Prayers for Week of 12 May

  • CCOW News
  • ‘God saw that it was good’
  • Ebola
  • After the Cyclones
  • World Fair Trade Day
  • This Week’s Readings

 

CCOW News

These are exciting times. We’re planning a follow-up to our 2018 conference on supporting refugees, putting together proposals to network churches around Fair Trade and local environmental action, and preparing more prayer materials for the coming months.

But we need more capacity if we’re to do both ongoing and new work – and so in addition to fundraising for our normal costs, we are hoping to raise £7,000 towards a new part-time post. We’re holding a sponsored walk on  Saturday, 1 June in the Windrush Valley (details here … walkers and sponsors welcome!) Pray that this will be well supported and also for funding from trusts, churches and individuals.

‘God saw that it was good’

One of the most striking moments in the recent event where Greta Thunberg spoke alongside Caroline Lucas and Anna Taylor came when a young woman spoke about politicians being “desensitised … to words like ‘mass extinction’ ‘climate change’ ‘deforestation'” and then asked: “So how do you make them understand quite how desensitised they are to words that they are throwing around?”

It’s a good question – and not just for politicians. Last Monday, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released its ‘Global Assessment’ (summary for policymakers here). The report’s  headline points were:

  • Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’
  • Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
  • Current global response insufficient;
  • ‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature;
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good
  • Most comprehensive assessment of its kind;
  • 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction

For us as human beings, a report like this could force us to acknowledge that our actions represent a threat to the entire web of life on which we depend. And for us as Christians, it could compel us to recognise that we are signally failing in our call to steward the earth and to contibute to the flourishing of what Richard Bauckham calls ‘the community of creation’. The good news is that the report also reminds us that there is still the chance to change – and to take steps that would help  heal the wounds of creation!

But will the report actually have these effects? Or are we so desensitised that news like this will come and go, and we’ll keep on as we are? The report got coverage in some media outlets (eg Guardian, New York Times) – but after a day or two it was supplanted by other stories. What can we do to keep the question of earth’s survival in the public eye and to push towards the action that scientists tell us is needed?

There will be many specific issues to address: the panel’s press release mentions, among others, plastic pollution, which has increased tenfold since 1980; the dumping of “300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities …annually into the world’s waters”; overuse of fertiliser creating marine ‘dead zones’; the impacts of overfishing and intensive farming. Each issue will demand concrete action.

But perhaps the three most crucial things we can do – from which other, practical actions will flow –  are these. Firstly, to re-connect ourselves (and seek to help reconnect others) with the sense of wonder at the miracle of God’s diverse creation, so that we can truly appreciate what we are in danger of losing and can come to love it.  Secondly to reject views that instrumentalise creation as a vehicle for meeting our needs, rather than as something which is precious in its own right. And thirdly to reflect on Bauckham’s idea of a ‘community of creation’, in which all created things exist to praise God … and we are invited to listen to their praise and to, as it were, join the choir.

If you have a few minutes, take the time to read Bauckham’s short sermon ‘The Community of Creation’ and reflect on it. Then ponder … what do you feel called to do to help address the current groaning of the earth? What steps could you take in your own life? How might you add your voice to advocacy by others to enable larger actions to take place?  If you’d like some further inspiration, you might also want to look at Elizabeth’s powerpoint ‘God saw that it was good’.

Please pray:

  • in thanksgiving to God for the majesty and diversity of creation
  • offering praise to God for earth’s beauty
  • asking forgiveness for our part in misusing creation’s gifts
  • giving thanks for Christ’s work to redeem all things
  • that humanity may come fully to appreciate the intrinsic preciousness of the whole creation
  • that the UN report will inspire genuine action to preserve and protect species and ecosystems
  • that God will lay on each person’s heart things that they can do to play a part in protecting the earth
Ebola

“We are life-savers — we will not be intimidated by this attack. We will strengthen our resolve, and we will fight to finish Ebola.” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus citing comments by health workers in Nord Kivu

During April the WHO released data showing  that the Merck Ebola vaccine which has been administered in North Kivu is protective over 97% of the time. This news  gives hope: furnished with such an effective tool, doctors can potentially contain an outbreak.

But April was also the worst month so far for new cases in North Kivu – 406 were recorded. That single month’s number would, on its own, constitute the fourth largest Ebola outbreak on record anywhere in the world. And the start of May has been equally worrying: 139 new cases (probable and confirmed) recorded in the opening nine days – with more likely unrecorded.

The issues that continue to hamper prevention and treatment efforts are social, political and economic).  Conflicts make some areas hard to reach, disrupting attempts to treat patients and trace their contacts. Many communities are  angered by the priority being given to Ebola when there are so many pressing health and economic needs …and/or see local elites making money from foreign interventions, so resent public health efforts. Various people and groups have promoted unhelpful rumours and conspiracy theories about Ebola  – from a denial that Ebola exists to suggestions that vaccination campaigns are in fact a way of infecting the population or that the disease itself has been introduced for political ends. “The Ebola vaccine isn’t poison” …”Ebola isn’t a tool to reduce the population density in Beni and Lubero,” a Congolese group recently tweeted, trying to counter some of the disinformation and get correct information to the public.

Given these issues, there has been not only a reluctance to engage with public health programmes, but also violence directed at health workers and health facilities. As of 3 May, there had been “since January … 119 separate attacks on Ebola response workers or operations,  42 direct attacks on health facilities, and 85 health personnel injured or killed” including Cameroonian doctor Richard Mouzoko, who was killed in Butembo in late April. Just this past week, another health worker was killed and violence closed most operations in Butembo.

This is a crucial time: two public health experts pointed out last week that the West African Ebola outbreak “really began to accelerate when daily case counts reached the numbers we are seeing now in the DRC.” It is still possible to contain the epidemic – but there needs to be more funding (the WHO has received only half its requested funds), more vaccine doses – and perhaps a new vaccination strategy – available, better security for the region, community ownership of the public health response, and greater trust among the different parties involved.

Improving the situation is possible. The UK has pledged more funds, and other donors may follow suit. A strategy to vaccinate more people, and supplies of a second vaccine, are due to be coming on stream. The DRC government and the UN mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) have offered their help with security – though there is, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowwledged, a balance between the need for security and the need not to seem to intimidate local communities. New strategies for testing and treatment are more integrated with general healthcare. Churches and faith groups are committed to trying to get correct information to their followers; Tearfund speaks of its partners “producing Ebola prevention songs in local languages for broadcast on the radio and for use by choirs; talks and announcements in church services; and door-to-door sharing.”

Please continue to pray (prayer points a mixture of those from CCOW and those adapted from the Congo Church Association):

  • for all who have lost loved ones in the epidemic, especially children who have been left vulnerable. Pray that children who have lost parents will be taken into families and not stigmatised.
  • for survivors as they seek to recover from the mental and physical trauma of the illness … and for people indirectly affected
  • in thanksgiving for the courage and dedication of Congolese and foreign health workers, who are continuing their efforts despite facing personal danger. Pray for protection for them, and for them to have safe access to affected communities.
  • in thanksgiving for work being done by Christian agencies and church leaders to provide correct information about Ebola and to support those affected by it. Pray that this work will be effective.
  • for greater funding for WHO efforts
  • for all who are seeking to build stability and trust in the region generally, and to increase trust in the Ebola response
  • for those in other cities and countries who are undertaking vaccination programmes and other preventative measures to reduce the risk of a wider spread.
  • for ongoing health education in schools, churches, markets, via radio programmes and posters: pray that the message would get through, and cultural practices and beliefs and fear would not hinder the prevention and treatment of Ebola.

Further Reading:   CCOW has a page about the outbreak, with information, links and prayer points. It’s also worth following @HelenBranswell and @DrMikeRyan on Twitter.

After the Cyclones

“I have witnessed this pain of displacement. I have seen young children traumatised. I have heard people repeatedly say ‘It happened in the night’ and they are scared at the moment in some villages to sleep at night just in case Cyclone Idai comes again.  I have seen the makeshift homes that people live in at the moment. I have seen the agricultural areas destroyed and water everywhere…So Cyclone Idai is indeed a humanitarian crisis that once again lies bare the fundamental injustice of climate change.”  Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

“‘I’m trying to fix my house but I can’t afford to fix it properly. I don’t even have the money for any food for the family. I have a bag of rice from my employers, they gave it to us when they heard about the house, but that’s all we eat. We can’t buy fish like we used to. I just don’t have the money” Gomez Salgado Tome, Mozambique

The past six weeks have seen a series of devastating tropical cyclones. First was Idai, which caused catastrophic flooding in Malawi, southern Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe. Then came Category 4 strength Kenneth, which hit northern Mozambique. Over 240,000 people were affected by its storm-caused damage, which included the partial or total destruction of over 43,000 houses. In some cases, whole villages were wiped out: in one island community, only three buildings were left standing.

Just over a week later, on 4 May, another strong Category 4 cyclone, Fani, struck in Odisha, India, cutting a destructive swathe across parts of northeast India and Bangladesh, affecting 100,000 hectares of agricultural land and uprooting more than a million trees. Despite a massive evacuation, Fani killed 64 people in Odisha State and thirteen in Bangladesh.

What happens now? While the areas affected have disappeared from the headlines, their concerns haven’t ended. With Idai and Kenneth, survivors will face for some time lack of shelter, the threat of water-borne disease, as water and sanitation facilities have been destroyed, and food insecurity, as tens of thousands of hectares of crops were ruined. Throughout Mozambique, the UN estimates that about 1.85 million people need humanitarian aid, and the World Bank has estimated the costs of rebuilding at $2 billion.

The difficulty for Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, is that the government simply doesn’t have the money needed for rebuilding. The Mozambican government has, therefore, had to seek external funding. The World Bank has offered $350 million in grants to Mozambique, as well as grants for Malawi and Zimbabwe. The IMF, meanwhile, has provided $118.2 million in funds from its Rapid Credit Facility – but in the form of a loan, not a grant. This is profoundly worrying; while the loan conditions are generous (zero interest at present), Mozambique has historically been negatively impacted by its international debts. Will any new loans tip it into a cycle of debt again? The IMF itself acknowledged that most assistance to Mozambique would have to be in the form of grants “to ensure debt sustainability”.

There is a strong argument that countries like Mozambique should, in fact, receive substantial grant funding as a matter of climate justice.

Category 4 strength Kenneth was one of the strongest recorded tropical cyclones to hit mainland Africa and the furthest north to have reached hurricane-level intensity.  Scientists say that the intensity of its rains and the impact of its storm surge are likely to have been increased by climate change, and the stalling that concentrated the rains may be part of a climate-related pattern.

But Mozambique’s carbon footprint per person is tiny  – about 1% of the US’s or 2.5% of the UK’s by some calculations. Its people are not responsible for climate change – but they are suffering the consequences. Should they then be left to bear the costs ?

Various mechanisms exist that are helping countries with limited economic resources cope with climate impacts:

But for some time, developing countries have also been pushing for funding via the ‘loss and damage’ mechanism – money which would help address climate impacts that are beyond the capacity of countries to address through adaptation. Developed countries have been nervous about the concept of  ‘loss and damage’, as they fear that it would lead to their being held liable for climate-related damage and open them to  claims for compensation. Instead they have favoured market-based solutions, such as increased access to insurance. But market-based solutions still often throw financial responsibility onto the people who are potentially going to suffer climate impacts – and some developing countries and environmental/development organisations are pushing for a loss and damage fund, financed perhaps by taxes on fossil fuel use or production, to which developing countries would have access.

Please pray:

  • for all who continue to suffer because of the recent cyclones
  • for churches, agencies, governments and all who are working to provide relief and recovery services to those affected by the three cyclones
  • in thanksgiving for the UK’s commitment to giving 0.7% GNI to the aid budget. Pray for continued support for the policy and for a right use of the aid money.
  • for proper funding to help developing countries recover from both slow-onset and extreme weather disasters
  • for wisdom for all who are preparing negotiations around loss and damage at the next UN climate talks.

World Fair Trade Day

 “I believe beautiful things are better when the people who make them are well-paid. Fairtrade has lifted quality and equality among smallholder coffee farmers in Tanzania.”
Anna Eliuze Bwambo AMCOS

“To me, fair trade means co-operating and collaborating for justice, fairness and equality for producers, farmers and handcrafters.  It is about recognising and truly valuing those who produce many of the goods we enjoy and affording them the dignity and income they deserve.”
Sally Seddon, Volunteer Engagement Manager, Shared Interest

Saturday, 11 May, was World Fair Trade Day –  a reminder to celebrate the work of Fair Trade Enterprises around the world. The quotes above were among those gathered by TWIN Trading, one of the oldest Fair Trade organisations in the UK, which asked the people it works with what Fair Trade means to them..

The World Fair Trade Day theme for 2019 is ‘Fair Trade Innovates’ – and the focus is on ways in which Fair Trade is innovating to find solutions to issues like inequality, climate impacts, and the need to produce goods sustainably. Find out more at the World Fair Trade Organization’s excellent new website.

Over the coming week, could you pray for the Fair Trade movement? The prayer below may be helpful – we also have many more resources on our website:

Dear Lord, we ask your blessing on all who are involved with Fairtrade, lifting before you:

  • producers as they grow their crops and craft their works. Bless them, we pray, in their endeavours and grant them wisdom and discernment as they make decisions about how to use the benefits of Fairtrade.
  • people who transport Fairtrade goods to market. Grant, we pray, that they, too, may be fairly treated.
  • those who import and retail Fairtrade goods. Grant them, we pray, a genuine commitment to fairer trade for all.
  • all of us who shop where Fairtrade goods are for sale. Grant us an understanding of the impact of our choices.

We ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Further Reading:  ‘4 Ways Fair Trade is a Christian value”

This Week’s Readings
  Acts 9:36-43  •  Psalm 23  •  Revelation 7:9-17  •  John 10:22-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
John 10:27 – 30

Image: Minster Lovell Hall  (cropped). Credit: Hugh Llewellyn, Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

This email was sent to you by Christian Concern for One World.(CCOW), The Rectory, Church End, Blewbury OX11 9QH. You received it because you have asked to receive our prayer emails.

If you find our resources helpful, please consider donating to CCOW online or by cheque or standing order.

Eastern DRC Ebola Outbreak

Photo MONUSCO/Alain Coulibaly

What is Ebola?

The World Health Organization (WHO) website offers the following Key Facts:

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
  • The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
  • The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests. The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa involved major urban areas as well as rural ones.
  • Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, infection prevention and control practices, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe and dignified burials and social mobilisation.
  • Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.


When did the Eastern DRC outbreak begin?

The government of the DRC officially reported the Eastern DRC Ebola virus outbreak (the country’s tenth) on the 1st of August 2018 –  just after the declaration that another outbreak, in Equateur province (in the country’s northwest), had successfully been contained and was ended. The successful containment of that outbreak was a remarkable public health victory.

At the time when the outbreak was declared, it was noted that “it is believed that the index case died in early May” – considerably before the outbreak was officially announced – and that “the delay in reporting of further sporadic deaths in the community since then may be associated with a strike among healthcare workers in the affected area.”

 

Why has this outbreak been so difficult to contain?

The provinces of Nord Kivu and Ituri, where the outbreak is centred, have been suffering for years from poverty, conflict and instability. This complicates efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic in several ways:

  • Fighting Ebola requires that health workers be able to access communities – some have been or are very difficult to access because of the threat or reality of violence. For example, violence in Beni severely disrupted the Ebola response for several days in September – and some rural communities are very hard to reach because of the danger of militia attacks. Read here, here, here and here to get a sense of the challenges.
  • It also requires that community members trust health workers so that the health workers can offer proper prevention and care – that’s also more difficult to ensure in a conflict zone where trust of authorities can be weak. This means that in some areas, people aren’t bringing relatives with Ebola for treatment – and contacts are avoiding the response teams, so not being vaccinated.
  • People who are accustomed to fleeing violence can sometimes also seek to flee when Ebola strikes – potentially carrying the disease with them.
  • The decision of the country’s electoral commission to delay voting in Beni and Butembo has led to the targeting of Ebola centres and workers. Some people who had been waiting for test results fled, potentially carrying the disease with them; the violence has also made it impossible for the response teams to carry out vaccinations and search for contacts.  The electoral commission stated that it was postponing the vote in those areas because of the Ebola epidemic. The cities are, however, also opposition centres, and some people feel that Ebola was used as an excuse to disenfranchise them. There is, therefore, increased distrust of the Ebola response teams.

There are some good summary explanations from Al Jazeera

How many people are affected?

As of 5 April, according to the DRC’s Ministry of Health;

  • 1117 cases were involved, of which 1051 were confirmed and 66 suspected.
  • there had been 702 deaths
  • 339 people had been cured
  • 53,613 people had been vaccinated

This makes it the second-largest outbreak in recorded history, behind the West African outbreak in 2014-2016.

One thing that is concerning is that by this point in an outbreak, one would hope to see declining numbers of new cases – but March 2019 had the highest number of new cases since the outbreak began.

There are also significant concerns that the outbreak will spread. South Sudan, Rwanda, northern Uganda and the area of the DRC just south of Nord Kivu – areas close to the outbreak – are all also areas with complex situations. There are also fears that the virus could become endemic in the Nord Kivu/Ituri area.

To stay up to date with the situation as it develops, we’d recommend following @MinSanteRDC and @HelenBranswell on Twitter. The Ministry account also gives you access to a daily podcast on Ebola and the response, provided for local communities.

 

Are there signs of hope?

Yes. While there have been no official statements on the success rate of the trial use of vaccines to contain the epidemic (and while there are concerns about the ‘ring vaccination’ strategy that has been at the centre of the vaccination response), it’s clear that the vaccines are having a positive impact. Indeed, the Minister of Health at one point stated that without the vaccines, the DRC might have been looking at 10,000 cases by now.

Similarly, new treatment techniques are enabling more people to survive – including one of the first babies to survive Ebola. One report states that those who received the trial medications had a survival rate of 63%, as against an 80% mortality rate for those without the medications.

The dedication, courage and skill of the people working to contain the epidemic is extraordinary. Read some of their stories:

 

How can we pray?

The Congo Church Association has asked people to pray for:

  • health professionals caring for the sick in treatment centres
  • safe access to affected communities by medical teams – this region is classed a ‘red zone’ due to repeated violent attacks by militia groups, mainly thought to be the ADF. Give thanks for their courage and dedication in the face of ongoing danger and pray for protection.
  • ongoing health education in schools, churches, markets, via radio programmes and posters: pray that the message would get through, and cultural practices and beliefs and fear would not hinder the prevention and treatment of Ebola
  • children – for effective psychosocial and emotional care for those affected or orphaned (UNICEF); for orphans to be taken into foster families and not to be stigmatised
  • containment of the virus, and protection from major outbreaks in the big cities, especially Beni, Butembo and Bunia, and in neighbouring countries of Uganda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic

Please also pray for the stability of the region generally. And please give thanks for the scientists whose work has enabled life-saving advances to be made in vaccines and treatment.

Image – Meeting of MONUSCO with hospital staff in Beni, Nord Kivu. Photo: MONUSCO/Alain Coulibaly, used with permission under Creative Commons License.

CCOW Prayer Email: World AIDS Day, Advent Resources 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

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

Advent Resources for Prayer and Action

New Lectionary-Based Prayer Resources

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

Luke 1:52 -55

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

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

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

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

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

 

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

This Friday we mark World AIDS Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Do … To Watch … To Read

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

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

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

  • To Read:

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.

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)

World AIDS Day, Winter Cold, Northeast Nigeria, Colombia – 4 December 2016

In this week’s email:

  • World AIDS Day
  • Short Notes: Winter Cold, Northeast Nigeria, Colombia

This week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings offer a vision of the future, present encouragement, and challenge – the vision of the peaceable kingdom, in which all things are reconciled in Christ; an encouraging reminder in the epistle of the hope that Christians can receive now from Scripture and the Spirit; and the challenge of repentance that John the Baptist brings. May we – and all who encounter these readings – be inspired, encouraged and challenged!

World AIDS Day

“There’s really some great progress in terms of the HIV epidemic. But it’s … not past yet. HIV is a reality for us and I think it’s really important for us as a church that we must stay connected to this, or if we are not yet part of this, that we should become really involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS.”  World AIDS Day video by the Revd Christo Greyling, founder of Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa (CABSA)

The past ten years have indeed seen some transformational shifts in the fight to end the HIV epidemic:

  • the numbers of people receiving treatment have improved hugely: in 2006, UNAIDS said that only 1.65 million people were on antiretroviral therapy in low and middle income countries. As of June 2016, UNAIDS estimates that 18.2 million people worldwide are receiving treatment.
  • mother-to-child transmission rates have fallen sharply. In South Africa, which has taken strong action to ensure appropriate ante-natal treatment, early mother-to-child transmission fell from more than 20% in 2004 to 1.8% in 2015.
  • Estimates of AIDS-related deaths have fallen sharply from a peak of roughly 2 million a year in 2005 to roughly 1.1 million a year in 2015
  • Low and middle-income countries have increased their investment in fighting AIDS by 46% in the five years from 2010 to 2015. In 2015, they spent US$ 10.8 billion.

These are causes for rejoicing – they represent millions of children born HIV-free and millions of HIV+ people living longer, healthier lives. We give thanks to God for those who have been part of these successes and for what they’ve enabled.

But at the same time, the good news isn’t the only news. As the new StopAIDS campaign says, “It ain’t over.” Treatment rates vary greatly from country to country and often within countries depending on your location or socio-economic status. There is a serious ‘prevention gap’ amongst adolescents and adults: UNAIDS notes: “New infections among young women aged 15-24 years have declined by only 6% between 2010 and 2015, while the rate of new

HIV infections among 25–49-year-old men and women is essentially flat. Meanwhile, new infections appear to be rising among people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men.”

What does this mean? If we look simply at young women, in 2015, an estimated 390,000 women between 15 and 24 became newly infected with HIV – that’s about 7500 young women a week. UNAIDS notes, “young women are facing a triple threat:

  • they are at high risk of becoming infected with HIV
  • they have low rates of testing and have
  • difficulting accessing and staying on treatment”

The high risk for young women stems from a range of causes. Our colleague Lyn van Rooyen, who runs CABSA, writes that primary factors include “child marriage, age disparate relationships, economic hardship and inequality – we still hear so many stories of ‘survival sex’, patriarchy and gender inequality … sexual and gender-based violence, poorer education for girls and young women, lack of specific information about HIV and HIV transmission, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, and biological vulnerability (the sexual organs of young women are more prone to trauma and micro tears, have a different pH etc, making them more vulnerable to infection).”

I (Maranda) remember sitting with a group of young women in South Africa. Their situations were, as is often true for young people the world over, complex and often contradictory. Society was telling them that education was important, and they could see the merit in aiming for or participating in higher education. But the older members of their church were expecting them to marry and immediately to give up work. Why then, they asked, should they continue with their education? Or should they reject what their church members were telling them? And what if you married and wound up being like the woman whose husband wouldn’t even give her enough money to buy a sanitary products? What should you do when your boyfriend was pressing you to take things further? Or when a friend was seeing an older man with a poor reputation, who was giving her gifts?  Amidst the questions, there was also a fear of attack (South Africa has one of the world’s highest rape rates); no woman went out alone after dark. There were so many areas of vulnerability – especially given the reluctance to mention, much less discuss, HIV.

For the sake of all who are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, Christians – both those of us who are living with HIV and those who aren’t – need, as Christo Greyling says, to stay or get involved in the fight against the epidemic. That might be through working directly on prevention among young people, the way the Fikelela Project‘s ‘Agents of Change’ programme does, or by supporting such work financially. It might be by our showing in worship and the way we organise our church life that our churches are safe and welcoming spaces. It might be by sharing our own experience or expertise to inform others, or by seeking out information so that if someone comes to us with pastoral concerns relating to their status, we can listen well and understand the context. Or it might be getting involved in advocacy around finance and access to treatment: in September, the UK Government showed leadership by pledging £1.1 billion over three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Please pray:

“Compassionate God, we cry out in our finiteness and frailty, knowing there are no cheap answers or quick fixes. We have a lack of words to express our feelings regarding the crises of our world. Grant us peace where we are groaning for grace and grieving for change.”

  • Pray for all who are living with HIV, and all who are affected by HIV and AIDS. Pray especially that all people may have access to treatment and may not experience discrimination because of their condition or that of family members.
  • Pray for all who mourn those who have died because of AIDS.
  • Pray that efforts to reduce new infections will be successful.
  • Give thanks for the ante-natal care that has done so much to halt mother to child transmission in some countries and pray that more countries are able to implement it and to help young people stay free from HIV.
  • World AIDS Day falls during the 16 Days of Activisim against Gender-Based Violence: pray specifically that countries will work to address issues like poverty and Gender-Based Violence that increase vulnerability to HIV. You might want to use the beautiful Creator God prayer by Musa Dube, found here.

Strengthen us and fill us with hope, that we may be able to continue to live with compassion in our struggle with HIV and AIDS.

  • Give thanks for the work of Christian organisations like CABSA helping churches to become aware of the issues around AIDS and to commit themselves to action.
  • Pray that churches may be places of welcome and safety, where people do not experience discrimination because of their HIV status.
  • Pray that churches may support people living with or affected by HIV – and give thanks for the many around the world who offer practical and spiritual care to those within and beyond their community.
  • Pray that churches will be able to offer their communities a safe, stable environment in which people can grow in Christ and find loving care when they face issues that could make them vulnerable to HIV.

The material in italics is from the latest CABSA World AIDS Day resources. You can find the full prayer and many further prayer resources on the CABSA website. Christian AidUSPG, and the Sanctuary Centre also have helpful resources.


Short Notes: Winter Cold, Northeast Nigeria, Colombia
Winter Cold

“In the bleak midwinter …” As parts of the UK have experienced the first cold weather of winter this past week, it’s also grown colder in southeastern Europe and the Middle East, where many refugees in Greece and the Balkans, Iraq, and Kurdistan (among other places) are inadequately protected against the freezing weather. Pray that asylum seekers and refugees in vulnerable situations will be given the resources they need to stay safe and well during the cold weather. Pray for more effective coordination of governmental and intergovernmental resources and policies to keep refugees and asylum seekers safe. Pray that churches may offer effective and useful assistance.

Action Point: Many charities – such as All We Can, CAFOD, and Embrace the Middle East, among others – offer ‘alternative gifts’ that include support for vulnerable refugees. Could you include these among your Christmas gifts to people?

Northeast Nigeria

Boko Haram’s attacks in Northeast Nigeria and Cameroon continue, with millions of people displaced by the violence. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has expressed particular concern about hunger in Northeast Nigeria: the region has almost 2 million internally displaced people and more than 5 million who are facing acute food insecurity, including some who face famine. UNHCR has warned that 75,000 children are at risk of dying of hunger.

Please pray:

  •  for an end to the attacks and true peace for the region, as well as for comfort and healing for all who have suffered as a result of the violence.
  • in thanksgiving for residents of the region and those from the Nigerian government and outside agencies and groups who are working to assist the suffering.
  • for “a coordinated commitment between the Nigerian government, international partners, and UN agencies” and that the Nigerian government will link humanitarian aid and programmes for long-term development in the region
  • for international donors and the Nigerian government to provide the funding needed for relief and development.
  • for the life and witness of Christians in the region.

Colombia

It is a cause for rejoicing when steps towards peace are taken, especially in situations that have long seemed intractable. This week Colombia’s Congress ratified a peace agreement with the FARC rebels. The agreement is a revised version – with additional concessions from the rebels – of the deal that was rejected in a popular referendum earlier this Autumn. Its implementation would bring to an end a conflict that has stretched for decades and displaced millions.

The situation remains complex: congressional opponents of the deal boycotted the vote and suggest that even the revised version, which incorporates many of their proposals, offers too much impunity to rebels. The rebels state that they have begun to destroy explosives and to create the political grouping that will represent them in the legislature, but that circumstances are not yet ready to move to demobilisation points … while the Government is awaiting a ruling on the extent of its power to use fast-track legislative procedures to grant amnestry to jailed rebels, which is one of the preconditions  rebels have set for demobilisation. Even if the demobilisation begins in good time, the process is likely to be difficult.

And there are other concerns – peace talks are needed with other groups, and there are worryingly high levels of violence against human rights defenders, environmental activists and community leaders.

The President recently tweeted that the ratification of the accord gave rise to a new “chapter of hope” Please give thanks for the progress made and pray that that hope may be realised for all Colombians, and that the country may know peace, stability and justice.

Photograph: World Bank Photo Collection, Creative Commons License