CCOW Prayer Email: World AIDS Day, Advent Resources 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

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

Advent Resources for Prayer and Action

New Lectionary-Based Prayer Resources

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

Luke 1:52 -55

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

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

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

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

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

 

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

This Friday we mark World AIDS Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Do … To Watch … To Read

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

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

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

  • To Read:

16 Days, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Act/Watch/Read: 19 to 25 Nov 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • 16 Days of Activism
  • Prayer for Zimbabwe
  • Yemen
  • To Act … Watch … Read
  • Events

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We live in uncertain times …. but as this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings make clear, that’s nothing new. At times of uncertainty, there is a risk of fear, and of paralysis. It’s easy to feel that we can’t do much, so we won’t do anything. But the Gospel message reminds us that God has given us gifts, and that we’re called to use them in a spirit of trust and love. What gifts can we use this week in the service of God and neighbour?

16 Days of Activism

Saturday, November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the beginning of the Sixteen Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. CCOW’s guide to online resources for the 16 Days is attached: we hope they are helpful.

Prayer for Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean Defense Forces’ action against Robert Mugabe’s government has brought both hope and uncertainty to many Zimbabweans. (Coverage and analysis: Independent – Zimbabwe, BBC, New York Times, Daily Maverick – South Africa, Independent – South Africa, Daily Nation – Kenya/AFP) The question facing everyone is: what happens next?

Responding to the situation, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations, which includes the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Zimbabwe Catholic Church Conference, UDACIZA,  and the Evangelical Fellowship  of Zimbabwe, have issued a statement and a call to prayer (both are videos).
In the statement, the churches cite Jesus’ comment to Jerusalem “You did not recognise the time of your opportunity – or Kairos – from God”  Luke 19:44 – and call on the country to see the current situation as Zimbabwe’s Kairos moment.

“While the changes have been rapid in the last few days,” they say, “the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the public political rallies of the ruling party coupled with the deteriorating social [and] economic conditions … We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless; we see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”

The churches move on to analyse the underlying issues that have caused “loss of trust in the legitimacy of our national processes and institutions”: failure to take the Constitution seriously and to ensure that the system of checks and balances in government functions, a lack of distinction between ruling party and government, relegation of the “priorities of the poor … to charity … without proper commitment to recognising the root causes of their problem,” and a sense that overall “the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalised politics.”

“All of us at some point failed to play our roles adequately,” the churches say – and all must work together to find a solution. They make five calls:

  • for national prayer,
  • for calm and peace at a time where lack of information is feeding concern – “let us not sensationalise the situation”
  • for respect of human dignity – “we want to make it clear to [the Zimbabwe Defense Forces] that it is their responsibility to ensure that human dignity and human rights are respected. This is not a time to allow for lawlessness and vindictive or selective application of the law”
  • for a transitional government of national unity “that will oversee the smooth transition to a free and fair election”
  • for a national dialogue – “we are in a new situation that cannot be resolved without dialogue…a national envisioning process that will capture the aspirations of all sectors of society” They offer the church as a partner in establishing a platform for dialogue.

The call to prayer states: “We have made a call today that every Zimbabwean, wherever they are … and all friends of Zimbabwe, wherever they are, to spare some time from 12 to 2 o’clock every day, just whether they can take five minutes, whether they can take one minute, but that they must come together and say a word of prayer …. We are at that break point where we need God to intervene in a very special way as we go through this very important moment. We are calling therefore that everyone goes before God in prayer that God may intervene in the healing of our land.”

The Anglican Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya, has also sent a description of the situation as of the 16th and has offered points for prayer. There is also a prayer for Zimbabwe released by a Zimbabwean living in the Community of St Anselm. Whatever prayers you use, please do join in prayer for the country and all its people.

Yemen

This week, the heads of the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization issued a joint call for the lifting of the blockade on Yemen.

Calling the country ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,’ they noted that “the space and access we need to deliver humanitarian assistance is being choked off, threatening the lives of millions of vulnerable children and families.”

“More than than 20 million people,” they stated, “including over 11 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, at least 14.8 million are without basic healthcare and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases.” There are particular concerns around a further increase in cholera, as the blockade on fuel has left major cities without access to clean water.

In addition, levels of hunger are a serious issue, with much of the population facing food crisis or food emergency situations, and the potential for famine. “Some 17 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from,” the UN agencies stated, “and 7 million are totally dependent on food assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children. As supplies run low, food prices rise dramatically, putting thousands more at risk.” The Famine Early Warning System has added: “Yemen continues to face a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in a worst-case scenario in which there is a significant disruption to imports through the ports of Al Hudaydah and Salif and internal trade becomes significantly disrupted. Even in the absence of additional disruptions, populations may begin to move into Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) as worst-affected households begin to exhaust their coping capacity. The recent closure of all maritime ports into Yemen is highly concerning and the resumption of port operations is needed to prevent a severe deterioration in outcomes.”

At the Committee to Protect Journalists awards, Independent Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser had difficulty keeping from tears as she described the sufferings of her country’s people. “My story might sound dreadful,” she said, “but it’s nothing comparing to what my colleagues suffer in the war in Yemen: intimidation, displacement, forced disappearance, detention, torture, persecution, and even being used as human shields at military checkpoints, being killed in airstrikes or on the battlefield and even getting assassinated. What’s happening to Yemeni journalists gives a glimpse into a suffering our society suffers as a whole. Death has become the norm in every household in Yemen, and yet the blockade imposed on Yemen by all warring sides has also prevented Yemeni’s stories from reaching the world.”

“Yemenis…feel abandoned by world leaders and international media that are not covering their sufferings sufficiently … let’s call for world leaders not to watch with apathy as atrocities are committed in Yemen, let’s use the power of the media in solidarity with the weak”

Pray for an end to the blockade on essential goods and on humanitarian flights to and from Sana’a. Pray for a just political solution to the conflict in Yemen. Lift before God the wider turmoil in the region as struggles for power within Saudi Arabia and between Saudi Arabia and Iran have repercussions for many people within and outside those two countries. Ask God’s comfort for those who suffer and who mourn. Pray for wisdom, courage and strength for those who are seeking to offer humanitarian assistance and to tell Yemeni’s stories to the world. And pray that all world powers, including the UK, press vigourously and vehemently – in both words and actions –  for the protection of civilians … and withhold support that could be used to violate human rights and international humanitarian law where credible evidence suggest that it is doing so.


To Act … Watch … Read

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

  • To Act:
    • Would you like to help people in your church order Fair Trade goods for Christmas? CCOW can help you find local sources or organise group Traidcraft orders. Email us for more information.
    • A friendly card can be a huge encouragement to someone in difficulty. Could you and/or your church send a Christmas card to someone experiencing injustice or persecution? Action by Christians against Torture has a list of people, with addresses.
  • To Watch:
    • From COP 23: Tearfund interviews Clare Perry, MP, Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, on the role of churches in talking about climate and the UK’s role in fighting climate change
  • To Read:
    • Psalm 85: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation”
    • Pope Francis‘ challenging call to the church in establishing the World Day of the Poor. CAFOD has suggestions for following up his call with prayer and action.
    • Save the Children’s “Horrors I Will Never Forget: The stories of Rohingya children” (please keep praying for this situation – and donating to those working to help)
    • Economist: “Once considered a boom to democracy, social media have started to look like its nemesis”
    • The website for World Toilet Day (19 November) It’s not the easiest topic for prayer and conversation … but sanitation is vital.

Events
Please do take a look at our calendar, which lists a variety of relevant events both locally and nationally.

Trading out of Poverty, Freedom Sunday, Food Justice: 15 – 21 October 2017

Trading Out of Poverty

This week, we celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October).

A few weeks ago, I (Maranda) had the privilege of visiting Fair Trade producers in Swaziland.

Swaziland is a beautiful country, a little larger than Northern Ireland and a little smaller than Wales. It’s landlocked, surrounded largely by South Africa, but sharing more than half its eastern border with Mozambique. The western side of the country contains mountains which gradually shift into the Middleveld of rolling hills; the eastern side is a lowland plain leading, on the border with Mozambique, to the Lebombo Plateau.

Though beautiful, however, Swaziland faces many development challenges. While the size of its economy makes it  nominally a lower middle income country, the distribution of wealth is unequal, and as of 2010, 42% of its population lived on less than $1.90 a day. Work is hard to find: unemployment is over 25% for the whole workforce and over 50% for young people. And health-related issues – and their impacts – are serious: UNAIDS lists Swaziland’s adult HIV prevalence as the world’s highest at 27.2%; and the World Food Programme estimates that over a quarter of all children are stunted because of malnutrition and 45% of children are orphaned or vulnerable.

In short, pro-poor development is essential, and exploring options that can deliver it is vital. One possibility for farmers is Fairtrade – the production of commodities certified with the FAIRTRADE Mark – and three sugar producers in Swaziland are Fairtrade certified. We are focusing, however, on Swaziland’s manufactured goods and crafts, and so I was looking at Swazi groups that are, or are working towards becoming, Fair Trade Organizations as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)’s ’10 Principles of Fair Trade’.

For Fair Trade Organizations, of which the best known in the UK is Traidcraft, it’s not so much a question of setting standards for the production of individual products, but of ensuring that everything the relevant business does is done according to Fair Trade principles – starting with the fact that “poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organisation’s aims” and “the organisation supports marginalised small producers…[and] seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership.”

What can organisations working to these principles, whether certified as yet by the WFTO or not, contribute to human flourishing in situations such as Swaziland’s? Here are five initial reflections:

There are enormous reserves of artisanal skill within Swaziland – and great pride in the work people do. Fair Trade builds on and enhances that.

Much of the work produced by both individual artisans and groups is truly beautiful: Swaziland’s Fair Trade products are not a ‘charity buy’ but are worth purchasing because of their quality. People connected in different ways with Fair Trade emphasised the businesses’ role in giving skilled creative people an outlet, recognising the artistic merit of what they are doing. That recognition was in itself important.

Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT), a Fair Trade business network, is helping individuals and groups overcome the initial obstacles to making a fair income from the goods they produce.

SWIFT is a member-based association which aims to make Swaziland a leading supplier of “world class, ethically produced products resulting in the upliftment of communities throughout the country.” To that end, it provides training and support services to individuals and groups starting or growing Fair Trade businesses. At entry level, it’s helping ‘Level 1’ members, artisans still involved in very small-scale production, to develop sustainable business models, an understanding of the quality control needed to sell their goods formally, and access to local and wider markets. This involves a range of services in addition to in-class training: for example, SWIFT takes artisans to trade shows so that they can see the markets they’re trying to enter, and all SWIFT members are able to display information on the SWIFT website and to sell their goods at SWIFT’s store. Thanks to funding from Comic Relief via the Shared Interest Foundation, some artisans have also received seed funding to improve their manufacturing or retail capacity.

SWIFT states that 25 new businesses have been established since 2011.

Larger Fair Trade enterprises are also reaching some of the people who are often the most marginalised, enabling them to gain an income.

There are numerous examples of this among SWIFT members at ‘Level 2’ (larger, formally registered businesses) and ‘Level 3’ (the largest, export-ready businesses). For example, ‘Level 2’ member Amarasti offers rural women the chance to do embroidery work at home, enabling them to earn a living while caring for family members. The women pick up piece work, take it away, and then return the finished work to the organisation’s base. The work is highly skilled: Amarasti has recently been able to fulfill an order for a large retailer that demanded high standards of workmanship and uniformity.

‘Level 3’ member Eswatini Kitchen, meanwhile, buys produce for its jams and chutneys from local small producers – while the carved wooden spoons that form part of their gift sets are carved by disabled people in remote communities. In another instance, Traidcraft has written about the grandmothers growing chilli peppers for Level 3 member Black Mamba, and the difference that Fair Trade has made to them and their community.

While what has happened so far is encouraging, there is scope for far more.

It’s inspiring to hear people talk about the difference Fair Trade has made in their lives – and we’ll be sharing some more of that with you over the months to come. But one thing that emerged from conversations was that there is the capacity for much more. True, for some individuals and organisations, the orders they are receiving match their current ability to deliver. But others have the capacity to export new lines or significantly larger amounts of already available products. Especially for those businesses that have relatively large permanent workforces, expanding the volume of orders is crucial to maintaining stability … and to perhaps being able to increase the number of staff they can hire.

Eradicating poverty is a shared enterprise

What we do matters.

Early on in the conversations with Eswatini Kitchens, I’d confessed to a fondness for their lime pickle and Swazi fire. As we entered their honey processing facility, one of the staff turned to me and asked, “How do you eat the lime pickle?” In that moment, the connection between my daily life at home in my kitchen and what I was seeing in rural Swaziland came together with a sudden clarity.

In reality, those connections between our lives and the lives of other people around the world happen all the time, every day. We just don’t see them. But as we know, the products we buy and the energy we use and the things we support politically and the way we pray matter. And if we can help ourselves and others to see the choices we make in our homes and gardens and schools and churches and and workplaces for what they really are – choices that affect local and global neighbours – we can begin to try to choose a way of life that works to end poverty, to reduce inequality, to seek the restoration of creation.

That’s not a new thought for our supporters. But it’s a thought worth holding onto – and sharing and praying about – this next Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Please pray:

  • for work people are doing around the world to help themselves and others overcome poverty in all its dimensions
  • that all people may be able to access the resources and freedoms they need to flourish
  • that all people may understand the deep interconnection that links us with each other – and seek to act in ways that benefit neighbours near and far
  • in thanksgiving for the work of Fair Trade businesses and networks in Swaziland and around the world
  • that the Fair Trade vision of a more just, sustainable world may continue to inspire action for good in Swaziland and elsewhere

Short Notes: Freedom Sunday, Food Justice

Freedom Sunday
The 18th of October is observed as ‘Anti-Trafficking Day’ – a time to resolve to pray and act on behalf of the millions of people who are trafficked and/or trapped in forms of modern slavery. The Clewer Initiative is asking churches particularly to think about how we may be connected to people who have been trafficked or enslaved, either through the goods we purchased or through what’s happening in our own communities. The Initiative has produced a wide range of excellent resources, ranging from a collect, full ecumenical service and materials for individual prayer times to simple-to-print posters alerting people to the signs that someone may be enslaved – and how to respond. They’re heartily recommended.

Some churches will be using these resources this Sunday or next Sunday, as they’re close to the 18th. It’s a busy week, though, and The Clewer Initiative stresses that the resources can be used at any time during the year. Please pray:

  • for an end to human trafficking and modern slavery
  • that our churches may be aware of the issue and may offer appropriate support to help people who have been trafficked and/or enslaved
  • in thanksgiving for organisations seeking to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, to end these practices, and to protect those who have already been harmed by them

And please consider introducing these (or other) resources into your church’s worship at some time in the coming year.

Food Justice

Let us share in this bread of life that God gave to us this day. Remember those who hunger and thirst on their journey in search of shelter.
Response: As we eat a piece of this bread, we commit to stand in solidarity with those who are hungry and stateless. We pray earnestly that God may use us as instruments to eradicate homelessness and hunger. Amen.

World Food Day is on Monday the 16th; the UN theme for this year is “Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”

The choice of theme reflects a recognition that the factors forcing people to leave their homes are not only conflict, persecution and political instability but also “hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization is calling on the global community to invest in rural development, “creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods” as well as providing “increased food security … better access to social protection, reduced conflict over natural resources and solutions to environmental degradation and climate change.”

“By investing in rural development,” the organisation notes, “the international community can also harness migration’s potential to support development and build the resilience of displaced and host communities.”

The World Council of Churches and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is inviting churches to celebrate the Churches’ Week of Action on Food around World Food Day (week of 15 to 22 October) and has adopted the UN theme. As part of marking World Food Day and the Week of Action, could you perhaps use the prayer above, taken from this year’s WCC-EAA prayer resources, to signal your (and your family’s, or home group’s, or church’s) commitment to food justice? Please also pray:

  • for all who have been forced to leave their homes because of food insecurity and hunger
  • for greater investment in ecologically and socially sustainable rural development

Care for Creation, Crisis for Rohingya, Prisons Week, Kenya: 8 to 14 Oct 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Prayer for Creation
  • Crisis for Rohingya
  • Short Notes: Prison Week, Kenya, Keep on …

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Prayer for Creation

The 4th of October was St Francis’ Day, when many churches recall the saint who so beautifully expressed the way Creation reveals – and revels in – God’s love and glory. In honour of that, we’re releasing Elizabeth’s new prayer powerpoint of Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer in union with creation’.

It’s available to download from our website: we hope it will be a blessing to you and those with whom you share it.

Crisis for Rohingya

Long-time readers of the prayer email will know that concern for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been escalating for some time.

The group are in an area which has been a source of contention for centuries. Since Burma became independent in 1948, the Rohingya have experienced discrimination, and the majority were effectively rendered stateless by the government of Myanmar when citizenship laws were revised in 1982; they are not on the list of indigenous ethnic communities eligible for citizenship and their language is not recognised as an official language. The government labels them ‘Bengalis’ and, despite the fact that some Rohingya have lived in Rakhine State for centuries, it (and others in the country) regard them as having immigrated illegally during the time of British rule from the area that is now Bangladesh. In recent decades the Rohingya have repeatedly suffered the destruction of their property as well as violence against individuals, families and communities. On several occasions, there have been episodes of mass forced displacement: in both the late 1970s and early 1990s hundreds of thousands crossed the border to Bangladesh to escape intense government persecution. In both instances, many were subsequently repatriated.

In the past few years, persecution has again intensified. There was significant violence in 2012, followed by the creation of structures of repression, and a significant outbreak of violence again in Autumn 2016. In December 2016, we noted that: “With [part of Rakhine State] sealed off to observers, local sources reported that government forces committed serious human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, and widespread destruction of buildings, including mosques. Human Rights Watch has documented the burning of over a thousand structures; many aid workers (the main providers of health care) are not being allowed into the area, and with the exception of one World Food Programme delivery, humanitarian aid has been blocked; as a result, the UN says that 160,000 vulnerable people have been cut off from health care, school feedings and maternal care. And the allegations of torture, rape and murder are harrowing.” A UN report into the 2016 violence stated “that the widespread violations against the Rohingya population indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

This summer the Rohingya Muslims’ situation burst onto the global consciousness, after the government responded to a rebel attack on a military camp and police outposts by waging a brutal campaign against the civilian population that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Reporters who have visited the area paint a picture of villages destroyed and terrified civilians forced to hide in the forest and eat leaves to survive. Amnesty International has accused the government of a ‘scorched earth campaign’, and Human Rights Watch has documented ‘widespread and systematic’ crimes against humanity throughout Rakhine State, including the “near-total destruction of 284 villages” and particular atrocities such as the massacre at Maung Nu village and another at Tula Toli village.

As a result of the burnings, violence and sexual violence, over half a million Rohingya have fled to the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, where they are living in hastily-constructed camps (map, video). Humanitarian agencies such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), treating those in the camps, are concerned about their current conditions as well as the harm people have suffered before and during their flight. MSF emergency medical coordinator Kate White noted: “Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of people crammed along a narrow peninsula trying to find what shelter they can. It’s essentially a massive rural slum—and one of the worst slums imaginable … This has all the makings of a public health emergency.” The UN has also expressed concern about plans to accommodate the large numbers by building one giant refugee camp, noting that high concentrations of vulnerable people can lead to high risks of disease, and that the area chosen is not suitable.

The civilian government of Myanmar has refused to take responsibility for violence against civilians in Rakhine State; it is blaming the burning of Rohingya villages on local militants, despite the consistent testimony of survivors that the military is responsible and the fact that the actions follow a longstanding pattern of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence. The government has also claimed that its ‘armed clashes and clearance operations’ in the state ended in early September, which is manifestly not the case.

The UN and many Western governments have condemned the military’s actions and the failure of the civilian government to restrain them. The UK has suspended its training assistance to the Myanmar military, and the US Ambassador to the UN has called for a general arms embargo, while both Democratic and Republican senators have called for US sanctions against those responsible for the abuses. Coordinated international action is unlikely, however, as China, India and Russia have been less willing to put pressure on the government. China states that the government is facing complex ‘difficulties and challenges’ and requires patience and support to resolve the crisis; India expresses concern about extremism; and Russia, while calling for the situation to be resolved by political dialogue, repeats the government’s claim that it is the rebels who are burning villages. The different stances reflect both different approaches to intervention and the desire for influence within Myanmar and more broadly in the region. ASEAN, the regional alliance, has also been unable to agree on a response; an anodyne recent statement from the group’s chair, which did not refer to the Rohingya by name, was rejected by Malaysia, which, together with the other Muslim majority ASEAN countries, has expressed growing concern about the Rohingya’s plight. While there are calls from within ASEAN more generally for the group to put pressure on the Myanmar government, nothing public has yet been forthcoming.

Concerns are growing not only about the humanitarian disaster but also the implications for the region more broadly. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the rebel group responsible for the August attacks, says that it is wholly indigenous and that its demand is for the Rohingya to “be recognised as a ‘native indigenous’ ethnic group and … allowed ‘to return home safely with dignity … to freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development’.” The Myanmar government alleges that the group is allied with wider Islamist movements. What many in – and outside – the region fear is that the Myanmar government’s violence will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which jihadist groups take on the cause of the Rohingya and recruit among its peoples, destabilising the region.

What are people involved suggesting as a way forward? In the immediate instance, aid agencies are pressing for greater access to Rakhine State, so that they can bring in humanitarian aid, and for increased funding to help those who have fled to Bangladesh. In the UK, DfID has helped to airlift in aid and committed £35.9 million in funding to relief. Some feel continued pressure on the military may also be helpful. In terms of long-term solutions, many feel it would be helpful to press Myanmar’s government to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Bangladesh is insisting on full implementation, and India and the EU advocated for this last week, as well as for Myanmar to work with Bangladesh to enable repatriation of those who have fled. The Myanmar civilian government has said that it is committed to implementing the recommendations “in the shortest time frame possible, in line with the situation on the ground.” It needs to be held to this commitment.

Implementation of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations could indeed be a positive step. Among other things, they include guaranteeing the rights of all verified citizens (including the small number of Rohingya Muslims who enjoy that status); creating a verification process for citizenship that is safe and efficient; clarifying residency rights for those who do not qualify for citizenship; providing a route to citizenship for permanent residence; and “re-examining the current linkage between citizenship and ethnicity.” The recommendations also call for freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State, the closure of camps for internally displaced people and the resettlement of those people either to their place of origin or to a place of their own choosing. They call for humanitarian and media access to Rakhine State, better provision of essential services (eg health and education) for all, greater transparency in the judiciary system, more training and accountability for security forces, and the fostering of civil society and inter-communal dialogue to tackle the very serious prejudices that exist.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and well-being of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, those in refugee camps in Bangladesh, and those who have fled via other routes. Pray that God will give people healing of body, mind and soul.
  • in thanksgiving for the work of individuals and agencies who, moved by compassion and a sense of justice, are seeking to meet the Rohingya’s needs
  • that individuals, countries and businesses will be generous in responding to the Rohingya’s situation by offering humanitarian aid. Pray also for effective distribution of that aid.
  • for wisdom for Bangladeshi leaders, as they seek to respond to the incoming refugees
  • for an end to the ill-treatment of minority ethnic and religious groups in Burma, and for a just society in which all are treated with dignity and all people’s rights are respected.
  • for all who are working within Myanmar to establish a culture of peace and justice

Christian Aid also has a prayer in response to the Rohingya’s crisis.

Action Point:

Please donate to the Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund appeals for the Rohingya, to other members of the Disasters Emergency Committee,  or to MSF.

Short Notes: Prisons Week, Kenya, Keep on …

Prisons Week
This coming week (8 to 14 October) is Prisons Week. The Scripture verse for the week this year is “‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” and the focus is on hope for all connected with the criminal justice system: prisoners, victims, families, communities, prison workers, and all working in the criminal justice system.

The Archbishop of Canterbury writes: “What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope,
but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.”

Please join in using the Prisons Week resources to pray each day this week.

Kenya
When Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled presidential election results in August on the grounds that there had been irregularities and illegalities in the way the votes were  transmitted, commentators inside and outside the country applauded the way the country’s institutions had maintained their independence and the integrity of the electoral process. At the same time, people realised that the next stages could be complex.

The country is due to hold new presidential elections by the first of November – but the positions taken by the leaders of both the main parties are leading to concern for the success of the elections … and worries about the threat of violence. Pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the Supreme Court’s work to uphold electoral integrity
  • that God will guide those seeking to set up the new elections
  • that political leaders and their followers will act wisely and well, pledging to renounce hate speech and violence and seeking the common good
  • that churches will continue their leadership role in seeking peace
  • for the safety and well-being of all in Kenya

Keep on …

  • praying for all affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria … and now also those affected by Hurricane Nate, both in Central America and in the US. Pray for efficient, effective work to get vital emergency aid to those still unable to meet basic needs because of the storms’ impacts – and for all who are rebuilding and helping others to rebuild.
  • praying for the people of Yemen. The UN has estimated that almost 780,00 of its people have contracted cholera; moreover 17 million people there are currently facing food insecurity, with many of them close to famine.
    According to The Guardian, a draft version of the UN’s annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict has included the Saudi-led coalition, as well as Houthis, Yemen government forces, pro-government militia and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula on a blacklist of parties responsible for violations against children in 2016. The UN has also stated that it is setting up an independent investigation into human rights abuses in Yemen.Pray for:

    • God to give strength, courage and wisdom to all who are seeking to ensure Yemeni civilians have access to health care, food, water and shelter
    • donors to support appeals for humanitarian assistance to Yemen, both on the large scale and on the small scale
    • a just political resolution to the conflicts in the country
    • an “end [to] the sale or transfer of arms and related materials to any party to the conflict where there is a risk they may be used in violation of international humanitarian or international human rights law”
    • wisdom for the international community, and especially for the UN as it deals with the various parties to the conflict
    • strength, courage and wisdom for those attempting to hold people responsible for human rights abuses they have committed during the Yemen conflict

Hurricane Maria & Dominica, German General Elections: 24 to 30 September 2017

Hurricane Maria and Dominica

Harvey … Irma … the rains flooding East Asia … Maria. Following the impact of hugely destructive tropical cyclones and monsoon rains over the past month has been heartrending, and together with you and others around the world we have been joining in prayer for all those affected.

We’re focusing on providing some context for prayer and action relating to Dominica in this email, however, as it’s the island with which we have a particular connection. Long-term supporters of CCOW will know that Dominica was where I (Maranda) travelled in 2010 to learn more about the social, environmental and economic impact of Fairtrade bananas. At that time,  I not only learned a great deal about the positive impact of Fairtrade on the farmers and the island as a whole, but also was bowled over by the friendliness of Dominicans, the beauty of the island’s rainforests and rivers, and the care that had generally been taken to preserve them.

 

 

 

‘Après Bondie, C’est La Ter’ (‘After God is the earth’) is the country’s motto, and Dominicans have historically been passionate about making decisions that preserve their home. When I visited, I found that the Dominica National Fair Trade Organization (DNFTO), for example, had used its premium to create a composting unit that would both reduce waste and provide income generation. There was an active organics movement. Tourism was being developed in a way that cherished the natural beauty of the island, with clear popular support. “The label we have attached to ourselves, ‘The Nature Island of the Caribbean,’ is the best thing that we could do to ourselves,” one person said. And people in Roseau opined that mass tourism wasn’t desirable: you don’t want to destroy your flora and fauna.  Nor was it simply private citizens who were working to steward the earth. While many were critical of the country’s governance, the government was clearly supporting eco-tourism as a means of development. More recently, it has installed LED lamps in its streetlights and is trying to work towards energy self-sufficiency from geothermal sources.

But  alongside the love and care for the earth lay a profound concern about changing weather patterns and the country’s vulnerability to disasters. In the Spring of 2010, the country was experiencing a drought that had caused severe damage to banana crops, and farmers there – as in so many places – spoke about uncertainty and wondered what the future held. One of the island’s most entrepreneurial and successful banana farmers, Cato Ferreira, said

“We have just experienced the worst drought ever … From November last year up to this present moment, I have never seen so much sun, so much dry weather. No rain at all … it’s very very hard at this point for the farmers … Last year I made about 4,000 boxes [of bananas] January to March. This year, it was about 1,000 boxes …We’ve reached the stage that we really don’t know what to do … If this pattern is going to continue, then we’re in deep trouble.”

Ferreira noted that there was more assistance for farmers to deal with hurricanes than with droughts – but an official at WINCROP, which provided crop insurance for bananas that were being exported, made it clear they regarded the prospect of severe tropical cyclones with trepidation. Hurricane Dean, in 2007, had passed close to the island as a Category 2 hurricane and had caused significant damage, including 100% crop losses for banana farmers. When asked what would happen if further such storms emerged, the official said simply: “WINCROP will soon get out of business. Every time we have a big storm, we lose growers.”

This week Hurricane Maria dwarfed all previous storms to hit the island. Between 8:00 pm local time on Sunday the 17th and 8:00 pm on Monday the 18th, it intensified rapidly from a low category 1 to a category 5 storm (reports at 5:00 AM , 11:00 AM, 5:00 PM, 8:00 PM AST). It was at category 5 with winds of 155-160 mph when it hit Dominica Monday night, its eye following a course that tracked the length of the island from south to north.

As of Friday, the Dominican government had confirmed at least twenty-five deaths, though because many roads are impassable and communication outside the capital remains difficult, it’s hard to assess what the final total of fatalities may be. Initial estimates by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) suggested that between 80% and 90% of Dominica’s buildings are damaged or destroyed, and the winds damaged or uprooted 75% of the trees that are such a dominant feature of the landscape. Many of the rivers that are normally a beautiful feature have overflowed their banks, and CNN saw dozens of places where the country’s steep slopes have crumbled in landslides – though on the whole these were not, fortunately, near centres of population. CNN reporters also stated that all crops – a significant portion of Dominica’s economy and source of foreign currency – appeared to have been destroyed, placing in jeopardy not only the country’s current well-being, but also its future income.  Everywhere, people lack access to food and clean water, and in the chaos, there has been looting.

Dominicans are strong and resourceful. They rebuilt after Dean in 2007 and again after Tropical Storm Erika whose rains devastated the country two years ago, killing 30 people and causing damage valued at $483 million, about 90% of the nation’s GDP. And, as this video shows, they have already begun to work on recovery. But the devastation this time is, as Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said, ‘mind-boggling’. “We have,” he noted, “lost everything what money can buy or replace.” While he promised that “we will rise … because Dominican people are strong, because Caribbean people are resilient,” the country will be building back “from zero.” Because Dominica is a small island and the hurricane hit all areas, there is no place that is unaffected, no part of the country that can offer unscathed resources to assist the others.

How do we respond to all this? In prayer, of course, and there are prayer points below. But we can also take action in two respects.

The first is by giving to relief efforts and pressing for adequate funding for vulnerable countries. Unlike many other islands in the region, Dominica is not an overseas department or territory, but an independent nation. As such it has no inherent right to draw on the internal resources of another country, though it is eligible for foreign aid.

The island’s immediate and long-term needs are huge. Local, regional and international agencies and Dominican expatriate organisations are working to raise funds and send emergency necessities (while it is often not best practice to send goods for humanitarian relief, this is one instance where sending goods that correspond to the island’s official list of needs is helpful). And at a country and international institution level, various commitments have been made. The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, a regional risk pool, will pay $19 million to Dominica within the next fortnight, giving the government vital capacity to address critical humanitarian and infrastructure needs. The Caribbean Development Bank is preparing to send an immediate grant of $200,000 and to make a loan of up to $750,000. Other islands – St Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, St Lucia, and Grenada among them – are providing assistance with personnel, in cash, or in kind. The US, UK, France and Venezuela are already providing  support and evaluating longer-term needs. The EU is disbursing 250,000 Euros worth of emergency supplies and logistical support. Specialist telecommunications teams are working to restore communications networks.

But while all this is good, the totals involved so far are nowhere near the totals required, and there is an urgent need to advocate for further country-level aid and for the development of  international mechanisms to assist Dominica and other vulnerable states, especially small island developing states, in responding to the loss and damage caused by extreme events for which adaptation isn’t possible.

The second way we can respond with action is by taking, now, whatever our next step is to fight climate change. When Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt spoke to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, that, not aid, was where he started. “I come to you straight from the frontlines of the war on climate change,” he began. Warmer air and sea temperatures, he noted, were “the fuel that takes ordinary storms … and supercharges them into a devastating force.” “To deny climate change,” he added, “is to procrastinate while the earth sinks …”

Hurricanes are complex phenomena: powerful ones have long existed, and any single event involves multiple factors. What allowed Maria to become so potent, for example, wasn’t just the higher-than-average sea surface temperatures and high ocean heat content in the hurricane development area, but also an absence of wind shear to disrupt the storm’s circulation and a moist atmosphere. Not all climate scientists, therefore, are comfortable attributing – yet – the potency of Maria or other recent storms specifically to climate change, though many say they feel that trends relating to climate change are becoming visible and an increasing number are, like the Prime Minister, suggesting that climate change may have made these storms and their impacts worse.

But even if we don’t yet have the verdict of attribution studies on the more recent storms, science gives us reason to act now. As the Prime Minister notes, there is general scientific consensus (New York Times, Atlantic) that warmer waters did and more generally do provide the fuel that allows for the kind of rapid intensification Maria and Harvey underwent. Warmer air carries more water, creating the potential for greater rain extremes; the World Meteorological Organization has already said this likely influenced Harvey’s rainfall rates. Sea level rises linked to climate change do make coastal areas more vulnerable; Superstorm Sandy would probably not have flooded lower Manhattan were it not for sea-level rises. In short, climate change is at the very least, already loading the dice, increasing the likelihood that storms will become more intense. The longer we wait to address it, the more likely it is that disasters like this will become the norm.

And as the Prime Minister noted later in his UN speech, there is a profound injustice at play. “We as a country and as a region did not start this war against nature; we did not provoke it. The war has come to us,” he said. “We in the Caribbean do not put huge greenhouse gases … but yet we are among the main victims on the frontline … We are shouldering the consequences of the actions of others.” It is indeed profoundly wrong that people who work so hard to care for the part of creation entrusted to them should, whether at this time or at any time in the future,  find themselves and their home placed at risk by a threat for which they are not responsible.

“We need all humanity, all countries, big and small, developed and developing to come together to save our planet. We must all live up to our obligations and commitments to do more.”  Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, UN General Assembly

We, as individuals and church communities acting on our own, cannot solve the issues around climate change. But out of love for God and our neighbours – in Dominica, in the Philippines, in Vanuatu, in Texas – we can join those people, businesses, cities and countries that are providing an example of leadership, forming a growing network that can make a difference. As the founder of a major environmental coalition once said, taking action isn’t about worrying over what you can’t do. It’s about recognising that you must do what you can do. It’s about taking one small step – writing to your MP so that climate issues are on his or her agenda; switching to a green energy supplier; not planning holidays that require flights; eating less (or no) meat; campaigning for disinvestment – and then following where God calls you from there.

As churches around the world celebrate the Season of Creation, this is part of our calling as disciples. Arthur Bannis, who is both one of Dominica’s largest banana farmers and a Pentecostal minister, put it this way in 2010: “I believe the Word of God. I love nature. The Bible says He gave us all things to enjoy. The first place that He put man was in a garden. Man is there to manage the Earth; if he goes overboard, he’ll face the consequence. As a church, we need to take care of the environment, take care of the earth….”  This Season of Creation can you and your church take action? If you’d like ideas, we’d be happy to help.

Please pray:

  • for all affected by recent disasters, including:
    • the people of Mexico following last week’s devastating earthquake
    • the people of Indonesia at risk from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia
    • the people of Texas rebuilding after Harvey
    • the people of East Asia recovering from monsoon floods
    • the people of the Caribbean and Florida recovering from Irma and Maria
  • In all cases,  pray for comfort for those who mourn lost loved ones … safety for those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed … hope for those who have lost livelihoods … wisdom for those charged with governing and coordinating relief
  • for climate justice – that individuals, businesses and countries will act to reduce emissions, to fund adaptation by those most vulnerable to climate impacts, and to compensate those who suffer extreme loss and damage.

Some ways of donating to Caribbean islands affected by Irma and Maria

Some websites to look at for suggestions on climate action

German General Elections

Today,  Sunday 24th September, general elections will take place in Germany to elect the parliament for the next four years. The leader of the main party which forms the government will become the Chancellor. The system of proportional representation used in national German elections means that the number of seats in the German parliament (Bundestag) which each party gains reflects the percentage of votes cast for that party over the whole country. All parties which gain at least 5% of the vote are represented in parliament. This is different from the “first past the post” system in the UK. It means that usually no one party has the absolute majority, and coalition governments are the norm.

The current government is what is known as a “Grand Coalition” of the main parties; the centre-right CDU (Christian Democrat Union) together with its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union) and the centre-left SPD (Social Democratic party). Chancellor Angela Merkel is standing again for the CDU, hoping for a fourth term; the candidate for the SPD is Martin Schulz, who was previously President of the European Parliament. Also likely to gain seats in parliament are the FDP (Free Democratic Party), a free-enterprise pro-business party lead by Christian Lindner; Die Linke (The Left) a left wing party with roots in the former East German socialist party under Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch, AfD (Alternative for Germany) a populist, nationalist party under Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel; and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (The Greensthe environmental party under Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir. Recent polls 1are predicting the follow result: CDU/CSU – 36.3%, SPD – 22.5%, FDP – 10%, Linke – 9.5%, AfD – 9.5%, Greens – 8%, Others – 4.3%. This would make another “Grand Coalition” of CDU/CSU & SDP or a “Jamaica Coalition” (of the parties whose colours are black, yellow and green like the Jamaican flag) of CDU/CSU & FDP & Greens a possibility. Further analysis can be found here.

There are a range of issues which are important to voters in Germany in these elections including: asylum and immigration legislation, internal security (combatting terrorism and crime), social justice (low paid jobs, the gap between rich and poor, tax reform), pensions and retirement age, quality nursery and school provision, closing down all atomic power stations and future energy supply.

Germany’s position vis a vis refugees has, in fact, shifted over the past few years. When the refugee crisis in Europe began in 2015, as large numbers fled Syria via the Mediterranean and the Balkans, Germany was at the forefront of welcoming them, taking in over 1 million people. Appeals to other EU countries to share in hosting refugees, however, went largely unheeded. This, combined with some terrorist attacks in Germany, led to a degree of backlash amongst some parts of the German population. The far-right group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of The Occident) was formed and the AfD increased in popularity. As the number of refugees arriving in Germany has declined to about 90,000 in the first half of 2017, however, following the EU treaty with Turkey and the closure of the Balkan route, the popularity of Pegida and AfD has waned. In addition, the SPD has criticized Merkel’s 2015 policy, and the government’s stance has altered somewhat. It is now attempting to use international agreements to prevent refugees travelling to Europe, leaving Italy to accommodate those who have recently arrived there across the Mediterranean and giving many Syrian refugees only a reduced humanitarian protection status without the right of family reunification.

Please pray:

  • for all involved in the election and its aftermath to remain respectful and constructive, free of discriminatory or inflammatory language, and for the elections to be free and fair.
  • for a new government which will work for the good of all its people, addressing the issues of concern, and seek peace and justice around the world.
  • in thanksgiving for the welcome given to refugees by the German authorities and the vast majority of the German population over the past two years.
  • for wisdom for those making decisions about Germany’s future immigration policy.
  • for refugees in Germany – that they may have a good experience of integration. Pray also especially for those separated from loved ones
1 Polls by Allensbach and Forsa from 19.09.2017 – https://bundestagswahl-2017.com/prognose/#fn-117-1 from www.wahlrecht.de

Speak Up, Charles Scribner, Cholera in Yemen, Fairtrade Update, Sea Sunday – 2 July 2017

In this week’s email:

  • Speak Up
  • Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner
  • Cholera in Yemen
  • Fairtrade Update
  • Coming Up: Sea Sunday

Jeremiah is the focus of one of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament readings. The context is that Jeremiah has been called to prophesy prolonged service to a foreign kingdom when the false prophets are speaking about a return of the exiles and a restoration of the Kings of Judah. Are there places today where we are seeking words that promise a false peace when God is calling us to a faithful acceptance of challenge?

Speak Up

This coming week is the latest ‘Speak Up Week of Action’, in which the Climate Coalition and its members are encouraging people around the UK to speak with their MPs about climate change.

The focus is on asking MPs to “reflect their constituents’ concerns about climate change by asking the Prime Minister to:

  • 1) Show global climate leadership by working with others to implement the Paris agreement
  • 2) Ensure government departments work together to produce a strong emissions reduction plan
    • Unlocks local and community energy
    • Cuts energy waste in homes
    • Tackles emissions and air pollution from vehicles”

If you would like to undertake action, you can either attend your MP’s surgery or write to your MP, noting that it’s the Week of Action and that you have some concerns and requests. The Climate Coalition has an outline briefing on what to say (p.13 of the Action Guide): we would recommend in addition that you ask your MP to ask the Prime Minister how she intends to implement the Climate Change Committee’s most recent recommendations. The recommendations were published this week: a summary can be found here.

If you would like a template letter, please email us. If you are meeting – or plan in the future to meet – your MP and would like the brilliant new Hope for the Future booklet on preparing for such meetings, please also email.

And please pray:

  • that many people will participate in the Speak Up Week and will communicate to their MPs that there is a constituency for climate action
  • that this week’s discussions will begin or continue fruitful, constructive relationships between people concerned about climate change and their MPs
  • that the Government will respond by working to implement the Paris Agreement and taking rapid action to support local and community energy and to tackle energy waste in homes and emissions from vehicles.

Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner

As this month’s Pray and Fast prayer points note, Donald Trump’s removing the US from the Paris Agreement – and his government’s attacks on environmental legislation and funding more generally – have had the perhaps unanticipated impact of galvanising many in the US who remain committed to care for the environment.

US Christians are at the forefront of many environmental initiatives, and we’re delighted this week to launch a series of ‘Why I care about the environment’ articles reflecting their perspectives. The first of these is by Charles Scribner, the Executive Director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.”

Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, the controversial Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are currently seeking to weaken, postpone implementation of or repeal legislation around water pollution – so it’s a particularly appropriate time to hear from Charles Scribner and to keep him and the vital Riverkeeper work in our prayers. We’re hugely grateful for this piece – and we pray:

  • in thanksgiving for Charles Scribner’s work and the work of the Riverkeeper movement and the Waterkeeper Alliance
  • for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and its work to protect one of Alabama’s richest sources of water and biodiversity
  • for all the Waterkeepers, as they seek to “strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water”
  • for wisdom and courage for all who are seeking to counter moves to weaken environmental protection rules, in the US and worldwide


Cholera in Yemen

The cholera crisis in Yemen has reached exceptional proportions: as of the 1st of July, some 246,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak began, and 1,500 people have died since late April. The deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation to Yemen writes: “Yemen now suffers three-way tragedy: a population under siege, suffering the violence of war and unable to work or access nutritious food or health care; an economic collapse that has led to a rise in criminality; and now a devastating health crisis. This all leads to what could be the largest cholera outbreak of our lifetime.”

The directors of UNICEF and the World Health Organization noted: “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread. Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.”

There is some hope that a dramatic scaling up of work undertaken by agencies is beginning to see a reduction in deaths – but the situation remains critical.

Please pray:

  • for all affected by cholera, asking God to bring hope and healing to the people with the disease and those loving and caring for them.
  • in thanksgiving for the dedicated health workers labouring – despite, in many cases, lack of equipment, medication and pay – to prevent and treat cholera. Pray that God gives them strength in the face of difficulty and that they are able to access the medicines and equipment they need. Pray that they will also be able to get the pay they need for themselves and their families.
  • in thanksgiving that parties to the conflict are now allowing medical assistance into areas where aid has previously been blocked.
  • for a just end to the conflict that is devastating Yemeni’s lives and Yemen’s  infrastructure and that is creating the circumstances where cholera can flourish.
  • Pray for wisdom for those leading efforts to press for diplomatic resolution of the conflict – and to hold all parties accountable for their actions in the conflict.

Please act:

  • Could you donate to the ICRC or MSF, which are two of the biggest providers of medical assistance to people affected by cholera in Yemen? (MSF does not have specific appeals, so the donation is to their general fund)
  • Or could you donate to any one of the many charities (eg Christian Aid, Tearfund, Oxfam) offering assistance in the country?

Fairtrade Update

A few weeks ago we reported on the worrying development that Sainsbury’s was preparing to pull the Fairtrade label from some of its own brand tea (and rooibos tea) products, replacing it with a “fairly traded” label as part its new ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme’. We noted grave concerns around this, centering on the lack of transparency in the process and Sainsbury’s refusal to allow producers direct control of the equivalent of the Fairtrade premium; we’re also very concerned about the misleading nature of the ‘fairly traded’ label.

Since then the ‘Fairly Traded’ tea has gone on sale – and there have been several further developments:

  • ISEAL, a major organisation which “represents the movement of credible and innovative sustainability standards,” issued a statement noting that, while Sainsbury’s announcement included a statement of intention to apply for ISEAL membership, “Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme and its tea pilot are not endorsed by ISEAL and Sainsbury’s has not applied for, nor obtained, ISEAL membership.” Indeed, ISEAL “did not have any involvement in setting up the tea pilot or knowledge of it prior to the public announcement.””The principles of transparency and engagement,” ISEAL added, “are two Credibility Principles that underpin good practice when setting up and implementing a credible sustainability standards system. ISEAL strongly encourages Sainsbury’s to uphold the Credibility Principles to which it has publically committed.”
  • The Fairtrade Foundation has countered Sainsbury’s explanation that the new programmes were designed to help farmers deal with climate change by pointing to Fairtrade’s own work in this area. It has also issued a strong, clear statement of why producer empowerment – through things like self-determination in the use of the premium – is such an important part of Fairtrade.
  • Some of the founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fairtrade Foundation – including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Traidcraft – have written an open letter to Sainsbury’s, expressing “a number of serious concerns.” These included:
    • seeing “‘own brand’ certification standards as a step backwards in tackling major issues related to poverty and environmental sustainability,” as such standards undermine collaborative work across sectors.
    • the sense that the labelling is misleading: “Products sourced in such a different way to both Fairtrade certification and Fair Trade principles will mislead consumers if branded as ‘fairly traded’.”
    • the failure of the proposed standards to address issues around wages [The Fairtrade Foundation now requires plantations to have a plan for raising wages towards a living wage]
    • the disempowering of farmers: “Removing decision-making on the use of premiums from farmer organisations goes against the clear evidence that financial decision-making power for workers and farmers is essential to help them realise human rights, improve environmental sustainability and increase economic development.”
    • the apparent lack of “meaningful consultation of trade unions, workers or farmers’ organisations in the development of the standards” and the failure to reflect the feedback of some of the organisations who were consulted.

    On these bases, the organisations ask Sainsbury’s not to extend the proposals to other products until it has “published independent evidence of the impacts of your pilot including a clear analysis of the costs to all stakeholders” and encourages them “to urgently review and reconsider your plans.”

  • A piece in The Observer brought these issues to wider attention, highlighting some of the issues involved. This was one of a number of examples of negative press coverage: the Financial Times and industry publications (eg Sustainable Brands, The Grocer) also carried articles noting criticism of Sainsbury’s.
  • A major petition, with the support of many of the agencies involved in Fairtrade, has been set up on Change.org.

It’s hard to tell what impact the protests are having: Sainsbury’s has not officially announced any changes and has continued to permit its employees to make statements, occasionally of questionable accuracy, regarding the relationship between their model and Fairtrade.

What next? It feels important to continue protesting, and we would strongly urge those who care about Fairtrade to sign the online petition. If you are part of an institution (Fairtrade church, Fairtrade town, Fairtrade denominational body, etc) that supports Fairtrade and would like some template letters to Sainsbury’s, get in touch, and we’ll happily send some.  We’d also suggest continued prayer:

  • for the more than 200,000 Fairtrade tea farmers affected by Sainsbury’s move. This may well be an anxious time: pray that they may have a sense of security for the short and long term.
  • for wisdom for the leadership of the Fairtrade movement as it decides how to make the case for Fairtrade – and how to deal with the consequences of Sainsbury’s actions
  • for the leadership of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward: pray that they will be responsive to the concerns of producers and consumers
  • that this will be an occasion to galvanise new interest in Fairtrade, reminding seasoned Fairtrade campaigners and informing new audiences about the full range of benefits of Fairtrade and the reasons why it exists
  • in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade makes connections among producers and consumers, and for the way it helps to redress inequalities. Pray that it may continue to do these things, and to do them well.

Coming Up: Sea Sunday

We’ll have a full item on it next week – but this is just a reminder that next Sunday is Sea Sunday, a time for remembering and raising up in prayer those who work at sea. You can find resources at:

Supporting Refugees Locally, Short Notes: 25 June to 1 July 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Supporting Refugees Locally
  • Short Notes:

    • Grenfell Tower
    • International Widows’ Day
    • Democratic Republic of Congo
    • South Sudan and Uganda
    • Thanksgivings

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Matthew 10:29

This week’s Revised Common Lectionary reading from Genesis contains the story of Hagar and Ismael. Hagar’s human story – a slave given by her mistress as a slave-wife, rejected, and banished in a way that could put her and her child at risk of death in the wilderness – is a harrowing one of powerlessness, humiliation and loss. But in the eyes of God, she and her son are precious – and God both promises to protect them and does so.

Pray that all who have suffered injustice and been cast out may know the truth of God’s care for all God’s creation. And pray that we may be agents through whom God works to protect the vulnerable and rejected.
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Supporting Refugees Locally

“What can we do?”

This is the question we’re often asked with relation to support for refugees. Joanna Schüder, our Churches Refugee Networking Officer, is visiting with local groups that are supporting refugees – and is writing up some of their stories to show different approaches that individuals and groups can take.

The first of the stories – that of the Faringdon Syrian Refugee Group – is attached. We hope you find it interesting and inspiring.

Please pray for all who are already offering practical, prayer and emotional support to refugees. Pray that as a country we recognise the gifts that refugees have brought and continue to bring to our culture. And pray that as churches we work to offer support that witnesses to God’s love.

A Prayer for Refugee Week

Wondrous God,
Lord of all the earth,
Who can begin to comprehend your generosity!
You created humanity
In your image and likeness,
Gave us the abundance of creation
And when we had gone astray,
You sent your Son
That all who believe in Him should have eternal life.
Through Christ you have reconciled
All things on heaven and earth to yourself.
We come together now
From many different pasts.
Grant that in our dealings with each other,
We may recognise the image of God in each person,
Reflect your love,
And rejoice in the diversity of gifts you have given.
And make, we ask,
Our shared future on this earth that you have given us
One that honours you
And reflects your perfect Kingdom.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Short Notes

  • Grenfell TowerWe continue to pray for healing and justice in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. This week we pray additionally for all who have been evacuated from buildings that have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower; for the emergency services workers who continue to operate under deeply painful and stressful circumstances; and for wisdom for those charged with creating and monitoring fire safety regulations.If you are looking for written prayers for Grenfell Tower, you might wish to use the Moderators of the United Reformed Church’s General Assembly’s prayer, or perhaps  prayer points from people ministering in the area; the prayer from the London District Chairs of the Methodist Church (scroll down); or Bishop David Thomson’s prayer.
  • International Widows’ DayIn many countries and cultures, widowhood – especially among families that are already economically poor – can bring a loss of rights. As these stories show, this in turn can create vulnerability to ill-treatment and impoverishment both for widows and for their dependent families. While it’s hard to get accurate statistics for widows, UN Women estimates that there are 285 million widows worldwide of whom 115 million live in ‘deep poverty’.For this reason, the UN has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day. You can read more about the day and the issues that widows face here.  You can read here about some widows fleeing conflict as refugees who are, with the help of others, making a life for themselves and their families. And you can read here the amazing story of how Afghan widows, despite opposition and under constant threat, have created their own safe zone, a ‘City of Women’.Please pray this weekend that widows will receive comfort and consolation when they are grieving, receive or retain the rights they need to protect themselves and their families, and have every opportunity for abundant life after loss. Pray especially for widows from conflict situations, who often face displacement and/or violence directed at them at the same time as they are dealing with the loss of their spouse.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo

    The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) released this week a report on the brutal conflict between the country’s government and local militias in the DRC’s Kasai region. The report, which states that at least 3,383 people have been killed in the conflict, also speaks of mass graves, villages completely destroyed, hundreds of schools lost, and thousands of private dwellings destroyed. The UN also notes 600 cases of gender-based violence since August 2016.The conflict has displaced an estimated 1.3 million people, the majority of them internally, though some 30,000 have fled to Angola. There are also concerns that the regional conflict will  make it difficult to organise national elections, which are due to be held some time this year.On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution which “calls on the High Commissioner to appoint a team of international experts to investigate ‘alleged human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in the Kasai regions.'”  The Congolese government agreed to cooperate with the investigation.  An update is to be presented in March 2018 with a final report to come in June.Please give thanks that an investigation has been mandated. Pray that civilians in the Kasai region will find safety, peace and security; that the governments and militias will cease crimes against civilians and turn towards peace; that the UN investigation will proceed peacefully, safely, and efficaciously; and that the DRC will be able to make preparations for genuinely free and fair elections.
  • South Sudan and UgandaIncreased humanitarian assistance in South Sudan means that this week the country was officially declared no longer to have any areas of famine. But the severity of food insecurity in some areas has increased, and the numbers of people who remain ‘food insecure’ are the highest ever. Please give thanks for the work of humanitarian agencies and programmes; pray that assistance will reach all who are hungry; and pray for peace and stability that will enable people to grow or to access the food that they need.A delegation from the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, the ecumenical Council of Churches of South Sudan, and Ugandan church leaders visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda last week. Members of the delegation were moved to tears by what they saw and heard – and also expressed their admiration for the Ugandan government’s work to accept and integrate refugees within their country.  In response to the refugees’ call to act for peace, CAPA is inviting members of the Council of Churches of South Sudan to Lusaka next month to formulate a new church-led peace plan.While Uganda has been welcoming, it is a relatively small country hosting over 1.2 million refugees, and it has struggled to ensure that those it is hosting have access to the support they need. The ‘Refugee Solidarity Summit’ held by the UN in Kampala this week was designed to raise greater international support for refugee work within the country. The conference had a target of $2 billion in pledges; the total raised came to $358 milion. The EU, Germany and the UK led the pledges, and the UN Secretary General, pointing out that conferences never raise their targets, expressed satisfaction with the result as a start. Pray that the pledged funds are delivered in timely fashion and used effectively – and that more funding is forthcoming.
  • Thanksgivings

    • That a US judge has temporarily halted the deportation of Iraqi immigrants, primarily Chaldean Christians, who lawyers have argued face genuine risks of persecution if returned to Iraq. Pray for wisdom for the judge and peace of mind for the Iraqi immigrants and their families.
    • That Sweden has committed legally to being carbon neutral by 2045. Pray this inspires others to deepen their commitments to act on climate.
    • For the many Refugee Week events in our area. Pray that they inspire more and more people to appreciate refugees’ gifts.

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Don’t forget to sign up for our sponsored walk … or to sponsor those who are walking!
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Refugee Week, Grenfell Tower, Queen’s Speech, Refugee Prayer Points – 19 June 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Refugee Week
  • Short Notes: Grenfell Tower, Queen’s Speech, Refugee Prayer Points

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Refugee Week

It’s very appropriate for the Sunday before Refugee Week that the Revised Common Lectionary‘s Old Testament reading is the story of Abraham’s hosting three mysterious strangers, whom Scripture tells us represent a visitation of God. The alacrity and generosity with with the patriarch welcomes his unknown visitors provides a model for ‘welcoming the stranger’. And the immeasurable gift that the visitors give Abraham may prompt us to reflect: is it perhaps also true in human encounters that those who welcome the stranger can find themselves receiving far more than they give?

To encourage churches to celebrate Refugee Week, we are launching a new series of resources for churches that wish to ‘welcome the stranger’ and celebrate both our different pasts and our shared future.

These resources were primarily prepared by Joanna Schüder, who started as CCOW’s Churches Refugee Networking Officer at the beginning of April. Joanna comes to CCOW with a degree in social work and a background of working with refugees both in the United Kingdom and in Germany. She has wide experience in a variety of church contexts and is currently a deacon at Didcot Baptist Church, with particular responsibility for pastoral care. We are delighted to welcome her – and grateful to all whose prayers and donations are making Joanna’s work possible.

Joanna has spent her initial time mapping out what is already available in terms of support and resources. We are now working to make this information accessible and to make connections: a new page on our website shows local groups in the Thames Valley who are working to support refugees, and you can sign up to be connected with those working on refugee support in our area. We’re also attaching to the prayer email the CCOW Guide to Worship Resources – Refugees and Forced Migration: we hope that this will be of use to you for your Refugee Week services next week and more generally.  Further materials – including a website section on refugees and migration, more general resource guides and case studies from the groups Joanna is visiting – will be available shortly.

Short Notes: Grenfell Tower, Queen’s Speech, Refugee Prayer Points

  • Grenfell TowerWith the rest of the country we pray for all who mourn, all who are injured or traumatised by what they have suffered or seen, and all who have lost their homes or are temporarily displaced. We give thanks for the extraordinary courage and commitment of the emergency services and hospital staff, for the work of people in the community supporting those affected by the fire, and for the generosity of all who have contributed time, goods and money to relieve people’s needs. We pray, too, for a national conversation that looks seriously, soberly and rigorously at the concerns about justice, inequality, and attitudes towards regulation which the fire has raised … and we pray that we may honour those who have suffered by our determination to learn lessons that will prevent such suffering in the future.If you are looking for written prayers, you might wish to use prayer points from people ministering in the area; the Moderators of the United Reformed Church’s General Assembly’s prayer; the prayer from the London District Chairs of the Methodist Church (scroll down); or Bishop David Thomson’s prayer.
  • Queen’s SpeechIt is anticipated that there will be a Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.Different members of Government’s thoughts on migration and Brexit have been the subject of much discussion. There were also several Conservative Manifesto statements on aid, trade and energy that have inspired debate, including an apparent willingness to consider unilaterally changing the rules on aid, some quite ambivalent language in statements on renewables, and a strong commitment to shale gas (fracking).Please pray for wisdom, discernment and a commitment to the common good for those who are tasked with drafting the speech and, more generally, Government policies.
  • Refugee Prayer Points
    There are so many different possibilities for specific prayers of intercession and thanksgiving related to refugees. We’ve noted just a few bullet points here ….

    • that Europe may make progress towards rules on ‘safe passage’ so that people will no longer be forced into hazardous voyages
    • for justice for those who have been detained in poor conditions on Papua New Guinea and Nauru – and for a fair and just asylum system in Australia
    • for those who are suffering abuse in detention centres in Libya – and for an end to the ‘outsourcing’ of borders to areas that are unsafe
    • for those who are being involuntarily repatriated to Afghanistan, despite the dangers they face
    • in thanksgiving for the gifts and resilience of refugees and asylum seekers
    • in thanksgiving for all those who are sponsoring refugees and coming alongside them with support of many different kinds
    • in thanksgiving for the work of Christians, Christian agencies and churches to assist refugees, offering a witness to God’s love and receiving the gifts that strangers bring
    • in thanksgiving for those countries, like Uganda, which are keeping open their borders for those fleeing conflict. Pray for the Refugee Solidarity Summit this week in Uganda – and more broadly that Uganda and other host countries will receive appropriate support from nations and agencies.
    • in thanksgiving for the opportunity to celebrate refugees’ gifts to the UK and other countries in Europe through Refugee Week and through specific initiatives like the Refugee Food Festival

UK Elections, Philippines, Sponsored Walk – 11 June 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • UK Elections
  • Philippines
  • CCOW Sponsored Walk


“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This phrase from the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel for the week has comforted Christians in danger throughout the centuries. As we read it this week, we thought of Christians being held hostage in Marawi City … those in the Central African Republic (again an area of concern) … and those in so many other places. For them, for all of us, may these words bring a renewal of faith and hope.
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UK Elections
Many church leaders and church-related bodies have made statements relating to this past week’s elections – and have offered prayer points. A selection of comments and prayer points is below – at the bottom you’ll find a prayer from the Church of Scotland and the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches which you may wish to use. You’ll also find some action points.

  • Archbishop of Canterbury

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

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

  • President and Vice-President of Methodist Conference

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

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

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

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

  • Baptist General Secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Evangelical Alliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippines

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

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

Areas for prayer include:

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

Immediate humanitarian needs

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

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

Please pray:

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

Countering hatred

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

The need for peace and development in the region

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

CCOW Sponsored Walk 

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

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

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

In this week’s prayer email:

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

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Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environment Sunday: Caring for Creation

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan

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

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

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