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Prayer Email 12 January 2020: Unity, Farmers, Hope, India’s Citizenship Bill

Prayer for the Week

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on Wednesday the 18th, so this week’s prayer has Christian unity as its theme. You can also find the UK materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity here, and the international materials here.

A further collection of prayers for unity is in this Twitter thread.

Lord Jesus Christ,
who prayed that all your followers might be one,
We ask your forgiveness for our divisions.
Unite us, we pray, in your love
And grant that, by your grace, we may come to serve you
As members of the one body,
Guided by your truth
And glorifying you together
Through the gifts you have given us.

 

Focus for Prayer – Farming

Our January prayer for farmers is on our website’s Prayer Space. Further resources are available from the Arthur Rank Centre.

As you pray for farmers this week, please pray especially for:

Those in Australia who have lost farms to the bushfires

All farmers whose livelihoods and lives are threatened by extreme weather, trade uncertainties, and conflict (UK, DRC, South Sudan, and others)

All farmers suffering from mental ill health as a result of the strains of farming. Give thanks for charities, such as FCN and RABI in the UK, that offer support for farmers under stress.

Items for prayer

Reasons for Hope

There are many reasons for concern as we look at the current climate situation – but where do we find hope?

I (Maranda) have recently revisited the brilliant collection of essays on Christian hope and the environment that Margot and Martin Hodson gathered for Anvil. The articles in that collection wrestle with key questions: how do we relate our ultimate hope – our trust in God’s good purposes for the creation – to our proximate hopes for the temporal future? How do we avoid ‘false hope’ which is based on an unwillingness to confront hard realities? How do we harness ‘optimistic hope’ which inspires people to keep working on tough issues? And what is ‘robust hope’? If you haven’t read the articles – or, indeed, even if you have – this is a volume to visit or revisit. The whole volume is freely available online.

Six climate researchers also started the year by sharing news that had given them hope in 2019. One spoke of country-level events, citing Costa Rica’s work to decarbonise its economy – an antidote to people who say that governments can’t or won’t undertake ambitious climate action.  Another cited advances in forecasting that that can make it possible to predict the behaviour of – and hence prepare for – extreme weather. Four cited political or economic movements or actions: the growth of divestment, local declarations of ‘climate emergency’ leading to local action, the rise of the youth climate movement, and the plans for decarbonisation in a recent party manifesto.

Over the next week, can you read some of the pieces on hope? Give thanks to God for the things that give you hope? And pray about how you can best act in order to give hope to others?

 

India’s Citizenship Act

Widespread protests have taken place for more than a month in India in response to the Indian government’s introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act [CAA], which was signed into law on 12 December and took effect last Thursday, 10 January.

The new act offers a path to legal citizenship for migrants from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan,  who entered India before the end of 2014.* According to its terms, they “shall not be treated as illegal immigrants.” The government has justified its selection of these groups on the grounds that they  “were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution.” Critics point out, however, that the act does not offer such a path to Muslims from any country, including those, such as the  Ahmadiyyas or Hazara who have fled religious persecution in the countries named in the act.

The act’s passage represents the first time that the constitutionally secular democracy has made religion a criterion for citizenship, and there are fears that it will be used to marginalise or expel Muslims. It coincides with suggestions that the government might create a nationwide ‘National Register of Citizens’, requiring people to prove their right to citizenship. In the state of Assam, when such a register was implemented, around 1.9 million people were found to lack adequate documentation to show that they qualified and so were deemed stateless and under threat of deportation.  Under the provisions of the CAA, Muslims in this situation would continue to exist under this threat, while members of other groups could claim a right to remain.

This move reflects the BJP’s vision of India as a Hindu nation-state and its idea that  Muslims and Hindus should live in different states. BJP ministers have articulated at various pointsthat their objectives include prioritising Hindu and Sikh refugees and expelling what they call ‘infiltrators’, often seen as code for those perceived as illegal Muslim migrants.

For all – Hindus and others –  who favour a democracy that preserves religious freedom for all its minorities and heeds the constitutional principle that India is to be a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”, the moves are profoundly worrying. Politicians from other parties, students, secularists, and religious leaders from minority communities including the Christian churches have united in expressing their concern and opposition.

Fr Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit in India, said, during the debates around the bill:  “The CAB risks tearing the country apart, reopening unhealed wounds of the Partition and ultimately destroying the secular and democratic tenets of our revered Constitution….” adding with respect to the proposal of a national register, “The country today stands at the brink of catastrophic human suffering and injustice, if the government implements it nationwide as planned.”

Students have been particularly vehement in protestinginspiring many others in civil society – but have been attacked by government forces. The opposition Congress party has ordered its members who govern states not to implement the act, and the leader of another state governed by an opposition party  has also said the state will refuse to implement it. Opposition parties are due to meet this week to decide on a strategy.

Please pray:

  • for wisdom for politicians as they decide how to respond to the CAA and the protests against it
  • for wisdom for those who will be arguing and hearing legal challenges to the CAA in the coming month
  • that India will be a place that conforms to its founders’ vision of freedom and equality under the law for members of all religious groups
  • that India, and all countries, will offer refuge to all who come to it and qualify as refugees under international law
  • for wisdom for Christian leaders, as they consider their response to the act

*The Indian government estimates that of those who have claimed refuge so far on the basis of persecution and would benefit from the act,  81.2% are Hindus and 18.5% Sikhs.

 

Update on Aid

Thank you to all who have prayed and are praying about the Department for International Development (DfID)’s  future. In the past week, as Duncan Green outlines at the end of his piece on the issue, news first came through that suggested a merger that abolished DfID wouldn’t take place. Then almost immediately other news suggested that while a complete merger was unlikely, a restructuring that abolished DfID’s ministerial post and gave the Foreign Office de facto control of DfID’s structures was still possible. Such a plan would continue to raise concerns about the future independence and efficacy of the UK’s development work.  Please continue to pray, asking God to give all involved in the decision wisdom and a desire to do what will further the reduction of poverty and the increase of economic justice.

Short Notes …

Please continue to pray about the situation in Iran, the tensions between Iran and the US, and the tensions across the Middle East. If you would like more detailed prayer points, email us.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, Nancy Pelosi, has indicated that she will send the articles of impeachment for President Trump to the Senate this week, despite profound disagreements with Senate leadership about how the trial should be conducted. The Senate leadership has indicated that it wants to put forward rules for the trial that will not involve a decision to call witnesses or to request documents that the President had refused to make available to the House. The Senate Majority Leader has also already suggested that there will be a speedy acquittal, and he has said that “Everything I do during this [trial], I’m coordinating with the White House counsel … There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.”

During a Senate impeachment trial, each Senator takes an oath to “do impartial justice, according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.” Whatever the merits of the case, there is a clear danger to the integrity of the Constitution and to the credibility of political processes if there is not a sense that a fair trial is taking place and impartial justice is being done.

As US politicians take the next steps in the impeachment process, pray for wisdom and integrity for all concerned.

Resources

2020 Dates for Prayer and Action
A reminder that the first quarter dates for prayer and action are on our website here.  Many people find them handy for planning services, rotas, and special events – and they can be used to shape your own cycle of prayer, too.

Supporting Refugees: A Guide for Oxfordshire Churches
Churches in Oxfordshire will be receiving this week a new guide to supporting refugees in our area. The booklet has been compiled by CCOW with the assistance of a range of local partner organisations. It introduces the different charities that are standing alongside refugees in Oxfordshire and the opportunities they offer to help with their work. If you would like your own copy (wherever you live), please do get in touch.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity materials this year include a suggestion that Christians and churches “Provide welcome and hospitality for those recently arrived into the UK and Ireland” If this call inspires people in your church who aren’t yet involved to get involved, the guide can help them find out what they can do.

 

Forthcoming Dates and Events

13 January – Asylum Welcome Charity Gala – Oxford
Information and tickets.

19 January 2020 – Peace Sunday
Theme: Peace as a journey of hope’ Materials: Pax Christi

22 January 2020 – Talk by Sophi Tranchell, Oxford
The Oxford Fair Trade Coalition is hosting a talk by Sophi Tranchell, CEO of Divine Chocolate UK at its AGM. She’ll be speaking about her experiences in Fairtrade – well worth hearing. Wadham College, 6:30 – 8:30. Registration.

25 January 2020 – ‘Saying yes to life’ – Reading
Day retreat (9:30 for 10:00 until 2:30 pm) based on Ruth Valerio’s new Lent book. Free. Lunch provided. For further information and registration, email maranda.stjohnnicolle@oxford.anglican.org.

1 February 2020 – Green Christian ‘Way of Life’ Day – London
Day conference on ‘rediscovering and maintaining a radical, creation-centred way of being’. Presentations on prayer, ‘living gently’, public witness and encouragement. Sessions on poetry, prayer and music. Information and registration.

This Week’s Readings

Revised Common Lectionary Readings – Isaiah 42 1-9  •  Psalm 29  •  Acts 10: 34-43  • Matthew 3: 13- 17

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.”

Isaiah 42: 1-4

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Prayer Email 5 January 2020: Plough Sunday, Climate Prayers and more…

A note to our supporters

We hope that you have had a good Christmas and pray that this will be a New Year of blessings, most especially of drawing closer to God amidst the many challenges that face us and our world.

The new year is also the start of a new prayer email. Over the past few years, we made the decision to shift our focus slightly in order to do more direct work alongside churches in our core areas of Fair Trade and trade justice, care for creation and solidarity with refugees. We’re very excited by some of the resources, events and opportunities already produced and coming up – and hope you will be too. But time is limited – and it became clear that we couldn’t both do that work and continue to produce the prayer email in the format that we had. This led to the hiatus in the old prayer email – and to its reappearance now in a different and more sustainable format. We apologise for the break in the email, hope you continue to find the material useful, and would very much value your feedback.

 

This month’s prayer focus:
Plough Sunday/Agriculture

Plough Sunday is on the 12th of January … here’s a prayer you may wish to use in your church or personal worship:

Creator of soil and rains,
Lord of all sowing and reaping,
We thank you for the gift of life and all that sustains it.
As the new year starts, we cannot know its end
But turning towards you, our maker and hope, we pray:
Help us to follow you in our endeavours.
And grant, for the sake of Him through whom all was made,
Wisdom to those who steward field and seed,
Support to those who face uncertain seasons,
Strength to those who seek to defend the earth.
We offer our prayer to you and in you, O perfect Trinity of love
Now and forevermore.

Featured Prayer Item

The Pray and Fast for the Climate January 2020 prayer points are out, looking back at developments over the past 18 months and forward to 2020. Items covered include the COP talks in 2019 and 2020, Australia’s bush fires, developments in electric vehicles, a groundbreaking case linking climate action and human rights … and more. Read them…

Items for Prayer

Northeastern Nigeria
The murder of eleven Christians by Nigeria’s ‘Islamic State’, a militia that splintered from Boko Haram, brought renewed attention to the often forgotten but still devastating conflict in northeastern Nigeria. It’s a conflict we should remember – and it’s important to pray for the people of that area. As of September 2019, the Red Cross said 22,000 people had been reported missing, of whom 60% were minors when they disappeared. Millions have been displaced, losing homes, communities, livelihoods and educational opportunities. Tens of thousands have been killed. Children have been kidnapped and forced into slavery, sexual exploitation, and use as child soldiers … even suicide bombers. While the government continues to fight the militias, a lack of resources and an unwillingness or inability to address some of the underlying issues in the area have impeded success.

Please pray that the hearts of those who seek conflict may be turned to peace, that the people of northeastern Nigeria may enjoy the fruits of peace,  that those who have suffered in their communities may find comfort and support, and that those who have been abducted may be freed, accepted back into their own societies, and helped to heal after trauma.  Pray especially for the work of churches in the area, asking God to grant members strength and safety and to bless their witness.

Background: Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram  and a photo essay on the Chibok Girls who returned (both powerful – highly recommended),  How Boko Haram has regained the initiative and what Nigeria should do to stop itBoko Haram is back. With better drones, International Crisis Group coverage, Christian Solidarity Worldwide submission to 126th UN Human Rights Committee.


Department for International Development (DfID)

Boris Johnson has long advocated for folding DfID into the Foreign Office, on the grounds that it would avoid waste and ensure that aid cohered  ‘much better with U.K. political and commercial objectives’. Following the Prime Minister’s election victory, civil servants in both departments are reportedly working on proposals for the merger after Brexit, as well as proposals for how the two departments could work more strongly together while remaining separate.

100 leading development charities – including Action Aid, All We Can, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Christian Aid, the Mothers’ Union, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision – have issued a statement warning against a merger, noting:

“Merging DFID with the FCO would risk dismantling the UK’s leadership on international development and humanitarian aid. It suggests we are turning our backs on the world’s poorest people, as well as some of the greatest global challenges of our time: extreme poverty, climate change and conflict. UK aid risks becoming a vehicle for UK foreign policy, commercial and political objectives, when it first and foremost should be invested to alleviate poverty.”

“By far the best way to ensure that aid continues to deliver for those who need it the most is by retaining DFID as a separate Whitehall department, with a Secretary of State for International Development, and by pledging to keep both independent aid scrutiny bodies: the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the International Development Select Committee.”

The agencies are not the only ones speaking in favour of maintaining separate departments: policy experts and politicians, including some Conservatives, have also expressed reservations about a merger. One major concern is that a merger would lead to aid that was politically motivated, as happened before DfID was formed when, for example, aid was linked to an arms deal. Another concern is that, while it has its critics on both the left and the right, the independent department is generally very highly rated in terms of independence, effectiveness, impact  and transparency: the international campaigning group ONE ranked it 1st in the world in aid volume, quality, and targeting; and the 2018 Aid Transparency Index, rated transparency around UKAID delivered by DfID as ‘very good’ with a score of 90.3. The FCO’s record is not always as strong: for example, UKAID delivered by the FCO (about 30% of the aid budget is spent outside DfID) was rated by the index as ‘poor’ with a score of 34.3.  There are also concerns about the possible blow to Britain’s global standing if it is seen as being less interested in developmentdifficulties in merging different cultures, and the impact of merging the departments on departmental experts’ workload in the year when the UK will be hosting the UN climate talks, and needing to draw on expert advice.

Please pray that decisions that are made around the fate of DfID will prioritise the needs of people at risk because of poverty and climate change and will ensure continued or improved effectiveness and transparency.

Ebola Update

The Ebola epidemic in the DRC has, since its outbreak, involved 3.386 confirmed or suspected cases, and 2,233 people have died. The numbers of people suffering with the disease at any one point have been diminishing, but while the epidemic has abated, it has not disappeared – and a single person can inadvertently enable a flare-up, as happened recently when a taxi-driver relapsed, creating a chain of infection that involved 50 people. There are also concerns as the disease seems to be taking hold again in Butembo, which has seen hostility to health workers in the past, making prevention and treatment more difficult.

Please pray for all who have been affected, directly and indirectly, by the Ebola epidemic. Pray that health workers may be safe and able to work effectively. Pray more generally for an end to the violence and unrest in the eastern Congo, which is so destructive in itself and which creates environments in which disease can spread.

Our page on Ebola has further resources and prayer points. We’d especially recommend reading the inspiring and sobering story about Dr Shako, director of an Ebola response team.

Resources

Each year, CCOW produces a calendar of ‘Dates for Prayer and Action’ listing special Sundays, key upcoming events, and themed days/weeks/months. It’s one of our most popular resources, downloaded hundreds of times. The new one can be found here.

This year, however, we’ve also done a hard copy calendar, which  not only notes the dates but also offers photographs and a prayer or reflection for each month (sample here). If you’d like to receive one, please email us: if possible, we’d be grateful for a donation to cover the costs of the resource and postage (unless you are already a donor, in which case the calendar is our thank you!)

Forthcoming dates and events

6 January – Epiphany/Theophany (Orthodox)
During the Epiphany season, could your church reflect on the journeys of the Holy Family following the Wise Men’s visit … and the journeys of refugees today?

11 January – Talk by playwright Mike Bartlett in aid of Brightwell Supporting Refugees – Brightwell-cum-Sotwell
Information and ticket details

12 Jan 2020 – Plough Sunday
Also Plough Monday, Plough Wednesday. Pray for all who farm worldwide. Resources: Arthur Rank Centre

13 January – Asylum Welcome Charity Gala – Oxford
Information and tickets.

18 to 25 January – Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity
Theme: ‘Unusual kindness’ (local theme) ‘They showed us unusual kindness’ (intl theme). Materials from CTBI (local version), World Council of Churches (int’l version)

19 January 2020 – Peace Sunday
Theme: Peace as a journey of hope’ Materials: Pax Christi

25 January 2020 – ‘Saying yes to life’ – Reading
Day based on Ruth Valerio’s new Lent book. For details and to register, email maranda.stjohnnicolle@oxford.anglican.org

1 February 2020 – Green Christian ‘Way of Life’ Day – London
Day conference on ‘rediscovering and maintaining a radical, creation-centred way of being’. Presentations on prayer, ‘living gently’, public witness and encouragement. Sessions on poetry, prayer and music. Information and registration.

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

In this week’s email:

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

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

World AIDS Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Northeast Nigeria

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

Please pray:

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

Colombia

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

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

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

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

Photograph: World Bank Photo Collection, Creative Commons License