Promises for Refugees and those who cannot find any human source of help

Psalm 107 New King James Version (NKJV)

BOOK FIVE

Psalms 107–150

Thanksgiving to the Lord for His Great Works of Deliverance

107 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His [a]mercy endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
And gathered out of the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south.

They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way;
They found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted in them.
6Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,                                                              And He delivered them out of their distresses.
And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.

 

10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Bound[b] in affliction and irons—
11 Because they rebelled against the words of God,
And [c]despised the counsel of the Most High,
12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor;
They fell down, and there was none to help.
13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their chains in pieces.
15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
16 For He has broken the gates of bronze,
And cut the bars of iron in two.

 

17 Fools, because of their transgression,
And because of their iniquities, were afflicted.
18 Their soul abhorred all manner of food,
And they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
20 He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions.
21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
22 Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And declare His works with rejoicing.

 

23 Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
30 Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
32 Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise Him in the company of the elders.

 

33 He turns rivers into a wilderness,
And the watersprings into dry ground;
34 A fruitful land into [f]barrenness,
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
35 He turns a wilderness into pools of water,
And dry land into watersprings.
36 There He makes the hungry dwell,
That they may establish a city for a dwelling place,
37 And sow fields and plant vineyards,
That they may yield a fruitful harvest.
38 He also blesses them, and they multiply greatly;
And He does not let their cattle decrease.

39 When they are diminished and brought low
Through oppression, affliction, and sorrow,
40 He pours contempt on princes,
And causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way;
41 Yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction,
And makes their families like a flock.
42 The righteous see it and rejoice,
And all iniquity stops its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise will observe these things,
And they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.

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My comment: I notice three main instructions here (I have emphasised them in the text);
1) We need to cry out to God, when in distress, recognising that he is our only hope. Usually we will try all other sources first.
2) Unlike the nine blind men who were healed, while on their way to present themselves to the priests, except for one who went back and thanked the Lord for his healing, we need to practice an attitude of gratitude, in general but especially towards our God.
3) Wisdom observes and recognises the lovingkindness of the Lord throughout the earth.
The enemy of our souls will get us to focus on the opposite; all the cruelty and evil of mankind, until we loose sight of God and his ongoing goodness!

Let’s Do Something About Human Trafficking in Australia!

The worldwide issue of human trafficking is very much at the forefront of my prayers and awareness. That it is also happening in Australia is all the more reason to take every action to eliminate it within our borders! Thank God for people like Paul Green, a Christian Democrat and Senator, and Caroly Houmes, the chief executive of International Justice Mission in Australia, who are dedicating their lives to do just that! They and others, are answers to many of our prayers!

Here is the article I found today:

GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN IN NSW AGAINST MODERN SLAVERY

You’d be shocked to learn how much modern-day slavery is going on in Australia. A NSW government report has revealed that in the 2016 financial year, the Australian Federal Police investigated 169 cases of modern slavery including forced marriage, sexual exploitation and child trafficking. Sadly many of these crimes weren’t prosecuted; witnesses often fear violence and refuse to give evidence. The NSW Police say there’s links between outlaw bikie gangs and trafficked sex workers, and every month the Department of Family and Community Services hears of at least two or three new cases of children at risk of underage forced marriage in NSW.

And, tragically, charities working at the coalface like the Salvation Army say the issue is under-investigated, in other words, things are even worse than the figures show. All of this is why Paul Green, a Christian Democrat and member of the upper house in NSW, introduced the Modern Slavery Bill on behalf of a team of campaigners called the Modern Slavery Working Group. If passed by the Parliament, the bill will make existing laws even stronger, and an anti-slavery Commissioner will be appointed to clamp down on forced labour and human trafficking in NSW.

Businesses will also be required to ‘slave-proof’ their supply chains to ensure ethical work practices in overseas manufacturing. In his speech while tabling the bill, Mr Green described human trafficking as a “transnational crime that preys on society’s most vulnerable.” He called on the NSW parliament to lead the way for Australia in eradicating slavery, and echoed the words of William Wilberforce, the 18th century hero of abolition, with the statement, ‘You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know’.

Speaking to Stephen O’Doherty on Hope 103.2s Open House, Mr Green said ‘modern slavery’ covers a wide gamut of crimes, including forced labour, servitude forced marriage, debt bondage, deceptive recruiting, and even organ trafficking. As if that list weren’t shocking enough, the newest crime to be added is cybersex trafficking. That’s the sexual abuse of children, live-streamed over the web for people to watch in Western countries, including Australia. Mr Green, who chaired a year-long enquiry into the issue, said he was surprised just how much trafficking happens under our noses.

“One of the reasons we called the enquiry was that we know human trafficking happens around the world to about 45.8 million people, and 4000 cases in Australia have been identified (emphasis mine), so it was very important to ask what’s happening in our state,” he said. “It opens your eyes.
I travelled to the USA and spoke with the FBI, the LAPD, Homeland Security and a lot of agencies, and it starts to open your eyes to what massage parlours are doing, what the nail salons are doing. You wonder about the workers in there. The hospitality area is not short of having people in slave-like conditions, they have to work all day, they’re not allowed to leave the shop.”

An anti-slavery commissioner would have the full-time job of helping stamp out the work of traffickers, and see vulnerable people not only rescued, but rehabilitated. The legislation calls for a compassionate approach to victims. The community also has a role to play in spotting the signs of human trafficking. “The commissioner would be in charge of education programs, teaching young people about the warning signs of human trafficking,” Mr Green said. “They would work co-operatively with potential suspected human trafficking issues, and prepare and publish an annual report to the parliament,” Mr Green said.

The bill has support from both the NSW government and the Opposition, and Mr Green hopes it will be passed by mid-2018. “If it stalls, it will be for political reasons, and I don’t think politics should interfere with trying to do this particular legislation,” he said. “This is above politics, it’s about helping people without a voice to be rescued and restored.” While Mr Green chaired the government committee for modern slavery, it is an issue being tackled by many passionate organisations and individuals, he said. “A lot of good people did a lot of good work on this and I’ve had the privilege to be the vessel to carry it. It is one of my passions.”

One of the many working hard behind the scenes on the issue is Caroly Houmes, the chief executive of International Justice Mission in Australia. She was at Parliament House to see the bill being tabled, and said she felt history was being made. “It was quite a moment how he addressed the issue, and there was a lot of support in the room,” she said. “So it felt like we were part of something that will change the course of history, because five or ten years ago this was a topic lots of people didn’t think about or didn’t know about.

“He just put the issue on the forefront of the NSW political agenda. He has made everyone very aware of what modern-day slavery is. What is significant for us at International Justice Mission is that it recognises cybersex trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery, making it the serious crime that it actually is, and how we in Australia contribute to the demand side of that. She said society cannot turn a blind eye to the evils of slavery. Slavery exists because we let it exist,” she said. “This bill introduces various solutions to how we can combat it together.”

Source: Hope 103.2

KEEP PRAYING INTO THIS!

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

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

 

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