Friday, 4 May 2018

A sobering experience

It’s a sobering experience visiting the camps of Northern Uganda, writes my colleague David. Here several million South Sudanese have found refuge.  You won’t see the pot-bellied signs of starvation but sit awhile with these people and you will hear their distressing and horrendous stories. Stories of what they have seen, what they have lived through and the friends and family members they have lost through the ongoing fighting in South Sudan.

In the camps we talked with several young teenagers who have no other family and who have become head of their households.  Their experiences and the resulting trauma are destroying their lives. There is bed-wetting, uncontrollable weeping, anger and an inability to cope with the smallest of problems or to fit in at school.

The effects of trauma run deep and are hard to deal with.  It's like pouring a lot of clean water into a glass of dirty water.  It doesn't remove the dirt at the bottom of the glass.

How can the church help bring transformation in such challenging circumstances?  How does Church and Community Transformation (CCT) need to be adapted for refugee camps?  Tearfund’s partner, Pentecostal Assemblies of God, brought together a number of Christian organisations and denominations to try to find answers together.

What changes are required? Well, for a start the three year CCT process needs to speed up as the refugee community is transient.  Secondly, trauma healing and psycho-social awareness must be central to the process and to every interaction with these individuals and communities.  Thirdly peace and reconciliation is needed. It is vital to deal with the hatred and unforgiveness as Nuer and Dinka tribes continue a bitter conflict in South Sudan and bring the roots with them over the border into Uganda.

Bringing hope and joy to the refugee camps
One of the South Sudanese said, “People pray in their tribes” ie they have churches based on tribal allegiances.  Please pray instead that the walls of difference, such as Dinka and Nuer will be broken down through Christ (Ephesians 2 v14-22).  

And before we start judging these Christians in another land let's remember the way we may need to change. In my country, Britain, congregations of different colour and ethnicity often worship largely separately.  How about in your country? Is it time for us to help to break down barriers too?




You may like to read more in the book ‘What is the what?’ Dave Eggers based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese child refugee.














Thursday, 19 April 2018

When belief goes wrong

Susie writes: 
Aristote's pastor and a so-called prophetess held him and three other children over the flames of a fire. It was a ritual to exorcise them of the ‘demons of witchcraft’. The pastor took each child’s arms and the prophetess their legs, purposely turning them over the flames. Having burnt the flesh off the children’s stomachs and buttocks, the perpetrators then immersed them in a river before locking them up in a church for four months and starving them of food, all in an attempt to get the children to confess to being ‘witches’.
Aristote and his mother

Aristote is just an ordinary 9 year old boy who lives in Kinshasa in DRC.  He was freed after his mother discovered where he was being held captive and demanded his release. An impoverished woman with eight other children, she had given Aristote into the care of her sister and her husband. Aristote’s aunt and uncle accused him of being a witch when the family suffered a run of bad luck, and they took him to be ‘treated’ by the pastor and prophetess. Aristote’s rescuers found ten other children imprisoned in the church with him.

Tragically, since I heard Aristote's story ten years ago, I have come across dozens and dozens of similar cases. Multiple thousands of children in African nations and many other parts of the world suffer in similar ways, because they are perceived to be ‘child witches’.

We may not understand how anyone could accuse a child of being a ‘witch’. We may find it even harder to understand how some churches and church leaders are complicit in this abuse – all in the name of Jesus Christ. However, in many parts of the world today, worldviews and cultures exist in which misfortune is attributed to the work of ‘witches’ – children and adults who are seen as having inherent occult powers which they use in secret, often at night, to bring harm to others. Sadly, many church leaders and Christian communities blend their Christian beliefs with some of these harmful beliefs prevailing in their local cultures. This syncretism leads to distorted theology, harmful practices and a diseased Church whose leaders are capable of holding children over fires.

As Christians, we are not to be swayed by harmful philosophies but rather by Christ. Colossians 2:8-10 says: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.’ 

May we, as members of the worldwide Church, be a distinctive group of people who are no longer primarily influenced by local culture and beliefs – particularly where they bring harm and contradict God’s law of love and Christ’s example. Rather, let us reflect the character of Christ and his kingdom ways. By doing so, we will bring life, light and kingdom restoration to the societies in which we live.

Susie Howe is Director of The Bethany Children’s Trust (www.bethanychildrenstrust.org.uk) and Chair of Stop Child Witch Accusations (https://stop-cwa.org/).

Friday, 6 April 2018

If


Image result for image repentance

Do I steal cars?  You may be relieved to hear that the answer is no.  And yet I, like you, am called at times to repent on behalf of my nation.  I remember one warm evening in Kenya in April 2011 when I felt called to repent on behalf of the UK.  Tears flowed down my cheeks as I considered how far the UK has wandered from God's ways.  I was in good company for around the room people, including many Bishops, from 15 nations were similarly on their knees.

I believe God meant it when he said:
'If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land' (2 Chronicles 7v14).

Does your nation need healing?  Mine certainly does.  Shockingly 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.  The Trestle Trust provided 1.2 million emergency food supplies to people in the UK last year, of these 436,000 were to children.  Over 50% of people in the UK now say they have no faith.


Image result for image berlin wall church protest
Huge crowds attended the prayer meetings 
Does God answer such big prayers?  I've seen plenty of evidence that He does.  For example the bloodless fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 was directly attributable to years of prayers for peace and peaceful demonstrations starting from St Nicholas, one ordinary church (see BBC article).  Similar prayer movements contributed to the peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa, when most commentators expected major bloodshed.  And the results of the prayer meeting I was at in Kenya?  They continue to reverberate around the world to this day releasing hundreds of thousands of people from poverty. 

If.  If is the key word.  Will you and your church humble yourselves and pray for your nation?  The results could be awesome ...

How big are your prayers?


  Image result for General Nkunda eagle cane image
I found it hard to fully relax the first time that I traveled in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).   The streets of Bukavu were full of brightly dressed women buying and selling but every time I looked at the surrounding hills I felt unsafe.  Rebel militias could strike at any time.  One warlord in particular stood out.  General Nkunda had an eagle- topped cane and a brutal reputation.  His militia were highly effective fighters and so when he threatened to march on the capital Kinshasa and take over the government it was no idle threat.

But, in his pride, he had forgotten that 'the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to whoever he wishes' (Daniel 4v17).

And he had forgotten that our God responds to the prayers of his ordinary people.  Some of us decided it was time to pray that God would humble General Nkunda.  We chose to trust in the truth of this verse in Daniel.  So we prayed in DRC, in Tearfund's Wednesday prayer meeting and in my small village church.  It was one of the biggest scale prayers I had ever prayed and seemed almost too big to ask for.


Image result for image prison bars freeHowever God answered our big prayers.  Soon after we prayed General Nkunda's militia split in two thus halving his power.  A few weeks after that, on 22 January 2009, he was arrested in Rwanda and has been under house arrest ever since, indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Our God is much bigger that the issues we face.

So will you and I pray big?  Will we ask for major changes in our world from our God 'who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine' (Ephesians 3v20)?  It's not the size of our faith that matters but the size of our God in whom we have faith.
   

Friday, 15 December 2017

It's not an inspiring photo.  Partly it's the set-up.  Mary* and her family are standing stiffly facing the camera, not the most creative of poses.  On a deeper level there's a sadness in Mary's eyes.  She's been struggling to provide enough for her 2 children to eat so she's at a feeding centre in this village in Burundi.

Here she'll learn how to make nutritious porridge and will be given some flour supplies to last her family for a while.  But how can Mary and her family's lives be transformed long term?  And what hope is there for other families in this poor country where 65% of children under 5 are malnourished?  One key answer is to mobilise the church, through church and community transformation, to empower people to make the most of the resources they do have.

How do I fit into this story?  The new Country Representative for Burundi, a wise
and gentle man, has asked me to help him spread church and community transformation across the country.  I could just provide advice, based on my experience.  However I think the best thing I can do is to build on his understanding and wisdom through coaching him.  Coaching, like church and community transformation, releases people's potential to solve problems for themselves.  Through this small input I hope we can help put some hope into Mary's eyes.


*Name changed for privacy.

Monday, 22 May 2017

'Say one thing at a time.

I know, you might not get the microphone back for a while.

And I know, you want to make sure everyone understands precisely what went into your thinking.  Not to mention your desire that everyone who hears you hears something they'd like to hear.

But if you try to say three things, we will hear nothing.  Because most of the time we are hardly listening.

Ads, instructions, industrial design - they all work better when they try to say one thing at a time.'     Seth Godin, business guru.

What's the one thing you need to say today?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

‘Christians are a disease’.  It is hard to believe that this small group of believers in Nepal had such a bad reputation.  Pastor Kancha Bahadur* and his wife Batuli have just welcomed us into their home and served us a generous lunch of goat curry, water chestnut and rice.  I guess the wider community didn’t yet know them.

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When, two years ago, a major earthquake struck, the church responded by providing 50 people with the church as a place to sleep, blankets for warmth and sheeting to start rebuilding their homes. The wider community saw that these Christians cared about them and so relationships started to improve.

Nowadays the church is a channel of all sorts of blessing.  Inspired and trained through church and community transformation, the church has worked with the community to start goat rearing, beekeeping and vegetable growing as ways to improve their lives.  Shyam demonstrates making bricks using hand-worked machines for sale at 60 rupees (45p) per brick.  The church has also worked to repair and upgrade the local road so that the vehicle that collects milk can access the area even in the monsoon.  When asked what keeps him persevering Pastor Kancha Bahadur says ‘I want to be like Jesus, caring for the poor and being part of their struggles’.

With local elections looming the community have strongly encouraged Pastor Kancha Bahadur to stand for election as Ward Chairperson.  He’s come some way from being seen as ‘a disease’! Praise God.

*Names changed to protect privacy.