Why Pray?

This past week a friend said, ‘Why bother?’ when encouraged to pray for our country’s leadership, asking the often unspoken and unanswered question – “Will it really make a difference?”. I found myself saying, “If God says ‘pray without ceasing’ it must be for a reason.” But I understood his doubt. There are many things I have prayed for and about that have not been answered in the way or time frame I wanted them to be. But his comment also got me thinking about how many things I have seen change through prayer, and deep gratitude followed.

“Nothing of kingdom value happens outside of prayer,” says Greg Boyd, author of God at War and other excellent books, in a call to remind his Church to pray. God takes prayer seriously! And it is clear that it is part of our mandate on earth; playing our role in seeing God’s kingdom come on earth. Boyd goes on to say that ‘things hang in the balance on whether or not God’s people pray.’ God has told us we are His partner – the Bride of Christ – and that He shapes the world through prayer.

There are so many good motivations to pray, but here are just five to think about today:

1. Prayer helps us turn towards God: Often our posture changes when we turn to prayer, and moves us to face towards God and not try to figure it out on our own. When we find our heart breaking, or we are angry at injustice, or disappointed, or in crisis, prayer makes a statement about posture and turning our faces towards our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God.

2. Jesus Prayed: And he also encouraged us to pray. Our ultimate role model, Jesus said, when you pray, say, “Our Father in heaven … ” … and we know the rest of this prayer. It covers so much about how to pray. (Matthew 6:9-13) We also see Jesus pouring out his heart to God, his Father, when in pain and suffering the night before his death.

3. Prayer strengthens our relationship: God designed us for relationship with him, and prayer strengthens that relationship. Jesuit author, Richard Leonard, says, “Prayer is making space for God to love us, for us to hear that and then, through the community of faith, to have the courage to return the compliment. It changes lives.”

4. Prayer helps us imagine: Praying creatively and with imagination of what the world could look like, can be an inspiration to keep being involved in and committed to the hard work of transforming mission. It broadens our perspective and helps us dream and act towards ‘his kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.’

5. Prayer is Biblical: Prayer and speaking with God is a significant part of both the Old and New Testament. Nehemiah shows us how the people of God pray, as an example in the Old Testament, and Acts 4 is a great example in the New Testament. There are countless examples througout scripture of people communing with God in different ways.

With this, and more, in our hearts and minds to motivate us, let us pray …

If you would like to sign up for the monthly Prayer Focus please email prayer@micahglobal.org

Linda Martindale

 

Mind the Language Policies

Reflections on the Youth Day protest of 1976 and South Africa’s present language issues in Education.

On the 16th of June 1976, thousands of young people took to the streets to protest in Johannesburg, South Africa. They were ambushed. Several of them were killed. While there is no accurate figure of just how many young people were killed on the day, the estimates range from 170 to over 500 youths. Their protest, the Soweto Uprising, has been immortalised by being granted an annual public holiday in South Africa, and each year our social media profiles are filled with retweets and shares of the ‘iconic’ Hector Pietersen photograph. Oddly enough, many South Africans have very little idea what exactly Youth Day is about, or what so many young people were protesting in ‘76.

Of course, these were not just youth on a mission to ‘paint the town red’, they were protesting a language policy which would see Afrikaans adopted as a compulsory language in township schools. Additionally, they were protesting government’s attempt to prohibit the use of local languages in township schools. The majority of Black students were faced with having to adopt the language of their oppressors and they chose to act against it. The irony I wish to highlight is that, despite the deaths of those youths we mourn as a nation and despite the recognition offered on youth day, the language problem ,together with language ideologies and policies which privilege some and disadvantage others, still persists, even in 2017.

We live in a country where Black learners face the brunt of school disciplinary procedures for talking in their home-language in classes, because educators and fellow learners who do not understand the tongue are “suspicious”. In a country where a learner who sings in their mother-tongue is called into the headmaster’s office because fellow classmates feel the singing sounds “political”. This not only shames the Black child but also recasts the Black student as someone to be feared or of whom to be suspicious.

Many schools still suffer from hysteresis and the inability to change to the new context as schools begin to diversify in demographics. The changing student body is occurring mainly in former Whites-only public schools and private schools as those families with money increasingly attempt to get their children into better-resourced schools. However, it is also occurring in the Coloured townships where schools have become commuter schools and there is now an intersection of Black isiXhosa learners and English/Afrikaans speaking Coloured learners for example. Yet these experiences are only the surface-level, day-to-day interactions, that point to deeper systemic issues concerning language and education in South Africa.

Our present education policy is of such a nature that the bulk of school-going learners are taught in the home-language from Grade R-3, receiving only minimal instruction in English during the same period. Following this, in Grade 4, they are expected to switch to schooling in English/Afrikaans. For many of the learners, English/Afrikaans may even represent a third language. The policy is essentially creating an environment where learners are expected to be taught in a  foreign language. I doubt many English or Afrikaans speaking South Africans would be comfortable with having their own children switch to receiving an education in isiXhosa from Grade 4. It is not only disadvantageous to several students but it is bizarre to think that we can draw comparisons in terms of academic performance as many of the benchmark tests attempt to do, while we hold to a language policy like the one we have now.

Alexander (2013) suggested that “for reasons connected with the colonial history of southern Africa, the language of power in post-apartheid South Africa is undoubtedly English” and “Afrikaans continues to play an ancillary role in the processes of economic production in the formal sector of the economy, even though there are determined attempts to reduce its significance in this domain…”

In a similar vein McKinney & Guzula (2016) have argued written that: “the continuing denigration of African languages and exclusive valuing of English is evidence of apartheid’s long shadow. It also points to the internalisation of colonial racism and the continuing power of whiteness.”  This ongoing legacy of colonialism and Apartheid is of such a nature that the minority still benefits at the cost of the majority. English and Afrikaans students, are the only students who are able to be taught in their home language from Grade R, all the way through their tertiary studies.

According to Census 2011 data, English is only the fourth most spoken language in South Africa (9,6%), Afrikaans ranks third (13,5%), with isiXhosa second (16%) and isiZulu first (22,5%). Considering the language distribution reflected in the Census 2011 data and the reality that we still have a higher education institution that uses Afrikaans as a language of instruction, as opposed to isiXhosa or isiZulu, should cause us to stop and think about how much has changed and how much has in fact remained the same since 1976.

As we reflect back on our past this Youth Day and the fight for justice, we should recognise the power of language in society. Language may be used as a weapon for cultural injustice, as it has been used in the colonial project; but it could also be used as a tool to bridge social divides. Instead of continuing to promote monoglossic ‘language silos’ (McKinney, 2016), perhaps we should seek to encourage trans-languaging and multi-literacy practices. Instead of remaining silent about the inequalities in academic attainment generated by the present language policies in basic education, perhaps we should use Youth Day as an opportunity to raise our voices against linguistic injustices that trouble our youth here in South Africa, and see this as a justice issue globally as it relates to children and their education, and future.

Ashley Visagie, is the co-founder at Bottomup, a nonprofit organisation offering education enrichment in under-resourced schools in Cape Town, South Africa.

Read more of his articles here.

References

Alexander, N. (2013). Thoughts on the New South Africa. Auckland Park: Jacana Media

McKinney, C. (2016). Language and Power in Post-Colonial Schooling: Ideologies in Practice.New York: Routledge.

McKinney, C. and Guzula, X. (2017). How schools use language as a way to exclude children. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/how-schools-use-language-as-a-way-to-exclude-children-64900 [Accessed 12 June 2017].

Statistics South Africa. 2012. Census 2011: Statistical release [Online]. Available at: http://www.statssa.gov.za/census/census_2011/census_products/Census_2011_Census_in_brief.pdf [Accessed 12 June 2017)

Children, Church and the Law

A guide to the government’s laws for Christian Organisations and the Church

“In the work I did running an orphan-care programme through churches, I would hear church leaders saying things like, “The law does not apply to us” or “We are above the law” – and at first I thought it was arrogance, but soon I realised it was actually ignorance. Leaders did not know how key the country’s law was to their working with children.” So says Erica Greathead, author of Children, Church and the Law, a book published last year in South Africa, to help those working with children, churches in particular, know the law of the land as it relates to children.

“It sounds obvious,” says Erica, “But the country’s law is the very most basic of standards, it is like the foundation on which you can build, but if you don’t know the law and what it means, you cannot make sure you are working up to that very base-line standard.”

This is why Erica tackled this mammoth, and tedious, task. “I knew there was a gap and that it needed to be filled, and it seemed God was leading me to do this. I kept saying, “God, why me? I don’t know anything about the law!” I felt God encourage me that I would meet the experts I needed to along the way, and that is what happened. I realised later that this was exactly why I was the right person for the job – in order for the law to be made understandable by the average person involved in Children’s work, it needed to be communicated in a way that someone like me would understand it.

South African law was re-written after democracy and this meant an entire new Children’s Act, which in some ways made it easier, says Erica, because it all changed at once. There were many versions written by various institutions to help people understand it and implement well, but nothing for the Church as it related to specific issues that emerge in ministry to children. Erica lead a project called Care for Kids, under an NGO in Cape Town that serves the church in its response to poverty, injustice and division, and in her work discovered that many church leaders had no idea that the law had even changed.

In partnership with another local Christian network, Erica began the research that would result in a book that will help churches comply with the law and in so doing, protect children in more educated ways.

What would you say to a team, organisation or church wanting to undertake this for their country? Erica has ten basic tips:

  1. Don’t attempt this without a committed prayer team who will support you throughout the project. Whenever work towards improved protection of children takes place, there is enormous spiritual attack, so it is vital you have prayer warriors who will pray.
  2. Get input and advice from the poor, economically vulnerable communities before you hear from affluent groups, because they know what is really going on and what really needs to be put in place, as opposed to the affluence groups who think they know but are often out of touch.
  3. Using question and answer style makes it easier for people to use and easier to write it up, and makes it easier to reference and find information that is relevant to a specific issue. Having an index is important.
  4. Having a team was key to the success of the project – from a communications person who helped frame the chapters and content, to a project manager who made sure it moved along well, to a person who worked with children daily in a church context, who helped with examples.
  5.  Develop a diverse reference group who will work through the chapters with you a number of times, checking for relevance, what to include, good examples and contextual issues.
  6.  Don’t be afraid to take a stand on something that the broader church may disagree with, but is contextually crucial. For example, some parts of the South African church are fighting for the right to corporal punishment (mainly affluence churches), whilst the reality is that the context of South Africa with high child abuse rates, and often from discipline gone wrong, it is key that the Church support this law, instead of fight it.
  7.  Use information from credible and authentic research organisations, such as universities etc. as that gives your project credibility that it will not have if you use unknown sources.
  8. Find a lawyer or lawyers who will read the book chapter by chapter, ensuring that the simplification of the law does not mean its inaccuracy. Some lawyers will use their pro-bono hours for this kind of work. Don’t be afraid to ask and trust God for provision of the right people at the right time.
  9. Know what international agreements your country has signed with global entities, such as the United Nations Rights of the Child, for example.
  10.  Realise this is a long, slow process that will not happen overnight but the sooner you start, the better. Listening, contextualising and learning to communicate it well, takes lots of time – four years in this case – but the end product is so good for children, and helps those working with children, do so better.

“If the church wants to be seen as a light in the area of child protection, and not as an organisation who protects child abusers, for example, we need to be more intentional about abiding with the law, and knowing it well is the first step in doing that,” says Erica. “We have to be a light and voice in the area of Child Protection, and having a clear explanation of the law as it relates to children, is very helpful in that endeavour and vision.”

If you would like to purchase a copy of Children, Church and the law, please email publications@warehouse.org.za

By Linda Martindale, Micah Global

Love our Enemies

At the very heart of the Gospel, the Mission of God and the Vision of the Kingdom is Peace – Shalom.

We are called to follow the Prince of Peace and to be peacemakers (Mt 5:9). We are told to love our enemies and pray for them (Mt 5:44). The teaching of peace permeates every part of the New Testament and Jesus demonstrates this clearly in his unconditional love leading to his ultimate sacrifice.

When Jesus was confronted by Pilate and asked if he was a King he affirmed it but clarified the distinctive response to his Kingdom in John 18:36 – if his Kingdom was like a kingdom of the world then his people would be fighting to free him. (One of his followers did try that by cutting off the ear of a soldier on Jesus’ arrest – but Jesus immediately stopped this and healed the ear – explicitly telling Peter to put his sword away). No, Jesus’ Kingdom is different – it is not like that of this world – it is a Kingdom of peace and reconciliation, of healing and restoration.

It is a ‘pagan’ assumption that the only way to win is through conquering your enemies. It is an ignorant and foolish response that simply escalates violence, with revenge upon revenge. This approach was “Christianised’ by Constantine in the 4th Century when he invited believers to share power and conquer the world in Jesus’ name. This is the exact opposite of what the Gospel is really about and you only have to follow Jesus’ life to see that clearly. Victory will never be won through conquering, through violence. It will only be won by loving our enemies, serving and blessing others – even to the point of sacrifice – for this is exactly what Jesus did and we are called to follow him.

Colossians 1:19 – God is reconciling all to himself in Jesus.

Why does the world not see this truth? The mind can never see what the heart is unwilling to obey. In fact, when our hearts rebel and disobey, our minds become clouded and we see only what we want to see, that which feeds pride, envy and selfishness.

When any nation feels under threat it seeks to unite by identifying a common enemy, a common threat – and calls everyone together to face this threat. The comradery in a military unit is strengthened by a unifying call to stand against an identified enemy. When this kind of unity is associated with patriotism and fanned into flame with fear, the possibility of peace decreases. Into this context Jesus calls us to love and not hate, to bless and not curse, to serve and seek nothing in return, to sacrifice and to not respond in violence.

As we remember the ultimate love and sacrifice that Jesus did for us all this Easter, may we earnestly give our lives over to seeking shalom, to being shalom bringers to our world.

For us to be peacemakers and reconcilers we first need to be at peace with God. We can never lead people to peace if we ourselves are not there.

Our Prayer:

Lord, search our hearts and minds, and show us each as individuals and as churches anything that is blocking us from being in the centre of your peace and presence.

Lord, as we seek to be reconcilers, help us to forgive unconditionally and seek forgiveness from one another so that we may be one.

Holy Spirit, we stand together and pray for those who use power to hurt, destroy and kill, we pray for those who exploit, abuse and steal, and we cry out for those who selfishly hold onto resources when others are in need – hear our prayer. Reveal you love through us to one another – your amazing, liberating, healing, life-giving love.

Come and heal Lord Jesus.

By Sheryl Haw

Language that divides and conquers

‘Competition between languages’ is currently being demonstrated in Cameroon. Unusually, tensions between languages have here hit world-news-status. The reason – two giants are in competition. French and English are both European languages with global aspirations. When they clash, sparks can fly.

‘Competition between languages’ tends to be invisible. It tends to be invisible in Africa, because languages in competition with European languages are much weaker. They are simply forced to give way. Nevertheless, language battles can bring disenfranchisement.

Being played out in Cameroon is a struggle between Francophone and Anglophone. It is the ancient struggle across the English channel that continues to be played out, rather unfairly one thinks, on other people’s turf. As recently was Syria seen as between Russia and the West, now Cameroon has become a proxy battlefield.

Lessons to be learned – when African countries are made dependent on languages that are not theirs, they become trapped in and easily engulfed in battles that are not theirs. The current situation in Cameroon is just an example. Encouraging poor countries to become dependent on European languages is a justice issue.

Rwanda represents a parallel situation, but in reverse. ( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/14/rwanda-france )  The sharpness of the issue in Cameroon seems to be that, exceptionally, English, perhaps the most lucrative language the world has ever known, is being forced into a retreat.

Contemporary language-imperialism, if it can be called that, is enabled by contemporary technology. Global English and French are built on TV, internet, printing press, etc. In biblical times, such was not a practical possibility.

It was not colonial policy to transfer English to Africa. It happened through pressure from indigenous people (as also in India). See: Brutt-Griffler, Janina, 2002. World English: a study of its development. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. This has created a problematic that has the potential to continue bringing and perpetuating injustices.

What lies at the root of the above ‘problem’? Perhaps it is the reluctance of the contemporary (17th century and beyond?) missionary force to ‘die’ to the people they are serving. Contemporary missionaries from the powerful West go to serve with a foot securely remaining in their prosperous home. Benefits from the West coming through them are sufficient to motivate majority world citizens to prioritise outside tongues, no matter how negative are the long-term implications of doing so.

Perhaps the only solution this late in the day, is to create a disconnect between missionary mother-tongue and majority world prosperity. That is; for missionaries and development workers not to be sharing resources from ‘back home’, especially not using European languages.

By Jim Harries,

Click here for more information on Jim Harries and the work he is involved in.

StopArmut Conference – Personal Reflection

“God has chosen to work with people like us. I see myself in this position – that I can speak – for people who cannot; I can do justice – for people who cannot.” This was the answer of a pastor from South Sudan pointing to Proverbs 31,8.9, who was asked, why he stays in such a dangers place and works for reconciliation between fighting groups. Listening to this man I was challenged and inspired by his words. He repeated several times, how hopeless the situation in his home country is. But he is still not giving up.

How often does it happen to me that as soon as hard times and hardships are coming up, I lose hope and think about quitting. And when I see people like this man, who are ‘running their race’ because they have their hope in Jesus Christ and no matter what happens they trust in Him, it helps me to stay focused on Jesus as well, the foundation of our hope. If it’s not for Him, all our work is in vain (Ps 127,1). And it is such a blessing to meet people, who remind you of that and encourage you.

Such an encouraging time for me was the national conference of StopArmut in Switzerland about the refugee crisis, where I met this pastor from South Sudan in a workshop. I was encouraged to see how many people are carrying for refugees and are showing the love of God through their engagement. Over 800 people attended this conference and wanted to know more about possibilities how to get involved and help in the current situation.

After an event like this conference I often reflect about the things I’m taking with me back home and what I want to put into action. But most of the time it is not a clear plan of actions and thoughts. All this different experiences, thoughts from the speakers, various encounters with people, encouragement and new perspectives – it all fuses into a ‘bigger picture’ like pieces of a puzzle. But it’s not that easy for me to grasp this picture. It feels more fluid and takes shape in backsight. But somehow God is using all this various, big and small things to guide me on my way.

It was great to see the work of StopArmut as a part of Micah Family. Quite some people that I was talking to described these conferences as a place to meet with people who share the same vision and want to change things for the better. Being part of this reminded me again that it is such a blessing to be part of the Micah movement all over the world and that we walk together side by side, even if there are country boarders between us, with the shared vision to walk humbly, love mercy and act justly – by God’s grace.

By Sergej Kiel, Intern Micah Global, sharing his reflections on the StopArmut conference, November 2017

From Communism to Christ

The testimony of my life, by Thir B. Koirala

I was born in a Hindu family in a remote village in east Nepal. During my childhood, my parents were involved in many religious activities and rituals in our home. When I was teenager I began to question who and where God was, but found no answers. At that time I met a communist man in my village who taught communism and Marxist and Leninist political agenda. It influenced my impressionable and curious mind, and I became a communist in high school. It was not easy to be a communist, as it was still an underground political movement in Nepal. I was a very aggressive and angry person at that time. My conversion to communism drove a wedge between me and my father, destroying our relationship. He hated me, as a result.

One day in 1992, I was walking the hour to school, when the postman called me over and handed me a stack of letters to give to my schoolmate. There were more than a dozen letters, total. One was a big, thick letter and I figured that there must be something important and valuable inside. I opened it and found a small booklet with “The Way to a Happy Life” printed on it. I read it and learned, for the first time, about Jesus and the Bible. As a teenage boy I was eager for knowledge and to learn about new things, so I started corresponding with this organisation in Kathmandu. Two months later, I received a new letter from Kathmandu and it was a second booklet and questionnaire. I read it and wrote my answers on the questionnaire and sent it back. I continued to correspond in this way for two years from my village. At the time I was a student leader of my school’s communist student union. My other communist friends suggested that I not read Biblical books and information about Jesus. They said, “This is only a western capitalistic agenda, and American expansionism want to spread their interests through this religion“, but I wanted to know more about Jesus and the Bible so I started to study more deeply.

After two years of corresponding, I received a new testament Bible. I finished reading it within three days. I had yet to meet any Christians personally, and I had never seen a church. Regardless, one morning I went to my room and accepted Jesus as my personal savior. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart and helped me to understand who Jesus is. Other comrades (communist party members) were not happy with me and my choice, but I decided to follow Jesus. I used to pray everyday, though I didn’t really know how to pray – I simply repeated the Lord’s Prayer each time. I desperately wanted to go church and to meet Christians personally, but there were none in my village at that time. When I finished my proficiency level study at the local campus, I began looking for a church.

My uncle was working as a high-level officer in the National Investigation Department in Kathmandu. He invited me to Kathmandu to join this department. It is very difficult to find a government job in Nepal, so my parents forced me to accept his offer. I came to Kathmandu in 1998 and joined the investigation department after receiving a letter of recruitment from the ministry of home affairs. Because of my uncle’s power, I was not required to apply for the job or go through an official process to get it. After a week on the job, a new government was formed, and cancelled all current political decisions implemented by the previous government. As a result, I resigned my position.

After life in the village, Kathmandu was big and unfamiliar to me. One day, when my uncle was at the office, I left the house alone and began walking without a destination. I ran into an old childhood friend on the streets, who I grew up with, we had attended the same primary school in the village. He invited me to his room and I accepted. We spent the day together, and I stayed for dinner. After dinner, I heard singing coming from the upstairs apartment. I have always loved music and sang lots of communist songs in my village as a teenager. I asked my friend about the music, and he told me that the landlord was Christian and that every day they sang Christian hymns.

This was the first time that I had heard a Christian song. I went upstairs, but the door was closed, so I sat in the hallway and enjoyed the music. In the morning, I woke up early and went, for the first time in my life, to meet Christian people. I met the landlord’s wife first, and told her that I wanted to go to church. I asked her to show me where it was, but she told me that I needed to wait for a few days because church was held on Saturday and it was only Wednesday morning. It felt like eternity before I finally had the chance to attend my first church service. It was such an amazing experience. Never in my life had I enjoyed something as much as I enjoyed my first time in church. I still remember all of the songs we sang that day.

I was faithful to learn God’s word and to study the Bible. After two years, I became a youth leader in the church, which was very fundamentalist. Christians were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio and read the newspaper. I obeyed my church’s rules and regulation, and separated from all world communication.

My church asked me to be a full-time missionary and go outside city to start a new church. After a month I moved to a small village in the northern side of Nepal to share the gospel in an unreached community. Unfortunately, I was badly persecuted by local people and was forced to leave after two months. After six months I went to east Nepal as a full time pastor to start new church.

In spite of being told to be totally separate from the world, I had many questions in my mind. Why should I not read the newspaper? What is wrong with television and radio? Why should we ignore the rest of the world? I prayed and God gave me my answer: there is nothing wrong with materials or any other things in this world but the problem is in the human mentality around these issues. I started to study journalism. After that, many newspapers published my articles about Christian faith and Biblical values. I presented Biblical values and social responsibilities on several radio stations and also telecasted TV programs from national television. It was one of my turning points in my life. I am still working as a freelancer journalist.

I found huge gap between church and community in my country. My church taught me that we are heavenly citizens who should not be involved in social activities in this world, that is not good to work in the secular spaces and communicate with secular people. We were even not allowed to fellowship with Christians from other denominations. You can imagine, a communist young boy separating himself from the world around him? I lived like that for almost 5 years.

In 2005, I was pastoring a new church in east Nepal. A Bible trainer presented a power point presentation about The Good Samaritan from the Bible. All of sudden, I started to cry – I asked God, “Who is my neighbor?” I discovered I was like the priest and the Levite who had walked past the wounded man. God opened my eyes and I  decided to serve outside the four walls of the church where the large community was living in darkness. People are facing lot of problems and difficulties. After consulting other church leaders we established a local NGO called New Life Society in east Nepal. We worked with HIV positive people and disaster relief and responses to crises.

From that day onwards, I understood the Bible in a different way. I recognised my neighbors, and I got clear vision from God. Today I am serving God as an Integral Mission promoter or social activist in different ways, and still serving my same almighty God, reading the same Bible, and following in the footsteps of the same Jesus. I believed that God has sent me to serve my community and my nation to glorify his name and kingdom here. As a national coordinator of Micah Nepal I am actively working with organisations, churches, communities and governments.

Change has come …

by Dr Melba Padilla Maggay, President Micah Global

Those were brutal times. Small countries like Israel writhed under the iron boot of imperial Rome. Greco-Roman culture, billed as the apex of civilization in the ancient world, sanctioned a structure where a thin layer of citizens were borne on the backs of slaves, viewed merely as “living tools” by one of their best thinkers, Aristotle. Unwanted female babies were exposed to the elements in the forest or thrown in garbage heaps, and the main spectator sport was watching gladiators battle each other to their gory death.

Israel itself suffered a leanness of spirit: For four centuries God was silent. No prophet broke into the scene to bring clarity or a word of hope to a nation living in ambiguous times. The religious leaders were either narrow legalists like the Pharisees who thought that punctilious observance of the law would bring about the prophesied messianic age, or liberal interpreters like the Sadducees who pandered to popular will and sought power by collaborating with the Roman colonizer. The Davidic dynasty had long decayed, and in its place was a usurping Idumean named Herod who murdered his way to the throne and curried favour with Rome and the Jewish people by impressive engineering feats, building cities named after the Caesars and reconstructing the temple.

Into this context God the Father sent his son. He came as a helpless baby parented by a woman barely in her teens and a carpenter so bewildered by the circumstances of his birth that he had to be assured by an angel that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing.

There were no signs of the birth of a king except for an angel announcing the joyful news to shepherds keeping watch over their flock, and a star that appeared to astrologers from the East. Like all deep things of God’s doing, the advent of the Christ Child was hidden except to those who were the simplest and wisest.

There were no courtiers, no heralds but for a brief moment when the sky opened and the heavenly host sang of the glory and peace that was to come through this new-born king.

But the portentous significance of the event was not lost on Herod. Obsessively paranoid, he went on a rampage, ordering the killing of all children two years and under in Bethlehem. The coming of the true king was not without great bloodshed; the powers knew that their days were numbered.

Today we hear again the sound of “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children…” The Herods of this world continue to rise and rule with an iron fist. That the Messiah has come seems like a distant memory whose meaning is lost in the mist of history.

But then social historians tell us that if, in our time, slavery is abhorred and has ceased to be seen as an economic necessity, women are given equal rights to social space, and racial discrimination is at least viewed as detestable if not totally eliminated, these are gains largely accounted for by the rise of Christianity in the western world. The Pauline vision that “in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” set forth a new social ethic that marked those small communities of believers known as “followers of The Way.”

The social impact was immediate. Even when Christians were yet a small and powerless minority movement (estimated at 200,000 in a total population of 30 million in the first century), funds of the fledgling churches were used to buy the freedom of slaves. Believers cared for the children of prostitutes, gladiators, and infants abandoned on the rubbish heaps in the Roman Empire.

More recently, we think of William Wilberforce and his colleagues in Parliament working for the abolition of the slave trade, or Martin Luther King dreaming of a just world beyond Alabama’s cotton fields. Jesus says his people are like walking lamps. And a lamp is put on a stand, so that it gives light to all in the house. Imagine a one-room peasant house in Palestine all lighted up because of a single lamp!

What can happen when a determined minority grows into a critical mass that overturns a corrupt social order? The sociologist Robert Bellah speaks of a small minority of Christians in Japan who proved to be game-changers in politics and had an impact beyond their numbers: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world… The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.”

Article first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 23rd December 2016

Why Christian men need to stand up to end violence against women

When you reflect on what it means to be a successful man today, the answers are not positive.  The men who dominate our societies and media are generally rich, powerful or good at sports. Often they are abusive of women.  Jesus was none of these.  How did we get so far away from him as our model of successful masculinity?

The dysfunctional relationship between men and women goes back to the Fall. Part of God’s judgement on the woman in Genesis 3 was that “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Men generally control power whether as judges, soldiers, business leaders, property owners or political leaders.  One of the toxic manifestations of male domination has been violence against women.  One in three women worldwide will be subject to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime.  This is driven by men’s abuse of power and sense of entitlement.

Jesus was radically different.  He was financially supported by women, had them as friends; he respected women and taught them. But the Church Fathers and Christian theologians through the centuries have often been highly critical and abusive of women.  Society sees the church as part of the problem. We also know from numerous personal testimonies that domestic abuse happens in churches too.  And if you are the wife of a church leader, then the stigma of disclosing abuse can be even greater than for a woman outside the church.

Restored (www.restoredrelationships.org) was set up to answer two questions – where is the church are where are the men when it comes to ending violence against women?  Churches can do so much, including being safe places for survivors of violence and vital sources of information, practical support and referrals to specialist agencies.

But it is ultimately we men whose attitudes and actions need to change if we are to prevent violence against women.  That’s why Restored set up First Man Standing, a campaign asking men to respect women in every aspect of their lives and to challenge other men’s attitudes and behaviours.  We have just launched a new website http://www.firstmanstanding.com which is gathering positive stories of men who are standing up for equality and fighting against the abuse of women.

This is not only a priority for our societies and for all those suffering violence, it also gets to the heart of the Gospel. In Christ there is no male or female (Galatians 3:28). Husbands are called upon in Ephesians Chapter 5 to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her.  I call on Christian men everywhere to stand up and speak out on these issues and to model sacrificial service and respect for women. This is what Jesus would do.

Peter Grant, Co-Director, Restored

You can contact Peter at peter@restoredrelationships.org

Prince of Peace?

As we head towards Christmas and celebrate the Prince of Peace coming into the world, it is hard to rationalise this truth with the world news that points to ever increasing violence and suffering. Some would even say it is utopian to imagine a world without conflict, suffering, injustice and poverty.

As we continue to pray for the DRC, and especially Beni, as they face atrocities that appear to be driven by those who seek economic benefit from instability, it is difficult to imagine peace for communities there. In a world in need of food, clean water, shelter and health access, we are astounded to see how much money goes into military activities. Societies even vote for leaders who promise to increase military expenditure!

How do we speak peace/shalom into contexts like these?

We can hope for the promise of peace when Christ returns. (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3; Psalm 46:8-10). Revelation paints an exciting picture of wealth being shared, of no more death, no more war, no more suffering. The presence of the tree of life whose leaves will be used to heal the nations (Revelation 22:2) gives us a sense of hope and anticipation.

More than that – the level of reconciliation that God promises is one in which the lion and lamb lie down together (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25).

This redemption and restoration includes not only humanity but all of creation, which we know is groaning for this to happen (Romans 8:22). We read in Revelation 5:13-14 that all creatures will be praising God.

What a joyful future to imagine, to hope for, to believe in and to move towards!

But what about today?

On the one hand we lament and protest against the injustice, the suffering, the conflict, and the poverty we see today, but on the other hand we rejoice in the knowledge that God will defeat evil and will bring peace.

Ambassadors and Servants

We are called to be Christ’s ambassadors of this New Kingdom. In everything we do and say we represent to our hurting world the truth of the new Kingdom and we live in its reality so that wherever we are, we are salt and light for people to taste and see the tangible evidence. We are also servants and follow in our Master’s footsteps to bring liberation, freedom, healing, comfort and hope to all around us. Jesus had time for the one in the crowd who needed his healing, as well as for the 5,000 on the hillside who needed to be fed.

As we pray, lament, protest and rejoice we declare the Kingdom of God, we proclaim the Good News in a world that so needs this truth.

Come, let’s walk together!

By Sheryl Haw