Prayer Email for 4/08/19: Climate Emergency – Action Stations

Readings for this week :

Verses for meditation:

” So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly…”
(Colossians 3:1-5a)

Reflection on the verses:

“The values from above should shape our earth.  Paul does not call us to escape this earth for heaven but to transform the earth with the gospel of heaven.   In so doing, we have the promise: ‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory.'”
Robert Smith,  Commentary on Colossians 3:1-11, A Plain Account

 

Coming Up This Fortnight

For prayer before, during or after the events…

9 August – International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

12 August – International Youth Day
2019 Theme: Transforming Education. Info from the UN. Could youth in your church lead prayers for young people worldwide?

19 August – World Humanitarian Day
2019 theme: Women Humanitarians. Pray for humanitarian workers/efforts worldwide. Info from UN

Items for Prayer

Emergency – Action Stations

As we’ve been writing the Pray and Fast for the Climate prayer points this week, I (Maranda) have had company. A group of bluetits and a mistle thrush have taken up residence outside my office window. They flit from the rosebush to the windowsill, tap the sill probingly (it’s metal – not much satisfaction there) and then flit back. The rose’s pale pink blossoms nod as they land in its branches – and nod again as they take off for the nearby elder, whose darkening berries are an abundant source of food.

It’s all very idyllic – the kind of thing that recalls nineteenth century poetry: “the lark’s on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn: God’s in His heaven – all’s right with the world.” Juxtaposing that with the climate impacts I’ve been writing about has been somewhat jarring. It has highlighted one of the problems many of us in the UK  face: surrounded by a natural world which, on the surface, doesn’t look that different from the one we and our parents and grandparents have grown up loving, how can we maintain our focus on confronting  the very real planetary crisis that means that all is decidedly not right with the world?

For me, the hardest  prayer item to write was the one about the Arctic. What’s happening there is deeply disconcerting. There is the incongruity of intense heating in the coldest regions. Record-breaking heat in contexts where you expect heat is one thing. But three straight months of above average temperatures and highs above 30 in Alaska? Then there are the reports of mass animal deaths in recent years – tufted puffins starving, most likely  because of the warming seas, and thousands of Cassin’s Auklets being washed ashore. And finally there  is something that is both present and imminent – the awareness that the Arctic impacts that we are seeing are themselves drivers of accelerated heating – that we are looking at the type of feedback loops that scientists have long warned pose a primary threat to our ability to avoid runaway global heating. Ice melt means that less heat gets reflected and so leads to further ice melt; wildfires spread soot, increasing heat absorption that helps to create the conditions for further wildfires; the fires’ heat warms permafrost, releasing long-sequestered carbon ….

The crisis is real. And if we’re honest, it’s present even in our part of our common home. The birds at my window are lovely – but where are the flocks of swifts that used to wheel around the village? The roses are beautiful, but what about the more shallow-rooted plants, that have withered in the heat? If I’m working late at night, can I fail to notice that there are fewer moths bumping against the windowpane, trying to reach the light? The quiet apocalypse is a reality here, too.

This is why the language of emergency – climate emergency and, more generally, planetary emergency – feels so important. Human beings are, by nature, adaptively resilient. When things change, we change, too. If the change is gradual enough, it’s easy to embed the ‘new normal’ in our established patterns of language and action, shifting definitions so  that we can disguise from ourselves the significance of what’s happening. A ‘hot summer’s day’ this year is 38, but because we talk about  summer heat and ‘ice-cream weather’ as we once would have to describe a day of 30 degrees, it feels less threatening. The language of emergency cuts through this, acknowledging that what we are seeing is not a temporary extreme that we can fit within our extant paradigms, but part of an abnormal shift that can’t be ignored.

But there’s a challenge with ’emergency’ language, too. For some people, it feels disempowering, as if we’re saying that the situation is beyond our control, too difficult to resolve and hence pointless to fight. We may feel that it invites us to become like that stock figure of disaster films and real-life situations – the person who disconsolately moans ‘We’re doomed’ as a  crisis becomes apparent.

There are, however, other models.  One that springs to mind is the airline pilot  ‘Sully’ Sullenberge and his team. Sullenberger famously landed a crippled, engine-less jet in the Hudson River without loss of life. In what was a seemingly hopeless emergency, with only four minutes from engine failure to impact, he drew on decades of experience, his own courage and skill, the absolute knowledge of what the technology he commanded *could* do, and a well-trained team. He, his co-pilot, the air traffic controllers who alerted those in their path, the flight attendants who then helped evacuate the passengers,  the ferry and boat crews who rescued them, and the passengers themselves (barring one who panicked and opened a rear door) saw what needed to be done, and did it.

For us, too, the declaration of an emergency can be the impetus not for panic but for a focused, realistic assessment of where we are, the tools we have available to us, the changes that need to happen, and how we can both implement them on a small scale and work with others to see them implemented on a large scale.

Neither the climate crisis nor the broader planetary environmental crisis is going to be simple to resolve. But one of the main merits of the Paris Agreement is that it has given us a clear long-term goal for climate action – and it’s now generally recognised that the world has to get to net zero emissions globally by mid-century. In this, developed countries need to lead the way as ‘early adopters’. This goal provides a framework for our efforts: it’s not just about doing this or that action, advocating for this or that policy. It’s about assessing now what it would take for us – individually, as Christian communities, as part of our wider societies –  to begin to approach the net zero target in a scientifically and morally credible time frame.

How we do this isn’t simply a technical matter. Any attempt to answer the question ‘How then shall we live?’ brings us back to the first principles of our faith – the nature of God, what it means to be human, what the relationships between God, humanity and the rest of creation – now so often manifestly broken – are meant to look like.   As Christians, our faith gives us some clear principles that can be a gift to the general response – a worldview that sees the intrinsic value of all creation, for example; a calling to love of neighbour which incorporates the need for climate justice; and a trust in the One who created, redeems and sustains all that is – the wellspring of our hope. Perhaps our first challenge is truly to ‘own’ the things we say we believe – so that they become the deeply embedded foundations on which we seek, by God’s grace and using all the technical tools at our disposal, to build a concrete reality.

In four weeks’ time, we start the Season of Creation, which runs from 1 September to 4 October and this year has the theme ‘Web of Life – Biodiversity as God’s blessing’. It’s a time for people and churches who are already deeply committed to caring for creation as part of discipleship to take stock and to renew that commitment … and for those just exploring this aspect of discipleship to take the first steps.

We hope and pray that it will be a time to celebrate the glorious diversity of what Richard Bauckham calls ‘the community of creation’. We hope and pray that it will be a time to pray together in repentance, praise, thanksgiving and intercession for the creation. But we also hope and pray that this won’t just be ‘the time of the year when we think about creation’ but a time to start or review a long-term plan for living as we have to live if we are to be responsible members of the creation before God. What would it look like, for example, if our churches committed, this Season of Creation, to developing over the coming year a credible net zero plan  and/or a credible plan to celebrate and protect biodiversity… and then began a year-long process of exploring the underlying principles and the technical tools that could shape their response?

This week, in our resources section, we highlight the official Season of Creation resources. But with the aim of helping churches to think about long term plans, as well as celebrating the season,  each subsequent week’s  resources section will have a particular focus: understanding and explaining the crises facing the planet, reflecting on our Christian calling, practical tools for action, and tools that help us connect with each other and our communities. At every point, we’d love to hear from you about things you’ve found helpful – so please do write in with suggestions! Please also let us know if you’d like to be part of a process of thinking through how we, ecumenically, can strengthen each other’s response. And please pray that this Season will further a restoration of relationships between God, humanity and all creation.

DRC Update: Ebola and Wider Concerns

Please continue to pray for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the eastern provinces. In the province of Ituri, a renewed outbreak of violence has led to many deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have fled to the city of Bunia. Pray for all affected,  especially for people who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. Pray too for those who are seeking to offer assistance to people who have been displaced, and especially for Caritas Bunia, which is coordinating aid to people in camps.

Ituri, together with the province of Nord Kivu, is also affected by the Ebola outbreak, which, one year after it began, has now claitled over 1,838 lives. On 17 July, the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak is a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The immediate causes for the declaration included the first Ebola case in the provincial capital of Goma. Goma is a major transport and trading hub, and there has long been concern that if cases began to appear in the city, the virus could spread more widely from there to other parts of the DRC and potentially to other countries.

Part of the hesitation in declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern has been a fear, especially within the Congolese government, that such a declaration could result in countries closing their borders with the eastern DRC – something which would further destabilise the already fragile economy there. The declaration explicitly asked neighbouring countries not to do this; thus far, most seem to have complied, and while Rwanda temporarily closed its border with Goma, it appears to have reopened it.

The declaration has had a positive effect in mobilising resources for the health response, and numerous countries and agencies, including the World Bank, have increased their involement.

Pray  that countries will continue to keep their borders open and that the declaration will continue to have a positive impact on the resources available for prevention and treatment.

In another development at the end of July, the oversight of the Ebola response was switched from the Minister of Health to a team of experts, led by Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, reporting directly to the President. The shift may be related to questions of which vaccines and vaccination strategies to use, concerning which there has been a division of opinion (perspectives: RFI, Muyembe press conference, Minister of Health’s letterPeter Piot and Harvard Business Review). We pray for the new team as they take on their new responsibilities, asking God to give them wisdom and strength.

Finally, the Congo Church Association recently sent out its newsletter. We rightly hear much about the difficulties that people in the DRC face – we must be aware and pray in response. But in the newsletter, we also hear about the loving and courageous work that Congolese Anglican churches are doing, by God’s grace, to show God’s love in word and deed. We need to hear about this, too. Do take a look at this and at the Caritas Bunia website – and pray for Christians in the DRC, thanking God for them and asking God to guide and bless them and their ministries.

Some more prayers for the DRC can be found here and from the Congo Church Association. CAFOD has a prayer specifically for those affected by Ebola.

Short Notes

Yemen
845,017 people. It’s a little more than the total population of Berkshire – and it’s the number of people who are thought to have contracted cholera in Yemen between January 2018 and 7 July 2019. More than 1,230 have died. An estimated 3.3 million Yemenis have been displaced; 10 million are in need of food aid.

Please continue to pray for the people of Yemen, especially for the many civilians for whom the war and humanitarian crisis have meant loss of family, friends, health, homes and livelihoods. Pray that an apparent deal to increase the flow of aid will last and will be effective. Give thanks for all people of good will who are working for peace and to provide assistance to those in need. Pray for their safety and effectiveness.

Pray, too for all parties in the conflict – that they may seek a just peace. As the United Arab Emirates draw down their troops, pray that the result is an opening for a negotiated peace.

Sudan
Sudan’s army and its main opposition coalition have signed a constitutional declaration that sets out a plan for a transitional government. Pray that this development leads to justice and stability for all inhabitants of Sudan. Pray for those who will lead the new transitional government, as they seek to negotiate the country’s economic and political challenges.

Hong Kong
Please continue to hold the people and government of Hong Kong in your prayers. As protests and strikes continue, tensions also continue to mount, and there is concern about China’s response. Please pray for wisdom for all involved. Pray, too, that the  situation may end in a just resolution, by which the human rights, freedoms and safety of all Hong Kong’s inhabitants – and the preservation of their distinctive place – can be guaranteed.

For Prayerful Action

WIn addition to starting to plan for Season of Creation, could you:

 

Resources to help you pray and act

Season of Ceation

Put together by a global team, this year’s Season of Creation resources include a full celebration guide with information about the theme, a ‘Season of Creation’ prayer and further worship resources, and suggestions for events. The website’s resources section also includes  promotional materials, materials for young people and clergy, and a space for sharing community-created resources. Take a look.

We also still have some of Elizabeth’s beautiful Time for Creation postcards, which you can use as invitations to special events. They’re free; all we ask is a donation to cover postage and packing. Email if you’d like some.

 

This email was sent to you by Christian Concern for One World.(CCOW), The Rectory, Church End, Blewbury OX11 9QH. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox, please email us at info@ccow.org.uk

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

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.

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Prayer Email: 7 April 2019

In this email

  • Storms and Floods

  • Brexit

  • Short Notes: Faith and Asylum, Immigration Detention, Positive Climate Action, Ebola, Rwanda

  • This Week’s Readings

Storms and Floods

Our last email focused on Cyclone Idai. Please continue to pray and give for relief and recovery in Mozambique, Malawi & Zimbabwe. Please also pray for people who suffered losses when Australia was hit by two cyclones (there were also some for whom the storms’ rains were a gift) In the US, there have been historic river floods in the Midwest: pray for all affected and especially for farmers, some of whom are considering leaving their farms. Pray for those affected by floods in  Angola, deadly flash floods in Afghanistanflooding and landslides in Indonesia, which have killed over one hundred people, major floods in Iran

which have killed 70 people and forced largescale evacuations, and flash floods after storms in southern Nepal.

Brexit

We’ve been working for several weeks on a piece on Brexit. The difficulty with this is that as the situation changes almost daily, it’s very difficult to write. If we can, we’ll send out a ‘Brexit’ supplement to the prayer email over the weekend … but in the meantime, please keep praying for all involved in the process of discerning a way forward.

Short Notes: Faith and Asylum, Immigration Detention, Positive Climate Action, Ebola,  Rwanda

Faith and Asylum

Christian leaders have raised concerns about the Home Office’s treatment of people seeking asylum for religious reasons, after an Iranian convert to Christianity had their asylum application refused by a Home Office official who used selected verses from Scripture, taken out of context, to dispute the convert’s account of having converted to Christianity because it was a religion of peace. While the Home Office has agreed in this instance that the letter did not follow its ‘policy approach’ and that it will reconsider the person’s case, this is not the first time that Home Office criteria for deciding on the authenticity of conversions have been questioned. Failures in this area are a serious issue, as converts who are refused asylum and returned to their countries of origin could, in some cases, face prison, physical punishment, or death. Pray for greater religious literacy in the process and for converts to receive a fair hearing and protection from persecution.

Immigration Detention
The Joint Public Issues Team and other Christian organisations welcomed the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s critique of Home Office practice relating to detention.  An official summary of the report noted that it found “that the Home Office has utterly failed in its responsibility to oversee the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK, that too often it does not follow its own policy and guidance, and that a series of safeguarding and case-working failures have led to people being wrongfully detained, held in immigration when they are vulnerable and unnecessarily detained for too long.” Among its recommendations, “the Committee calls for an end to indefinite detention and a maximum 28-day time limit and says the Home Office must do much more to ensure that detention is an option of last resort. The Committee also calls for an overhaul of the Adults at Risk policy, stronger judicial oversight and a more humane decision-making process for detention to ensure that vulnerable people are not being let down.” Pray that these recommendations are heard and acted upon.

Action Point: Join MPs from all parties, human rights groups, Christian groups and others in calling on the UK Government to end indefinite detention and to place a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. You can do so via Liberty/s pettion or through the [Catholic] Bishops Conference of England and Wales. In addition to the new report, see the report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights for more information.

Positive Climate Action

Thanks to initiatives like #PlasticLessLent and the Living Lent programme, more and more people are making personal lifestyle choices that reflect their commitment to care for our environment. ‘But what about wider action?’ people sometimes ask. In fact, recent weeks have seen a number of new and noteworthy positive signs of large-scale change. Here are a few, drawn from different areas where new initiatves are needed. You can find more climate prayer points in this month’s Pray and Fast for the Climate prayer sheet.

  • Shell has withdrawn from the industry lobby group American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers, citing “material misalignment on climate-related policy positions with this association” including the AFPM’s unwillingness to state support for the Paris Goals.  Shell also said that it would monitor its membership in 9 other industry associations with whom it had ‘some misalignment’.
    Fossil fuel lobbyists have been fighting positive policy change for years – to have an oil major break with a lobbying group – and put others on notice – because of policy differences is a significant development.  Give thanks – and pray that others follow.
  • It’s less than we need – and too long a lead time when it’s already long overdue – but it’s still worth giving thanks for the Government announcement that gas heating will be banned in new build housing from 2025 onwards, as it’s at least a sign of movement. Pray, though, for more rapid action.
  • In 2018, for the first time ever, more than 1 million ‘pure’ electric cars were sold. The major German car manufacturers have agreed a common position on the electric technology for the next decade or so and are pushing for infrastructure to support it, and even auto show reviews are focusing on sustainability. Pray for an ever more rapid shift to sustainable transport.
  • Vegan Big Whoppers were launched on April Fools Day … but they weren’t an April Fools joke, just the most visible sign of the mainstreaming of plant-based eating. The new burger is a product developed by a former Stanford professor who has made it his mission to create vegan food tasty enough to help people reduce their meat consumption. Many seem to feel he’s succeeded on the taste front. And while fast food still raises many issues, as do the technological processes involved in some meat substitutes, give thanks more broadly that a much-needed shift in eating habits is gaining traction.

Ebola

As of Friday the total number of Ebola cases in the current Nord Kivu/Ituri (DRC) outbreak was 1,117 and 702 people had died. While this is far smaller than the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it is the second-widest recorded Ebola outbreak – and, after looking earlier this year as if it might slow,  has actually accelerated in recent weeks. March had the most cases per month since the outbreak began. The increase is attributed to the combination of political instability, community mistrust, and resultant attacks on health workers and health facilities that have made prevention and treatment more difficult.  Please give thanks for the courage and dedication of Congolese health workers and the international colleagues working alongside them. Pray for all who are affected. Pray for an increase in stability and trust in the region that will enable effective prevention and treatment. And pray that the outbreak does not spread to areas where it would be more difficult yet to contain.

Further Reading:   CCOW has a page about the outbreak, with information, links and prayer points. If you speak French, you can listen to the coordinator of Ebola response in Butembo, speaking in a Ministry of Health broadcast about the importance of community action and support.

Rwanda

This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, in which over 800,000 people were killed in about 100 days. We’ve put links to some reading/viewing below, which offers the testimony of different people affected by the genocide. The prayer points are derived from those readings.

Please pray:

  • for continued healing for all who suffer because of the genocide
  • for the ongoing process of reconciliation within Rwanda
  • for peace and stability throughout the Great Lakes region, and for an end to the many conflicts there, some related to those of Rwanda, that blight lives today
  • for those who struggle with the Christian faith because of Christian participation in the genocide
  • in thanksgiving for all – Christians and others – who opposed the violence.
  • for the work of Christians and churches on reconciliation and renewal
  • in thanksgiving for those who suffered who have been able to show forgiveness and love to those who harmed them
  • for all who conntinue to struggle with anger and hatred because of the harm done to them
  • in thanksgiving for those who have apologised for their action or inaction. Pray for those who have yet to ask forgiveness.
  • for justice and freedom for all in Rwanda
  • for all who stand up against the kind of dehumanising language that fuelled the Rwandan genocide, wherever it now manifests itself. Pray that dehumanising language about our fellow humans may have no place anywhere.

This Week’s Readings

Isaiah 43:16-21 • Psalm 126 • Philippians 3:4b-14 • John 12:1-8

“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:8, 13-14

As we continue through Lent, help us, Lord, to seek a deeper life in you as our greatest prize.

Image: Tropical Cyclone Idai seen by NASA’s Aqua satellite in Mozambique Channel (cropped). Credit: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)

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Refugees, Brexit and Trade, Christian Unity, Peace Sunday

  • Praying for Refugees

  • Brexit and the Trade Bill

  • Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

  • Short Notes: Peace Sunday, Coming Up

  • This Week’s Readings

Praying for Refugees – Saturday

On Saturday 26th January, from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm at St Clement’s Church in Oxford, CCOW will be offering ‘A time of reflection and refreshment: Praying for refugees, asylum seekers and all walking alongside’. The event will include prayer stations, reflections, shared prayers and a shared lunch.

If you haven’t already signed up, please email Joanna to do so.  We hope that Christians from different traditions and with different experiences will join us. All are welcome. Book by Thursday.

Brexit and the Trade Bill

It has been a tumultuous week in the Brexit debates. To find prayers for the nation and its leaders, you may wish to look at:

As we consider, this week, the themes of unity and pursuing justice, we are conscious of the many ways in which decisions around Brexit could have an impact on justice issues. Decisions about tariffs, for example, could have a substantial negative impact on small farmers here and developing country producers who currently export to the UK. And because trade agreements also cover regulatory frameworks, the way we approach trading relationships could affect labour rights, protection for the environment, food standards, and chemical safety standards in the UK, with impacts also on our trading partners.

In light of this, please pray as the  Trade Bill comes to the House of Lords this week. While the withdrawal of the Bill from Commons business in the coming weeks means that this Bill may not, in fact, be the one that comes to a final vote, the discussions around it still matter, as they are an opportunity to draw out central principles of trade justice that need to be included. Pray for:

  • wisdom for the Lords as they discuss vital issues relating to Brexit and trade
  • a willingness to look at the social and environmental impacts of economic decisions
  • wisdom and a sense of peace for those who engage in international trade, as they face uncertainty around their future

For more information, see our Resources on Trade and Brexit page, which has links to materials explaining the issues. Given the sheer volume of misunderstandings about trade and Parliament’s options, we would particularly commend following on Twitter David Henig (@davidhenigUK), Dmitry Grozoubinski (@DmitryOpines), and Peter Ungphakorn (@CoppetainPU) – all of them former trade negotiators committed to explaining clearly how trade agreements work; Helen Dennis (@HelenDennisDevt) at the Fairtrade Foundation and Liz May (@LizMay12) at Traidcraft Exchange, looking at impacts on developing countries; and @Brigid_Fowler, at the Hansard Society, an expert on parliamentary procedure.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” As we reflect on the theme chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we’ve been calling to mind churches’ work for justice around the world. For each day of the coming week,  we’re providing a short prayer note relating to the daily focus, with a llink to the excellent materials provided by Indonesian Christians.

Sunday:  Theme – “The Lord is gracious and merciful to all” … God’s mercy to all people

“In various ways, [members of the Indonesian churches] work together … women of different communities in the Kebayoran area of Jakarta, for instance, work together to provide very cheap lunch packs to the becak (rickshaw) drivers, low income families, and the homeless.”

Pray for churches and Christian groups that are living out Christ’s love in their interactions with people whom others marginalise. Pray especially for those Christians who witness to God’s gracious and merciful love for all while themselves facing marginalisation or danger because of their faith.

Among these, pray for churches and Christian groups in the UK and in countries around the world which, like the Indonesian churches, offer a welcome and practical assistance to people who are on low incomes or without adequate housing. Give thanks for the many churches and Christian groups who undertake activities such as running community food projects, opening as winter shelters, providing support for refugees, and lobbying for fairer social and economic policies in solidarity with peole in poverty. If your church isn’t already involved in any such activities, pray to discern whether you might be called to action; the links above will take you to sources of inspiration and information.

Monday: Theme – “Be content with what you have” … justice in distribution of resources

“The PGI [Communion of Churches in Indonesia] member churches share the conviction that greed is the root cause of the four different but interrelated issues [poverty, injustice, radicalism and environmental degradation]. Therefore PGI promotes the so-called ‘spiritualitas keugaharian’ or ‘spirituality of moderation’.” Pray for the churches in Indonesia and around the world who work to combat greed and its consequences, and to offer an alternative of joyful moderation.

In the UK, pray for endeavours like Green Christians’ ‘Joy in Enough’ programme, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility’s ‘using ethical investment to close the gap’ ( creating fairer pay structures), and the Joint Public Issues Team’s work on poverty and inequality. If you’re not already working for justice in this area and feel called to do so, consider whether these or other resources or opportunities relating to your own experience might be offering something with which to engage.

Tuesday: Theme – “To bring good news to the poor”… combattting exploitation of people in poverty

“The prophet Amos criticized traders who practiced deceit  and exploited  the poor  in order to gain maximum profit. Amos also underlined how God observes their wrongdoing and will never forget it. God listens to the cries of victims of injustice and never forsakes those who are exploited and treated unjustly.”

Pray for Christians around the world who are seeking to end exploitation by providing fairly paid work, fairly priced housing, and fair access to credit for people who are trying to escape poverty. Pray especially for:

  • Traidcraft’s team in the UK as it reshapes the organisation in order to make it sustainable.
  • Traidcraft’s  Christian producer partners (and all its producer partners) worldwide who are providing opportunities for good employment, and who will be seeking new markets. You might want to use the prayers from Asha Handicrafts which are on our website.
  • Housing Justice in the UK  and church housing initiatives globally.
  • Credit unions, savings groups, and microcredit institutions serving poor communities, especially those formed by churches, either alone or working ecumenically

Wednesday: Theme – “The Lord of Hosts is His name”… care for creation

“Many people have been driven by  greed  to exploit creation beyond its capacity. In the name of development, forests are  cleared and pollution destroys land, air, rivers and seas, rendering agriculture impossible, making fresh water unobtainable and causing animals to die. In this context it is useful to remember that  after  his resurrection, Jesus commissioned  the disciples to proclaim the good news ‘to the whole creation’. No  part  of  creation is outside God’s plan to make all things new. And so  conversion  is  needed from a tendency to exploit to an attitude  that values and  reconciles  us with creation.”

Pray for Christians around the world who are seeking to care for creation, especially:

  • The churches in Indonesia, as they come together “to promote eco-friendly churches, and to take a stand against environmental abuses”
  • all who are inspiring people to see the beauty of creation and to appreciate the wonder of God’s gift to us
  • all who are taking steps – whether small, beginning steps or larger ones – to live more sustainably. Pray too for programmes like Eco Church and LiveSimply that offer support in living joyfully and sustainably
  • all – such as Rene Pamplona and Sister Susan Bolanio in the Philippines  – who are environmental defenders in places where opposing exploitation and protecting natural resources can be dangerous
  • all around the world who are seeking to influence their governments to have stronger environmental policies, especially, at this time of regulatory rollback in the US and Brazil, those in US networks like Creation Justice Ministries, the Evangelical Environmental Network and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and those working in Brazil for environmental justice

Thursday: Theme – “Woman, great is your faith” … fighting trafficking and exploitation of women

“In recent years churches in Indonesia have taken common action against human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children. Their efforts, and those of people of other faiths, are all the more urgent since the number of victims in some parts of their country is increasing daily.
As Christians unite in prayer and study of the Scriptures, truly listening for God’s voice, they can discover that God also speaks today through the cries of the most abused in society. It is when  they hear God’s  call together  that  they are  inspired to join in common action against the scourge of human trafficking and of other evils.”

Pray for all – men and women – who are affected by the evils of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Pray for Christian initiatives to end these scourges, including:

  • The Clewer Initiative, a project helping Church of England churches and wider church networks “to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in their communities and help provide victim support and care”
  • International Justice Mission,  which seeks to rescue people from slavery, press for the conviction of slave owners, and address the situations that engender slavery
  • Medaille Trust, “a charity founded by groups of [Catholic] Religious congregations … to work against the evils of human trafficking in response to the plight of thousands of people who are being trafficked into the UK each year”
  • Stop the Traffik, a global movement seeking “to unite people around the world by inspiring, informing, equipping and mobilising communities to know what trafficking is, know how to identify it and how to respond, and know how to protect themselves and others”

Could your church take a look at the “7 Ps” – principles for churches taking action to tackle trafficking?

Friday: Theme – “The Lord is my light and my salvation” … A unified church working for justice

“Day by day, year by year, and especially during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Christians join together for common prayer, professing their common baptismal faith, listening for God’s voice in the Scriptures and praying together of unity in Christ’s body. In doing so, they recognise that the Holy Trinity is the source of all unity and that Jesus is the light of the world, who promises the light of life to those who follow him. The many injustices in the world frequently sadden or anger them. But they do not lose hope, they move to action. Because the Lord is their light and their salvation and the stronghold of their lives, they do not fear.”

Please pray:

Short Notes

Peace Sunday

“”One thing is certain: good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations… today more than ever, our societies need ‘artisans of peace’ who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family.”

This Sunday, 20 January, is Peace Sunday, with the theme ‘Good politics is at the service of peace’. At a time when so much in politics worldwide turns to conflict more than peace, please pray for God to transform the politics of hatred into a politics of love and peace. Each person will have a particular situation that they wish to pray for. We’d ask your prayers at present for people working on a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, those working to create peace and justice following the disputed election in the Democratic Republic of Congo, those seeking freedom for minority ethnic and religious groups in China and Myanmar, and those seeking a politics of love, justice and righteousness amidst the divisions in the United States.

Coming Up

Next Sunday is both World Leprosy Day and Holocaust Memorial Day. Click on the links for materials.

This Week’s Readings

Revised Common Lectionary Readings – Isaiah 62:1-5  •  Psalm 36:5-10  •  1 Corinthians 12:1-11  •  John 2:1-11

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

1 Corinthians 12: 4-11

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Climate Justice Event, God Speed the Plough, Week of Christian Unity

In this week’s email

  • Climate Justice Event

  • God Speed the Plough

  • Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

  • Short Note: Praying for Refugees

  • This Week’s Readings

Climate Justice Event

Where did the recent UN climate talks make progress? What still needs to be done? What is the UK’s role in fighting climate change and promoting climate justice?

This Friday evening at the North Oxford Association, leading climate expert Professor Myles Allen and Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran will be discussing ‘What now for Climate Justice?’ in an event sponsored by the FairPlay Climate Justice campaign. Details here: recommended highly!

 

God Speed the Plough

This Sunday and Monday have been marked by many churches as Plough Sunday and Plough Monday – traditionally the time when ploughs were blessed before the new year’s work began in the fields.

This week, therefore, we’re praying especially for farmers.

We’d ask, firstly, for your prayers for those farmers affected by extreme weather events – whether drought, flood, extreme temperatures, or extreme storms. The recent Christian Aid report, ‘Counting the Cost’, looks at ten extreme weather disasters around the world in 2018, each of which had estimated costs to those affected of more than 1 billion US dollars. Many of those impacts were felt by farmers: drought in Argentina meant that soybean harvests were down 31% year on year; heat and drought in Western Australia damaged wheat crops; Typhoon Mangkhut caused an estimated 644 million dollars of damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the Philippines.  The agricultural damage from Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence in the US have been estimated as being in the billions, of which $1.3 billion was from Michael and $1.1 billion was an estimate for Florence’s damage in North Caroline alone.

For some, these losses will take years to overcome. Farmers in Dominica, many of whom lost not just crops but also equipment, housing, and access to transport when Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, are still working on recovery. When we asked a staff member at the National Development Foundation of Dominica, which is helping them,  what we should pray for, the response was simply: “Generally, you could say everything.” For some farmers caught up in disasters, losses may never fully be recovered: if, for example, a small farmer in some countries loses cattle, that may mean that his or her children lose their chance at education or marriage, reducing the family’s chances of economic well being over the longer term.

As you pray for farmers in areas most affected by extreme weather, please also pray for those facing difficulties because of issues around international trade and government support. In the US, the trade war with China has reduced some farmers’ ability to sell their crops; in addition, the current government shutdown has disrupted federal farm payments, as well as access to government data and financial services. As a result, some farmers, especially small farmers and/or those in vulnerable sectors, are under threat.

In the UK, uncertainty around the impacts of Brexit are leaving many farmers unclear about their farms’ future viability. For example, some farms in the UK depend for their profitability on the single farm payment.  Brexit would mean changes to the system of farm payments, and the UK Government has promised to match the total payment amounts only until 2022, leaving open the possibility of serious cuts thereafter. In addition, farmers who sell produce into the European market aren’t certain whether they will be able to do so on similar terms: Welsh lamb farmers are anxious  for example, that in a “no deal” scenario, maybe 90% of their export markets could be threatened, while opportunities to enter new markets remain unclear. Charities that work with farmers, such as the Farming Community Network, are reporting increased levels of stress.


Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins this Friday, 18th January and goes through next Saturday, 25th January.  The materials for the week have been prepared by Christians in Indonesia and focus on the theme ‘‘Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue…’ (taken from Deuteronomy 16)

The introduction to the materials prepared by CTBI (very slightly modified from those prepared in Indonesia) notes: “Our prayers for Christian unity are offered within a context of a world where corruption, greed and injustice bring about inequality and division. We ourselves are often complicit in injustice, and yet called together to form a united witness for justice and to be a means of Christ’s healing grace for a fractured world.”

The materials, which include readings, reflections and prayers for each day, as well as a full ecumenical service, look at hard issues relating to current economic systems, corruption, environmental degradation, radicalisation, and the ways “those who are supposed to promote justice and protect the weak fail to do so.” But they also offer hope, based on the fact that “a common Christian response to such a reality whilst acknowledging our own complicity, heeds Jesus’s prayer “that they all may be one”, and enables us to combat injustice.”

“Indonesian Christians,” they say,”speak of the need to repent of the injustice that causes division, but also believe in the power of Christ to forgive and heal. They speak of finding themselves united under the cross of Christ, calling both for his grace to end injustice and for his mercy for the sin which has caused division.” It’s a powerful call – and the materials on offer can help us engage with it. Please pray:

  • for the country of Indonesia and especially for the Christians within it
  • that many people will use the materials prepared for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
  • that God will use our prayers for unity to unite us more closely in Christ

Short Note

Praying for Refugees

We’re preparing for our January 26th time of prayer for refugees, asylum seekers, and those walking alongside them. Please do contact Joanna if you are intending to come – and let others know about it. Please also pray for the preparations, and that the time of prayer is a blessing.

 

This Week’s Readings

Revised Common Lectionary Readings – Isaiah 43:1-7 • Psalm 29 • Acts 8:14-17 • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

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Troubled Waters, God’s Gifts and Our Response, Nobel Peace Prize, China and Religion – 7/10/18

  • Troubled Waters

  • God’s gifts and our response

  • Nobel Peace Prize

  • Short Note: China and Religion

  • This Week’s Readings

Troubled Waters

We start this week by praying for the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. We remember also the many recovering from recent tropical cyclones and from floods in Nigeria and Kerala. Please pray and give for relief and recovery; there is a page with links here.

Not all disasters are climate related. But we know that climate change is making some types of extreme weather more frequent and more severe. The new 1.5 degree report from the IPCC calls us to take immediate and drastic action. For an aid to prayer on climate impacts and climate action, take a look at Elizabeth’s powerful new video meditation ‘Troubled Waters’, prepared  for the Anglican Alliance and CCOW.

God’s gifts and our response

As Christians, we recognise that we are all recipients of God’s gifts. By God’s grace, we all have access to the gift of Salvation and the gifts of the Spirit, freely given. We also have access to God’s material gifts in creation. The extent of that access, however, varies. For some of us, the amount of resource available to us may not be enough – or may be just barely  enough – to cover the genuine necessities of daily life. For others of us, there may be quite a lot of resources to which we have access and, in some cases, over which we exert control – perhaps far beyond what’s involved in meeting our basic needs.

It’s an important part of being a disciple to reflect with thanksgiving on God’s goodness in offering so many gifts – and how we can best respond. Looking specifically at the material gifts in creation, how do we understand our relationship to them? How does our understanding work itself out in our practice? Over the coming weeks, our prayer email will be offering some reflections on these questions – beginning with some general thoughts and then looking at specific areas for prayer and practical action. Inherently, these will be tasters. not full explorations, of the questions involved. But in each case, we’ll also have links to further explorations, if you want to delve deeper.

We’d encourage you to seek out, if you haven’t already, a few people with whom you can discuss your thoughts in these areas. One of the findings of the recent Good Money Week poll is that we as a society are very uncomfortable discussing our finances with our peers – in fact, people would generally rather discuss almost anything else! This isn’t really a surprise. Our society tends to regard ‘personal’ resource use as simply ‘personal’ – our own business. We’re encouraged in this by pressures all around us that want us to focus on  our wants, our needs, our lives so that they can sell us their products and keep us from looking too closely at the issues behind them.

But because we believe that God is the source and ‘owner’ of all things, and that having created the world in love, God longs for us to show love – to God, each other and the whole created order, we can’t take that view.  I can’t talk about ‘my’ money or ‘my’ property or assess ‘my’ needs on the basis of what is good for me alone. I have to regard myself as accountable to God and my neighbour (in the widest sense) for the way I relate to God’s blessings.And that’s something that requires honest self-assessment, study – but also the perspective of others, especially others who may have different types of knowledge, different  views or experience of living with access to different amounts of resource.

We look forward to exploring these questions – and hearing from you about your responses.  To start, please pray:

  • in thanksgiving to God for the gifts of creation and redemption
  • that God will open our hearts and our minds as we consider God’s gifts in creation and our relationship with all that shares our ‘common home’

Nobel Peace Prize

“We think that if their voice can be heard, the world ha[s] to take responsibility about what is happening to women. We have the responsibility to draw the line and never accept that women can be destroyed in the way that is happening today. We can change hate by love.” Dennis Mukwege, interviewed by Bill Gates and his team

“[The Nobel Peace Prize] means a lot, not just for me but for all of these women in Iraq and in all the world … it wasn’t easy for me to go out and … speak about what happened to me … I thought that … women who are suffering sexual violence in conflict that their voice, their cries will not be heard, and for those small communities that are being persecuted in many corners of the world that their cries will not be heard. But this prize tells me that their voices are being heard … and … will be a voice for all the women that are suffering from sexual violence in conflict in every place … I hope … it will help bring justice for those women that suffered from sexual violence … and hopefully prevent similar acts like that.”  Nadia Murad, interview upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize

This year the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”

Dr Mukwege is the founder and director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC, which is managed by the Communauté des Eglises de Pentecôte en Afrique Centrale (Pentecostal Churches in Central Africa) and which specialises in treating women who have suffered from sexual violence. He i also a co-founder of the City of Joy centre.

Eastern Congo has been an area of conflict for many years, and both Congolese security forces and other non-state armed groups – have used rape as a weapon of war. Hundreds of thousands of women (and, though less frequently, men) have suffered. Panzi Hospital has treated more than 50,000 women survivors, many of whom were raped and tortured in ways that left them with serious medical injuries. Panzi’s work, however, isn’t simply medical: as the Panzi Foundation explains, it has a “five-pillar holistic healing model [which]  includes physical care, psychosocial support, community reintegration services, legal assistance, and education and advocacy to address the root causes of violence.” All women are assigned a social assistant who helps with support beyond medical issues. Those who are unable to return home because of medical issues, continued conflict or stigma can make use of Maison Dorcas, which offers housing, meals, ongoing therapeutic care, and access to an array of training programmes. A legal clinic helps them pursue justice – attacking the culture of impunity that perpetuates sexual violence. And Panzi’s advocacy project helps to educate communities to addres the root causes of violence. Dr Mukwege himself has been tireless in advocacy, despite the fact that his push for accountability and justice has made him the target of threats and acts of violence.

Nadia Murad is a Yazidi woman whose village was attacked by IS. The attackers murdered the men and older women, including six of her brothers and her mother, and took her and other young women to Mosul to be used in sex slavery. Claimed by an IS judge, she was repeatedly raped and beaten. Eventually, she was able to escape the home of her captor and was enabled to flee Iraq by a sympathetic stranger. Having found safety in Germany, she decided, despite the difficulty of doing so, to speak out about what happened to her. By speaking, she hopes to get justice for her community and to prevent further episodes of genocide and sexual violence. She has founded an initiative to rebuild communities devastated by conflict and has addressed audiences around the world, from Yazidi communities in Iraq to the UN General Assembly (video), telling her story and calling for the prosecution of IS militants, an end to religious persecution, and the rebuilding of her area. She called her autobiography ‘The Last Girl’ – as she says “more than anything, I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

This Nobel Prize recognises both the pain that sexual violence in conflict inflicts and the courage with which survivors and their allies are working to end it. As we come before  Christ,  please pray:

  • for healing of body and mind for all who have experienced sexual violence – and that each person, male or female, who experiences sexual violence may know the depth of God’s love for them
  • in thanksgiving for the courage of survivors like Nadia Murad and the women of Panzi Hospital, who are willing to speak about their pain in order to make a better future for others
  • in thanksgiving for the way Dr Mukwege and the Panzi hospital staff manifest God’s love through practical care – and for the courage he shows in advocacy against violence despite the continued risk to himself. We pray for protection for him and for all those threatened because of their work on accountability for sexual violence.
  • for an end to sexual violence in conflict

Short Note

China and Religion

China’s increasing repression of non-state-sanctioned religion is a serious concern. This is currently most notable in the case of the Uighur (or Uyghur) Muslims of Xinjiang: China is estimated to be holding more than a million in internment camps for ‘education’ with some two million more “undergoing some form of coercive re-education or indoctrination.” Accounts from people who have experienced the camps speak of torture and detail the pressures on those detained to renounce their faith and culture. The government’s policies, which have created fear among Uighur communities throughout (and beyond) China, also include intense surveillance and have been described as ‘cultural genocide’.

China’s repression is not restricted to the Uighur Muslims; numerous religious groups are experiencing pressure. These include Christians, especially those belonging to churches outside the state system. Since the entry into force of new Regulations on Religious Affairs this past February, prominent independent churches have seen their pastors fined or imprisoned and their members questioned and harrassed; some have been closedIn Henan province, Catholic and Protestant churches have been forced to display signs banning children from worship, and some church buildings have been destroyed. Moreover, the Chinese government clearly intends further intrusions: Christian Solidarity Worldwide has noted that, following the Communist Party’s taking on direct oversight of religious affairs, “the state-sanctioned China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement launched a five year plan to ‘Sinicize’ Christianity, which reportedly includes plans to write a ‘secular’ version of the Bible, revise other religious materials, and include teaching on socialism and patriotism alongside religious study.” A new draft regulation on disseminating religious materials also appeared in September; this would require people to apply for a license to send such materials via “texts, pictures, audio and video, etc. through Internet sites, applications, forums, blogs, microblogs, public accounts, instant messaging tools, and live webcasts”

Please pray that God may transform the situation in China, asking God to change the hearts of those in power, to bring true comfort to all who are suffering, and to endow church leaders and Christians generally  with wisdom, strong faith and courage. Pray that Christians in China will be able to be a blessing to those around them, despite the pressures that they face.

This Week’s Readings

Revised Common Lectionary Readings – Job 1:1, 2:1-10 and Psalm 26  •  Genesis 2:18-24 and Psalm 8  •  Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12  •  Mark 10:2-16

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Hebrews 1:1-3

Weekly Prayer Email: 15 -21 July 2018 – UK Trade and Brexit

UK Trade and Brexit

The US President’s pronouncement on Theresa May’s Brexit plans – “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal. If they do that, then their trade deal with the US will probably not be made” – dominated the headlines late Thursday and early Friday, taking many aback and leading to something of an exercise in damage limitation over the subsequent period of his official visit.

But while the statement was unusual in breaking diplomatic sensitivities – and distinctively Trumpian in tone – it was also quite coherent with US trade policy priorities, and is worth taking seriously as a reminder of some of the challenges that the UK faces as it makes choices about trade post-Brexit.

What lies behind Trump’s statement? To begin with, while tariff wars have recently dominated the headlines, the United States’ primary objectives in trade with the EU have, for many years, related not to tariffs but to regulation and specifically to what the US Trade Representative’s most recent report characterises as “costly EU regulatory barriers to U.S. exports.”

What are these regulatory barriers? The first mentioned by the USTR are ‘technical’ and ‘sanitary and phytosanitary’ regulations. Some of these may involve areas where negotiations could be productive; there are regulations on both sides which could be streamlined or harmonised. But some of them are designed to protect vital aspects of health, animal welfare, and the environment. In agriculture, these include regulations that ban agricultural goods produced involving practices not permitted in the EU – such as the oft-cited hormone-injected beef and chlorinated chicken – as well as agricultural products that have higher levels of chemical residues than the EU permits. In other areas, they involve such things as using the precautionary principle to evaluate chemical safety and establishing the kinds of chemicals that can, for example, be used in cosmetics.

The US’s complaint is not simply that the EU adopts these regulatory standards for its own use; it’s that the EU standards, because of the bloc’s trading power, influence standards globally and that the EU (it argues) “encourag[es] trade agreement partners to adopt EU standards and to exclude products manufactured to different U.S. and other international standards.” The US, in short, wants its standards to be the norm, and the EU is standing in the way.

From a US trade policy perspective, Brexit provides a great opportunity. If the UK could be separated from the EU standards and brought closer to the US, it would not only increase the market for relevant US exports to the UK but also weaken the EU’s capacity as a global standard setter and strengthen the US’s capacity.

The Government’s recently-released White Paper, however, seeks to avoid a hard border for Northern Ireland and to avert damage to ‘just-in-time’ processes and integrated supply chains connecting EU and British manufacturing. To do this, it has to avoid insofar as is possible inspections at borders. Divergence in regulatory frameworks necessitates border inspections to ensure that goods comply with the standards of the area they are entering. The White Paper therefore envisages that its proposed ‘association agreement’ with the EU will include a “free trade area for goods, including agri-food” underpinned by a common rule book, with the UK committing in advance to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, as necessary for frictionless trade at the borders.

In the sense that it retains valuable regulatory protections, avoids a hard border and protects manufacturing and the UK/EU goods trade, aligning with the EU’s regulations offers several positives – and trade policy experts feel there is a case for it both politically and economically. But there are also several political difficulties with the way that this is done in the White Paper. Most importantly from a domestic perspective, its approach leaves the UK as a ‘rule taker’ rather than a ‘rule maker’ with respect to trade in goods, needing to harmonise with the EU without having input into the way its regulations are created, and unable, as Trump implied, to negotiate separate regulations for trade in goods with third parties.

Donald Trump’s intervention was intended to reinforce the US position and, at a time when Theresa May appears vulnerable, to strengthen the hand of those in the UK who dislike the White Paper and who favour a hard Brexit. And even if his approach was subsequently tempered, it has sent a clear signal – and provided ammunition for those who see him as an ally.

Donald Trump and pro-Brexit politicians, however, are not the only people who are unhappy about the White Paper. For many UK politicians – not simply those who saw Brexit as an opportunity to ‘take back control’ – this is an unacceptable compromise. Lord Mandelson, a strong Remain advocate and a former EU trade commissioner, has come out against it.  Other large countries seeking concessions are also likely to make their opinions known: India has explained what it feels are barriers to trade (as with the US, there is a focus on health and safety regulations for food and chemicals) though trade experts generally feel that the likelihood of a UK-India agreement is low anyway.

And on the EU side, theWhite Paper crosses one of the EU’s major red lines – the separation of the four freedoms (freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and people). While, therefore, EU governments have cautiously welcomed the paper as a starting point for negotiations, there is little likelihood that the EU would accept the proposals as they stand. EU member states, moreover, have agendas of their own – particularly where the UK’s services industries are concerned.

Where, then, does the government turn? Pressures are likely to increase. While the EU is moving forward on a number of significant free trade agreements – this week alone, officials discussed the implementation of one with Canada,  the signing of one with Japan, and progress in one with Australia – the UK is feeling increasingly vulnerable. There is a gradually increasing sense that it would be hard to get a favourable deal with new large markets on terms that would be politically acceptable in the UK … and at the same time an awareness that the kind of deep relationship with the EU which would avoid disruption to EU trade will most likely itself require politically sensitive concessions.

How then do we pray? For ourselves, we’re framing a response in terms of Micah 6:8:

  • Do justly
    The vital question in all of this is”What are we actually seeking?” It’s not enough to say “trade deals” or “freedom” – trade deals are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and “freedom” can be used well or badly. We need to have an ethical framework that provides the narrative within which different options – with all their complexities – are considered and weighed, and that corresponds to our vision of a just society. We pray:

      • that as it considers different trading arrangements the UK will place a priority on promoting those that maintain or strengthen our ability to care for creation, protect human dignity, and promote economic justice
      • in thanksgiving that the UK has committed to one aspect of trade justice, honouring the Everything But Arms agreements that, under EU rules, it has with the world’s Least Developed Countries

     

  • Love kindness
    We’re all conscious that superficial characterisations and mis-characterisations, the trivialisation of others’ points of view, and ad hominem attacks have become the norm in discussions around trade and Brexit both in people’s comments and in much of our media and social media. In a situation where so much is at stake and there is so much complexity, we pray:

      • for an end to all that demeans our public discussion of ideas and issues
      • that Christians – regardless of their political point of view – will be willing to champion standards in public discourse
      • that the Church (and others) will create opportunities for people who are prepared to discuss the issues to come together in conversation

     

  • Walk humbly
    Humility involves self-knowledge; a willingness to acknowledge one’s true place as both a fallible part of creation and the recipient of God’s grace and gifts; an awareness of others’ gifts, failings, needs and concerns; and a respect for reality beyond oneself.As the Brexit trade negotiations continue, pray that

    • the societies and governments involved will be honest about their own strengths and weaknesses, avoiding both pride and arrogance on the one hand and underestimation of gifts on the other
    • all of us will seek out people whose expertise (through practical experience and/or study) can help to give as full a picture as possible of the options and the issues at stake
    • those who have been unwilling to engage with the complex political and economic realities of international trade negotiations and their impacts will move towards a positive and constructive engagement

 

This week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings remind us that being someone who is committed to seeking God’s will and speaking as God commands will often involve peril. Pray for all whom God is calling to speak hard words, especially when they are doing so to people with power.

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

In this email:

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

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

Refugee Week

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

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

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

Working Together for Refugees

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

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

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

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

Please pray

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

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

Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees  

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

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


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

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

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

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

Faith based organisations not only relevant but crucial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she articulated four key challenges for the journey ahead:

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

Please pray:

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

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

In this email:

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

For Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why this passage? The organisers note the historical context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Short Notes: Yemen; Martin Luther King, Jr Day

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

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

In this email:

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

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

Dates for Prayer and Action 2018

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

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

One Small Step: Diana’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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