- World AIDS Day
- Notes: Pray and Fast, Moldovan Elections, Nigeria, Ebola Prayers
The Revised Common Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent speak of Christ's coming to judge the earth. Many people have spent much effort trying to work out the time of that coming, but Christ is clear: "About that day or hour no one knows" except the Father. Our role is not to speculate but to stay "awake," seeking to do God's will and trusting God to strengthen us so that we may "be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
World AIDS Day
December 1st is World AIDS Day, and many churches will observe the occasion during a Sunday service on either the 30th of November or the 7th of December.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michael Sidibé, has released two messages which capture key themes appropriate for the day.
In the first, he reflects on the progress of the past thirty years. The sense of helplessness around Ebola, he notes, is analagous to our position "at the beginning of the fight against HIV," when fear, stigma and a lack of treatment options left most people infected with HIV - and their friends and families - in a difficult and lonely place. Who then would have dreamed that within a few decades a combination of activism, scientific innovation, and political will would lead to a world where more than thirteen million people are able to receive treatment, people living with HIV and AIDS are demanding their human rights, and an end to the AIDS epidemic as a global health threat by 2030 seems possible?
The message of hope is an important one to hear, especially as we confront another epidemic. But the 13.6 million people whom the UN currently estimates are receiving treatment are not the totality of people who need treatment; use of this figure forms an admission that there is still more work to do to meet targets (MDGs, 2011 UN Declaration) on access to treatment. UNAIDS' statistics also show that while globally there's been a strong decline in new infections and deaths from AIDS-related causes, infection rates are still high and, in some places, increasing.
The second of Sidibé's messages addresses one of the many reasons why some goals aren't yet being met. It was made for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and in it Sidibé notes: "The link between violence and HIV is irrefutable ... to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, we must eliminate all forms of gender-based violence."
Sidibé is speaking in part about violence against people living with HIV ... but violence against women can also be a factor in new infections. In Swaziland, for example, researchers were trying to understand why teenage girls showed higher infection rates than their counterparts in other countries. When they surveyed girls, they discovered that 38% had experienced sexual violence before their 18th birthday. Women suffering sexual violence - especially young women whose bodies are not fully mature - are more vulnerable to infection with HIV. Nor is the issue only sexual violence: as UNICEF notes, "fear of intimate partner violence also prevents many women from asking their partners to use condoms, obtaining information on HIV prevention, and accessing testing and treatment." A recent study published in The Lancet has also shown that in areas of high HIV prevalence, controlling behaviour on the part of men is a risk factor for married women.
When right relationships fail, when people abuse others, failing to recognise the image of God in them, physical and spiritual suffering ensue. If we are to address the issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, we need access to treatment. But we also need a change in hearts and minds ... and especially an end to the poverty, fear, inequality and exploitation that leave people vulnerable to infection.
This World AIDS Day, please pray:
- for all people living with HIV and AIDS, that they may know their status, have access to treatment, and be empowered to live well
- in thanksgiving for the advances made over the past thirty-odd years in preventing and treating AIDS
- for an end to stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, and for healing for those who have suffered because of stigma
- that the ambitious targets set by UNAIDS for 2020 and 2030 will be realised, saving millions of lives
- for an end to violence against women and all gender-based violence, and an end to the attitudes and stereotypes which enable such behaviour
If you would like formal prayers to mark World AIDS Day, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and Anglican mission agency Us have suggestions for services. You may also want to look at the sermon notes prepared by Clare Amos for Us, which would also make a good starting point for personal or home-group reflections.
- Action to counter violence against women is needed everywhere. Could your church take part in the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women? Our resource has links to lots of ideas for prayer and action: even something as simple as putting up a sign in your church toilet could make a positive difference to someone's life.
Short Notes: Pray and Fast, Moldovan Elections, Nigeria, Ebola Prayers
- Pray and Fast
The Lima climate talks begin on Monday. There's been some good news before the talks: pledges to the Green Climate Fund are now at $9.7 billion, which - given that a lack of funding commitments has been a stumbling block to negotiations in the past - is a positive sign. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, points to this, the EU's commitment to 40% cuts by 2030, and the recent announcement of emissions targets by the US and China as "the first evidence of how we are going to address the problem.”
There's still a long way to go, though, and there's considerable skepticism among experts that the looser approach to a treaty that appears to be gaining favour will keep warming below 2 degrees centigrade, let alone the lower target favoured by many scientists and vulnerable communities.
We need to keep praying - and many will be doing so through "Pray and Fast for the Climate." The Archbishop of Cape Town has provided a prayer for the 1st Sunday of Advent, which can be used at the lighting of an Advent candle (if that is in your tradition) or as part of your prayer/fasting on the 1st.
Pray and Fast also has prayer points available. Please do join in praying and fasting on the 1st of the month ...
And don't forget to plan your Light for Lima prayer and action on 7 December!
- Moldovan Elections
Tucked between Romania and the Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, once the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, holds its parliamentary elections this Sunday. At a time of rising East/West tensions in Europe, the election has predictably become a topic of contention beyond the country's borders. (Coverage: BBC, Guardian, FT, Le Monde)
The ruling government favours closer ties with - and indeed membership in - the EU, and signed an association agreement with the EU in June. Russia has made clear, however, that it does not want Moldova to leave its sphere of influence, and pro-Russian parties (one of which has just been disqualified from participating in the election on the grounds that it received large donations from Russia) have enough support that it is impossible to "call" the election. The situation is made more complex by regional splits within the historic Moldovan territory: Russia already has troops stationed in the breakaway Transnistrian Republic on Moldova's eastern border. In addition another ethnic minority area, the autonomous region of Gagauzia in the South, voted overwhelmingly last February in favour of joining the Russian customs union rather than the EU, and of leaving Moldova if it should become part of the EU.
As voters go to the polls, please pray:
- for wisdom and discernment for all voters and candidates, that they may genuinely seek the common good
- that the election may proceed with fairness and transparency, both in Moldova and for the Moldovan diaspora
- that whatever the result of the election, those elected may govern wisely and well
- for Christians in Moldova, that they may be faithful in their witness
- that the wider issues relating to Russia, the Ukraine and the West will be resolved in a way that offers justice and peace to all in Eastern Europe
“I saw lifeless bodies as I fled the scene. I saw blind beggars running for safety. I saw the old and the young being trampled, and I saw people crying as if the end of the world has come." Chief Imam of Masalaci, Vanguard
This week has seen several Boko Haram attacks, including one on the Grand Mosque in Kano, whose Emir, Lamido Sanusi, former governor of the country's central bank, has been an outspoken critic of the Islamist movement and recently advised people in the region to defend themselves against its attacks. The Vanguard (Nigeria) reports that the Kano attack killed more than 200 people, many of them children.
As Nigeria suffers from conflict, economic uncertainty due to falling oil prices and political uncertainty over the approaching election, please keep the country in your prayers. Pray especially for wisdom for political, military and religious leaders and for comfort and healing for all who have been directly affected by Boko Haram's attacks.
- Ebola Prayers
Recently there have been some positive or potentially positive developments in the Ebola crisis:
Despite these developments, the Ebola crisis remains serious in Liberia, Sierra
Leone and Guinea, and two new cases have been confirmed in Mali. There are
concerns that the Western response still isn't rapid enough, and that at least one
company is not moving as fast as it might to develop a vaccine. Please pray for
all who are working to end the crisis and for all affected by it (in many cases the
same people - read this account of a front-line worker in Sierra Leone). If you
would like help with prayers: