'Untitled' by Nani Gopal Halder Contributed by Church of Bangladesh (COB) at CWM South Asia Region General Assembly 2020 This painting highlights the problems of the world. It speaks of the torture of the Rohingyas, depicted by a father killed and his two children angry, worried and helpless. The mistreatment of women is depicted by the bleeding woman who does not have a voice. Forests, which are the lungs of the world, are seen burning. This represents environmental degradation due to human causes. The masked woman stands for the fear and uncertainty of the current coronavirus situation. Underlying all these issues is the damaged clock, a symbol of the current sad age of damage and destruction. Despite the hopelessness, from South Asia there rises a dove that brings peace and healing to the world.
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CONTENTS DEVOTIONAL 02
VIEWPOINTS TAKE A LOOK 10
Principles for Flourishing Communities: Stability and Harmony
Reimagining Pastoral Care: Death, Dying and Grief in the Age of COVID-19
Caribbean Voices on Rising to Life with Jesus
Life-Flourishing Societies: On Political Oppression in the Changing Context of South Asia Region
Creating Life-Flourishing Communities in Wales
TAKE A LOOK
AT A GLANCE 04
Member Church News
SEEN & HEARD
Seeing & Hearing Nauru
Amongst an Exiled People: A Solidarity Visit to the Rohingya People
YOUR SAY 50
Coronavirus and Comedy
Young People Waking Up in Britain
Scripture Isaiah 58:1-12 As we move into the season of Lent it is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how our worship of God and life of discipleship fit together. Whilst our reading from Isaiah focuses on the act of fasting the sentiments shared here can be applied to all of Christian living. We join together across the world in a variety of congregations to worship God, sharing and learning from his Word and the teachings and example of Jesus to then return to our daily lives to live our faith out with the help of the Holy Spirit. However, the challenge of being church is to enable disciples of Christ to be made and deeper disciples of Christ to emerge. The acid test of this is not when we are gathered in community on a Sunday or involved in church activities but how our discipleship is lived out hour by hour seven days a week. If we want to make disciples who then move into ever deeper relationship with God our churches need to be places where the imperfect are always welcome, that cultivate an atmosphere that encourages a desire to learn more and are culturally appropriate and about ALL of life which will then allow us as communities and individuals try to accomplish the mission set before us. Through a closer relationship with God, and living out the teachings and example of Jesus life we can make a difference in the world and times that we live in. Never has the need of God’s love, grace, forgiveness and hope been needed more. As we travel through Lent may we seek to remind ourselves to live ever closer in harmony with our God and play our part in, as Isaiah puts it “being a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes”. -Peter Ball, United Reformed Church (URC)
Prayer With sorrow we remember how we fail you, our neighbours and creation. And we seek your forgiveness and renewal.
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Rise Intently Sault Here comes the lyrics of the song: We ain't playing no more Can't take my money no more Made my brother choke This here ain't no joke Can't look me in my eyes They ain't saving lives Black woman, black woman angry Black man, black man angry Black woman, black woman angry Black man, black man angry Hope this pain don't change me In your eyes you hate me Use your laws to break me Black don't crack, you crazy We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently We will rise intently
AT A GLANCE | MEMBER CHURCH NEWS AFRICA United Church of Zambia (UCZ) Synod Bishop calls for non-violence before General Elections His Grace Bishop Sydney Sichilima has urged political leaders to dissuade their cadres from violent campaigns before the upcoming General Elections. During elections in recent years, politicians have mobilised their followers along tribal and regional lines, leading to ethnic-based voting and identity-based violence.
Police officers (right) try to control suspected riot. Photo by Lusaka Times
“Engaging in violence is retrogressive to the peacefulness of this country. Zambia is a Christian nation and this should reflect in the way we conduct our politics. We should not reach an extent of killing each other for the sake of money because peace is more important,” said Bishop Sichilima, who was speaking during the farewell service for Deaconess Chileshe Kafwimbi. Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) Moderator encourages COVID-19 vaccinations The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) Moderator has advocated for COVID-19 vaccines to congregations in a letter on 15 February, where he addressed concerns about its safety and side effects. With people in townships and rural 04
areas, the poor and unemployed likely to receive the vaccine last, Rt Rev Dr Peter Langerman appealed to congregations to offer their buildings to health departments as vaccination centres.
Image by Siphiwe Sibeko. Reuters
On an individual level, he asserted that getting vaccinated is “their moral responsibility for the common good, and that protecting the health of the community takes precedence over individual ideologies”. Thus, ministers and elders should lead by example by volunteering to be vaccinated and encourage people to agree to do so. UPCSA Moderator calls for day of fasting and prayer following spike in COVID-19 cases
At the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, South Africa, a volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine last June. Photo by AFP
The Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa (UPCSA) Moderator Rt Rev Dr Peter Langerman called for a day of fasting and prayer on 11 January after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases in the countries that UPCSA is active in. This second wave of INSiGHT | February 2021
COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations, and deaths had claimed the lives of some UPCSA ministers and afflicted many families. The churches were asked to pray and fast for the healing of those infected, and for a speedy rollout of the vaccine in these countries. South Africa’s Health Minister had earlier announced that 1.5 million doses of the vaccine would arrive for health workers this month, even as a new coronavirus variant began to spread in South Africa. EAST ASIA Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT)’s Christmas evangelism efforts downtown
With the pandemic under control in Taiwan last Christmas, Lu-Chou Presbyterian Church held an evangelical walk downtown where they delivered 1,000 packages of Christmas presents including New Testament Bible, evangelical leaflets, Christmas cakes and candies. Over 70 congregation members of all ages were invited to perform for the Christmas evangelism event. With COVID-19 cases escalating in London, the traditional Christmas thanksgiving service was hosted online for Taiwanese missionaries from
U.K, U.S, Canada, Finland, Germany and Taiwan. Organised by Taiwanese Language School in London, Taiwan Church Press and Taiwanese Fellowship in London(TFiL), the evangelists and missionaries gathered to worship, read Scripture and share their stories and visions for 2021. Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) provide flood relief for churches in Cambodia The Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS) has raised over $17,000 among its member churches to support Cambodian churches struggling with floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds contributed were deployed for various development initiatives, and to purchase and distribute necessities for churches of the Synod Presbyterian Churches Cambodia (SPCC). At least 363 families in the Cambodian community have received sustenance, and vulnerable groups in the population have been helped.
Peninsula, a book that traces 70 years of unresolved conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Personal stories, interviews, and spiritual reflections from clergy, lay people, veterans and scholars give an inkling of the pain and suffering from the War, as well as its background. This resource offers constructive visions and ways for Korean churches and ecumenical partners to come alongside in prayer, work and witness for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
better delivery, OT, and critical care facilities to improve doctors’ services and make clinical care more professional. The overarching aim is to enhance CMH’s ability to continue providing compassionate care for all, and develop capacity in youths to become trained and compassionate nurses. Upon completion, it is expected to make the hospital more self-sustaining. Church of Bangladesh (COB)’s work in isolated Netrokona district
Work in Netrokon district NCCK resource. Image by WCC
Download at: https://bit.ly/3qOEGPd SOUTH ASIA Church of Bangladesh (COB) renovates Christian Mission Hospital, Rajshahi
In the foothills of Garo Hills in Durgapur Upazila of Netrokona district, Bangladesh lies isolated villages without safe drinking water and a modern agricultural, sewage and communications system. Unemployment, child marriage, and trafficking are also rampant.
Work in Netrokon district Christian Mission Hospital, Rajshahi PCS Cambodia relief
NCCK publishes Korean translation of a resource on 70 years of conflict in Korean Peninsula The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has published a Korean translation of The Light of Peace: Churches in Solidarity with the Korean
The Christian Mission Hospital, Rajshahi (CMH) operated under the health programme of the Church of Bangladesh (COB) has undergone major renovation for the first time since its inception in 1926. Besides giving the hospital a newer look and modernising patient facilities, the extensive renovation work includes www.cwmission.org
Shalom, a development organisation of Church of Bangladesh (COB) is trying to tackle three major issues: food security and nutrition; climate change; and local advocacy and rights. Since December 2019, activities such as vocational training and support have been organised for the ethnic Garo, Hajong, and Bengali poor to help them earn a livelihood. 05
Church of South India (CSI) General Secretary encourages churches to face the year with hope and courage
Sunrise in Kerala
Church of South India (CSI) General Secretary C. Fernandas Rathina Raja has exhorted church members to anchor their hope on God and face this year with courage. In the January issue of CSI Life, he wrote about being hopeful through faith strengthened by prayer, bible-reading and speaking to someone who overcame a similar experience. He also reminded them that God can turn a hopeless situation around, like what Abraham in the Bible faced, and looking for the positives in difficult experiences can offer closure and to move on in life. CARIBBEAN
under-served communities, the Jamaican government had called for civil society to contribute towards education. Through the CWM COVID-19 Mission Initiative Fund, the UCJCI reached out to the community by donating over 155 tablets to pre-primary and primary school children - an age group that received fewer of the tablets distributed by the Jamaican government. Thanks to UCJCI’s bilateral partnerships, the UCJCI Children’s Homes was also a beneficiary.
Image by UCJCI
UCJCI’s Women Fellowship Week During the UCJCI’s Women’s Fellowship Week in late January, outreach, mentoring and supporting church members continued to be the Fellowship’s focus areas.
schools to provide online devotions, and children without internet access at home can do so in church under their supervision. Tablets have been donated to children for their education, and fundraisers are being planned to assist in preparing and distributing care packages to reach out to those in need. UCJCI Moderator encourages churches to face the new year with resilience The UCJCI Moderator Rt Rev Gordon Cowans has urged the churches to heed the call to justice, mercy and humility (Micah 6:8). In his New Year Message, the UCJCI Moderator wrote about creating a new normal where our neighbours’ welfare is equally important as our own. This could take the form of increased safety for children, as well as enhancing food security by planting food in their churches’ yards. Also, choosing community and national leadership based on their commitment to righteousness and justice.
The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) donates tablets for primary school children The women of UCJCI
Image by UCJCI
UCJCI care packages
An estimated 30,000 students in Jamaica are unreached by online learning during the pandemic. As education represents the way out of the poverty cycle for those in
Virtual parenting talk shows will be held and young ladies mentored and nurtured in the faith as part of supporting families in church. Where possible, they will partner INSiGHT | February 2021
Rt Rev Cowans also encouraged churches to face 2021 with resilience, knowing that the pandemic experience can be turned for good (Romans 8:28). “Even in these unprecedented tribulations, the great God we serve is aiding us to find purpose in the pain, purpose that will lead His people to even deeper commitment to follow His will,” he said.
PACIFIC Dedication service for new church funded by Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ)
regional NGOs, more than 4 million children in the Pacific have experienced domestic violence, and this new programme is aimed at making churches in the Pacific region safe for children and young people.
and serving their communities. Examples of possible applications include securing and promoting ministry in areas with very few ministers, securing a specialist carer or nurse service for Dementia Coffee Morning, and for media training to help churches go digital. Visit https://bit.ly/2NOy6tp for details.
Image by PCANZ
A dedication service for a church in Augcheng, a remote town in the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM)'s Victoria Synod was recently held, where the community turned up to celebrate the dedication and restate their trust in God. Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) had helped to fund the construction of this new church in the Chin State over the past few years.
Image by Plan International
Funded by UNICEF, this project will include a wide-ranging syllabus for church workers to implement throughout the year, having undergone research in Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands. The rollout is pending endorsement by leaders, and more details will be released later. EUROPE Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) funding opportunity for churches to innovate
Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) stands up for refugee children Kerk in Actie (Church in Action) the diaconal organisation of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) organised a collection campaign last December in support of vulnerable refugee children in Greece. The Netherlands-wide, door-to-door collection raised more than a half million euros. United Reformed Church (URC) connects with faith leaders in pilot interfaith programme
A new digital scanner for the church's Agape Hospital in Tahan also arrived, boosting the hospital’s ability to treat patients from Tahan, Kalaymyo and beyond. Making churches safe for children in the Pacific The Pacific Safe Church initiative is in the pipeline for the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) this year. According to a report by
Photo by interfaithweek.org
Logo for funding opportunity
After a lengthy process of reorganising some of the Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) funds for contemporary use, churches which meet membership criteria can now tap on a funding opportunity to invest in their future. Sums of up to £50,000 are offered to help the churches venture into innovative ways of evangelism www.cwmission.org
A pilot programme to foster deeper inter-faith understanding and cooperation was organised for 20 mosques and churches including the United Reformed Church (URC) last November. This pilot builds upon an existing programme developed by the Christian-Muslim Forum, with online exhibitions, conferences, and panel discussions on topics such as climate change and 07
dementia. Held during National Interfaith Week in UK, event participants could even observe live-streamed religious services and meditation.
disadvantaged farmers and workers with consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and empower farmers and workers with more autonomy over their lives.
They also reminded churches to continue to care for their community and support the vulnerable safely, and that they can access daily devotions at https://devotions.urc.org.uk/ or sign up at http://bit.ly/3bkff1h to receive them via email. Welsh churches encouraged to commit to climate action
Central to several discussions were local faith community responses to COVID-19. Clergy, Imams, lay leaders and volunteers shared lessons learnt from the first national COVID-19 lockdown, and about recent attacks targeting religious worshippers in France. URC curates Fairtrade Fortnight service URC curated the ecumenical service of worship for Fairtrade Fortnight (22 February to 7 March), in collaboration with other Christian organisations this year. This is part of a series of digital events for Fairtrade Foundation’s “Choose the World You Want” festival, which focuses on how the climate crisis is affecting the future of food and its producers.
Claudio Morales Machado picking a coffee plant in San Miguel del Faique, Peru. (Photo by Eduardo Martino)
The festival was organised online for the first time this year, featuring panel discussions, performances and workshops involving farmers in the developing world. Download the service at: https://bit.ly/3pJVvJY URC Synod Moderators advises closing church buildings for public worship Following the rapid spread of a new strain of COVID-19, the United Reformed Church (URC) issued updated advice to its churches to cease in-person worship and shift to digital worship, sermons and Bible studies in early January. However, this recommendation permits a few people to meet in a COVID-secure building to record or broadcast church services by Internet or telephone. In addition, weddings and funerals can be conducted in line with legislative restrictions.
Janice Kangai plucking tea leaves
Farmers bear the brunt of the climate emergency despite contributing the least to it, and the rate of climate change is outpacing their ability to mitigate its effects. Fairtrade’s mission is to connect 08
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As the Welsh government was keen to incorporate faith perspectives for Wales Climate Week last November, Cytun (English Churches together in Wales) Policy Officer Gethin Rhys were among those who participated in a panel discussion on behalf of Climate Sunday.
During the session, he shared about the three-pronged commitment that Climate Sunday was encouraging Welsh churches to make: hold a climate-themed Sunday service; commit to long-term action to reduce the church’s carbon footprint through an existing programme (such as Eco-Church); and to sign The Climate Coalition’s ‘The Time Is Now’ declaration directed at world leaders. He also announced that the Climate Sunday website had been re-launched in a bilingual format.
Resource on nurturing social cohesion for churches “Nurturing Social Cohesion” is a practical resource borne of a major research project conducted on how churches contribute to social cohesion of communities across England. In this study commissioned by the Free Churches Group, UK’s leading faith and society think tank Theos had conducted over 360 interviews with people across local authorities and observed local cohesion initiatives in several areas.
The result is a detailed report and a pamphlet with 10 principles to help churches engage more deeply with their communities and nurture positive relationships with secular partners. For practical suggestions, download this pamphlet at: https://bit.ly/3aHB6AK
Since then, Christian organisations, individuals, and churches have produced “God With Us”, a worship resource on the theme of refugees and migration, for clergy, church leaders and worship leaders. This anthology of bible studies, prayers, reflections, poems, hymns, and activities for youth groups was put together ecumenically, and contains ideas for children’s talks, school assemblies or group discussion activities as well. It can be downloaded at this link: https://bit.ly/2MfCQrz
Migration and refugee-themed anthology produced in an ecumenical effort Several years ago, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) took a group of church leaders to the Eidomeni crossing in northern Greece at the border with Macedonia. They saw a human tide of asylum seekers in a journey which many would suffer at the hands of border guards or human traffickers.
Principles for Flourishing Communities:
Stability and Harmony
by Rev Samuel John Shekhar, Chaplain in St. Stephen’s College, Delhi
4. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8. Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. 10. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. - Jeremiah 29:4-11
he above text is from a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jews in Babylonia who were taken as exiles by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah had seen several governments which rose and fell. The reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE), the reign of Jehoahaz (609 BCE), Jehoakim (609-598 BCE), Jehoiachin (598-597 BCE) and Zedekiah (597-586 BCE). It is obvious that he had ministered more than 40 years from 627 BCE until 586 BCE when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and people went into exile in Babylonia (2Kings 25:21; 2 Chronicles 36:20). It must be noted that Jeremiah escaped being exiled but he went away to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:7&8) with the remnant of Judah. In above description it is clear that the Israelites were in a fragile condition. Politically they were a defeated State, culturally they were made inferior to the Persians, as far as their religion was concerned, they had nothing left except the ruins of their temple in Jerusalem. In this conflict the hand of Nebuchadnezzar was hard on them. Their elites were taken captive to Nineveh and the poor were left behind to till the ground. In this fragile condition Jeremiah brings the message of hope. The people of Israel in spite of their fragile state must learn to flourish. With this in view Jeremiah wrote a letter in a typical prophetic genre i.e. in dual authorship style. On the one hand the letter is written by Jeremiah and at the same time it is also God’s words. God spoke through his prophet without dictating his message. However, the message is clear that despite their fragile condition Israelites must learn to flourish. How do we flourish? What is human flourishing and what is our contribution in it? 10
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It is a life which is both well and is lived well in right relationship with God, with environment, with neighbours. Ellen Charry’s in her book God and the Art of Happiness aims to trace the history of the loss of the idea of happiness and flourishing in the Church’s practice and doctrine. In light of the great interest in human flourishing and community flourishing it is important to develop healthy ideas which affects the ideology, philosophy, economics, health care and other fields. Like Jeremiah in his letter in this portion of scripture, read to pursue the experience of human flourishing and well-being because this is natural and as God has ordered. From Fragile into Flourishing “Flourishing” is an important aspect of development in an overall sense. The Bible not only provides the set of values or vision for biblical flourishing but it helps and enables us to pursue and experience flourishing. It is very important that a community must have specific goals and clarity on as to ‘why’ they are living together. God’s people like every community have a charter, which clearly defines as to why its members are living together, all be it the reason for their existence is uniquely distinct. Theologian Jonathan Pennington argues that, “Human flourishing is in fact a key biblical theme woven through the whole canon, one which, when recognised, explains and enhances some foundational aspects of the Bible’s testimony, including the very nature and goal of God’s redemption for us in Christ, who, after all, promises us eternal and abundant life. That is, the Bible, across its whole Christian canon of both Old and New Testament, is providing its own God-of-Israel-revealed-in-Jesus-Christ answer to the foundational human question of how to flourish and thrive.”
“It is clear...that God wants us to flourish...His people in exile were to settle down and to start thinking how they can make their life to flourish in the land of exile.”
An example of Biblical text on flourishing is Psalms 1:2-3. Concerning those who meditate on God’s law it is said, But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.
It is clear from the above text that God wants us to flourish. This was precisely what God spoke to people through his prophet Jeremiah. His people in exile were to settle down and to start thinking how they can make their life to flourish in the land of exile. Flourishing should be a continuous process in line with time. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of United States, articulated the three basic human needs: to live, to be free and to pursue happiness. Flourishing, therefore, is outwardly focused and is aimed to bring happiness and blessings to all. In the text of Jeremiah above we should not expect to see a formula for prosperity; rather we can deduce some basic principles to make communities flourish. We can deduce at least five basic principles from the text of Jeremiah. These are stable economy for self-reliance, stable family for social security, real local involvement for social harmony, collective resilience and the power of hope. Let us discuss each of these below.
Stable economy for self-reliance Economic capacity is important for people to flourish. This capacity is dependent on two things - firstly, on the capability of production, and secondly, capability of providing services. It is for this reason the Jeremiah advises the people in exile “to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 29:5). We should interpret the phrase “build houses” in a wider sense which should include developing infrastructures. Such facilities are important for the operation of common programmes of a community which could be social, cultural, political or economic. As far as economic activity is concerned trading is its most important aspect. Therefore, the phrase “plant gardens and eat what they produce” should also be interpreted to include both production and trade. Quality in production and freedom in trade ensures a good turnover of economy which is fundamental for self-reliance of a community. Granted that a community which is dependent on others cannot flourish, the Israelites in exile could at least become economically sufficient if not politically independent. In the given limitations of their situation this was the best they could do to flourish. A fundamental element in trading is trust. But it is difficult to trust strangers. The exiles needed to win the trust of Babylonians but also increase their population to become viable in producing goods for trading. With a viable population and production, the exiles could create trade networks both in their host-country as well as with their home-country. A way to earn the trust of Babylonians was to be subservient and not rebellious. Similarly, to earn trust of the Israelites back home was to be loyal to Yahweh, the deity who was God of all the Israelites both in Babylon and Judah. Having gained trust, the exiles could receive cooperation for gaining trading partners from a large geographical area. Herein lies the economic principle of flourishing. Stable economy for self-reliance not only ensures that the needs of all the members of the community are met with the exchange of currency, but also that a community is capable to provide services and goods to meet the needs of other people whether far or near, friends or foes, neighbours or strangers. For this “trust”, not only in the shared myths and history but also in the value of currency and standard of measurements is an absolute requisite to flourish despite fragile condition. Stable family for social security The primary net for social security for human beings is their family. Jeremiah understood this social fact very well. He was anxious for the survival of the Israelites in exile. If they lost enthusiasm to live it could lead to annihilation of the whole people. Jeremiah’s anxiety was not unfounded. For example, the exiled community were capable of composing Psalm 137 which says By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept When we remembered Zion. There on the poplars We hung our harps, For there our captors asked us for songs, Our tormentors demanded songs of joy; They said, “sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the song of the Lord while in a foreign land? There might have many such songs, however, people could not be surrendered to mental depression. 12
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A tragic historical example is of the native Tasmanians who had survived for 10,000 years in splendid isolation. But within one hundred years they were completely wiped out to the last man, woman and child with Captain James Cook’s arrival on the island. European settlers first drove them out of the fertile parts of the island then in greed of the remaining wilderness they hunted them down and killed them systematically. A few survivors were helped by some missionaries, who were well meaning but not open minded. They tried to modernise these native people of Tasmania in their mission camps. They instructed them in reading and writing, sewing clothes and farming. But the people refused to learn. They became ever more melancholic, stopped having children, lost all interest in living, and finally chose the only escape route from the modern world of science and progress - it was death. Alas, they were pursued even after death. Their dead bodies were seized by scientists and anthropologists. They were dissected, weighed and measured, and analysed in learned articles. Their skulls and skeletons were displayed in museums. Only in 1976 did the Tasmanian Museum gave up for burial the skeletons of Truganini the last Tasmanian, who had died a hundred year earlier. The English Royal College of Surgeons held on to the samples of skin and hair till 2002. (excerpts taken from Yuvan Noah Harari. “Sapiens” 2014 Vintage London p.310). This is the story of Truganini who died in depression deprived of family. This tragedy should never befall any people. One good thing was that exiles were not slaves in Babylon. This was like a silver lining on a dark cloud. Therefore, Jeremiah advised the exiles to marry and to have children so that God’s people would increase in number (Jeremiah 29:6). Note the emphasis in the verse “do not decrease”. This phrase should be viewed in two ways: one, to increase in numbers in exile; and two, to sustain enthusiasm in life. Thus, it is important that human beings should live in families and communities which can provide them companionship and social security in times of difficulties, disease and calamities.
Real local involvement for social harmony Local involvement in a real sense means to become organic. This denotes laying down roots in culture and society. In other words, getting interlocked with people and environment. Such organic union fosters security, social connection, emotional well-being, personal relationship, opportunities and access to resources. Jeremiah was aware that the exiles in Babylonia were not going to return in the near future. Therefore, they were not to be given false hopes of return which could lead to conflict of exiles with the Babylonians. As a fragile community it was important that the exiles gained dignity and confidence for themselves and for others in the community. Accordingly, it was unwise for them to be confined in ghettos instead they needed to be involved in the local life of the wider community in Babylonia. They had to learn how to be in social harmony with the wider society and yet keep their distinct identity as Jews. Jeremiah, therefore advised them “to seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). This can only become a reality when different segments of community interact with one another in trade and governance in every local city. For this reason, the members of every community must exist for causes beyond their own social boundaries. Flourishing of a community is evident when the involvement of its members brings beneficial transformation in the wider society. Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata had once said, “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across water to create many ripples.” It is a powerful saying which embodies the action of an individual member in the community. In a flourishing community it is important to understand that the action of every individual is important for social synergy and the uniqueness of each individual is very important to make that ripple. As the African jargon “Ubuntu” means “I am because we are” expresses the essential quality of being human.
“...organic union fosters security, social connection, emotional well-being, personal relationship, opportunities and access to resources.” www.cwmission.org
In a similar way Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount taught people to transform themselves for the benefit of others. He said “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). The reason for this is the simple fact that human beings along with other living beings and environment are interconnected and interdependent. Flourishing results when harmony in all relationships are restored. Nicholas Wolterstorff says, “A flourishing life is neither merely an ‘experimentally satisfying life’ as nor is it simply a life ‘well-lived’, as a majority of ancient Western philosophers have claimed.” A healthy community is like a magnet, people are drawn to come and make their commitments there. Flourishing community should not be compared with an efficient place of work. It is the welcoming nature and openness to other communities that makes it a flourishing one. The health of community is measured by its welcome of the unexpected and simplicity of relationships among its members. Further in light of what Jeremiah writes, the importance of awareness and action should be highlighted. Awareness is enhanced by getting involved and getting connected with other the concerns of other local communities. The treasures of the kingdom—justice, peace and integrity of creation—are shared with other local communities. The implication of this is enrichment of micro-units. In other words every individual will be aware of being related to a larger sphere. He or she will be aware how a local problem is a by-product or a result of a global problem. This awareness will enable them to draw up a proper strategy to bring social transformation. In other words, a strategy for progress from particular to general and from micro-level to macro-level. This principle of local involvement to enrich people and to enable strategic action helps to forge flourishing communities. Collective Resilience Granted that Nebuchadnezzar had defeated Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Israelites but that did not mean annihilation of God’s people. Though defeated they had the capacity to recover. This is the power of collective resilience. 14
Jeremiah points out to the Israelites that their faith neither should depend on external signs like residing in the land nor should it depend on the existence of the Temple or the offering of the sacrifices. Rather the existence of God’s people depended on God’s faithfulness to them. He builds their confidence by bringing them the promise of God, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10) With this hope in a bright future they could flourish in the present times even in the land of exile. But this promise for a bright future has a wider significance. It gave the exiled community and a defeated nation a collective confidence. This was the key for Jewish resilience. Hence, the feature of collective resilience is a mark of a flourishing community. The Psalmist says in 92:12-13, The righteous will flourish, they will grow....planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green. Resilience therefore is the fruit of moral power. It encompasses all our being, community is a place for practising our ethics, which involves the practice of forgiving and doing justice which is the fruit of love. It is in such an atmosphere that confidence is built up which is the foundation for resilience. Only in a resilient community celebration, growth and liberation can happen. Every individual in a resilient community has the capability to create an atmosphere of peace and joy. Resilience of a community depends on how much its members trust each other. Trust is that quality which creates a liberal environment for individuals to flourish. In biblical flourishing there are no special group but every individual who belongs to a community that is fragile has an opportunity to develop the power of resilience. In the India scenario it would be Dalit and Adivasi and in South Asia scenario it could be religious or ethnic or gender INSiGHT | February 2021
minorities. The inspiration is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) This means that power of resilience is available to every individual and every community. The second essential quality for resilience is love which should be taken as seriously as trust. The model of love for members of the community is Jesus who on the night that he was betrayed washed the feet of his disciples. But at the same time, we also need to learn to accept our own essential nature. We find trust when we accept our human condition, with all its limitations and search for happiness and are led to follow Christ and to rise to life. It is essential to know that when a community is born it heals the pain of loneliness of individuals which they carry and wounds of seclusion is healed when each one accepts Jesus. Power of hope The power of hope is a common desire of a community which attracts its members who aim beyond their private concerns and unite to achieve the common goal. The power of hope radically reverses the thinking of the people to become selfless. In other words, its members make the transition in their attitude i.e. from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community’. It is for this reason that Jeremiah forbids people to listen to such prophets and diviners who preach ethnocentric messages. Their messages encouraged social exclusivity which could ghettoise the people. In contrast to this, God’s message to his people through Jeremiah was to seek peace and prosperity for Nineveh to which he had carried them in exile, and pray for its prosperity. “Because if it prospers, you too will prosper” said the Lord (Jeremiah 29:7b). Some of us would like to see in this a movement from the culture of death to the culture of life. This movement is made possible by the power of hope. We may also be reminded of Sermon on the Mount where Christ speaks of human flourishing of happiness in the beatitudes. Each beatitude has a promise which also is a hope, for www.cwmission.org
example in the fragile situation of conflict the peacemakers are blessed because they have a hope to be called the children of God (Matthew 5:8). For a fragile community hope is the power to generate flourishing. The prophet warns the exile about being be fooled by false hope. They were not to be deceived by false prophets or diviners who proclaimed only empty dreams of returning to the land of Judah. With the hope of a better future they are to find their WELFARE in the welfare of Babylon. Therefore, they were advised to PRAY for the WELFARE of Babylon. This is a remarkable facet of the prophet who because of his conviction was hated by his own people. Despite desiring God’s vengeance on them he tries to build up their confidence to face the political reality of prolonged time of exile. He brings them hope of eventual emancipation which still was far into the future. Even though the well-being of the exiles was bound up with the welfare of Babylon, this is in part a reaching forward to that later words of Jesus “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48). It is the power of hope which gives rise to the radical prospective of the teachings of Christ. The view point is revolutionary.
“The principles were: stable economy, stable family, local involvement, collective resilience and the power of hope. These principles were qualified by trust and love.” Concluding thoughts We have studied five principles of flourishing communities in fragile situation these were based on biblical text of Jeremiah. The principles were: stable economy, stable family, local involvement, collective resilience and the power of hope. These principles were qualified by trust and love. We saw that trust in one another was a basic ingredient for stable economy. Similarly love for one another was the basic ingredient for resilience. In fact, both the qualities of love and trust were part of ethical qualities from Christian perspective. We learned that stable economies created self-reliance among people, stable families created a network for social security, real local involvement was fundamental to forge social harmony, moral power was necessary for collective resilience and the power of hope was important for radical transformation and consolation of distressed people in fragile conditions. In all this which constitutes ingredients for flourishing community, true flourishing only comes with the prevalence of justice. The law of Moses clearly captures the heartbeat of God in the following injunction “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20) Justice in the above text must be understood in the wider sense to include gender and climate justice. Much needs to be studied on these subjects which is beyond the scope of this study. But what we have learned is this that every individual is called to prosper and to flourish by relating to other individuals and to create an environment of justice and righteousness; and that every human community needs to share its culture, resources, preferences, needs and other commonalities with others. As a Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once wrote that, “While we do good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in which charity will have become unnecessary.” 16
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Reimagining Pastoral Care
Death, Dying and Grief in the age of COVID-19 by Rev Algernon Lewis is the Chairman of the Moravian Church Eastern West Indies Province.
Presented at a webinar hosted by Caribbean North America Council for Mission (CANACOM) and Council for World Mission Caribbean (CWM)
Someone has said that a crisis does
not create trends, it accelerates trends. In other word, what this crisis is causing was already on the horizon. It is incumbent on us to discern the trends that COVID-19 is accelerating. As it relates to pastoral care and dying, death, and grief, we must look closer at what is happening. COVID-19 has sent us into a bare-essentials mode - no home visitation; no sanctuary funeral; very limited numbers at funerals; no traveling for funerals; no “good” funeral. These realities force us to reimagine what a good funeral looks like and what good pastoral care should entail. To reimagine is to reinterpret or rethink what we have been doing. Pastoral care remains the art of caring in the likeness of the Good Shepherd, Jesus the Christ. Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger wrote in her book Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Pastoral Care, that “all pastoral care depends upon prayer, leads to worship, and trusts in the promises of God” (van Deusen Hunsinger, 2015, p. 2). That is the foundation. However, unlike previous times, the unhindered access to the bereaved has been removed. Reimagining pastoral care in this time means that we must carefully discern what the new variables are and how they apply in this context. When I think about dying, death, and grief in the age of COVID-19, I think about how we journey with people during this most traumatic time of their lives. How do we journey? The Very Rev David Caron in his article Pastoral Care for Families of the Deceased During COVID-19: A Zoom Remembrance Service, quotes Pope Francis as saying, “we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side – a Church, which accompanies people on their journey.”
Pastoral care begins with the Triune God and is manifested through human agents. The pastoral care provided is dependent on the heart of the pastor and members of team for the people God have put within reach. There must be a new level of compassion. We cannot be physically present in the way we would like, but we can we socially and pastorally present. It is important for Pastoral caregivers to understand that COVID-19 protocols have been unkind to everyone and even more so to those mourning. There is rising anxiety as people live with the uncertainty of the pandemic. When that is compounded by death, there is a greater possibility for prolonged and complicated grief. Ronald W. Pies in his online article Care of the Soul in the Time of COVID-19 quotes Frank Bruni, “there is a cruel, soul-crushing paradox at work in this pandemic, … At the very moment when many of us hunger most for the reassurance of company and the solace of community, we’re hustled into isolation.” He goes on to speak of the loneliness and abandonment that some feel with the onset of the pandemic. This came home powerfully in the very early stages of the pandemic when no one knew what was happening. The first burial of a COVID-19 victim in Antigua was heartbreaking and dehumanising. The coffin was carried by a backhoe and just put in the ground without any ritual. The family watched in emotional pain and frustration from outside the cemetery. It was painful to watch even for one unconnected to the deceased. Pastoral caregivers need to ask themselves about how they would like to be treated if the deceased were their very close family member.
With that in mind, I offer these suggestions: BE FULLY AWARE OF THE PROTOCOLS. Pastoral care is being exercised under different rules. Pastoral caregivers need to reflect deeply on the official regulations so that the limits are fully known. In reflecting, also pray for wisdom that God will reveal the ways that care might be offered to the souls of the bereaved. We are God’s ambassadors. BE PREPARED TO GO BEYOND where you would normally go. This means that space needs to be created for grieving families to grieve. This means that caregivers should reach out more deliberately to respond to the emotionally chaotic time and work at bringing comfort. If the individual died at the hospital, COVID-19 patient or not, they likely died alone. Families tend to feel a measure of guilt when loved ones die alone. If it were a COVID-19 related death, the grief is compounded by stigma of the disease and the fear of the possibility that someone else in the family may have also contracted the virus. BE A NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE. Practicing mindfulness helps the bereaved to feel the care offered in the moment. Death and dying tend to expose raw emotions. The caregiver needs to use emotional intelligence to help the family navigate this difficult journey.
USE RITUAL PLANNING AS A MEANS OF CONSOLATION. The regulations were that funerals would be held only at the cemetery. Even if the time spent there is short, there must be some planning. Use the time of planning to engage in deeper conversations. As hymns and songs are chosen, time may be spent singing a verse here and there as a means of comfort. This is possible even when it is being done over the phone. USE THE TECHNOLOGY. One pastor shared an experience during the crisis dealing with a family. It was a traumatic time for this family, and they had lots of other family overseas who were even more traumatised by the fact that they could not travel for the funeral. He was in their neighbourhood and stopped by the home intending just to stay at the gate and have a brief word of encouragement. It so happened that a conversation was taking place with overseas family members at the same time. He requested to speak with the family overseas to extend comfort and word of assurance to them. He ended up praying with the family overseas to help them deal with the pain of death. That was personal; that was memorable; that was comforting. People do not forget such selfless acts. STAY CONNECTED. Some pastoral caregivers have reported that the closure of sanctuaries for worship did not necessarily reduce the amount work done. It only changed the nature of the work done. Given that there is physical distancing, there had to be a greater effort at connecting with members. COVID-19 insists that we stay close to the phone, connecting with people. This is one of the lessons the needs to be learnt from this time – stay connected with the membership. It might be a regular telephone or something more sophisticated like a video call. The important thing is to connect.
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BE CREATIVE. During COVID-19, funerals services are restricted in the number of people who can attend – usually not more than 25. There are possibilities for online wakes. This may be a structured time when specific people can offer tributes to the deceased. They may not be able to do it at the graveside but this is the next best thing. Where funerals are allowed in the sanctuary, they may be livestreamed on the various virtual platforms. This may be as simple as one person with a cellphone or a more elaborate setup. Some congregations have livestream facilities that can be made available for the funeral. Even though there is usually an operational cost involved, this should not stand in the way of helping people to grieve and mourn during this pandemic. GET SUPPORT. During the pandemic, some pastoral caregivers were very concerned about contracting the virus and did not want to venture too far from home because of pre-existing conditions. There is wisdom in this action. However, self-preservation must be balanced with the call of God to care for souls when they are most vulnerable. It is understandable if one has a pre-existing condition. All things being equal, the pastoral caregivers need to show empathy to bereaved families as they grieve. The power of team comes in here. Another clergy person may be called upon to perform the actual funeral after the other logistics have be established. CHOOSE SERMONS CAREFULLY. Pastoral caregivers who get to preach at these funerals should be discerning as they preach the word at these funerals. Preaching ought to be a conversation between the Holy Spirit, the context, and the preacher. It does not always seem that way. In this pandemic, people are dealing with so many uncertainties, they need to come away with something from the word that is encouraging even as it is challenging. This is a great time to help people make meaning of the ways of God in their story. It would also be great if mourners can come away with a sense of love of God and come to trust God in the places of uncertainty. MAKE THIS A GOOD FUNERAL. This may seem like a contradiction in terms. It is not good from the perspective of entertainment but more about overall goal. Thomas Lynch describes as good funeral as “one that gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be” (Long, 2013, p. 202). A good funeral tells something about the deceased and the value of this life. For Caribbean people, a good funeral also has some space to sing of the goodness of God and the hope that is found in Jesus. Further, simplicity with dignity and meaning should be watchwords for each pastoral caregiver. KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Pastoral caregivers are human as well and need care – selfcare. Selfcare comes in different forms. Daily times of quiet with God are non-negotiable for those who will care for the souls of the grieving. Each pastoral caregiver needs to know how to climb down from the high stress posture of journeying with people through grief. This helps them to be relaxed and refreshed for the more ministry at another time. Keep the bigger picture in mind. A funeral is not just a funeral. It is an opportunity to reach people who are not part of a community of faith. Pastoral caregivers get this opportunity to impact lives for the kingdom of God’s sake. As the sanctuaries reopen for in-person worship or continue to stream online, someone at a funeral done by this community of faith might feel drawn to this faith community. God is always up to something and pastoral caregivers must remain open for what God will do next. Most mainline denominations are experiencing declining membership. Diligent pastoral caregiving may be one way to address that decline. We have been presented with new variables for life and funerals. There is little that can be done to reverse the variables. Our responsibility is to discern how God will lead us in this wilderness. Funerals present this opportunity to journey with people in grief. Within the limitation provided, the above suggestions are made as ways of navigating these new circumstances.
June 2019 | 19 8
The Church and COVID-19 Fostering Fellowship and Radical Community by Rt Rev Joy Evelyn Abdul-Mohan, Moderator, The Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago
he theme, The Church and COVID-19: Fostering Fellowship and Radical Community is a timely one as we continue to grapple with a global pandemic and as we witness the outrage by protestors and the lived reality of systemic and inherent racism in the world. There is no doubt that we grieve with the world, appalled with horror and consternation by the injustices meted out against African Americans and persons of colour. I will attempt, briefly to define the terms in this theme as we explore it in the context of our faith as Caribbean Voices Rising to Life with Jesus in these unprecedented, changing and challenging times. Be that as it may, it is safe to say that a spiritually healthy church is one that not only learns together, but one that lives in fellowship as a radical community especially in times of crises. Therefore, the question begs itself, “How has the Church fostered fellowship as a radical community during COVID-19 and how will the church, as a radical community foster and sustain this fellowship post COVID-19?” We must establish the fact that God created human beings for relationship albeit, humans have built up barriers in their relationship and fellowship such as spiritual pride and discrimination in all forms. Thus, it becomes necessary to have a renewed understanding and a re-visioning of the meaning of Christian fellowship. Today, churches that have fellowship gatherings and retreats were unable to engage in these fellowship activities for due to COVID-19.
“...the whole community by practicing and embracing a new normal of social or physical distancing which became a complicated and consequential necessity.” The Biblical Meaning of Fellowship Nonetheless, the Christian Church has always sought to be guided by biblical principles and practices of fellowship. As we unpack this theme, I believe it will be helpful to remind ourselves that the word fellowship which comes from the Greek word Koinonia and implies ‘community’ or ‘communion’, can also be translated by the words, ‘contribution’, ‘sharing’ and ‘active participation’. A close study of the usage of this word shows that action is always included in its meaning. Fellowship, is not just being together, it is doing and acting together! In other words, Koinonia also implies the permanent inter-relation between the nature and the mission of the church. This is a point almost universally ignored by many Christians today. Thus, the importance of fellowship in the early church occurred naturally because of the establishment of the church. No one had to come to the disciples and other new believers on the day of Pentecost and say, “You need to foster fellowship.” The Holy Spirit had come upon God’s people and formed an inner unity and their natural inclination was to exercise it outwardly. Acts 2:42, 44-47 remind us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” (NRSV)
Fostering Fellowship In other words, to foster fellowship, is to work in partnership with Jesus Christ in fulfilling God’s will and mission in the world. Fellowship is not just doing anything together, but doing God’s will together. Quite obviously, fostering fellowship with others is only as good as our fellowship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, fellowship in its New Testament sense is an inner unity expressed outwardly. It is not just doing anything together but it is working together to accomplish God’s will and purpose in the world. We foster fellowship by recognising our goal and taking an active part where we can best help. We are called to bloom where planted - to be where it matters and where needed most. Fostering fellowship means to discover and recognise our spiritual gifts and natural abilities. As we work with others, our gifts will surface and we will find places we might function according to our gifts and abilities. This became evident and more visible since COVID-19 surfaced and we saw the best in most people.
the whole community by practicing and embracing a new normal of social or physical distancing which became a complicated and consequential necessity. This necessary measure felt deeply wrong because it seemed to contradict the fostering of fellowship. An article published by the Vice-President of the Princeton Theological Seminary, Professor Dr. Shane A. Berg, entitled, The Theology of Social Distancing and Love of Neighbour, makes the point that social distancing seems “Complicated, because faith communities and churches are in the business of nurturing the bonds of fellowship. Churches are to draw God’s people closer together, not push them apart.” Clearly, the church as a Radical Community had to make the hard but necessary choice to limit the participation in community interaction to protect and preserve human life by being faithful to health and safety protocols. It was an act of Christian love to participate fully in the practice of social distancing in the context of a global pandemic. Serving the common good in this way called for a level of sacrifice as an act of Christian discipleship. Professor Berg emphasizes, “While it feels counterintuitive to us, social distancing is the best way for us to respond to Christ’s call to protect the ‘least of these’ in the human family”.
The Church as a Radical Community When I think of the church as a radical community, I think of a church that aims to build community around sustainable mission practices and supports the efforts to increase awareness of the needs of God’s people beyond church walls and beyond the fellowship of the Church. This Webinar reflects how the Church as part of an ecumenical community is a radical community.
The Use of Technology
It is evident that COVID-19 altered life-styles, changed attitudes and interrupted the way we worship and live in community. Worship services were suspended; major and statutory meetings postponed; and national and international events put on hold. Thus, the measures taken to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic had psychological, social and economic implications on humanity. These actions, albeit challenging, were necessary to ‘flatten the curve’ in the struggle of containment. The Practice of Social and Physical Distancing As a Radical Community, the Church during this Global Pandemic had to take proactive preventative measures for the health and safety of not only its own members, but also
The Church as a radical community engaged in theological reflection and worship using technology and all forms of social media in responding to this ‘new normal’, but also to disseminate information and foster fellowship in a new dimension. The Church enhanced its digital outreach to congregate in virtual space bridging the gap created by self-isolation and quarantine. This birthed a new YouTube programme in the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, “Church without Walls”. The church, as a radical community of faith, discovered its ingenuity out of necessity. Nevertheless, while technology has helped the church, as a radical community to maintain connections with family, friends, and members of the church and community, it cannot replace human interaction, fellowship or communion with others. Trying to reduce the sense of isolation has been very difficult for many people because they miss that human contact with others. In fact, while chatting with a few young
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people, who would have written their final examinations and graduated from their educational institutions at various levels, they expressed with great consternation how much they miss being at school and yearn for that personal interaction with their teachers and friends. Ecumenical Partnership, Upsurge in Voluntarism and Caring for others Apart from the spiritual care of God’s people, the Church as a radical community witnessed a more genuine and much needed partnership with ecumenical friends and an upsurge in voluntarism. Through volunteers (mainly youth), social outreach committees and other stakeholders, sacrificial efforts to minister to the psychological, social, financial and physical needs of God’s people were provided beyond the walls of the church. Because of faith in a faithful God, the mission and work of the Christian community did not cease in the midst of this fearful pandemic, but the Church, as a radical community continued to make a positive impact on society. The Church as a radical community reached out to those adversely affected, excluded and discounted on the margins of society, as in the case of the migrant community. The Church continued to provide food and assistance to those who were the ‘poorest of the poor’ while taking precautions to help prevent the spread of this novel and deadly virus. With the creation of a resilience system, ecumenical friends and the State collaborated to provide income and food relief to needy citizens. There seemed to be no separation between Church and State in caring for the most vulnerable and those living on the periphery of society. The Church not only became the conscience of the State, but the moral compass by which the State and the Government demonstrated a preference for the poor and disenfranchised. Concluding Thoughts As the Church continues to foster fellowship as a radical community, the Church must make a paradigm shift that should include a revival of relationships. Pope Francis made the point recently noting, “The post-pandemic era would be marked by more solidarity, compassion and concern for others and the environment, an appreciation of the church as a community and a sharpening of people’s listening skills”. The Church as a radical community in the post-pandemic era should therefore aim to emerge as a much stronger, more self-less and compassionate people. The Church must wake up and recognise the cry of nature that, perhaps, is inviting us to change our thinking, our lifestyle and our relationship with each other and the environment in this ‘new normal and new reality’ which has now become our ‘lived reality’. In summary, to foster fellowship and radical community is a divine experience characterised by mutual interests and active participation, which inspires us to fulfil the mission of a God who sends us out into the streets of life, to be the ‘New Church’.
“Fostering fellowship means to discover and recognise our spiritual gifts and natural abilities. As we work with others, our gifts will surface and we will find places we might function according to our gifts and abilities. ”
Rev Joy holds a Licentiate in Theology from the St. Andrew's Theological College (SATC, Trinidad) ; a Masters of Arts from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Certificate of Higher Education in Law from the University of London. She is currently pursuing a Bachelors in Law. References: • An article published by the Vice-President of the Princeton Theological Seminary, Professor Dr. Shane A. Berg, ‘The Theology of Social Distancing and Love of Neighbour’. (2020) • A Faith and Order Study Document, ‘Church and World’, The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Human Community. World Council of Churches (WCC) Publications, Geneva. (1990) • A Compilation of Speeches by Pope Francis, ‘Life After the Pandemic’, By Cardinal Michael Czerny. (2020)
On Political Oppression in the changing context of South Asia Region by Dr (Mrs) Mebada Wanka Lyngdoh Nongbri, State Consultant with World Vision India
e must consider ourselves fortunate that we are living in this wonderful century. This is a century of magnificent achievements and dynamic changes. But sad to say we hear that this age is called as a futile “Angry age” because of our angry young men who finding no outlet for their ideas, ideals and energies live a drab existence. ‘Aristotle’ the Father of Virtue Ethics, said that “The highest goal of humanity is the good life or human flourishing” and to talk of the obvious here is that everyone wants happiness. Someone said “I want to live a simple life without stress or worry. I don’t need a lot of stuff. I just want to be happy”- I feel this is the voice of the 21st century when life is made up of layers of complexities. No doubt the complexities of life are the driving force that keeps us alive. Happiness is achieved when the human person achieves his/her human flourishing, described as self-determination, self-realisation, a life of virtue, the pursuit and lived experience of values, a fullness of life, also called the good life, a certain development as a person and a meaningful existence. Basic human goods and values can be achieved and cultivated only through interaction with other people, through the mutual exchange of benefits, an engagement in society. So this state of Flourishing is where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning, most of the time," living "within an optimal range of human functioning. It is a descriptor and measure of positive mental health and overall life. We can say “Flourishing is the product of the pursuit and engagement of an authentic life that brings inner joy and happiness through meeting goals, being connected with life passions, and relishing in accomplishments through the peaks and valleys of life.” The question ’Does happiness really exists?’ is often asked. Is man really content with his life? Mahatma Gandhi once quoted “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”. On 27th September 2014 the New Economics Foundation’ (NEF) produced a “A WELLBEING MANIFESTO FOR A FLOURISHING SOCIETY and one of the key aims of a democratic government is to promote the good life: a flourishing society, where citizens are happy, healthy, capable and engaged – in other words with high levels of well-being. But in prioritising economic growth at all costs, government has lost sight of this ultimate aim.
In the political realm in prioritising political aspiration at all costs, government has lost sight of this ultimate aim and this has had a negative repercussion and we see too many people are instead languishing – living unhappy, unfulfilled lives as well as lacking even in their social and community engagement. Whatever form of Government per se, the Global Risks Report 2017-2018, World Economic Forum came up with five risks that will have the biggest impact in the next ten years and that which ranks as number one is ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Frightening so to say and may I remind Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan that describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and from foreign foes that deter the pathway to a flourishing life. The horrors of little or no government to provide that function are on global display in the world’s many fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. And indeed, when the chaos of war and disorder mounts too high, citizens will choose even despotic and fanatic governments, such as the Taliban and ISIS, over the depredations of warring bands. When we look at World politics in the 21st century, we are surrounded by two concepts ‘power’ and ‘peace’ when an unprecedented accumulation of destructive power gives to the problem of peace and urgency it has never had before. Societies have a breaking point as do individuals, and there is a point beyond which human endurance does not carry human initiative in the face of such unprecedented massive devastation. Once that point is reached civilisation itself will collapse. The exact location of that point in the scale of human reactions is beyond theoretical understanding. What we are left with are hunches which may or may not be confirmed by experience. When ‘peace’ is being snatched, we see the ‘pangs’ of mankind. ‘Peace’ is a strong indicator of happiness, and ‘pangs’ of oppression. War victories are expensive. There are glories at the achievements at a marathon, a Thermopylae, a Waterloo, a Trafalgar, a Haldighat and a Plassey. These victories may enrich one country at the cost of another losing men and money, leaving behind orphans and widows in the most discontented lot. When authoritarian governments use oppression to subjugate the people, they want their citizenry to feel that "pressing down", and to live in fear that if they
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displease the authorities they will, in a metaphorical sense, be "squeezed" and "suffocated", e.g., thrown in a dank, dark, state prison or summarily executed. Such governments oppress the people using restriction, control, terror, hopelessness, and despair. The tyrant's tools of oppression include, for example, extremely harsh punishments for "unpatriotic" statements; developing a loyal, guileful secret police force; prohibiting freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press; controlling the monetary system and economy; and imprisoning or killing activists or other leaders who might pose a threat to their power. The saying “Justice delayed is justice denied” would also mean “No justice at all”! While social group is subordinated while another is privileged and this is maintained by a variety of different mechanisms including social norms, stereotypes and institutional rules to implicit biases and stereotypes. In such cases, there may be no deliberate attempt to subordinate the relevant group, but the group is nonetheless unjustly subordinated by this network of social constraints and this deters the group from achieving a flourishing life. South Asia which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan is no short of experiencing such a scenario. Here I am drawn to some of the gruesome kinds of political oppression visible in South Asia over the last decade showing eminence in some Nations that demands our attention. In a century where media have paved a platform for citizens of any nation to express their angst, opinion and frustration Amnesty International in its 2017 Annual Report mentions that civil society organisations in South Asia have been harassed and shut down, journalists have been targeted, crude colonial-era laws have been unleashed against government critics, new laws have been invoked against critics online, and brutal practices have endured in areas afflicted by conflict. Scarcely has it been more dangerous to be a blogger or a journalist in South Asia. After a gruesome 2015 in Bangladesh, where five secular bloggers were slain in separate attacks, the machete killings continued without any determined action from the government. LGBTI activists, Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims and academics became new targets. Even as the Government vowed to rid itself of the notorious Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which has seen hundreds charged and prosecuted for what they have said or written, however peacefully, the law was being used to silence critics. Well-known photographer Shahidul Alam was charged under Section 57 of the ICT Act for comments he made on Facebook and an interview he gave. After his arrest, a pall of fear descended across the country, as students and other activists were subjected to surveillance online. Gradually, the Digital Security Act was passed, expanding on the ICT Act and retaining its most draconian provisions. In 2017 Pakistan began with the suspicious disappearance of four bloggers while in 2016, according to the Pakistani Press Foundation, two journalists were killed, 16 injured and one abducted. The case of Zeenat Shahzadi, who was abducted on her way to work in August 2015, remained unsolved. Leading columnist Cyril Almeida was subject to a travel ban by the government for writing an article on tensions between the civilian government and the military. The year 2018 began with the death of one of the region’s best-known advocates for the dispossessed, Pakistani lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir. For decades, she exemplified the struggles of millions in South Asia. On the streets, she defied political repression, called for an end to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, and was beaten and arrested for protesting on behalf of women’s rights. In the courtroom, she faced threats for her work in representing people, including women seeking to escape their violent husbands, bonded labourers trying to win freedom from their oppressive ‘owners’, and religious minorities needing to find sanctuary after attacks by hard-line mobs. The passing of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act in the country has given the authorities broad and invasive powers to monitor citizens and censor online expression.
Flourishing Consists of... NO MATTER WHERE PEOPLE LIVE IN THE WORLD THEY ALL HAVE THE SAME CORE NEEDS To flourish, all people need their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs met that will help shape their identity as citizens in any given Nation HUMAN NEEDS
GROWTH Expansion & Vitality
FULFILMENT Self-Expression & Achievement
INDEPENDENCE Mastery & Self-worth
SECURITY Nurturing Environments
CONTRIBUTION Empathy & Co-operation
ENGAGEMENT Meaning Making & Flow
RELATIONSHIP Nurturing Relationships
Demonstrators hold placards with the photograph of Gauri Lankesh during a 'Not In My Name' protest in New Delhi on September 7, 2017. (AFP)
In India, the case of Gauri Lankesh, a progressive activist and editor of Kannada tabloid Gauri Lankesh Patrike, who was shot down by two assailants, part of an alleged larger conspiracy to take out anti-Hindutva voices, outside her home in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar on 5 September, 2017 took wide coverage. Other two journalists killed that year Karun Mishra who was killed by gunmen in Uttar Pradesh, apparently for reporting on illegal soil mining and Rajdeo Ranjan, a journalist with Hindustan, who had faced threats from political leaders for his writing, was shot dead in the town of Siwan. Across the border there was also a pattern of demonising and criminalising human rights defenders. Ten prominent activists, including Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen and Arun Ferreira, were arrested under draconian anti-terror legislation in Bhima Koregaon, Maharashtra State. A Dalit activist, Chandrashekar Azan “Ravan”, was held in administrative detention for ten months without charge or trial. India has also used the draconian, emergency-era Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to harass NGOs, and cancel or refuse to renew the foreign funding licenses of dozens of organisations without valid reasons. Repressive laws also continue to hinder Sri Lanka's transition out from under the shadow of the decades-long conflict there. Despite commitments to deliver on accountability for alleged crimes under international law, the authorities made frequent use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), despite the Government's 2015 pledge to repeal it. Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to be detained under the PTA, which permits extended administrative detention and piles the burden of proof onto the detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment. Though vividly known to the outside world displacement in Afghanistan still exists and the conflict has been widening. As the Taliban and other armed groups seize more territory, punctuating their advances with horrific attacks on civilians, the number of people displaced has risen to record numbers. More than 1.5 million people now languish in overcrowded camps, where they go without adequate food and water in freezing temperatures. The humanitarian catastrophe is set to worsen as the world turns its back on Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers. As per the Amnesty International Report published 10th December 2018, a hazardous situation took place when the country was underscored by deadly attacks by armed groups that claimed the lives of children, aid workers, religious minorities, journalists and many others. At least 34 people were killed in August, many of them children, when a Shi’a neighbourhood was targeted in the capital, Kabul. In April, 10 journalists were killed by a secondary device in a Shi’a neighbourhood. In September, two more were killed in similar circumstances and this has been considered the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan since the conflict there began in 2001. There is also the continuing refugee crisis in Bangladesh and the country still continues to host nearly a million Rohingya refugees, in overcrowded conditions. With the prospect of safe and dignified returns to Myanmar looking remote, international assistance is drying up and the Bangladeshi government has announced the transfer of up to 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a secluded silt island off its coast, which experts believe is vulnerable to flooding and cyclones. Despite the challenges, Bangladesh’s attitude towards refugees contrasts sharply with Europe’s callous indifference. In 2018, countries across Europe continued to forcibly return thousands of Afghan asylum-seekers even as civilian casualties remained at record levels.
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As per the Hansard archive “We know that in the past the greatest cruelties of mankind have been conducted owing to religious intolerance and political oppression.” Yes, from the above we have seen the dynamism of political oppression and to see the dynamics of religious intolerance. Let’s take a flashback at what happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday of 2019. Being one of Asia’s oldest democracies may have seemed safe after the 2015 election that signalled a new phase of liberalisation after which the country’s bloody civil war ended in 2009, but democracy’s gains were less secure than they appeared. Religious bigotry has raised its ugly head in Sri Lanka. The deadly attacks in three churches on this day highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity and this is just a reminder again when hard-line Buddhist monks incited violence against Muslims in the city of Kandy, in the island’s central hills, and in Ampara in the east. Muslim homes and businesses were set alight. The Government imposed a State of emergency, shutting down social media sites that were used as platforms to inflame the riots. Since 2017 Ampara District had experienced tensions, with Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forced conversions and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites. The Kandy violence is the first since the Black July violence which occurred in 1983 between Tamils and Sinhalese Buddhists. Similarly in India, the country’s Governing right-wing Hindu party is exploiting faith for votes, pushing an us-versus-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing they will be lynched if they walk alone, whereas in Myanmar, the country’s Buddhist generals have orchestrated a terrifying campaign
of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. It's a principle that the Pakistani authorities have abandoned in Karachi and Baluchistan, where security operations have perpetuated a range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions. And it's a principle the Indian authorities abandoned in Jammu and Kashmir last year, where authorities imposed curfews across the valley and security forces deployed excessive and unnecessary force against protestors, even blinding hundreds of young people with the use of inherently indiscriminate pellet shotguns. Faith based discrimination and preaching of hatred and intolerance in Pakistan had roots in the country’s laws, including the Constitution itself that did not envisage equal rights for all citizens. Hate speech, violence and threats of violence against members of minority communities continue to this day, with clerics speaking against the minority. When ‘Land’ has been associated with identity, many a times this has been considered as a key factor behind conflicts. The new ideology today of liberalisation as being partly responsible for land acquisition, destruction of forests and conflicts relating to resources of everyday life, water being one such resource. The poor or indigenous people who are often forced to leave behind productive farms and ancestral homes as ‘oustees’ as termed by Stephanie Joyce in her article “Is it worth a Dam”? Those that are in power seem to exhibit a callous and almost dismissive attitude towards these people whose lives stand in the brink of destruction. A number of individuals has to pay the price of “National Progress” and for instance in India millions of people who were hard hit by the construction of dams. In the case of the ‘Sardar Sarovar Dam’ where a huge percentage of ‘Adivasis’ were displaced.
Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 21, 2019. More than a hundred were killed and hundreds more hospitalised with injuries from eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday, officials said. It was the worst violence to hit the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne)
Arundhati Roy at the time of her protests against the building of the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada Valley in 1999. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer
Arundhati Roy, in her book “The Greater Common Good” a renowned Indian author (Man booker awardee) points out that the ‘Andhra Pradesh Irrigation II scheme claimed 1,50,000 displaced persons; the Gujarat Medium Irrigation II scheme displaced 1,40,000 and the Upper Krishna Irrigation Project in Karnataka claimed 2,40,000 displaced persons. The resultant consequence has given rise to the discourse on forced migration and considers these migration crises as a sort of “collateral cost that one must pay”. The marginalised groups of people have to bear the brunt and pay the price for ‘development’. Apart from displacing its own citizens, the Indian Government runs the risk of displacing even the citizens of Bangladesh with its water projects. The construction of these huge dams has damaged the local environment and the diversion of water upstream has brought ecological disaster and political tension to downstream areas. India is facing a major diplomatic backlash from the EU (European Union) Parliament on the ‘Citizen Amendment Act’ (CAA) and the clampdown on Jammu and Kashmir by scrapping Article 370 which gave the region a special status ahead of PM, Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels for the India- EU Summit in March 2020. India has been criticised for silencing opposition and Human Rights Groups. It has been accused that the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) Government is harassing and persecuting national and religious minorities. A five-page resolution against the CAA has been drafted on January 2020 and put forward by 560 of the parliament’s 751 MPs of the European Union. It warns against increasing nationalism which has resulted in the feeling of religious intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. The MPs also express worry that the NRC (National Register of Citizens)- an exercise to identify illegal immigrants marks a dangerous shift in the way Citizenship will be determined in India and may create a large-scale statelessness crisis and cause immense human suffering. The resolution also says “The Protests that broke out particularly on University Campuses in response to the adoption of the CAA were met with a brutal crackdown by security forces. It says “Indian authorities have also used internet shutdowns like in the State of Uttar Pradesh which is a violation of the fundamental right to access information. It also referred to the arrest of human rights activists like Akhil Gogoi and Sadaf Jagar. But of course, the Indian Government is defending itself saying that it is an internal affair and the Act is only to fast track citizenship for persecuted minorities.
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“Faith based discrimination and preaching of hatred and intolerance in Pakistan had roots in the country’s laws, including the Constitution itself that did not envisage equal rights for all citizens. Hate speech, violence and threats of violence against members of minority communities continue to this day, with clerics speaking against the minority.” Women human rights defenders, who face reprisals for their human rights work and are subjected to gender-based discrimination, faced a torrent of online violence and abuse in India this year. Journalist Rana Ayyub and activist Gurmehar Kaur were threatened with sexual violence for exercising their right to freedom of expression. And offline, the civic space continued to shrink as the central government used the controversial Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 as a political tool to harass organisations critical of its views and actions. Today feminist groups have explored the operation of gender hierarchy and resistance to it, the nature of changing space i.e. the space disempowered women created for themselves and the space that was denied to them to fight against patriarchy, hetero-normativity, and oppressive nation-states. As members of the civil society we are gathered here and our focal point of discussion is the role of the Church in the midst of the society’s burning caldron. How can ‘Church’ be an antidote in reducing political oppression and angst of the people that deterred their flourishing wellbeing by the State. First, we have to agree on one thing that the divine task of the ‘Church’ is the proclamation of the gospel, and the divine task of the ‘State’ is the preservation of order, justice and law. Transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel has always been a challenge and it remains so today. The proclamation of Jesus Christ, the “Good News” of salvation, love, justice
and peace, is not readily received in today's world, devastated as it is by wars, oppression, poverty and injustices. So, for this very reason the men and women of our day have greater need than ever of the Gospel: of the faith that saves, of the hope that enlightens, of the charity that loves. When we turn to the Bible, the Book of ‘Exodus’ Chapter 3:7-8, it gives us a Theological Perspective of the “Burning Bush Implication”. Here it presents God’s involvement with the people of Israel which depicts that He is a God who sees it all. There are four implications here from what God said. “I have seen” (their suffering and affliction); “I Have heard (the Israelites cry)”; “I know their sorrow”; and “I am come down to deliver”. This last statement means that Moses its time you should go to deliver the Israelites out of the oppression of the Egyptians and to take them to Canaan the land of milk and honey which we can say is a metaphor of wellbeing and a flourishing life. God used Joseph to be a channel of Blessing (Genesis 17-24), for a deeply oppressed nation to flourish during the seven years of famine. God used Joshua, a military commander to lead the people to the Promised Land, to win the oppressed and to achieve their destiny. Prophet Amos, a Champion of Justice mentions in Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” that what God wants is justice and right living rather than religious ceremonies for their own sake. www.cwmission.org
Jesus refuses the oppressive and despotic power wielded by the rulers of the Nations (Mark 10:42) and rejects their pretension in having themselves called benefactors (Luke 22:25), but he does not directly oppose the authorities of his time. Jesus as the promised Messiah, fought against and overcame the temptation of a political messianism, characterised by the subjection of the nations (Luke 4:5-8). He is the Son of Man who came “to serve, and to give his life” (Mark 10:45). As his disciples are discussing with one another who is the greatest, Jesus teaches them that they must make themselves least and the servants of all ( Mark 9:3335), showing to the sons of Zebedee, James and John, who wish to sit at His right hand, the path of the cross (Matthew 20:20-23) because God demands correct behaviour that will “silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). Freedom must not be used as a pretext for evil but to serve God (1 Peter 2:16). It concerns our free and responsible obedience to an authority that causes justice to be respected, ensuring the common good. Acts 7:49 God says “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”. Matthew 10:10 Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. Just as God expected Moses to lead his people, so does Jesus His son expect us to do something to a grieving world. Jesus’ Ministry is “Deliverance from Oppression” and as followers of Christ we are to follow this. 29
organising life in society and as a style of everyday living. Considering the human person as the foundation and purpose of the political community means in the first place working to recognise and respect human dignity through defending and promoting fundamental and inalienable human right and ‘Peace’ which is the crux of Christianity, Jesus Christ being the Prince of Peace. Before being God's gift to man and a human project in conformity with the divine plan, peace is in the first place a basic attribute of God: “the Lord is peace” (Jdg 6:24). Creation, which is a reflection of the divine glory, aspires to peace. God created all that exists, and all of creation forms a harmonious whole that is good in its every part (Gen1:4, 10, 18, 21, 25, and 31). Peace is founded on the primary relationship that exists between every human being and God himself, a relationship marked by righteousness (Gen 17:1). Following upon the voluntary act by which man altered the divine order, the world experienced the shedding of blood and division. Violence made its appearance in interpersonal relationships (Gen 4:1-16) and in social relationships (Gen 11:1-9). In biblical revelation, peace is much more than the simple absence of war; it represents the fullness of life ( Mal 2:5). Far from being the work of human hands, it is one of the greatest gifts that God offers to all men and women, and it involves obedience to the divine plan. Peace is the effect of the blessing that God bestows upon his people: “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num 6:26). This peace produces fruitfulness (Is 48:19), well-being (Is 48:18), prosperity (Is 54:13), absence of fear (Lev 26:6) and profound joy ( Pr 12:20) which are all the tenets of a flourishing and a happy life. Source: Reuters
I am convicted to say that the church should "affirm the State as God's order of preservation in this godless world. It should recognise and understand the State's creation of order … as grounded in God's desire for preservation in the midst of the world's chaotic godlessness." There are three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-à-vis the state: ‘first’ by questioning the state as to the legitimate State character of its actions, that is, making the State responsible for what it does. ‘Second’ is service to the victims of the State's actions. The Church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. "Let us work for the good of all." These are both ways in which the Church, in its freedom, conducts itself in the interest of a free state. In times when the laws are changing, the Church may under no circumstances neglect either of these duties. The ‘third’ possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the oppression but to seize the oppression itself. The Christian message should offer a universal vision of the life of men and peoples on earth that makes us realise the unity of the human family. This unity is not to be built on the force of arms, terror or abuse of power; rather, it is the result of that supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons. The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself. This image finds, and must always find anew, an ever deeper and fuller unfolding of itself in the mystery of Christ, the Perfect Image of God, the One who reveals God to man and man to himself. The Christian vision for South Asia places paramount importance on the value of community, both as a model for
We are aware that evangelisation has become difficult particularly in a country like India. But our authority to serve the Lord does not come from people or the human system or the Government, but it comes from the “I am who I am” (Yahweh). It is only when we have a clear understanding of our God-given authority that we will be able to accomplish God’s call in our life in our Church, without any fear of man-made power which has no divine approval. God’s commandment (Psalm 82:3-4) “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed, rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” gives us no excuse but as ‘Doulos of Christ’ we need to do this. There is no doubt that the Church of the Reformation is not encouraged to get involved directly in specific political actions of the State and that the Church has neither to praise nor to censure the laws of the state, but at least it should have the right concept in its involvement with specific political actions of the state. This is because the true Church of Christ lives by the gospel alone and the definition of the Church in terms of the gospel sets the guidelines for the character of the Church's resistance to political oppression. The second half of King David’s epitaph is just as crucial as the first half and he served God’s purpose in his own generation. The fact is we cannot serve God and do what He wants us to do in any other generation except our own. Ministry must always be done in the context of the current generation, culture and scenario. We need leaders in the Church who are not afraid to believe God. In the midst of hopelessness and discouraging times focus on the purpose of the Church. No matter how dry the bones may be, Prophet Ezekiel (Ez 37) proved that God can breathe new life into them. Any Church can come alive if the members allow the Spirit to infuse with a new sense of God’s purpose.
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Here are some thoughts of what the Church and Christian community can do: Partakers of the Constitution and Praying for rulers This is what the Churches under Calcutta Archdiocese did on 26th Republic Day where Arch Bishop Thomas D’Souza sent a circular to all the 65 Parishes in the City and the seven districts to read the Preamble of the Constitution. He said “I think under the present situation, understanding, upholding and being aware of the Constitution is more important than ever...” Further he said “We will pray for our country as we always do...” An inter-faith organisation has called for the formation of human chain from Golpark in the South of Kolkata to Shyambazar in the North on this day.
Advocacies The Church can enter into dialogue and collaboration with NGOs, GOs and INGOs to combat political oppression. Goa Church joins Muslims to fight anti-slaughter order. ‘Goa for beef-beef for Goa’ became a civil society collective mandate. Round table conference can give the Church a floor to raise their concern and voice.
Modules to teach Constitutional Values The office for Education and Culture under the Catholic Bishops Conference of India on June 11 just ten days after Arch Bishop in Kerela stressed on this released a 9-page module to teach the Preamble of the Indian Constitution in Church managed Schools to foster true patriotism, National Integration and love for the country. This was prepared by Father Sunny Jacob, Secretary of the Jesuit Educational Association of South Asia in 2016. This was also applicable to the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Peace builders Despite report saying as on January 29, 2020 that Christians faced 1,774 hate crimes in four years, Christians need to strive for peace. Peace and violence cannot dwell together, and where there is violence, God cannot be present (1 Chr 22:8-9). A new world of peace that embraces all of nature is the promise of the messianic age (Is 11:6-9), and the Messiah himself is called “Prince of peace” (Is 9:5). Wherever His peace reigns, wherever it is present even in part, no longer will anyone be able to make the people of God fearful (Zeph 3:13). It is then that peace will be lasting, because when the king rules according to God's justice, righteousness flourishes and peace abounds “till the moon be no more” (Ps 72:7).
Individual and humanitarian resistance to state injustice It remains for the humanitarian associations and individual Christian men who see themselves called to do so, to make the State aware of the moral aspect of the measures it takes in this regard, that is, should the occasion arise, to accuse the State of offenses against morality.
Paul’s tent making Strategy and Discipleship The Church can equip its members for campus, workplace, and neighbourhood witnessing.
Empowering the Youth and to build second line leadership in the pathway of peace and nation building under Christian belief and ethics.
The Church's diaconal service to victims of State injustice Visiting and talking to victims of Oppression is a response to their pain and anguish giving them hope. The Church's directly political word against an unjust State This we can see on the Anti- Citizen Amendment Act, the Goa Unit of the National Confederation for Human Rights and the concerned citizens for democracy collaborated with the Church Group to voice their concern with their slogan “Save Democracy-save Constitution”. Resistance through the responsible action of the individual Humanity is coming to understand ever more clearly that it is linked by one sole destiny that requires joint acceptance of responsibility, a responsibility inspired by an integral and shared humanism. It’s not wrong for the Church to resist the State if it turns against man’s well-being, only that it has to deal cautiously. 24th January 2020 witnessed hundreds of people in Margao, Goa’s commercial Capital from various religions who attended the Protest meet organised by the Church against the CAA (Citizen Amendment Act), the NRC (National Register of Citizens) and the NPR (National Population Register). We remember John Calvin who attempted to transform the society of his day. It was an endeavour to create a better world in which everyone could live with justice, righteousness and peace and in his preaching, he tried to reform Geneva from the pulpit and state policies.
Reaching the unreached; Voice for the Voiceless. Church can be an agent of change- an agent of hope- an agent of peace and an agent of a happy and flourishing society. It may just shift the paradigm that Nations instead of replicating each other's failures on human rights in a race to the bottom, they might just want to focus on who can provide a better future for their people– where each country is distinguished by the value it puts on human dignity. It is encouraging to see that near the end of the year 2018, hope for the Maldives which has been a key battleground in the rivalry between China and India brightened as the long years of repressive rule by Abdulla Yameen came to a close with his convincing defeat in the September presidential election. Earlier in the year, he had sought to consolidate his grip on power by imposing a state of emergency, arresting the Chief Justice, another judge of the Supreme Court, a former President and more than 200 protesters. Days after the election, Ahmed Mahlouf, a prisoner of conscience who faced up to 20 years behind bars on trumped-up charges, walked free. Others are expected to follow as new President Ibrahim Solih vowed to roll back his predecessor’s assault on human rights. Interestingly ‘Bhutan’ has continually been ranked as the happiest country in all of Asia, and the eighth Happiest Country in the world according to Business Week. The only country in the world that has a ‘GNH.’ You may think GNH is just another statistically based term with no real-life application, but it refers to “Gross National Happiness.” The process of measuring GNH began when Bhutan opened up to globalisation. It measures people’s quality of life, and makes sure that “material and spiritual development happen together.” We are to learn from such a Nation, and as a Christian Community perhaps it is our striving goal to replicate this across the continents. The UN General Assembly in 1986 adopted a “Declaration on the Right to development” stating that human beings are the prime subject of development and called upon member States to ensure access to the basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of resources. Swami Vivekananda of the world acclaimed ‘Rama Khrishna Mission’ was the first religious leader in India to speak for the poor and the downtrodden. He stated boldly, 'He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak and the diseased, really worships Shiva’. I would challenge us here “We who sees Christ, the one and only living God, in the oppressed amidst injustices really worship Christ”. The God of Moses is the same God for us today. He will stretch his hand to enable u to fight victorious through His marvellous deeds if only we obey His call. What would we give to the World to South Asia that the Region would be grateful to us for?” The Time to act is ‘NOW’.
Questions: What are the current political oppression across Asia that has shaken the basic principles of Christian ethics? How can the Church restore hope amidst hopelessness? What would be the value in transforming an oppressed Society of Sovereign Nations into a supranational Organisation such as a World State? Can Church be an instrument in propagating this transformation or as a change agent? What must a program for action be like that is mindful of the lessons of the past and endeavour to adapt them to the problems of the present? How would the proposals ensure the Church a safe haven for people in the future? Christianity began by preaching and practising the 'gospel of love and charity' which included almsgiving and care for widows, orphans, slaves, travellers, the sick, the imprisoned and the oppressed. Can there be a shift from church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda across Churches today?
“...Christians need to strive for peace. Peace and violence cannot dwell together, and where there is violence, God cannot be present...Wherever His peace reigns, wherever it is present even in part, no longer will anyone be able to make the people of God fearful.”
Dr (Mrs). Mebada Wanka Lyngdoh Nongbri is State Consultant with World Vision India, and she presented this paper during the CWM South Asia Region’s Pre-Assembly 2020.
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Creating Life-Flourishing Communities in Wales by Corey Hampton, Ministerial Assistant, Presbyterian Church of Wales (PCW)
Like many nations across the world, Wales has suffered
tremendously from the effects of the coronavirus. Many local churches, cultural centres, and non-essential businesses have been closed for the majority of the past year, with Wales seeing the largest increase in joblessness out of the whole of the UK. Our health boards are increasingly warning that our National Health Service could be overwhelmed by the continued spread of the virus across the country. Fear, worry, and stress are experienced by the majority the Welsh people, as our current lockdown restrictions do not allow us to see our friends and families. In this turbulent situation of fear and isolation, our shared mission of ‘confessing witness to life flourishing communities’ in Wales takes on new meaning and provides us with fresh challenge. And, indeed, it is in this context that I have conducted a series of informal interviews with individuals and churches who have been faithful in this ministry, a few of whose stories I’m privileged to share. In Christian theology, we recognise that our bodies are deeply important and understand that nourishment and nutrition are central to our flourishing as individuals and communities. Thus, in the small towns of Llandysul, in south Wales, and Caernarfon, in north Wales, ecumenical partnerships of local churches have been created to ensure that everyone in their towns and surrounding villages have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, in order to provide healthy foods for the people created in the image and likeness of God. In both towns, local volunteers prepare boxes of fresh food to last the week, which they are able to take to their neighbours in need. And, with unemployment
ever increasing, due to COVID-19, the number of those they serve is increasing weekly. In Bangor, Rhodri and Megan are key workers in their local hospital, where they both serve COVID-19 patients each day and are followers of Jesus. They told me that they’re privileged to provide hope and friendship to those who are fearful of death and, when possible, to bring healing to their bodies. They recognise that their faith in the one who ‘did not come to be served but to serve’ calls them to a vocation of humble service to the suffering and dying. They are both grateful for the support that they receive from their local church, who provides a consistent space for each of them to share their fears and uncertainties, and who are committed to praying for them regularly and encouraging them in their work. In Swansea, a local church has created an online gathering space for those whose loved ones have suffered or died from the pandemic. They seek to provide community and continued support for those who are grieving and commit themselves to praying for those who are suffering. The church also creates resources for local schools to use in their morning assemblies, which provide structure for teachers who are experiencing exhaustion and continued uncertainty. They do this work alongside providing online worship services for their local community and written materials for the elderly members who are without internet, which provides continued inspiration from Scripture and reminds them that they are members of Christ’s body together.
At a denominational level, the Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) have been involved in the CWM Legacies of Slavery project, which, during COVID-19, has centred on three Zoom sessions for its ministers and leaders. These sessions have been developed to help the UWI better understand the historic role of Wales in the transatlantic slave trade, the need for apology and reparation, as well as the ongoing and necessary ministry of fighting against racism in our churches and communities. These simple stories of faithful and humble service illustrate, I believe, the practical work necessary to create ‘life flourishing communities.’ But, of course, there is much work still to be done. There are structural problems that exist within politics and culture, which, unless addressed faithfully, will mean continued issues of poverty and injustice for the poorest and most marginalised in Wales and beyond. Yet, in this work, I’m more hopeful than ever before. The theological work of CWM to promote a vision of ‘flourishing life,’ like Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘beloved community,’ calls us onwards and upwards in the high calling that we’ve received from Christ Jesus and empowered for by the Holy Spirit. We believe that another, more beautiful, diverse, and peaceable world is possible. May we be ever faithful in the ministry of ‘witnessing to life flourishing communities’ together.
Corey Hampton is a husband (to Catrin), new father (to Peris), and an assistant minister for the Presbyterian Church of Wales (PCW). Originally from Tennessee, USA, he has lived in Wales for eight years and speaks Welsh fluently. He also holds a B.A. in biblical & theological studies and M.A. in post-modern hermeneutics.
INSiGHT | February 2021
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SEEN & HEARD |
INSiGHT | February 2021
We can't deter people fleeing for their lives. They will come. the choice we have is how well we manage their arrival, and how humanely.
~ Antonio Guterres secretary-general of the united nations
“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” ~ Terri swearingen
INSiGHT | February 2021
INSiGHT | February 2021
20 February | World Day of Social Justice
YoU MUST ACT.
IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO BE COMPASSIONATE.
– HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA
Seeing & Hearing Nauru by Collin Cowan
Cliff Bird, Mission Secretary for the Pacific region, and I recently completed a successful solidarity visit with the Nauru Congregational Church (NCC). The visit was meant to provide space for the church to share their story, and for us to clarify and reaffirm CWM’s commitment to accompany this member church in their ministry and mission. The visit began with a courtesy call on His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Nauru, the Hon. Baron Waqa. The President, who himself is a member and former General Secretary of the NCC, warmly welcomed us to the Republic of Nauru and expressed hope that this visit would serve to strengthen the ties between CWM and the NCC, noting that there have been periods of frustration experienced by NCC in its relationship with CWM.
In a rather positive and upbeat articulation, the President shared his vision for Nauru, which includes climate change mitigation, strengthening of the social infrastructure and better living conditions for the people of Nauru, inclusive of health care and education. President Baron refuted allegations that his government is intolerant, oppressive or insensitive to the needs and plight of refugees being hosted in Nauru. He added that, like elsewhere, Nauru was affected by the ‘fake news’ phenomenon that frames perspectives and taints images. Contrary to the allegations, he shared stories of how the refugees are incorporated and integrated into the life of Nauru. Our visit, which happens on the eve of the Pacific Leaders Forum, scheduled to take place in Nauru, gave us the opportunity to encourage the president to speak about the refugee situation in Nauru, given the contrary perceptions in the public square. President Baron was visibly pleased to have received this visit and was receptive of our offer to pray with him as the hour-long conversation concluded with the exchange of gifts and sentiments of good wishes.
INSiGHT | February 2021
The leadership of the NCC described our visit as timely and expressed gratitude at our taking the time to make it happen. Triggered by remarks made by Cliff that the purpose of our visit was to “come and see”, NCC’s General Secretary, Deacon Peta Gadabu, urged us to take the time to “see and hear” their stories and to walk with them as they try to make sense of their struggle and aspirations to move forward.
In addition to the business sessions, we had a great opportunity to tour the beautiful island of Nauru, to see for ourselves some of the positive developments, as well as the negative impact of mining; to appreciate afresh the wonders of creation; and to identify with the narratives of the people of the Republic of Nauru, especially the NCC. Our visit climaxed, appropriately, with a worship service, attended by the President and First Lady, Madame Louisa, where I had the privilege of preaching the sermon.
In my sermon, I encouraged the gathered community to rise above the doubt, fear and insecurities that paralyse our will and cripple our determination; and, instead, to claim the life-giving, energy-sustaining and hope-restoring gift of the risen Christ as our inspiration for faithful discipleship.
The conversation with the Council of NCC was candid, honest and thorough. They shared their challenges, articulated their struggle and invited us to walk with them. Issues of personnel and financial capacity, the absence of organisational structures and processes to support their mission engagement and a strong and vibrant youth ministry were high on their agenda. Noting that the entire church leadership was composed of non-stipendiary workers, who are mostly employees of the Government, the leaders of the Council shared how challenging it is for them to give quality time to the demands of the church. In response, we reiterated our commitment to be in solidarity with them, offered guidance and our commitment - through the regional office, to assist them in exploring ways to develop capacity, establish structures and processes and strengthen their youth ministry.
As the Nauru Airlines flight lifted off the airstrip of that beautiful spot on Earth, I reflected on how awesome an experience it was, to have been in the company of sisters and brothers of the CWM family; to receive the generosity and graciousness of their hospitality; and to connect intimately with their story of hope and aspirations for the future. As a mission organisation, CWM is strategically placed to live out its mission of mutual accompaniment, challenging, encouraging and equipping churches to share in God’s mission. I am grateful for the immense privilege, bestowed on me, to be part of this narrative and I pray that my contribution will serve to further the work that defines us and calls forth our commitment and loyalty.
This article first appeared in the December 2018 issue of INSiGHT. Read the full issue here: https://bit.ly/37NpRFf www.cwmission.org
Amongst an Exiled People: A Solidarity Visit to the Rohingya People by Rev Dr Allan Samuel Palanna
Presence and witness are powerful experiential postures in discerning the depth of pain of communities. Representatives of the member churches of South Asia Region of the Council of World Mission (CWM), were invited to Cox Bazar, Bangladesh to immerse themselves amongst the bordered lives of the Rohingya people. The objective was to witness the ongoing dehumanisation of the most vulnerable communities in the world, fleeing the devastating ethnic cleansing. After the arduous process of getting administrative approval to visit the refugee camps, the rickety jeeps traversed through the narrow lanes to the camps of refuge. What met our eyes were waves of distressed people, jostling for space to get a share of provision distributed by the UN World Food Programme. Underneath the blaze of the relentless and unforgiving mid-day sun, the never-ending serpentine queue extended through the landscape bereft of a single vegetation. Women, men and children competed with one another to gain space in the crammed bylanes of the camp. Panning from a small hillock, one could see flimsy, hastily-constructed hutments spread across the dry horizon. As the group conversed with the people, tales of torture and massacre, whispers of abuse and hunger rent the air. To be a stranger in one’s own land because of an ethnic identity is indeed incomprehensible. Those involved in the everyday concerns of human beings and nature must be doubly anxious of the adverse changes affecting the most vulnerable communities and the environment across the world. What are the intersections between religion, politics, economics and their societal implications, most pertinently on the lives of the most vulnerable people and nature? are questions that demand a credible response. We are to be aware that Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh comprises of one of the largest habitations of the Rohingya people. The expansion site had a combined population of 547,616, making it the world's largest refugee camp, even much ahead of Dadaab in Kenya.
INSiGHT | February 2021
The dehumanising vocabulary such as “human refuse” and “human waste” indicating refugees are emerging. The recycling of refugees is being talked about, reflecting a paradigm shift from the settlement model to the penalty model wherein special buffer zones and no-go wastelands are identified to dump “unwanted” human beings. Amidst the current highly-charged rhetoric of what constitutes citizenship, it is crucial to draw perspectives from the scriptures. Leviticus 25:23 offers an image of the refugee status of all people before God. Theologically, it may be construed that no one can claim authentic citizenship over against the other, since the land finally belongs to God. The ones who reside in the land do so as a blessing and a provision of God, rather than possession in the earthly sense. This conditional residence is subject to the openness to the alien, the refugee. In India, Rev. Canon Subir Biswas (1933-1977) characterised healing as social and relief intervention in the city of Kolkata as vicar at St. Paul’s Cathedral by founding the Cathedral Relief Service (CRS). His example of healing is held as a towering instance of spontaneous action overcoming institutionalism in churches. In 1971, people from Bangladesh fleeing the war of independence sought refuge in the then, Calcutta. Through the agency, an estimated 1.5 million refugee people were helped through daily distribution of food and clothing, access to health care and education. Canon Subir Biswas’ diaconal call to action in throwing open the doors of St. Paul’s Cathedral to welcome the refugees has echoed in Indian Christian memory for many decades now. He is remembered to have said, “Some people in India would be quite happy to see the church just keeping to itself, maintaining the beautiful grounds in the midst of violence and tension. Yet we ourselves who are within this feel we can’t do it. We have to expose ourselves, to put our property and our church in jeopardy. It is a way of asking repeatedly, what does the incarnation mean in our lives?” Embracing the refugee must not be a one-sided, unequal phenomenon wherein there is a giver-receiver, the benefactor-recipient dynamic that operates in relationality. The refugee not only calls us for a response, but provides the dialogical space for our own self-understanding and, perhaps, with great humility, we may encounter the incarnated Lord in the faces of the bordered people.
This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of INSiGHT. Read the full issue here: https://bit.ly/3aRJfms
Rev Dr Allan Samuel Palanna is an ordained Presbyter of the Church of South India, Karnataka Southern Diocese. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Ethics at the United Theological College, Bangalore, and received his Ph.D from the University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom.
TAKE A LOOK |
The seventh book in the "Re-imagining Church as Event: Perspectives from the Margins" series is “Church and Climate Justice” by Vinod Wesley.
Climate change is the most important threat to the future of life that the community of creation confronts today. Church and Climate Justice contests the mainstream theorisations of the climate crisis and offers alternative perspectives and insights for our understanding and engagement for the movement of life to flourish. Drawing from biblical texts, eco-theologies, climate science and grassroots social movements, the book challenges the dominant myth that reduces climate change to nature’s fury and God’s wrath. Through intersectional analysis, the book explains how economic, social and gender injustice exacerbate the vulnerability of the indigenous and subaltern communities who are forced to bear the consequences of climate change disproportionately. The book discusses in detail the why and the how of our call to transform faith communities into eco-justice communities in the context of climate injustice. The discernment that climate change is the consequence of the prevailing socio-economic and ecological relations challenges us to be in solidarity with the climate refugees and climate victims and to be informed by their knowledge, ethics, politics and spirituality. The insights, resources and visions from the subaltern communities and the grassroots social movements have the potential to inspire and equip us to engage in relevant forms of eco-justice ministries to redeem the earth and her children.
The highlight of the book is the prophetic tone and content of the book. Standing in the true prophetic tradition, the book offers both a critique of the unjust systems in our church and society, and genuine signs of hope in the form of alternative visions of church and social movements that stand and fight for justice, peace and integrity of creation. Prophetic voices are revolutionary songs and slogans. Church and Climate Justice by Vinod Wesley is certainly one such prophetic voice that we must lend our ears to. - Geevarghese Coorilos Nalunnakkal Metropolitan, Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church In South Asia, the climate crisis has created a situation which not only makes life uncomfortable and inconvenient for all but has become a survival issue of the poor and vulnerable groups and communities across the region. In such a situation. the book Church and Climate Justice provides an important resource for congregations to discern the factors responsible for the present crisis as well as to understand the interlinkages between faith and climate change. In this time of uncertainties and fears, this book ignites within us the passion for life to engage in our local communities with renewed theological and biblical understanding of our mission to nurture, protect and celebrate life. - Lalrindiki Ralte Professor, Aizwal Theological College, Aizwal, Mizoram
INSiGHT | February 2021
Ecumenical action in the face of COVID-19 Last year, a webinar on “Caribbean Voices on Rising to Life with Jesus: Meeting the Challenge of the Crisis of COVID-19” was held online, jointly organised by CANACOM and CWM Caribbean region. The event yielded invaluable resources on ecumenical and pastoral action during COVID-19 pandemic, which have been gathered in this e-publication “Let’s Act Together! Churches in the Caribbean responding to the challenges of COVID-19”. In it you’ll find perspectives on reimagining pastoral care by Rev Algernon Lewis, Chairman of the Moravian Church Eastern West Indies Province, and on worship by Rev Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, former Synod Moderator of the Guyana Council of Churches. Also featured is Rt Rev Joy Abdul-Mohan, Moderator of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT)’s presentation on fostering fellowship and radical community, and on intimate partner violence by Rev Curt Baker, a Methodist minister in the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas. Access it through this link: https://bit.ly/2OVlqS0
Our Planet The documentary created for Netflix has been lauded for breaking the mold of conventional approach of documentaries by given greater focus on the impact of humans have on the environment and how it contributes to climate change and negatively affects all living creatures on Earth. Viewers will go on a journey and catch a closer glimpse of the feature species of animals in their respective habitats.
How Coronavirus is Changing the World In late 2018, the world followed closely on the news of how a new flu-like virus caused a Chinese city, Wuhan to go into a state of emergency, shutting itself and going into lockdown at preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. Into 2019, more countries were starting to report cases of infections and some were surging out of control. Within the year, the lives that we were familiar with was gone with the past as we grapple with the new normal.
I Am Not Your Negro The documentary draws inspiration from James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House; a recollection of civil-rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. whom were his personal friends. The film aims to envision the biography that was never completed through the 30 pages left behind by the author when he passed in 1987.
Support the Girls The dramedy places the audience in a “Hooters”-like bar where working women are subjected to donning skimpy pieces of clothing and peppering up for the clientele, although the establishment very much projects itself as family oriented. However, it manages to paint a very realistic situation were women find themselves at the workplace in their daily lives, were mistreatment, misogyny and mayhem could manifest all at one time. The film celebrates the achieveable sisterhood between women from all walks of life at the workplace, and how being nice needlessly mean you can be taken for granted. https://bit.ly/3oMjYin
The True Cost In Sick Around the World, FRONTLINE teams up with veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid to find out how five other capitalist democracies -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland -deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures.
INSiGHT | February 2021
Cowspiracy The Sustainability Secret Sustainability for the human species is an incredibly important topic today. Here, in the film, we look at Animal Agriculture and, in its history, based on our unhealthy consumption rate, or lack of it in the forms of wastages by the tons, widens the lens on the destructive damage we have caused to our environments and planet. Huge corporations that have grown wildly affluent and powerful through age old practices are adamant in the pursuit and resistant to change for the better. Cowspiracy aims to bring the truth out to the viewers in hopes for a world community wide change. https://bit.ly/3nKhmzP
The Social Dilemma In this docudrama, it looks into how detrimental social media has been for society through exploitation, manipulation, intrusiveness, falsehoods and nurturing addiction all contributing to a host of mental health issues on our young today. We get to hear directly from the horse’s mouths as employees, past and present, discuss about the pros and cons of social media and how best to navigate it in our lives for better and not worst.
Living Without Water For those of us who grew up in developed countries, it is hard to understand or live in the shoes of those who have no easy access to potable water. As we take for granted, each time with the turn of the tap, assured that crystal clear drinking water would flow seamlessly from the nozzle, have we thought about those who lived their live without such basic amenity? Millions of Peruvian children and adults alike are paying exorbitantly, amounting to a week’s pay for just a day of water supply. https://bit.ly/3oVtBLv Women’s Rights in AfricaA Story About Friendship and Empowerment Finnish Riitta and Ugandan Catherine have something in common; work, a shared home and a sense of humor. Riitta has been working in Uganda for more than 25 years, and soon it is time for her to retire and to return to Finland. Before that, Riitta and Catherine will invite religious leaders to a course in which they challenge the priests and the imams to a straightforward, taboo breaking discussion on women’s right to their bodies and lives. https://bit.ly/3qhJXy7
Will Robots Steal Our Jobs? The Future of Work We are well into the 4th Industrial Revolution and people are worried, worried about how technology and automation would render millions obsolete while machines, take over our jobs as they are cheaper to employ and could perform like clockwork, impeccably and almost without fault. How are the human species going to deal with such an impact that appears imminent to take place in the very near future? https://bit.ly/39zmL7A
YOUR SAY |
AND COMEDY By Siân Roberts
Siân Roberts is a member of Maesyneuadd Union of Welsh Independents (UWI) church in Trefor on the Llŷn Peninsula, north Wales. She is a freelance translator.
Only when I laugh ... We all know there’s a deadly virus sweeping through our world causing endless suffering. The second wave of COVID-19 has struck with dire consequences for physical and mental health, economies, governments, and for the very fabric of society. And how might we respond? We might very well laugh! No, really. Humour may seem an unexpected response to such a critical situation but, since mid-March 2020, an endless stream of jokes, cartoons and humorous video clips associated with the pandemic has appeared, mostly on social media. Some people may feel uncomfortable laughing when so many are sick or dying or facing great hardship but it is well-known that humour can release tension in difficult times and be used as a coping mechanism. People working in dangerous and serious conditions are known for their dark humour. In his Welsh-language autobiography, Dan Loriau Maelor (Under Maelor’s Floors) former MP Tom Ellis mentions Llay Main colliery in the Wrexham area which had a particularly poor safety record. According to Tom Ellis, there was a saying in the area, which went: ‘Join the navy to see the world; join Llay Main to see the next world.’ And while laughing in such a grim situation may seem offensive, we may be surprised to learn that a documentary film entitled The Last Laugh was released in 2017 looking at humour and the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective. It is described as ‘A celebration of Jewish humour as a survival mechanism.’ Naomi Bagdonas, co-author of the book Humour, Seriously was quoted in The Guardian (‘You’ve got to laugh: why a sense of humour helps in dark times’, 11.10.20) saying, ‘Some people believe this is too serious a time to laugh … but this is when we need humour more than ever. With this global pandemic, the shift to remote working, loneliness and depression rising precipitously, many of us have never felt so disconnected. When we laugh with someone – whether through a screen or 2m apart – we get this cocktail of hormones that strengthens our emotional bonds in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Studies show it makes us more resilient, creative and resourceful.’ Laughter is also known to boost immunity, acting as a natural painkiller and muscle-relaxant and can help prevent heart disease. It’s important that people can laugh with each other, at each other and at themselves. That’s the role of the coronavirus comedy – helping us cope in difficult times by bringing us together to laugh, giving us a sense of mutual understanding, of community, even though we are apart.
INSiGHT | February 2021
There are common genres in the mainstream coronavirus humour, satire being the most obvious, aimed primarily at politicians and the establishment, portraying them as reckless, clueless or selfish. In the US and the UK, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have been obvious targets. Otherwise, the humour is generally related to the changes in our lifestyle with themes such as: • Bulk-buying: I wonder whether some of you are feeling a bit silly by now as you open the spare room door to face mountains of pasta and toilet paper? • Hand washing / wearing masks: even the statue of former Prime Minister David Lloyd George on Castle Square in Caernarfon has been wearing a mask! • The opportunity / compulsion to spend time with family during lockdown. • Home-working and home-schooling / the pressure to do ‘interesting things’ with the children: I hear the book 101 ideas for creative play with mud is flying off the shelves! • Cooking / eating. • Novel hair styles/colours due to salon closures: Husband: They’ve just announced a second lockdown. Wife: I’ll just go and pack my suitcase. Husband: Where are you going? Wife: I’m moving in with Linda, the hairdresser. I’m not risking another lockdown hair disaster! • Social distancing • Zoom meetings: ‘You’re on mute!’ • Song parodies. • Imagining what life will be like when this is all over. Church and chapel websites have joined in the fun too: Mother during lockdown: We had the baby baptised last week. Friend: How did you do that? Mother: The minister came up to the garden wall and we gave him a hose-pipe. and Husband: Was it nice to go back to chapel this morning, dear? Wife: Well, it was good to see everyone but I missed being able to put the minister on Pause or Fast Forward. If you’re like me, your emotions are extremely close to the surface these days – laughing almost too easily because the situation is so bizarre but being moved to tears by poetry, music or just by a kind word. The good news is that all these reactions are completely normal and valid. Keep smiling!
YOUNG PEOPLE WAKING
UP IN BRITAIN By Victoria Turner, United Reformed Church
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the United Kingdom hard. We have been in lockdown again since Christmas, and it looks like it will stay this way for at least another month. It dawned on me, or more, hit me like a tonne of bricks, in a recent meeting with the World Communion of Reformed Churches, that the actions of the UK government do not only effect those within the UK. I was surrounded (virtually- this was on Zoom) by Christians from South America, Palestine, India, and South Africa who do not yet have access to the vaccine that the UK has in abundance. I realised that our inaction, our non-response to this pandemic, has not only harmed those within our country but has put others in a more dangerous condition. The World Health Organisation has called for there to be equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, for the UK to give up some of its excess when we have vaccinated our most vulnerable to help the world rid itself of this virus. Considering the UK government’s recent track record of ignoring its own struggling population, the likelihood of this is extremely low. As schools are shut, children are no longer receiving free school mealssomething created so that the poorest children in our country at least have one proper meal a day. It was decided a replacement for this service should be created. The Conservative government decided that poor people could not be trusted with money so gave them vouchers. An allowance of £30 per two weeks, per child was given in voucher form. Unproved rumours then circulated that these vouchers were being traded for drugs, so they gave them food. But what transpired was not £30 worth of food. The Conservative government employed an external catering company that feeds the country’s private schools, to enact this task. It is estimated that the company spent £5 of the £30 on food per child. Families were given half a can of tuna packaged ironically in a plastic money bag. Half a pepper. The charity Unicef, for the first time in 70 years has had to step in to feed British children. We see our government and our media criminalising our poor to detract from the criminalisation of Capitalism. The logic is that it is the poor’s own fault that they are poor. Opening my Twitter today, my first three tweets showed a huge queue for a food bank in Glasgow- in the snow, two surgeons being interviewed on the BBC where only one, the male one, was called ‘Professor’, and a fashion shoot for a top designer, set in a council estate. This is the face of one of the world’s richest countries: austerity, sexism and overt corruption. This is Empire, White Nationalism, and Imperialism at its best. The British flags came out at the beginning of the pandemic in the daily government briefings and they have only got bigger. When a new strain of the virus was announced in the UK, the media largely ignored this reality and focused on closing borders to stop ‘foreigners’ coming in. A 100-year war veteran has been immortalised in journalism for raising money for the National Health Service by walking laps of his garden. The government and media, on his death, tried to organise a national wide clap for this man (clapping was also prominent at the beginning of the pandemic as a patriotic ritual for the Heath Service). Our publicly owned health service that has been victim of decades of cuts from the government, relying on charity is apparently something to celebrate. Alongside many other white people, a black, queer, young (and generally wonderful but I’m biased) Church of England chaplain spoke out against this ‘cult of white British nationalism’ on Twitter, at the same time offering prayers for the person of Sir Tom. He received hate not only from white people on Twitter, who called him racist, but also from the news and from his own Diocese who made him remove his Tweet, sign a digital charter- publicly share that he had done so, and now he is subject to an investigation. So not only is this white nationalism popular in public opinion, this propaganda is uncritically promoted by the media, and legitimised by the established church. What hit me in that meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, was that this could have been avoided. The UK is an Island. Like New Zealand we could have isolated ourselves to keep everyone (us and others) safe. But our economy was more important. We could have created a working track and trace system, like South Korea, but our government paying ridiculous amounts of money to their unqualified friends seemed like a better idea. Instead of calmly dealing with COVID-19, and listening to scientists, the government tried to overlook and hide the problem as much as possible.
INSiGHT | February 2021
Their Populism was evident in the run up to Christmas. Public opinion was more important than safety and the result was that the death rate soared so quickly Christmas had to be cancelled five days before the celebrations. British people have been brainwashed to think that this is inevitable and normal, and their government is working for their best interests. Wealth is increasing in the pockets of the few and being taken away from the victims in front of our eyes here- and it is celebrated. How do we eliminate the fallacy that the wealthy becoming wealthier helps the country as a whole? The only viable solution in light of all this chaos for British people seems to be the vaccines. In a state of panic people need a solution to cling onto. It does not matter that this solution is a selfish one- the powerful need to be saved to save the powerless right? Life in abundance needs to be overly abundant for those who already have abundance to allow any extra abundance to trickle down to the abundant-less. My country is in a state of absolute hopelessness and the only way to reinforce British superiority is to be the best at vaccinating. The powerful in my society are tunnel visioned, on a war to get this vaccine out to be able to return to normal life as soon as possible- and to reinforce British superiority by doing it first. Our BAME populations however, who have been hardest hit by this pandemic, are the most nervous about getting the vaccine. I could not understand this until I had a conversation with my friend from Nigeria who explained how testing often does not include a representative sample of minority bodies and how minorities often struggle to receive effective healthcare in the UK. I also have a friend who is currently in Canada who explained their government’s plan to buy excess vaccines to then give away to the Majority World who cannot afford them. I do not understand how the whole idea of capitalising on medical supplies is so normal. Additionally, nor how the white saviour complex is so imbedded and unquestioned. Other countries do not need the West’s help. The West has been the worst at reacting to this pandemic so why would they be the ones with the solutions? The issue is, as Allan Boesak has recently articulated so well, the global apartheid, maintained and controlled by money. The problem is not that the Global South does not have the money to pay for the vaccine. The problem is that the vaccine is being bought and sold. Going somewhere else after my PhD is sounding more attractive by the day. However, young people in the UK, and young people in the church, are giving me hope. Our journalism and media may be appealing to masses and supporting the government, but social media is not. It seems to me that journalism has lost any capacity to find faults with the government itself. It instead jumps on complaints that prove to be popular on social media. Jarel Robinson-Brown, the Anglican priest who tweeted against this unquestioned white nationalism, only had 5,000 followers on Twitter when his Tweet went viral from racist complaints. 5,000 followers, in Twitter terms, is not a huge network. It’s nowhere near big enough to attract the attention of the largest media outlets for sure. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has 158,000 followers, and he is largely ignored by the secular media. Rev Robinson-Brown was jumped upon because his speaking-truth-to-power offended the majority who are complicit in this violence. He received no counter to the general disapproval of his words in popular media. In contrast, the free school meals controversy (the £5 vs £30 meal ordeal) found a balance in journalism. It was argued that what was provided was enough food to feed a child for 14 days, and therefore the profiting was acceptable. It was undoubtedly obvious that the food provided was not sufficient, and that the produce dehumanised the recipients. Why did the Church of England chaplain not receive a balanced response? Because he was also dehumanised by the masses. Jarel is black. And apparently, black people cannot criticise white people. White people call that racism. But it was not called racism when other white people were saying similar things. Even the Opposition in government (the Labour government- which is becoming less Socialist by the day) has quietened, declaring that the government needs to work together to protect the majority. This majority is comprised of middle to upper class white people. These are the people who are allowed to lightly criticise the government because they still believe in the saviour of the economy and the inherent capabilities of rich white people. I here need to hold my hands and declare that I am only able to have this viewpoint (myself being a white person) because I was educated and inspired this summer by other young people. Using CWM language, before Black Lives Matter I was not a racist- now I am anti-racist. I could not see structural racism, police brutality, or the silencing of black voices or bodies. I was happy believing that token black people were enough. Reni Eddo-Lodge, (more) Anthony Reddie, Bernardine Evaristo, Akala, Ben Lindsay, A. D. A. France-Williams, Ijeoma Oluo, and Chidera Eggerue destroyed my comfort. I delved into these authors because I was inspired and challenged by other young people who curated and pointed me towards these resources. Actually, I happily posted about a popular feminist book by Florence Given called ‘Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’ on Instagram and was educated by my wonderful black friend that this white author stole Chidera Eggerue’s book.
I thought her accreditation to black women in the back of her book was fishy- but how did she get away with stealing a whole concept written by a black person? How is white privilege so horribly obvious? When the media was criticising the protests of Black Lives Matter for not conforming to COVID-19 standards, just one month before it promoted ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ where British people were encouraged to sit in restaurants, young people shut down Instagram with the protest of a black square. Young people, and the Student Christian Movement, swiftly rose to support Jarel, the Church of England Chaplain against the racist abuse directed at him. Young people in my denomination, the United Reformed Church, wrote a statement supporting Black Lives Matter before the general URC. Recently, a young black man was killed when in police custody overnight. Mohamud Hassan was arrested at his house for ‘breaching the peace.’ Investigations only were carried out because a grassroots movement, created by young people in Cardiff #Justice4Mohamud in connection with #BLM_cardiff tirelessly fought for justice and attention. They exposed the fact that Muhamud came into contact with 52 officers during his one night stay, that the original coroners report was forged and that no independent investigation was carried out. Their question ‘how can the oppressors create justice from their injustice’ sharply speaks to power. Black Lives Matter, for me, was like the first sip of coffee in the morning- it alerted me. But young people have been waking up for a while. The 2019 General Election, again, saw young people flock to social media to encourage each other to vote. I spent two hours with a friend convincing one of our school friends that he did know enough about politics to go and vote- that not voting is not okay. I heard Jeremy Corbyn (an actual Socialist) speak to crowds of predominantly young people in Bristol and felt the energy of change and hope. An energy I can honestly only compare to Christian worship- really good worship that hits you in the heart, connects you and fills you will love. We cried tears of pain when Boris Johnson won. All of us cried. Posting our tears on social media was not for attention. It was desperation. How, when we all tried so hard, when we were so inspired, could our older generations let us down like this? How were we so invisible? How did our complaints of the way our media was treating our hero ignored? After finally feeling represented in politics we once again became voiceless. The pandemic has also vilified young people. The Health Secretary, in September, warned that the ‘UK could see a second spike in COVID-19 cases if young people don’t follow social distancing rules.’ Of course, it is easier to see when young people gather in a field than when middle age people gather in their living rooms. Could you imagine being a teenager and going months with not seeing your friends? Perhaps the problem was that ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ ended on the 31st of August. Or that the government fined people for not going to work. Or maybe that Wales only made masks mandatory in shops in September. Young people were forced to go to campus to start University. They were encouraged to move into University halls and live with up to 10 strangers in a flat. Once there, of course, COVID-19 cases rose. The University accommodations locked down whole buildings- Manchester even erected fences around student accommodation. Students were treated like criminals; they could not leave. In an unknown, hostile environment, living with strangers, starting a new course, they were locked in. There were numerous cases of the catering services delivering less than edible food- food that some students were allergic to for instance. But they were in a new city, who could they call? The government needed a scapegoat and young people fitted it nicely. Now that all universities have moved to online teaching the problem is foreigners again- especially the detention centres where asylum seekers have no rights. When vilified by ‘official’ media, young people are using social media to hold the government and its structures to account. We see protests by young climate activists to stop the UK opening the first coal mine for thirty years. They’re fighting for the rights of refugees. Questioning the existence of billionaires and boycotting Amazon. Young people are standing against the anti-trans rhetoric. My generation have no option but to be deeply politically aware when their voices are so easily dismissed as utopianly ‘woke.’ This pandemic has clearly exposed the multiplicity of layers of injustice in our society. It has also forced us to think and live in new ways. Politics, having such a close impact on everyone has suddenly made the language more accessible.
INSiGHT | February 2021
It was not accessible before because it was orchestrated that way. We are seeing through the rhetoric of how the economy is too complex for us to understand. The rising cases of food banks are proving that the current welfare system simply does not work- despite the horrible programmes on daytime TV that try and expose ‘frauds’ of the system. The incompetency of Westminster is being wonderfully trolled by the Scottish National Party, and Welsh Independence is growing in popularity after the individual nations of the UK felt forced to act in opposition to London. Politicians receiving pay rises and breaking the rules became a lot more serious when our Prime Minister at the beginning of the Pandemic simply told us to ‘expect sacrifices.’ In general, young people have a distrust of and dislike of structures. These examples have only heightened that. I sometimes see God’s mission through the church. Churches Together in England recently did a campaign photographing elderly ministers from different denominations and ethnicities taking the vaccine. Minsters are working tirelessly to keep their communities connected through Zooms, calls, and gifts. Churches are key hubs for food donations. Some denominations are seriously introspecting and asking hard questions about race and sexuality. Ultimately however, the church is not speaking bravely and prophetically against the selfishness of our society. Maybe this is partly because the white church is rapidly declining in the UK, and there’s a need for self-preservation. I also look at the UK church scene and think that it is the most divided it has ever been. Whilst the churches were debating about whether they needed to stay open or not the Sikh community went to the roads to feed blocked off lorry drivers stranded by Brexit. Jesus did not just feed the poor- he questioned the structures that made him poor. We need a church from the peripheries, not one that bows to populism and corruption. I’m not saying that all young people fit in my perfect vision for liberation. But I am sensing an energy for dramatic change. Perhaps hopelessness with the government will bring a larger change. What is more than evident is that this change needs to transcend our own society. The movement of Black Lives Matter has forced young white people to introspect, to understand our own privilege, and to act beyond ourselves. The UK will not be giving up any vaccines soon, and our churches are not yet ready to encourage us to share. But hopefully this unsettled, uncomfortable atmosphere continues so change can come.
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