14th July 2019

Christian Concern for One World


This Sunday's readings:


* Amos 7:7-17 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#hebrew_reading> and Psalm 82 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#psalm_reading>

* Deuteronomy 30:9-14 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#hebrew_oth_reading> and Psalm 25:1-10 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#psalm_oth_reading>

* Colossians 1:1-14 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#epistle_reading>

* Luke 10:25-37 <https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=270#gospel_reading>


Verses for meditation:


"For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins'"

(Colossians 1: 9-14)


Reflection on the verses:


"The first object of prayer is not so much to speak to God as to listen to him. This knowledge of God must be translated into our human situation. We pray for spiritual wisdom and understanding. Spiritual wisdom is sophia, which we could describe as knowledge of first principles. Understanding is sunesis, which is what the Greeks sometimes described as critical knowledge, meaning the ability to apply first principles to any given situation which may arise in life."

William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible (rev ed): The Letters to the Phillipians, Colossians and Thessalonians <http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/03/29/paul-and-the-puzzle-of-freedom/>








Coming Up This Fortnight



For prayer before, during or after the events...


21 July Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections

Background Information: Chatham House <http://bit.ly/2JHKqWx> , Deutsche Welle <http://bit.ly/2xKzwtR>

30 July -World Day against Trafficking in Persons

UN info <http://bit.ly/2JHKqWx> , Stop the Traffik <http://bit.ly/2m5YBtL> , The Clewer Initiative <http://bit.ly/2EcFrsL> , Santa Marta Group <http://bit.ly/30wynSU>




Items for Prayer



Persecution of Christians



"As soon as the priest started the Mass, he sighted some people with guns running towards the church and alerted people but, almost at the same time, they began to shoot… We ran and hid in one building." Nine-year-old observer of a massacre at a Mass in Nigeria1



"They follow us wherever we go…the surveillance is taking a huge toll on my grandson he’s in shock after [his parents were taken away]. He hasn’t slept for two nights." The mother of arrested Pastor Wang Yi, China


The Bishop of Truro's Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] Support for Persecuted Christians <http://bit.ly/2LLLhbA> was published on 8 July.



The review's brief was "to map the extent and nature of the global persecution of Christians; to assess the quality of the response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and to make recommendations for changes in both policy and practice."



The final report is not long and is well worth reading in its entirety. It first sets out the situation: Christians are at present the world's most persecuted religious group. Their persecution is a global phenomenon - occurring in 144 countries in 2016 according to the Pew Research Center. It is largely persecution of the poor, because in many places, Christianity is a religion of the poor. And it intersects with other human rights abuses, such as gender-based violence and gender discrimination. In some places, the author notes, the extent and nature of the persecution is such that it could be seen to constitute a form of ethnic cleansing or even genocide. In Iraq, where some of the most serious 'ethnic cleansing' took place, the Christian population has declined from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000.



A survey of the types of persecution Christians face and the situation in different geographic regions offers a helpful exploration of the breadth and the complexity of the issue. Drivers are shown to be deeply varied - they include fear of anything that competes with ruling ideologies in authoritarian states, anger at Christian work for justice in places where corruption and violence are deeply rooted, and religious extremism of many varieties. The types of persecution and discrimination also are varied: they can include state-sponsored arrests, torture and executions; sexual violence; attacks by informal groups and militias; social and economic discrimination; confiscation of property; harrassment of worshippers and believers; and the creation of legal structures which place Christians at risk of prosecution for nebulously defined religious offenses. Case studies, including those cited above, document particular instances, giving a sense of the reality for individuals.



Having shown the scale of the problem, the report also documents the often inadequate response from the international community. There is particular concern about international agencies' and countries' unwillingness sometimes to recognise that Christians have been singled out for persecution in conflict because of their faith. Incidences are also mentioned of agencies' 'faith-blind' criteria meaning that members of Christian communities who have suffered becuase of their faith do not receive aid, as organisations do not want to seem to favour any one religious group ... even when its members are particularly in need because of persecution or discrimination relating to their religious identity. The report also notes that a faith-blind stance can lead to Christians' being endangered in refugee camps where their vulnerabilities as a religious minority are not recognised.



What of the Foreign Office response? The report considers this in the broader context of FCO support for religious freedom generally. It finds that support for those persecuted because of their faith or belief is variable. Overall the sense is that issues of religious freedom are not given as much priority as they should be, though there is appreciation for the work of Lord Ahmad, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and for the work of certain posts. The FCO's Freedom of Religion or Belief [FoRB] resources, however, have not, the review states, been taken up by many posts, and a survey showed less evidence of monitoring of abuses and active engagement around the issues than one might have hoped. From the perspective of Christians experiencing discrimination and persecution, experiences seem to have varied. Overall, though, people not in positions of authority felt that they could not approach the FCO; those who did make such an approach sensed, in many cases, a reluctance to speak out, especially where British economic or political interests might be at stake.



From the beginning, the Bishop of Truro was clear that his review, while focused on Christians because of the seriousness and scale of their persecution and the lack of attention it had hitherto received, was not trying to make a special case for Christians and churches, or to diminish the suffering of other religious groups. Some of those groups' sufferings (and the role of Christians in persecution) are also noted, and the review's recommendations seek to help the FCO protect freedom of religion or belief generally. The author states: "the focus of the Review’s recommendations is clearly on guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief for all, irrespective of faith tradition or belief system, taking full account of the scale, scope and severity of its abuse in various contexts.... Similarly the very first recommendation calls for the protection of freedom of religion or belief to be set within a broader human rights framework, whilst nonetheless emphasising that this is a right upon which so many others depend.""I am concerned," the bishop notes, "to uphold the rights of all minorities."


The review's recommendations are broad and far-reaching, hinging on a commitment to "ensure FoRB ... alongside other human rights and values, is central to FCO operation and culture by developing a clear framework of core values that will underlie its operations, to include a specific commitment to the upholding of rights of members of minorities." The review calls on the UK to aspire to global leadership in championing this area, and suggests areas for research, structural mechanisms that would enable faster and better action in dealing with FoRB abuses, new practices within the FCO centrally and the development of context-specific responses in individual posts, and the development across government departments of coherent policies to protect religious minorities.


"God has so composed the body ... that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Corinthians 12:24b-27)


This report isn't just important for the government to take on board. For us as Christians, it is challenging at several levels. Are we aware enough of the situation of our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith? Are we supporting them as members of the body should support one another? Where do we stand in our own faith? How clearly have we thought through our own positions on human rights and the right to freedom of religion or belief? What are we doing to defend the rights and dignity of all people?



Please pray:


* for all Christians experiencing persecution. Pray that they may know God's love with them at all times and may be strengthened to continue in faith


* in thanksgiving for the courage of Christians experiencing persecution. Pray that God will help the church worldwide to learn from and be inspired by them

* for greater solidarity among Christians, so that we may be truly united in Christ and support those within the body who are suffering for their faith


* for all people experiencing persecution because of their faith or belief

* in thanksgiving for this report and the clarity with which it outlines the issues


* that the FCO and the UK government overall will take seriously and act on its recommendations, protecting people from suffering.



A very helpful prayer for persecuted Christians, originially from Release International, can be found here <http://bit.ly/2XItIeM> .


1 All quotes are taken from the Review.


DRC Update: Ebola and Wider Concerns



As of Friday <http://bit.ly/32rNf6E> 's report on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2462 people are confirmed or thought to have contracted Ebola, and 1,648 to have died from it. Of these, over 700 have been children. Efforts to work in schools are now increasing <http://bit.ly/2GdDYFV> , with the aim of raising children's and teachers' awareness of Ebola signs and symptom and the importance of alerting authorities to possible cases. Churches have also <http://bit.ly/32saEou> set up handwashing stations and temperature checks to help halt the disease's spread. Pray for the success of this work, for all who are affected by Ebola, and for all working to provide prevention and care. Pray especially for those undertaking vaccine campaigns against Ebola, measles <https://uni.cf/2xHLeFx> and cholera <http://bit.ly/2ShP9lJ> - the latter are also a problem at present.


You may have heard that the outbreak had spread to Uganda: several members of a family had crossed the border to bury a relative who had died from the disease and, when they returned, some of them were themselves infected. Cooperation by both countries and rapid work by the Ugandan authorities ensured <http://bit.ly/2LjOu2y> that they were quickly identified and brought in for treatment and that those who had been in contact with them were vaccinated. Thanks to the quick action, Uganda has reported <http://bit.ly/2YRDgFD> that no further infections have occurred. Pray for the family, who lost several members, and give thanks that the disease didn't spread further in Uganda.


Ebola is only one of the many challenges currently facing the Eastern DRC, and gets international attention at least in part because of the threat it poses to other countries. This is itself part of the reason for the tensions <https://bbc.in/2YadI9T> surrounding the Ebola response. As Archbishop Moses Katanda explained to the Church Times <http://bit.ly/32saEou> : "The Ebola outbreak is located in an active conflict zone, with dozens of armed groups jostling for control in North Kivu and Ituri provinces ... Rebels from those countries operated in the area before the outbreak, killing thousands of people who have been neglected by the Government and the international communities. But, with Ebola, they saw hundreds of international organisations move into the same conflict area with millions of dollars to assist the victims of Ebola, not the victims of the army groups. For the local population, it is seen as injustice, and makes them think that Ebola is their way to make money. These tensions lead to violence against workers."



Please pray for a resolution to the other conflicts in the area and the economic and social difficulties they have caused. Pray, too, for a decrease in the tensions with health workers, and for health workers' continued safety.



Some more prayers for the DRC can be found here <http://bit.ly/2JD4WYu> and from the Congo Church Association <http://bit.ly/2Cswx99> . CAFOD has a prayer <http://bit.ly/2XOappv> specifically for those affected by Ebola.






Short Notes



Sea Sunday

This Sunday, 14 July, is Sea Sunday. Many of the products we eat, wear and use every day are brought to the UK by sea - but how much time do we spend thinking about the lives of the seafarers who make this possible? Seafarers have inherently difficult and dangerous jobs, and often additionally suffer from poor employment conditions. Please pray for them, and for those who work to support them. Materials are available from: Apostleship of the Sea <http://bit.ly/2Xoby6U> , Mission to

Seafarers <http://bit.ly/2tycSnt> . See also the work of the Sailors' Society <http://bit.ly/2XKV1sY> .


Hong Kong

We hope to write more on this next week - but in the meantime please pray for the people and government of Hong Kong at this time of tension. Protests began over a controversial extradition bill, proposed by the China-dominated government, which people feared would lead to China's being able to crack down <http://bit.ly/2YRPK0b> on freedoms in the city by extraditing holders of dissident views. Organisers stated that nearly two million people <https://bbc.in/2xOWhg9> - over 25% of the population - had taken part, making the protests Hong Kong's largest ever. The extradition bill has been suspended and declared 'dead' by Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam. Protests, however, are continuing, inspired by a desire to see the extradition bill formally withdrawn <https://nyti.ms/2Gpq5EX> and by wider dissatisfactions <http://bit.ly/2LQyg0h> with the current political structures <http://bit.ly/2YRQOBd> , police responses to the initial protests, and China's actions to 'mainlandise' the city. Pray for wisdom for protesters, the Hong Kong government, the Chinese government and the international community. Pray for safety for all, and for a solution that guarantees essential rights and freedoms to the city's residents.



Support for rabies vaccination


Rabies <http://bit.ly/2JHcPft> is one of the deadliest diseases known to humanity; people who contract it and become symptomatic almost always die. At present, it's endemic in 150 countries, and kills an estimated 59,000 people a year.



The scandal is that rabies deaths are also eminently preventable, thanks to the existence of vaccines which can eliminate it in the primary carriers, domestic dogs, and can prevent symptoms and death in humans. These vaccines, however, are often not accessible in the places where they are needed the most.



That's why it's good news that GAVI, the vaccines alliance, decided in its new strategy <http://bit.ly/2Y050e9> (for 2021-2025) to add the human rabies vaccines to its portfolio, improving access to post-exposure prophylaxis in areas where such treatment has previously not always been available. GAVI's move supports a plan developed by the World Health Organization and its partners <http://bit.ly/2GaYBTe> to eliminate rabies deaths in several countries through greater educaation to prevent dog bites, mass dog vaccinations and improved access to post-exposure prophylaxis for people.



Give thanks for these developments. Pray that the GAVI and WHO plans may be successfully implemented. In the interim, pray that countries will give more priority to the disease. Pray especially for countries like Pakistan and India, where there are currently significant vaccine shortages <http://bit.ly/2G9DPDi> . Pray, too, for all who have been or will be affected by rabies deaths.







For Prayerful Action



Would you like to support churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as they seek to grow the faith, contribute to peace and community development or help the fight against Ebola? Consider donating to The Congo Church Association <http://bit.ly/2LLECw9> or the Christian Aid Ebola Appeal <http://bit.ly/2LljnUw> . Both CAFOD and Tearfund are also funding churches and others to assist in the response to Ebola, although they don't have specific appeals.



There are many organisations that help to support churches facing persecution. Take a look at Christian Solidarity Worldwide <http://bit.ly/2TsRCJr> , Aid to the Church in Need <http://bit.ly/2LQN1QQ> , and Open Doors <http://bit.ly/2LQ6Pnj> - might you be able to assist them with donations , sign up for their prayer updates, or take part in one of their campaigns?








Resources to help you pray and act




The organisations mentioned in the action box also provide excellent resources for prayer and advocacy - it's worth signing up for their prayer diaries and action updates. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty also often cover freedom of religion and belief issues. In addition, you might want to look at:



Forum 18

Forum 18 News Service takes its name from the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which seek to guarantee freedom or religion and belief. It provides monitoring and analysis of violations of freedom of thought, conscience and belief, primarily in Central Asia, Russia, the South Caucasus, and Belarus, with occasional reporting from Turkey. Its material is careful, original and thorough - and covers people and groups who are often ignored. Worth a look <http://bit.ly/VLb8M7> .


All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

The review notes that the work of this APPG has had a genuine impact on FCO efforts to uphold the key freedoms that are its central concern. The group's website <http://bit.ly/2XFRT2l> is an excellent source of information and news not only about the APPG's own activities, but about the issues more generally, especially as they relate to UK Government policy.

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