" 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." These words of Paul from the Revised Common Lectionary readings are a welcome reminder. In a world that tends to worship human strength or power or wealth or might, we don't need to lament what we don't have, or feel overawed by other people's prowess or possessions. Our trust is in the grace and power of God.
This Sunday, 5th July, is Disability Sunday. The theme for the Sunday is friendship, and the UK resources focus on promoting reciprocal friendships between church members with and without disabilities.
Several years ago, when I (Maranda) visited the Temoso Special School in Ganyesa, one of the most encouraging aspects of the school was the way in which students appeared to be caring for each other. The headmistress told me that what also made her glad was the way in which students were gaining in confidence and establishing relationships outside the school setting. She gave the example of a young man whose disabilities included not having full control of his facial muscles and not being able to speak. Since coming to the school, he had begun to participate also in his church community, even becoming a crucifer. The community accepted and welcomed him. He enjoyed being part of it. And when the junior choir members were noisy, he had learned, she said, how to quiet them down even without using words!
More recently when we were looking at albinism, one of the most striking things was the extent to which friendship networks were vital to provide a protective environment for people threatened by violence. When Marie Niyukuri's son, Ephreim, was attacked by a suspected albino-hunter, for example, her neighbours immediately pulled the boy away to protect him: indeed, the neighbours were so supportive that unlike many children, Ephreim and his sister were able to walk the three kilometres to school on their own. We also heard of examples of friends offering refuge to people who were forced to flee bad situations.
Friendship isn't a matter for governments. You can't legislate it, or pay for it, or demand it. But as a gift of love it's open to the rich and the poor, to inhabitants of all countries, to those who have disabilities and those who don't ... and can accomplish wonders.
In honour of Disability Sunday, please pray:
- in thanksgiving for friendships that bring together people with disabilities and those without
- that churches may be places of welcome and friendship to people with and without disabilities
- for organisations that seek to give people with disabilities the confidence, skills and support that can help them create friendships.
As Greeks vote in the referendum on bailout proposals, please pray for the people of the country and their leaders, for other European countries and their leaders, for those negotiating a possible bailout on behalf of Greece and the EU, the IMF, and the European Central Bank ['the Troika'], and especially for those people within Greece who are suffering the consequences of the country's economic difficulties.
Looking beyond the immediate questions of the referendum, here are three additional points to ponder and pray about.
Firstly, the Greek crisis once again shows that there is a huge need for a fair mechanism for dealing with sovereign debt issues. This is not a new idea - more than a decade ago Ann Pettifor was suggesting a transparent arbitration procedure to deal with sovereign debt. The issue has been raised again by developing countries in recent years, though its inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals was blocked by the UK, Australia, France and Japan. Can progress be made?
Secondly, whatever the result of the referendum, it will be crucial to take time to reflect on the crisis' impact on European identity. Successive Greek governments' actions - and failures to act - have unquestionably been unhelpful to its position in the Eurozone. No one is denying that the public sector in Greece was bloated; that its governments overspent and overborrowed; that corruption, clientelism and inefficiency were and are real issues (to give two examples, Greece is ranked by the World Bank as the 155th country in the world in terms of ability to enforce contracts; from 1999 to 2007, it is estimated to have lost almost 30% of its taxes to tax evasion), and that governments - including the current one - have failed to tackle them sufficiently. Without the support from the Troika that it received, Greece's banks would have collapsed.
But at the same time, what does it mean that the EU has refused publicly to consider debt relief for a member state - when even the IMF acknowledges that it is needed (most recent paper here)? Why do politicians in EU countries that object to supporting Greece not publicly acknowledge the extent to which much of the bailout has gone to repay loans and interest to creditors, many of them banks from those same countries - which is one of the factors enabling those banks to reduce their exposure (full paper) so that a Greek failure wouldn't lead to "unmanageable contagion"? Why, when economists of all political persuasions have (unusually!) agreed that the extreme austerity imposed on Greece was failing to improve the situation, has the Troika continued to press it, leading The Economist, for example, to proclaim in 2011: "The European Union seems to have adopted a new rule: if a plan is not working, stick to it"? In all of this, there has sometimes been the sense, articulated by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, that losing a weaker member from the Eurozone might not be a bad thing (paralleled by a sense in some quarters that a Grexit would be good for Greece) - but that it would have to be made as unpleasant as possible for the country itself in order to deter other weaker members from following suit.
At a time when a series of issues - Mediterranean migration, Russia's activities in Eastern Europe, a potential slowdown in China, etc - require a sense of common purpose, what can be done post-referendum to recover a sense of genuine European unity?
Thirdly, in the immediate present, what can we do to help allay the very real human suffering in Greece? Churches and charities within Greece have been vital in providing humanitarian aid to the vulnerable. But what about us? Oxfam was founded in 1942 to relieve the Greek famine caused by the Allied blockade of occupied Europe: it not only sought to provide practical aid, but also lobbied for policy change. What role can UK churches and charities play today?
- for wisdom and discernment for Greek votes and politicians, for all European countries and their leaders, and for the Greek and Troika negotiators
- for all who are suffering because of Greece's economic difficulties, especially the most vulnerable
- for progress towards a just arbitration mechanism for sovereign debt crises, and for a way of thinking about indebtedness that incorporates something of the biblical concepts of Jubilee
- for good order and peace following the referendum
- for a solution to the Greek crisis that leads towards justice, peace, and a healing of tensions within countries and within Europe as a whole
- for all who are working to assist the most vulnerable in Greece and throughout Europe
- that the church may witness to the love and peace of Christ
- Take a look at the "Cancel Greek Debt" petition (here on the Jubilee Debt Campaign website). Could you sign it? Or write to your MEP to express your concerns? If you'd like more background (including links to discussions of the EU plans), get in touch with us.
- Contact us for a list of ways to donate to organisations that are assisting people struggling with poverty in Greece.