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:

UK Elections, Philippines, Sponsored Walk – 11 June 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • UK Elections
  • Philippines
  • CCOW Sponsored Walk


“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This phrase from the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel for the week has comforted Christians in danger throughout the centuries. As we read it this week, we thought of Christians being held hostage in Marawi City … those in the Central African Republic (again an area of concern) … and those in so many other places. For them, for all of us, may these words bring a renewal of faith and hope.
_________________________________________________________________________

UK Elections
Many church leaders and church-related bodies have made statements relating to this past week’s elections – and have offered prayer points. A selection of comments and prayer points is below – at the bottom you’ll find a prayer from the Church of Scotland and the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches which you may wish to use. You’ll also find some action points.

  • Archbishop of Canterbury

    Excerpt: “It is heartening to see voter turnout increase at this election and I offer my prayers and good wishes to all those elected to Parliament, to all who put themselves forward as candidates and to the countless many who make our democratic process work so well.

    I encourage all Christians, and people of all faiths and no faith, to hold our political leaders in their thoughts and prayers at this time. My prayer is that they may know the love and presence of God, made known through Jesus Christ, as they continue their discussions and prepare to take on the weighty responsibility of leadership.”

  • President and Vice-President of Methodist Conference

    Excerpt: “Today we are grateful that the people of the United Kingdom are able to debate and vote peacefully, and to elect our leaders democratically…

    We invite you to pray for those working to form a government and for all of our newly elected MPs, that they may represent constituents’ concerns and interests in the House of Commons with wisdom, compassion and dedication. We also ask you to remember all those who make the democratic process possible, from council officials to those who put themselves forward for election, often at great personal cost.

    A hung Parliament is a reminder that politics does not end with elections. As the Government is formed, at a time of uncertainty for our country, we call on all members of Parliament to act in ways that will build a society with the common good at its heart. We commit ourselves and ask the Methodist people to be active participants in our democracy, encouraging and challenging those who have been elected. We are called particularly to advocate for the needs of the most vulnerable in our society and world.

    Finally, we rejoice in God’s promise that the Kingdom of God is coming, and recognise that it is also ushered in today when we embrace principles of justice, mercy and peace; may we continue to do so.”

  • Baptist General Secretary

    Excerpt: “The General Election is over, though the reality that has emerged is one of uncertainty. This will no doubt have an unsettling effect on our national life, and perhaps more than ever, as God’s people, we can draw strength from the words of the Psalmist:

    Nations are in an uproar . . .  kingdoms totter;
    The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge
    . . . . . Be still and know that I am God!         [from Psalm 46]

    Let us pray in the days ahead for everyone involved in the various discussions and negotiations that will seek to form a Government. Our vision of the Kingdom of God has much to say about the political issues of our day, but it also points us to higher realities that transcend earthly politics. Our calling to be beacons of hope has particular significance at this time ….

    Whoever eventually forms our Government will face a significant and demanding task, and irrespective of our political allegiances, will need our prayers as they seek to lead our nations forward.

    Our calling as a Gospel people is to proclaim those messages of justice and righteousness that are central to the Kingdom of God … much will depend not only on the perspectives and actions of the Government that is formed but how we, as Christians along with other citizens, engage in the life of our communities and nation as things go forward.

    Uncertainty may well prevail in the earthly realm, but we can draw strength and encourage others to do the same, by recognising the eternal and unassailable realities of our faith. As we gather for worship in the coming days, I encourage Baptist congregations to pray for our United Kingdom and all who hold responsibility and office in public life. But as we do so, let us also not become so pre-occupied with our own situation, that we lose sight of the needs and challenges of the wider world.”

  • Evangelical Alliance

    Excerpt: “We are praying for all those elected to serve in the House of Commons following the general election, for those who are not returning to parliament, and for those who have campaigned in the election – not just candidates but volunteers and supporters …

    Across the UK the election has produced shocks…The shocks make the future precarious, but times of crisis can also be times of opportunity, and for Christians such times are always times of responsibility. The uncertainty that the general election has brought shows us that we have four key responsibilities at this time.

    The first is to pray for peace and unity in our society. The second is for the Church to witness peace and unity to our society, sharing our faith in Jesus as the hope of the nations. The third is to cast a vision for what kind of society we would like to see – a common good in which love, truth, freedom and justice can flourish. And the fourth is for Christians to step up to the plate and get more involved in leading change in our society, because opting out is not an option.”

Post-Election Prayer from the Church of Scotland and Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches

Lord of all,
Amid the uncertainty of these results
We thank you for the democracy we have in this country.
We ask that you grant all those who have been elected the wisdom and compassion needed to govern.
May this become a society in which all people are enabled to flourish and live life in all its fullness.
Help us to play our part in building that society,
By holding those elected to account and by working with them towards the common good.
And Lord, today as always we pray for justice;
Justice in the here and now and justice in our shared future-
Oceans of justice.
Amen

Action Point: In addition to praying for your MP, can you set up a meeting with him/her  to discuss key issues? From the 1st to the 9th of July, the Climate Coalition is organising a Week of Action, where people are encouraged to speak to their MPs about climate change. There are resources here. Hope for the Future has also prepared a guide to building a relationship with your MP on climate change. We think it’s the best thing we’ve seen in some time – and we have some copies to give away. If you’d like one, get in touch.

Philippines

In Marawi City, on the island of Mindanao,  battle continues between the government of the Philippines and an apparent coalition of militant groups, dominated by the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, that has affiliated with the Islamic State.  Several hundred group members attacked Marawi City on the 23rd of May; they remain in control of a small portion of the city after more than two weeks of fighting.  Official figures suggest that the violence has claimed the lives of over 200 people, including government forces, militants, and civilians. The militants are also continuing to hold a Catholic priest and other hostages, whom they are alleged to be using as human shields.

According to the government of the Philippines, mobile phone footage shows the militants’ aim was to separate the area from the Philippines and to run it as an Islamic state. In the process of taking the area, the militants have targeted Christian civilians and their properties, taking hostages and circulating videos that show the destruction of the Catholic cathedral. They also have committed violence against Muslims who opposed their extremist teaching. The President has responded by invoking martial law over the totality of Mindanao; the army is fighting to retake the city, using both ground troops and bombings from the air.

Areas for prayer include:

  • Immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs
  • Countering hatred
  • The need for peace and development in the region
  • The President’s – and wider government’s – response

Immediate humanitarian needs

Most people have now escaped from or been rescued from the city. The latest UNOCHA report estimates that some 290,000 people have been displaced by the conflict. Most are staying with host families, but over 39,000 are in evacuation centres.

According to an ACT Alliance briefing, initial data gathered by Christian Aid partner Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits shows that “at least 65% of the internally displaced persons are women and children,” as many men have stayed to guard properties or have gone to other locations to find jobs or funds. An assessment of needs in some evacuation centres suggested more food was needed, as well as pointing to an urgent need for mosquito nets, sleeping mats, cooking utensils and water and sanitary facilities. The assessment also pointed to a need for spaces that meet the cultural needs of the displaced population – and expressed concern that young and elderly people were at particular risk of illness.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and well-being of those who remain trapped in the city
  • for wisdom and courage for those who are trying to help them
  • in thanksgiving for the rescue/escape of those who have been able to leave
  • in thanksgiving for the hospitality of families and the work of local government, agencies and individuals to support people who have been displaced
  • that all displaced people will be able to access the food, housing, medical treatment, and water and sanitary facilities that they need
  • for people whose sense of displacement is exacerbated by conditions which are very different to those from which they are accustomed.
  • for all who are working to provide humanitarian relief. Pray especially for the work of Christians and Christian institutions working in such a sensitive situation. Ask that God will grant leaders and workers wisdom and discernment as they seek to assist all who come to them.

Countering hatred

While there are (see below) longstanding interreligious tensions in Mindanao, there is also a long history of interreligious cooperation. Indeed one of the clearest calls for justice for the Moro Muslims was written by the current Catholic Archbishop of Cotabato, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, and the Catholic Bishop Prelate for Marawi recently commented that local Muslims had never supported extremists because “they knew exactly what the consequences would be to the culture of people, to the way of life. The people of Marawi have always been very peaceful.”

The growth of groups that have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State is, however, worrying, as is the increased presence of non-Filipino jihadis among those involved in the fighting. There are strong concerns that the number of foreigners wishing to fight in the Philippines will increase, and that the militants will radicalise disaffected young people. There are also concerns that videos – such as the one showing the cathedral’s destruction and others that show the impact of government bombs on Muslim civilians – will be used to foment hatred among all groups. The Armed Forces of the Philippines have requested that people not circulate the videos on social media.

Within this context, religious and political leaders are working to counter messages of hate. Filipino Muslim leaders have condemned the destruction of the Catholic cathedral, noting: “Let it be known to all that Islam commands all Muslims even in war time to protect places of worship … what this terrorist group has done is un-Islamic and a blatant disrespect and disregard of the teachings of Islam.”  Similarly the political leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front have called on the militants to release the hostages that they are holding.

There are also many reported instances of continuing neighbourly collaboration among those of different faiths. One local Muslim leader, for example, hid over seventy Christians in his basement before leading them in an escape from the city.

The Interreligious Solidarity for Peace and the Zamboanga Peace and Security Forum commented: “While these events have manifested the worst of the self-styled oppressors and threat groups that have hostaged the residents of Marawi, they have brought out the courage and peace-loving character of our people … Muslims protecting Christians in ways that show that we are One Mindanao….”

Please pray:

  • In thanksgiving for Muslims and Christians who are seeking to build bridges through public statements condemning the harm done to their neighbours
  • In thanksgiving for people who have taken enormous risks to protect their neighbours. Pray for their safety and well-being.
  • That those who seek to advance an agenda of violence by fomenting hatred and radicalising young people will not succeed. Pray, too, that their own hearts may be turned from violence and hatred.

The need for peace and development in the region

To counter hatred, however, work also needs to be done on some of the region’s major issues.

The battle around Marawi doesn’t occur in a vacuum: Mindanao has been an area of conflict for centuries, with Muslims in the island’s western area resisting Spanish colonisers from the 16th century onwards. A 2005 World Bank paper referred to it as the ‘second-oldest conflict on earth’.

Following colonisation by the US, attempts by the US and subsequently the government of the Philippines to control the area by resettling Christians from other parts of the Philippines reduced the landholdings of the Moro Muslims to 17% of the territory they had once possessed and encouraged a complex of ethnically, religiously, and economically based tensions. These were exacerbated by the central government’s encouragement of mining and logging in Mindanao for export purposes, and by human rights abuses. From the late 1960s onwards, there have been a series of armed struggles, the first of which was sparked by the killing of a number of Muslim military trainees. Over the decades, the various conflicts have led to over one hundred thousand deaths (estimates range widely), millions of people displaced, and immense damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.

The Government has committed to rebuilding Marawi after its capture, and stated that it “will do everything to ensure normalcy and to deliver services to support the people’s aspirations for a comfortable life.” It’s not just, though, a question of rebuilding what the insurgents have destroyed. There is widespread recognition that for lasting peace to occur, greater self-determination and efforts to redress the socio-economic injustices that have plagued Mindanao will be needed. The peace process, which has faltered under President Rodrigo Duterte, needs to be restarted and the framework for a self-governing region agreed in 2012 implemented. There needs to be greater justice in the use of natural resources. And greater priority needs to be given to the region’s development. The development needs are serious: in the Philippines overall, the poverty incidence in 2015 was 21.6%; in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao [ARMM] , the rates were recently estimated as being about 48.2%. In Lanao del Sur, the ARMM province of which Marawi City is the capital, the poverty incidence is 74.3%.

Christian Monsod, a Filipino lawyer who helped frame the 1987 constitution notes: “The youth is restless and being seduced by the thought of the caliphate … the solution is not martial law but to speed up the peace process and to go into projects that would show the Muslim youth there is a better way to improve their lives.”

Please pray:

  • for reconciliation and peacebuilding that recognises past injustices and works to reconcile – and provide justice for – all communities in Mindanao
  • for justice in the use of natural resources in Mindanao and throughout the Philippines, especially with regard to the rights of minorities and indigenous people
  • for transparent and effective work to rebuild Marawi and to relieve the poverty that afflicts so many people in the region
  • for the work and witness of Christians as they seek to demonstrate God’s reconciling love in the region

The President’s – and wider government’s – response

President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao has caused great anxiety given the current President’s human rights record and the way in which martial law was used by Ferdinand Marcos to establish a dictatorship. Concerns were exacerbated when the President said that “To those who have experienced martial law, it would not be any different from what President Marcos did … I’ll be harsh.”

The Catholic Bishops of Mindanao have issued a letter in response to requests for pastoral guidance. Calling on all people to work for peace, they note many questions surrounding martial law, state that it must be temporary, promise to be vigilant, and “exhort everyone to be calm in the face of Martial Law, to be obedient to the just commands of lawful authority, and not to provoke violent reaction.” They also “urge the government to remove the causes of terrorism, such as poverty and injustice, through just and accountable governance focused solely on the common good.”

To prevent abuses like Marcos’, the 1987 Constitution provides mechanisms for the other branches of government to overturn the executive’s declaration of martial law: “Congress (the Senate and House combined), voting jointly, on a majority vote, may revoke such proclamation; and
 The Supreme Court, upon a suit of any citizen questioning the sufficiency of the basis of martial law, must promulgate its decision on such suit 30 days after filing.
”

At least three Catholic bishops have joined a petition “asking the Supreme Court to compel Congress to hold a joint session and review” the imposition of martial law on the whole of Mindanao. They state that they are doing this not because they are wholly opposed to martial law, but to determine whether it’s necessary for the whole island and to provide checks and balances to the executive branch. This is one of several petitions; the President has said that he will abide by the Supreme Court’s decisions.

Many commentators have expressed the concern that President Duterte’s instincts may tend more towards the use of military power than ‘soft’ power through peacemaking, arguing that while the former is necessary to restore order, the latter is important to create a climate for peace.

Please pray:

  • for wisdom for President Duterte as he decides on responses to the situation in Mindanao
  • that martial law may be used only within legal boundaries
  • for those who will monitor the human rights situation under martial law and those who are working to ensure that constitutional processes are followed
  • for wisdom for the Supreme Court

CCOW Sponsored Walk 

On the 22nd of July, CCOW will be holding our annual sponsored walk. It’s always a very convivial event, with an excellent walk (arranged by Colin Cockshaw), good company, and a pleasant pub lunch along the way. This time Colin’s arranged a route in the Henley area; the start and finish will be accessible both by car and by train.

If you’d like to join in, you can sign up on Eventbrite. We’d love to have your company. And if you can’t make the event but would like to donate to CCOW, please feel free to do that!

Pentecost, Environment Sunday, London, Elections, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Pentecost
  • Environment Sunday: Caring for Creation
  • Short Notes: London Attacks, UK Elections, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Afghanistan

__________________________________________________________________________

Pentecost

We give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit: Advocate, Spirit of truth, teacher, comforter, renewer of life, source of gifts and prophesy, witness to and glorifier of Christ.

Come, Holy Spirit!
As you revealed the truth about Christ
To peoples of every land and language
On the day of Pentecost,
So in our world today
Reveal Christ’s truth to the nations
That all people may come to know
The saving power of Jesus
And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord
May be saved.

We give thanks for the gifts of the Spirit, equipping people throughout the Body of Christ for ministry; for the blessings brought by movements of charismatic renewal; and for the quiet work of the Spirit in places where it may not yet be recognised.

We pray for all who seek to spread the Gospel, witnessing in word and in deed, and especially for those who labour to translate the Gospel into new languages so that people can encounter Christ’s story and teachings in the language of their heart.

We pray for Christians suffering for their faith and thank God for the living water that flows in believers’ hearts, consoling and strengthening them. May all who are in need draw deeply of that water.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.”

Pentecost reminds us that we are part of a vast world church, united in Christ who died for love of the world. To help us meditate on this, Elizabeth prepared last year a powerpoint collage of pictures from around the world accompanied by translations of John 3:16, which is attached.

Environment Sunday: Caring for Creation

Environment Sunday is the 4th of June; it’s the closest Sunday to World Environment Day, which is always on the 5th of June. In an earlier email, we gave links to prayer materials; the prayer above (and in an easy-to-cut-and-paste format at the end of this section) is taken from the Pray and Fast for the Climate resources.

There’s a certain appropriateness to having Environment Sunday fall on Pentecost: we recall, with gratitude and praise, the Spirit’s role in creation and ask the Spirit to guide us in caring for that creation.

At the same time, we’re aware that for many people there’s an irony in celebrating World Environment Day so soon after the President of the United States’ announcement that he would seek to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. We deeply regret the divisions that are evident in this decision – but we are conscious that other countries – and US states, cities, and businesses(EU/China statement; India; new US alliance; Low Carbon USA)- are clearly still committed to climate action. And we give thanks for the sense being expressed in so many quarters that the momentum for positive change is too great for one decision to derail it(Carbon Brief response round-up)

What is more evident now than ever is that what each one of us does to care for creation matters, and that the witness of the church is essential. At Pentecost, pray that we may listen for the Spirit’s guidance … and that our care for creation may be one of the many ways in which we show the Good News of Christ’s love to the world.

Loving God,
Blessed be the works of your hands,
Your Spirit inspires trees and birds and waves into song and dance,
It is that same holy wind that you breathed on your disciples and on all creation,
Let your Spirit blow us to creative love and stewardship that shows reverence for your creation.
Blessed be the works of your hands O Holy One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God now and for ever. Amen

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland

Short Notes: London Attacks, UK Elections, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Afghanistan

London Attacks
We pray this morning for all affected, directly and indirectly, by last night’s attacks. May God grant healing to those who are injured; comfort to those who grieve or mourn; wisdom and strength to emergency responders and to the politicians who must respond in the longer term; reassurance to those who fear being targeted wrongly as a result of others’ thoughts and actions; and a change of heart to all who rejoice in or plan violence.

UK Elections
The second part of this email will set out more on the elections. In the meantime, we would ask you to pray that politicians, electors and the media in this election will be motivated by a desire for the common good – and will have a willingness to hear and assess fairly those who present to them visions of what that might be. We ask for clarity of vision for politicians and electors alike; for media coverage that reflects a love of truth and seeks to engage rather than to marginalise; for elections that take place without incident; and for a spirit of constructive engagement among and with those who are elected.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh
Heavy monsoon rains in Sri Lanka have caused disastrous floods and landslides, killing (according to the latest estimates) more than 200 people, displacing more than 25,000, and affecting almost 700,000. Please pray for all who have been affected and all who are working on relief and recovery. The disaster has also catalysed a debate on the government’s preparedness for disasters; please pray that the results of this debate may be helpful to all Sri Lankans.

The rains from Sri Lanka fed into a disturbance that became Cyclone Mora, which hit Bangladesh as a Category 1 storm. A significant number of fishermen were caught up in the storm and are missing; the Bangladeshi and Indian navies have been searching for them.

The land area most affected by the cyclone is a portion of the country that is home to Rohingya refugees, many of them undocumented, who have fled violence against them in neighbouring Myanmar. Most of the refugees live in makeshift settlements, which were devastated by the storm.

Launching an appeal on their behalf, the International Organization for Migration, which coordinates work in the area, noted that in an area which is home to over 130,000 people, the storm had destroyed 25 per cent of shelters and damaged up to 80 per cent. “Food and fuel supplies were destroyed, electricity lines were cut, and health and sanitation infrastructure was also badly damaged,” the organisation stated.

Internally displaced people in Myanmar also suffered, according to the UN. The last thing people who have already suffered so much needed was more suffering: please pray for them and for those working on relief efforts. Pray too that the global community may increase its pressure for justice for the Rohingya and for all the beleaguered minorities of Myanmar.

Afghanistan

Please pray for all affected by violence in Kabul this week. A truck bomb on Thursday killed almost 100 people; several protesters calling for greater security were killed by police seeking to disperse the crowds; and at least seven people were killed and over one hundred injured in three suicide explosions at the funeral of one of the protesters, who was the son of the Senate’s Deputy Speaker, a prominent opponent of the Taliban.

Over seven hundred Afghan civilians have been killed so far this year. Please pray for healing for all who have been injured or who mourn, peace for those who are fearful for their family and friends going about their daily business, and wisdom for those charged with keeping order. Pray for something to break through and turn the hearts of the violent towards peace.

Pray too that those countries which are pressuring or requiring refugees to return to Afghanistan may cease doing so, given the unsafe nature of the country.

Manchester & Egypt, Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade, Tobacco, Climate Prayers – 28 May 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Manchester and Egypt
  • Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade
  • World No Tobacco Day
  • Short Note: Pray and Fast Prayer Points

In the Revised Common Lectionary readings this week, Jesus says: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” An appropriate reading for this first Sunday of Thy Kingdom Come! Pray that people everywhere may come to know Christ.
____________________________________________________________________________

Manchester and Egypt

#Egypt #Manchester #Westminster #Paris #Berlin #Stockholm #Nigeria #Pakistan #Iraq#FellowshipInSuffering #StrengthInPrayer #PowerInLove

Tweet from Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

The tweet above, from Bishop Angaelos, came just after we learned that the week that had begun with sorrow in Manchester was ending with sorrow in Egypt. As a Bishop in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop Angaelos understands well the fellowship in suffering that unfortunately unites people in so many parts of the world. As we pray for those affected by this week’s attacks, we also lift before God the many still suffering from previous violence, whether acts of terrorism or acts undertaken as part of more conventional conflicts.

Prayers for Those Affected by Manchester Bombing

Prayer Points for Those Affected by Recent Attacks in Egypt (taken from statements)

 

Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade

The announcement on 23 May by Sainsbury’s that it plans to replace its own-brand Fairtrade Red Label,  Gold Label, green and rooibos teas with a new ‘Fairly Traded’ brand (press release and documents) has caused concern among both Fairtade producers and Fairtrade consumers.

A fuller briefing paper will be available shortly, but in summary, the changes to tea are part of a broader proposed change in Sainsbury’s sourcing of what it describes as its “35 key crops and ingredients” – ultimately including not only tea but also, by 2020, other Fairtrade products such as coffee, bananas and sugar.

The new  programme offers benefits for farmers – tailored advice to help deal with the challenges of climate change, for example, and long term Memoranda of Understanding promising purchasing and volume commitments.

But a sustainable supply chain established by a major retailer is not the same thing as Fairtrade, where the aim is not merely to have sustainability and traceability but to redress the balance between producers and the major buyers. And this is where the new programme seems much weaker than Fairtrade: as Traidcraft’s CEO said: “We fear that this new scheme from Sainsbury’s may instead consolidate the power of the retailer over the supply chain.”

The new Sainsbury’s programme would require producers to agree to a new set of ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards’ established by the supermarket in conjunction with a global risk compliance firm into which the affected producer groups appear to have had no direct input. Information released publicly thus far does not make clear who will determine the programme’s guaranteed minimum prices. And crucially, the programme removes the ‘social premium’ – the money paid to producers for community and business development – from the producers’ direct control, forcing them to apply to a UK-based ‘Sainsbury Foundation’ to get funding for any proposed projects.

This last point was the grounds on which Fairtrade Africa refused the partnership and the Fairtrade Foundation announced itself unable to participate. We would strongly recommend reading the entirety of an open letter posted on the Fairtrade Africa website, which explains their reasoning. The following extracts give a sense of the arguments:

“Fairtrade is owned 50% by the producers it represents and we, Fairtrade tea farmers, workers, producer members of Fairtrade Africa, are unanimous in our decision to reject this unequal partnership with the Sainsbury’s Foundation. We believe it will strip us of rights and benefits attained over the years under the Fairtrade system.

Our position is based on the response of our representatives who heard directly about the detail of the model from Sainsbury’s who recently visited Kenya and Malawi. Whilst we appreciate Sainsbury’s overall aim and ambition to improve their supply chains, we are fundamentally opposed to their plans to take over the control and management of Fairtrade Premium …. the proposed ring-fencing of the Fairtrade Premium is  unacceptable and we have outlined this to them as a non-negotiable. As producers we are very aware that when consumers choose Fairtrade purchases, they expect the benefits to go directly to producers. Premium is not donor money but is created through a commitment to purchase Fairtrade products by conscious consumers …

We are particularly concerned that within the proposed model, Sainsbury’s approval process means that any project requested by producers in Africa can be rejected by a few decision makers in the UK. This process will jeopardise our existing long term development strategies and further threaten   premium pooled projects from our other committed Fairtrade buyers.

We told Sainsbury’s loud and clear: “Your model will bring about disempowerment”. We are extremely concerned about the power and control that Sainsbury’s seeks to exert over us which actually feels reminiscent of colonial rule. We work for, OWN our product and OWN our premium. We see the proposed approach as an attempt to replace the autonomous role which Fairtrade brings and replace it with a model which no longer balances the power between producers and buyers.

There are many questions yet to be answered, but as we await answers, please pray:

  • 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 and of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward
  • 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.

If you would like to take action:

  • if you are a representative of an institution (town, village, school, diocese, district or synod, etc) that has a commitment to Fairtrade, please email us for guidance.
  • If you would like to take action as an individual, there is a petition on Change.org.

 

World No Tobacco Day

Most people are aware that tobacco has a staggeringly deleterious effect on both personal and public health. But as the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco day makes clear, its impacts go well beyond the sphere of health – creating “a millstone around the neck of global development”.

What are some of the impacts of tobacco? Is there any good news? And what can be done to counter tobacco’s deadly impacts?

Smoking Rates and Health Impacts

A recent analysis of the prevalence of smoking globally and the disease burden attributable to it, published in The Lancet (full article here; editorial comment here), found that “worldwide, one in four men, and a total of 933 million people, are estimated to be current daily smokers…. Half of these, or half a billion people alive today, can be expected to be killed prematurely by their smoking unless they quit.”  In 2015, 11.5% of global deaths (6.4 million) were attributable to smoking and smoking was the second leading risk factor for early death and disability worldwide.

The prevalence of smoking is actually falling globally. Between 1990 and 2015 there was a 28% reduction in the prevalence of smoking amongst men, and a 34% reduction amongst women. Rates amongst adolescents also fell significantly in this period – from 16.1% to 10.6% for men and from 4.8% to 3.0% for women. This is all clearly encouraging. However, the pace of reduction varied from country to country, with greater reductions being seen in high socio-demographic index countries and Latin America, “probably reflecting concerted efforts to implement strong tobacco control policies and programmes”. Furthermore, even though low- and middle-income countries  saw variable decreases in smoking prevalence, the overall disease burden attributable to smoking in these countries increased due to population growth and ageing. And the majority of smokers – around 80% – live in these countries.

Because of these demographics, overall global deaths due to smoking are expected to rise in the coming years. In an editorial on the imperative of tobacco elimination, The Lancet says, “Currently, around 6 million people die from tobacco use every year, a figure that is projected to rise to 8 million by 2030 unless stronger measures are taken. Most (80%) of deaths are expected to occur in low-income and middle-income countries, and everywhere tobacco use is concentrated in the poorest and most vulnerable people”.

Impacts on Child Labourers

Whilst the diseases caused by smoking are well known, some of the other impacts of tobacco are less often discussed. For example, children who work in tobacco farming are especially vulnerable to ‘green tobacco sickness’, caused by the absorption of nicotine through the skin as a result of handling wet tobacco leaves. Ayu, a 13-year old girl from Indonesia who helps her parents cultivate tobacco, described to Human Rights Watch the symptoms she experiences when harvesting tobacco: “I was throwing up when I was so tired from harvesting and carrying the [harvested tobacco] leaf. My stomach is like, I can’t explain, it’s stinky in my mouth. I threw up so many times…. My dad carried me home. It happened when we were harvesting. It was so hot, and I was so tired…. The smell is not good when we’re harvesting. I’m always throwing up every time I’m harvesting.” Human Rights Watch says these symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.

The particular threat to children from tobacco makes it especially appropriate that next weekend is the Viva Network World weekend of Prayer for Children at Risk. Viva is an international charity focused on releasing children from poverty and abuse.

Wider Impacts on Development

This year, World No Tobacco Day focuses on the wider threat tobacco poses for development. In a short video produced for this year’s campaign, Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director for the Prevention of Non Communicable Diseases, says, “It’s not just health that tobacco damages. Tobacco use is a major barrier to sustainable development on a number of fronts: food security, gender equity, education, economic growth and environment just to name a handful. It is a millstone around the neck of global development…. [Low- and middle-income countries] bear almost 40% of the global economic costs of smoking [with] health expenditure and lost productivity estimated at over US $1.4 trillion – a truly staggering figure”.

The US National Cancer Institute’s monograph on The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control expands on the connections between poverty, development and tobacco saying, “Tobacco use is concentrated among the poor and other vulnerable groups, and tobacco use accounts for a significant share of the health disparities between the rich and poor. These disparities are exacerbated by a lack of access to health care and the diversion of household spending from other basic needs, such as food and shelter, to tobacco use. Moreover, tobacco use contributes to poverty, as illnesses caused by tobacco lead to increased health care spending and reduced income.” More specific statistics were presented at a World Bank event, reported on by William Savedoff in his blog for the Center for Global Development. He writes, “Average consumption of cigarettes is more than twice as high among the poorest quintile than the richest in countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Uruguay. Researchers at the event presented studies on Chile and Armenia that demonstrated how the poor are more likely than the rich to smoke, to die from smoking, to suffer ill health and high medical costs from smoking, and to impoverish themselves and their children by smoking.”

Where does responsibility lie and what can be done to change this situation?

The Lancet and other commentators are striking in their condemnation of tobacco companies. In his editorial ‘Death, Disease and Tobacco’ John Britton writes, “Responsibility for this global health disaster lies mainly with the trans national tobacco companies, which clearly hold the value of human life in very different regard to most of the rest of humanity”. William Savedoff’s blog is similarly damning – reflected in its title, ‘The World’s Most Profitable Disaster: Tobacco’. He writes, “[Tobacco companies] profit immeasurably from selling cigarettes. Prabhat Jha estimates that every $10,000 in profit is associated with one premature death… And profits are huge… Cigarette companies are one of the best investments you can find.”

Also remarkably consistent is the call for increased taxation to reduce the demand for tobacco – and consequently its adverse impacts. The WHO say, “Tobacco taxes are the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young and poor people. A tax increase that increases tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and about 5% in low- and middle-income countries”. Dr Douglas Bettcher expands on this saying, “Increasing tobacco tax and prices is one of the most effective yet least utilized control measures that countries can use…. Tobacco taxation is a unique tool for reducing non-communicable diseases, death and generating revenues for governments to support universal health care… If all countries increased taxes by just one international dollar (about 80 US cents) an extra US $140 billion would be generated… This windfall of funds could be used to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.” William Savedoff puts it particularly succinctly when he writes, “The bottom line: raising tobacco taxes will save lives. Tripling excise taxes around the world would double prices, reduce consumption by about one-third and avoid 200 million deaths in this century.”

 

Please pray:

  • In thanksgiving for all the campaigns that have led to a reduction in the prevalence of smoking world wide – and for the people behind these initiatives.
  • For all young people affected by tobacco – those whose health is damaged by second hand smoke, young people tempted to start smoking and those affected by working in the tobacco industry.
  • For investors to understand the consequences of their investment choices and to divest from tobacco.
  • For imagination and determination on the part of policy makers to increase measures, including taxation, which will lead to reduced tobacco demand.

 

Short Note: Pray and Fast Prayer Points

The June Pray and Fast for the Climate prayer points are now available. They include information about the UK election, progress on renewable energy, developments in the earth’s oceans (and responses to those developments), new campaigns, and more. Download them here.

One further prayer point for this week relates to the G7 communique, which states:

“The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policiest on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics. Understanding this process,  the Heads of State and of Government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement, as previously stated at the Ise-Shima Summit.”

This is the outcome of apparently quite intense negotiations, in which participants in the meeting attempted to persuade the United States of the importance of remaining in the Agreement and honouring commitments.

Give thanks that the other members of the G7 stood firm in their commitment and pray that they will match words with deeds.

President Trump has stated that he will make his decision on the Paris Agreement this week. Pray for wisdom for him and for his advisors as they make their decision and that if the US does stay in the Paris Agreement it does so in a way that is constructive.

Featured Image Photocredit: Heart of Candles and Flower, James O’Hanlon, used under Creative Commons License.

Depression, Climate, Paraguay, South Africa, Trade: 2 April 2017

In this week’s email:

  • World Health Day – 7 April
  • Pray and Fast for the Climate – April
  • Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter
  • John Madeley

Can these dry bones live? Whether these words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings make you think about dry places in your own life or other people affected by spiritual, mental or physical dryness, it’s a question which we’ve all asked at some point. Thanks be to God for the hope of new life in this week’s readings … and in the saving work of Christ on the cross, which we are preparing to celebrate.

World Health Day – 7 April

World Health Day, held annually on the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s founding in 1948, is “a unique opportunity to mobilize action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.” This year the WHO has  chosen to focus on depression.

Perhaps the same impulses that mean we are often reluctant to talk about depression here in the UK mean that people don’t raise it as a genuine and pressing issue in other situations around the world. But it is no less real for that – and no less real than more obvious issues like hunger. Indeed, last October the WHO launched a year-long campaign, Depression: Let’s Talk, focusing on depression as a global issue.

In their recent publication ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders – Global Health Estimates’, the WHO report that globally the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015.

That’s more than 4% of the world’s population. And contrary to the common supposition that depression is a ‘Western’ disease, 80% of the people affected live in low- and middle-income countries, and the highest rate of depression is 5.9% among women in the African region. Depression is more prevalent in women than in men in every WHO region (and, globally, across all age groups).

Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to suffer mental health problems in emergency situations. Mental health problems can be induced both by the emergency itself (for example as a result of grief, distress, family separation, loss of livelihood or the tearing of the fabric of ordinary life) and also by circumstances arising during the humanitarian response (for example through overcrowding in camps, lack of privacy or anxiety caused by a lack of information). In addition, an emergency can exacerbate people’s pre-existing conditions.

In a World Bank blog Patricio V. Marquez calls for more to address these issues, noting “While most of those exposed to emergencies suffer some form of psychological distress, accumulated evidence shows that 15-20% of crisis-affected populations develop mild-to moderate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And, 3-4% develop severe mental disorders, such as psychosis or debilitating depression and anxiety, which affect their ability to function and survive.” Mental health issues affected over 10% of people visiting clinics in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015 and recent harrowing reports from Syria show the profoundly traumatic impact the conflict is having on children’s mental health. In their recent report, Invisible Wounds, Save the Children quote a teacher from the besieged town of Madaya who told them, “The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” Save the Children also reference a 2015 study of Syrian refugee children in Turkey, which found that 45% of the children showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 44% showed symptoms of depression.

As we think about and pray for people suffering debilitating depression in traumatic situations of crisis, we also want to remember and pray for people who might not be ‘clinically’ depressed, but whose mental well-being is adversely affected by crises or by chronically difficult situations – perhaps of poverty or providing long-term care. The reality of this issue was forcefully brought home to me (Elizabeth) back in 2005 when I visited a home-based care project for people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. At the time, antiretroviral drugs were not commonly available, and death rates were very high. I spent a morning with Anne, a nurse counsellor, visiting clients in the area she supervised. I was able to meet some of the people she helped care for: women living in extreme poverty who received nursing care, medicines, nutritional supplements and practical help with cooking and cleaning from volunteers of the home-based care (HBC) programme. The love and care shown to the clients by the HBC staff and volunteers was deeply moving and greatly appreciated by the recipients. But it came at a cost. Anne told me about the burn-out that staff and volunteers commonly experienced from the relentless cycle of “making friends with clients, seeing them struggle with insufficient food, and eventually dying… and the toll of constant funerals”.

Please pray:

  • For all people living with depression – that they might find support and healing.
  • For the WHO’s Depression: Let’s Talk campaign – that it would help to break some of the stigma associated with depression and other mental health disorders, help people to become better informed about depression, and encourage people with depression to seek help.
  • In thanksgiving for the recognition, by the WHO and other agencies, of the need to integrate mental health care into how they respond to emergencies. See here for more.
  • For agencies working in crisis situations as they work to provide effective mental health care.
  • For the children of Syria and other conflicts, who have experienced trauma and mental scarring – that they might find healing and peace.
  • For the millions of unknown people who feel overwhelmed and burnt-out by the care they provide in chronically difficult circumstances.

Pray and Fast for the Climate – April

The first of each month is marked as a day to Pray and Fast for the Climate – but we need prayers for climate action throughout the month … so we’re including the Pray and Fast April prayer points with this email.

Please do use the materials in your public and private prayers throughout this month.  And during the Easter season, look forward to some stories of hope from Christians who are working to care for creation, sometimes under difficult circumstances ….

Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter

Please pray for …

  • Paraguay

    Paraguay’s capital of Asunción erupted last night as protesters demonstrated against a secret Senate vote in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing the current President, Horacio Cartes, to run for re-election in 2018. Pray for a just and peaceful solution to the situation and to the wider political and economic issues facing the country.

  • South Africa

    South Africa also faces political instability – and, many are arguing a fundamental choice of direction (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Oscar van Heerden, Mail & Guardian, Richard Calland, FT, ) – after President Jacob Zuma, over the objections of many in his party, fired widely-respected Treasury Minister Pravin Gordhan in a major cabinet reshuffle. Gordhan had opposed state corruption, and his ousting and replacement with a Zuma loyalist is seen as problematic both economically and politically. The Archbishop of Cape Town described this as “an assault on the poor,” adding, “Who stands to gain when corrupt elites enrich themselves on the side while doing deals worth billions of rand with state-owned enterprises? … I hope the ruling party will reflect on how they are betraying the hopes of our people and take appropriate action. Civil society too will have to consider for how long we stand by helplessly and watch the gains of our democracy destroyed.”

    Pray for wisdom for all in government and all in positions of religious, economic and social leadership. Pray for moves that increase justice and transparency, reduce corruption and inequality, and provide stability and a better life for all South Africa’s people.

  • Brexit and Trade

    There’s much to pray for around post-Brexit trading arrangements, but today we’d commend two points. First, pray for a new campaign that asks the government to  protect people from the world’s poorest countries against negative trade impacts following Brexit … and to go further by promoting development-friendly trade. Secondly, the US has just released its 2017 report on what it considers ‘foreign trade barriers’. If you read the chapter on barriers to trade with the EU, you’ll see that it includes many environmental, chemical and food standards that help to promote care for creation. If these are considered ‘trade barriers’, they will almost certainly be key negotiating targets in any bilateral deal that the US does with the UK. Pray firstly for US politicians to grow in their desire to care for creation – and secondly for UK politicians to be prepared to stand up for higher standards while negotiating new deals.

  • Fair Trade at Easter

    Please do remind people in your churches about Fairtrade Easter treats, especially the Real Easter Egg (available in Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and a few Co-ops, as well as online through Traidcraft and the Meaningful Chocolate Company itself). Many churches have already ordered the eggs for parishioners … but there are always a few people still looking late in the day. The Real Easter Egg is Fairtrade-certified, offers a donation to charity, and tells the story of Easter … a win/win all around.


John Madeley

It was with great regret that we learned this week of the death of John Madeley, a leading writer on development issues – especially around trade – and a good friend to CCOW for the past several decades.

John combined gentle kindness, a deep spirituality, and a fierce passion for justice for the poor. We give thanks for his life, and ask God to send comfort to all who mourn his death.

Love of Creation, Mothering Sunday, Tuberculosis… : 24 March 2017

In this week’s email:

  • ‘For the Love of Creation’ powerpoint (sent as separate email yesterday)
  • Mothering Sunday
  • Tuberculosis
  • Yemen Humanitarian Crisis
  • Sanctification and Unity

Mothering Sunday

If you’re still looking for Mothering Sunday prayer resources, you might want to look at these:


Tuberculosis

“Isn’t it worrying that even today we don’t know the exact number of multidrug resistant TB cases in this country? Isn’t it scary that most MDR patients are misdiagnosed and treated incorrectly? What is worse is that most Indians cannot access the right diagnostics or drugs. Why are we letting a curable disease become so powerful?” –Deepti Chavan, a 32-year-old from Mumbai.

The 24th of March was World Tuberculosis Day. It’s a good reminder to pray for all suffering because of – and/or working to prevent and cure – this ‘voiceless’ disease, which despite its low profile is responsible, according to the WHO, for about 5,000 deaths a day.

Ending the global TB epidemic by 2030 is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not a simple task, though, and at present, despite diagnosis and treatment efforts that saved an estimated 49 million lives from 2000 to 2015, the incidence of infection is not falling rapidly enough to meet interim milestones.

Why is it hard to tackle TB? As with many diseases poverty often heightens the risk of being infected with tuberculosis, while reducing chances of accessing treatment – and doing things that can help build health, like eating well. Tackling TB therefore means not only ensuring transfers of medical knowledge and prioritising work on the medical aspects of TB, but also tackling broad socio-economic challenges, whether in  high-income, middle-income, or low-income countries. The difficulties are compounded by the emergence of multi-drug-resistant (MDR), extensively drug-resistant (XDR) and incurable tuberculosis, which are especially challenging to diagnose, as well as to treat or (in the case of incurable TB) to manage well.

The combination of issues facing people in poverty comes out clearly in an interview with one MDR TB patient who lives in a shack in a crowded township in South Africa, one of six middle-income countries which together account for 60% of global TB new incidences. She states:

I was expecting [to get TB] because … I was living with my grandma and my sister also who was having TB … I knew that one day I’ll have it … Now I’m getting the treatment. I feel fine in my body, but emotionally I can’t feel fine because there at clinic they said that you should eat this, you should eat that … and I can’t afford that, because I can’t work.”

A Lancet commission released to mark World Tuberculosis Day underlines the seriousness of MDR and XDR tuberculosis as global health risks – especially because MDR tuberculosis appears often to be transmitted (ie spread from person to person) rather than acquired as a result of failed treatment, as had been previously thought. The report stresses that to break the pattern of transmissions, the global community needs to

  • prioritise the development of new tools to diagnose and treat MDR and XDR tuberculosis. This involves increased funding: the article notes that “investment in tuberculosis research and development was US$674 million in 2014, which is a third of the $2 billion needed annually to eliminate tuberculosis, estimated by the Stop TB Partnership”
  • reduce the stigma associated with TB in order to increase people’s willingness to seek care
  • make access to fast, accurate diagnostic techniques available to all so that MDR tuberculosis can be detected early and treated before infectious patients spread it to others
  • offer all tuberculosis patients access to treatment protocols that are aligned with the latest science and appropriate for their particular case.
  • ensure that treatment is patient-centred, including not only medical treatment but counselling and treatment literacy, social and economic support and full respect of patients’ human rights, and
  • tackle the issues of poverty and overcrowding that provide an enabling environment for infection

“I’m feeling proud of myself now, because with this new treatment, it’s very good.”
“Even now I can … talk, I can do anything, everything in the house, and then I feel free.” 
Drug-resistant TB sufferers participating in a new trial

In a comment piece accompanying the Lancet Commission, other leading experts reflect on both the threats the article notes and some signs of encouragement – especially the appearance of a short oral treatment paradigm for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB that seems to show high potential. They conclude:

“Ultimately, Dheda and colleagues are describing an epidemic that is at a crossroads. Every year, strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis will emerge that are more transmissible, more difficult to treat, and more widespread in the community. Yet we also have more tools at our disposal than ever before. And unlike for most other drug-resistant pathogens, we have evidence that, with a comprehensive response, drug-resistant tuberculosis epidemics can be rapidly reversed. Over the next decade, it is quite possible that we will see a drug-resistant tuberculosis epidemic of unprecedented global scale. But it is also possible that the next decade could witness an unprecedented reversal of the global drug-resistant tuberculosis burden. The difference between these two outcomes lies less with the pathogen and more with us as a global tuberculosis control community and whether we have the political will to prioritise a specific response to the disease. Drug-resistant tuberculosis is not standing still; neither can we.”

 

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Perry, from For the Love of Creation powerpoint.

 

Please pray:

  • for all people infected with or affected by tuberculosis. Pray that they will be healed medically and that they will be able to access the social and economic support they need to lead a good life.
  • in thanksgiving for work to develop new ways of diagnosing and treating TB, especially the breakthrough in genome sequencing announced this week
  • in thanksgiving for the efforts of family, carers and local health workers, often undertaken despite risks to their own safety. Pray for their safety and well-being
  • that both the global community and countries with high TB incidences will prioritise funding for diagnosing and treating TB
  • that better awareness of how the disease is contracted and treated, together with stronger community health systems, will help to end the stigma attached to TB and lead more people to seek early diagnosis and treatment
Further Reading:
If you want to read a little further on the issues: try a brief article by the lead author of the Lancet commission or the Reuters summary
If you want to go in depth: Lancet Podcast (7+ minutes) and Commission  (Listening to the podcast does not require free registration; the commission does) … or the WHO’s recent report on fighting TB in South-East Asia


Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

This Sunday the conflict in Yemen will enter its third year. It is hard to overstate its catastrophic nature for many of the country’s people. The direct casualties of conflict include more than 100 civilians killed last month and at least 4,773 killed and more than 8,700 (perhaps many more) injured over the course of the conflict. But the huge damage lies in the damage done to social and economic structures and hence to people’s ability to access work, food, shelter and healthcare. Millions of people are internally displaced; the economy has been shattered; health services are lacking; and health workers face obstruction (just this week MSF has decided to pull out of a hospital because of Houthi interference). Overall, the UN estimates that 21 million Yemenis, 82% of the country’s population, “are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.”

Of these, the World Food Programme estimates that about 7 million are severely food insecure – and it is the food crisis that is most worrying. The WFP has warned that two areas, which are home to about 25% of the country’s population, “risk slipping into famine.”  Focusing on the conflict’s youngest victims, Dr Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative, stated: “We are seeing the highest levels of acute malnutrition in Yemen’s recent history. Of the 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition, 462,000 are severely and acutely malnourished (SAM). To put things in perspective, a SAM child is ten times more at risk of death if not treated on time than a healthy child his or her age.”

The UN managed to reach 4.9 million people with food assistance in February, but because warring parties have restricted access and funding for the UN Yemen appeal is extremely low (according to Oxfam, the appeal is only 7% funded), they have not been able to do as much as they would like.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called for:

  • all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end”
  • “[all parties] to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance”
  • “an international, independent investigative body to look into the hundreds of reports of serious violations in Yemen” and an end to impunity for rights violations

Oxfam, which also works in Yemen, is:

  • “urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country” and
  • “calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.”

It has also echoed the appeal for UN funding.

Please pray that:

  • civilians who are suffering from injury, hunger, ill health or displacement will be able to access what they need and will be given strength and a sense of peace amidst their difficulties
  • warring parties will lift barriers to humanitarian access so that essential aid can reach those who need it
  • the hearts of those who are making war will soften and be turned towards peace
  • all who are working for a ceasefire and, ultimately, a fair and just peace will be given wisdom, courage and stamina to keep going despite the difficulties
  • there will be an independent investigation of rights abuses
  • appeals will receive sufficient funding to enable the provision of adequate relief

 

Action Point: Could you donate to a charity that is assisting people in Yemen? These include CAFOD, Oxfam, Tearfund and the World Food Programme.


Sanctification and Unity

For meditation and prayer:

Jesus said: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17: 6, 15-26 (ESV-UK)

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.

 

 

Fairtrade, Church Action on Poverty, Malta Declaration: 26 Feb 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Fairtrade Fortnight
  • Poor Church, Transfigured Church
  • Malta Declaration

The Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings begins with Christ’s transfiguration – Jesus, Peter, James and John ascend a mountain, and the awestruck disciples behold their master, shining as God had when he revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, in conversation with Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. A voice proclaims the Christ as God’s son, the Beloved. And then … they are alone again. Things are normal. And Jesus reveals that he is now on his way to death. As we enter Lent, can we take time apart, in quiet, with Christ, asking for the grace to perceive His glory … and to follow the way of the cross?
___________________________________________________________________________

Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade Fortnight begins this Monday – and already there’s been a significant announcement and the launch of a new short advertising film.

Co-op Announcement

The announcement was genuinely a major one, indicating that by the end of May 2017 the Co-op would become the first UK retailer to use only Fairtrade cocoa across its entire own-brand product range. This affects over 200 products, including everything from chocolate bars to the sprinkles on its doughnuts to the battering on frozen fish. The retailer estimates that the increased usage will see a five-fold rise in its purchasing of cocoa on Fairtrade terms, and will create £450,000 a year in social premium payments for cocoa communities, in addition to the payment of the Fairtrade price.

The Co-op’s Fairtrade strategy manager, Brad Hill, noted that the switch had been made possible by the retailer’s “working hard with the Fairtrade Foundation to produce a successful ‘retail ready’ version of the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program.” The company’s own-brand chocolate will continue to bear the FAIRTRADE Mark, as it will use not only Fairtrade cocoa but also Fairtrade ingredients wherever this is possible. For other products, where the cocoa is the only Fairtrade ingredient, the assumption is that the Co-op’s labels will use the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program logo, which allows manufacturers and retailers to note the Fairtrade Cocoa element of a product without going fully Fairtrade.

This is precisely the kind of outcome that the Fairtrade Foundation was hoping for when it introduced the Cocoa Sourcing Program, and both it and the Co-op have expressed the hope that other retailers will follow suit … much as they did after the Co-op became the first major retailer to turn all its own-brand chocolate Fairtrade in 2002. With the Co-op the new development appears very positive: it would seem that their commitment to their fully Fairtrade brands remains, and the expansion of their use of Fairtrade cocoa in ancillary products benefits producers. There has been concern, however, that some manufacturers and retailers could use the Cocoa Sourcing Program to move from Fairtrade to ‘Fairtrade-lite’, using only Fairtrade cocoa where they used to use all Fairtrade ingredients, reducing the amount of other ingredients (such as sugar or vanilla) bought on the Fairtrade market, and cutting their costs in a way that undermines those who remain with the higher costs of producing fully Fairtrade goods.

Why Fairtrade matters

Why does it matter whether Fairtrade flourishes? That’s a question that the Foundation’s ‘Don’t Feed Exploitation’ campaign – and the short film that accompanies it – seeks to answer. The film, used as an advertisement, confronts ordinary people with the fact that cheap prices are often underpinned by exploitative practices, such as child labour. It’s a deliberately hard-hitting message.

And it’s a message we can’t afford to forget. Last week we asked for prayer for those detained protesting against low wages and poor working conditions in Bangladesh. This week we give thanks that, responding to pressure from organisations and businesses, the Bangladeshi Labour Ministry met with the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) and the Manufacturers’ Association BGMEA on Thursday; the Bangladeshi government released some detainees; and it pledged to release all those remaining and to call for reinstatement offers for fired workers. This is real progress –  give thanks for it, and for the actions of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the major retailers (H&M, Inditex [parent of Zara], Gap, C & A, VF Corporation, Next and Tchibo) who refused to attend the government’s Dhaka Apparel Summit focused on sustainability as a protest against the government’s actions. There is no question that their actions – and by extension the actions of those who press the companies on corporate responsibility issues – had an impact.

But while we can rejoice in that, the conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh remain untenable, and much more work needs to be done there, and in countries around the world, to ensure that people are able to work in safe conditions with fair pay. Fairtrade is part of that work – and it matters.

 

We’re attaching some of our Fairtrade prayers for use during Fairtrade Fortnight (more resources are here). In addition, as Fortnight begins, please pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade has encouraged people around the world to be mindful of those who produce the goods they use
  • in thanksgiving for the Co-op’s action to increase use of Fairtrade cocoa
  • that the Co-op’s move will lead to greater use of Fairtrade products by other retailers, and that the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program will benefit cocoa producers without reducing the market for other ingredients and for fully Fairtrade products
  • in thanksgiving for the release of the detained labour leaders in Bangladesh and for the evidence that a principled stance by businesses can have a wider impact
  • that this will not be an isolated event but will lead to better working conditions and pay for Bangladeshi garment workers
  • that those who farm or produce manufactured goods everywhere will have enjoy the right to fair remuneration, free association, and safe working conditions.


Action Point:
One of the areas where Fairtrade has the potential to make the greatest difference is in small-scale and artisanal mining for gold. There are a very few remaining tickets for Greg Valerio’s Fairtrade Gold talk on Shrove Tuesday. Tickets close tomorrow at noon: please register here if you wish to come.


Poor Church, Transfigured Church

This Sunday is Church Action on Poverty Sunday. It falls on the day we celebrate the Transfiguration and has as its theme “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”.

In the resources for the day, Church Action on Poverty ask congregations to reflect on the challenge of what it means to be a church for – or of – the poor. How can we ask God to transform us to enable this to happen?

Our congregations locally will each have their own reflections on this – please let us know your thoughts. As a contribution to reflection, Elizabeth recently interviewed some of the regional facilitators for the Anglican Alliance, which “has a mandate to bring together development, relief and advocacy work across the [Anglican] Communion.” The facilitators’ thoughts are presented below, together with the Church Action on Poverty prayer for this Sunday.

A church of the poor

June Nderitu (Regional Facilitator for Africa)

I think it’s important to note that the church in Africa is part of the social fabric. The church is a community. For a lot of people the church is their family. So the church is a church of the poor, for the poor and with the poor. I don’t think there’s any church (at least the ones that I know) that doesn’t have some concern for the poor. I think “poor” is a very loose term because “poor” can mean anything. If you’re talking about economic poverty, where people maybe have fewer resources or lower incomes you will find a bit of segregation. Especially in urban areas some churches are not attended by poor people. That’s normal. But they will still have a concern for the poor. So they will have their programmes… they do stuff like donate money, clothes, especially when churches in the lower income areas have some trouble: churches have been known to be burnt down or families lose everything in a fire or flood or whatever.

Ministering and working with the poor is as old as the church itself. We have schools, we have health centres, skills centres. I don’t think there’s been a time when we’ve not had [them]. They might not have been programmatic (which is more modern) but there’s always been that focus. And for churches that are a bit more advanced in how they engage, they actually have full-fledged departments for development.

We are at a cross roads, where more and more people are embracing an assets-based approach. We still have pockets of dependency, where people think that the poor can only be helped, but I think that is diminishing and the assets-base is coming to the fore more and more. I think a lot of work needs to be done, especially with the church leaders because when they say it’s going to be assets-based the community will follow suit. But if the leaders themselves have this dependency thing in their heads and they don’t want to be envisioned about it then the community will remain stagnant – and they will always be saying what they don’t have. So the assets-based is becoming the centre. At CAPA (the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa) and the Alliance we say that the future of economic development is going to change drastically over the landscape of Africa because when it becomes asset-based… communities start asking what are we going to do with what we have. It may not necessarily happen everywhere, because dependency has taken very many years to cement, but there will be pockets of difference and we can already see that. I remember a lady I once visited somewhere in Kenya who lives in a very dry area, and she said that when she looked at her environment with asset-based eyes she was shocked at the number of resources around her. She was a teacher and used to rely on her teacher’s salary but now she has so many other things that give her income. And she said “having more money in my pocket means I give more in church”… which is true. Actually, all the churches that have taken CCM (Church Community Mobilisation) seriously, their giving has grown exponentially. They are able to pay their quotas [diocesan allocations] by March and they have money to spare. So they are able to build their own churches without fundraisers or relying on outside help. They become self-reliant and are able to pursue big scary, hairy dreams that otherwise they would never think of without thinking of a donor – like water projects or dairy projects.

Tagolyn Kabekabe (Regional Facilitator for the Pacific)

In the Pacific we say that people make up the churches. So the church is a church for the poor with the poor and of the poor. There is no space for people to be marginalised within our churches. So the people have been involved in all the church work and all the activities over a long period of time, and have brought it to what it is today. So in a way we can say that the church empowers the people but the people also empower the church – in the various activities that are being carried out in the different parishes and communities. And people embrace the church.
In the Pacific there’s not really so much of that looking at different layers of the community – such as the educated and those who are from rural communities. Everybody participates, wherever they are… There aren’t really groupings. People are able to worship together without difference or discrimination. There’s no such thing as that. People come together…. We don’t talk about people being poor… we don’t have this conversation. And yet they do exist within the community. The Mothers’ Union do a lot of work around this because they are the ones who talk to women and they know the situations families are confronted with. So in their organisation they attend to the needs of those who may not have [much], but seriously speaking, we do not talk about “they are poor people, we are better off” and speaking collectively as “we are from this parish, we are Anglicans” lessens that discriminatory attitude. I think that’s an important strength that we have within churches in the Pacific that we don’t discriminate.

Clifton Nedd (Regional Facilitator for the Caribbean)

My region is vast and varies from country to country or diocese to diocese but in some areas you do tend to find the old colonial model of the church being comprised predominantly of perhaps those who have a bit more money and wealth than those who lack that material wealth in some instances but more and more up and down the region the church is emerging and really finding itself as a church whose base is among the masses of the people.

The word “poor” is not really a word I like to use because oftentimes it speaks of particular metrics in terms of financial wealth or income but does not deal with what true wealth is.

Janice Proud – Relief and Programmes Manager at the Anglican Alliance, remembering when she was part of the Anglican Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I remember the Canadian Ambassador saying he loved coming to church because it was the only time he could be… next to a refugee as equals – whereas wherever he went he was always in a role and if he was visiting a community he was a high status person, whereas at the communion rail he was just equal before God.

Paolo Ueti, Regional Coordinator, Latin America

In my experience in my region which is Latin America … I do think there is a huge effort to be the church of the poor and with the poor. Not in my perspective a church for the poor because a church for the poor is a little bit too messianic in a bad sense: that the church will solve problems on behalf of the poor, the church has the only and unique answer and will give it to the poor – which is not what’s happening.

What I see happening is actually church leaders and ordinary faith people very engaged to do things together in order to have better sanitation, in order to have better education, in order to support each other in pain, in disasters, in order to worship together and sing together and have parties together, build church together. Of course there is lots of conflict within this – relationship is about conflict – but …  I do feel, really, that faith people and faith leaders and are very committed – not only to people who participate in the church but also to everybody else – to build new relationships and new societies and [are] actually attending [to] people who do not even belong to the church, doing social service or social ministry – are reaching people the government and NGOs don’t. There are lots of good projects in rural areas and urban areas in South America and Central America and I think it’s most important to highlight that many of our leaders and many of our ministers are very connected to the most marginalised people – indigenous people who have lost their homes and lands, and women who have suffered extreme violence, children out of homes – and there are lots of organised projects in every province to attend to this kind of work in a diaconal way …

The following prayer points are based on material from Church Action on Poverty’s resource booklet. Please pray that:

  • our churches, following the One who “does not forget the cry of the afflicted” (Psalm 9:12), may listen more attentively to the cry of those in poverty within and outside our congregations
  • people experiencing poverty may feel welcome and valued in – and may play a full role in the life of – our churches and all churches
  • the church may genuinely stand alongside the poorest and most vulnerable people in society
  • our churches may allow God to transfigure and transform them so that they can live for love of God and neighbour and exemplify Christ’s teaching “Blessed are the poor ….”

You may wish to use Church Action on Poverty’s prayer for this Sunday:

You call us, God
You call us out of a harsh land and into freedom
You call us out of despair and apathy
You call us into a vision of another way of living

You call us, Jesus
You call us into hope and friendship
You call us to build your kingdom
You call us to break bread with you and with the hungry

You call us, Holy Spirit
You call us to transformation
You call us to shine into the darkness
You call us into the world to change it
Give us the strength to follow where you call.

Amen

Marie Pattison,

Malta Declaration
Earlier this month EU leaders met in Malta and agreed on a controversial plan to stem the flow of refugees from North Africa to Italy along the Central Mediterranean route.
Migration at the Greek-Turkish border has significantly decreased following the EU-Turkey deal last year. However Frontex, the EU border agency, says that high numbers of people arrived in 2016 via the Central Mediterranean route, and the European Council quotes the number as 181,000. Four thousand four hundred refugees reached Italy by sea in January 2017 alone, with most departures occurring from Libya.
The Malta Declaration, adopted by the 28 EU Heads of State on 3rd February, was introduced as an attempt to “significantly reduce migratory flows, break the business model of smugglers and save lives,” (unseaworthy vessels and often dangerous conditions meant that over 5000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016, with more deaths anticipated this spring as crossings increase with the end of the harsh winter weather). It commits EU countries to “step up cooperation with Libyan authorities,” specifically Libya’s UN-backed Presidency Council and Government of National Accord, though with a willingness to work with Libyan “regional and community authorities” and focuses on the following groups of priorities:

  • Preventing people from leaving Libya by providing “training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coastguard and other relevant agencies” to intercept boats and by undertaking “further efforts to disrupt the business model of smugglers through enhanced operational action,” involving Libya, other countries on the route, international partners, Member States, and European agencies
  • Attempting to provide safe accommodation for migrants and asylum seekers in Libya by “supporting where possible the development of local communities in Libya, especially in coastal areas and at Libyan land borders on the migratory routes, to improve their socio-economic situation” so that they can better act as host communities and “seeking to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM”
  • “Supporting IOM in significantly stepping up assisted voluntary return activities”
  • Discouraging people from attempting to travel through or from Libya by “enhancing information campaigns and outreach addressed at migrants in Libya and countries of origin and transit … particularly to counter the smugglers’ business model” and by helping Libya to strengthen its land borders.
  • Trying to ensure that increased security in Libya doesn’t simply lead to another diversion of migration routes, by “keeping track of alternative routes and possible diversion of smugglers’ activities, through cooperative efforts with Libya’s neighbours and the countries under the Partnership Framework, with the support of Member States and all relevant EU agencies and by making available all necessary surveillance instruments” and by “ deepening dialogue and cooperation on migration with all countries neighbouring Libya, including better operational cooperation with Member States and the European Border and Coast Guard on preventing departures and managing returns.”

The declaration also supported Italy’s bilateral agreement with the UN-backed Libyan government to return migrants to Libya for repatriation from there.

This idea is similar to the EU deal with Turkey – which itself represents, in effect, a controversial outsourcing of EU hosting of asylum seekers – but has the further complicating factor that Libya does not have the same level of relative political or economic stability that Turkey does. Since the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has lacked an effective central government: neither the UN-backed government with which the EU declares its intention to work nor the other factions controlling different areas would currently appear to have the capacity to deliver safe reception facilities for migrants and asylum seekers as Europe has proposed. Moreover, given that direct in-country support is difficult to realise given the security situation, there is no certainty that they will be able to do so in the foreseeable future.

Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic law or procedure for considering asylum claims. The evidence of brutality against migrants in Libya is overwhelming, Human Rights Watch said. A damning December 2016 report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Libya documented widespread abuses: it opens “The situation of migrants in Libya is a human rights crisis. The breakdown in the justice system has led to a state of impunity, in which armed groups, criminal gangs, smugglers and traffickers control the flow of migrants through the country. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)  has  also  received  credible  information  that  some  members  of  State  institutions  and some  local  officials  have  participated  in  the  smuggling  and  trafficking  process.  Many [migrants and asylum seekers] … are subjected to  arbitrary detention, torture, other ill-treatment,unlawful killings, sexual exploitation, and a host of other human rights abuses. Migrants are also exploited as forced labour and suffer extortion by smugglers, traffickers, as well as members of State  institutions.  Women  migrants  are  the  most  exposed,  amidst  numerous  and  consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.” The EU’s own scoping report reached similar conclusions.

Moreover, relying on UNHCR and IOM to ensure adequate monitoring will be challenging until they can return to Libya from Tunisia, where they mainly remain due to security constraints. In a joint statement, UNHCR and IOM made it clear that they do not support Libya’s use of automatic detention for migrants, and noted that “security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance”

Working with Libya to turn back boats before these issues have been addressed may well, therefore, while possibly preventing deaths at sea be putting people’s lives at risk on land. Twelve Libyan NGOs recently criticised the agreement, saying that it represented a fundamental “immoral and inhumane attitude” towards migrants and expressed concern over the “inhumane conditions” faced by migrants in detention centres in Libya. Outgoing UN special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler told the UN Security Council that repatriation via Libya could not work because of the humanitarian conditions in the country.
The international principle of non-refoulement prevents people being sent back to countries where there is a threat to their life or freedom; and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights “as  providing  an  effective  means  of  protection against all forms of return to places where there is a risk that an individual would be subjected  to  torture,  or  to  inhuman  or  degrading  treatment  or  punishment.”
A significant coalition of agencies working with refugees, including both secular organisations such as Amnesty International and such Christian agencies as Caritas Europa, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the ACT Alliance (a global coalition of 143 churches and church-related agencies) has stated: “European governments cannot themselves return people to Libya without breaching the international principle of non-refoulement – as people returned would be at risk of being exposed to serious human rights violations. Thus we see that the new EU policies, which aim to enhance the Libyan authorities’ ability to intercept refugees and migrants at sea and pull them back to Libya, represent a clear attempt to circumvent the EU’s international obligations, in plain disregard of the harsh consequences thousands of men, women and children would be exposed to. “

The agencies asked the European Council to:

  • Facilitate safe mobility by opening and strengthening safe and regular channels to Europe for refugees and migrants including through resettlement, humanitarian admission and humanitarian visas, family reunification, worker mobility across skill levels and student visas. Safeguard the right to seek asylum under all circumstances.
  • Review the plans set out by the Malta Summit to ensure that safeguards for human rights and respect for international law are in place; ensure that the human rights of those on the move are respected, regardless of their status, as set out in the Valletta Action Plan.
  • Guarantee that EU border management policies protect people and their rights, not aim to stop migratory movements. Fundamental freedoms must be upheld, and the security needs of different groups, including the most vulnerable, must be assessed.
  • Take evidence of human rights abuses in Libya seriously and stop any actions that may lead people to be pulled back towards the Libyan coast. The current approach risks violating people’s fundamental rights and the rule of law, including the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Thoroughly assess the human rights situation of migrants and the risks they face in Libya, and undertake objective and genuine impact assessment of the actions funded and coordinated by the EU and support international agencies in ensuring that Libya fulfils its duty to uphold human rights.
  • Demand specific measures to identify and protect vulnerable groups including children, migrants and refugees with disabilities, victims of torture or trafficking and those at risk of discrimination.
Please pray:

  • For those on the move, having fled their home countries and currently making their way to or from Libya.
  • For migrants and refugees held in reception sites in Libya; that they would be treated well and that God would give them peace as they wait with uncertainty about their future.
  • For wisdom and compassion for EU leaders as they look at issues on migration, and that they will hear and heed the concerns raised about the Malta Declaration.
  • That any implementation of the Malta Declaration does not contribute to further instability in the already fragile Libyan situation. Pray for stability for the Libyan government and people

South Sudan, Famine, Bangladesh Workers’ Rights: 19 Feb 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • South Sudan
  • Averting Famine
  • Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan

There are challenging words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. They remind us that the call to holiness and love of neighbour is nothing abstract or easy: it entails everything from ensuring that all – including the “poor and the alien” – have what they need … to taking responsibility for helping each other live rightly … to loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us. As we ponder the readings, it’s good to let their challenge sink in … and to ask for grace to follow what they command.
___________________________________________________________________________

South Sudan

Please continue to pray for people affected by the disastrous situation in South Sudan.

In December, the UN warned the country was on the brink of genocide.  Atrocities continue to be perpetrated, and this week a general of the government Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka (a man who is respected by the international community) resigned saying, “President Kiir and his Dinka leadership clique have tactically and systematically transformed the SPLA into a partisan and tribal army. Terrorising their opponents, real or perceived, has become a preoccupation of the government.” The terrifying and costly impacts of the chaotic situation on local people trying to bring health care and relief to their region can be read here.

South Sudan’s economy is in ruins, with even military families – who would normally be amongst the more privileged – facing extreme hardship. Inflation rose to 830 percent at the end of last year and prices of basic foodstuffs are beyond the reach of most.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that nearly 7.5 million people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance and say that hunger and malnutrition have reached historic levels. They expect as many as 5 million people to be severely food insecure this year, adding, “more than one million children under age 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including more than 273,600 who are severely malnourished”.

Over 1.5 million people have fled South Sudan since civil war broke out in December 2013,  making this the third largest refugee crisis in the world after Syria and Afghanistan. Some 698,000 refugees are being hosted in Uganda – the number tripling over the course of 6 months. More refugees entered Uganda last year than crossed the Mediterranean (PRI, UNHCR figures).  The UN reported that an average of over 3,300 people a day – more than 46,500 in total – entered during the two weeks between the 25th of January and the 7th of February. This represents more than the total number of asylum seekers being supported by the UK government at the year ending September 2016. And officials reported even greater numbers of people – 4,000 a day – entering in the week prior to February 16th.

Uganda has been lauded internationally for its openness to refugees. In addition to keeping its borders open, it has an official policy of allowing refugees freedom to travel and work, and to access education and health services. It also operates a ‘self-sufficiency policy’ offering refugees small plots of land on which to build houses and grow their own food, as well as basic resources to help with doing so – something which has been shown to benefit surrounding communities as well.

Uganda is endeavouring to do all this on a large scale very rapidly: the Bidibidi refugee camp has received over 270,000 refugees from South Sudan and is now at full capacity, having become one of the world’s largest refugee camps in just 6 months.  A piece from the Norwegian Refugee Council, published also in The Guardian, illustrates some positive stories of refugees and hosts in and around it. Amongst the refugees featured is 17-year-old Mary Kiden, who fled to Uganda from South Sudan last October with her brother and sisters. She expresses a note of hope: “It is good to be in Uganda. They allocated us a piece of land, we have free access to medical services and we feel safe. People were killed in South Sudan. It made me afraid. Here we no longer need to listen to the sound of the guns.”  Never Rukia, a Ugandan who is featured, says, “Wars are no good for the civilians. I am glad Uganda can give them land and provide security. It has some benefits for us as well. There are more goods being sold at the market now. And there are clean water sources available to us, as well as the refugees. I think we should stay together in harmony and share the available resources”.

The volume of refugees entering Uganda has, however, caused stresses in transit sites, refugee camps, and within the host communities. At a transit site in the Moyo district, refugees interviewed by Radio Miraya reported “dire conditions, mentioning a lack of basic necessities ranging from food, water and shelter to toilets and medicines.” Bidibidi has had issues with provision of water, power and food. With respect to food, last August a lack of funding forced the World Food Programme, UNHCR and the government of Uganda to halve the rations of South Sudanese refugees who had been in Uganda for more than a year – and as land becomes more scarce, the plots being given to some newer refugees to cultivate are widely recognised as not capable of supporting their needs. There are also tensions and flare-ups within the camp between refugees from different ethnic groups as the head of the camp, Robert Baryamwesiga, explains: “What is happening over in South Sudan affects the relationships of refugees in the settlement a great deal.”

As another snapshot, in this piece from Medecins sans Frontières, Rose and Richard share their stories of the violence that drove them to flee South Sudan and their experiences in the Bidibidi camp. They describe the relief they have found in Uganda, both in the finding a place of safety and in receiving basic, if limited, provisions.  But Richard, who now works as a translator for MSF, also describes the difficulties faced by people in the camp: “Most of our patients here have malaria. People are sleeping outside or have nowhere to hang the mosquito nets that have been distributed. There is also a lot of diarrhoea. People are neglecting the basics, cutting back on food and water, because they’re in a desperate situation and then they fall ill.” He also recalls a frightening altercation with some members of the local community in a dispute over land.

The Government of Uganda has noted that it cannot continue to absorb refugees well at current levels without greater assistance from the international community.

Please pray:

  • For peace in South Sudan – may God turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and bring together the right people to work towards a new, just future
  • For healing for those who have suffered and/or are suffering as a result of the conflict.
  • In thanksgiving for all people and countries which are generous in welcoming refugees. Pray that they may receive the assistance that is necessary to enable them to continue their humanitarian efforts.

Averting Famine

South Sudan is one of four countries on the brink of famine. Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia are also at risk. Gareth Owen, humanitarian director of Save the Children, said: “The potential this year is we may have four famines looming, which is a truly scary thought and will stretch our resources. We are at a critical moment.” But the danger extends even more widely, with Owen adding, “Right now, in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, there are 12 million people affected [by food insecurity]. These three countries together look as bad as Somalia in 2011. If you add South Sudan on top of that, with that conflict, and Nigeria, you have millions more. And Yemen has 18 million people. That’s creating this real concern that we are facing a major crisis that we have not seen before.”

In Yemen, the UN estimates that “an alarming 18.8 million people – more than two thirds of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 10.3 million people are acutely affected and need some form of immediate humanitarian assistance to save and sustain their lives including food, health and medical services, clean water & sanitation and protection. Nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished while 2 million people remain internally displaced”. Launching an appeal on February 8th to raise US$2.1 billion in assistance for Yemen, Stephen O’Brien, from the UN’s OCHA, said, “Two years of war have devastated Yemen and millions of children, women and men desperately need our help. Without international support, they may face the threat of famine in the course of 2017 and I urge donors to sustain and increase their support to our collective response.”

The FAO report that immediate intervention is needed to assist over 5 million people facing food insecurity in north-east Nigeria. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network says evidence indicates there has already been famine in some inaccessible parts of Borno State and that “There is an elevated likelihood that famine is ongoing and will continue in the inaccessible areas of Borno State”. In its analysis of the situation the FAO say, “The Boko Haram insurgency has led to massive displacements and high levels of food insecurity in the area. Already poor and vulnerable host communities have absorbed large numbers of people fleeing violence, placing considerable pressure on fragile agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, while the insecurity has severely disrupted markets and food availability”.

Oxfam has an appeal for the wider West Africa region, saying “A desperate humanitarian crisis is growing in parts of West Africa as a result of the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram and the military operations to counter them. The violence has spread from north-east Nigeria into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon forcing 2.6 million people to flee their homes and leaving over 11 million people in need of emergency aid. Unable to grow or buy food, or get to humanitarian aid, millions are going hungry. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already”.

Somalia is also at risk of famine. The short rainy season at the end of last year was poor and there is concern that if the long rainy season, due to start in April, fails, the possibility of famine will return. Already more than 6 million people – over half the population of Somalia – are in need of assistance (according to the FAO and Famine Early Warning Systems Network), with 3 million of these projected to be  “in crisis” or “in emergency” between now and June (up from 1.1 million six months ago).

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq has warned, “we need to rapidly step up the humanitarian response to effectively respond to the extensive needs and avert a famine. If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key State-building and peacebuilding initiatives. A drought – even one this severe – does not automatically have to mean catastrophe if we can respond early enough with timely support from the international community.”

Please pray:

  • For local and international organizations seeking to bring relief and aid in the face of multiple, acute crises and the resultant strain on resources and staff.
  • That governments, businesses and people around the world will respond to the extraordinary humanitarian needs rapidly and with generosity.
  • that in all the areas involved, God will bring an end to their conflicts, turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and satisfy the needs of those who have suffered and are suffering because of the violence.

Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan

  • “You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”Please pray for the safety, well-being – and release – of Bangladeshi labour leaders and garment workers who have been imprisoned after workers struck for a rise in the minimum wage. The minimum monthly wage for people working a 48-hour week (8 hours a day, 6 days a week) in Bangladesh is about $67, a little under £54: a worker on this wage is below the World Bank poverty level. In theory, overtime could give more (many labourers work far more hours) – but overtime abuses are rife, and pay can be docked for any number of causes, from making an error on a piece of work to not meeting a target (which could be 120 to 150 pieces of work an hour for 14 hours). The Asia Floor Wage Alliance has calculated that a living wage in Bangladesh would be $367 (£296) a month. Pray that the workers’ actions will lead to fairer pay and conditions for labourers in Bangladesh and more generally throughout the world. Pray that companies with supply chains in Bangladesh will genuinely press for action in this area.
  • Pray for those who were injured or who mourn the dead in the recent bombing of a street of car dealerships and garages frequented by Shia Muslims in Baghdad, which killed almost 60 people and injured 66. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Pray, too, for the residents of Western Mosul, which the Iraqi Government is hoping to retake from the Islamic State: there are reports that hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering from hunger and lack of access to water, and are generally ‘under extreme duress’.  Pray for those injured or left mourning by an attack, also claimed by the Islamic State, on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. Pray for wisdom for all responding to the attacks and grant that they may act with courage and discernment, and avoid the temptation to mirror the behaviours they fight.

Featured Image: David Lemi, a refugee from South Sudan, photographed near his new home in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda. Image from Trocaire on Flickr: http://bit.ly/2leoaVZ. Reproduced with thanks via Creative Commons License.

Holocaust Memorial Day, Homeless Sunday, Short Notes: 22 Jan 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January)
  • Homeless Sunday Prayer
  • Short Notes: US Climate Policy, The Gambia, Brazil, Hope in the Middle East

Christ is the world’s light – the promised one who will drive away darkness and lead us in paths of peace. That’s a core message in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts
… as is the call for us to be “un
ited in the same mind and the same purpose.” Are we ready to turn towards the light and follow in the way Christ reveals? And are we prepared to seek unity through and in Christ?

Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January)

The theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “How can life go on?” and is inspired by a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

“For the survivor death is not the problem. Death was an everyday occurrence. We learned to live with Death. The problem is to adjust to life, to living. You must teach us about living.”

The theme is deliberately framed as a question, asking us to engage with a variety of issues faced by survivors of genocide, wherever it occurs. The question not only speaks to the experiences of those in the past, but also shines a light on some contemporary issues, including the issues faced by people caught up in and displaced by ethnic cleansing and large-scale conflict, and the capacity of false information to shape public opinion and potentially disastrously shift the political landscape.

The first questions the Holocaust Memorial Day materials invite us to think about surround the trauma experienced by survivors of genocide and how they come to terms with the past. How can people rebuild their lives after such unimaginable suffering? “Many of those who survive suffer post-traumatic stress and depression, while the smallest of reminders such as scenes in films, smells, tastes or certain clothes can trigger memories of what happened.”

Chanrithy Him, a survivor of the genocide in Cambodia says, “The sight of someone dressed entirely in black would trigger a memory – the uniforms of the Khmer Rouge. And for a moment it would paralyse me as if I was under a spell… Memories seep back to me in ways I hadn’t imagined.”

For survivors, the question of how life can go on is closely linked to the question of where it goes on. Tens of thousands, even millions, of survivors find themselves dislocated when the genocide itself ends, and for many the aftermath of genocide, rather than bringing relief, brings fresh suffering, adding to their trauma.

Kitty Hart-Moxon, a survivor of the Holocaust, recalled, “When they came to collect us from Dover one of the first things my uncle said to me was ‘I don’t want you to talk about anything that happened to you. I don’t want my girls upset’. It was a huge disappointment that nobody wanted to know, it was horrific. I was really, really angry, not only about what happened, but the reaction from other people.”

Blanka Rothschild recalls her return to her family home in Poland at the end of World War II. Blanka, the child of non-observant Jews, had spent the first four years in the Lodz ghetto. She was then deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp and subsequently transferred to forced labour in an aeroplane factory, where the beatings she received left her spine permanently damaged. The advancing Russian army brought liberation, but of a confusing and uncertain kind: escape and food was juxtaposed with some of the escapees being shot and others raped. When the war in Europe was finally over it was difficult for survivors to know where to go. Eventually Blanka joined a group of men and women making their way back to Poland on foot. She recalls what happened when she finally made it back to Lodz:

“Our house was still standing. And the so-called superintendent was still the same one. And when he saw me, he thought that he… that he saw a ghost! He said in Polish, ‘How come I survived? Why did I come back?’ This was the greeting I received. When I wanted to go upstairs to our place, our apartment, a large place, the people wouldn’t let me in… My Poland was not my Poland any more”.

Blanka felt so unwelcome in Poland that she left, eventually making her way to a new life in America where she was taken in at first by her great uncle and his wife. “[She] was the most wonderful, wonderful lady who made me feel good, warm. She hugged me. She kissed me. And that’s what I needed. That’s what I needed. I didn’t need material things. I just wanted to be loved, to belong. And that was the beginning.”

The waves of trauma experienced by Holocaust and genocide survivors like Blanka have strong resonance in the current refugee crises. People escaping horror, oppression and conflict do not necessarily find sanctuary and security; their presence does not necessarily evoke compassion but scepticism and hostility. This has been all too evident in both mainstream and social media coverage of migration and refugee resettlement in mainland Europe and the UK in recent months.

Even people who resettle through official channels describe feeling uncertain of their welcome. In her article, “I’m a refugee who escaped war and genocide in Bosnia. If you think resettlement is easy, read this”, Arnesa Buljusmic Kustura writes, “To be a refugee these days means to wake up almost each morning and witness anti-refugee sentiment plastered on the news and social media.” She describes the almost four-year process she had to go through before she was allowed to settle in the US: “Interview after interview was conducted by UN Refugee Agency official to ensure that my family and I were speaking the truth. The process of telling our story of trauma lasted a couple of years. Each interview conducted meant reliving the trauma of being under siege in Sarajevo, of being held in concentration camps in Visegrad… In 2002, when we finally settled in America we assumed our journey towards emotional safety had finally been reached. However, as refugees we continued to be subjected to interviews by government officials, medical and psychological exams, biometric testing, and visits from Immigration and Department of Human Services Case Managers.” Despite these experiences, Arnesa is grateful for “the privilege of coming to build a life in America” and reflects, “Since then, as a way of giving back thanks, I became involved in activism, volunteering, and continuous community engagement. Choosing to give back, as much as I could, rather than take,” but adds, “To the pundits that share anti-refugee sentiment, however, none of this matters.”

A second equally pertinent question the Holocaust Memorial Day resources invite us to explore concerns the denial and trivialisation of the Holocaust and other genocides. “Denial,” they note,” is the final stage of genocide.” It is not just the Holocaust that is the target of denial. This article, “Denying Genocide in the Face of Science”, catalogues the denial in Bosnia of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day sees the release of the film Denial, which tells the story of the legal battle for historical truth between Deborah Lipstadt and David Irving, who sued her for libel when she described him as a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt won the case.

In the light of all the historical record, photographic evidence, personal testimony – and indeed the outcome of the trial – it seems almost inconceivable that Holocaust denial and trivialisation can continue today, especially when information sharing through social media can so easily take people to reliable, factual information. And yet, not only does denial continue, but social media aids and abets it. David Irving today claims a large and growing following and still says, “History evolves. The truth about the Holocaust is gradually coming out. And this is thanks to the internet. It’s how this new generation finds me. There’s a general belief among people out there that they are being misled.”

David Hare, who wrote the screenplay for Denial has written about how and why he took on the task. His reflections lucidly set out the broader significance of the trial – and the phenomenon of Holocaust denial – for us today. He discusses his decision to “stick rigidly to the exact words used inside [the court]. I could not allow any neo-fascist critic later to claim that I had re-written the testimony” and he reflects on the role of the social media. “In an internet age it is, at first glance, democratic to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is surely true. It is however a fatal step to then claim that all opinions are equal. Some opinions are backed by fact. Others are not. And those that are not backed by fact are worth considerably less than those that are.”

He continues, “There are some subjects about which two points of view are not equally valid. We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding “Well, that’s my opinion” – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t.”

“Post-truth” was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The word saw a massive increase in usage from mid May last year. This environment has been accompanied by the growing phenomenon of fake news – raising challenging and serious questions about how and where we source our information. Deliberate lies and appeals to emotion led to the vilification and murder of millions of Jews in the last century. Commemorating the Holocaust is not simply an important act of remembering its victims. Reflecting on its origins, and allowing our exploration to inform our response to our own times both honours those who died and those who survived and might provide us with much-needed insight into where continued care is always necessary.

This Holocaust memorial day please pray…

  • For the survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides – that they would find strength, courage and support to rebuild their lives and come to terms, as far as it’s possible, with their experiences
  • For all people displaced by genocide, conflict and other traumatic causes – that they might find understanding and sanctuary, and an end to their suffering rather than further suffering
  • For the people in the places to which survivors come – that they might be willing to understand, have empathy and be supportive both emotionally and practically.
  • For us all as we try to reject what is false and stand up for what is good – that we may be vigilant, wise and discerning and strive always to act and react with integrity and love.

Homeless Sunday Prayer

Earlier this month we provided a link to the Homeless Sunday resources. One of the main ones is this prayer – might you use it in your Sunday service or at another point in the coming week?

Loving God, in your house there is room for everyone.
Help us as we strive for a world where everyone has a home that truly meets their needs.
Give us the grace to welcome strangers and refugees.
Give us the insight to see where inequality hurts.
Fill us with courage to do our part.
Save us from being overwhelmed by the scale of the housing crisis,
and show us, O Lord, where to begin.

Amen


Short Notes: US Climate Policy, The Gambia, Brazil, Hope in the Middle East

US Climate Policy

We’ll be looking over the next weeks at what the new Trump presidency may mean for US policy in various areas. In the meantime, you might want to look at two useful items the John Ray Initiative has produced on Trump and climate change – a short post by John Weaver and a briefing paper by Martin Hodson. Pray, with respect to environmental policy, for wisdom for the new administration, whose initial policy statements – put up on the White House website within minutes of the inauguration – are not unencouraging. Pray also in thanksgiving for the numerous people at state and local level for whom care for creation is a vital part of policymaking, whatever happens at the federal level. On the day of the inauguration, for example, California announced its plan to cut its emission by 40% by 2030 – and California’s economy is so large that its decisions have ramifications beyond its borders.

The Gambia

Pray for the people and incoming government of The Gambia. In December of last year, former President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled for twenty-two years, initially accepted – and then rejected – the results of an election which he lost. His attempts to remain in power have now ended following the swearing-in of his successor in Senegal and the deployment of troops from surrounding states. Jammeh has agreed to leave The Gambia (his full statement is here). His successor, President Adam Barrow, has already indicated that he intends to make significant changes, including setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past government abuses and rejoining the Commonwealth and International Criminal Court – and there is a sense of optimism among many in the capital.

Tens of thousands of Gambians had fled for fear of fighting in the country. Pray that they will return safely, that the new president and those assisting him will govern justly and well, and that the country will enjoy peace, justice and stability.

Brazil

Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Teori Zavascki was killed on Thursday in a small plane crash. Zavascki was a leading figure in Brazil’s ‘Lava-Jato’ (Operation Car Wash) anti-corruption investigations.

The Supreme Court was due shortly to analyse plea-bargain agreements relating to one part of the investigations. It had been thought that this might involve releasing testimony relating to these agreements to the public – and that the testimony could be explosive, with allegations against some of the country’s highest ranking politicians, including the President.

The government has declared three days of national mourning – but the implications of the judge’s death will be far longer lasting: it’s unclear how the Lava-Jato process will move forward, and how a new rapporteur will be appointed. The concerns many have surrounding the death (the judge’s son noted that ‘many people would have celebrated’ the death – though he hoped it was simply a fatality and not a murder) are also likely to be resolved quickly, although an investigation into the incident has been started.

Please pray for consolation for family, friends and colleagues of all who were killed in the crash; for a swift, full and transparent investigation of its circumstances; for the appointment of someone of rigourous ethics as the new rapporteur for Lava-Jato; and for the continued efforts to promote justice and transparency in the Brazilian political system.

Hope in the Middle East

We’ve been at several meetings recently where people working with Middle Eastern agencies and churches have spoken about under-the-radar efforts to bring hope and healing to people and areas that have suffered because of the region’s conflicts. Many of these efforts can’t be reported – though some can: if you speak French or Arabic, do take a look at this film which shows how different groups, including Fair Trade Lebanon, are helping to integrate and assist both Syrian refugees and their host communities. Fair Trade Lebanon, for example, is helping people in six communities – especially women – to work together in food production. They’re  bringing together Syrian and Lebanese women to share their knowledge and recipes as they produce products for sale. “If I weren’t working [here],” one Syrian woman says, “I’d be staying at home. My mother’s sick, and she can’t work. My sister and I help our father to ensure that our household has an income.” “The cooperation is very important for both our communities,” adds a Lebanese woman. “It would be good if there could be a centre like this in every village, [enabling people] to cooperate and to help each other at the same time.”

It’s worth knowing as we hear wave on wave of bleak news that positive things are happening. Please pray for agencies like Fair Trade Lebanon, as they seek to offer people dignity and work for peace. And pray especially for churches in the region. Give thanks for the ways that God is at work in and through them and pray that the worldwide body of Christ may give them support through prayer and material sustenance in ways that enable them to bring hope and healing within their own communities and to others.

 

Photograph: Homelessness 028, by fio.PSD comunicazione, used under Creative Commons License