Christian Today Digest – August 2014

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Contents

Christian Today Website Articles

To add to your further enjoyment of these articles, we thought a short description of how the website is organised would be of interest.

The Christian Today website has what we call tabs which are really just headings. It’s a way of categorising the articles. Here are the headings, which they use:

UK; World; Church; Mission; Ministries; Society; Life; Entertainment; Comment.

Torch will now include these categories at the beginning of each of the articles.

We have observed that sometimes CT include an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather the reverse and which has been included for readers to pray about. We hope therefore that including the headings or categories will enable Torch readers to also discern and pray.

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Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published on www.christiantoday.com recently.

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Forget mega church, here’s micro church ...

From “Church” section

Megachurches are taking over America - with some churches boasting tens of thousands of regular congregants.

But what about the small, intimate communities that are also experiencing real revival? Not growing by hundreds per week, or receiving millions in tithing, but providing a space for real, raw relationships to develop across the myriad boundaries that so often separate us outside the Church?

St Lydia’s in Brooklyn, New York, is one such community. Led by Rev Emily Scott, who moved to the city seven years ago, it is a “Dinner church” - their gatherings revolve around sharing a meal and enjoying one another’s company. It’s a form of worship, Emily says.

“Dinner church is a very old idea, it’s not anything new. Some traditions have picked it up and adopted the old liturgy, but to have it as the essential act of worship in a community is a different thing we’re doing,” she tells Christian Today.

“A few others have also picked it up and are experimenting which is exciting to see, but it’s patterned after what it looked like in the early centuries of the Church. It’s very old and traditional in a lot of ways, it’s not a new idea, and one of the most important things around it is that something wonderful happens when people share a meal. It’s a very human thing, and transcends a lot of differences.”

A typical evening at St Lydia’s sees everyone join in with the preparation of the meal - the 25 or so people who turn up are given tasks like chopping the veg or setting the table - “a central piece of the worship experience”. Emily explains that this is entirely deliberate, as it allows everyone to be “quickly engaged in community”.

“You can’t avoid meeting people at St Lydia’s!” she laughs. “You have multiple interactions with multiple people throughout the evening - you don’t just meet the person you sit next to at dinner.”

Once the meal is ready, the group sings together, candles are lit, there’s the breaking and sharing of bread and then they all sit down to dinner. The rest of the evening includes readings from scripture, a sermon led by Emily and prayer, before everyone is tasked with clearing up.

Though it might seem unusual to have such an intimate gathering in a city like New York, that’s exactly why Emily believes it’s working so well - the intimacy takes on a much higher significance when it’s absent beyond the walls of the church.

“Lots of people move here not knowing many folks, and so going to a big church can make them feel even more isolated than when they arrive, so I thought what else can we add to the landscape of real experience in New York. I wanted to create deep community - to be known by name is really needed,” she says.

“I feel like in New York we’re all living on top of one another, but we’re divided very often. It’s my greatest yearning to reach out across that divide and build relationships with people I pass on the street, but there’s often no opportunity to connect with them. So even when it happens on a small scale, two people in our congregation meeting and connecting, it’s the most marvellous thing.”

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The pull of Primark: are we ignoring the dark side of fast fashion?

From “Society” section

Bracing yourself before entering the chaotic isles of Primark, overflowing with cheap and cheerful garments, is a feeling that many of us will be familiar with. The high street store, which has 161 branches across the UK, has become a staple fixture in wardrobes up and down the country, and is now set to open its first US store in Boston, Massachusetts next year.

With tops selling for as little as £1.50, and summer dresses for just £5, it’s no wonder that Primark has become so popular with bargain-hunting Brits, but just who is paying the real price for our insatiable appetite?

An unsuspecting shopper in Cardiff found a nasty surprise when she inspected one of her purchases more carefully - a hand-stitched label reading “Forced to work exhausting hours” was sewn alongside the usual washing instructions in her £10 Primark top.

Rebecca Gallagher, 25, told South Wales Evening Post that she immediately telephoned the retail giant, famous for being implicated in the collapse of a Bangladeshi clothing factory which killed over 1,100 people in 2013, but was “put on hold for 15 minutes before being cut off”.

“To be honest I’ve never really thought much about how the clothes are made, but this really made me think about how we get our cheap fashion,” she told the newspaper. “It makes me think that it was a cry for help - to let us people in Britain know what is going on.”

But can anyone really be surprised by the suggestion that Primark, among other high street giants, may facilitate poor working conditions?

Ruth Valerio, Churches and Theology Director for A Rocha UK and Fairtrade activist, thinks not.

“The problem is that our attention span is so short,” she says. “We know it’s terrible, but we forget about it so easily because it’s so distanced from us - we’re not buying directly from someone who we can see is in awful conditions, but instead we’re buying it in a nice, brightly lit shop - and so it’s hard to remember that there’s a connection.”

Valerio suggests that it’s difficult to move “from awareness into action”, but that Christians in particular have a responsibility to buy fairly and support movements which encourage better working conditions.

“The Bible is shot through from start to finish with how we should be concerned for other people, particularly people who are poorer than us and more disadvantaged than we are,” she notes.

“The themes of love, justice and compassion run like a golden thread all through the biblical narrative, and we can’t ignore that. For me, it’s an absolutely essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and part of the people of God.”

She suggests that we buy fewer clothes, and invest in more expensive but fairly-traded and ethical items. “The right question to ask is: ‘Why are our clothes so cheap?’” she says. “When you start looking behind the label, you realise why that is.”

Valerio says charity shops are a great place to grab a bargain without supporting the fast fashion industry, while also highlighting the importance of Fairtrade jewellery and encouraging shoppers to “do their homework” behind high street brands.

But it doesn’t just stop at shopping differently. “Engage with campaigns - use your voice to make a difference,” she urges.

“It’s always good to ask shops about their sourcing policy, and if you do decide you’re not going to shop in a certain place anymore, drop them a quick note online to tell them why. Those actions will have a bigger impact than just not buying the clothes.

“So let’s extend grace to one another. The main thing is to be trying - if there’s one item we decide to buy differently, then we’ve made a difference. If there’s one email we send to customer service, then that’s done something that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“Don’t look and say ‘I can’t do this 100 per cent so I can’t do anything - I’m paralysed’. Just do one thing, it’s better than not doing anything at all.”

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Murderous militants are “precious in God’s sight”, says pastor

From “World” section

As Human Rights Watch reports an escalating conflict in the Central African Republic, one Christian pastor wrote of the need to treat the militants as Jesus would.

The pastor, based in the capital, Bangui, had a treacherous journey while travelling across the country to deliver food and medical supplies. The team that had gone ahead of him was robbed of the supplies and taken into the bush to be killed.

Writing to his prayer supporters, the pastor said: “The person who had robbed our brothers and was about to kill them, was himself killed by African MISCA peace-keeping forces. I could not rejoice at the news, as his soul too was precious in God’s sight.”

Human Rights watch said today that the conflict is escalating in eastern parts of the country.

The situation in CAR is often described as sectarian violence between Christian militants known as the anti-balaka, and the Muslim Séléka, who were originally part of a coup against President Bozizé in March 2013. The Séléka rebels were themselves ousted from power in January 2014.

But both groups have only loose ties with their religious affiliations, and Muslim and Christian leaders from CAR have united to condemn the conflict.

When the Christian pastor delivering aid heard of the death of one of the militants, he felt convicted that he had not shared the gospel with the people who, together with the Séléka, are responsible for the brutal violence in his homeland.

He said: “Unfortunately in my broken state I had not been telling these anti-balaka people about the gospel.

“I have to admit that it was not easy to accept that kind of treatment and humiliation from them without reacting - but then what would Jesus do in my place, he who, when ill-treated, did not open his mouth?”

He added: “I did warn them, though, not to be fighting against God - at which, they all suddenly scattered.”

The cycle of revenge attacks started in December 2012, but the latest outbreak of violence began in May this year.

At least 27 people were killed on July 7 in an attack by suspected Séléka rebels on thousands of displaced people sheltering at St Joseph’s Cathedral and the adjacent Bishop’s residence in Bambari.

Long-term underdevelopment makes it difficult to know how many have died since the conflict began.

An estimated 2.2 million people of CAR’s 4.6 million population are believed to be in need of humanitarian aid. By June almost 140,000 people had sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the Republic of Congo, according to the United Nations.

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But how are you really ...?

From “Life” section
By Sarah Abell

On the surface, “How are you?” seems a very simple question, so why do most of us struggle to answer it with anything resembling the truth? Don’t we really believe that the other person wants to hear it or are we worried about what will happen to them (or us) if we start to unravel our true feelings?

I was 25 before I realised that the answer to, “How are you?” didn’t automatically have to be “Fine, and you?”. I’d recently met a friend called Amanda who was very suspicious of anyone who replied “fine”. She wanted the truth not some polite fob off. “No, how are you really?”, she would probe and then wait expectantly for a proper answer.

What she suspected and what I soon came to realise, was that I was emotionally illiterate. She knew I clearly wasn’t “fine” because I was going through a difficult patch with my boyfriend at the time and I was also struggling with an unreasonable boss. “Upset,” “annoyed”, or “angry” maybe - but not “fine”.

Some people don’t want to reveal how they are really feeling because they can’t or don’t trust the person asking. That wasn’t so much the case for me. I couldn’t or wouldn’t speak about how I was feeling because I actually didn’t know myself.

I didn’t know because my feelings were squashed so far down that I could barely feel their pulse let alone summarise them into a few coherent sentences to satisfy Amanda’s appetite for emotional intimacy. Maybe it was because I had spent too many years at boarding school learning that my survival was dependent on keeping negative emotions under wraps. Or maybe it was more to do with the after-shock of my elder brother’s death when I was 21.

Whatever the reason things were about to change. Over the following months Amanda helped coach me in the language of feelings. Like learning any language it took time and effort but gradually I could attempt a few sentences beginning with “I feel...”. If I got stuck she would offer a prompt like: “If I had a boyfriend who flirted with someone else in front of me I would feel furious and embarrassed. Don’t you feel either of those?”

Twenty years later and her hard work and my practising have paid off. I’m by no means fluent in emotions but I’ve certainly reached a good conversational standard.

So maybe next time you are hanging around the coffee table at the back of church and someone answers, “fine” to your query...and you aren’t convinced that is the whole story, try again. Get curious and ask “but how are you really?” The only thing I would say is don’t do it unless you are prepared to hear the answer - whatever it might be and however long it might take.

Now, if people ask me “How are you?” - I am quite prepared to answer truthfully. The question I ask myself first though is: do they actually want to know how I am or is “fine, and you?” all that is required in this instance?

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What the spread of Boko Haram has to do with Jesus’ return

From “World” section

The Islamist terrorist group known for kidnapping more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls, has been active in conflicts in Mali, Central African Republic (CAR) and Syria, a spokesman for religious freedom said.

The spread of the militant group can be seen as evidence of cooperation with other militant groups, including al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab.

All three groups are using conflicts in Africa and the Middle East as a training ground for jihadist fighters.

“There seems to be a tendency among Jihadi movements to use different crises as training grounds,” said team leader for Africa and the Middle East at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Khataza Gondwe.

The Malian conflict is one example where Boko Haram activity was reported outside its usual territory in northern Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.

Similar reports have come from CAR, where a least one UN official has claimed there has been a Boko Haram presence since 2013.

“There was a video in which Shekau [the leader of Boko Haram] said that they were coming to help their brethren,” Dr Gondwe said.

“In the first attack on a church there, the people sheltering in the church said that the attackers spoke in English and said ‘Open the door’ before spraying the place with bullets,” she added.

But beyond supporting their brethren and training recruits, the Syrian conflict has a theological appeal for Islamist terrorist groups.

Dr Gondwe said: “Now Muslims are moving to Syria - in some kind of eschatology, the final battle will happen in Jerusalem, so quite a few of them are heading that way.”

Some Islamic teachings include end-time prophecies relating to Syria, or more particularly, to a broader region encompassing Jordan, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and western Iraq.

One prophecy says that Jesus will descend from the white minaret at the Great Mosque in Damascus to fight the false messiah - an event which will speed the day of God’s judgement.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful”, became widely known for the abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok village, Borno province, Nigeria in April, prompting the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media.

Such raids on schools and villages are typical of the group’s tactics. Dr Gondwe also suggested that Al-Shabaab had used similar techniques to Boko Haram in recent bombings in Kenya, targeting public places for maximum impact.

She said: “Boko Haram is able to amass and then attack an area that is insufficiently protected because the Nigerian army is stretched out. A surge of troops in that area is the only thing that will be able to combat it.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said in May this year that Boko Haram was responsible for the deaths of more than 12,000 people, and for injuring a further 8,000 since it began its insurgency in 2009.

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Edith Cavell to feature on Royal Mint’s new £5 coin

From “Society” section

The Royal Mint’s new £5 coin commemorating the First World War will feature British nurse and Christian Edith Cavell.

Cavell, the daughter of a vicar in Swardeston, served as a nurse in occupied Belgium and cared for soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

She was executed by the Germans in 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape to neutral Netherlands. She was 49.

On the night before her execution by firing squad, Cavell was granted Holy Communion and she told the Anglican chaplain, the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the words that she is best remembered for: “Patriotism is not enough; I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

After her execution, her body was returned to Britain for burial at Norwich Cathedral. Thousands turned out to pay their respects at her funeral procession.

The coin comes after members of her family petitioned the Treasury asking that Cavell be honoured on a new £2 coin. The petition was signed by 110,000 people.

Treasury minister Nicky Morgan said: “She showed true bravery by helping injured soldiers, regardless of their nationality, and it is right that she should be honoured as a British hero.

“She risked her life to help Allied forces escape and in doing so paid the ultimate price. It is important that we remember the sacrifices made by so many people in different ways during the war.”

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