US Environmental Deregulation, Brexit, Transparency, South Korea: 12 March 2017

In this week’s email:

  • US Environmental Deregulation
  • Short Notes: Brexit, Good News in Transparency, Humanitarian Crisis, South Korea

Many people feel simply overwhelmed by what’s going on around the world. It’s easy to understand why. But the Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings reminds us of the amazing truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God’s plan involves the salvation of the kosmos – the whole of creation. We can take comfort from that – and ask for the grace to participate in God’s marvelous work.

Photo Credit: Riverkeeper, photographed by Patsy Wooters. Retrieved from Flickr and used under Creative Commons License. The Riverkeeper Movement helps to protect the United States’ waterways from pollution and environmental degradation – Riverkeeper supporters are also at the forefront of campaigning for environmental protection.
US Environmental Deregulation

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to sweep away a slew of environmental regulations and policy, including ‘cancelling’ the Paris climate agreement – causing deep concern amongst climate scientists and environmentalists.

Since he took office more than 90 regulations – including environmental regulations – have been delayed, suspended or reversed by federal agencies and Congress in what the New York Times describes as “one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades”. Changes to regulations are normal when administrations change (especially if there is also a change in party), but the scale of the change is not. Curtis C Copeland, a specialist in regulatory policy, has said, “By any empirical measure, it is a level of activity that has never been seen. It is unprecedented.”

Some of the measures that have been revoked so far by congressional resolution and presidential signature included the Stream Protection Rule, which restricted coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and waterways, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rule implementing a requirement that companies listed in the US publish what they pay to US and foreign governments for extracting oil, gas and minerals. The latter was designed to help people hold their governments accountable for revenues from extractive industries..

The Department of the Interior said on 22nd February that it would suspend enforcement of new standards on how fossil fuel companies pay royalties for oil, gas or coal extracted from federal lands – a measure that had been expected to yield up to $85 million annually. The reversal came just five days after a request from lawyers representing the National Mining Association, the American Petroleum Institute and other fossil fuel trade groups.

Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), acceded on 24 February to requests from the mining industry for a 120 day extension to the comment period on a proposed new rule that would mandate that companies set aside money for future possible cleanups of their mines. The EPA has also withdrawn its request that the oil and gas industry submit data, including data on methane emissions, that would have helped to develop controls on methane and other greenhouse gases.

President Trump has signed an executive order that will begin the lengthy process of replacing the previous administration’s Clean Water Rule (also known as the Waters of the US Rule) – an as-yet unimplemented rule meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections, but which concerned people who felt it expanded the EPA’s powers and could leave farmers and ranchers, among others, open to prosecution. The President is also to issue an order next week ending a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal production and directing the EPA to “revise or rescind”  President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (explainer), which aims to reduce carbon dioxide levels from existing power plants by 32% relative to 2005 levels, and which was one of the lynchpins of the US’ Paris commitments. In both these, he has the support of Scott Pruitt. Mr Pruitt, who this week caused a furore by stating that he “would not agree that [human activity] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see … we don’t know that yet … we need to continue the debate..,” recently cited both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule as being ripe for dismantling.

What else is potentially on the horizon? Following widespread appeals from the automotive industry, announcements are thought to be imminent that the Trump administration will reopen a review of federal regulations on vehicle pollution, which President Obama’s administration had moved forward at speed after the presidential elections. The regulations would “lock in” standards agreed with the auto industry in 2011, which would require car manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleet to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (from the current average of 36 miles per gallon) – effectively pushing manufacturers to develop electric vehicles in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps even more significantly, there are indications that the White House is preparing to attack the ‘California waiver’ which allows the state to set higher standards – which are then also widely used by other states.

In addition, budget cuts proposed by the Office of Management and Budget would, if adopted, affect the EPA, other government agencies’ environmental research, and US contributions to international climate finance. There are reports (here and here) that the White House has made initial proposals which reduce EPA funding by 24%. Heavy cuts to scientific research in other agencies are also evident: for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would face reductions to its research arm totaling $126 million (26 per cent of its current budget), and NOAA’s satellite division, which helps inform weather forecasts and track climate change, would face a proposed $513 million drop, or a 22 per cent budget cut. Equally serious are the proposed cuts to development assistance. The initial proposals from the Office of Management and Budget would reportedly reduce economic and development assistance by 61% and, the Washington Post states, “eliminate all funding for the Green Climate Fund and bilateral climate change funding.”

In some cases what is proposed may not become reality, may be delayed, or may have less impact than would at first appear. Unravelling the Clean Water Rule will be a long and complex process, open to contest. Undoing the SEC’s rule for implementing the Cardin-Lugar provisions on transparency affects US-registered companies for the moment and sends a terrible message about the US government’s unwillingness to fight corruption, but it doesn’t invalidate the law behind the Rule – and the reality is, as this week’s decisions by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative showed, that so many countries are now taking action in this area that the US can’t, by itself, wholly undo progress. Other areas are liable to be fought: Several of the proposed budget cuts are already seeing opposition from the agencies themselves, who will feed back to the president before the White House’s final budget request is made, from retired military leaders, and from congressional leaders who will be responsible for actually shaping the budget resolutions and appropriations bills that determine final spending. Some concerned Republicans have already shown a willingness to vote for environmental regulation. And California has been clear that it would fight attempts to interfere with its vehicle emissions standards.

But some actions have an immediate environmental impact and many proposals, even if not wholly or quickly implemented, have the potential seriously to affect the US’s ability to meet its Paris commitments on emissions and climate finance. Changes that interfere with Paris commitments present problems at several levels, including the impact on the physical environment that comes from one of the world’s biggest per capita polluters not reducing its emissions and the impact on the global political climate of the US’s refusing to take action on its own or to help others. There is also reason for considerable concern for the impact on standards in other countries. The US’ new trade policy clearly states that it will seek to attack regulations by trading partners that it regards as “unjustifiable, or unreasonable or discriminatory, and [that] burdens or restricts United States commerce.” In a context where the US government seems to regard a great deal of environmental legislation as burdensome, it is to be anticipated that it will, in trade negotiations and in managing trade disputes, seek to represent other countries’ attempts to legislate as burdensome … and to undermine them.

 

How, then, can we pray? We can start by praying:

  • That all people may begin to understand the seriousness of damage caused to our common home
  • That this understanding may create a political atmosphere in which politicians can no longer expect to receive approval for activities that enable such damage to proceed
  • For agency staff as they work through the rollbacks and proposed budget cuts – that they would have wisdom as they scrutinise the proposals, and be guided to respond in ways that further the common good
  • For legislators as they work through resolutions – that they too would be given wisdom and courage in their scrutiny and in their responses.
  • For scientists, public interest groups and others as they analyse, publicise and seek to minimise the harm the proposals could cause – that they would have the resource, energy and communication skills they need.
  • For all who are fighting for the good of the planet within the administration  – that they would be empowered to speak and their voices heard, even in the face of powerful opposing interest groups.
  • For a change of heart for President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – that they would truly understand the reality and dangers of climate change and would be convinced and convicted of the need to act.
  • That, whatever the US decides to do about its Paris commitments and participation in the Paris Agreement, other nations will hold firm in doing what they need to do for the common good
Action Point: Could you join with the group that is praying for care of creation each of the first 100 days of the new administration?


Short Notes: Brexit, Good News in Transparency, Humanitarian Crisis, South Korea

Brexit

UK media outlets are reporting that following the return of the Brexit bill from the House of Lords with two amendments, Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to have an unamended bill passed by both houses; Brexit Minister David Davis has written that he will “will ask MPs to send it [the bill] back[to Lords] in its original, straightforward form.” The media suggest that if the bill is passed by both houses on Monday, the Prime Minister could trigger Article 50 very shortly thereafter.

Please pray for all parliamentarians and civil servants involved in these processes, asking God to grant them wisdom to discern and courage to act for the common good.

Pray that whatever happens around Brexit in the next few days, we as a nation can proceed in a way that shows integrity: refusing to misrepresent facts or other people’s opinions, maintaining a concern for the good of all UK residents, and offering a commitment to good governance, justice and equity in our relations with all nations.
Transparency

Good news! Please give thanks for the recent decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s (EITI) International Board to require extractive industry companies to publish their payments to governments via ‘project-level reporting’. The requirement will be implemented for reports for fiscal years ending on or after 31 December 2018.

As the transparency-focused organisation Global Witness noted, this “means that citizens in 51 countries, from Nigeria to Colombia to Myanmar, will have access to much more detailed information about vital oil and mining revenues.”

EITI had actually introduced a reporting requirement in 2013, with the aim of ensuring that communities in resource-rich areas would be able to hold officials to account for the money paid in return for access to their resources. Project level reporting is important, because without it, it’s hard for communities to trace what has been paid to whom with respect to particular assets. Oil companies that participate in EITI agreed to such reporting with the proviso that there be consistency between EITI’s reporting requirements and the requirements for project-level reporting under EU and US transparency rules. But the American Petroleum Institute (whose members include some of the same oil companies) then proceeded to sue the SEC to prevent implementation of the US rule – and oil companies argued that the EITI requirements couldn’t be implemented until the US rule went into effect.

The SEC eventually issued and implemented a rule in 2016, which was met with considerable approbation as a victory for transparency. But the rule was revoked by Congress a few weeks ago. At that point the question became, as transparency expert Daniel Kaufmann put it, whether the response of other parties involved in regulating the extractive industries would be one of “contagion or containment.” The EITI board decided on containment, refusing to be cowed by the revocation of the SEC rule and calling on “each country [to] devise and apply a definition of the term project that is consistent with relevant national laws and systems as well as international norms,” such as the rules adopted, for example, by the EU and Canada.

Give thanks for this victory for transparency. Pray that countries will implement it well, and that it will contribute to the fight against corruption and kleptocracy around the world.

 

Humanitarian Crisis

The UN Under Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, reported to the Security Council on Friday. We reprint below the close of his speech:

“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the
largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. Now, more than 20 million
people across four countries [Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Northeastern Nigeria] face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease. Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions. The warning call and appeal for action by the Secretary-General can thus not be understated. It was right to take the risk and sound the alarm early, not wait for the pictures of emaciated dying children or the world’s TV screens to mobilise a reaction and the funds.

The UN and humanitarian partners are responding. We have strategic, coordinated and prioritised plans in every country. We have the right leadership and heroic, dedicated teams on
the ground. We are working hand-in-hand with development partners to marry the immediate
life-saving with longer term sustainable development. We are ready to scale up. This is frankly
not the time to ask for more detail or use that postponing phrase, what would you prioritize?
Every life on the edge of famine and death is equally worth saving.

Now we need the international community and this Council to act:

First and foremost, act quickly to tackle the precipitating factors of famine. Preserving and
restoring normal access to food and ensuring all parties’ compliance with international
humanitarian law are key.

Second, with sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario. To do this, humanitarians require safe, full and unimpeded access to people in need. Parties to the conflict must respect this fundamental tenet of IHL (international humanitarian law) and those with influence over the parties must exert that influence now.

Third, stop the fighting. To continue on the path of war and military conquest is –I think we all know –to guarantee failure, humiliation and moral turpitude, and will bear the responsibility  for the millions who face hunger and deprivation on an incalculable scale because of it.

Allow me to very briefly sum up. The situation for people in each country is dire and without a
major international response, the situation will get worse. All four countries have one thing in
common: conflict. This means we –you –have the possibility to prevent –and end –further
misery and suffering. The UN and its partners are ready to scale up. But we need the access and the funds to do more. It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes.”

Please pray:

  • for all who are hungry and especially all who know the pain of not being able to feed those dependent on them
  • that those individuals and groups who are creating conflict in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and North-Eastern Nigeria will turn from war to peace. Pray for an end to Boko Haram and Al Shabaab’s activities not only in the countries most affected, but also in neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad basin and Kenya.
  • for wisdom, courage and strength for the people who are working against the odds to bring stability, justice, transparency and peace to their countries. Pray especially for the work of reconciliation being undertaken by the churches in South Sudan.
  • that the international community will meet the funding shortfalls for humanitarian assistance (thus far, according to Mr O’Brien, only 6% of funding needed for Yemen in 2017 has been received, and only roughly 1/3 of what is needed in the Lake Chad region has even been pledged)
  • for an end to Saudi use of cluster bombs in Yemen – and an end to their delaying shipments of humanitarian assistance. Pray too that the UK Government, whose Ministry of Defence has noted more than 250 allegations of international humanitarian law violations in the Saudi campaign and whose head of the Government’s Export Control Organisation recommended suspending sales, will review its decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.

Action Point: Could you donate to appeals (CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund) to assist partners working on these humanitarian crises?

South Korea

Please pray for the people of South Korea as they deal with political uncertainty in their country.

The South Korean constitutional court last week upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, who has now left office and who faces potential trial for her role in alleged corruption.

The orderly working of the country’s political system is indicative of the democracy’s strength, but there remains considerable uncertainty about who will win elections (which must be held within 60 days) and how they will handle issues relating to the tense regional situation, including relationships with North Korea (which has been carrying out strategic missile tests), US installation of an anti-missile defense, and China’s concerns about the installation.

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea called on South Koreans to “build a stable country through harmony and through this … to overcome the confrontation and tension among Koreans.”

Please pray for wisdom and discernment for the South Korean electorate and politicians in the coming weeks.

 

 

Seeing Hope, Seeing Resurrection

This powerpoint that Elizabeth prepared for Easter 2017 takes us through the period from Good Friday to the Resurrection – and offers stories of hope and transformation in today’s world. Download it here.

‘Green Communion’ Powerpoint

Prepared for the first anniversary of EcoChurch but suitable for any occasion when you want to reflect on the grandeur and beauty of God’s creation, Elizabeth’s powerpoint highlights the beauty of nature … with a focus on ‘green’ things … and a hymn of praise to God at the end.

Download it here  (5+MB)

Christian Disciplines, Climate Prayer, Extractives Transparency: 29 Jan 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Christian Disciplines in Changing Times
  • Praying about the Climate
  • Transparency in Extractive Industries
  • Coming up in February

__________________________________________________________________________

Christian Disciplines in Changing Times

If you haven’t read Corrie Ten Boom’s ‘The Hiding Place’ (in which case you are in for a treat when you do), it tells the story of the ten Boom family’s life in Haarlem in the years leading up to the Second World War, then of their hospitality to Jewish friends – and gradual involvement in the Dutch underground – after the Nazis invaded, their arrest and internment in Nazi concentration camps – where they continued with faithful lives of love and hope and experienced miracles despite the bleakest circumstances – and eventually Corrie ten Boom’s release and ministry of reconciliation and healing after the war.Many have been inspired by the family’s courageous and loving witness under the Nazis and by God’s faithfulness to them during their persecutions. But some years ago a convert to Christianity who had herself offered loving witness in the face of opposition, said what might appear a surprising thing – that what interested her was not the section of the book that dealt with the time of the Second World War, but the opening chapters, with their establishment of the family’s gentle patterns of prayer, study, hospitality, integrity, and joyful love. That, she then explained, was what was truly important – the rest of the book flowed from it.

We live in changing times. It’s not just a question of the tumultuous changes of the past few years – though their brutal conflicts, growing recognition of the issues around inequality, movements of people, natural disasters, and shifting political landscapes (from the UK to the US to the Middle East to China to India) have shaken many people’s certainties. The pace of change over the past few decades in how societies around the world, including ours, think and act, the challenges and opportunities they face; the technologies they use, the work they do or no longer do, the ways in which they do or don’t relate to each other, and the ways they and the individuals within them define themselves are massive. Some of those changes appear positive; some not. And there is more to come: buried in the recent news have been (to take some examples) stories about risks to future UK, US, and global food security from climate change, extreme inequality and capture of political processes, concerns about not only new forms of asymmetric and cyber warfare but also conventional wars in Eastern Europe and Asia, ethical issues arising from such developments as the creation of human-animal hybrid fetuses and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation (should robots have legal personhood?),  and debates about whether, in a potentially increasingly automated society, a ‘universal basic income‘ should be created, in recognition that should such a society emerge, many people could be unable to find work.

How do we respond well to present and future challenges? How do we grapple – ourselves and alongside others – with the questions around what it means to be human? What a ‘good society’ and a ‘just world’ look like? What steps we are prepared to take to care for the planet that is our common home?  How do we discern what it means to love God and neighbour here, now, today – and live that out in the choices we make daily, from what we eat to how we work to how we build relationships and where we spend our non-working time?

These are questions of discernment for each of us individually, as well as for us together in our churches at all levels. But one thing is certain. We can do nothing unless we, like the ten Boom family, acknowledge our dependence on God and ask for the grace to establish in our lives rhythms of prayer and Sabbath, study of Scripture and its interpretation, interrogation of our lives and the issues that confront us in the light of that prayer and study, joyful love, hospitality, and humble service. This may at times be painful, but it need not be overwhelming – it’s about doing ‘different’, not doing ‘more’. And it isn’t about retreat from the world’s challenges. It’s about making ourselves open to God so that we can be guided by the One who created, redeemed, loves and sustains our challenged world.

“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the LORD and relies upon his God?” the readings from morning prayer asked earlier this week. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” say this week’s Revised Common Lectionary reading from the Old Testament. “Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart,” say the Beatitudes.

Please pray for a deepening of the spiritual life for all who seek to follow Christ – and that  Christian lives, rooted and grounded in prayer, may be a witness to all people of God’s love and mercy.

Praying about the Climate

Attached are this month’s Pray and Fast for the Climate prayer points. These cover a number of areas of concern – and of hope. There’s a beautiful prayer from the Northumbria Community, and some very encouraging news on divestment, new developments in energy storage, and ambitious carbon-cutting proposals from countries near (Scotland) and far (Costa Rica).

There’s also information on concerns in the US. As noted last week, there are worrying developments at federal level (and some more under-the-radar ones potentially on the way via Congress as well as the presidency) – but there are also encouraging developments at state level, which it’s also good to keep in prayer. In addition to the California proposals, New York State is also taking strong action, including a major commitment to offshore wind. At the federal level, we’d particularly encourage prayer for the federal government to respect and maintain the integrity of federal scientific agencies’ research, grants and data. These may not be the most exciting sounding activities – but they constitute an area where federal-level changes could have a very strong negative impact, not just for the US but globally.

If you’d like more information on this, take a look at the work of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, its faculty director Michael Gerrard, and climate journalist Andy Revkin: you can follow them and get links to their work on Twitter at @Columbiaclimate @michaelgerrard and @revkin. 

Transparency in Extractive Industries

While President Trump’s actions in the first week of his presidency have been gaining all the attention, there are some proposals expected in the US Congress which also urgently require prayer.

One of these is an attempt to use something called the Congressional Review Act to get rid of vital legislation on transparency. Over the past several years, countries around the world have been working on legislation that requires extractive industry companies to publish what they pay to governments in exchange for natural resources rights. Such reporting of payments helps people in resource-rich countries to hold their governments to account and to fight against corruption.

The US law – the bipartisan Cardin Lugar provision in the Dodd Frank Act – was actually the first of its kind, passed by Congress in 2010. It’s since been followed by similar regulations in 30 other countries, including the UK, Canada, Norway, and many members of the EU – with the result that, according to transparency coalition Publish What You Pay, such provisions apply to “80 percent of the world’s largest publicly listed oil, gas and mining companies, including state-owned companies from Russia, China and Brazil.” In the US, though, a lobbying group called the American Petroleum Institute (API), of which Exxon Mobil was a prominent member, lobbied against the bill, and then sued the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to prevent its implementation. Thanks to their opposition, the provision wasn’t implemented until June 2016.

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to stop recent regulations by a simple majority vote. The long delays in establishing the final ‘rule’ for implementing the  Cardin-Lugar provision make it vulnerable.

If the Cardin Lugar provision is overturned, US listed companies will no longer be subject to the regulations, making transparency efforts far less effective, giving corrupt regimes an incentive to deal with US businesses over those that are more transparent, and potentially leaving the citizens of resource-rich countries with far less funds for vital services such as education, healthcare and infrastructure.

Daniel Kauffman, a leading transparency expert who heads the National Resource Governance Institute, stated: “We are deeply concerned at the attempt to gut this trailblazing U.S. law, which deters corruption and improves governance in the notoriously opaque natural resource sector. Legislators in both houses should abandon this plan immediately. Failure to do so would essentially be an endorsement of the kind of corruption and secrecy found in resource-rich dictatorships … It would make a mockery of the tough talk on fighting graft which we heard throughout the recent presidential campaign.”

Pray that transparency campaigners will be able to put their case clearly and effectively, and to mobilise a constituency for this issue at a time where there are many other concerns. Pray that a sufficient number of members of Congress will understand the damage this move could do and be willing to uphold the Cardin-Lugar provisions on principle.

Coming up in February …

1 February – Pray and Fast for the Climate

5 Feb 2017 – BMS Day of Prayer: Materials from BMS World Mission

5 Feb 2017 – 1st Anniversary of Eco-Church: A time to give thanks for God’s creation, and to commit to caring for it. Could your church join in? There are full   Materials for a ‘Green Communion’ from A Rocha, and we’ll be sending out a creative worship powerpoint on Friday.

12 Feb 2017 – Racial Justice Sunday

12 February Red Hand Day: Campaign/pray for an end to use of child soldiers. Materials from Child Soldiers International

13-19 Feb 2017 – People and Planet ‘Go Green Week’ Nat’l week of climate action for schools, colleges, universities. Info: People and Planet.

14 February (and surrounding period) – Green Hearts Campaign Campaign to protect what you love from climate change. The focus is on using a ‘green heart’ – in a Valentine, worn as a brooch, placed as a bookmark –  as a conversation starter. Could you pray in church – and perhaps do something creative with green hearts?  Resources from For the Love of

20 February – World Day of Social Justice: Info from the UN; opportunity for prayer and action on a range of social justice issues. Suggestions: Joint Public Issues Team, National Justice and Peace Network

26 Feb 2017 – Freedom Sunday: Against modern slavery – see also 25 March, 30 July, 23/24 August, 18 October. Materials: Church of England, CTE, Tearfund, Stop the Traffik

26 Feb 2017 – Church Action on Poverty Sunday: Theme: ‘Poor church, transfigured church” Materials from Church Action on Poverty

27 Feb to 12 March 2017 Fairtrade Fortnight: Materials from the Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft and CCOW.

 

Epiphany and Refugees, Upcoming Dates, Events – 8 January 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Lord, you were once a refugee”
  • Coming up – Special Days in January
  • Coming up – Actions and Events

The Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts tells the story of the Magi’s visit to Herod, which sets the scene for the jealous king to massacre the young boys of Bethlehem as he seeks to destroy a threat to his power. The Psalm reminds us that the king whom he seeks to destroy is in fact one who will exemplify not the kind of ‘hard power’ Herod craves, but who will usher in righteousness and justice, peace and deliverance. Your Kingdom come, O Lord! ___________________________________________________________________________

Lord, you were once a refugee”

The quote above comes from a prayer released by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland at Christmas. As we recall this week the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, we pray for those who have fled their homes in today’s world because of conflict, persecution, or conditions that make survival difficult … and we pray for political leaders – and each of us – to respond to their situations with love and wisdom

We’re aware that listing seven groups of people to pray for may feel overwhelming – but felt it important to acknowledge – if only in part – the scale of refugee needs beyond those that directly affect us and regularly make the headlines. You might wish to read about and pray for a different group each day. We’ve also included action points. Some of these involve campaigning. Many involve donating, as the number of simultaneous humanitarian crises is putting a strain on aid agency resources. Clearly no one person can give to everything, and we suspect that our readers are already giving generously – but if you can give even a little more to one of the options below, it could make a real difference.

Please pray for refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced persons:

  • in the Greek Islands, Greece, the Balkans and Hungary, especially those who are living in conditions that are unsafe. These areas have seen very cold and snowy weather, and refugees living in tents or on the streets are at risk. Pray not only for them and their health, but for steps to improve provision (there have been some improvements in Greece itself in recent weeks) and to resolve the wider EU impasse on refugee relocation that has left so many people stranded: UNHCR has noted that of the 66,400 refugees whom the EU agreed in 2015 to relocate to other EU countries within two years, by 4 January 2017 only 7,760 had left Greece or were scheduled to do so. Give thanks for all who are seeking to offer refugees hope and hospitality, including many church organisations. Pray for wisdom for local church leaders and congregations who seek to address refugees’ needs, asking God to guide them in their relationships with refugees themselves and with the host communities and politicians.Action points: could you contribute to funds for refugees in Europe? You can donate through, among others, CAFOD, Christian Aid, MSF, and USPG. (Links here and in all cases go directly to the appropriate donations page).Could you help to support refugees in the UK and/or write to your MP, asking them to ask the Government to expand the numbers of refugees the UK will accept? While accepting refugees does have resource implications, in view of the huge numbers of refugees who have found safe haven in countries with far fewer resources than ours, one cannot help but feel we could do more.
  • within Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, as they face dangerous situations and difficult winter conditions. Give thanks for all who are showing hospitality to them and pray also for the well-being of host communities. (If you can understand French or Arabic, do watch this video about work to integrate Syrians and host communities in Lebanon – a source of encouragement!) Pray especially for churches and church organisations that are (eg this one) reaching out to show hospitality, thanking God for their work and the way that God is resourcing them materially and spiritually.Action points: could you contribute to help fund work by churches and church organisations to support refugees in the Middle East? This has the dual effect of helping to support refugees and reminding Christians in the Middle East that they do not stand alone. You can donate through, among others, All We Can, BMS World Mission, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Embrace the Middle East, International Orthodox Christian Charities*, Jesuit Refugee Service, Tearfund.
  • in Sudan, South Sudan, and the surrounding countries. Since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013, increasing numbers of South Sudanese have had to flee their homes: at present UNHCR estimates that there are almost 1.3 million refugees and asylum seekers from the country, many of them unaccompanied minors. Almost 600,000 people are estimated to have fled to Uganda, where refugee rations for those who arrived before July 2015 were halved (for lack of funds) in Autumn 2016, and over 300,000 to Ethiopia, where inter-communal tensions have risen.In addition years of conflict and economic crisis have had a huge impact on agriculture and left almost 40% of South Sudan’s population at risk of acute hunger. CMS trustee Jane Shaw writes: “Scarcity continues, and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network … warns that South Sudan will experience ‘acute food insecurity’ within the first half of 2017. This is due partly to a drop in production, partly to volatile trade conditions and partly to high prices. Low pay for many employees, including civil servants, is compounded by salaries not being paid, sometimes for months. Pray for all those experiencing hunger, especially for parents unable to feed their children.”Please pray for:
    •  peace with justice in South Sudan – and that the international community will exert effective pressure on those who are encouraging or engaging in violence
    • the safety and spiritual and material wellbeing of all who are fleeing because of violence or the inability to find adequate means to live where they are.
    • those who are working with host communities and for the host communities themselves.
    • for Christian churches as they work for peace amidst the conflict and witness  to Christ’s love through the spiritual and material care they provide
    • an end to inter-ethnic tensions in the country and in places which should be safe, such as refugee camps, and a strengthening of the effectiveness of the
      UN peacekeeping mission.
    • all who are hungry and all who are working to alleviate hunger now and for the future
    • in thankgiving for those who, like the churches and the bookseller of Malakal, are offering hope amidst the crises

Action Point: Could you donate to South Sudan appeals? You can donate via CAFOD,
Christian Aid, MSF, Tearfund , the World Food Programme, and World Vision among
others. And in a week when aid in the form of cash transfers has been much pilloried
in the popular press, it might be worth looking at this story on World Food
Program cash transfers to Sudanese refugees in Uganda and the way cash empowers
people to make choices. More broadly, it’s worth looking at how UK AID (and aid
from the US and others) is enabling people to access food, health care and other
necessities..

  • in Burundi and the countries around it. According to the UN, more than 325,000 Burundians have fled since the country’s political crisis began about two years ago: about half of these have gone to Tanzania, with almost 90,000 people in Rwanda and substantial numbers also in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some feel that the political crisis is increasingly taking on ethnic overtones, which is a cause for further concern.UNICEF notes: “While the socio-political situation in Burundi remains tense and unpredictable, cross-border influxes are expected to continue: the Burundian refugee population in the region is projected to exceed 524,000 by the end of 2017. Although governments and partner assistance continues, transit facilities and camps are overcrowded. Children are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with overstretched health and nutrition facilities and water and sanitation shortages increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. Protection concerns such as sexual and gender-based violence are significant. Inadequate numbers of schools and limited education supplies are making it difficult for children to access quality education.”Adapting the words of an Anglican prayer for Burundi:
    • for all who are grieving or suffering trauma because of the violence, we ask for healing.
    • “For all people who are living in fear and dread, afraid of the unknown and the uncertain, we ask for hope.”
    •  following the killing of a government minister at Christmas, we pray that this act of violence does not lead to more intense violence
    • “For those fleeing in Burundi or abroad, we pray for safety, freedom from disease and famine and the security that they may return home.” We pray also for all who are working to provide refugees with security and access to goods and services that supply their needs.
    • “For the surrounding countries [ we pray] that they may remain at peace, act justly and broker a just settlement” and that the communities within which refugees are present may be welcoming and may themselves find flourishing.
    • “For those seeking the way of violence, [we pray] that they would instead seek reconciliation between all parties.”
    • For the work that churches and others are doing to meet people’s spiritual and material needs and to counter violence (including gender-based violence), we give thanks to God.
  • in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin. Overall there are about 2.2 million displaced people in the region. The largest number come from Nigeria: because of conflict with Boko Haram, there are an estimated 1.77 million displaced people in Nigeria and over 200,000 Nigerian refugees  in other countries in the area.  Many of the host countries for Nigerian refugees – places like Chad, Cameroon (which also hosts refugees from the Central African Republic) and Niger – are themselves very poor,  but communities are doing their best to support people fleeing violence, using their own resources and/or with support from the international community.A primary concern in the area is hunger: it is hard to find out what is happening in some areas that are not readily accessible, but it seems likely that there has been and may still be a full-blown famine in at least part of Northeast Nigeria, and many parts of the area are suffering a food crisis or food emergency. One estimate is that more than half of under fives in parts of Northeast Nigeria are suffering from malnutrition.There is some good news: while the needs are huge, work by its humanitarian partners, including the Nigerian government, has recently enabled the World Food Programme to scale up its work in the region. In December alone, it assisted more than one million people, and it hopes to reach 2.5 million by April of this year.

    Please pray:

    • for an end to Boko Haram’s campaign of violence – that God will turn towards peace the hearts of those who encourage and engage in violence
    • for all who have suffered because of the violence, that they will know God’s healing presence and receive comfort
    • for all who are displaced and all who are hungry, that they will have their material and spiritual needs met
    • for the government of Nigeria, regional governments, UN agencies and civil society groups who are working to alleviate poverty in the region
    • for the churches in the area, asking God to give them courage and strength to stand firm in difficult times and to show the love of God through their words and actions
    • for host communities, that they too may find the means they need to flourish

Action Points: Donate to the World Food Programme’s general emergencies fund.

  • among minorities in Myanmar and those who have fled to other countries. We wrote recently about the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar and the way the  government often blocks aid from reaching them. This collection of stories gives a chance to hear from Rohingya who have sought asylum in India: they tell the stories of why they left their homes, how they made their way to India and what they are doing there. Many people from other religious and ethnic minorities in Myanmar, including the largely Christian Kachin, have also faced oppression. Some are in camps for displaced people; some have fled to other countries.One of the difficulties that Myanmar’s refugees in Thailand, in particular, face is that they are completely dependent on external sources to meet their basic needs. With broad recognition of Myanmar’s new government, though, it’s getting harder to find funds for their support – despite the fact that Myanmar’s minorities continue to have very real grounds for fearing persecution.Please pray:
    • that the government of Myanmar will recognise the right of all communities, whatever their ethnic background, to live in peace
    • that the international community will hold the government of Myanmar accountable for violations of human rights and will avoid doing anything which results in ill treatment of minorities or seizure of their assets **
    • for safety for refugees from Myanmar and the families they have left behind.
    • that those who are ‘in limbo’ in refugee camps or settlements will be given the freedom and the means to make new lives for themselves and their families
    • for healing and comfort for those who have suffered violence.

Action Points: Could you join Christian Solidarity Worldwide in demanding an end to
blocks on aid to the Rohingya minorities in Myanmar? Could you donate to MSF‘s
work with minority and underserved communities in Myanmar?

  • facing return to potentially unsafe situations in Afghanistan and Somalia. According to the 2015 UNHCR review, Afghanistan and Somalia were 2nd and 3rd in the lists of countries of origin for refugees: as of that point, there were 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan and 1.1 million from Somalia.In recent months, there has been increasing concern about the number of Afghan and Somali refugees who are being returned to potentially unsafe situations. European countries, including the UK, have deemed Afghanistan safe enough to accept deportations, and, as part of their negotiations before the latest aid conference, have signed an agreement with Afghanistan that allows them to deport an unlimited number of asylum seekers, whom Afghanistan must accept. Pakistan has also deported Afghans who were illegally in the country. While some of the other returns are theoretically ‘voluntary’ they are often the result of pressure: Afghan refugees in Pakistan have experienced harrassment and been denied access to services; Kenya has threatened to close the huge Dadaab refugee camp, leaving residents afraid that if they do not take the ‘voluntary’ UN repatriation package, they will be forcibly repatriated at a later date. The UN and human rights agencies have expressed grave worries about the situation of returnees in Afghanistan in particular, as has the Afghan government.Please pray for people facing returns to unsafe situations. Pray that they will find safety and security amidst the danger and will be able to protect those who depend on them. Pray for an end to the deportation of vulnerable people into situations of danger, and especially the deportation of those who have spent their childhood outside their countries of origin, only to be returned to a country they no longer know when they reach adulthood. 

*IOCC does not specify areas where donations will be used, but does a significant portion of its work in the Middle East.


Coming up – Special Days in January
15 Jan 2017 Peace Sunday
Theme:’Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace’ Materials for Peace Sunday from Pax Christi. Some further peace-related materials: Anglican Pacifist FellowshipBaptist Peace Fellowship, Catholic Worker Movement, Christian International Peace ServiceFellowship of Reconciliation, Mennonite Peace & Justice Support NetworkMethodist Peace Fellowship, National Justice and Peace Network, Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Oxpeace, Quakers in Britain.

17 to 24 Jan 2017 – Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity
Int’l theme: ‘Reconciliation – the love of Christ compels us’ Materials: World Council of Churches. UK theme: ‘Crossing Barriers’ Materials: CTBI

22 Jan 2017 – Homeless Sunday

Resources for worship and prayer cards

25 January – Conversion of St Paul

On the 25th of January, some churches remember Saul/Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Could you use the day as an opportunity to pray for God to turn the hearts of those who currently persecute Christians for their faith? To pray for Syria & the Syrian church?

27 January – Holocaust Memorial Day

Theme: ‘How can life go on?’ Materials from CTBI/CCJ and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

29 Jan 2017 – World Leprosy Day

Also observed on 30 January. UK focus is on rural India. Materials from Leprosy Mission (UK).

Coming up – Actions and Events

Our new website’s events calendar has a selection of local and national events of interest: take a look! And please do send us events for inclusion.

16 January

There are many ‘hot topics’ in Fairtrade at present – things like the relationship between Fairtrade and corporate ‘own-label’ systems, market access for farmers, and the role of campaigners in the Fairtrade movement. You’re invited to discuss these with the CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, Mike Gidney, who will be coming to Oxford on the 16th. Long Room, Town Hall, 6:00 to 8:00 pm (incorporating a brief Oxford Fair Trade Coalition AGM, talk, discussion session and refreshments). Free. All welcome.

5 February

It’s the 1st anniversary of the Eco-Church programme, which helps churches see why care for creation is part of our discipleship, evaluate what they’re already doing to care for creation, and take the next steps. Many churches will be celebrating with a ‘Green Communion’. Could you do so – and, if you’re not already involved with the Eco-Church programme, get your church to take the starting survey? Green Communion materials. Eco-Church survey.

14 February (and surrounding week)

The ‘For the love of’ campaign was started by a coalition of agencies and groups to help us talk about climate change in terms of protecting the things we love. This year, as last year, they’re asking us to make, wear and/or share green hearts around Valentine’s Day as a way of starting climate conversations. There’s a toolkit with lots of suggestions. Could any group you’re part of have a heart-making session?

Photo:

Photo ID 482888. 25/08/2011. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/

The Earth is the Lord’s

A beautiful powerpoint by Elizabeth Perry combining Scripture and striking images that showcase the glory of God’s creation.

Download it here