As we experience the Passion narrative in this Sunday's readings, we are reminded of the depth of Christ's self-sacrificing love … “love so amazing, so divine…” And then the Epistle challenges us to "have the same mindset as Christ Jesus" (NIV), who came among us as a servant and humbled Himself even to accepting death on a cross. What might that mean in our lives? Can we take time out during Holy Week to ask God's guidance … and grace?
World Youth Day ... All We Can ... Guinea-Bissau Elections ... Central African Republic ... Religious Tolerance in Myanmar (Burma) ... Floods in Solomon Islands ... A Death in Syria
World Youth Day (Palm Sunday)
Youth unemployment is creating a "generation at risk." In 2013, about 73.4 million young people worldwide were estimated to be unemployed. Globally, youth unemployment is almost three times that of the adult population as a whole.
This presents serious problems, as young people can become increasingly alienated and disaffected. In Bosnia, for example, in February riots broke out. Although they related to ongoing post-conflict issues, they were triggered by job losses and the desperation felt by many, particularly the young, in a country where 44% are unemployed, and youth unemployment was recently estimated at over 57%. Speaking about the hopelessness which accompanies youth unemployment there, Pastor Zeljko Puja commented:
‘Unemployment is the biggest problem for young people in Bosnia. Through our church projects we are always in touch with big number of young and educated people who cannot find even low paid jobs. There are many problems that come out of this. Many young people in Bosnia are trying to immigrate to other countries. A lot of people in their 30s and 40s are still living with their parents, because they don't have any income. It is terrible for their self-esteem and more and more people believe that there is no hope. It is hard to think about a future in a country in which it is practically impossible to find a job.’
For countries emerging from conflict or with unstable governments, youth unemployment and the unrest it generates can be a particular problem as has been seen across North Africa and the Middle East.
The disaffection young people feel can be intensified by the fact that there has never been more pressure on them to buy and consume more. Websites tailor advertising to searched items and disguise product placements in celebrity tweets. Television and billboards display the latest must-haves. The result is an intense pressure on young adults and teens to crave a life they have little chance of affording.
This year, the Pope’s World Youth Day missive offers an alternative vision to those facing these pressures. It is a call to young people to be "poor in spirit" and to let "the logic of being more… prevail over that of having more".
The Pope writes:
‘The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism. This means being concerned with the essentials and learning to do without all those unneeded extras which hem us in. Let us learn to be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending. Let us put Jesus first.’
The message connects the good of living simply (and treading lightly on the earth), with the good of human community. Putting people above goods and money leads to shared understanding and solidarity as well as the chance to learn from those who are poor. As global wealth gaps increase, diverting wealth to the richest, this is an important message.
But it's not just for young people: we all need to tackle consumerism, to live lightly, to have humility and to learn from each other.
And if society as a whole is serious about keeping faith with these values and with young people, a top priority is to create jobs for them, jobs that are sustainable both in terms of environmental impact and in terms of providing security and a living wage. These are important since many young employees are on temporary or part time contracts or in unpaid roles. The best projects are setting people up to find ‘good work’. Such work not only provides income but also encourages workers to master skills, be creative and foster good relationships.
In Bosnia the charity Mosaik offers young people the chance to set up their own community projects. The charity matches funding raised in the community. This type of work allows young people to demonstrate their creative abilities and to take initiative as well as serving the community in ways which are sustainable through local funding. Other projects have involved setting up community based businesses providing long term employment.
Where unemployment can cause social unrest and hopelessness, good jobs sustain a community and enable individuals to flourish.
Please pray for:
- Young people who are unemployed and feel hopeless about the future
- Young Christians - and people of all ages - across the world that they will be inspired to ‘be more and have less’.
- Projects working with young people to find or create employment opportunities.
All We Can
This week the Methodist Relief and Development Fund became "All We Can, the Methodist relief and development partner."
They write: "Our new name and strengthened identity reflects our future role and vision, as well as our Methodist roots and heritage – with its echoes of John Wesley." Wesley famously encouraged Christians to:
“Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.”
"All We Can's" vision for the future includes continuing its work with partners around the world: it focuses on building the capacity of small organisations that make a difference by serving the most underserved communities. Most of this work involves long-term sustainable development, but the charity also responds to emergencies through partners and the ACT Alliance. In a new move, "All We Can" is planning to intensify its work with churches, helping them to become agents of positive change. And it will continue to promote advocacy and education both through partners and within the UK.
"All We Can" has always been a charity that in many ways reflects the ideals of humility and service found in this week's readings. Please pray:
- in thanksgiving for the strong Methodist tradition of service to brothers and sisters locally and globally
- in thanksgiving for the work MRDF has done to build the capacity of partners serving those who are often overlooked or forgotten
- that "All We Can" will be able to continue and increase that work
- for the success of "All We Can's" work enabling churches to be agents of positive change
Action Point: One of "All We Can's" most successful resources is the Iota course, which helps Christians in the UK think about questions of poverty, faith and justice. CCOW supporters have told us it was transformative for them - why not take a look?
On Palm Sunday, the people of Guinea-Bissau will vote for a new government. These elections will bring to an end a two-year transitional period that followed a coup during the last elections in 2012.
Since Guinea-Bissau received independence from Portugal in 1974, no government has ever served a full term. A history of government instability, military interventions in politics, strained relationships with neighbouring states and the international community, corruption and mismanagement, narco-trafficking, and failure to develop crucial infrastucture and the legitimate economy mean that any politicians elected will face major challenges. Engaging with a variety of actors while seeking reform will be crucial as will external support.
There are signs of potential hope. Some of the more divisive political figures aren't standing for election; pressures on the military elite may discourage their interference in the elections and the new government; there have been reforms to the electoral process; and external actors are working coherently together and have promised aid and support for key reforms if the elections go well.
Bissau-Guineans, nearly 70% of whom live below the national poverty line and 64% of whose households faced food shortages as of December 2013, are looking for new hope. Their election may not make the UK news, but it matters hugely. Please pray:
- that the elections may go smoothly and be fair and transparent
- that all those involved will accept the results and be able to work together in the future
- that those elected will be able to enact reforms for the good of the country as a whole
- that external actors will work with the new government in ways that genuinely promote the well being of the country
Key reading: International Crisis Group "Guinea-Bissau: Elections but then what?"; Institute for Security Studies: "Is there a risk of a new coup in Guinea-Bissau?"; IRIN, "Back to the Ballot Box - Guinea-Bissau seeks security"
Central African Republic
On the 10th of April, the UN Security Council finally approved the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic. The proposed operation will involve roughly 12,000 peacekeepers and will take over the responsibilities of the African-led peacekeeping mission as of September 2014. Members of the force will initially include up to 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police personnel.
This is good - if terribly belated - news. Another development this week - the proposed withdrawal of Chad's forces from the African Union mission - has inspired mixed emotions. On the one hand more, not fewer, troops are needed on the ground, and Chad had been protecting Muslims from the anti-balaka militias in the north of the country. On the other hand, Chad has its own interests in the CAR, and its troops have been widely accused of taking sides in the conflict and protecting - and perhaps even joining - ex-Seleka rebels in their activities.
Please continue to pray for all who are working for peace in the CAR: the government, religious communities, agencies, peacekeepers, and ordinary people whose courage and love will be known only to those around them.
Pray for those coordinating humanitarian assistance, too. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) this week issued a report on the humanitarian crisis resulting from the conflict. They estimate that as a result of the destruction of crops, livestock, livelihoods and productive assets, 1.6 million people are urgently in need of food.
Dominique Burgeon, the Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, noted: “The level of destitution among many of the families I have seen recently in the Central African Republic is shocking and yet, there is still hope to improve people’s immediate and long-term prospects, if we can act on a broad enough scale to restore livelihoods and food security,”
The FAO is planning to provide seeds, tools and other agricultural inputs to 75,000 people before the new planting season begins, and to assist 400 farmer groups and women's associations. The World Food Programme is providing emergency food assistance for 1.25 million people - although a lack of funding means that people are only receiving half rations.
Please pray that the work to restore livelihoods will be successful, and that farmers will recover their ability to grow and transport food. Pray that governments will respond to the UN's appeals for funding for aid for the CAR, so that people can receive the food they need.
Religious Tolerance in Myanmar (Burma)
As tensions surrounding a census in Myanmar lead to increased intolerance, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yangon has expressed his concern about new laws in Myanmar on the "protection of race and religion." The laws, which respond to a petition from a nationalist movement led by Buddhist monks, would legally regulate conversion from Buddhism and would prevent a Buddhist woman from marrying a person of another faith unless she received the approval of local authorities, her parents and her in-laws and her prospective spouse converted.
The Archbishop also urged the government to move against the proliferation of verbal attacks on Muslims, which continue to fuel violence, especially in Rakhine State.
The situation of the Rohingya Muslims in camps for displaced people in Rakhine State has deteriorated markedly in recent weeks, following an attack at the end of March on NGOs that were working with them. A government investigation has stated clearly that the attack was unjustified and condemned the slow response of local officials. The government has also given assurances that it will offer protection to NGOs in future. In the meantime, however, thousands of vulnerable people are left with little or no access to food, clean water or medical care. And while the first two of these may soon be restored, the government is still refusing to allow Médecins sans frontières, which was providing medical services, to work in Rakhine State.
- that the government will not enact laws that impinge on religious freedom
- for an end to hate speech and violence against the Rohingya Muslims
- that those who are in camps for displaced people will receive the supplies and services they need
- for justice for the Rohingya people and that the international community will put pressure on Myanmar to meet its obligations to all the people of Rakhine State
- for the success of the "flower speech" campaign, which aims to tackle hate speech
- for the life and witness of the Christian church in Myanmar, and for its protection from harm
Floods in Solomon Islands
Please pray for the people of the Solomon Islands, recovering from serious flash floods that killed 23 and affected more than 50,000 people, including over 9,000 who are currently in evacuation centres.
A Death in Syria
It may seem odd to mention one death in Syria - there have been so many, and each of them is the death of a precious child of God.
Yet sometimes the very numbers of the dead can crush any sense of what each life means ... and so the chance to reflect on one death is a way of both remembering a life lived to God's glory and being reminded of the preciousness of the many others.
And so we ask you to read about the killing of Father Frans van der Lugt, the Jesuit priest who refused to leave Homs, and to remember those who are affected by his death. Among them are a young Jesuit from Aleppo and his American companions. If you have the chance, read the description of their conversation. Give thanks for the witness of Father van der Lugt and all who follow Christ in the midst of suffering. Pray for all who have suffered and died in this brutal conflict. Pray for the ultimate triumph of God's love, which shone in Father van der Lugt's life and in the lives of countless others about whom we will never hear. May God's Kingdom come; God's will be done on earth - including Syria and all places of conflict - as it is in heaven.