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: 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.


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.


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

Peace Sunday, Christian Unity, Haiti – 15 Jan 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Peace Sunday
  • Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity
  • Short Notes: Haiti

Openness to God … an understanding that God seeks our love and obedience, not just material sacrifices … a willingness to trust that faithfulness to God will be rewarded, whatever trials it involves … a readiness to witness publicly to God’s goodness. These are positive character traits evident in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts. As we examine our lives, in which areas do we need to pray that God will strengthen us?

Peace Sunday

In his message for this year’s Peace Sunday (January 15th) Pope Francis contrasts the violence of the last century (two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts) with the “piecemeal” violence of this: “wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment”. Both the violence itself and the diversion of resources it entails “can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all”, he writes.

In the face of such a bleak appraisal of widespread and overwhelming violence, can ordinary individuals play any role in peace making? Is this not the preserve of governments and specialised bodies? Pope Francis argues not only that individuals can be peacemakers but that they are also the principal hope for peace. “Everyone”, he writes, “can be an artisan of peace”. How?

First, there is the need to recognise and respect “the image and likeness of God in each person [which] will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity”. Second, we need to choose to “make active nonviolence our way of life”. He explains, “I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life… In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions…”

But what does “active non-violence” actually mean? The idea is explored in more depth in some of the accompanying materials for Peace Sunday, in particular the video, the Peace Sunday booklet and the worksheets Exploring Gospel Nonviolence. Thus the nonviolence of Jesus is not passive, meek and mild or defeatist, but is a positive force for healing, restoration and the assertion of human dignity, which exposes hypocrisy, speaks truth to power and resists exploitation – but which rejects retaliation and the temptation to respond to violence in kind. A visual aid, “the two hands of active non violence” graphically explains the concept. Two hands are placed at ninety degrees to each other, touching at the wrists, one upright, the other outstretched. The upright hand says ‘Stop’ to the person involved in the injustice or violence; it shows a refusal to cooperate in that violence or injustice. But the outstretched hand says, ‘We need to talk… I will not reject you’ and makes it clear that change and the opportunity to work things out together is being sought.

In her video message, Pax Christi International’s Marie Dennis says, “Mobilizing courageous and creative people-power, nonviolence doesn’t escape conflict but actively and powerful engages and transforms it”. She describes a conference held in Rome last year where many of the 85 participants were from war-torn or violent countries including Iraq, Sri Lanka, Colombia, South Sudan, the DR Congo and Afghanistan. “Their testimony was extremely powerful”, she says. She quotes Dominican Sister Nazek Matty whose community was expelled from Mosul by ISIS, who said, “We can’t respond to violence with worse violence. In order to kill five violent men, we have to create 10 violent men to kill them. . . . It’s like a dragon with seven heads. You cut one and two others come up.” Marie Dennis continues, “Many of the conference participants highlighted a deep yearning for just peace, especially in war zones around the world, and an amazing persistence in the pursuit of peace even in the most difficult circumstances. Courageous people in local communities living with unimaginable danger said, ‘Stop the militarization, stop bombing, stop the proliferation of weapons. Rely on nonviolent strategies to transform conflict’.” And she goes on to describe the involvement of the church in non-violent peace-building strategies, working in some extremely dangerous places to bring a just and lasting peace. The Pax Christi materials for Peace Sunday cite other examples of non violence in action

Perhaps this Peace Sunday we might pray using this prayer from Pax Christi USA (reproduced with kind permission):

Recognising the violence in my own heart,
yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I seek to practice the nonviolence of Jesus: by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life; by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.
God, I trust in your sustaining love and believe that you will give me the grace to live out this prayer.

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

The message for Peace Sunday beautifully complements this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the theme of which is “Reconciliation – the love of Christ compels us”, based on 2 Corinthians 5:14-20.

The materials for the week of prayer are themselves a remarkable achievement and worthy of engagement and celebration for their provenance alone. The resources have been created by the Council of Churches in Germany (ACK) in the context of the 500th  anniversary of the Reformation. They are the result of an ecumenical project and have been long in the making.

The theme for the week emerged from the broader discussions that have been going on in Germany over the past few years about how the churches in Germany might commemorate the Reformation ecumenically. “After extensive, and sometimes difficult, discussions, the churches in Germany agreed that the way to commemorate ecumenically this Reformation event should be with a Christusfest – a celebration of Christ. If the emphasis were to be placed on Christ and his work of reconciliation as the center of Christian faith, then all the ecumenical partners of the EKD – the Evangelical Church in Germany – ([EKD’s partners include] Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite and others) could participate in the anniversary festivities. Given the fact that the history of the Reformation was marked by painful division, this is a very remarkable achievement.”

The materials for the week have two main “accents”: first is the celebration of God’s love and grace, reflecting the great theme of Martin Luther’s Reformation of ‘justification by faith alone’. Second is the recognition of the pain and division that subsequently afflicted the church. The resources “openly name the guilt and offer an opportunity to take steps towards reconciliation”.

It is also noteworthy that the resources were being written in 2015 against the backdrop of the huge influx of refugees to Germany from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere, in which many individuals and churches actively practised reconciliation by offering hospitality. “The practical help and powerful actions against hatred of the foreigner were a clear witness to reconciliation for the German population”.

There are two main components to the materials: a worship service outline and eight daily reflections (for individual reflection or church use). Both have been adapted, as intended, by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for use in a UK context and can be found here.

The worship service incorporates a powerful symbolic action of constructing and then tearing down a wall. The stones or bricks each represent a sin that divides (for example, lack of love, abuse of power, discrimination, etc). As each sin is named, the brick is brought forward to build a dividing wall. Forgiveness for each sin is sought. Later in the service, a prayer of reconciliation is offered and the wall is dismantled – the bricks being rearranged into the form of the cross. This symbolic act is given added poignancy by its inspiration: the Berlin Wall and its fall in 1989 – “a symbol of hope for any situation in which a division seems insurmountable”. The whole service, focused on reconciliation, is a profoundly helpful liturgy that would be useful in a variety of situations where acknowledgement of conflict and reconciliation are needed.

Please pray:

  • In thanksgiving for the work that has gone into creating the resources for the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity – for the individuals involved, for their determination, faithfulness and witness.
  • In thanksgiving for situations where reconciliation has happened against the odds, including in Germany.
  • For situations of conflict where reconciliation seems impossible – for strength and resilience for those who strive to keep the hope of peace alive.
  • That the materials will inspire and lead others in situations of conflict towards reconciliation and healing.

Short Notes: Haiti


“So many absences. So many rifts still present in our wounded hearts. Painful memories. Are hopes permitted?”

With these words, independent journalist Gotson Pierre reflected on the 7th anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. Looking at materials put together by Haitians to commemorate the event, and coverage from the time (NYT – also very hard to watch), one is again stunned by the scale of the destruction. We mourn as a society – and rightly – when events occur which kill people in their dozens: how can we begin to comprehend an event which killed such a large proportion of the population that its equivalent in the UK* would be something that killed between 325,000 and 2 million people? It is beyond imagining.

The time since the earthquake has been marked by well-publicised political difficulties, issues around aid (especially controversies caused by the way aid was channelled to foreign agencies and by the decisions [cf here and here] of external bodies), and the addition of other crises, such as the introduction of cholera by UN peacekeepers and the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew . It’s also been marked by less-well-publicised – but important – small-scale successes in rebuilding (cf here, here and here)

As the New Year begins, many Haitians are seeking to look forward, using the memory of what has happened in the past to inspire future action. They are also awaiting a new government. On the 3rd of January, Jovenel Moise was confirmed as the new president-elect of the country, having received over 55% of the vote in the first round of presidential elections held in November. He will take office on 7 February. He has promised to focus on curbing corruption and growing food security.

Please pray:

  • for all whose hearts remain wounded by the events of 12 January 2010
  • for all who are still seeking to rebuild, that they may rebuild well and in a way that meets the needs of the most vulnerable … and for all who have had further losses since the earthquake
  • that national and local government leaders may have clear vision, an ability to prioritise, and the capacity to accomplish what is most necessary. Pray especially for the new president and those he will ask to help govern.
  • for justice for Haitians who have suffered because of the decisions made by international actors. Pray especially for proper funding of efforts to fight cholera, including efforts by the UN to fund their new plan.
  • that aid organisations will continue to learn from the experiences of Haiti and the impact of their work on the state there

*figures based on the full range of estimates for the death toll – see discussion here

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

In this week’s prayer email:

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

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

Lord, you were once a refugee”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Please pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Jan 2017 – Homeless Sunday

Resources for worship and prayer cards

25 January – Conversion of St Paul

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

27 January – Holocaust Memorial Day

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

29 Jan 2017 – World Leprosy Day

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

Coming up – Actions and Events

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

16 January

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

5 February

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

14 February (and surrounding week)

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


Photo ID 482888. 25/08/2011. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Time for Creation, Peacemaking Sunday, South Sudan – 18 September 2016

Paris Agreement, International Migrants Day – 18 December 2015

This week:

  • The Paris Agreement
  • International Migrants Day – Welcome the Stranger

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we encounter, in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, the Virgin Mary’s magnificent hymn of praise to God, often called the Magnificat. Rejoicing in God’s faithfulness and abundant gifts, the song anticipates the overturning of the ways of the world. Can we take time this week to read it daily, rejoicing in the promises it offers and praying for the coming of the Kingdom?

The Paris Agreement

“This is a small gavel, but I think it can do great things” said Laurent Fabius, the president of the Paris climate talks, as the conference formally adopted the Paris Agreement.

Was he right? Throughout this year, people have been asking us: “Is this climate conference going to be different from all the failures?” “Can we stay below 2 degrees?”  “And is there hope?”

Here are our thoughts, for reflection and prayer, on how the Paris Agreement relates to those questions. Read the top line to get the basics, the paragraphs underneath to get more detail, and the box at the end for prayer points.

Even without an agreement, Paris would have been different from previous climate talks.Two things stood out before the conference even started. Firstly, the climate action plans (INDCs) that countries had submitted, while not enough to hold temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (best estimates are 2.7 to 3.7 degrees), are enough to bring us out of the disastrous “business as usual” trajectory down which we’ve been heading.  And secondly, Christiana Figueres and the Peruvian (COP 20) and French (COP 21) teams did an amazing job of bringing a wide range of groups into the UNFCCC process – not just the nation states that are ‘parties’ to it, but also businesses, civil society groups, financiers, faith groups, cities and regional governments. Many of these are moving faster towards a low-carbon world than nation states are. Their inclusion both reinforced the importance of these groups’ own efforts – the renewables initiatives launched were particularly notable – and also created an environment where action seemed possible.

And now we have the Paris Agreement – the first universal climate treaty, including some 195 countries. That really is a difference … and has wider significance. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted, “every country in the world,” not just the developed countries, “has pledged to curb their emissions, strengthen resilience and act internationally and domestically to address climate change.” And while the document itself is far from perfect it has been agreed by all the parties in an unprecedented display of cooperation. Again, good process helped:  the French and the UNFCCC Secretariat did a brilliant job in their diplomacy. But to get an agreement, there had to be a general will for shared, multilateral action – a sense that blocs that have long held very different positions could work together and that at least some level of solidarity was possible. In an often fragmented world, the fact that countries had that sense and were prepared to act on it offers hope … and not just for the fight against climate change.

The Paris Agreement leaves the door open for us to stay well below 2 degrees – and indeed possibly at the 1.5 degree limit.  Since Copenhagen, countries have been saying that the goal is to hold warming below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Some scientists, however, feel that the pace of dangerous impacts increases well before we reach 2 degrees (cf this article) – and vulnerable states, such as the Pacific islands, have argued that for them a 1.5 degree goal is a matter of survival. The agreement sets a clear goal of keeping the global average temperature rise well below – not just below – 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and “pursu[ing] efforts  to limit the  temperature  increase to 1.5 °C above  pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

The agreement signals a clear shift towards a low-carbon world. The temperature target is ambitious and can’t be met unless there’s a significant and relatively rapid shift in how we produce and use energy. While some are waiting to see what actions countries take, there’s a sense in many quarters that the agreement – combined with the announcements on funding for renewables made earlier during the talks – sends a clear signal that the future lies with clean energy, and that coal in particular has no future. That changes the narrative about what is ‘realistic’ and should trigger investment flows into low-carbon, rather than high-carbon technologies.

But  the agreement needs to be hugely strengthened over time to keep us well below 2 – let alone at 1.5 – degrees … and time is short. The concrete detail on how we achieve the temperature goals doesn’t match the goals’ ambition. The agreement mentions achieving global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” without giving a specific target. It talks about achieving a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” in the second half of the century. And it talks about getting countries to up the ambition of their emissions targets on a regular basis, starting with a dialogue in 2018 and with regular stocktakes every five years from 2023 onwards. These all represent progress – but they’re not yet strong enough: Professor Myles Allen, for example, argues that to stabilise at 1.5 degrees, we would need emissions to peak now, and commitments to increase radically very soon.  That said, getting  the upward review mechanism was a triumph, and one that had looked unlikely not all that long ago. And its existence allows for stronger, faster action.

There’s more work to be done on climate finance, too. The agreement reaffirms the pledge from developed countries to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to enable developing countries to adapt to climate impacts and to undertake clean development. It extends the commitment to provide $100 billion/yr until 2025 and sets that figure as a floor for climate finance to be undertaken by “the parties” (ie potentially not just developed countries) from 2025 onwards. It also invites those developing countries that are in a position to do so to contribute earlier to climate finance for those who are poorer.

That’s better than it might have been – but the language is pretty woolly, and it’s unclear how it will be implemented. Two big questions are (a) what counts as “climate finance,” which is very contentious, and (b) the impact of climate finance on other areas of aid. The key here feels as if it will be both convincing developed countries that climate finance is actually an area of opportunity – the more resilient the world becomes, the more everyone benefits – and ensuring that we don’t see climate finance pledges met by the kind of diversion of aid funds that leaves other priorities wanting. And yes, while those figures sound huge, they’re not really adequate to the task – can countries be convinced to mobilise more?

And while it was great to see ‘loss and damage’ enter the agreement, there needs to be some money behind it. The developing countries most vulnerable to climate impacts were glad to see a separate article for ‘loss and damage’ – which recognises that some vulnerable countries will suffer climate-related losses (irreparable impacts) and damages (reparable impacts) that go beyond anything to which they can adapt. It’s an important recognition of the reality of their situations. The agreement also invites cooperation to help them cope – but there’s not much concrete in the way of funding.

Overall, we’d call the agreement a framework for hope. As climate activist Bill McKibben said, “This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.” A universal agreement means that climate change is no longer some people’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue. There’s a clear acknowledgement that the time for discussing climate change as if it were hypothetical or uncertain to exist is over. And there’s a framework for action – the various goals give us something with which to hold governments, businesses and ourselves to account.

If countries implement what they’ve agreed to and take stronger, rapid action on emissions cuts and financial pledges; if the agreement inspires action for climate justice at every level – from the most local to the global …  then we can look to a very hopeful future.

We all are a vital part of helping to fulfil that hope. What we do now – in terms of our own lifestyle choices, our advocacy with government, our prayer and our continuing to work with other Christians and others around the globe – really matters. It will not only make a huge difference locally, but will also help our countries to take the steps they need to take. And each country’s steps make it easier for other countries to take their own steps. We can be part of building a virtuous cycle.

For those of us in the UK, that’s a particularly important role right now. One of the few sadnesses of the COP was realising the extent to which the UK was seen as having gone from being a leader on climate change to being a country that was backtracking on commitments. If that’s going to change, we need to be among those who are changing it. We have our calling to care for creation and for our neighbours; we have the Paris Agreement; we have each other; and we have hope in God, who created and loves the world. Change is possible.

Christian leadership mattered at Paris. Our prayer and action as Christians mattered at Paris. And both will continue to matter.

Both before and at the climate talks, Christian leadership helped to reframe the negotiations – to move them away from being simply about economic options, historic and future responsibilities and power dynamics towards a vision of a future in which care for creation and care for our neighbour is at the heart of our common action. The best-known contribution was the Pope’s Laudato Si’, the impact of which is well documented. But contributions from the Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Lausanne Movement, the Anglican Communion bishops, the Lutheran World Federation, the reformed churches, Methodists, Baptists, and the churches of France working ecumenically (just for a start) were also vital.

But it wasn’t just about leaders.

“To those who walked, to those who prayed … ” this is the opening of Christiana Figueres’ “Open Letter of Gratitude to All” who helped work for the Paris Agreement. Figueres was moved to tears when faith leaders, including church leaders, met with her after celebrating the climate pilgrimages to Paris and handed over faith group petitions, signed by almost 2 million people. The knowledge that people were praying clearly mattered to her – and to the talks.

As Christians, our prayer was a response to God’s loving outreach to humanity and encompassed both petition and an act of witness: by it we laid our concerns before our all-powerful and all-loving God, attested to our faith in God, spoke about God’s role in creation, and recognised God’s call to the churches to care for creation.

We were praying for an agreement that, as Pray4COP21 put it would “help the whole global community to put aside selfishness and to walk together in ways that bring peace, show love for neighbours near and far, and reconcile us all with the beautiful creation that God has given us to cherish.” The Paris Agreement is far from perfect, but it has the potential to offer that help. Now we pray that its potential may be realised.

Our prayers are taken from the final prayers of Pray4COP21. Please:

  • Give thanks for the precious gift of Creation and our neighbours with whom we share it:
  • Pray that this agreement will truly help us to care for our common home and for each other.
  • Give thanks for the skill and commitment of the UN and French teams who guided the COP21 conference, and for the sense of cooperation that made countries willing to work together
  • Pray for the next steps along the journey that goverrnments and others must take. Ask that God will guide them in fulfilling their commitments justly and in raising their ambition to meet the needs of the world.
  • Pray for the next steps along the journey that each of us must take, asking God to give us the grace to speak and live in ways that reflect God’s love and justice,
  • Pray that we can work together for God’s glory, the good of the earth and the good of all our neighbours.

From “A Christian prayer in union with creation”

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.

The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
Of justice, peace, love and beauty.

Praise be to you!


Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, contributed to Pray4COP21 by the Global Catholic Climate Movement

International Migrants Day: Welcoming the Stranger

This past Friday, 18th December, was International Migrants Day. With so much attention being paid to migrant routes through the EU we may feel well acquainted with the issues. But refugees in Europe are only a small part of the global picture (and even the local one).

The majority of migrants are not refugees (those who have fled their home countries because of conflict or persecution) nor are they forced migrants (a broader category including both refugees and those forced to move due to extreme poverty, climate change or natural disasters). At the close of 2013 UN figures estimated that there were 235 million migrants globally. Most were economic migrants seeking employment. Many are simply pursuing work in countries with similar economies and opportunities to their own. But just over one third were moving from South to North, from regions with an average wage of $3,300 to nations where wages average just over ten times that figure. As inequality increases these numbers are increasing. Often their increased earnings go to fund family in their home countries. Figures from 2006 show that migrants sent home $300 billion (often in small amounts of $100 or so), almost three times the amount developed countries gave to developing nations in aid that year.

Forced migration is also increasing rapidly. It is well know that the violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Africa has swelled the number of refugees to around 60 million, the highest figure on record. But the problem is not only the significant numbers of displaced people, but that people are remaining in poor temporary accommodation (including refugee camps) for long periods of time and their chances of returning home are becoming less likely. In Al Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan 80,000 Syrian refugees are living in temporary accommodation, some for up to 3 1/2 years. But it is Africa which has the greatest number of refugees and some of the longest displacements. Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya hosts 400,000 refugees (mostly Somali) and is 24 years old. Many residents of these camps are unable to move home or to move on to a more permanent living situation. Last year 126,800 refugees (globally) returned to their home country and 103,000 were permanently settled by the UN but 6.4 million were known to be living in long term (5 years or more) exile without a permanent solution.

It is clear that those who are currently displaced by conflict, persecution or climate change (a factor which is expected to force between 50 and 200 million from their homes by 2050) will continue to face challenges for many years as they are forced to find ways to live in host communities for long periods of time often without a permanent legal status, with inadequate accommodation, a lack of language skills, little money and poor employment prospects.

The significant and increasing numbers of migrants together with the relationship between migration and issues of trade, climate, conflict and human rights means migration will be a key global issue in the decades ahead. The Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe argues that migration should also be a central issue for the Church:
‘Thinking about migration is not a marginal theological undertaking but touches central points of every theological reflection: What is humankind? What does it mean to be obliged to this God of the Old and New Testament? How can our confused human history be reconciled with a divine plan? How are theology and ethics related? And what, after all, is the task of the church?’
In other words, a coherent and faithful Christian response to migrants begins with understanding our relationship to migrants in light of God’s creation and relationship to us. Any practical response we can offer should come out of this understanding.

Welcoming the Stranger

One strand of theological reflection around migration involves the idea of ‘welcoming the stranger.’

This is an ethical imperative we see throughout the Bible. In Leviticus 19:34, for example, we read that ‘the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

The central part of this verse (together with others, see Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy 10:19)reminds us that the migrants ‘strangeness’ is actually a point of similarity for the Israelites who were also once migrants. In the New Testament we also see a sense of God’s people as a migrant community. Christians are to know themselves to be strangers in the world, a people who live in the world but are not of it, whose citizenship is in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). This understanding of ourselves as displaced people might encourage us to empathise with, and find common ground with, migrants. But it might also encourage us to hold our goods and land more lightly, knowing ourselves to be temporary guardians rather than owners.

Leviticus also reminds us that we are not to treat aliens or migrants according to their label, instead we are to treat them as citizens, as one of us. As numbers of migrants increase there is a tendency to forget that the headline figures are made up of millions of individuals with rich and varied identities with often tragic stories of loss and hardship. As countries struggle to deal with forced migrants they may also rely on labels (‘illegal immigrants’) which dehumanise and seek to place a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’. For Christians our theology might encourage us to forgo unhelpful labels and seek to treat migrants as citizens, one of our own, with a shared identity based  in our foundational belief that all are made in the image of God.

This verse in Leviticus also contains an implicit reminder that it was the Lord God who reached out to Israel and brought the people out of Egypt. In Christ we too know God’s movement towards us and our call to mirror that movement in seeking to be those who spread the good news, who reach out to others. As we seek to respond to migrants, it is right that we should step out in welcome and move towards those who are displaced, not wait for them to bring their needs to us.

This stepping out in welcome will not only be for the good of those we seek to serve. Responses to migration from the UN, development agencies and researchers have recently been seeking to emphasise the positive contributions forced migrant communities can make to their host countries (often with an economic focus). Pope Francis has also noted that migration is ‘a significant “sign of the times”, a challenge to be discovered and utilised in our work to renew humanity and proclaim the gospel of peace.’ As we seek to welcome the stranger we can also expect to reap rewards as we see God at work in restoring humanity.

Even if we accept the call to welcome the stranger, we might still ask what form this welcome should take. Whether a Christian response to migrants must entail open borders which allow free access for all. We hope to address these difficult issues soon, in the meantime you may wish to access the Bible Societies resource which looks at a number of ethical approaches to borders.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and well-being of who have migrated, for whatever reason.
  • that the church may witness to the dignity of all people by its welcome for all people
  • that we may recognise our identity as pilgrims and migrants in this world, holding all things lightly except our faith

Some theological reflections on migration include:

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Asylum Theology
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Mission Migrants and Refugees
Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, Theological Reflections on Migration: A CCME Reader
Jubilee Centre, The Famine, the Foreigner and the Threshing Floor [A reading of the book of Ruth in terms of immigration]
Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, The Love of Christ Towards Migrants