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

In this week’s prayer email:

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

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

Lord, you were once a refugee”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Please pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

22 Jan 2017 – Homeless Sunday

Resources for worship and prayer cards

25 January – Conversion of St Paul

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

27 January – Holocaust Memorial Day

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

29 Jan 2017 – World Leprosy Day

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

Coming up – Actions and Events

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

16 January

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

5 February

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

14 February (and surrounding week)

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

Photo:

Photo ID 482888. 25/08/2011. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/