Latest Situation regarding Papua New Guinea and Manus Island Refugee Situation

Today’s (3/2/2017) Sydney Morning Herald and other major newspapers inform us of the embarassing situation Australia is finding itself in, due to Trump’s unsurprising ?final response regarding the so-called resettlement deal with America, brokered by the Obama administration during his last days in office.

Much has been and will be said about this:

As Christian intercessors we urgently need to pray as follows:

You may have heard today’s news about refugees on Papua New Guinea and Manus Island’s latest letdown and terrible ongoing trauma. Even though Trump seems to have extracted himself from the previous deal by Obama with our government, the responsibility for these refugees is and always has been our own government’s and it is my very strong conviction that we have failed miserably to care for them in a responsible and humane way!

This latest letdown for them will no doubt cause severe additional suffering and trauma and possible suicide and self-harm attempts.

We need to cover them in earnest and heartfelt prayer and ask our Lord to change the Australian government’s heart towards them; from a heart of stone to a heart of compassion.

Also pray for the Iranian refugee Loghman Sawari who has escaped to Fiji from Manus Island Detention Centre to seek asylum in Fiji. His future seems very bleak indeed! I admire him for his initiative and why shouldn’t he seek protection elsewhere, if Australia has failed to provide such!

Thank you, on behalf of the most powerless ones on this planet!

 

 

Brief overview of present – day Greece

Greece’s Economic & Political Climate:

The (Greek) economy has shrunk by a quarter in five years, and unemployment is about 25 percent.

The (EU) bailout money mainly goes toward paying off Greece’s international loans, rather than making its way into the economy. And the government still has a staggering debt load that it cannot begin to pay down unless a recovery takes hold.

The government will now need to continue putting in place deep economic overhauls required by the bailout deal Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras brokered in August (2015), as well as the unwinding of capital controls introduced after political upheaval prompted a run on Greek banks.

Greece’s relations with Europe are in a fragile state, and several of its leaders are showing impatience, unlikely to tolerate the foot-dragging of past administrations. Under the terms of the bailout, Greece must continue to pass deep-reaching overhauls, many of them measures that were supposed to have been passed years ago.

The New York Times, June 2016

 

The situation in Greece is extremely volatile! The economic crisis of the last several years is getting worse and worse without any real end in sight. Unemployment is on the rise and affecting every working age group. Incomes are decreasing; the cost of living is continuing to rise, as are taxes. All of this has created a situation that has left families devastated and unable to provide for themselves. Hope is diminishing day by day and people are continuing to respond thru protests and rioting!

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

 Over the last 6 years, Greece has suffered an unprecedented exodus of young professionals, igniting the potential for a massive brain drain in the years to come. This phenomenon is due to high levels of unemployment among people under 25 years of age. Youth unemployment is now at 52%, down from 63% in 2013. High levels of youth emigration, coupled with unsustainable low levels of repopulation, could result in massive instability for future generations.

A recent study by the City of Athens Homeless Shelter (KYADA) found that 71% of all homeless population in the capital have been on the streets for 5 years or less. Of these, the great majority are Greek men aged 35-55. The latest figures reveal the destructive toll the economic crisis has taken on local individuals and families.

Pray for Greece Ministry

 

Greece’s (Muslim) Refugee Situation:  Greece is at the gateway of the Middle-East. There are some who have called it the doorstep of the 10/40 window. Due to its location and vast coastline, Greece has seen an unprecedented influx of clandestine Muslim immigrants from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle-East. These men, women and children have come here searching for a better life but have been met with great disappointment. As is typical in many situations like these; the situation has grown increasingly challenging for these refugees as they’ve been caught in the bureaucratic maze of the asylum process and face a significant degree of animosity toward them from the Greek people. However it has been amazing to see growing numbers of Greek believers and many local Protestant churches step in to help and represent the love of Christ to these suffering people.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

Insert: https://youtu.be/_PToQuxvZgM  (Al Jazeera’s report on Syrian refugees in Europe, Oct. 2015)

 

Greece’s Spiritual Climate:

Although Greece was the first nation in Europe to receive the gospel (Acts 16-18) it has become one of the most unreached countries in the world. Out of a population of 11 million, there are less than .02% who are born-again disciples of Jesus Christ. By law it is technically illegal to “proselytize” or share the gospel with non-believers. In Athens alone, the city we minister in, there are nearly 6 million people, but only about 50 evangelical/protestant churches.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

Despite the fact that the European Union constitutionally guarantees the freedom of worship and religion, only a few historic mainline protestant and episcopal churches operate with a valid church license in Greece today. Non-Orthodox Christian churches face many roadblocks in order to legally exist. This situation also affects missionaries and other religious workers who face tremendous opposition when requesting visas. Prayer can be an effective tool in policy changing.

Church planting and growth in Greece has remained largely stagnant over the last 50 years. Optimistically, it is estimated that the average church attendance is between 15-30 people. The situation became exacerbated since the economic crisis began, which weakened many local communities and forced others to close their doors. However, it is also encouraging to see a fresh push for new church planting in Greece today.

Pray for Greece Ministry

 

Opportunities for the gospel: As hard as this climate is getting, it is our prayer that God would use it to create opportunities for the gospel and to open people’s hearts to Jesus. God has been doing a incredible work among the refugee population, especially those from Iran and Afghanistan. Many of them have had visions of Christ who appeared to them personally and told them about Himself. Many others have responded to the gospel and embraced Christ as their Savior. Please pray for these open doors to increase!

The Need for Workers & Churches: In light of all that is happening we ask you to pray that God would send laborers out into His harvest field. We also ask you to pray that God would establish healthy churches where those being saved in this nation, regardless of their origins, will find a spiritual home. Finally we ask that you pray for God to strengthen the churches that are already here, give wisdom, vision and grace to the pastors and leaders, and that He would stir up the believers to reach out to the nation around them and to the foreigners being brought to their shores.

The Gonzalez Gazette, Frank & Suzie Gonzalez, Athens

 

 

Prayer for Greece

(Compiled from prayer requests by previously mentioned Christian ministries,

including Prayercast, a Ministry by OneWay)

 

Economy/Political Situation

 *Pray for economic stability and patience throughout the country and God’s peace to overcome anger.

*Pray for the political leaders of Greece: President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris.

*Pray for the financial meltdown to drive people to Jesus for lasting peace and security

*Pray for job creation and innovation in this time of crisis.

 

Spiritual Situation

*Pray for the Church to be purged of any heresy, syncretism, or division.

*Pray for the right of non-Orthodox Christian institutions to exist and work freely.

*Pray for the future of independent churches in Greece.

*Pray for breakthroughs in non-Orthodox/Orthodox relations.

*Pray for existing churches to be strengthened through this time of crises.

*Pray for local churches and workers throughout Greece.

*Pray for new leaders to arise (and for those requiring entry visas to be given such quickly – added by Pia).

*Pray for young people in Greece.

*Pray for a revival among young believers, building a strong church for many years to come.

*Pray for a clear presentation of the Gospel to reach a nation where very few have heard the Truth.

*Pray for believers to be provided for as they trust God in ministry.

*Pray for Operation Joshua; a collaborative effort led by Hellenic Ministries aiming to sow God’s Word into every home in Greece:

*Pray that God’s Word will take root throughout the land.

*Pray for lasting fruit that leads to further evangelism and discipleship.

*Pray for staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to facilitate this massive effort.

P.S. (added 18.8.16: sent following proclamation to claim, to our intercessors: Ezekiel 37:4-5 Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’5“Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.…).

The Upcoming Australian Election (can be applied to any election; anywhere!) – My thoughts

Let’s be those who prayerfully consider the present needs of our precious country of Australia and make the effort to carefully consider the responsibility before us to appoint worthy representatives in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Are they representing our struggling and often forgotten farmers, those most vulnerable in our society such as old people, the unborn and children, mothers and children fleeing from abusive partners, the mentally ill, those in the grip of addiction, refugees and their children, left without hope and ill treated, the sale of our land and houses for mere profit, to those who don’t care for our country or its people and are robbing young couples of what used to be and still should be the great Australian dream? I am sure, you can think of other, presently neglected but vital issues which need to be revived and protected.

The time is now to take responsibility; next week it will be too late!

I wanted to watch a movie last night; instead I felt compelled to do my homework and to plow through the confusing array of choices. Prayer helps in this process!

Ultimately it comes back to one issue: “Hallowed be your Name. Your will be done on earth (as it is in heaven)!” Amen.

A Just Australia campaign

The A Just Australia campaign is managed by the Refugee Council of Australia. The core mission of the campaign is to campaign for positive changes to government policy on refugee and asylum seekers. By working together with prominent Australians and community groups and thousands of concerned individuals, A Just Australia aims to achieve just and compassionate treatment of refugees, consistent with the human rights standards which Australia has developed and endorsed.

Exercise your right to be heard
In 2001, as Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was rapidly deteriorating in the weeks after the Tampa incident, no one knew that significant change would come three years later from within the government’s own ranks. The situation today is similar: a government pushing ahead with harsh treatment of asylum seekers in the name of deterrence, supported by many in the Opposition, but with a small number of MPs and Senators in different parties publicly or privately expressing misgivings about policies which punish people seeking Australia’s protection from persecution. In thinking about when and how change might come, we can be sure that change will not come if Australians who oppose current policies remain silent.

In 2002, a group of Australians began a campaign, A Just Australia, to encourage Australians to speak up for just treatment of asylum seekers. Today, the Refugee Council of Australia is keeping this campaign alive by inviting Australian citizens and residents to exercise their right to be heard. We want you to let your local MP and the Senators who represent you know how you feel about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

Participate in our “Write To Be Heard” campaign
We would like you to join us in our new “Write to Be Heard” campaign. The aim is to write to the MPs and Senators who represent us (by email or post) to let them know that we and many other fair-minded Australians oppose policies which punish and harm people who have sought Australia’s protection from persecution.

At least once a month, we will invite you to consider a current issue of concern to asylum seekers and refugees and to write to your political representatives about it. Our first request for your support is on the issue of Temporary Protection Visas.

Don’t underestimate the influence you can have. Every elector in Australia is represented in Federal Parliament by one member of the House of Representatives and either 12 Senators if they live in a state or two Senators if they live in the ACT or Northern Territory. The territories have Coalition and Labor Senators while each State has Senators from the Coalition, Labor and the Greens and one or two of the minor party or Independent Senators who hold the balance of power. The politicians who represent you will probably include people who strongly support current government policy, others who openly oppose and some who toe the party line but have misgivings or only limited knowledge of the issues.

Release all children from immigration detention
At the end of October 2014, 726 children were in immigration detention facilities.
We know the damaging effects of detention on young people’s lives.
The Government doesn’t have to detain children – there are community-based alternatives at its disposal.
The Write To Be Heard campaign is asking you to urgently write to MPs and demand the release of all children from immigration detention facilities.

The Refugee Council of Australia has produced a one-page background briefing on the issue which is available here.
We have developed a sample letter which can be used to develop your own letter. Please forward the campaign details to friends and like-minded people. Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.

Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill will harm vulnerable people
The government’s Asylum Legacy Caseload Bill is currently before the Senate. If passed it will have a devastating impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Write To Be Heard is asking you to contact the cross-bench Senators and urge them to vote against the Bill. Find out how here.
If passed it will:
• Give the Minister for Immigration extraordinary powers during interception and turnback operations while limiting review by the courts or Parliament.
• Reintroduce harmful Temporary Protection Visas and remove pathways to permanent protection, condemning people to constant uncertainty.
• See asylum seekers ‘fast tracked’ through the visa application process where they will have to navigate complex legal systems without support or legal advice.

Other measures will replace the internationally-accepted definition of refugee status with the Government’s own interpretation. Even the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, chaired by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, says the Bill breaches Australia’s core human rights commitments.

The Write To Be Heard campaign is asking you to urgently write to MPs – in particular cross-bench, Greens and Labor Senators – before it’s too late. Let MPs know that we will not support a Bill that strips refugees and asylum seekers of the few rights they have.

Please forward the campaign details to friends and like-minded people.

We have developed a sample letter which can be used to develop your own letter. Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.

Stop the forcible return of asylum seekers to Afghanistan
Last week, Refugee Council of Australia President Phil Glendenning wrote to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, urging the Australian Government to suspend forcible returns of asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Phil’s pleas followed revelations in The Saturday Paper that an asylum seeker Zainullah Naseri, who was returned in August 2014, was subsequently abducted and tortured by the Taliban.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison said he would investigate the circumstances surrounding Zainullah’s case. Write to Mr Morrison and urge him to immediately suspend the forced return of asylum seekers to Afghanistan. We have developed a sample letter which can be used to press the case for suspending returns.
Please send a copy of your letter to Shadow Minister for Immigration Richard Marles, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Palmer United Party Federal Leader Clive Palmer, your local MP and Senators in your State.

Temporary Protection Visas
Federal Parliament is expected to push for the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). There is still time to write to Members of Parliament – in particular the Senators from the minor parties and independents – and let them know why the TPVs must be rejected.
We have developed a sample letter which outlines the case against TPVs and a series of key points you can use to write your own letters.
How to contact your MPs and Senators
Email, postal and telephone contact details for all MPs and Senators are available here.
Feedback is encouraged
Please share any responses you receive through your advocacy work. Send any feedback to writetobeheard@refugeecouncil.org.au

Join us on Facebook – look for ‘RCOA’
Follow us on Twitter – OzRefugeeCounc #WriteToBeHeard

Tips for writing letters
• Keep your letter short by raising only one or two key issues.
• Ask a question on those issues that require a personal response (refer to our sample questions for inspiration)
• If you are emailing your letter, write it in a word program and attach it as a document to the email rather than place it in the body of the email. Many electorate offices do not reply to emails as they are often not considered official communications.
• Use the correct title of the person you are addressing
• ‘Mr/ Mrs/Ms/Dr First Name Last Name MP’
• ‘Senator First Name Last Name’.
You are likely to get a wordy or evasive answer. Read it carefully. If it does not actually answer your question, write again pointing out politely that they have not answered the question. Repeat the question and ask for an answer. Repeat this process as often as necessary.

Sample questions on different topics
Use these to help as inspiration for your letters to elicit a personal response and reflection from your representatives.

As the elected representative in my electorate of XX, I would like to know your position in the following matter:

Asylum seekers:
• Do you believe that Australia should accord to refugees and asylum seekers all their rights and entitlements under relevant international laws? Are you aware that current laws and policies violate these rights?
• Do you believe that people commit an offence by arriving in Australia without permission and seeking asylum? If Yes, what offence do they commit?
• Do you agree that all refugees should be treated equally regardless of how they arrived in Australia?
• Do you agree that asylum seekers not afforded protection in Australia should only be returned in safety and dignity, and never to a place of danger? Do you agree that where there is credible evidence this does not occur, Australia has a responsibility to investigate our methods and locations of forced removal?

Employment:
• Do you believe that work rights should be afforded to asylum seekers holding bridging visas?

Detention:
• Do you agree that children should not be detained?
• Do you agree that refugees and asylum seekers should not be detained indefinitely?
• Do you agree that no refugee or asylum seeker should be subjected to any human rights violation in order to deter others from seeking asylum in Australia?

An alternative to offshore detention

An alternative to offshore detention

by Julian Burnside | Nov 4, 2015 | Asylum Seekers, Human Rights

The  present system of dealing with asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel (intentionally) and hideously expensive.  There is a rational alternative to the  intentional cruelty of the present system. That system reflects the attempts of both major parties at the last election to outdo each other in their promises to mistreat a particular group of human beings.

And it’s expensive.  The current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  That’s a big number: think of it as one million Geelong chopper rides each year!

Australia’s treatment of boat people needs a radical re-think.  It is shameful that we are now trying to treat asylum seekers so harshly that they will be deterred from seeking our help at all.  It is shameful that this deliberate mistreatment of asylum seekers has been “justified” by describing them falsely as “illegal”, when in fact they commit no offence by coming here and asking for protection.  It is shameful that the deliberate Coalition lies about asylum seekers have not been roundly condemned by the Labor party.  It is shameful that, out of an alleged concern about asylum seekers drowning in their attempt to reach safety, we punish them if they don’t drown.

There are better ways of responding to asylum seekers.  If I could re-design the system, I would choose between two possible models.

A Regional solution

Boat-arrivals would be detained initially, but for a maximum of one month, to allow preliminary health and security checks.  That detention would be subject to extension, but only if a court was persuaded that a particular individual should be detained longer.

After that period of initial detention, boat arrivals would be released into the community on an interim visa with a number of conditions that would apply until the person’s refugee status was decided:

  •  they would be required to report regularly to a Centrelink office or a post office,  to make sure they remained available for the balance of the process;
  •  they would be allowed to work;
  •  they would be entitled to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
  •  they would be required to live in a specified rural town or regional city.

A system like this would have a number of benefits. First, it would avoid the harm presently inflicted on refugees held in detention.  Prolonged detention with an unknown release date is highly toxic: experience over the past 15 years provides plenty of evidence of this.

Second, any government benefits paid to refugees would be spent on accommodation, food and clothing in country towns.  There are plenty of towns in country areas which would welcome an increase in their population and a boost to their local economy.  According to the National Farmers Federation, there are more than 90,000 unfilled jobs in rural areas.  It is likely that adult male asylum seekers would look for work, and would find it.

However, even if every boat person stayed on full Centrelink benefits for the whole time it took to decide their refugee status, it would cost the Government only about $500,000 a year, all of which would go into the economy of country towns.  By contrast, the current system costs between $4 billion and $5 billion a year.  We would save billions of dollars a year, and we would be doing good rather than harm.

A variant of this would be to require asylum seekers to live in Tasmania instead of regional towns.  As a sweetener, and to overcome any lingering resistance, the Federal Government would pay one billion dollars a year to the Tasmanian government to help with the necessary social adjustments. It would be a great and needed boost for the Tasmanian economy, and Australia would still be billions of dollars better off.

Genuine regional processing  

Another possibility is to process protection claims while people are in Indonesia.  Those who are assessed as refugees would be resettled, in Australia or elsewhere, in the order in which they have been accepted as refugees.  On assessment, people would be told that they will be resettled safely within (say) two or three months.  Provided the process was demonstrably fair, the incentive to get on a boat would disappear instantly.

At present, people assessed by the UNHCR in Indonesia face a wait of 10 or 20 years before they have a prospect of being resettled.  During that time, they are not allowed to work, and can’t send their kids to school. No wonder they chance their luck by getting on a boat.

Genuine offshore processing, with a guarantee of swift resettlement, was the means by which the Fraser government managed to bring about 80,000 Vietnamese boat people to Australia in the late 1970s.  It worked, but it was crucially different from the manner of offshore processing presently supported by both major parties.  In addition, other countries also resettled some of the refugees processed in this way.  It is likely that Australians would be more receptive to this approach if they thought other countries were contributing to the effort.

A solution along these lines would face some practical problems.  At present, the end-point for refugees who reach Australia via Indonesia is a dangerous boat trip.  You have to be fairly desperate to risk the voyage, which probably explains why such a high percentage of boat people are ultimately assessed as genuine refugees: over the past 15 years, about 90% of boat people have been assessed, by Australia, as refugees lawfully entitled to our protection.  If the end-point is less dangerous, it is obvious that a number of people will set out who are not genuine refugees.  That would cause a problem for Indonesia, and Australia would have to help Indonesia deal with that problem.  But since our current system is costing about $5 billion a year, we can probably work out some arrangement with Indonesia which suits them and us.

There is another problem.  Because we have been indelicate in our relations with Indonesia in recent years, the Indonesian government may not be receptive to an approach like this.  Their reluctance may be softened if Malaysia was also recruited for a similar role.

Both of these solutions have these features in common: they are effective, humane, and far less expensive than our present approach.  But more than that: they reflect the essential decency of Australians – something which has been tarnished and degraded by our behaviour over the past 13 years.

 

Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation?

Written by Aaron Trank, Jews for Jesus, San Francisco (Extract from an article of the same title, see further info at the end of this article)

reconciliation between jews and palestinians

The command for unity in the church is not bound by racial, socio-economic, or political borders. But how do we have unity with those whose ideologies are seemingly irreconcilable with our own? How can we be obedient to scripture’s instruction to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3)?

This is a hard question to answer in light of the two competing political nationalisms that hit close to home for many Jewish believers around the world, as well as for many Arab Christians throughout the Middle East: Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism.

I’ve wrestled long and hard with this topic. While I don’t claim to have the answers, I do trust that the path I’ve walked has brought me to solid footing. Let me begin by telling my story.

 

Affirm the Right to Self-Identify

Self-identification has always been important to me, as it has for every Jew for Jesus who has struggled for the right to identify as a Jewish person. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Messianic Jew who hasn’t had to fight for his or her identity! The labels we claim are important to our identity. Even though Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus”) is often quoted to undermine personal identity, Paul’s intent was to root our identity first and foremost in Messiah, not to erase racial, gender, national, or socio-economic distinctions. Hence, we are free to maintain our Jewish identity and culture as long as our identification doesn’t interfere with our unity with the body of Messiah.

Because of my background, it hurts my heart when people undermine the personal identity of others—even if I don’t like the way people choose to self-identify. History only moves forward: as culture develops and changes we must face these changes with honest reflection. The past cannot be undone! There are Arabs (both Christian and non-Christian) who choose to self-identify as Palestinians, just as there are Christians of Jewish origin who choose to self-identify as Messianic Jews. As a member of one minority group whose self-label is challenged by the majority, I choose to affirm the self-identification of individuals in other minority groups even when (or perhaps especially when) I don’t understand the emotional weight that their identity holds in their hearts.

You might ask, “Doesn’t affirmation of Palestinian identity promote the cause of Palestinian nationalism?” I’m not sure if it does or not! My rationale is based on principle, not on pragmatics. How can I affirm Palestinian identity while also believing in the future restoration of national Israel under the Messiah? By refusing to allow personal cognitive dissonance on this issue of the land of Israel, the Jewish people, and the Palestinian people to fuel any reductionist thinking. I hold firm to Jesus himself, knowing that he will make all things new and will reconcile all things to himself when he comes again. Until then I know that I don’t know, and that’s okay.

 

Affirm Israel’s Existence and God’s Heart for Justice Simultaneously

The nation of Israel never existed in a vacuum of ethnic uniformity: even when Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt they were accompanied by God-fearing gentiles. We see God’s heart for all mankind in his command to the leaders of Israel regarding how foreigners and sojourners were to be treated: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). We also see God’s heart for all mankind in the construction of the temple. Solomon grasped the greater vision and even exclaimed when the temple was dedicated: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel … when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place …” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).

We should care about the Palestinians living as neighbors to Israeli Jews because God cares about them. We should be concerned for their well-being because God cares. Let our love for Israel never cause us to slip into reductionist thinking! Israel has a right to exist: as a people and as a sovereign nation, but Israel will be held accountable before God for her treatment of Palestinians. We must develop thinking that affirms Israel’s existence while affirming the need for justice and equality for Palestinians.

 

Pray for the Church in the Middle East

Never has the Biblical command of Psalm 122:6 been more relevant: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” We’ve probably heard this passage quoted so many times that it might seem trite for me to bring it up here. But I think it is very appropriate since we must pray not only that Jerusalem would have peace from her enemies, but that Jerusalem would have peace from within. Jerusalem is a city of diversity but the diversity is so fragmented that even the Old City is broken into quarters!

It is a dishonor to the name of Messiah that this secular division across racial and geopolitical boundaries also occurs within the body of Messiah in that region. If our hearts harbor hate, then I pray for conviction. If our hearts have already been seeded with love, then I pray that those seeds will sprout.

Let me leave you with this thought. If the apostle Paul were alive today and he were writing to the churches in the Middle East, I think he would reiterate his words given to us in Ephesians 4:3-6:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Amen.

Category: Havurah Volume 17 Number 01.

CHRISTIANS SEE HOPE DESPITE SYRIA’S FIVE YEARS OF WAR

Of an estimated population of 17 million in Syria, 11 million have either left the country or been internally displaced by the civil war which has entered its 5th year. For those still there, there are new beginnings with new opportunities – in both business and in living out their faith. Some enterprising Syrians in the churches are creating work and opportunities for those who stay on in the war-torn country, and others – church leaders – are adapting to the growing interest in Christianity of former Muslims in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, where new former-Muslim believers can at times outnumber long-time church-goers. “We now have more than 20 ‘churches’ meeting in people’s houses and believe we will grow much bigger. More than 100 families are waiting for us to find them a house church,” said one pastor.

The opening of a factory usually signals renewed confidence in the economy; in Syria it’s a necessity, driven by a need to reverse the destruction caused by the civil war. Thirty people in one Syrian city which suffered terrible destruction, are newly employed in a furniture factory that recently opened. It’s hoped that a paying job will stop their families leaving the city like so many others.  The idea for the factory came from a local Orthodox priest. After drawing up a business plan he found a private partner and now its business prospects look good – the factory even has international orders on its books. In August last year a pharmacy opened in another besieged city in Syria. Again backed by church funding, it provides discounted medicines to the elderly and vulnerable.

A big challenge for people in Syria is the lack of a water supply. The water in some wells isn’t safe to drink. A church group decided to create a new well. “We got approval to dig much deeper than the usual 100 meters because deeper wells guarantee a continuous provision of water,” said a representative from the church. The well took six weeks to dig. “When we reached the required depth, a company installed the pump and filters to create water storage,” he added. The well should produce 10,000 litres of water each day, to serve 500 families, each allowed to take 20 litres of water each day. Many helping in the churches are themselves refugees and former Muslims. “I would say that 70% of our team helping refugees are refugees themselves who have come to Christ,” says a Lebanese pastor.

Before Syria’s civil war, it was unusual to find a Muslim converting to Christianity, but now you can find many former Muslims in churches in Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, where many Syrians have fled. A church leader in southern Syria thinks the war has played a part: “Muslims are open to hear from the Bible after the atrocities they’ve seen in the name of religion. “Some come because they found what they were taught about Christianity was wrong. They were raised to believe the Bible is corrupt.” Being away from family and friends has also allowed some to explore Christianity. “They are now displaced and their closest family members can’t see where they are going and what they are doing”. “So we are trying to equip them to be leaders in the future when they go back home.”

Church leaders overcome some of the challenges of former Muslims by using the language of Islam. “We give special lessons to answer their questions comparing Christianity and Islam” says one. “We say about faith that it’s “the same dish but with a different dressing”. We use some of their terms but never compromise about the truth,” says a pastor from Lebanon. Another one adds: “In my teaching I focus on the ideas that they carry from their former religion.” Church growth from former Muslims has its challenges, with long-time church members being initially suspicious. “We are cautious about their sincerity. These new believers used to persecute us. We get complaints from a few of the long-time Christian members.”

“Are these people true believers, or are they coming to spy, or because we are giving hand-outs?  I disciple them one-on-one first because of trust issues,” a pastor from Southern Syria says. “The new believers are afraid that other people will know about them because it is a scandalous thing in their community if people discover them being Christians”. One pastor in Damascus is cautious because the authorities don’t like Muslims converting to Christianity. “So we do our ministry with caution, keeping away from publicity and social media. We don’t tell anyone about the work.” All pastors say their churches have special discipleship training for these new believers. One says: “We disciple them and it changes their view of the world.  We encourage them to stay firm, despite the persecution and the trouble they face.”

Source: World Watch Monitor, published on 4 April, 2016 in the Australian Prayer Network Newsletter