ANGLICAN SYNOD PLEADS FOR AUSTRALIA TO TAKE 12,000 MORE REFUGEES

The Anglican Church of Australia has urged the Federal Government to take another 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, especially Christians and other minorities. The church also asked the Government, as a matter of human decency, to resettle in Australia any refugees and asylum seekers still detained on Manus Island and Nauru, and urged the Government to partner with the churches in healing and resettling the refugees. At its triennial General Synod in Maroochydore, Queensland, late last year the church affirmed the life-saving consequences of the earlier allotment of 12,000 extra places, particularly for Christians and other minorities who had been targeted by Islamic State.

The synod has urged each of Australia’s 23 dioceses to give 0.7 per cent of gross income to projects supporting sustainable development goals, and asked the Government to give 0.7 per cent of gross national income to overseas development. It also asked the Government to increase diplomatic and humanitarian efforts for Rohingya Muslims. The synod voted to oppose assisted dying, urge the government to improve palliative care resources, and to encourage Anglicans to contact their MPs.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports
Published 23 January 2018

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Curbing misuse of government monetary support to vulnerable people groups – some impressive answers!

Allow me to present my researched observations about this issue, as well as a recently published article on an effective trial intervention amongst some Aboriginal tribal groups and the possible reasons why it seems to be so impressively successful:  

I am convinced that governments tend to see financial aid mainly as a political obligation, social at best. The trouble with politics is that decisions  are often made in order to “look good”: in the eyes of their voters and other perceived significant stakeholders. Decisions about where to allocate funds often are made “from the top down”, the norm in bureaucracies: from governments, to charities, to church institutions!  The trouble with this type of decision making is that many important factors “known on the ground” are not taken into consideration, or worse are unknown due to lack of willingness to allow consultation to occur, especially with the leaders of these community groups. The leaders themselves need to first undergo scrutiny as to their trustworthiness, which  takes considerable time, but which is necessary if taxpayers’ and donors’ money is to be used wisely and responsibly! We know that some politicians and other decision makers just don’t care- looking good is all they are concerned with! They should not be there in the first place!

As well, governments need to tick the “foreign aid box”, with aid to third world countries. All too often, that money ends up in the pocket of “fat cats” at the top of those countries, or is used to acquire weapons, instead of helping the poor and strengthening that country’s economy and infrastructure (sadly, there are many examples of this; the contested “Palestinian Territories” foreign aid contributions is one of these https://www.wsj.com/articles/where-does-all-that-aid-for-palestinians-go-1453669813).

There are several initiatives in place by various very smart benefactors, who have conducted research on the ground and within various needy communities, engaging in consultation with important stakeholders within those communities. They have proven that individual loans to enterprising individuals (very often women!) have led to a widespread improvement of social conditions within those communities. As well, because the monetary aid was in the form of an interest free LOAN, when those recipients are able to pay back the loan, their dignity is left intact, or best, increased! THIS to me is smart foreign or even domestic aid! (https://hbr.org/2010/03/microfinance-mega-impact?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom) This is just one of several ingenious ways the poor can be helped by foreign and domestic aid.

I wish governments would subcontract foreign aid to smart organisations using these type of tried and tested allocation strategies and stop the often monstrous abuse of those funds, due to lack of accountability!

Of course, not all recipients are enterprising and many require monetary support to help with daily living, for themselves and their families. Much allocated money has been squandered and worse, has been used to cause damage to recipients and others. I blame that mindless government “top down” bureaucratic machinery! Nevertheless, every now and then, some individuals within that machinery break that norm and shine as a consequence. Not only that, but whole communities are helped and start blossoming! All mainly because someone has taken the time to engage in meaningful dialogue with key people in those communities! We need more of these caliber type of people informing our government and being given decision making power!

For those who are intercessors: here is an important issue to pray for, for the sake of good stewardship, on all levels!

As some may remember from my recent travel report published on Facebook (Oct/Nov 2017), involving a conference with several groups of Christian Aboriginals, at one stage, some of the unspoken attitudes of “us whities” caused a walkout by the Aboriginal contingent. The rest of us were flabbergasted, puzzled and at a loss, until it was explained to us by those who had spent much time in their midst, that we had started to engage in “managerialism”; that much resented tendency to take over and to start to “run the show”, especially on their behalf! Thankfully, we were able to regain their trust, after our sincere apology! Better still, not only did we apologize but they too apologized to us (after being reprimanded by some of their elders who weren’t there at the time) for their anger and “rude” behaviour! That is true reconciliation! Genuine dialogue is where it’s at!

On the above topic, here is a recent example published by the Australian Prayer Network:

ALCOHOL ABUSE DROPS IN ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES UNDER WELFARE CARD

The cashless debit welfare card has led to a large drop in alcohol abuse and family violence in trial communities, according to an independen­t report that found community and leader support for the scheme to be rolled out nationally. The landmark final report has found the positive health and social outcomes are almost without precedent. Almost half the 2141 welfare recipients in the remote trial communities of East Kimberley in West­ern Australia and Ceduna, South Australia, reported significantly cutting their drinking, drug and gambling dependence. There was a significant reduction in alcohol-related family violence and a drop in arrests, assaults­ and flow-on impacts.

A fall in alcohol­-related hospital admissions and improved welfare outcomes and ­caring for children was also noted. The evaluation of the federal government trial program, conducted by ORIMA research, reported­ that 41 per cent of drinkers said they drank alcohol less frequently, and there was a corresponding 14 percent reduc­tion in arrests for public drunkenness. The Federal Government intends to expand the mandatory participation trials into another community. Qualitative research suggest­ed the card had led to greater use of public facilities by families and the community feeling safer. 

Almost 40% of parents and carers reported­ that they spent more time involved in their children’s schooling and homework, and 45% of participants in the scheme said they were now saving money. “There was a large degree of support from stakeholders and community leaders for the trial to be extended across the country because of the positive changes that had been observed, which were considered to be applicable on a broader scale,” the report said. “The evaluation findings indi­cate that the trial has had a considerab­le positive impact in both trial sites. The qualitative research­ found considerable evidence cited by many community leaders and stakeholders of a ­reduction in ­violence and harmful behaviours.”

The report concluded­ that there had been few previous initiatives that had produced such a positive impact for health and community outcomes, with the improvements increasin­g over time. “We are hoping it is the beginning of the turnaround,” minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said. “The card is not a panacea but it has led to a fundamen­tal improvement in these communities. There are very few other initi­atives that have had such impact. As many local leaders noted, these communities were in crisis, largely due to massive alcohol consumption paid for by the welfare dollar. I hope that we can look back in a decade’s time and say that this initiative was the beginning of the turnaround. 

A large part of the success has been the close working relationship with local leaders, who have co-designed and implemented the trial with us . They have demonstrated true leadership” (emphasis mine), Tudge said. 

The cashless debit card trials were introduced in Ceduna and the East Kimberley for a period of 12 months, following escalating concerns that alcohol abuse and related violence in the largely indig­enous communities had reached a “crisis” point. Under the trials, 80 per cent of all welfare payments are placed in an account accessible only through a Visa debit card that is locked from use in liquor stores and gambling venues, as well as preventing cash withdrawals.

Since the introduction of the card, alcohol-related presen­tations to hospitals in Ceduna had fallen by 37 per cent, leading to qualitative evidence of a fall in ­alcohol-related family violence. Of those who admitted to illegal­ substance abuse, 48 per cent reported to have been using less frequently, while 48 per cent of gamblers reporte­d gambling less. In Ceduna and the surrounding local government areas, poker machine­ revenue was reported to have been down by 12 per cent, the equivalent of more than $500,000 in 12 months. The number of people reporting that the card had made life more difficult had also fallen. 

Ceduna Mayor Allan Suter said the improvements to people’s lives in just 12 months had been ­”stunning” and provided the best hope that a lasting solution to the social crisis was possible. “The improvement we are most proud of is in the lives of families, it has been really quite amazing,” Mr Suter said. “Kids have been missing out on food because parents were pouring money down the throats of pokies  It is the most dramatic improvement I’ve seen. I’ve been involved for 14 years through council in trying a series of initiatives, some of them have given good results in the short term, but this is certainly the most significant change for the better I’ve seen.” 

“The results on the ground reflect the report. We have noticed a series of dramatic improvements, most notably the decrease in the amount of alcohol and gambling, and, while its harder to measure, a significant decrease in drug use.” Mr Suter said there had also been a “huge improvement in gener­al behaviour around town. You used to see a lot of intoxicated people and sporadic outbreaks of violence, that has dramatically decreased,” he said. “There has been a 40-50% decrease in all problem areas. But our biggest ambition was to improve the lives of families being neglected. I would like to see it expanded to other communities. I certainly hope the naysayers don’t get their way.”

Bill Shorten said ­Canberra should not be imposing outcomes on communities. “There’s no doubt that there’s concern in the community about the prevalence of ice and other drugs of addiction, but let’s also recognise, unless the community wants to do this cashless welfare card, it won’t work (my emphasis),” the Opposition Leader said. “The other thing I’ve got to make very clear here is that if you’re going to try and encourage people to break drugs of addiction, alcohol or other drugs of addiction, you need to make sure you’ve got the rehab facilities.” 

Mining magnate Andrew Forrest­, a champion of the CDC, said last week that the country would continue to suffer for years if the trials were not rolled out nationall­y. “Children are dying and being raped and absolutely suffering, and we are not helping them,” Mr Forrest said. “The cashless debit card needs a lot of courage from the opposition and from those in government to put up with all those who could tip the balance of power ­either way, who are a tiny minority.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

 

Suffering – The problem that doesn’t go away!

A believing (opposed to nominal or in name only) Christian friend of mine recently suffered the devastating loss of one of her sons. It is the worst nightmare for any parent; to survive his or her own children! He contracted a rare form of cancer and, aided by possible medical mismanagement, passed away two months later!

She prayed and believed for a healing miracle…and now has to reconcile her grief, disappointment and loss of reasonable expectation (after all, we are encouraged to believe that God still heals) with the reality that no (earthly) healing occurred!

This is where a believer can go through a “dark night of the soul”, where one’s childlike faith, which is commended by Christ Himself in Matthew 18:2-4, is deeply challenged.

The question of why, although problematic, nevertheless unavoidably arises.

It is interesting and somehow comforting that Christ Himself, in His humanity, was also challenged with these issues. When faced with His imminent crucifixion and death, he wrestled with his natural, in-built human desire to avoid the humiliation, suffering and death awaiting Him. A wrestle between His own preference at that moment and the knowledge of His Father’s will. He chose the latter, after a herculean spiritual battle, where “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

As well, when hanging on the cross, no doubt in unimaginable agony, He too exclaimed with that heart wrenching question: WHY? (Psalm 22 and Matthew 27:46: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” [which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”]).” He felt abandoned by His Father on that cross, due to taking on the sins of the world, but the Father never abandoned Him, for He had destined Him for eternal, glorious victory!

This is why Christ rightly is our only  Intercessor before the throne of God (according to the Scriptures, especially described in Heb. 2:17); having fully experienced the depth of human suffering, encompassing its physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.

Grief and loss can be devastating, as experienced by my friend and by so many. Our faith will be deeply challenged during those times. The temptation is and will be great to turn away from God, blaming Him, feeling abandoned by Him, unloved and betrayed. Many, sadly, stay stuck in that place.

Stealing our faith and distorting the true nature and heart of God has always been Satan’s greatest strategy! It began in the Garden of Eden, where that bait was swallowed: hook, line and sinker! “Did God say?…” presenting the lie of the “real” intention of God towards man.

Job, despite his understandable moaning, nevertheless never allowed himself to reject or blame God, contrary to the advice of his wife, who told him to “curse God and die”  (Job 2:9). On the contrary: despite horrendous affliction, his declaration was “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” (Job 13:15)

Another great declaration in times of utter devastation, was made by the prophet Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Pain and suffering are part of living in an imperfect, sinful world. They are hard to bear when they touch us and they will, sooner or later. What will be our response during those times?

In the meantime, let us not shrink from it when we see it in others but prayerfully and with gentle sensitivity provide comfort and strengthening to those in the midst of it! They don’t need many words, just our heart of love and compassion.

 

More Scriptures that bring hope to the needy – Job 5: 8-27

“But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
I would lay my cause before him.
9 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
10 He provides rain for the earth;
he sends water on the countryside.
11 The lowly he sets on high,
and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
so that their hands achieve no success.
13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
at noon they grope as in the night.
15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.
16 So the poor have hope,
and injustice shuts its mouth.
17 “Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.[a]
18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
19 From six calamities he will rescue you;
in seven no harm will touch you.
20 In famine he will deliver you from death,
and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
21 You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
and need not fear when destruction comes.
22 You will laugh at destruction and famine,
and need not fear the wild animals.
23 For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
24 You will know that your tent is secure;
you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.
25 You will know that your children will be many,
and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
26 You will come to the grave in full vigor,
like sheaves gathered in season.
27 “We have examined this, and it is true.
So hear it and apply it to yourself.”

The amazing thing about faith in God and in His Son Jesus Christ is that those Scriptures become promises we can claim. It doesn’t work like incantations, using black magic. They don’t represent claims we have over God rather, they are his promises to us, received in an attitude of humble gratitude, knowing that the timing and the method of delivery are entirely in His hands. Those who have invested time in knowing God, through the study of His Word (both a person and a text), reap the benefit of unwavering faith and the reward of such; answered prayer!

The Plight of Palestinian Christians

The following link is lengthy (pardon the pun) but well worth watching. It is an excellent update on the above topic.

https://www.vomcanada.com/index.php?option=com_youtubegallery&view=youtubegallery&listid=26&themeid=4&videoid=145294782&tmpl=component&TB_iframe=true&height=550&width=630

Below, I have used the text from the conclusion of a slightly dated but nevertheless still very relevant book by Justus Reid Weiner, ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’ (full reference listed at the end of this article).  Throughout this article, I have  included latest updates of some of the events and issues raised in Weiner’s summary.

“The plight of the Palestinian Christian Community cannot remain the sacrificial pawn in the larger game of the Middle East peace process.”

A Backward Glance

In April 2002, the Church of the Nativity was invaded by more than 100 Palestinian Muslim gunmen who shot their way inside, while attempting to evade capture by Israeli soldiers who had entered Bethlehem (West Bank – my comment) to quell on-going terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings. As confirmed by Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander in the Tanzim militia, “the idea was to enter the Church in order to create international pressure on Israel” (Raab 2003). Reporting on the event, a Jerusalem-based cleric told the Jerusalem Post that, “propaganda is all that is being heard, in part because of the many cover-ups by the Christians who don’t dare speak up. They are cowards” (Gelfond 2002:260). The cleric explained that fear of Muslim terrorists silences both the churches and the communities. A Bethlehem priest quoted in the same article confirmed the assessment of the Jerusalem cleric, noting with anger, “I would have preferred silence rather than saying that everything is okay. We are worse than cowards, we are lying.” (Gefond 2002:260)

Even if peace negotiations are resumed and successfully navigate the numerous obstacles ahead, the fate of the average Palestinian will depend on the strength and orientation of his state’s institutions. The PA (Palestinian Authority) interim governing authority has proven itself incapable of guaranteeing the protection of the basic rights of Palestinian Christians, the most significant minority under its jurisdiction. One independent report stated that “the risk is that if present structures and practices go unreformed, they will shape and even predetermine future ones in negative ways.” The importance of monitoring the PA’s record, even during the ongoing violent intifada, cannot be overstated.

Some More Recent Developments

The recalcitrance of the PA to enforce international human rights standards, along with its refusal to respect the requirements of the Oslo interim agreements has made it an accomplice and even perpetrator of gross human rights abuses. Though the international community is tempted to donate further sums to the PA following the death of Yasser Arafat (in 2005 – my comment), they appear to be under the as yet unproven assumption that the ascendency of Mahmoud Abbas will rejuvenate the peace process and reinstate respect for human rights and religious freedom under the Palestinian Authority (my insert: elected interim prime minister in 2012 by Hamas and Fatah). This attempt at showing a united front has just been strengthened, as reported in an article by Aljazeera, dated 18.1.2017: “The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has agreed to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas, Al Jazeera has learned. The agreement was reached late on Tuesday after a three-day negotiation in the Russian capital, Moscow [‘due to America’s seeming pro-Israel new Trump administration’ – as mentioned in same article, my comment]. The two organisations will form a new National Council, which will include Palestinians in exile and hold elections. “Today the conditions for [such an initiative] are better than ever,” Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, said. The deal also includes the Islamic Jihad group, which had not been involved in negotiations for a long time.”).

In the opinion of this author, the U.S., Israel, and other members of the international community should make human rights a major issue in any future peace negotiations. By using financial incentives during this pre-state stage, the U.S., Israel and international donor communities can prevent the egregious violations of human rights partially described in this monography from accompanying the PA into the emerging Palestinian state. The leverage of the donors is significant, with over 70 percent of the PA’s budget derived from foreign sources. (Sabella 2004).

(My insert: “…in budget years 2015 and 2016, …the US Agency for International Development …sent the Palestinians $355 million…” source: http://www.businessinsider.com, dated January 2017.

Quoting from Wikipedia: “The entities that provide aid to the Palestinians are categorized into seven groups: the Arab nations, the European Union, the United States, Japan, international institutions (including agencies of the UN system), European countries, and other nations (possibly Russia? – my comment).”

[My conclusion from research into this topic: NGO’s, involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, who have greatly increased in numbers, are said to act to protect human rights in this region of conflict, as well as exerting considerable influence over such huge organisations as the UN and the EU, have been shown to have overt or more often covert political bias against one or the other party involved; more often against Israel. Nevertheless, finding unbiased facts is extremely difficult, as even a widely respected “NGO monitor” is funded and staffed largely by the Jewish community! Bias seems to be ingrained in the human psyche! End of my comment]

Financial incentives can be earmarked to train PA security personnel in human rights practices, to construct modern penal institutions, and to reform the legal system.

Clearly, the U.S. has considerable economic leverage in the region, and could use that influence to demand human rights improvements. However, the [past – my comment] President may be reluctant to impose serious sanctions against the Palestinian entity or even push human rights as an issue in the peace talks. The primary objective of the U.S. in the region is peace and the secondary objective is the fight against terrorism. To rebuke the PA or to make human rights an issue in the negotiations would cause the U.S. to lose influence with the PA [my comment: which seems to have happened under Trump, as identified previously by Aljazeera] when dealing with other, ‘more important’ issues.

However, in the opinion of this author, the PA’s adoption of sound human rights policies and practices would contribute immeasurably to the success of the peace process. Although Arafat’s commitment to these values in the agreements was vague at best, the Palestinians’ expectations regarding an improvement in their lives deserves to be met, and should not be limited to issues of pride or economics. As the international community furnishes financial resources to the emerging Palestinian state, it should reflect on its complicity in the human rights abuses that have emerged.

If the internal reforms fail and pressure from the U.S., Israel, and the donor communities does not materialize, there is one last resort for the Palestinian Christians. Since the PA is not a sovereign state even it has administrative responsibilities in designated areas of the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli military rule is still in effect in the territories. This means that, legally speaking, human rights are the responsibility of the PA on a day-to-day basis, but the ultimate legal responsibility rests with Israel (Weiner 1995). Of course, the current Israeli government …frustrated by endemic Palestinian terrorism, would appear ill disposed to shouldering this responsibility, given its policy of unilateral disengagement.

(Insert: …in the enclave [Gaza strip], where some two million Palestinians live… Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
The UN development agency has said the enclave, run by Islamist movement Hamas, could become uninhabitable by 2020, while others have warned of frustration spilling over and leading to fresh violence.

Israel strictly controls traffic into and out of Gaza, while the enclave’s border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, but Israel says it is necessary to keep Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.

Mike Smith (Tel Aviv), Middelburg Observer, 30 March 2017)

Therefore, the Israeli Supreme Court is the last resort for Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of the PA. The Supreme Court, long a liberal voice, has in recent years become increasingly committed to improving human rights and the rule of law, frequently demonstrating its commitment to ensuring human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, the Palestinian Christians living in the PA would be reluctant to utilize Israeli legal institutions, but, as victims, they clearly have a need for an institution of last resort, as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of Christians who have left the territories.

It seems logical that, instead of turning to Israeli courts, the Palestinian Christians should be able to turn to the PA’s justice system. This however, would be largely unproductive at the present time. The PA’s justice system has no practical autonomy from the executive branch, even though it is independent in theory. The PA President and Justice Minister can hire, fire, retire, and otherwise control all judicial employees, including judges at all levels. Two previous chief justices were ‘retired’ by the executive branch, one possibly for un unsympathetic comment made against the PA in an interview, and the second for a decision that called for the release of ten Birzeit University students who were being detained unlawfully. (Amnesty 1999:7)

The future of the Palestinian Christian community and any other religious minority living under the PA will rest on the potential for religious tolerance and the rejection of fundamentalist and archaic attitudes towards non-Muslims. As long as the Constitution of the PA reflects the principles of Sharia law, it seems as though the emergence of religious tolerance will remain highly unlikely. Additionally, the PA must crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad and eliminate their influence and role as the enforcers of the more brutal aspects of Sharia law [my comment: which appears even more unlikely than when this report was written, as they have now formed a threesome alliance; Fatah/Hamas/Islamic Jihad, see previous insert published by Aljazeera].

The testimonies (more found in the actual book – my comment) provided in this monograph make it pointedly clear that lawlessness and anarchy have swept the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent years. Gangs of thugs and thieves have created what a former Palestinian cabinet minister described as “total chaos”. It is essential that the PA arrest these militants who, in their range of mafia-like conduct, frequently abuse and intimidate Christians. (Toameh 2002c)

The political conflict, or halting efforts to resolve it, can no longer be used by the international community as an excuse for evading responsibility for the gross human rights abuses the Palestinian Christian community has come to accept. Human rights standards cannot any longer be subordinated to political motives. Only when the international community is prepared to stand behind the lofty ideals enumerated in its formative instruments, with its full economic and political resources, will the perpetrators of such abuses be forced to relinquish habits of abuse and ascribe to the norms expected of all sovereign entities.”

Main body of this extract taken from ‘Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society’, written by Justus, Reid Weiner, 2005: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs