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October 2020


Around the world, refugees and asylum seekers are suffering from the physical and political effects of COVID-19, which are compounded by the circulation of misinformation, provoking fear and uncertainty. According to the UN, there are over 79.5 million forcibly displaced individuals - nearly 1% of the world's population. The lack of access to clean water, soap and healthcare provision puts refugees, especially women and children, at increased vulnerability to COVID-19. Jordan is a major host country for Syrian refugees who have fled an almost decade-long civil war in their homeland. There are about 655,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees in the kingdom. Officials are stepping up efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 among tens of thousands of Syrians in camps in Jordan after the first cases were confirmed in early September. Overcrowding and poor living conditions have compounded relief efforts – especially when social distancing is difficult, if not impossible.

June 2019 | 8


October 2020

CONTENTS

DEVOTIONAL 02

The Transformist In Us

VIEWPOINTS TAKE A LOOK 20

Though we are many, we are one “body”: An Italian young pastor’s experience in time of Covid-19

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Empowering Women Through Language

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Voices From Al-Khan Al-Ahmar A Bedouin Village In The Holy Land

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Learning The Lessons

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Seasons of Change

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When the Flame Tree is Flowering

AT A GLANCE 04

Member Church News

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CWM News

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Ecumenical News

SEEN & HEARD

YOUR SAY

TAKE A LOOK 48

Not Going (Home)… Anytime Soon

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Let’s Just Blame God For Everything


DEVOTIONAL |

THE TRANSFORMIST IN US “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” Esther 2:17-18

This part of the story of Esther reads as the climax of the king’s process of selecting a queen to replace Queen Vashti who had been expelled. Esther is chosen among multiple beautiful virgin girls who had been under the king’s palace for a 12-month beauty therapy programme. Esther is chosen by the king who doesn’t even know Esther’s secret, that she is a Jew (an inferior race in the eyes of the powerful Persian king) and an orphan (a despised social position). Here begins some real drama with queenship bestowed upon a nobody, an inferior orphaned girl. Many difficult questions come to the fore in the setting of this story. Is it right to treat the virgin girls like this where each evening one girl would is brought to the king as a virgin and in the morning she returns to a new group – as one of the king’s concubines! Do these girls have a choice considering that this same king had expelled Queen Vashti for refusing to be displayed before a drunken crowd? Will these girls ever feel the love of a husband or experience a mutual marital relationship with anyone ever or are they doomed to a life of giving the king attention once in a blue moon? Is this crowning really a favour for Esther, or a jail sentence where if she doesn’t obey

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she too will be expelled, or worse still, killed? It is in this context of no real choices, a pre-determined destiny, no human rights, a dictator king and an inferior social position that Esther finds herself crowned as queen instead of Vashti. Yet Esther is not a weakling to be pitied, but a humble force to be reckoned with, a person who changed the dictator king’s mind against his own law! Vashti was a ‘NON-CONFORMIST’ – she was expelled for disobeying the king. Esther was expected to do the opposite and be a ‘CONFORMIST.’ Esther became neither a ‘conformist’ nor a ‘non-conformist’ – she became a ‘TRANSFORMIST’ - a revolutionary, a game-changer, a pathfinder, a creator of solutions, an empowerment discoverer, a pacesetter, an alternativist. With God’s Spirit we are called to be transformists in our societies. To be wise about standing up to the present systems of oppression and suppression. To create a revolution that brings about wholeness and safety for all rather than revolutions of blood and war. To change the rules of the unfair classification of people according to skin colour in our societies.

INSiGHT | October 2020


To use the gifts that God has given us in order to fulfil our calling even in tough circumstances. To find solutions that are Christ-centered and Christ-directed. To dig deep into ourselves and find that God has empowered us to make a difference despite our human limitations. To set the pace and show the world that violent means can be fought with non-violent methods, and that hatred does not get rid of hatred. To find and execute the alternative paths that could help heal our communities rather than the same old methods that create cycles of wounding in our lives. To create flourishing communities by taking our place in dishing out compassion to the world. To stop making excuses about our upbringing, our social status, our inferiority complex, or our weaknesses. To take responsibility for our actions and especially for our inaction. To realise that life flourishing communities do not create themselves, but that we have the mandate to create them and live them out together with all humankind. To stop blame shifting and having a life of pointing fingers as if that will change anything – to stop finding fault and rather find the remedy. To take on our role as transformists so that we refuse to be ‘conformists’ who just accept and watch the decay and

destruction around us. To be courageous enough to name them and face them in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in our own limited power. To take on our role as transformists so that we refuse to be ‘non-conformists’ who simply rebel but do not bring restoration. To know the difference between retributive justice (revenge) and restorative justice (healing). To take on our role as transformists so that we take our place wherever God has placed us, and in this time and with what is before us. To take on the mantra “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” To realise that as a transformist there is some undeserved favour bestowed upon you just like the king found favour with Esther. And so, to embrace God’s favour with humility and gratitude and use that favour for fighting the destruction around us, or the impending destruction in our societies. To recognise each level of favour that we enjoy – the favour of being educated, of having a voice in some social circles, of having some resources, of being gifted or talented in some ways or of being placed in a “king’s palace” type of situation in our own setting. And to do all this with the spirit of a transformist who doesn’t give up, is persevering and is Spirit-driven.

- Rev Lydia Neshangwe Moderator, Council for World Mission

www.cwmission.org

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AT A GLANCE | MEMBER CHURCH NEWS AFRICA South African Council of Churches (SACC) launches campaign against COVID-19 corruption The South African Council of Churches (SACC) led a delegation to meet with officials of African National Congress (ANC) in their call for societal action against COVID-19 corruption on 24 August. Together with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Foundation for Human Rights and the Council for the Advancement of South African Constitution (CASAC), they called on the ANC and all political parties to enter into a covenant based on a public commitment to accountability, responsiveness and openness.

Years of state capture, unethical governance, and recently, large-scale looting of Covid-19 emergency funding, had compelled them to take a stand against “moral depravity of some in positions of authority that undermine the very notion of nationhood and the underlying value of public

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service”, according to a statement.

SACC officially launched its anti-corruption campaign with an online midday service of lament and protest on 30 August, where leaders of its membership of churches delivered messages and prayed together. Subsequently, the SACC and its partner organisations will work with academics and legal experts to mobilise a comprehensive societal response against corruption. This includes the reopening of an “Unburdening Panel” for whistle-blowers and public servants to report corruption, as well as a national call for the public to demonstrate their outrage at not only the looting, but also the lack of consequences for it. “We refuse for corruption to define who we are and our heritage… therefore we want to stand up against those who are corrupt to the point of stealing money that provides essential service to people who are dying,” said Church and Community Liaison Director of the Council of Churches, Rev Mzwandile Molo. South African church leaders hold countrywide silent prayers against corruption As part of this nation-wide campaign, South African national church leaders INSiGHT | October 2020

participated in a “performance of silence” in all its provinces on 15 September. They stood in silent prayer for an hour, carrying anti-corruption messages on placards in front of various key national and provincial locations, including the Union Buildings where the

SACC General Secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana led the performance. The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) also released a statement in support of initiatives and campaigns against corruption, imploring all in the UPCSA to stay away from corruption and to report any form of corruption to the relevant authorities. Denouncing the scourge of corruption and how it disproportionately affects the poor, especially women and children, UPCSA General Secretary Rev Lungile Mpetsheni encouraged churches to factor this into their liturgies and put up posters as churches re-open for public worship. The wearing of orange masks on Fridays is a campaign to ensure that all those who are found guilty should be granted the opportunity to wear orange overalls in prison, added Rev Mpetsheni.


EAST ASIA Become competent watchmen of the city, says Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) General Secretary With Hong Kong beset by recent challenges and anxieties, how should its churches be witnesses of Christ’s love to those in despair? How can Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC) as a church body demonstrate Christian commitment to the community? HKCCCC General Secretary Rev Dr Eric So addressed this question in a recent pastoral letter, urging churches to persevere as competent watchmen of Hong Kong in the current situation by seeking strength and confidence from God. Taking a leaf from the watchmen of Jerusalem in the Old Testament who monitored the city’s stability and safety for a peaceful start the next day, Rev Dr So said: “When churches function as watchmen, they should not only passively monitor the environment and give comments, but more importantly to exercise the teachings of the Bible”.

Rev Dr So encouraged them to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), which are recognised by Hong Kong Christians as fundamental virtues. In conclusion, he exhorted them to unite in mutual

encouragement to offer themselves as watchmen of Hong Kong, as in “carrying out the mandate of justice, kindness and humility”, the oppressed can be liberated, and respect and inclusiveness can be upheld. Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) discusses new normal, encourages churches to apply for solidarity fund The New Normal English forum of The Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) – the first of its kind – gathered 75 PCS church leaders and staff virtually in August to discuss making the transition between online and onsite church services; rethinking church; fulfilling the mission of the church; and what it means to be a Presbyterian church.

A church was part of the pilot project by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) to re-open physical services with up to 100 persons, and they shared about usage of an online ticketing system for church members to sign up to attend. Discussions on fulfilling the church’s mission included evangelism, where they spoke www.cwmission.org

about the need to truly empathise with and understand the needs of those they reached out to, as well as equipping themselves in theology and self-reflection. A concern raised was the extra workload from video production for online services. Through the COVID19 Solidarity Fund provided by Council for World Mission (CWM), the PCS General Secretary Rev Teo Yew Tiong invited churches to apply for support as they began housing rough sleepers in their church compounds through their Homeless Ministry; purchased video equipment for live-streaming services; and provided needy families with Wi-Fi and devices to attend online services. 75% of PCS church members surveyed attend online worship service weekly Earlier this year, a PCS survey among 940 church members to better understand and address their concerns and needs during the stay-at-home period found that at least 700 church members attended at least one online worship service every week. This was even though around 24% of those surveyed only took part once every few weeks. Reasons deterring them from online worship included poor video or audio quality (26%); inability to relate to the sermon message (22%); followed by technical problems and distractions such as having young children at home. Majority (78.5%) of all who were surveyed participated in online cell group sessions, and nearly 30% in online theology-related seminars from May to July.

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The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) mission worker joins thanksgiving celebration of Amis aboriginal culture The Amis tribe is the largest of 16 official tribes in Taiwan, and the Western Amis Presbytery of The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), where Rev John McCall from PC (U.S.A) serves,

on the self-determination of Taiwanese aboriginal people, including the issue of land rights.

The tribal chief told youths who had grown up in the city about traditional ways of fishing and hunting, passing wisdom and faith from generation to generation in authentic ways. Throughout the weekend retreat and Sunday service, Rev McCall was witness to the love they share with one another, with a depth of joy worshipping, praying, and responding to God’s Word. SOUTH ASIA

includes most of the urban Amis churches. Every year, this group of urban aboriginals leave the city to join in an intergenerational thanksgiving and celebration of the Amis culture, with traditional song and dance by the river. Rev McCall had served as mission co-worker for over 20 years, and was invited to speak and conduct baptism at this event. Reflecting on his experience, he said: “As marginalised people in Taiwan, they embody dignity in their identity as indigenous people and as God’s children. Their natural sense of belonging and community is powerful in our isolated world.” Recognising the oppression of the indigenous people, one is working on a PhD in Political Science in Hawaii, with a focus 06

in Indrokani. He encouraged church members to start a tree plantation programme, converting the idle land into a fruit orchard, and to repair a tin-shed house to make it usable and income-generating.

Bishop of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh (COB) urges parishes to take steps towards creation care Bishop Shourabh Pholia, of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh (COB) met with local church committee members of Christ Church, Jessore to discuss matters on self-sufficiency and how the church’s local assets could be used for its upkeep. Similarly, among his pastoral visits to several Jobarpar and Khulna deaneries in August, he discussed various church issues with local church individuals and pioneers, especially stewardship, and self-reliance of the local parish and the Diocese. Through awareness programmes and tree-planting programmes, Barishal dioceses took steps towards creation care. An example was the Micro-Credit programme office INSiGHT | October 2020

Church leaders in various geographical locations sought his advice on local matters during his visits to parishes, villages, hostels, and several projects. He inaugurated the Rahutpara Compassion Project, and encouraged attendees at children, youth and women seminars to grow in faith and respond to the needs of under-privileged people, as well as assuring them of God’s care. Health and nutrition programmes continued, teaching participants proper handwashing and wearing of masks to stay safe in the pandemic. The Bishop also visited a graveyard to pray for the departed faithful, and inspected church building repair work and construction work for a local school. Finally, the Bishop thanked local staff for their hard work in distributing humanitarian aid. Through the Shalom field office,


resources to be shared with daily wage earners in India who have lost their livelihood during the pandemic, and helping hands to ease their suffering.

the Barishal Dicoese had received support for families affected by Cyclone Amphan from Methodist Church of Britain, and from Compassion International Bangladesh (CIB) which supported its children and their families during the pandemic. Transform homes into sacred worship places, says Church of North India (CNI) Moderator As India commemorated its 74th Independence Day on 15 August, Church of North India (CNI) Moderator Most Rev Dr P. C. Singh shared his heart’s burden about the mounting COVID-19 infections and deaths in the country, especially in areas of CNI’s ministry, and requested them to join in prayer. Closely related to Independence Day was CNI’s theme for August - “Freedom in Christ” (Galatians 5:1), which comprises two facets: freedom from the love of the world and freedom from sin, wrote Rev Dr Singh in the Moderator’s Message as he reminded them to avoid large gatherings for Independence Day in line with the government’s advisory. An adverse love of the world shows up in “materialism, greed, licentious life, and lack of concern and compassion for fellow (human) beings”, and there is a dire need for

As for freedom from sin, Christ’s main focus on earth was reconciliation of the relationship between God and man, and Christians should invent and improvise new ways of strengthening life in families and communities, he added. He encouraged congregations to maximise the usage of technology to enrich their spiritual lives, to transform their homes into sacred worship spaces and “keep the light of prayer burning” since the world is unlikely to be freed of COVID-19 soon. CARIBBEAN The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) distributes care packages

From May to July this year, The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) provided grocery baskets of essential food items for 200 families and elderly who had lost their jobs or their principal support or income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution was done through the local UCJCI congregations, and administered by Regional Mission Council – a project www.cwmission.org

funded through a donation by the Caribbean and North America Council for Mission (CANACOM), and the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). Grocery baskets of love with an estimated value of J$2,500 each were received by beneficiaries, including those previously employed in the tourism sector. In the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council, grocery vouchers were given to both members and non-members of the UCJCI who were hard hit by the pandemic. The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) joins the call for Reparatory Justice Through its process of renewal and transformation over the years, the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) has reflected on its complicity in a system propagating and profiting from the enslavement of African for centuries. During that time, slavery not only enriched families, family-owned businesses and nations, but also churches in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. In fact, the Colonial Church Union existed in the 19th century to quell slave resistance or uprising. Seeking true emancipation and social justice for the captives, UCJCI firmly supports the call for reparations from relevant state authorities, and is seeking to set an example of 07


introspection, repentance and restitution through their global network. Also, it is calling on former colonial masters to compensate formerly enslaved people and the lingering legacies that stifle their development. With an upsurge of consciousness of the historical damage done to black identity and lives in the world, there is now greater acceptance that slavery has been one of the greatest atrocities of human history. UCJCI holds its first Young Adults e-conference Over 100 youths attended the first United Church Young Adults Action Movement (UCYAAM) e-conference, which was themed “Mobilised to Act: For Such a Time as This” based on the biblical story of Esther and the talents. Joining their opening session was the UCJCI General Secretary Rev. Norbert Stephens, who directed them to be “clear in their direction, confident in their desires, committed to their decisions, corrected by their defeats, and conscious of God’s dependability.” Over four days in mid-August, Bible study sessions challenged them to think about and use their talents to serve, to be advocates, to stand up for justice when opportunities arise, and to be mentored by the right people, while presenters from varied backgrounds equipped them in the areas of church ministry and the workplace.

the Synodical Executive body for 2020-2022 was elected. EUROPE Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) collaborates on online platform linking those in need to local initiatives Earlier this year, Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) partnered with other churches and local aid organisations to collaborate on #nietalleen, an online platform where those in need can seek help with day-to-day tasks, and facilitate those who can lend a helping hand to do so. Over the next few months of partial lockdown, thousands of requests for help were linked to churches, and organisations that had registered with #nietalleen.

People saw the best of Netherlands as groceries or medicines were delivered, dogs were taken for a walk, telephone calls were made to older congregation members and food was collected for the food bank. The #nietalleen telephone line continued to be kept open to link requests to local initiatives, or for those who simply need a chat. Visit https://nietalleen.nl/ if you are able to offer or need assistance.

St Andrew’s Church - a local ecumenical project including the United Reformed Church (URC) in Skipton, North Yorkshire – installed a six-foot-high, rainbow-coloured artwork outside its building over summer. The wood installation spells out the word “hope”, as a reminder to the community as they made plans to re-open for worship. The church’s Minister Rev Andrew Webb said: “The rainbow has become a powerful message of hope during these last months. We decided to display it in this way, in our church grounds, as a reminder that despite all the difficulties we face, there is always hope. Our church’s hope is that when people see our artwork, they will know that wherever they are, the God of hope is with them.” Baptised on Zoom Many celebrations of life’s milestones may have been put on hold this year, but for United Reformed congregations of Andover, Hampshire, Salisbury, and Wiltshire, witnessing a nine-year-old child’s baptism was not something postponed. Prior to the baptism service on Zoom for Ryan Fai, the church font had been delivered to his home. With Ministers of

Rounding up a time of spiritual nourishment and inspiration was the 48th Annual General Meeting and Elections, where 08

Installing “hope” and conducting online baptism in United Reformed Church (URC)

INSiGHT | October 2020


food, sex, pornography, gambling and so on is a prison for so many people today.

Andover, Broad Chalke and Salisbury URC Rev Ana and Tod Gobledale leading the service, Ryan’s family repeated sacramental words, and later lifted a scallop shell and poured the waters of new life upon him. “Truly, our ‘cup’ overflowed with the palpable presence of God. Family and godparents from Sweden, America and Cameroon were in good supply, creating a fantastic circle of faith surrounding Ryan. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even a pandemic lockdown!” said Mrs Gobledale. Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) encourages churches to observe Recovery Sunday

Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) will be observing the ninth “Recovery Sunday” on 25 Oct, a day set aside to encourage churches to think about those suffering from various addictions, to learn more about their situation, their needs and the help offered by centres such as the Living Room, CAIS and Adferiad Recovery. Churches may also take practical action such as making a financial contribution to the work, as they mull over how addiction to alcohol, drugs,

A service has been prepared by Elin Maher based on meditation on our surroundings and how we can be used in this world. It is available in English and Welsh for the churches’ usage, and can be downloaded at www.cynnal.wales PACIFIC Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) calls for day of prayer for Kanaky Referendum

Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) General Secretary Rev James Bhagwan asked those in the Pacific to pray for Kanaky’s sovereignty and self-determination in a pastoral letter to member churches. Specifically, he called on churches in the Pacific to observe a day of prayer on 27 September for an honest, free and fair referendum in Kanaky (New Caledonia) and a second one on 4 October, the day of the referendum itself. The referendum is based on the Nouméa Accord, signed in May 1998 by the French government, as part of a negotiated transition to independence. The agreement included ending New Caledonia's status as a French overseas territory; electing new political institutions and www.cwmission.org

transferring administrative powers; recognising Kanak culture and identity; and a further transition before a referendum on self-determination.

In seeking to contribute to making self-determination part of a new normal, Rev Bhagwan requested for them support in prayer to Kanaky member churches, youths and other communities for the feasibility of building a multicultural nation outside the French constitution. During the 2018 PCC General Assembly, PCC had endorsed a statement of solidarity and call for prayer in the lead-up to the first referendum on independence from France for Kanaky. Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) church property trustees advise churches on vital concerns The Church Property Trustees of Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) have reminded parishes of their responsibilities as landlords, as they shared about regular issues of property maintenance, the Presbyterian Investment Fund and residential and commercial leases recently. The Trustees also updated about the newly introduced ability for parishes to borrow from the Presbyterian Investment Fund (PIF) for major capital works or refinancing. With rising property 09


place Auckland back in lockdown in early August. Schools and businesses reopened when the Auckland lockdown was lifted at the end of August, and face masks became mandatory on public transport across New Zealand.

maintenance costs and falling income, parishes face budget cuts for property repair, and some even spent capital on strengthening for earthquake resistance.

Throughout the pandemic, PCANZ Moderator Rt Rev Fakaofo Kaio has released several pastoral messages to reassure the churches and their members with God’s sovereignty and encourage them to hold on in faith.

PCANZ Trustees revealed the new long-term investment option for the PIF, which offers parishes the option to receive a better return on their funds. They have elected to use Mercer Socially Responsible Investment Balanced Fund as the investment vehicle for the Long Term Fund, even though they cautioned that higher returns require higher risk. Lastly, they reminded parishes to keep up with new residential tenancy requirements. Many parishes lease out property to raise income for mission, such as former manses for residence or buildings for commercial operations. Legal amendments were recently made, which means rent can only be increased once every 12 months. PCANZ Moderator urges churches to embrace new era of virtual communication Having successfully halted community transmission of COVID-19, a fresh outbreak in New Zealand’s largest city prompted the government to 10

“This pandemic, the invisible invader, is a game changer. The landscape has moved. Normality is no more. Almost everything has been turned upside down. There are powerful forces at play. Destruction, mayhem and annihilation is taking place. Our world and its many nations are being brought to their knees. The past speaks to us of such pandemics, the present tells us to work together, and the future is unknown,” wrote the Moderator in his September message. INSiGHT | October 2020

Acknowledged that it would be easy to lose focus, become disoriented and feel overwhelmed by the restrictions, lockdowns, and life being put on hold, Rt Rev Kaio reminded them to “be still and know He is God” (Psalm 46:10), and to be rooted and established in Christ. Finally, he urged them to not lose the human touch even though physical meetings and contact are being relegated to the past, and to try to embrace the new era of virtual communication and technology.


| CWM NEWS

2020 Asia Youth Initiatives Virtual Conference The Asia Youth Initiatives (AYI) 2020 was held on 22-23 August 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic and during a time when some countries were riding off the tail end of the first wave and others were dealing with second waves. The purpose of this online programme was to provide a safe, open platform for young adults from East and South Asia to learn, mutually share and discuss pressing issues pertinent to their lives. CWM sees and upholds the value of young people as full participating members of their churches and communities. Though young adults are given a presence in all of CWM’s programmes, the AYI is distinctive in that it is exclusively catered for them. This year’s programme was for the very first time held by virtual conference over Zoom, and was organised for young adult participants from 10 member churches across 8 countries in East and South Asia. A new feature of this year’s virtual conference encouraged participants to invite their friends to join the meeting, especially those who did not previously experience CWM’s programmes. The two guest speakers, Rev Daniel Ng of Gereja Presbyterian Malaysia (GPM) and Rev Solomon Paul of the Church of South India (CSI), were resource persons for the AYI 2019 held in Bangkok, Thailand. Bringing significant experience from their youth-centred ministries, they delivered relevant and impactful presentations that engaged all who were present. Four panellists were also invited to deliver presentations, all of them past participants of the AYI 2018 and AYI 2019. These presentations, as well as a series of polls and breakout group discussions, formed the structure of the two-day virtual conference. On the first day, Rev Daniel Ng spoke on Youth and Church Worship. Calling out the “concert culture” of many of today’s churches, he emphasised the need of churches, especially during this critical coronavirus pandemic period, to promote a participatory culture in their services and to intentionally design healthy activities that maintain high levels of engagement and maximise interaction and fellowship. Yu En Wang of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) continued on the subject of Youth and Church Politics. Beginning by highlighting the reality of the absence of youth at the decision-making level in churches, he proposed that young adults should seek to engage in church politics. By taking action through certain guidelines, youth can debunk the myth that they are “weak” and truly take their place as valued members of the body of Christ. The last speaker of the day, Doris Wong of the Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China (HKCCCC), presented on Youth and Political Unrest. Establishing through a poll that most participants had been involved in social movements in one form or another, Doris shared her perspective on how church and politics do not always have to be mutually exclusive concepts. She focused on the administration of justice and caring for the oppressed as missions of the church that ought to shape the way churches handle (or ignore) political issues. Rev Solomon Paul opened the second day with a video presentation on Youth and Racism. Drawing examples of racism against Chinese-looking people during this coronavirus pandemic, including discrimination against the North-Eastern people in India, he offered a difference perspective towards racism. His message was summarised in the closing video that revealed data from the highly mixed human genetic pool, suggesting that a “pure race” does not exist and that all of us are indeed one family. Jun Bum Park of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK) gave a presentation on Youth and Social Media, zooming in on cyber bullying in the Korean context as an example. Stressing that the kingdom of God extends into all spheres and realms, the social media space ought to be part of that kingdom, challenging Christians to use social media responsibly and influentially for God’s purposes. Grace Lalkhawngaihi of the Presbyterian Church of India (PCI) closed off the conference by sharing her analysis in the area of Youth and Resilience. Drawing summaries from the previous five speakers and linking them all to the area of resilience, she suggested ways to show resilience in the contexts of church worship, church politics, political unrest, racism and the social media space. Unlike previous physical AYI conferences that took place over five full days, this year’s virtual conference took place over two 3-hour sessions. Despite the challenge of time, the online conference allowed participants a safe space to link up once again, discuss hot-button issues freely and gave all of them much to ponder about and work on. Through this programme, the CWM East and South Asia Region continues to demonstrate its commitment to youth using technology, during these unprecedented times.

www.cwmission.org

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| ECUMENICAL NEWS

CWM joins ecumenical call to end social injustice and racism United Nations Human Rights Council debate on “current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality against people of African descent and violence against peaceful protests.” As people of faith, we welcome the debate held by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 17-18 June on “current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality against people of African descent and violence against peaceful protests”, and the call for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into the on-going human rights violations of African descendant people in the United States and globally. The recent killing of George Floyd in the United States sparked protests across the world and was the catalyst for calls for the UNHRC to hold this debate which was supported by 54 African countries and more than 600 human rights organisations around the world. The world watched for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as a police officer knelt on the neck of Mr. Floyd resulting in his death. George Floyd’s murder points to the systemic and pervasive ways in which racism continues to inflict death and pain on black communities globally. Racism is a global problem that needs to be changed through legislation and intentional actions such as holding countries accountable for the systems that perpetuate inequality and injustice because of racism. The world is responding to these deadly acts of racism. The call for action from the United Nations is timely, it is appropriate and is an acknowledgement of the oppression, marginalisation and killing of Black people.

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The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) was an invitation from the UN for the world to recognise that African descendant people are a group whose rights have to be promoted and protected. Noting that there are over 200 million people of African descent in the Americas, the decade calls for recognition, justice and development. In naming the need for promotion and protection of human rights of African descendant people, the UN is ensuring that George Floyd and others receive justice for the grievous actions committed against them. We must ensure that each individual has the right to live in freedom with dignity and respect, and to have their human and civil rights guaranteed. Anti-black racism and racist actions are violations of human rights. These acts of racism against African descendant people are well documented historically and in our contemporary contexts. The historic roots of anti-black racism are grounded in the commodification of African lives as seen in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the East Africa Slave Trade, and the disregard for those who were enslaved and their descendants. The call for change has not been enough. Petitions to their nations’ capitals have not brought about the deep changes that are necessary in countries around the world. As

INSiGHT | October 2020


Christians believing in the love of God and the call for justice in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, we join with organisations around the world in calling for change and to the upholding of the human rights of African descendant people. We welcome the words of Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, UN Special Rapporteur on Racism Professor E. Tendayi Achiume, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and other speakers in the debate who condemned the murder of George Floyd and the structural injustice and oppression both in the US and elsewhere which allowed it to happen. We salute the bravery of Mr. Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd who so movingly shared the tragic details of his brother’s last

moments, conveying the trauma he and his family are experiencing following the loss of a much-loved member of their family in these circumstances. We call upon the Human Rights Council to investigate the circumstances of his death and the situation of systemic racism and related police brutality, both in the US and other parts of the world, and to ensure accountability for these violations. We call upon the Government of the US to fully cooperate with the investigation. We call upon our churches to learn about the ways in which members and congregations can help drive global change to combat racial injustice through the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Additionally, we ask that members: Call for an end to militarisation, police violence, the killings, and all other forms of violence against African descendant people Commit to dismantling racism and discrimination in all forms Embrace and encourage an anti-racist environment within communities with commitment to accountability Commit to reflection and introspection that will increase personal awareness and ways to be engaged in solving this global problem On behalf of the signatories of this letter, the Permanent Missions to the United Nations at Geneva will be contacted to urge them to support the resolution for the Human Rights Council to create the Commission of Inquiry. Anglican Church in Canada

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Reformed Church in America

Council for World Mission

The United Church of Canada

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Episcopal Church

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

United Church of Christ

KAIROS Canada

World Communion of Reformed Churches

National Council of Churches (USA)

World Council of Churches

www.cwmission.org

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International church groups launch statement calling on UN Human Rights Council to investigate rights violations in Philippines “We will bear witness, and we will keep watch.” This was the central message of several international church organisations and institutions to the Philippine government “in light of the deteriorating situation of civil liberties and human rights” in the country. The said statement supports the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including recommendations from at least two dozen UN human rights experts for the UN Human Rights Council to “establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines”. The said statement came before the joint informal meeting initiated by Iceland and the Philippines in Geneva, Switzerland on Friday, September 18. Initial signatories to the statement include ACT Alliance; Anglican Church of Canada; Christian Conference of Asia; Council for World Mission; General Board of Global Ministries – The United Methodist Church; Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ; International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines; Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives; National Council of Churches in Australia; National Council of Churches in Korea; National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; Presbyterian Church USA; United Society Partners in the Gospel, UK; United Church of Canada; United Evangelical Mission; Uniting Church in Australia; Uniting World; World Communion of Reformed Churches; and, World Student Christian Federation. The statement was formally launched during the International Ecumenical Convocation on the Defence of Human Rights in the Philippines on 17 September, co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice).

Keep Watch and Bear Witness with the Filipino People #DefendCivilLiberties #StopTheKillings “When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted – does the Lord not see it?” (Lamentations 3:34-36, NRSV) We are Church people from around the world, responding to the call to stand with the Filipino people in light of the deteriorating situation of civil liberties and human rights in the Philippines. Filipinos have been under quarantine and various forms of “lockdown” for more than six months. They are a witness to a militarised response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has unraveled lingering social inequalities and has further deepened economic misery in the country. A whopping 45 percent of the Philippine workforce is now unemployed. The worrisome heightening of human rights violations and intensifying curtailment of civil liberties are unduly facilitated by restrictions put upon democratic discourse, including legitimate assemblies to express grievances, in a civil space so severely shrunk.

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INSiGHT | October 2020


We are alarmed by the passage into law of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which poses serious threats on civil liberties. This law runs counter to the Bill of Rights clearly enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and to obligations arising from international human rights instruments and mechanisms that Philippines has acceded to. This law practically legitimises unlawful arrests and detentions, thereby undermining due process of law and equal protection of the law that are guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution. Compounding the concern about this law are reports that retired military generals have been positioned within the civilian bureaucracy to wield this draconian law, instrumentalising it to impinge on the exercise of free speech, thought, religious belief and association, as well as other civil and political rights. The vast proliferation of extrajudicial killings, including the killing of thousands of people under a so-called “war on drugs"1, is reprehensible. We are concerned that a general climate of impunity has been synergised with the Philippine president’s unabashed incitement to violence and regular calls for state forces to punish legitimate dissent by the citizenry. At least 6,000 killings have been reported by the Philippine police as a result of their drug operations. Human rights organisations provide a larger figure, calculating that approximately 27,000 people including children have been killed, with casualties resulting from widespread ‘vigilante’ killings, discovery of dead bodies, and executions from what are described as resistance to police arrest2. Extrajudicial killings of “suspected rebels” are categorised and alleged as shoot-outs in the dead of night, while multiple witness testimonies report these as execution-style operations. The human rights group Karapatan has documented more than 300 political killings, including scores of rural farmers and indigenous peoples, workers, environmental defenders, lawyers, human rights activists, and church people. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights remains saddled with the investigation of 89 cases of deaths of human rights activists dating back to 2017. We call for an end to these killings. We stand with the Filipino citizenry in denouncing state impunity and the wanton display of violence and brutality by state forces. We affirm that due process of law and the equal protection of the law are constitutive of a just and democratic governance and guarantees protections arising from both domestic and international laws that the Philippines have sworn to abide by. Continuing violations of human rights under COVID-19 pandemic quarantines in the Philippines accentuate the urgent need for intensified accompaniment and solidarity from Church formations and people of goodwill within and outside the Philippines. A few of the present maneuvers to repress the Filipino people include the intimidation and trumped-up charges leveled against the political opposition, progressive organisations, journalists, government critics, peace advocates, and human rights defenders; the closure of a major media outfit; “red-tagging” of activists, including church people and churches3; attacks on indigenous communities and their schools; and threats to workers humanitarian aid groups and agencies. Civil rights are deprived further with the unhealthy overcrowding of Philippine prisons, bulging to as high as five times their capacity. Widespread hunger and joblessness, and inadequate provision of and access to health services and care, thereby putting at greater risk populations that have been made more vulnerable by at least a triple of pandemics—those of COVID-19, endemic poverty, and climate change that have assaulted the health and integrity of the people, their land and livelihoods, and the planet.COVID-19. Therefore, in continuation of our historic commitment as faith-based bodies within the wider ecumenical community worldwide to peace, justice and the integrity of creation, we hereby join to keep watch and bear witness to the hopes and struggles of the Filipino people. We continue to raise the alarm on the disturbing proliferation of killings, human rights violations and attacks on civil liberties in the Philippines. We commit ourselves to bear witness in word and in deed, by advocating and educating about these commitments in our own countries, with our governments and diplomats, and in our agencies and work places. We will aid in broadening international support for and solidarity with the Filipino people. Their call for the Philippine government to uphold human rights, provide reparations to victims of state abuses, seek peace, and enact justice are equally our call. In particular, we support the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including recommendations from at least two dozens of UN human rights experts for the UN Human Rights Council to “establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines”.4 We will continue to uphold God’s gift of human dignity in the Philippines and everywhere, working with human rights defenders, and maximising all venues and platforms to put a spotlight on those who violate and undermine human rights so that they are called to face justice and account for their transgressions. May the liberating God be with us in this commitment and in our continuing quest for peace based on justice and the integrity of peoples and their lands. We will bear witness, and we will keep watch.

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https://globalnation.inquirer.net/188186/unhrc-report-near-impunity-in-ph-drug-war-killings-tokhang-must-end

2

https://rappler.com/nation/children-killed-duterte-drug-war-philippines-report

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The National Council of Churches in the Philippines and its members and associate members like the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines have been labelled by state security forces and government agencies as “front organizations of communist terrorist groups”. Some church leaders, members of the clergy and lay leaders are also “red-tagged” including those from the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

4

See the High Commissioner’s report here: https://bit.ly/3jHsawQ , and the recommendations of UN human rights experts at https://bit.ly/2EPgDNv

www.cwmission.org

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Webinar series: “Theological Reflections on Hate Speech and Whiteness” International scholars and theologians spoke on the topic “White Privilege in COVID-19 and White Supremacy in Mission” in the first of a series of webinars that started on Monday 19 October, 10.00 to 11.30 (CEST), via live-stream at www.oikoumene.org/live. To further the work of overcoming racism, two overarching themes have been identified as key areas for ongoing theological reflection – hate speech, and whiteness, and speakers will be presenting papers on these two issues. Organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC)'s Theological Study Group of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, the webinars were a follow-up to the Tokyo theological forum on racism, and its manifestations and complexities last year. The webinar series also aimed to strengthen ecumenical theological reflection, accompaniment and advocacy in the area of racial justice, and speakers for the first webinar included ecumenical partners such as Council for World Mission (CWM) and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). With the added experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, they also gave theological consideration how racism is manifested in certain groups. For example, indigenous peoples, blacks, other ethnic minorities, and migrants are targeted groups and their situations are made worse by both COVID-19 and structural racism. Visit https://bit.ly/3nQvmta for more livestream recordings and information about the series.

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INSiGHT | October 2020


Zacchaeus Tax and Jubilee Now! - GEM School 2020 Public Webinar Tax justice, including reforming the current tax systems, enacting jubilee, and paying reparations, was the focus of the second 2020 Ecumenical School on Governance, Economics, and Management (GEM School) public webinar. Students and guests were introduced to the Zacchaeus Tax Campaign (#ZacTax), which calls for “a transformation in the global economic system that would, like Zacchaeus, return at least some of the monies owed” by multinational corporations and the extremely wealthy, said Justin Thacker, director of Church Action for Justice (UK). “More than ever we want to see a fairer world, a more just world, a more equal world, a world where the rich and powerful stop exploiting—and, indeed, stealing—from the poor.”

Considering the concept of jubilee, James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, noted that biblical jubilee includes “both freeing of the people and freeing of the land. We’ve seen globally, in the very early days of COVID-19, the respite that the lands and oceans and air received from the lockdowns. It showed what’s possible if the land received a jubilee.”

“The story of Zacchaeus unravels the delinquency of the global taxation system in its current form. It is oppressive and sinful. The world needs to listen to this story, not only because it’s a Christian story but because it strongly speaks truth to power,” said Suzanne Matale, commissioner of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation.

“The [economic] model in the Pacific is based on domination and extraction. In the Pacific we as churches, academic organisations, and Indigenous communities are working to establish an ecological framework for development, asking ‘What would look like if it were based on well-being, on leaving things intact rather than extracting them?’” he said.

“We are living in a world that high inequality is feeding higher inequality. The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people,” said Manuel “Butch” Montez, of the Society for International Development. “This is strengthened by complex tax structures that make it completely legal for the rich and the corporations to move money out of reach of tax authorities.”

Addressing the role of churches in the ZacTax Campaign Carruthers said, “We must move into a commitment and covenant to struggle with the truth. First thing, there should be a confession. From that and a truth telling, they have to look at their local contexts to see what role they have played in supporting this system of inequality and racism. It also requires prophetic leadership and courage, to speak truth and help people understand their own sense of humanity would be served by their willingness to engage in this difficult work.”

Tax reforms, including financial transaction taxes, wealth tax, carbon and pollution taxes, and surcharges on illicit financial movements are necessary, he argued. “We must study the issues around just taxation and reparation for slavery and ecological debt through the lens of the covenantal relationship that God calls us into with each other and the earth.” “Reparations is a process to remember, repair, restore, re-join, replenish, set right, make amends, and reconcile,” said Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. “Always, true reparations is a matter of justice. Reparations can never be singularly reducible to monetary terms. To do so makes a mockery of the real significance of reparations as an end in a process of distributive justice, human atonement, and redemption.” “In Christian terms, confession, contrition, restoration, and reconciliation are the stages to reparatory justice, forgiveness, ultimate atonement, and peace with God,” she said. “Healing begins with remembering; the spirit of true reconciliation and human justice begins with truth. The first step in the process of reparations is confession. The last step is reconciliation.”

“The Zacchaeus story is a wonderful resource we can utilise to raise our voices; put together it demands a strong voice: stop this sin of stealing our resources!” said Matale. “We the faith people must feel the pain of poverty and inequality. We have a duty of care for others. We need to arise and assure change so that God can be given the glory he deserves.” The ZacTax Campaign is a part of the New International Financial and Economic Architecture (NIFEA) initiative, a joint project of the Council for World Mission (CWM), Lutheran World Federation (LWF), World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and World Council of Churches (WCC). The GEM School is also a joint initiative of these ecumenical organisations. It aims to build economic literacy within churches by equipping participants with the tools and languages to effectively advocate for urgent transformations in the global financial and economic realm.

www.cwmission.org

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June 2019 | 8


VIEWPOINTS |

Though we are many, we are one “body�: An Italian young pastor’s experience in time of Covid-19

by Nicola Laricchio, baptist pastor of the Baptists Churches in Rovigo and Venice, Italy

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n Italy, at the time of writing this article, the COVID19 lockdown period has just passed. In this period our communities have tried to continue to carry out their programmes using the available web modalities. Currently I am starting my pastoral ministry working for two different communities both located in Veneto Region, North of Italy: the Evangelical Baptist Church of Rovigo and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Marghera-Venice. Our churches have reopened the doors since June, welcoming believers who must take turns to attend so that social distancing can be enforced, wear masks during the entire religious function and use hand sanitiser. The lockdown was hard for everyone and now we are dealing with communities of fearful and still suspicious believers because the COVID19 threat continues to be present despite declines in contagion. In some churches there has been loss of life, some have lost their jobs or had to close their businesses. The Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy (UCEBI) has allocated an important sum from funds ear-marked for social work to support the affected economically by this pandemic. This essential contribution helped many migrant families to pay utility bills and house rentals. Many of them were temporary workers, and only some managed to recover their jobs after the lockdown. The Baptist Church of Rovigo, for example, is providing temporary food assistance through a food bank run by the Community. A Nigerian family from the Rovigo Church went to Nigeria before the lockdown to conclude an adoption. They were stuck in Africa during the entire lockdown without support. At that time, we tried to help him in all possible ways, as well as the Community which provided the family with financial help and subsequently to buy a return ticket to Italy. It was a question of having to manage the entire bureaucratic process to allow at least the husband to return. Unfortunately, he returned to Italy ill with malaria and a hospitalisation was necessary. He is currently recovered and returned to his job in Italy while his wife is still in Africa with the adopted child pending some paperwork. Returning to churches with restrictions and after the trauma of the lockdown has been and will still be difficult for many. As pastors, we have to face this reality of our engaging in the care of souls while respecting the COVID-19 precautions that limit our contact. Upon returning from the summer holidays, some have been found positive for COVID-19 and new infections are being recorded. These data clearly tell us that the danger has not passed and that we must be ready for any new waves. Some Italian politicians blame this increase in infections on the arrival of new migrants who continue to reach our shores by sea. Unfortunately, the "hotspots" on Lampedusa island that first receive migrants are insufficient to guarantee adequate hygiene standards and the controversy raised by right-wing politics is leveraging the 20

image of the immigrant as a dangerous smearer. The right considers the government guilty of "spreading" these infected migrants in Italy to generate new outbreaks. It is obvious that the anti-migrant rhetoric is used to gather consensus among those who harbour feelings of racism and xenophobia in Italy and which, unfortunately, seem to be on the rise. The news of some boats of sunken migrants and the deaths has prompted terrible reactions of happiness from some users on social networks. In September, a twenty-one-year-old boy named Willy from Cape Verde was brutally killed for no reason in a beating by a group of boys in the city of Colleferro, Rome. Relatives of the killers downplayed the crime by claiming that he was "just an immigrant". Unfortunately, this is the air we breathe in Italy - contaminated not only by the COVID-19 virus but also by the manifestation of hate and discrimination. In this context, the churches have an enormous responsibility: to announce the Gospel of Christ as liberation from a corrupt system that oppresses the weak by instigating hatred and fear. While the scientific community fights to defeat COVID19, we, as believers, are called to fight with the weapons of knowledge and the Gospel the battle against ignorance that makes people vulnerable to the virus of hatred. I pastor churches consisting of members of different ethnic groups from Africa (Nigeria), USA, Latin America, Korea, Eastern Europe, as well as Italians. In this context, I thought of proposing an annual programme titled "Though we are many, we are one body" that uses Web platforms. The aim is to promote a series of biblical reflections on the theme of diversity and unity, to better understand how to be "the body of Christ" in a time of separation. I believe that in the dimension of physical distance, believers can find each other in the unity of purpose. The need for the Gospel proclamation is felt strongly, today more than ever, and we cannot ignore it. In a time when humanity is fractured by the COVID-19, and also hatred, the whole Church is called to preach a Gospel of liberation and hope.

INSiGHT | October 2020


During September in Rovigo, a first baptism was celebrated after the lockdown with fewer participants and social distancing. For us Baptists, the baptism of believers is an important event because it represents man's yes in response to God's grace. That "yes" also wants to be, for our community today, an affirmation of hope, a “yes” to a life that continues despite everything. We want to be a community that accepts the challenges of the present time and that offers itself to change, carried by the creative action of God through the Spirit. September is a time of recovery for many. Our habits have changed but not our mission. One of the ecumenical and interreligious events I have been involved is called "the Logos of silence", to highlight how the Word has reached people's hearts during this lockdown. Changing perspectives to discover new possibilities and opportunities to be together, was the challenge we faced and which we still face today. The word “change”, however, emerges from within what is the dimension of the hope of a better way, made of justice for all, of social equity, care and respect for creation. Change as a Church, to move and work in this time of COVID-19, in the full confidence that every little individual effort, first and then collective, can truly lead us towards the reality of a better world. Change is not just a goal to reach, but industriousness, effort, and the ability to look within. It will be precisely the change that the Word is able to produce in us, inspiring our individual existences, to guide us on the journey together with others and to support each other when our strength fails. Another interreligious event I was involved in dealt with environmental protection. Representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Islamic communities engaged in dialogue and prayer for common well-being, seeing that the land seemed to have regenerated itself during the lockdown with the suspension of industrial activities. Being a young pastor at the beginning of his ministry during the pandemic is an

experience that I would call strange. Pastoral care is made up of encounters and physical presence. Currently some people are afraid and do not want to be visited, so using the telephone or social platforms is preferred. For those who have no problems having visits, it is necessary to use all the precautionary tools such as masks and disinfectant gel, practise social distancing, and meet in an open or well ventilated place if possible. I am working with young people in order to encourage them in the proclamation of the Word during this time. Based on the text of 2 Timothy 1:7-10, they are asked to express themselves on the theme "the gospel of which we do not want to be ashamed today". They will also be involved in the preparation of a Contest to express themselves creatively using social networks and the web, on the theme of Unity in diversity. With those involved in Sunday School, we are organising a safe resumption of activities for our children. I am aware of these difficult times, but I feel like a doctor or nurse called to do his job right in the middle of a pandemic. I trust in God's merciful help, and take responsibility for my own health and that of the members of the communities I serve. The history of the Church teaches us that in moments of greatest tension and crisis the Lord has managed to guide believers towards unexpected horizons. I am sure he will still do so today and even if we are many, different, and distant, God will unite us in a purpose that is His and not ours. We face the time before us with great courage, passion, attention and care. Italy has shown that it knows how to deal with the plague of the virus, but only with God's help will we be able to fight that of hatred. Faced with the uncertainty of our future, in my opinion, we can feed our faith in God and believe that in some way He will lead us. Facing the threat of a world that falls into the vortex of violence we raise our voice by announcing with all the means at our disposal, that "love worketh no ill to his neighbour" (Rom. 13:10a).

"The Logos of silence" is an ecumenical event about the actions of the Word in time of lockdown with exponents of the Catholic and Orthodox church and the president of Islamic community in Italy.

www.cwmission.org

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The challenge of inclusion in the time of COVID-19: The Zacchaeus story, Luke 19:1-10 Imagine yourself as Zacchaeus, a Jew, a tax collector and a rich man. Partly due to his tender age, he is too short in stature to make space among a crowd of people who throng to see someone pass, yet interested in understanding what is happening. Rejected, ignored, guilty and therefore unable to make demands. Hated and for this reason hindered in all possible ways. Our translation also tells us that he was a "ruler", therefore a man with a certain prominent social position. This, however, may have been a later interpretation for many scholars. In fact the Greek text we use simply tells us that he was a tax officer, one who does "credit recovery". So a public employee in the service of the Romans, who oppressed the Jewish people with taxes deemed unjust by the population.

A interreligious prayer session for the environment and on the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to his unpopularity, Zacchaeus lacked a place of respect and had to climb with difficulty on a sycamore tree to see Jesus. In short, a man who embodies a particular paradox: wealth and helplessness in the same person. This text clearly demonstrates that in ancient society, being rich did not always mean being powerful. The Jewish society extolled the virtue of justice more and Zacchaeus is said to be a sinner because he enriched himself in an unjust way, procuring his posessions through shrewd means, not through his or his father’s hard work. Jesus is entering Jericho, the first city Israel conquered under Joshua and the place housed one of the most imposing and majestic palaces of Herod the Great, a sign of the opulence of the caste that oppressed the Jewish people with a system of heavy tax collection. It retraces the path that Israel took with Joshua in the conquest of the land, challenging the opulence of the oppressor with his announcement of love and liberation, in a society subjugated by Roman power. The little and hated Zacchaeus does not simply want to see Jesus, out of personal curiosity, but is deeply interested in understanding who He is. This man destroyed by corruption does not surrender to a life wasted solely in accumulating wealth, but he probably wishes to understand if with Jesus he can finally find a meaning to his existence. The Romans planted sycamore trees along the roads to provide shade and poor Zacchaeus is forced to climb them. Think of this image: a man, lost, rejected, alone, on the branch of a tree.

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His condition is similar to that of many people, innocent and guilty, on the margins and without hope. People who may have made wrong choices and who for this reason found themselves having to face difficult situations and also the abandonment of friends and relatives. All the material possessions Zacchaeus acquired did not guarantee him goodness and happiness. His life would have been just like that of a little man huddled in a sycamore tree if Jesus hadn't looked up to see him as he passed. The gaze of Jesus illuminates, like a lighthouse in the night, the existence of Zacchaeus and dwells on him just as if he had finally found exactly what he is looking for in that place. Just as we do when, with the lantern, at night, we look for a lost object in the garden and finally find it. The Lord finds Zacchaeus and makes him come down from the sycamore and it is in that exact moment that man passes from isolation and shame to the presence of Jesus whom he strongly desired to know. He calls him by name: "Zacchaeus", identifies him and recognises him with amazement and then adds - "make haste, and came down; for to day I must abide at thy house" ( Luke 19:6). Jesus declares why he was in that place; he had a mission and that was to stop at Zacchaeus' house. It is not enough for Jesus to have found him, he wants to enter the dimension of his failure: the house of Zacchaeus is that of a sinner. There are many ways of seeing things: Zacchaeus sees, from his sycamore tree, with the desire and hope to understand, the people around him instead observe

INSiGHT | October 2020


to judge, but Jesus looks to search, find and save. The little man opens his home to Jesus because he has finally seen, from the perspective of God's grace in Christ, what he longed to see from that sycamore tree: the possibility of a change for his destroyed life. In the eyes of the crowd, Zacharias is excluded from the community because of his conduct. The intervention of Jesus, however, tells us that the very ones we do not consider worthy of our consideration must be sought and found at all costs. Jesus' mission is to restore the individual by offering him the possibility of change because it is only by changing individually that we can improve our society. Perhaps we do not have the possibility to change the world, but we can start by looking in and around us by making those small daily gestures of justice that can make a difference.

Youth service in this time of Covid-19.

“While the scientific community fights to defeat COVID-19, we, as believers, are called to fight with the weapons of knowledge and the Gospel the battle against ignorance that makes people vulnerable to the virus of hatred.�

How can we go in search of the lost in a time of social distancing? The sycamore tree, today, could be the web. Many people use the web to communicate, but also to search for some form of truth. The problem is that the Web, unfortunately, is now full of false information and only serves to confuse and manipulate people . We must learn to deal with the Web, an important resource in this time of social distancing. We need to stretch our gaze, as Jesus did with Zacchaeus, and think of the many lonely, excluded, searching people who use internet in search of answers and announce to them a message of salvation and hope. It is necessary to broaden horizons and include a wider audience in one's evangelical activity. Attempting to enter the dimension of marginalisation and loneliness to bring people to a community life made up of real people. The challenge we face is that of sharing and inclusion in time of distancing. I believe that many of us, forced to have a fraternal relationship via Web, have learned to make better use of the resources that this means of communication offers. Even behind a streaming view of a Sunday Service there may be a Zacchaeus who is strongly interested in understanding who Jesus is.

www.cwmission.org

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Empowering Women

Through Language by Zara Natolotra Razanandimby, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM)

Zara Natolotra Razanandimby is from Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) and attended the Young Women Enabling Transformation (YWET) programme last year.

T

his work is about “Gender in communication”, a current matter that has lately become the subject matter of laymen and experts; especially those interested in sociology since this topic affects a great part of the life in society. Gender is a social structuring system insofar as society assigns a specific role according to sex categorisation. Here the focus is on Malagasy context: society and church as the church cannot be subtracted from the society. Considering the history of Monarchy in Madagascar and the origin of the word: “Firenena” which means Nation, a quick conclusion would be drawn: Malagasy society is a matriarchal one. In fact, the root of “Firenana” is “reny”: mother and in Malagasy monarchy, in the centre of Madagascar, there were more queens than kings. But going back to the very root of the society, it will be understood that those queens were just a symbol of monarchy not of power, as the power was held by male prime ministers. Therefore, in this work we will hang on the view that Malagasy society is a Patriarchal1 one.

THE MALAGASY CONTEXT In this patriarchal system, women are regarded as physically weak, incompetent and denied the right to speak in public, with public speech being dedicated to men. Tannen (1990) adds that women are made for private sphere: hence, if a Malagasy woman talks in public, she is called “Akohovavy maneno” presenting her as a person speaking out of turn. Moreover, her words are not to be taken seriously and even tagged as frivolous – “resa-behivavy”3, whereas men speech is considered as reliable and dependable as in: “Ny tenin-dehilahy tsy mivaha”4. Thus, gender affects communication not only in the pattern of speech but also in the actual language used: this phenomenon can be seen in every aspect of social life, including economy, politics, and culture. The pattern of speech is obviously in favour of men, in most communities male authority prevails. Men are thus given a position of power which is reinforced by the language being used: power is then a concept that is served by both social status and language skills. Some Malagasy idioms such as: “Izay manam-bola sy izay manam-bava, ireo no marina eke-lalandava”5, hinting at the fact that rich and skilful speakers are always considered as righteous and just. “Marina mitavozavoza tsy mahaleo lainga tsara lahatra” which suggests that a dubious statement properly and skilfully presented tends to be more credible than a true one ineptly expressed, thus associating power with language mastery. Those proverbs and idioms show that the Malagasy ancestors were aware of the fact that “who owns the language owns the power”. Therefore women were denied the right to public speech in the ancient societies. This is one of the main facts underlying women’s submissiveness, hindering the full participation women in churches and impeding the church growth in the same way as most churchgoers are women. Women might contribute more to church growth if they are given the opportunity to raise their voice and to be heard.

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IN MADAGASCAR (FJKM) AND THE PLACE OF WOMEN In Madagascar, most of the churchgoers are women. They are active in most church departments and there is even a branch dedicated to women. In other words, women can act fully and freely in churches and take part in all the activities. But this is reversed when it concerns taking important responsibilities or decisions within the church: at those levels, men are more numerous than women even if the pastor is a woman. This does not mean however that women are enduring injustice within churches in Madagascar. This disproportion in task assignments within the church comes from the women themselves. They are not willing to fully take part in the decision-making position, as their minds have been moulded by gender constructs and social oppression that they bring to church: this refusal is sometimes a sign of oppression. The number of male church leaders exceed that of women as shown by the following chart: 1

Patriarchy is a social structure in favour with men rather than men

2

Akohovavy maneno” which means a “singing hen”: this conveys that it is abnormal to hear a hen singing, only rooster sings. So women should not talk in public

3

The language of women

4

Men’s speech does not change

5

In a poem entitled “Ny marina hoe?” in ‘Ny diampenin’i Ny Avana Ramanantoanina’. Ed. François Rakotonaivo. p. 98-99.Lines 19-20.

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The following chart shows the repartition of believers in the FJKM Ambanilalana finoana Itaosy





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The church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar follows the Presbyterian-Synodal structure, that is the combination of both Congregational and Presbyterian structures. The church respects the Presbyterian power while acknowledging the collaboration of lay persons and pastors in ministry functions. Therefore, everybody –male and female– is allowed to participate in any activity of the church. Decision making positions are appointed through voting. But many women still fail to agree to take up leadership in churches as a result of prevailing patriarchy in the society not due to the church itself. Whatever counter cultural effort has been attempted by the church, women are not motivated to be part of any decision making positions. Women belong to the society where the church is established. This makes the situation more complex as culture is at the basis of each society, it takes time to change as they as deep rooted in the society and shaped people’s mentality. Malagasy culture has taught women to be quiet and this is shown in their attitude consciously or unconsciously. From this thought has stemmed the idea of empowering women through language.

UNDERSTANDING THE LINK BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND SOCIETY STRUCTURING Several scholars have worked in this field. In Language and Women’s place (1975), Lakoff claims that women tend to express emotion in their language, and this is interpreted as a sign of weakness whereas Tannen in You Just Don't Understand Women (1990) points at the fact that, when interacting with people, women are inclined to establish relationship while men try to establish status or hierarchy. This compels them to think that women speak language of weakness while men speak language of power. The differentiation between male and female speeches has been pioneered by Lakoff and Tannen (1990). Lakoff (1975) presents the hypothesis that language use is one of the sources of the prevailing inequity between men and women. She suggests that the fact that women's language does not show power leads to the apparent women subordination.

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Women language is weak as their speeches are emotive: they use precise colour terms7, intensifiers8 and emphatic stress, empty adjectives9, tag questions10, hedges11 and raising intonations while avoiding strong words or swear words. Tannen points out that women tend to use inclusive ‘we’ and ‘you’: by so doing, they are presenting their own idea as belonging to the group they are talking to, thus seeking approval from that group. This attitude is perceived as a sign of weakness due to lack of self-confidence. It should be acknowledged here that language and gender are operating in a two-way direction: gender affects people’s attitude and behaviour, their postures or gestures as well as their verbal communication. But in return, those communication channels translate gender through society. The gender construct expressed through interactions is the relation dominant-dominated – men being the dominant and women the dominated. Besides, Tannen (1990) notices that women are continually seeking for relationship whereas men are trying to establish status or hierarchy while interacting with others. Therefore women’s language — verbal and non-verbal — displays a high degree of affinity, which is a manifestation of weakness whereas men’s construes relation of power. Pease (2004) points out that “a submissive person will use more submissive gestures and a dominant person will use more assertive gestures”; this entails that a submissive individual will tend to use a submissive language and the language that an individual uses will set his status and position in society. In another way: Language mirrors identity. Language is considered as ‘social practice’, social practices being “what people actually do, i.e. the activities they engage in as they conduct social life” (Meurer, 2004:88). Meurer adds “No social practice is independent of role prescriptions and social structures” (2004:89). This communication function of language is highly valued within social life where communication skills — the ability to share ideas and viewpoints with others — are considered as an important requirement for integrating the world of work (Rai 2010), or a particular social circle. Thus, social position may be considered as in correlation with the ability to communicate in an effective way: As roles are embedded within language, language can be a means of integration or a means of segregation. Here language plays the role of identifier, it demarcates the class and role of the individual. Therefore, language plays a role in the shift from one class to another. This desire to move from one group or class of people to a higher one is also an attempt to change status. This change in status however requires change in language use as “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” Ludwig Wittgenstein (1922). Ludwig Wittgenstein (1922) refers here to the use of words. According to him, people would not be able to describe world beyond their own as they do not have the words allowing them to do so.

Two examples of female leaders that were able to access the political field because of language mastery. Thatcher was given the name of “Iron lady” by the Russian News Agency, TASS in 1976, after her vitriolic speech that was “bashing the evils of communism” as historians presented it. She has a thorough knowledge of how media work, which allows her to achieve her goal, namely, to be close to people and thus maintain her popularity. This has largely contributed to her quest for power. She dares to say what she wants to say, thus making a lasting impression on people: she was called ‘Ségolène l'insubmersible et la communicante’, which shows the importance of communication. Political field is linked with power and it is thought to be a male domain but Thatcher and Royal could access there even if temporarily. The way people speak may affect their environment as it would draw their actual status towards the others: if the speakers are the ones who are contracting authority through talks, they are likely to have a prominent place in the society; otherwise, they would be put at the bottom of the social scale. However, the way people speak is also affected by the rules that govern a society and by the roles society has ascribed to people. Given the case of Thatcher and Royal, language can be considered as a medium used to integrate a given group – thus, a means leading to a ‘status change’ as it may allow a person to join a circle that is higher than his own. In the society at large, the same phenomenon can be seen at work: in order to be counted as a member of a particular group, one has to change one’s idiolect and accommodate to the language of the group. Thatcher and Royal did: they wanted to join the political field which mainly features powerful people, so they had to speak the language used in politics, which is the language of power. However, language is not the sole key to that circle. Language stops where society operates: Changing the way the language is used is an attainable goal at the level of the woman speaker but the way the public will perceive such change remains uncertain (Giddens: 1994:69).

EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH LANGUAGE USE Malagasy women were taught to be quiet and this is one of the main reasons of their poor participation in church as they are not interested in a leadership position. To be a leader, one has to be heard. One way to subvert the male authority in the church the following chart summarise the vision, the mission and the strategy to achieve the vision:

7

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8

so, ‘just, very

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charming, cute

10

Question-tags are Sentences in which a speaker makes a declarative statement. It is cold in here, isn’t it?

11

you know, sort of

26

INSiGHT | October 2020


STEP 1 | FINDING RESOURCES AND CENTRE OF ACTIONS

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“Changing the way the language is used is an attainable goal at the level of the woman speaker but the way the public will perceive such change remains uncertain. The woman speaker may have allocative resources – control over material resources – at her disposal and consequently, she will be listened to, but if the authoritative resources – the capacity of controlling people and their activities – are missing, changing the language will fail to achieve its objectives. Success can only be ensured if ‘rules, roles and resources’ concurrently work toward the goal (Giddens: 1994:69). These three elements are intertwined and are found at the basis of society structuration: “Resources are the means whereby rules are realised in specific social practices. Without resources, there can be no action. As a consequence, resources are directly implicated in the generation and the maintenance of power� Moreover: “Both individual and national identities will be closely interconnected with resources and it makes no sense to ignore such facets of identities� (Meurer, 2004: 93) Transformation needs time but it is important to start!

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Voices from Al-Khan Al-Ahmar :

a Bedouin village in the Holy Land

A team of people from the United Reformed Church (URC) went to Israel and Palestine last autumn, to learn more about the situation facing Christians in Palestine. The trip was part of the URC’s formal commitment to further its existing work around Holy Land issues, and to enable greater awareness, prayer and solidarity. Charissa King attended the trip as a reporter for the URC’s magazine, Reform. In this article, she shares stories from two of the people she met in the Bedouin village of Al-Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank. little girls they had, how many little boys, and who would be going to school. To this day, that bus hasn't arrived. When we went to the schools in Jericho and Al-Eizariya, to find out how our kids were doing, the teachers would say they hadn’t been to school for ten days or two weeks. The kids would dress in school uniforms, go 2km down the road, hide in the mountains, have fun, come back at the end of the day and say they were in school. It was because it was so far away and the weather is difficult for walking. In the end, we decided to build the school here.

by Eid Abu Khamis

According to international laws, education is a right. Here, it is forbidden.

Before we built our school, our children were either walking 22km (13.7m) down to Jericho, or 14km (8.7m) up the road to Al-Eizariya, biblical Bethany. Sometimes they would get a taxi or bus halfway but very often they had to walk all the way. Five children were killed on the road in traffic accidents and many were injured. Because they had to go so far, people weren't sending their daughters. I sent my daughter to school in Jericho but every evening, me or my wife had to look out for her in the mountains, halfway home. She didn't have the same strength as her brothers to get home, so we asked the Israeli army in 1991 for permission to build a school in this area. They wouldn't allow it. So, we asked for a school bus. Every Israeli settlement has a bus inside it, taking their children 4-500 metres to school. But they wouldn't give us a bus. When the Palestinian Authority (PA) came into power, we asked them for the bus. They wrote it down that we’d get a big 50-seater. We came home and had a huge celebration. Everybody was working out how many 28

It's completely forbidden for the Bedouin, or other Palestinians, to build with cement or blocks here, in Area C of the West Bank. We are not allowed to build anything unless we have a military issue building permit, and those permits are not issued. So, we looked on the internet and found that in South America, people are building with mud and used car tyres. We brought that idea here and got to work. People were here helping us from all over the world, including left-wing Israelis. I will remember this picture in my mind until my last days: when we had meal breaks, we all sat on the floor together, mud on our hands. Bedouin, Israelis and people from all over Europe sitting, eating together. About two weeks into the building of the school, the military and the settlers up on the hill discovered that we were building, and issued a stop work order. Our response was to put our own watchmen out while workers carried on working inside. When the police or the army came, we would take all the women into our homes and dress them up as Bedouin women. The men we hid in the desert. If they had discovered our international volunteers, they would have been arrested, immediately taken to the airport and maybe denied entry to come back for the next ten years. The Israelis would have been arrested and sent to prison. This way, we finished building the school. We got teachers from the PA. In the old days, the Bedouin had many, many animals. They had large flocks and wouldn't need to work in any other

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undertaking or employment. In the morning, the men would go out with the animals and the women would go to the market with all of the products, especially dairy products, to sell. If she needed anything, she would not have to ask her husband for money, she would just go and buy it. In those days, if a man needed wanted to buy cigarettes, he had to go and beg her for money. Our women were the finance managers – the other way around to how it is today. We are becoming more conservative, more patriarchal. Women are stuck in the kitchen with nowhere to go, no money. Their situation is worse than ever, and stress levels are much, much higher. There's now nowhere for us to legally take the animals out. Our income every year has been steadily going down. It's very dangerous. It's not sustainable. We're not allowed to have electricity. As for water, once the

settlers got here, they wouldn't allow us anywhere near it. We made holes in their pipe, to get water for ourselves and the animals, but we had no way of closing the hole. They arrested many of us. In the end, there were so many holes in the pipe that there was no pressure in the water to get up the hill to the settlers, and they complained. The military and the main water carrier gave us a water meter, which the Palestinian Authority pays for. The water comes by pipe, over land, and it’s very hot during the day. The women have to get up in the middle of the night to draw water so that it's cool by the time it comes to us. Every one of you has a member of parliament. Sit with them. Put pressure on them, so that they will put pressure on the Israeli side.

“The Israelis would find another way of taking them to court and wear them down until they don't have any more ability to defend themselves.” by Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

Bedouins are not gypsies. They're not nomads. Israel calls

them nomads in order to deprive them of having land rights. One Israeli minister went on BBC TV and said: 'Who are these people? They weren't here when we arrived in 1948. Where did they come from?' But they've been there for over a thousand years. This idea that they are nomads makes it easy for Israel to dismiss them. People lose interest and think: 'Ah well, they're just from Nowhere Land.' No. They are semi-nomadic landowners who move seasonally, traditionally on their own land. An estimated 167,000 people have visited here in the past year. People from Europe, South Africa, the US, Canada and Australia. Eid to the point where there was so much noise, he had to go off for a week into the desert just to calm down. There was no privacy, no calm, no Bedouin culture here. But if they weren't here, it would have been worse. Now, we have breathing space, but we’re very worried they might demolish as part of electioneering. There is very strong support for the Jahalin Bedouin community but it tends to be only verbal. Recently, when annexation was proposed by Netanyahu during his electioneering, the EU put out a statement saying: If this goes ahead, we will consider what our next steps will be and we shall act accordingly. 'Act accordingly'. I had goosebumps. There's a whole range of possible actions that could stop this injustice, it doesn't have to be sanctions. I know Palestinian farmers who started defending their land in the 1980s, using their savings. The Israelis would find another way of taking them to court and wear them down until they don't have any more ability to defend themselves.

We then used legal aid from international donors, millions per year. That hasn't worked. The legal track is not working. People are losing a lot of money. They're putting their hopes in justice and somehow it's not delivering. The situation is getting worse. The only small hope is that maybe we will have a less far right government, maybe there will be some level of sanity. But that's not going to end the occupation. They are not allowed electricity even though they live under all the electricity lines. They are not given easy access to water. The road was closed off on the day that the then UK minister of the Middle East peace process, Alistair Burt, was visiting here. I was very pleased. I thought: At least he sees what's going on. Not all the settlers are real bastards, some of them feel compromised. There's even a small group that is in solidarity here, but they don't say: 'Let the Bedouin stay where they are,' they say: ‘Let them have their culture somewhere else.' So, they’re only partly in favour of a war crime. Eid asked you to get involved; yes please. Any advocacy you can do through the Church would be helpful. Angela Godfrey-Goldstein is Co-director of the Palestinian charity Jahalin Solidarity (www.jahalin.org). She translated Eid’s responses from Hebrew to English. Charissa King is Production and Marketing Officer for Reform magazine, produced by URC which provides fresh perspectives on theology, personal spirituality and Christian viewpoints on current affairs. Visit https://www.reform-magazine.co.uk for more info.

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Learning

The Lessons by Dewi M. Hughes

The last few months have been difficult for us

all. For some, it has been an horrific time: overwhelming anxiety, unrelenting illness, death, mourning. The loss has been at such a high price for so many people. But during the deep darkness, is there a sliver of light anywhere, a suggestion of hope for a better world? A common experience for many of us during the lockdown has been to ‘discover’ nature’s world. It appeared that the flowers were a more vibrant colour, the birds sang all the sweeter. I heard someone say that he had never seen the stars shine as brightly before. We look for satisfaction and pleasure, and are willing to pay big money for them, and here they are within our sights and hearing every day; and they’re for free! Nature and the earth itself are benefitting. Because of working at home and less travel, then less carbon was released into the skies. It’s true that the more populated areas got to enjoy cleaner air to breathe for a while. But the earth is not on the road to recovery; the truth is that the carbon levels in the air have risen more worldwide during this time of Covid. According to Sir David Attenborough, if we accept the present pathway; ‘In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.’ ‘The house is on fire,’ as Greta says. This period shows the inequality that exists in our society even more clearly. Child poverty has increased, and by not being able to go to school, the biggest burden is placed upon these children’s shoulders. They are the ones who are most likely to fail to eat well and not to be able to access the technology needed to do their school work at home. As I heard one mother say, ‘People with money and who don’t have children have no idea how it is for those with children and who have no money.’ Six million families in the United Kingdom are now in deep debt.

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June 2019 | 8


“There is a danger that the numbers suffering terrible starvation will double to 250 million during this period.”

Image: Reuters

It became obvious that worldwide poverty is also on the increase. According to the agencies there is a danger that the numbers suffering terrible starvation will double to 250 million during this period. Oxfam maintains that 12,000 die every day because of famine linked to the pandemic. Antonio Guterres, the General Secretary of the United Nations states, quite rightly, that we are all on the same sea, but that some of us are in luxury yachts while others are merely clinging to pieces of wood.

Image: Reuters

Many of our churches became extremely inventive during this time of lockdown, they have discovered ways of keeping in touch with members, and continued holding services and having conversations through the web. The old, tired patterns of thought were left behind and new imaginative ways burst forth.

Many have seen that they need to be generous in their support of Christian Aid and other charities in order to fight poverty. And for that, we are indeed thankful. But it is blatantly obvious that it is not charity that will eliminate poverty. Unless countries see that they need to put a robust system in place in order to lift up the weakest, then the fate of millions of poor people will surely only worsen. The generosity of individuals cannot deal with the crux of this matter.

It is obvious that these new ways have not only kept members in touch but have also reached others beyond the usual flock. Not being able to meet face to face has been very difficult, but at least the message has been shared with a thousand others who were, before now, unable to hear it. It has been extremely important to reach out beyond the usual borders and territories in order to reach new pastures and new people. This is an essential part of our commission.

The Bible is much less enthusiastic about getting rid of the effects of injustice than about demolishing the causes. The prophets are an united echo that the Lord seeks justice. ‘But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.’ Justice not charity! This strange time has given us an opportunity to consider our priorities. What is more important? Basic questions arise as regards the matters and customs we take so much for granted. Who are we most dependent upon? People on low incomes have become heroes, they have stood between us and the cliff edge. It’s high time we properly appreciated them.

Rev Dewi Myrddin Hughes ministered in several pastorates in the valleys of south Wales for over 30 years before becoming General Secretary of the Union of Welsh Independents (UWI), and served as a trustee of CWM during that period. He was present at the inaugural meeting of CWM in the City Temple, London, in 1977. The Council's thinking and practice have been pivotal to his understanding of the gospel.

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Seasons of Change by Rev Dr Karen Georgia A. Thompson, Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations in the United Church of Christ and Co-Executive for Global Ministries

Death & Dying

As we continue to move through these days of pandemics -

racial and viral - I find myself contemplating the ways in which death and dying continue to be an impolite topic of conversation. Even in the midst of the masses dying every day, there are very healthy ways to talk about death - even in the church. My own confrontation with the topic is personal. I was ordained in 1999 and served in the parish for a number of years. In April 2018 when my Mother died, I planned and conducted her funeral. It was the first funeral service I planned and completed. I had journeyed with my Mother from her onset of dementia through here illness, which got progressively worse. I had been with her at her bedside when she did, so when my father asked me to conduct her funeral, it seemed fitting. Less than two years after her death, as the COVID-19 pandemic made its way into New York City, my father died. He was a healthy, active 85-year-old who contracted COVID-19 and died of complications caused by the virus less than 12 hours after going to the hospital. His death was sudden and given the social distancing requirements in New York at the time of his death, we were unable to have a funeral service for him. Death is a challenging topic and yet, death is as natural as living. The seasons and cycles of life point us to endings and beginnings, to death and rebirth. Beyond weather as seasonal change, the earth cycles through periods of planting and harvesting. Seasons give us different fruits and vegetables, they indicate rainy and dry seasons for some. In all of these is evidence of change - transformation that brings us into new ways of living on the journey. I also find myself thinking about the cycles of life as it pertains to the church and to our institutions.

“Seasons of change are not easy, yet they invite us into pause for reflection and encourage our awareness as we seek to move into the newness that change brings.” 32

Seasons of Change “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 The passing of my parents taught me a lot about life and living. These are lessons I continue to glean every day as I make my way in the new normal without their physical presence to reference. These words of Ecclesiastes come often, bring with them the contrasts listed on the verses following this chapter opener. What does it mean for us that there is a season for everything? For me it means that there are times when things have to come to an end. Relationships end for a variety of reasons. Among them is the separation that comes when one moves away from a city, a country or even takes a new job. These moments too, require grieving and bring with them deep loss. They require their own sense of letting go - sometimes ritualised with visits to the airport, phone calls and emails to stay in touch, and even visits that assist in connecting and adjusting to change. Seasons of change are not easy, yet they invite us into pause for reflection and encourage our awareness as we seek to move into the newness that change brings. In the church, we find ourselves in seasons of institutional change as well. The past few years have seen a stark decline in the mainline churches in the West, while the churches in the Global South continue to grow. Congregations range in size from small churches to the mega churches with large memberships and abounding resources. As congregations decline they are faced with hard decisions. The Pew Research Centre is a US based nonpartisan think tank that focuses on conducting public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research to identify and inform the public of trends and issues that are shaping and

INSiGHT | October 2020


changing the world. Over the years, the Centre has provided insights into the on-going challenges facing religious institutions and churches in the US and globally. In a recent study, conducted in October 2019, Pew Research reported on the decline of Christianity. The headline accompanying the results of the survey read: “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace: An update on America's changing religious landscape.” (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline -of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/pf_10-17-19_r dd_update-00-020/). The results of the study show decline in the number of adults who self-identify as Christians, even as it shows an increase in the number that are identifying themselves as “none” in response to claims of religious self-identification. These religious “nones” have been a topic of interest since the Pew Research Reports in 2007 and 2014 started pointing to this growing category for religious identification.

these areas of the church as well. We hear talk of the church dying and yet I find myself wondering at where is the opportunity for transformation among us. In this moment of decline, how do we embrace the work of the Spirit among us? In the most recent statistical report in the United Church of Christ (UCC), the UCC is also reporting evidence of this decline. “From 2009 to 2019 alone, the UCC encountered a net loss of 435 congregations and 277,843 members. Some of this decline, however, began prior to the formation of the denomination in 1957 as the number of congregations steadily decreased despite membership increases in the UCC’s early years” (https://uccfiles.com/pdf/2020statisticalreport.vfw .pdf). As we continue to see this decline across the mainline churches, I wonder at how we are seeing this moment in the life of the church. I see it as a moment of transformation. A moment that invites the church into seeing itself in context in these times which we are living. Even as the UCC is seeing this overall decline, the denomination has also added congregations over these years. The UCC statistical report notes that: “In total, 82 congregations received standing and were added to the UCC over the last five years, which is equivalent to a new congregation being added about every three weeks.”

These studies have been the course of many discussions in the mainline churches. As the numbers in the pews shrink, so do the resources that are available to provide programmes and services in the communities that are in the vicinity of these congregations. This has implications for the middle judicatory and national settings of our denominations as the resources from the pews also provide support for

This is cause for celebration!

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Change vs. Finality “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” Isaiah 43:18-19 Our opinions have a major part to play in how we understand death, decline and change. I miss my parents. I miss talking with them on the phone. I miss my Mother’s laughter and the wisdom she provided for me. I am thankful for the ways in which they raised me and grateful for the values they instilled in me. I can celebrate their presence and love the many memories that come from time to time and even cause me sadness. I am working my way towards letting go of their physical presence and learning to embrace the reality of their spiritual present with me. For me, death is not final. Death is a step on the journey that is life. Those we love are remembered in a variety of ways as they transition from this life. In Ecclesiastes 12:7, we read: “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.” Death is a part of life, a part of the seasons of change that come with our humanity. And in those seasons, we mourn, we grieve and we are transformed as we let go of what we knew and find our way to healing. The church is in a place of transformation, an invitation by the Spirit to be present in the new thing that God is doing among us. There are opportunities for the churches in the West and the North to learn from the churches in the Global South. There are opportunities for us to move away from the ways in which we are doing church and engage those who are seeking to meet God through Jesus Christ and the church.

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Much has changed in the past years in the 100 years of the 20th century in the church. This has included movements for justice and inclusion, new ways of understanding the Gospel and God’s love given for all of God’s people. There were moves toward inclusive language and including women in the life of the church. The church has spoken out about injustices and has taken on leadership on issues around the globe. Decolonising the Bible and Christianity have been named as important in confronting the legacies of slavery, the oppression of indigenous people and the increasing poverty and marginalisation of people. There is much that we can celebrate and at the same time, there are practices and processes that we need to let go. As the church is seeing decline, perhaps it is time to think about the things that are no longer serving the spread of the Gospel, and the “new thing” that God is doing among us. The decline in the church is not a sign of death. It is a sign that we are changing that the church is being pruned and ready for new growth, if we are willing to endure trimming away the dead branches and welcoming the movement and joy of the Spirit.

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New Life “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.� John 15:1-2 We are a resurrection people in the church. Our witness and hope is rooted the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are believers in God who is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). The new thing God is doing requires that we let go of ourselves and fully rely on God through Jesus Christ. The new things God is doing invites us to be present with heart and in spirit to hearing God in new ways as we live into this twenty-first century. Even as we move through this season of COVID-19, we are seeing congregations adapt to new ways of being church. As social distancing and isolation continues for many, the church has taken to Zoom and other platforms and are seeing an increase in numbers. People are joining the church from their homes. They are visiting the church from their homes, sometimes joining services across the miles. This is a new thing, it may not be the only new thing - we can start celebrating what we see breaking forth around us in this season of change. Our transformation is on-going as people, and as the church. Jesus’ words point to the pruning and letting go that is necessary for a tree to bear fruit. God as the winegrower prunes and trims so that the tree can flourish and yield its capacity of fruit in its season. God is doing a new thing among us, trimming and pruning in the life of the church. It is time for the church to let go of the branches that are not flourishing and to find its way to being open to the Spirit moving in a mighty way among us that is beyond the numbers in the pews and the shrinking resources. God must be at the centre of who we are and all that we do, and then this season will bring forth new life among us.

Rev Dr Karen Georgia A. Thompson is the Associate General Minister for Wider Church Ministries and Operations in the United Church of Christ and Co-Executive for Global Ministries with the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She shares her skills and gifts in various national and international settings, often using her poetry as a part of her ministry. She previously served as Minister for Racial Justice, and as Minister for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. Her passion for racial justice moved her work into a global context to participate in efforts to reduce the marginalisation experienced by African descendant communities. She is currently a member of the National Council of Churches Committee that planned and implemented A.C.T. Now to End Racism initiative and continues to lead the on-going efforts to dismantle racism.

www.cwmission.org

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When the Flame Tree is Flowering by Rev Sudu Tada, Programme Secretary for Indigenous Ministries in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT)

When the flame tree is flowering, it is a wonderful time to graduate from school and make young life moving forward. But, for some young girls, the darkest destiny lies ahead of them. From 1970 to 2000, Taiwan was experiencing a rapid social change on modernisation. Human trafficking was rampant. In order to get rid of poverty, many indigenous families sold their daughters to human traffickers after their graduation from elementary schools. There was a prevailing slogan which goes like "a boy's birth celebration costs a pig, a girl's a cow." News about the falling of young indigenous girls was familiar to people's ears, but their stories were soon forgotten after briefly causing sympathy and pity. Horrible things still happened repeatedly. Xiao-hui (a fake name) was a happy, vibrant little girl and a good student. Unfortunately, she became a victim of human trafficking on her elementary school graduation day. Here is her account on what happened. “On that day, I went home with my award and prize. Without any warning, I was taken away in a taxi by my parents and traffickers. No one told me what was going on or where I was taken to, let alone what I was going to do. Just like that, I left my lovely hometown.� Xiao-hui was only 12 when she left home. From that day on, her life was facing an unprecedented disaster: she was sold to an illegal brothel in Taipei for 10 years. On her first day at the brothel, Xiaohui found out she was not the only victim. There were other young indigenous girls already, aged from 12 to 14, and the look of them frightened her.

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It is outrageous that Xiao-hui had to be injected with unknown medicine to accelerate physiological growth which resulted in unusual breast development. Her breast size was out of proportion to her body's size. No one would tell she was only 12. Xiao-hui recalled that girls like her were forced to take medicine and injections, and exercise. Any hesitation in obedience would suffer a good lashing. They would gather together, holding each other, and cry aloud when getting beaten, but nobody ever came to their aid. Ten years of her golden years, Xiao-hui struggled in the life as a prostitute. She entertained her guests wherever they were, such as in a underground dance club, a barber shop, a hair salon, a massage parlour, an ice and fruit dessert shop, a restaurant, a cinema, a tea house, an inn, a hotel, a private house, a villa, and even a luxury car. She had to sleep with 8 to 15 men every day, but she only got 300 New Taiwan dollars as her pocket money. She was being watched, deprived of her freedom, and controlled by using illicit drugs.

INSiGHT | October 2020


The poem below is her sarcastic accusation of her misfortune.

When the Flame Tree was flowering, I was sold by my family When the Flame Tree was flowering, I was falling into hell When the Flame Tree was flowering, l became a teenage prostitute When the Flame Tree was flowering, I worked as a Miss in a brothel When the Flame Tree was flowering, it was the day of falling, the falling of indigenous girls When the Flame Tree was flowering, my family got rid of poverty When the Flame Tree was flowering, human traffickers were celebrating their harvest When the Flame Tree was flowering, the brothel was swarming with men When the Flame Tree was flowering, men were like animals When the Flame Tree was flowering, why did this happen to me?

There are many girls like Xiao-hui in Taiwan, an economics-first society. They got ravaged and were sacrificed in the debauched sex business. The oppressors of many more Xiao-hui might be those human traffickers, their parents and family, and even their teachers at the school. When the whole Taiwan society didn't want to fight against this injustice and would rather stayed indifferent, PCT Rainbow Women's Ministry stood up in faith for those girls. They risked their lives to rescue innocent girls and uncovered these untold sad stories. Therefore, the story of Xiao-hui 's Flame Tree can be heard, and make lazy parents, greedy traffickers and cruel clients understand that their pursuit of profits and pleasure is the main cause of ongoing juvenile prostitution, bringing young girls pain and humiliation over and over again.

This article is found in Taiwan Indigenous Mission Stories, a volume published by PCT through CWM’s Hearing God’s Cry Programme to give voice to these lesser known stories and traditions of the indigenous people and enhance their profile and leadership. More details about the book are in 'Take A Look’.

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DO YOU HAVE BURNING ISSUES TO GET OFF YOUR CHEST? Looking for an outlet to contribute your reflections on social, socio-political and economic issues which plague our world today? Is your passion taking the stand against the current structures of society, and empire?

If you want to be heard, we invite you to be part of this publication by sending your material(s) to insight@cwmission.org You may also write to: C/O INSiGHT Council for World Mission Ltd 114 Lavender Street, #12-01 CT Hub 2, Singapore 338729 *We reserve the right to edit articles for space and clarity


SEEN & HEARD |

...white Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt. For citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when studying Scripture is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society — and it has made them blind and utterly ill-equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.

~ Erna Kim Hackett

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In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. – Confucius, Chinese teacher and philosopher

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17 October | International Poverty Eradication Day

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TAKE A LOOK |

Even though the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) has a third of its congregations being indigenous people, their cultures and languages are disappearing and little is known about these real and original inhabitants of Taiwan. Through CWM’s Hearing God’s Cry Programme, PCT has published the Taiwan Indigenous Mission Stories to give voice to these lesser known stories and traditions of the indigenous people and enhance their profile and leadership. Email missiondevelopment@cwmission.org for details.

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Church and Religious Diversity by Joshua Samuel and Samuel Mall is the third book of the "Re-imagining Church as Event: Perspectives from the Margins" series.

Church and Human Sexuality by Joshua Arvind Theodore is the fourth book of the series "Re-imagining Church as Event: Perspectives from the Margins".

The context of the church in South Asia can be defined by ‘plurality’ and ‘poverty.’ The first relates to the presence of various religions, the latter relates to the issue of injustice. Therefore, it also a place where injustices are also on the rise. There is an ample presence of historically discriminated communities that continue to face oppression in various and diverse forms. Oppression is not only anthropological but extends to the ecological world. While the issues of plurality have been addressed adequately by Christian theology through its ‘Theology of Religions’, the issues of injustice have not been integrated into it sufficiently.

Who defines desire, pleasure and love? Must sex and sexuality be defined by negations? How can the privileged audit themselves in order to practice respect, mutuality and just love? What role must the church play in eliminating sexual injustice? These questions not only shape this book but demand our attention.

This book argues that it is possible to be ‘passionately Christian’ and uphold the central tenets of Christianity even while being ‘compassionately interreligious.’ It further tries to integrate into interreligious thought the marginalised voices of society. Therefore, interreligious engagements can become appropriate means of working towards justice and the liberation of those who are oppressed by dehumanising social, political and economic structures. Here is what reviewers have to say: This book demonstrates that interreligious dialogue has arrived at new maturity. The deepest level of dialogue, whether between persons or between religious communities, is one in which honesty is possible and, when through that honesty, the difficult work of reconciliation and justice-making can take place. The authors rightly insist, “Dialogue is an ethical imperative.” When we can tell the truth about each other and about ourselves, religious communities are empowered to join together to transform the world in the direction of God’s reign. That is the kind of daring dialogue envisioned herein. - John J. Thatamanil Engagement with religious diversity have been unapologetically elitist in their orientation and thereby estranged from and irrelevant to the margins. In many ways this volume is not just a timely intervention but also a necessary irruption of the ways in which Christian theologians and churches have engaged with the question of religious diversity. By embracing the perspective of the margins this book opens readers to provocative and prophetic ways of engaging with religious diversity. - Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar

In the continued effort to address the moral perplexities of today, and in recognition of the challenges the Indian Church and faith communities are confronted with, this book is a theo-ethical inquiry about sexuality. It is one of the many attempts to have taken place in recent years in carrying on the prophetic work of confronting the historical layers of scriptural and cultural meanings that have proven to be ruinous to peoples and communities, and in excavating new meanings and insights that have the potential to contribute to healing, freedom and sexual justice. The book invites its readers to read with an open mind and as moral agents engage in self-reflective inquiry, critical thinking, and responsible and just living. Here is what reviewers have to say: If, as Arvind Theodore proposes, God loves diversity and justice, what would God’s church look like? I find the proposals in this text self-critical, dialogical, and prayerful next steps to becoming a more faithful church following Jesus who made himself a scandal that the world might know God anew. - Winnie Varghese, Priest on the Strategic Clergy Team, Trinity Church Wall Street, New York, USA. Theodore seeks to remove confusions and highlight patterns of interactions that lead to sexual injustice. The book serves as a reminder of our place on this planet, calling for an ethically motivated self-reflective examination of oneself, drawing our attention back to who we are—sexual beings created by the divine. - John Lalnuntluanga, Gossner Theological College, Ranchi, Jharkhand. Cover Design by Immanuel Paul Vivekananda.

Cover Design by Immanuel Paul Vivekananda.

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Food Waste causes Climate Change. Here’s how we stop it. Our Changing Climate looks into the environmental issues of excessive food wastages that’s happening all over the world today and advises on why the occurrences of food waste almost appears normal and natural to a person who is unaware of the logistics and energy involved in the creation of our food, how it could impact the environment and the likely repercussion to follow, and what can be done to alleviate the already bordering on critical situation.

Erison and the Ebola Soccer Survivors During the Ebola epidemic outbreak in West Africa, 11 thousand people lost their lives. Many families were wiped out as a whole, and those who were fortunate, survived, but only to be left alone in the world. Erison is one such survivor who was lucky enough to have made it out alive with his mother as well as the offspring of his siblings. However, the challenges await the survivors as the stigma of the virus only forces the community to further ostracise them in fear that they would somehow contract the fatal disease.

https://bit.ly/3h3OkYz Is Earth overpopulated? (BBC Documentary) Is population growth on our planet out of control? Into the third of the 20th century, it bore witness to the exponential growth of the human population that the planet has ever experienced - with at least 5 billion in total. This BBC documentary explores if such a surge would be a threat to those who share the planet and would there be detrimental effects and consequences to be expected.

https://bit.ly/3kzRqpX

https://bit.ly/2DEvcCW

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A Plastic Ocean With 8 million tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste being dumped into the oceans every year, the pollution of our seas becomes an issue for the lives of marine animals that call the oceans home. Death and devastation are brought about by ingesting non digestible pieces of plastics into their systems or being caught and tangled in plastic loops and debris that they are unable to remove on their own, dooming them to a slow and painful demise.

The Supreme Price This remarkable story of how Hafsat Abiola won the historic vote in 1993 which promised to end years of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Her parents before her, who fought against the military dictatorship that has oppressed the nation of basic human rights, had lost their lives for the cause – her mother, Kudirat being assassinated in 1996 while running the pro-democracy movement that got her husband imprisoned. MKO Abiola’s died in prison two year later in 1998, allegedly beaten to death.

https://bit.ly/3h2Oak9

https://bit.ly/37OHvJs

INSiGHT | October 2020


101 Ways to Fight Climate Change Curbed.com shows us 101 examples that we could adopt or easily make as adjustments to our daily lives in order to do our part in saving the planet we live in from Climate Change. From simple solutions like changing your bulbs to LED and washing cloths only in cold water, to composting and installing solar panels – there are just far too many methods that we could adhere to, if only our excuses not to doesn’t outnumber it.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell Mobilising Christian and Muslim women, in solidarity and dressed in white symbolising peace, social worker Leymah Gbowee organised nonviolent protests that started from praying and singing in a fish market which eventually saw the support of thousands of Liberian women and becoming a political force against the violence from a 14 year civil war and against their government which did little at finding peace for Liberia. https://bit.ly/3oxVl8R

https://bit.ly/3kAxqDF Human Flow This documentary by Ai Wei Wei aims at bringing light to the glaring issues of the current global refugee crisis and the experiences of the sheer volume of refugees currently living in forced displacement today. Having first hand experience during China’s Cultural Revolution, Ai faced inhumane treatment as he was forced out of his home in Beijing, and it’s through the similar shared experiences which he now aims to capture through the lenses, to share the grief and turmoil faced by refugees in their precarious situations and journey. On the Brink of Famine 360 Due to the civil war in South Sudan, more than 2.8 million people are starving due to displacement as they fled the violence, and with the sheer numbers of people losing their homes and livelihoods, the people of South Sudan are faced with unprecedented levels of food insecurity, leaving at least 40 thousand in near starvation. The documentary is filmed in a 360 approach which serves as an immersive experience to allow viewers to understand the tragic circumstances and magnitude of this disaster on the ground.

https://bit.ly/37Orkfm

How to Change the World “In 1971, a group of friends sail into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world's imagination. Using never before seen archive that brings their extraordinary world to life, How To Change The World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.” https://bit.ly/35yUMmw

https://bit.ly/3kAxuDp

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YOUR SAY |

NOT GOING (HOME)…

ANYTIME SOON By Lion’s Voice

While we hide in the comfort and security of our homes, walk confidently on the streets and arm ourselves with social distancing, we forget a group of people who will struggle daily just to see the next sunrise. And while we watch in horror as COVID-19 ravages all corners of the world, we seem to have forgotten that the situation is far more dire and serious for forcibly displaced persons and refugees who are the most vulnerable. We all know that the most effective interventions to protect against COVID-19 – frequent hand washing, adherence to social-distancing guidelines, and wearing a mask. The sad truth is these measures are hardly available, and considered and luxury to the less fortunate and displaced persons. Many of the world’s 79.5 million forcibly displaced individuals lack access to clean water or soap, let alone health care. Living in cramped tents in overcrowded camps, is not uncommon for an entire family to share a single mask. This puts refugees at heightened risk of contracting – and dying from – the virus. In one hotel in southern Greece, 148 asylum seekers tested positive for COVID-19. In Singapore, 93% of COVID-19 cases occurred in dorms housing migrant workers. But in my eyes, the most group of people affected the most, and who cries out for our attention and action, are the Rohingya refugees living at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Since 2017, more than 800,000 have fled from neighbouring Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown seeking refuge - creating a situation where the country’s government officials have described as “untenable.” And while some nations have seen a drop in COVID-19 numbers or have managed to keep numbers to a minimum, there are fears that an uncontained outbreak of COVID-19 in the refugee camps, such as the main camp in Cox’s Bazar– the largest and most overcrowded in the world – could be devastating. And while many obediently observe social distancing, it is simply not possible with several hundred thousand people living in an area of just 13 square kilometres. It's just a matter of time until the virus reaches the vulnerable population living in cramped conditions in the largest refugee settlement on earth. In addition to COVID-19, relentless rain and hazardous weather have added to the challenges. According to humanitarian reports, over 100,000 refugees have been affected due to the heavy monsoon rains this year, that destroyed shelters and washed away crops.

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The international community should take a more proactive stance in (quickly) offering a bold package of assistance to meet the needs of both refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. Estimates have parked this figure about roughly $434 million, which in honest truth – isn’t enough to fully address the various issues. But more importantly, I feel that the help should be rendered to the host country and communities as well. The spotlight is so bright on the Rohingya crisis, that we often and are quick to forget that the host nation, such as Bangladesh, is already struggling to provide basic necessities such as food and clean water to communities where refugees are now settling. Even before the recent influx, there already have been a myriad of issues between locals and Rohingya refugees over basic necessities. It is therefore crucial that we recognise and acknowledge the fact that financial or long-term social/community infrastructure support cannot be just be for refugees. It is imperative that help and support must also be rendered to help improve the standard of living for host communities. There is also the dire need to re-look at existing policies and programmes - and possibly create new ones, that will help both the people of Bangladesh and Rohingya succeed. For example, trade barriers can be moved to open new doors and markets for Bangladeshi companies. The international community can also step in to facilitate private sector investment that will help Bangladesh make critical economic reforms that will help the nation reap long term economic and social infrastructure benefits. But in order for the change and reform to truly work, I feel that the international community must first acknowledge the fact that the Rohingya refugee crisis is will not end anytime soon. And because of this, solutions, reforms and action plans need to be made for the long haul. The reality is that there is little prospect that the Rohingya refugees will be able to return home any time soon. According to a recent UN report, creating conditions that are conducive to the Rohingya people’s safe and sustainable return to Myanmar will require “whole-of-society engagement”, as well as resumed dialogue between Myanmar authorities and Rohingya refugees. So while we, the international community, continue to press on to provide support to a population that is vulnerable and traumatised, we also should have the added responsibility to work with the government and relevant authorities on solutions that will address not just critical needs now, but also in the long haul.

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LET’S JUST BLAME GOD FOR EVERYTHING By Elephant in the Room, South East Asia

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope The above statement could possibly be why, how and what is wrong with Christians today. One simply doesn’t realise easy it is, be it intentional or not, to misinterpret passages and statements or to veer or reconstruct meaning to serve our own narrative, purpose or intentions. Because as the statement suggests, it is only natural that as human beings, it is our birthright to make mistakes, to be erring all the time, basking in our faults because we certainly are not perfect. Although, created in the image of God, we are perpetually sinful and wretched as can be, hence it is an innate behaviour that is expected from all of us. But isn’t it so fortunate for us all because God forgives by default? It is so convenient for us, to assume on our sinful ways as God is a vending machine of forgiveness, readily available to dispense pardon with extravagant generosity and benevolence at the turn of a knob and everything is back to sunshine and rainbows in a blink of an eye. How rouge we are with His Word that life is just perceived as peaches and cream under this notion of unconditional forgiveness that is always readily laid out in a bed of roses for us Christians? When will we ever learn? Human beings are an exquisite piece of work. Molded by love so divine and gracious, and in the image of God. But all that is reflective of God just ends right there – the image. We are so engulfed with the need to sin that we do not even realise how distant we are from our Heavenly Father. We are bitter, ungrateful, discontented and destructive towards the love he has showed us time and time again. We are so proud of ourselves, lording over species and even races because we’ve deemed how superior we are, how intelligent we are, how innovative we are, how ground breaking we can be in all our achievements that many often a time, we’ve forsaken everything that God has done for us. God has been sidelined because we have basked ourselves in our own glorious achievements that we subject The Almighty as the lifeline we would only fall back on when we are to fail ourselves, when we treat our faith like a little swiss army utility knife in our back pocket, only to swiftly whip out at the very last minute when all else proves futile. “A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD.” – Proverbs 19:3 And what could be the most atrocious thing? That we expect of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness but in return, we are not able to do the same. I hear it all the time, “Where were you God, when I needed you most, why have you chosen to forsake me in my hour of need?”.

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As much as we ask of God’s forgiveness, we also readily shift blame to our Heavenly Father for everything that has gone wrong within our lives. And it is deplorable what we can blame God for, no matter how big or small the issue that we are unable or unwilling to face and to account for, ourselves. God has been blamed for many things, for missing children or for not providing a safe passage in their return to their families, for sickness no matter how minor or grave, for the failing marriage that has crumbled over the years, for the change in climate and the devastation natural disasters that resulted to it, for our own wretchedness and inadequacies that we are the problem and that we refuse to acknowledge it…the list goes on as long as there is a convenient reason to – blame God for something. And how could we be that myopic to all the issues that surrounds us. How are we even justifying blaming God for everything that has gone wrong in our lives, when very much so, everything that has gone wrong, is very much problems created by ourselves – the onus is on us and us only. Why are we so reliant on our faith only in times that are unsavoury to us but when things are well and good, we fail to give thanks? Do we want to continue to push the patience of our already very benevolent and gracious Heavenly Father? Although God is perceived of one of many opportunities but it does not mean opportunities to commit sin and then to ask for forgiveness thereafter as there are consequences to follow. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not depend on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6 Where is the conviction and trust in God and his Word that Christians are supposed to hold dear and close to their hearts? Could it be that we have never seen God in the flesh, thus provides us with a reason to be sloppy in our faith? This half-hearted approach is demeaning to the faith and is downright a disservice to all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Blaming God for the faults in our lives and to negotiate reasons for pardon of our sinful ways time after time is simply a display of the lack and wavering faith. At the end of the day, how much do we really trust God? How invested are we in the faith which we have acknowledged that Christ was sent down to this Earth to suffer and die, to be sacrificed for our sins and provide us with a clean slate so that we are again, connected with God and given the opportunity to possibly enter the pearly gates in Heaven when the time comes for us? We have been blessed with such precious opportunities but what we’ve been doing is simply frivolously squandering it on treacherous sin and the blame game. We ought to stop. Will we?

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LAST PAGE |

...Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not know much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse.

~ desmond tutu


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INSiGHT - October 2020