Where do we begin? The news from Israel/Palestine continues to be unbearably painful (new Christian Aid prayers here); the situation in the Ukraine is tense and violent; and there are countless other relatively unreported crises: a deadly week in Syria ... the purging of religious minorities from Mosul in Iraq ... the threat of famine in South Sudan ... the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa ...
In all of this, we pray for all who are suffering, that they may receive God's comfort and may come to know that, in the words of this week's Revised Common Lectionary epistle, nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." May God's reconciliation and healing spread throughout this hurting world: your Kingdom come, O Lord, your will be done!
- " I told him [ISIS militant who stopped the fleeing family and demanded their money] son; it's a few dinars to eat and drink for. (I beg you.) Would you allow this to your parents? He told me: Go. Go to your priests and Christian community to take care of, feed and protect you ... They expelled us from our forefathers' land. From our land they expelled us. Told us this is not our land (home) ... Then he told me: Give me your money ... or each one of you will receive a bullet in the head, but first a bullet in your brother."
"I don't reach out to anyone but the Lord. I do not ask people. I ask my God. I reach out to my Lord who created me, the Lord Jesus. He knows what to do. And I reach out to his mother, his great mother, that helped us. I reach out to the Lord and His mother. Not people. And I reach out to my church. My church feeds me. My church buries me if I die. And it buries my family.
Refugee from Mosul, interviewed by Ishtar TV.
“You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.” Muslim woman at gathering of solidarity for Iraqi Christians
Please continue to pray for the people of Iraq, and especially for the Christian community there. In the area controlled by ISIS, religious minorities, including Christians, were told to convert, pay a tax, leave, or face execution; when they fled, most lost all their possessions.
- All who are refugees
- All who have lost friends, family or colleagues in the violence
- All who are living in fear within Mosul and the areas controlled by ISIS
- That the hearts of those who are sowing violence and hatred may be turned to God and to peace
Give thanks for:
You might want to use the Archbishop of York's "Prayers for the People of Mosul." The Kurdish media network Rudaw also has pictures of Christian refugees, and we have included two statements by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch below: could you use these to help you pray?
"With all due respect to belief and dogmas, there has been a fraternal life between Christians and Muslims. How much the Christians have shared here in our East specifically from the beginnings of Islam. They shared every sweet and bitter circumstance of life; Christian and Muslim blood has been mixed as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing.
It is clear that the result of all this discrimination legally enforced will be the very dangerous elimination of the possibility of co — existence between majorities and minorities. It will be very harmful to Muslims themselves both in the near and the distant future.
Should this direction continue to be pursued, Iraq will come face to face with human, civil, and historic catastrophe.
We call with all the force available to us; we call to you fraternally, in a spirit of human brotherhood; we call to you urgently; we call to you impelled by risk and in spite of the risk. We implore in particular our Iraqi brothers asking them to reconsider and reflect upon the strategy they have adopted and demanding that they must respect innocent and weaponless people of all nationalities, religions, and sects." Statement of Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako
"[It] is a shame and a crime to force innocent people from their homes and confiscate their properties because they are 'different,' because they are Christians. The whole world must rebel against these abominable acts ... [Christians] love Muslims and consider them our brothers and sisters; they must do the same. We are all equal in dignity, all citizens of the same country. We must unite to create a new Iraq." Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako at gathering of solidarity for Iraqi Christians, St George's Chaldean Church, Baghdad
Female Genital Mutilation
‘Sarah, was at secondary school when she was told it was time for her to undergo ritual circumcision. Having received education on FGM through a local charity project Sarah new the risks and disadvantages and so she refused.
With the prospect of a lost dowry, her family stopped paying her school fees. She had to drop out of school and was relegated to undertaking menial tasks at the family home. She also suffered abuse and name calling, being called, among other things a coward. Meanwhile, her younger sister was circumcised and started receiving preferential treatment.’ David Baldwin, St Peter’s Lifeline, Kenya.
This week the plight of many girls like Sarah has been given an international stage as the Department for International Development and UNICEF co-hosted the Girl Summit. One of the main aims was to mobilise efforts to bring an end to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) within a generation.
FGM is predominantly an issue in Africa and the Middle East with 125 million women having experienced some form of FGM. In eight countries over 85% of women have been subject to this procedure; in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, the figure is over 90%. But it's not just an issue in these places; many diaspora communities also practice FGM. The British government has recently committed to prosecuting those who seek to arrange FGM and to giving better care to the thousands of women in the UK who have suffered from FGM. The practice is mostly undertaken by non-medical practitioners without any medication or sterilised instruments. As well as immense pain which often leads to girls losing consciousness, the results can include haemorrhage, infections, bladder problems, increased risks in childbirth and other health issues. Every year 3 million more girls are at risk of FGM primarily between infancy and the age of 15.
Why does it happen? Whilst poor education and poverty often mean girls are more vulnerable to suffering from FGM it is primarily a cultural practice, which some believe helps to maintain women’s sexual purity. And where community tradition dictates that FGM is required for girls to be eligible for marriage, those girls who refuse (like Sarah) can be ostracised, seen as having little value.
There have been positive changes in recent years with the UN making a unanimous resolution in 2012 banning FGM, recognising it as a human rights violation and offering refugee status to those fleeing FGM. Many countries have outlawed FGM. In Kenya legislation passed in 2011 not only bans the process, but extends to protect women who have chosen not to undergo FGM from derogatory comments. But UNICEF research shows that the best way to tackle FGM is through grassroots projects which seek to change cultural norms. By educating girls on the facts of FGM, the health risks and the benefits of education these projects are beginning to show girls that they can resist FGM and as more girls say no to FGM a ‘tipping point’ can be reached where the community is no longer one in which FGM is seen as necessary. St Peter’s Lifeline in Kenya runs a project like this. We are grateful to their co-founder David Baldwin, for sharing with us how their programme works:
Our campaign to eliminate FGM has been running for over four years now. With an experienced local team we run a well structured educative and proactive programme throughout the year. From January to March we visit local primary schools and form children’s rights awareness clubs, run by their teachers during the year, and involving lots of fun through dance, drama and poetry.
In April we have a reunion gathering of all the young women who have previously attended our Alternative Rites of Passage residential week to affirm their decision not to be circumcised. In May, June and July the team travels round the villages conducting discussion seminars (invariably involving lunch!) with local communities, where the issues of female circumcision are robustly debated. September to November sees a recruiting drive round the villages to attract young women to attend our Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP) week.
The ARP is the culmination of the FGM programme, being a one week, residential seminar held in December at one of our Primary schools – St Peter’s. It is held for up to 200 young women during the main circumcision ‘season’, and it mirrors the ritual tribal element of going into seclusion and having the ‘secrets’ of womanhood imparted – except the ‘secrets’ here are the facts about FGM, health and hygiene issues, social and sexual matters, and generally being given the tools to resist tribal, family and peer pressure to be circumcised. Overall, we talk to thousands of people in the communities, and over 600 young women have attended our ARPs, some even running away from home to be taken in.
Understandably, there is a great reluctance to surrender an important ritual such as this – one of the major tribal Rites of Passage during a person’s lifetime – which goes back beyond memory. But it is being surrendered. The local people are beginning to see the benefits of their young women now fully receiving a secondary education, getting married by choice, and generally how they can positively contribute back to their community in a whole range of areas, and not to say the least of the lifetime health benefits to each girl. For instance one of our students whom we are sponsoring through university is now teaching at a local secondary school, and is proving to be a highly respected role model.
The whole programme has a very high success rate (85 – 90%), and our team predict that within the next two to three years FGM will be virtually eliminated from this area.
- For girls who are at risk of FGM, including those in the UK who may be taken abroad during the summer holidays.
- For those girls and women who are living with FGM, that efforts to ensure they receive the right support from health agencies and others will help them.
- In thanksgiving for the successes of those projects which are working with communities to change the culture so that girls will not be taken out of school to endure FGM and early marriage but can enjoy their childhood and be encouraged to continue their education. Pray that more communities will be served by these projects so that FGM can be wiped out.
With so much news of pain, hatred and despair, it is good to be able to follow up on some earlier prayer items with news for which we give thanks. Please join in giving thanks that:
- the first vaccine against malaria, designed for children in Africa, is at the stage where its developer (GlaxoSmithKline) has applied for regulatory approval. Early tests suggest that it could reduce incidence by about a quarter among infants and almost 50% in children between 5 and 17 months old. The Wall Street Journal also reports that another company is working on a vaccine which early tests indicate may be even more effective. Please give thanks for the commitment of all those who have undertaken or funded research, and continue to pray for all working to fight malaria.
- the government of Myanmar has invited MSF back into Rakhine State, from which it had expelled the organisation several months ago, leaving more than 140,000 people, most of them members of the hugely vulnerable Rohingya Muslim community, in camps that lacked adequate medical care. Pray that MSF will be able to deliver the care demanded by the humanitarian crisis in the camps. Please continue to pray, too, for justice and peace for all ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar.
- Meriam Ibrahim, whose death sentence for "apostasy" inspired a worldwide campaign for her release is now safely out of Sudan. Give thanks for her strength in the face of persecution and for the successful efforts of the Italian government to secure her release. Pray for Christians remaining in Sudan, and especially for the new Anglican Archbishop of the Internal Province of Sudan. Pray that they may be strengthened and given wisdom and courage in the face of increasing hostility.
Prayer Request from Donetsk
Contacts in the Ukraine have asked for prayer for those in Donetsk. As some towns north of Donetsk have regained control from pro-Russian separatists, efforts to maintain control of Donetsk have stepped up. Earlier this month 2000 armed soldiers took over schools, universities and hotels. Donetsk Christian University had dormitories seized and students evicted, all their buildings have now been taken over. This has left many staff and students without their belongings, accommodation or employment. They join many others who continue to leave Donetsk daily as life becomes impossible. Please pray for them as they seek to find a place to stay and a means of income and learn to live with the uncertainty of when or whether they will be able to return.