladesh to escape intense government persecution. In both instances, many were subsequently repatriated.

In the past few years, persecution has again intensified. There was significant violence in 2012, followed by the creation of structures of repression, and a significant outbreak of violence again in Autumn 2016. In December 2016, we noted that: “With [part of Rakhine State] sealed off to observers, local sources reported that government forces committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, and widespread destruction of buildings, including mosques. Human Rights Watch has documented the burning of over a thousand structures; many aid workers (the main providers of health care) are not being allowed into the area, and with the exception of one World Food Programme delivery, humanitarian aid has been blocked; as a result, the UN says that 160,000 vulnerable people have been cut off from health care, school feedings and maternal care. And the allegations of torture, rape and murder are harrowing.” A UN report into the 2016 violence stated “that the widespread violations against the Rohingya population indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

This summer the Rohingya Muslims’ situation burst onto the global consciousness, after the government responded to a rebel attack on a military camp and police outposts by waging a brutal campaign against the civilian population that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Reporters who have visited the area paint a picture of villages destroyed and terrified civilians forced to hide in the forest and eat leaves to survive. Amnesty International has accused the government of a ‘scorched earth campaign’, and Human Rights Watch has documented ‘widespread and systematic’ crimes against humanity throughout Rakhine State, including the “near-total destruction of 284 villages” and particular atrocities such as the massacre at Maung Nu village and another at Tula Toli village.

As a result of the burnings, violence and sexual violence, over half a million Rohingya have fled to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, where they are living in hastily-constructed camps (map, video). Humanitarian agencies such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), treating those in the camps, are concerned about their current conditions as well as the harm people have suffered before and during their flight. MSF emergency medical coordinator Kate White noted: “Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people crammed along a narrow peninsula trying to find what shelter they can. It’s essentially a massive rural slum—and one of the worst slums imaginable … This has all the makings of a public health emergency.” The UN has also expressed concern about plans to accommodate the large numbers by building one giant refugee camp, noting that high concentrations of vulnerable people can lead to high risks of disease, and that the area chosen is not suitable.

The civilian government of Myanmar has refused to take responsibility for violence against civilians in Rakhine State; it is blaming the burning of Rohingya villages on local militants, despite the consistent testimony of survivors that the military is responsible and the fact that the actions follow a longstanding pattern of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence. The government has also claimed that its ‘armed clashes and clearance operations’ in the state ended in early September, which is manifestly not the case.

The UN and many Western governments have condemned the military’s actions and the failure of the civilian government to restrain them. The UK has suspended its training assistance to the Myanmar military, and the US Ambassador to the UN has called for a general arms embargo, while both Democratic and Republican senators have called for US sanctions against those responsible for the abuses. Coordinated international action is unlikely, however, as China, India and Russia have been less willing to put pressure on the government. China states that the government is facing complex ‘difficulties and challenges’ and requires patience and support to resolve the crisis; India expresses concern about extremism; and Russia, while calling for the situation to be resolved by political dialogue, repeats the government’s claim that it is the rebels who are burning villages. The different stances reflect both different approaches to intervention and the desire for influence within Myanmar and more broadly in the region. ASEAN, the regional alliance, has also been unable to agree on a response; an anodyne recent statement from the group’s chair, which did not refer to the Rohingya by name, was rejected by Malaysia, which, together with the other Muslim majority ASEAN countries, has expressed growing concern about the Rohingya’s plight. While there are calls from within ASEAN more generally for the group to put pressure on the Myanmar government, nothing public has yet been forthcoming.

Concerns are growing not only about the humanitarian disaster but also the implications for the region more broadly. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the rebel group responsible for the August attacks, says that it is wholly indigenous and that its demand is for the Rohingya to “be recognised as a ‘native indigenous’ ethnic group and … allowed ‘to return home safely with dignity … to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.” The Myanmar government alleges that the group is allied with wider Islamist movements. What many in – and outside – the region fear is that the Myanmar government’s violence will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which jihadist groups take on the cause of the Rohingya and recruit among its peoples, destabilising the region.

What are people involved suggesting as a way forward? In the immediate instance, aid agencies are pressing for greater access to Rakhine State, so that they can bring in humanitarian aid, and for increased funding to help those who have fled to Bangladesh. In the UK, DfID has helped to airlift in aid and committed £35.9 million in funding to relief. Some feel continued pressure on the military may also be helpful. In terms of long-term solutions, many feel it would be helpful to press Myanmar’s government to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Bangladesh is insisting on full implementation, and India and the EU advocated for this last week, as well as for Myanmar to work with Bangladesh to enable repatriation of those who have fled. The Myanmar civilian government has said that it is committed to implementing the recommendations “in the shortest time frame possible, in line with the situation on the ground.” It needs to be held to this commitment.

Implementation of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations could indeed be a positive step. Among other things, they include guaranteeing the rights of all verified citizens (including the small number of Rohingya Muslims who enjoy that status); creating a verification process for citizenship that is safe and efficient; clarifying residency rights for those who do not qualify for citizenship; providing a route to citizenship for permanent residence; and “re-examining the current linkage between citizenship and ethnicity.” The recommendations also call for freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State, the closure of camps for internally displaced people and the resettlement of those people either to their place of origin or to a place of their own choosing. They call for humanitarian and media access to Rakhine State, better provision of essential services (eg health and education) for all, greater transparency in the judiciary system, more training and accountability for security forces, and the fostering of civil society and inter-communal dialogue to tackle the very serious prejudices that exist.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and well-being of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, those in refugee camps in Bangladesh, and those who have fled via other routes. Pray that God will give people healing of body, mind and soul.
  • in thanksgiving for the work of individuals and agencies who, moved by compassion and a sense of justice, are seeking to meet the Rohingya’s needs
  • that individuals, countries and businesses will be generous in responding to the Rohingya’s situation by offering humanitarian aid. Pray also for effective distribution of that aid.
  • for wisdom for Bangladeshi leaders, as they seek to respond to the incoming refugees
  • for an end to the ill-treatment of minority ethnic and religious groups in Burma, and for a just society in which all are treated with dignity and all people’s rights are respected.
  • for all who are working within Myanmar to establish a culture of peace and justice

Christian Aid also has a prayer in response to the Rohingya’s crisis.

Action Point:

Please donate to the Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund appeals for the Rohingya, to other members of the Disasters Emergency Committee,  or to MSF.

Short Notes: Prisons Week, Kenya, Keep on …

Prisons Week
This coming week (8 to 14 October) is Prisons Week. The Scripture verse for the week this year is “‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” and the focus is on hope for all connected with the criminal justice system: prisoners, victims, families, communities, prison workers, and all working in the criminal justice system.

The Archbishop of Canterbury writes: “What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope,
but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.”

Please join in using the Prisons Week resources to pray each day this week.

Kenya
When Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled presidential election results in August on the grounds that there had been irregularities and illegalities in the way the votes were  transmitted, commentators inside and outside the country applauded the way the country’s institutions had maintained their independence and the integrity of the electoral process. At the same time, people realised that the next stages could be complex.

The country is due to hold new presidential elections by the first of November – but the positions taken by the leaders of both the main parties are leading to concern for the success of the elections … and worries about the threat of violence. Pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the Supreme Court’s work to uphold electoral integrity
  • that God will guide those seeking to set up the new elections
  • that political leaders and their followers will act wisely and well, pledging to renounce hate speech and violence and seeking the common good
  • that churches will continue their leadership role in seeking peace
  • for the safety and well-being of all in Kenya

Keep on …

  • praying for all affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria … and now also those affected by Hurricane Nate, both in Central America and in the US. Pray for efficient, effective work to get vital emergency aid to those still unable to meet basic needs because of the storms’ impacts – and for all who are rebuilding and helping others to rebuild.
  • praying for the people of Yemen. The UN has estimated that almost 780,00 of its people have contracted cholera; moreover 17 million people there are currently facing food insecurity, with many of them close to famine.
    According to The Guardian, a draft version of the UN’s annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict has included the Saudi-led coalition, as well as Houthis, Yemen government forces, pro-government militia and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on a blacklist of parties responsible for violations against children in 2016. The UN has also stated that it is setting up an independent investigation into human rights abuses in Yemen.Pray for:

    • God to give strength, courage and wisdom to all who are seeking to ensure Yemeni civilians have access to health care, food, water and shelter
    • donors to support appeals for humanitarian assistance to Yemen, both on the large scale and on the small scale
    • a just political resolution to the conflicts in the country
    • an “end [to] the sale or transfer of arms and related materials to any party to the conflict where there is a risk they may be used in violation of international humanitarian or international human rights law”
    • wisdom for the international community, and especially for the UN as it deals with the various parties to the conflict
    • strength, courage and wisdom for those attempting to hold people responsible for human rights abuses they have committed during the Yemen conflict

German General Election, Hurricane Maria & Dominica: 24 to 30 September 2017

German General Elections

Today,  Sunday 24th September, general elections will take place in Germany to elect the parliament for the next four years. The leader of the main party which forms the government will become the Chancellor. The system of proportional representation used in national German elections means that the number of seats in the German parliament (Bundestag) which each party gains reflects the percentage of votes cast for that party over the whole country. All parties which gain at least 5% of the vote are represented in parliament. This is different from the “first past the post” system in the UK. It means that usually no one party has the absolute majority, and coalition governments are the norm.

The current government is what is known as a “Grand Coalition” of the main parties; the centre-right CDU (Christian Democrat Union) together with its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union) and the centre-left SPD (Social Democratic party). Chancellor Angela Merkel is standing again for the CDU, hoping for a fourth term; the candidate for the SPD is Martin Schulz, who was previously President of the European Parliament. Also likely to gain seats in parliament are the FDP (Free Democratic Party), a free-enterprise pro-business party lead by Christian Lindner; Die Linke (The Left) a left wing party with roots in the former East German socialist party under Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch, AfD (Alternative for Germany) a populist, nationalist party under Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel; and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (The Greensthe environmental party under Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir. Recent polls 1are predicting the follow result: CDU/CSU – 36.3%, SPD – 22.5%, FDP – 10%, Linke – 9.5%, AfD – 9.5%, Greens – 8%, Others – 4.3%. This would make another “Grand Coalition” of CDU/CSU & SDP or a “Jamaica Coalition” (of the parties whose colours are black, yellow and green like the Jamaican flag) of CDU/CSU & FDP & Greens a possibility. Further analysis can be found here.

There are a range of issues which are important to voters in Germany in these elections including: asylum and immigration legislation, internal security (combatting terrorism and crime), social justice (low paid jobs, the gap between rich and poor, tax reform), pensions and retirement age, quality nursery and school provision, closing down all atomic power stations and future energy supply.

Germany’s position vis a vis refugees has, in fact, shifted over the past few years. When the refugee crisis in Europe began in 2015, as large numbers fled Syria via the Mediterranean and the Balkans, Germany was at the forefront of welcoming them, taking in over 1 million people. Appeals to other EU countries to share in hosting refugees, however, went largely unheeded. This, combined with some terrorist attacks in Germany, led to a degree of backlash amongst some parts of the German population. The far-right group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of The Occident) was formed and the AfD increased in popularity. As the number of refugees arriving in Germany has declined to about 90,000 in the first half of 2017, however, following the EU treaty with Turkey and the closure of the Balkan route, the popularity of Pegida and AfD has waned. In addition, the SPD has criticized Merkel’s 2015 policy, and the government’s stance has altered somewhat. It is now attempting to use international agreements to prevent refugees travelling to Europe, leaving Italy to accommodate those who have recently arrived there across the Mediterranean and giving many Syrian refugees only a reduced humanitarian protection status without the right of family reunification.

Please pray:

  • for all involved in the election and its aftermath to remain respectful and constructive, free of discriminatory or inflammatory language, and for the elections to be free and fair.
  • for a new government which will work for the good of all its people, addressing the issues of concern, and seek peace and justice around the world.
  • in thanksgiving for the welcome given to refugees by the German authorities and the vast majority of the German population over the past two years.
  • for wisdom for those making decisions about Germany’s future immigration policy.
  • for refugees in Germany – that they may have a good experience of integration. Pray also especially for those separated from loved ones
1 Polls by Allensbach and Forsa from 19.09.2017 – https://bundestagswahl-2017.com/prognose/#fn-117-1 from www.wahlrecht.de

Hurricane Maria and Dominica

Harvey … Irma … the rains flooding East Asia … Maria. Following the impact of hugely destructive tropical cyclones and monsoon rains over the past month has been heartrending, and together with you and others around the world we have been joining in prayer for all those affected.

We’re focusing on providing some context for prayer and action relating to Dominica in this email, however, as it’s the island with which we have a particular connection. Long-term supporters of CCOW will know that Dominica was where I (Maranda) travelled in 2010 to learn more about the social, environmental and economic impact of Fairtrade bananas. At that time,  I not only learned a great deal about the positive impact of Fairtrade on the farmers and the island as a whole, but also was bowled over by the friendliness of Dominicans, the beauty of the island’s rainforests and rivers, and the care that had generally been taken to preserve them.

 

 

 

‘Après Bondie, C’est La Ter’ (‘After God is the earth’) is the country’s motto, and Dominicans have historically been passionate about making decisions that preserve their home. When I visited, I found that the Dominica National Fair Trade Organization (DNFTO), for example, had used its premium to create a composting unit that would both reduce waste and provide income generation. There was an active organics movement. Tourism was being developed in a way that cherished the natural beauty of the island, with clear popular support. “The label we have attached to ourselves, ‘The Nature Island of the Caribbean,’ is the best thing that we could do to ourselves,” one person said. And people in Roseau opined that mass tourism wasn’t desirable: you don’t want to destroy your flora and fauna.  Nor was it simply private citizens who were working to steward the earth. While many were critical of the country’s governance, the government was clearly supporting eco-tourism as a means of development. More recently, it has installed LED lamps in its streetlights and is trying to work towards energy self-sufficiency from geothermal sources.

But  alongside the love and care for the earth lay a profound concern about changing weather patterns and the country’s vulnerability to disasters. In the Spring of 2010, the country was experiencing a drought that had caused severe damage to banana crops, and farmers there – as in so many places – spoke about uncertainty and wondered what the future held. One of the island’s most entrepreneurial and successful banana farmers, Cato Ferreira, said

“We have just experienced the worst drought ever … From November last year up to this present moment, I have never seen so much sun, so much dry weather. No rain at all … it’s very very hard at this point for the farmers … Last year I made about 4,000 boxes [of bananas] January to March. This year, it was about 1,000 boxes …We’ve reached the stage that we really don’t know what to do … If this pattern is going to continue, then we’re in deep trouble.”

Ferreira noted that there was more assistance for farmers to deal with hurricanes than with droughts – but an official at WINCROP, which provided crop insurance for bananas that were being exported, made it clear they regarded the prospect of severe tropical cyclones with trepidation. Hurricane Dean, in 2007, had passed close to the island as a Category 2 hurricane and had caused significant damage, including 100% crop losses for banana farmers. When asked what would happen if further such storms emerged, the official said simply: “WINCROP will soon get out of business. Every time we have a big storm, we lose growers.”

This week Hurricane Maria dwarfed all previous storms to hit the island. Between 8:00 pm local time on Sunday the 17th and 8:00 pm on Monday the 18th, it intensified rapidly from a low category 1 to a category 5 storm (reports at 5:00 AM , 11:00 AM, 5:00 PM, 8:00 PM AST). It was at category 5 with winds of 155-160 mph when it hit Dominica Monday night, its eye following a course that tracked the length of the island from south to north.

As of Friday, the Dominican government had confirmed at least twenty-five deaths, though because many roads are impassable and communication outside the capital remains difficult, it’s hard to assess what the final total of fatalities may be. Initial estimates by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) suggested that between 80% and 90% of Dominica’s buildings are damaged or destroyed, and the winds damaged or uprooted 75% of the trees that are such a dominant feature of the landscape. Many of the rivers that are normally a beautiful feature have overflowed their banks, and CNN saw dozens of places where the country’s steep slopes have crumbled in landslides – though on the whole these were not, fortunately, near centres of population. CNN reporters also stated that all crops – a significant portion of Dominica’s economy and source of foreign currency – appeared to have been destroyed, placing in jeopardy not only the country’s current well-being, but also its future income.  Everywhere, people lack access to food and clean water, and in the chaos, there has been looting.

Dominicans are strong and resourceful. They rebuilt after Dean in 2007 and again after Tropical Storm Erika whose rains devastated the country two years ago, killing 30 people and causing damage valued at $483 million, about 90% of the nation’s GDP. And, as this video shows, they have already begun to work on recovery. But the devastation this time is, as Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, ‘mind-boggling’. “We have,” he noted, “lost everything what money can buy or replace.” While he promised that “we will rise … because Dominican people are strong, because Caribbean people are resilient,” the country will be building back “from zero.” Because Dominica is a small island and the hurricane hit all areas, there is no place that is unaffected, no part of the country that can offer unscathed resources to assist the others.

How do we respond to all this? In prayer, of course, and there are prayer points below. But we can also take action in two respects.

The first is by giving to relief efforts and pressing for adequate funding for vulnerable countries. Unlike many other islands in the region, Dominica is not an overseas department or territory, but an independent nation. As such it has no inherent right to draw on the internal resources of another country, though it is eligible for foreign aid.

The island’s immediate and long-term needs are huge. Local, regional and international agencies and Dominican expatriate organisations are working to raise funds and send emergency necessities (while it is often not best practice to send goods for humanitarian relief, this is one instance where sending goods that correspond to the island’s official list of needs is helpful). And at a country and international institution level, various commitments have been made. The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, a regional risk pool, will pay $19 million to Dominica within the next fortnight, giving the government vital capacity to address critical humanitarian and infrastructure needs. The Caribbean Development Bank is preparing to send an immediate grant of $200,000 and to make a loan of up to $750,000. Other islands – St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada among them – are providing assistance with personnel, in cash, or in kind. The US, UK, France and Venezuela are already providing  support and evaluating longer-term needs. The EU is disbursing 250,000 Euros worth of emergency supplies and logistical support. Specialist telecommunications teams are working to restore communications networks.

But while all this is good, the totals involved so far are nowhere near the totals required, and there is an urgent need to advocate for further country-level aid and for the development of  international mechanisms to assist Dominica and other vulnerable states, especially small island developing states, in responding to the loss and damage caused by extreme events for which adaptation isn’t possible.

The second way we can respond with action is by taking, now, whatever our next step is to fight climate change. When Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt spoke to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, that, not aid, was where he started. “I come to you straight from the frontlines of the war on climate change,” he began. Warmer air and sea temperatures, he noted, were “the fuel that takes ordinary storms … and supercharges them into a devastating force.” “To deny climate change,” he added, “is to procrastinate while the earth sinks …”

Hurricanes are complex phenomena: powerful ones have long existed, and any single event involves multiple factors. What allowed Maria to become so potent, for example, wasn’t just the higher-than-average sea surface temperatures and high ocean heat content in the hurricane development area, but also an absence of wind shear to disrupt the storm’s circulation and a moist atmosphere. Not all climate scientists, therefore, are comfortable attributing – yet – the potency of Maria or other recent storms specifically to climate change, though many say they feel that trends relating to climate change are becoming visible and an increasing number are, like the Prime Minister, suggesting that climate change may have made these storms and their impacts worse.

But even if we don’t yet have the verdict of attribution studies on the more recent storms, science gives us reason to act now. As the Prime Minister notes, there is general scientific consensus (New York Times, Atlantic) that warmer waters did and more generally do provide the fuel that allows for the kind of rapid intensification Maria and Harvey underwent. Warmer air carries more water, creating the potential for greater rain extremes; the World Meteorological Organization has already said this likely influenced Harvey’s rainfall rates. Sea level rises linked to climate change do make coastal areas more vulnerable; Superstorm Sandy would probably not have flooded lower Manhattan were it not for sea-level rises. In short, climate change is at the very least, already loading the dice, increasing the likelihood that storms will become more intense. The longer we wait to address it, the more likely it is that disasters like this will become the norm.

And as the Prime Minister noted later in his UN speech, there is a profound injustice at play. “We as a country and as a region did not start this war against nature; we did not provoke it. The war has come to us,” he said. “We in the Caribbean do not put huge greenhouse gases … but yet we are among the main victims on the frontline … We are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others.” It is indeed profoundly wrong that people who work so hard to care for the part of creation entrusted to them should, whether at this time or at any time in the future,  find themselves and their home placed at risk by a threat for which they are not responsible.

“We need all humanity, all countries, big and small, developed and developing to come together to save our planet. We must all live up to our obligations and commitments to do more.”  Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, UN General Assembly

We, as individuals and church communities acting on our own, cannot solve the issues around climate change. But out of love for God and our neighbours – in Dominica, in the Philippines, in Vanuatu, in Texas – we can join those people, businesses, cities and countries that are providing an example of leadership, forming a growing network that can make a difference. As the founder of a major environmental coalition once said, taking action isn’t about worrying over what you can’t do. It’s about recognising that you must do what you can do. It’s about taking one small step – writing to your MP so that climate issues are on his or her agenda; switching to a green energy supplier; not planning holidays that require flights; eating less (or no) meat; campaigning for disinvestment – and then following where God calls you from there.

As churches around the world celebrate the Season of Creation, this is part of our calling as disciples. Arthur Bannis, who is both one of Dominica’s largest banana farmers and a Pentecostal minister, put it this way in 2010: “I believe the Word of God. I love nature. The Bible says He gave us all things to enjoy. The first place that He put man was in a garden. Man is there to manage the Earth; if he goes overboard, he’ll face the consequence. As a church, we need to take care of the environment, take care of the earth….”  This Season of Creation can you and your church take action? If you’d like ideas, we’d be happy to help.

Please pray:

  • for all affected by recent disasters, including:
    • the people of Mexico following last week’s devastating earthquake
    • the people of Indonesia at risk from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia
    • the people of Texas rebuilding after Harvey
    • the people of East Asia recovering from monsoon floods
    • the people of the Caribbean and Florida recovering from Irma and Maria
  • In all cases,  pray for comfort for those who mourn lost loved ones … safety for those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed … hope for those who have lost livelihoods … wisdom for those charged with governing and coordinating relief
  • for climate justice – that individuals, businesses and countries will act to reduce emissions, to fund adaptation by those most vulnerable to climate impacts, and to compensate those who suffer extreme loss and damage.

Some ways of donating to Caribbean islands affected by Irma and Maria

Some websites to look at for suggestions on climate action

Speak Up, Charles Scribner, Cholera in Yemen, Fairtrade Update, Sea Sunday – 2 July 2017

In this week’s email:

  • Speak Up
  • Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner
  • Cholera in Yemen
  • Fairtrade Update
  • Coming Up: Sea Sunday

Jeremiah is the focus of one of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament readings. The context is that Jeremiah has been called to prophesy prolonged service to a foreign kingdom when the false prophets are speaking about a return of the exiles and a restoration of the Kings of Judah. Are there places today where we are seeking words that promise a false peace when God is calling us to a faithful acceptance of challenge?

Speak Up

This coming week is the latest ‘Speak Up Week of Action’, in which the Climate Coalition and its members are encouraging people around the UK to speak with their MPs about climate change.

The focus is on asking MPs to “reflect their constituents’ concerns about climate change by asking the Prime Minister to:

  • 1) Show global climate leadership by working with others to implement the Paris agreement
  • 2) Ensure government departments work together to produce a strong emissions reduction plan
    • Unlocks local and community energy
    • Cuts energy waste in homes
    • Tackles emissions and air pollution from vehicles”

If you would like to undertake action, you can either attend your MP’s surgery or write to your MP, noting that it’s the Week of Action and that you have some concerns and requests. The Climate Coalition has an outline briefing on what to say (p.13 of the Action Guide): we would recommend in addition that you ask your MP to ask the Prime Minister how she intends to implement the Climate Change Committee’s most recent recommendations. The recommendations were published this week: a summary can be found here.

If you would like a template letter, please email us. If you are meeting – or plan in the future to meet – your MP and would like the brilliant new Hope for the Future booklet on preparing for such meetings, please also email.

And please pray:

  • that many people will participate in the Speak Up Week and will communicate to their MPs that there is a constituency for climate action
  • that this week’s discussions will begin or continue fruitful, constructive relationships between people concerned about climate change and their MPs
  • that the Government will respond by working to implement the Paris Agreement and taking rapid action to support local and community energy and to tackle energy waste in homes and emissions from vehicles.

Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner

As this month’s Pray and Fast prayer points note, Donald Trump’s removing the US from the Paris Agreement – and his government’s attacks on environmental legislation and funding more generally – have had the perhaps unanticipated impact of galvanising many in the US who remain committed to care for the environment.

US Christians are at the forefront of many environmental initiatives, and we’re delighted this week to launch a series of ‘Why I care about the environment’ articles reflecting their perspectives. The first of these is by Charles Scribner, the Executive Director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.”

Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, the controversial Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are currently seeking to weaken, postpone implementation of or repeal legislation around water pollution – so it’s a particularly appropriate time to hear from Charles Scribner and to keep him and the vital Riverkeeper work in our prayers. We’re hugely grateful for this piece – and we pray:

  • in thanksgiving for Charles Scribner’s work and the work of the Riverkeeper movement and the Waterkeeper Alliance
  • for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and its work to protect one of Alabama’s richest sources of water and biodiversity
  • for all the Waterkeepers, as they seek to “strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water”
  • for wisdom and courage for all who are seeking to counter moves to weaken environmental protection rules, in the US and worldwide


Cholera in Yemen

The cholera crisis in Yemen has reached exceptional proportions: as of the 1st of July, some 246,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak began, and 1,500 people have died since late April. The deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation to Yemen writes: “Yemen now suffers three-way tragedy: a population under siege, suffering the violence of war and unable to work or access nutritious food or health care; an economic collapse that has led to a rise in criminality; and now a devastating health crisis. This all leads to what could be the largest cholera outbreak of our lifetime.”

The directors of UNICEF and the World Health Organization noted: “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread. Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.”

There is some hope that a dramatic scaling up of work undertaken by agencies is beginning to see a reduction in deaths – but the situation remains critical.

Please pray:

  • for all affected by cholera, asking God to bring hope and healing to the people with the disease and those loving and caring for them.
  • in thanksgiving for the dedicated health workers labouring – despite, in many cases, lack of equipment, medication and pay – to prevent and treat cholera. Pray that God gives them strength in the face of difficulty and that they are able to access the medicines and equipment they need. Pray that they will also be able to get the pay they need for themselves and their families.
  • in thanksgiving that parties to the conflict are now allowing medical assistance into areas where aid has previously been blocked.
  • for a just end to the conflict that is devastating Yemeni’s lives and Yemen’s  infrastructure and that is creating the circumstances where cholera can flourish.
  • Pray for wisdom for those leading efforts to press for diplomatic resolution of the conflict – and to hold all parties accountable for their actions in the conflict.

Please act:

  • Could you donate to the ICRC or MSF, which are two of the biggest providers of medical assistance to people affected by cholera in Yemen? (MSF does not have specific appeals, so the donation is to their general fund)
  • Or could you donate to any one of the many charities (eg Christian Aid, Tearfund, Oxfam) offering assistance in the country?

Fairtrade Update

A few weeks ago we reported on the worrying development that Sainsbury’s was preparing to pull the Fairtrade label from some of its own brand tea (and rooibos tea) products, replacing it with a “fairly traded” label as part its new ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme’. We noted grave concerns around this, centering on the lack of transparency in the process and Sainsbury’s refusal to allow producers direct control of the equivalent of the Fairtrade premium; we’re also very concerned about the misleading nature of the ‘fairly traded’ label.

Since then the ‘Fairly Traded’ tea has gone on sale – and there have been several further developments:

  • ISEAL, a major organisation which “represents the movement of credible and innovative sustainability standards,” issued a statement noting that, while Sainsbury’s announcement included a statement of intention to apply for ISEAL membership, “Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme and its tea pilot are not endorsed by ISEAL and Sainsbury’s has not applied for, nor obtained, ISEAL membership.” Indeed, ISEAL “did not have any involvement in setting up the tea pilot or knowledge of it prior to the public announcement.””The principles of transparency and engagement,” ISEAL added, “are two Credibility Principles that underpin good practice when setting up and implementing a credible sustainability standards system. ISEAL strongly encourages Sainsbury’s to uphold the Credibility Principles to which it has publically committed.”
  • The Fairtrade Foundation has countered Sainsbury’s explanation that the new programmes were designed to help farmers deal with climate change by pointing to Fairtrade’s own work in this area. It has also issued a strong, clear statement of why producer empowerment – through things like self-determination in the use of the premium – is such an important part of Fairtrade.
  • Some of the founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fairtrade Foundation – including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Traidcraft – have written an open letter to Sainsbury’s, expressing “a number of serious concerns.” These included:
    • seeing “‘own brand’ certification standards as a step backwards in tackling major issues related to poverty and environmental sustainability,” as such standards undermine collaborative work across sectors.
    • the sense that the labelling is misleading: “Products sourced in such a different way to both Fairtrade certification and Fair Trade principles will mislead consumers if branded as ‘fairly traded’.”
    • the failure of the proposed standards to address issues around wages [The Fairtrade Foundation now requires plantations to have a plan for raising wages towards a living wage]
    • the disempowering of farmers: “Removing decision-making on the use of premiums from farmer organisations goes against the clear evidence that financial decision-making power for workers and farmers is essential to help them realise human rights, improve environmental sustainability and increase economic development.”
    • the apparent lack of “meaningful consultation of trade unions, workers or farmers’ organisations in the development of the standards” and the failure to reflect the feedback of some of the organisations who were consulted.

    On these bases, the organisations ask Sainsbury’s not to extend the proposals to other products until it has “published independent evidence of the impacts of your pilot including a clear analysis of the costs to all stakeholders” and encourages them “to urgently review and reconsider your plans.”

  • A piece in The Observer brought these issues to wider attention, highlighting some of the issues involved. This was one of a number of examples of negative press coverage: the Financial Times and industry publications (eg Sustainable Brands, The Grocer) also carried articles noting criticism of Sainsbury’s.
  • A major petition, with the support of many of the agencies involved in Fairtrade, has been set up on Change.org.

It’s hard to tell what impact the protests are having: Sainsbury’s has not officially announced any changes and has continued to permit its employees to make statements, occasionally of questionable accuracy, regarding the relationship between their model and Fairtrade.

What next? It feels important to continue protesting, and we would strongly urge those who care about Fairtrade to sign the online petition. If you are part of an institution (Fairtrade church, Fairtrade town, Fairtrade denominational body, etc) that supports Fairtrade and would like some template letters to Sainsbury’s, get in touch, and we’ll happily send some.  We’d also suggest continued prayer:

  • for the more than 200,000 Fairtrade tea farmers affected by Sainsbury’s move. This may well be an anxious time: pray that they may have a sense of security for the short and long term.
  • for wisdom for the leadership of the Fairtrade movement as it decides how to make the case for Fairtrade – and how to deal with the consequences of Sainsbury’s actions
  • for the leadership of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward: pray that they will be responsive to the concerns of producers and consumers
  • that this will be an occasion to galvanise new interest in Fairtrade, reminding seasoned Fairtrade campaigners and informing new audiences about the full range of benefits of Fairtrade and the reasons why it exists
  • in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade makes connections among producers and consumers, and for the way it helps to redress inequalities. Pray that it may continue to do these things, and to do them well.

Coming Up: Sea Sunday

We’ll have a full item on it next week – but this is just a reminder that next Sunday is Sea Sunday, a time for remembering and raising up in prayer those who work at sea. You can find resources at:

Supporting Refugees Locally, Short Notes: 25 June to 1 July 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Supporting Refugees Locally
  • Short Notes:

    • Grenfell Tower
    • International Widows’ Day
    • Democratic Republic of Congo
    • South Sudan and Uganda
    • Thanksgivings

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Matthew 10:29

This week’s Revised Common Lectionary reading from Genesis contains the story of Hagar and Ismael. Hagar’s human story – a slave given by her mistress as a slave-wife, rejected, and banished in a way that could put her and her child at risk of death in the wilderness – is a harrowing one of powerlessness, humiliation and loss. But in the eyes of God, she and her son are precious – and God both promises to protect them and does so.

Pray that all who have suffered injustice and been cast out may know the truth of God’s care for all God’s creation. And pray that we may be agents through whom God works to protect the vulnerable and rejected.
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Supporting Refugees Locally

“What can we do?”

This is the question we’re often asked with relation to support for refugees. Joanna Schüder, our Churches Refugee Networking Officer, is visiting with local groups that are supporting refugees – and is writing up some of their stories to show different approaches that individuals and groups can take.

The first of the stories – that of the Faringdon Syrian Refugee Group – is attached. We hope you find it interesting and inspiring.

Please pray for all who are already offering practical, prayer and emotional support to refugees. Pray that as a country we recognise the gifts that refugees have brought and continue to bring to our culture. And pray that as churches we work to offer support that witnesses to God’s love.

A Prayer for Refugee Week

Wondrous God,
Lord of all the earth,
Who can begin to comprehend your generosity!
You created humanity
In your image and likeness,
Gave us the abundance of creation
And when we had gone astray,
You sent your Son
That all who believe in Him should have eternal life.
Through Christ you have reconciled
All things on heaven and earth to yourself.
We come together now
From many different pasts.
Grant that in our dealings with each other,
We may recognise the image of God in each person,
Reflect your love,
And rejoice in the diversity of gifts you have given.
And make, we ask,
Our shared future on this earth that you have given us
One that honours you
And reflects your perfect Kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Short Notes

  • Grenfell TowerWe continue to pray for healing and justice in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. This week we pray additionally for all who have been evacuated from buildings that have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower; for the emergency services workers who continue to operate under deeply painful and stressful circumstances; and for wisdom for those charged with creating and monitoring fire safety regulations.If you are looking for written prayers for Grenfell Tower, you might wish to use the Moderators of the United Reformed Church’s General Assembly’s prayer, or perhaps  prayer points from people ministering in the area; the prayer from the London District Chairs of the Methodist Church (scroll down); or Bishop David Thomson’s prayer.
  • International Widows’ DayIn many countries and cultures, widowhood – especially among families that are already economically poor – can bring a loss of rights. As these stories show, this in turn can create vulnerability to ill-treatment and impoverishment both for widows and for their dependent families. While it’s hard to get accurate statistics for widows, UN Women estimates that there are 285 million widows worldwide of whom 115 million live in ‘deep poverty’.For this reason, the UN has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day. You can read more about the day and the issues that widows face here.  You can read here about some widows fleeing conflict as refugees who are, with the help of others, making a life for themselves and their families. And you can read here the amazing story of how Afghan widows, despite opposition and under constant threat, have created their own safe zone, a ‘City of Women’.Please pray this weekend that widows will receive comfort and consolation when they are grieving, receive or retain the rights they need to protect themselves and their families, and have every opportunity for abundant life after loss. Pray especially for widows from conflict situations, who often face displacement and/or violence directed at them at the same time as they are dealing with the loss of their spouse.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo

    The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) released this week a report on the brutal conflict between the country’s government and local militias in the DRC’s Kasai region. The report, which states that at least 3,383 people have been killed in the conflict, also speaks of mass graves, villages completely destroyed, hundreds of schools lost, and thousands of private dwellings destroyed. The UN also notes 600 cases of gender-based violence since August 2016.The conflict has displaced an estimated 1.3 million people, the majority of them internally, though some 30,000 have fled to Angola. There are also concerns that the regional conflict will  make it difficult to organise national elections, which are due to be held some time this year.On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution which “calls on the High Commissioner to appoint a team of international experts to investigate ‘alleged human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in the Kasai regions.'”  The Congolese government agreed to cooperate with the investigation.  An update is to be presented in March 2018 with a final report to come in June.Please give thanks that an investigation has been mandated. Pray that civilians in the Kasai region will find safety, peace and security; that the governments and militias will cease crimes against civilians and turn towards peace; that the UN investigation will proceed peacefully, safely, and efficaciously; and that the DRC will be able to make preparations for genuinely free and fair elections.
  • South Sudan and UgandaIncreased humanitarian assistance in South Sudan means that this week the country was officially declared no longer to have any areas of famine. But the severity of food insecurity in some areas has increased, and the numbers of people who remain ‘food insecure’ are the highest ever. Please give thanks for the work of humanitarian agencies and programmes; pray that assistance will reach all who are hungry; and pray for peace and stability that will enable people to grow or to access the food that they need.A delegation from the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, the ecumenical Council of Churches of South Sudan, and Ugandan church leaders visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda last week. Members of the delegation were moved to tears by what they saw and heard – and also expressed their admiration for the Ugandan government’s work to accept and integrate refugees within their country.  In response to the refugees’ call to act for peace, CAPA is inviting members of the Council of Churches of South Sudan to Lusaka next month to formulate a new church-led peace plan.While Uganda has been welcoming, it is a relatively small country hosting over 1.2 million refugees, and it has struggled to ensure that those it is hosting have access to the support they need. The ‘Refugee Solidarity Summit’ held by the UN in Kampala this week was designed to raise greater international support for refugee work within the country. The conference had a target of $2 billion in pledges; the total raised came to $358 milion. The EU, Germany and the UK led the pledges, and the UN Secretary General, pointing out that conferences never raise their targets, expressed satisfaction with the result as a start. Pray that the pledged funds are delivered in timely fashion and used effectively – and that more funding is forthcoming.
  • Thanksgivings

    • That a US judge has temporarily halted the deportation of Iraqi immigrants, primarily Chaldean Christians, who lawyers have argued face genuine risks of persecution if returned to Iraq. Pray for wisdom for the judge and peace of mind for the Iraqi immigrants and their families.
    • That Sweden has committed legally to being carbon neutral by 2045. Pray this inspires others to deepen their commitments to act on climate.
    • For the many Refugee Week events in our area. Pray that they inspire more and more people to appreciate refugees’ gifts.

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Don’t forget to sign up for our sponsored walk … or to sponsor those who are walking!
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