Christian Today Digest – Summer 2013

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Contents

Welcome!

Welcome to this summer edition of Christian Today Digest. At the time of writing it is not difficult to remember it is summer - we are enjoying a couple of days of real summer weather: warm, dry & sunny. Ok, just a couple of days, but that's better than nothing!

New magazine

If you receive our newsletter, Torch Family News, you may have seen the note about a new magazine called The Plain Truth. For a while we have nurtured the vision of producing accessible editions of complete Christian magazines, so that blind and partially sighted people can read just what sighted people read. Well, our first will be The Plain Truth, a magazine that has been explaining the plain truth about Jesus Christ in a very readable way for many years. It's packed with interesting articles on life's issues and people's experiences from a biblical perspective.

Torch is now producing this quarterly magazine on audio CD and in various sizes of large print. Please get in touch if you're in the UK and you'd like a sample - email: info@torchtrust.org. You can view the magazine on www.plain-truth.org.uk

Holiday spaces

And just a quick note on the subject of holidays. There are two holidays in September at our Holiday and Retreat Centre that still have spaces:

For more information or to book contact: holidays@torchtrust.org or 01273 832282.

Now enjoy your read!

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Everyone is called to be a disciple

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby opened up about his conversion, losing his daughter Johanna, and what he learned from working in the oil industry in a wide-ranging interview at Holy Trinity Brompton's Leadership Conference on Monday.

He was interviewed by long-time friend and vicar of HTB, Nicky Gumbel, on day one of the conference at the Royal Albert Hall.

Archbishop Welby said that working with mainly non-Christians in his oil industry days had presented him with the challenge of working out what being a Christian meant in the world.

"It taught me to value that everyone has a vocation," he said. "Everyone is called to be a Christian disciple wherever they are, it's not just for people who are called to be ordained."

There was pin drop silence as the Archbishop spoke movingly about the experience of losing his seven-month-old daughter, Johanna, in 1983.

Although it was "indescribably painful", the Archbishop and his wife Caroline remember it as a time when "there was a sense of the presence of God more than almost any other time in our life - and the reality of God's love", he shared. "It was this extraordinarily intimate relationship with God of weeping and praying ... We were deeply surrounded by love and most of all very deeply by the love of Christ who sustained us through that. It's still a pretty rare day when I don't think about Johanna, and I think that's true for most parents who've been through this, and yet it's never possible to think about her without remembering the almost tangible way in which Christ held her and us, and holds her still."

But there was a lot of humour in the interview too as the Archbishop recounted his conversion to the faith after a "staggeringly boring" talk by the Christian Union at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Turning his attention to the state of the church in Britain today, Archbishop Welby told the some 5,000 Christians present that a "risk-taking church" was needed.

"There is no safety in Christ," he said. "There is absolute security, but there is no safety." He said it was "natural for churches to grow" but admitted it took a lot of "hard work" and that churches needed to find new ways of "liberating people to be risk-takers in the service of Christ".

He also spoke of the need for Christians of all denominations to be united.

"We cannot live for our cause to win, we have to live for his cause to win," he said, adding that "very often the biggest wounds we will experience will come from other Christians".

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Bishops fast for world's hungry

Church of England bishops fasted on 6 June for the one in eight people who go to bed hungry every day. They joined thousands of people across the country who gave up food to draw attention to the plight of millions of people going without enough to eat.

Among those taking part in the Big IF Fast was the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard.

"It's just outrageous that the world produces enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food to eat," he said. "As a Christian, I want to stand up for those who are suffering and dying as a result of hunger and don't have a voice. I hope that my small act of going hungry for a single day will help bring the plight of the starving to the attention of our world's leaders."

The other bishops taking part in the Big IF Fast were the Bishop of Birmingham the Right Reverend David Urquhart, the Bishop of Salisbury the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, the Bishop of Sheffield the Right Reverend Steven Croft, the Bishop of Buckingham the Right Reverend Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Pontefract the Right Reverend Anthony Robinson, the Bishop of Ramsbury the Right Reverend Edward Condry, the Bishop of St Germans the Right Reverend Chris Goldsmith, and the Bishop of Sherborne the Right Reverend Graham Kings.

The IF campaign is urging world leaders meeting at the G8 in Northern Ireland to take action to address global hunger. This includes clamping down on tax-dodging and land-grabbing by large companies, and keeping aid promises.

Thousands of people took part in an IF rally in London's Hyde Park on 8 June to highlight the campaign.

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"Don't be afraid to talk about death," says bishop

The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend James Langstaff, has said it is important that people do not feel afraid to talk about death and funerals. He made the comments during the Dying Matters Awareness Week. The Church of England is a member of the Dying Matters coalition working to change public attitudes and behaviours towards death and bereavement.

Bishop Langstaff, who chairs the Churches Funeral Group, said this week was an opportunity to think about how we approach the prospect of our own death and that of those closest to us.

"People often prefer not to think or talk about death," he said, "but it is something that we all have to face and that is best done honestly and openly. It is good and healthy to talk about these things together."

Recent statistics from the Church of England revealed its clergy are performing more than 3,000 funerals each week.

The bishop said parish clergy across the country were "ready to share this journey" with local people, Christian and non-Christian alike.

He said: "We believe that our Christian faith helps people both to live well and to die well – it offers a message of hope as we face the realities of our mortality. A Christian funeral service - whether in church or at a crematorium - is an opportunity to give thanks for a person's life and commend them to God with hope and prayer. Thinking ahead about such a service for yourself or a loved one is a good and positive thing to do."

The Reverend Dr Sandra Millar, the Archbishops' Council's head of projects and developments also suggested people think ahead of time about the kind of send off they would like for themselves and their loved ones.

She encouraged people to talk to their local vicar.

"It's really strange that although death is the one certainty for all of us, we are so wary of talking about it," she said. "But Dying Matters Awareness Week reminds us that talking about it is helpful, and leaving ideas about how you want your funeral service to be is a great gift to those left behind. The Church of England has been talking to people about death and funerals as part of its work on the Funerals Project, and discovered that for many people knowing that the service really reflects their loved one's life is a great comfort. Vicars are used to talking about the big questions and the small details, so don't hesitate to ask your local vicar for advice."

Here, two vicars share their experiences of dealing with dying:

Reverend Juliet Stephenson, Vicar of Newnham, Gloucester Diocese:

As a parish priest, I see the ministry surrounding death one of the most privileged things I do. When I am told that someone is ill, and may like a visit, I arrive often unannounced, and expect nothing in particular. I will react to whatever I come up against. I have never been asked to leave. I have always been invited into the most private of moments, and I am always grateful to those who make this possible.

I appear often in jeans and a dog collar, and just 'be' with them. People want to talk. They want to ask questions. They want to share their experiences of illness, and ask about what will happen. A wonderful example is of a family who wanted lots of elements added to the funeral service for their loved one. So we had the service on a Saturday, and we filled the church with meadow flowers. The undertaker enabled the family to carry a wonderful organic coffin in and out of church to loud rock music, which was provided by our resident pub DJ, the local community choir sang some beautiful ancient and contemporary pieces, we had lyrics of folk songs read as poems, and we made the service together.

The service was one filled with hope. This death was one that was certainly not wanted, and most definitely fought against bravely. But this death was lived well by the whole family. I think this set a benchmark for those who came, to truly see that a church service can be fitting for everyone. And I think the church can provide very well indeed for those who are religious or not religious, who seek something traditional or different.

There is something significant in itself by holding a funeral in a church rather than a crematorium chapel, or at a graveside. That family will always have this sacred space to recall the hour or so of pure love and thanksgiving that was shown to their loved one. For me, I know that the care and time spent with those grieving and those preparing for their own death are hours well spent. Our pastoral responsibility as parochial ministers is shown in its fullness through the business of death. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Reverend Hanna Woodall, vicar of Foleshill, Coventry Diocese:

I was a part-time chaplain at Myton Hospice for three years offering spiritual support to all. When I visited the hospice people would see the dog collar and it opened doors to countless conversations. I'd talk with around 40 people per week, who generally hadn't thought about their funeral and future wishes. They were really pleased to talk about it all and have their questions answered. It was particularly wonderful to be able to tell people that they didn't need to be a churchgoer to have a church funeral service. Sometimes people talked more with me than they had done with anyone else. Our talks helped them to initiate further conversations with relatives and friends. My conclusion was that talking to people about end of life matters didn't upset them, and they were pleased to have someone help them to make some decisions about what will happen. They were more at peace about everything.

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God's presence in a shanty town

Keith Holder and his wife Joy have been working with children in Costa Rica for the last 20 years. Originally from Essex, he set up Educación Plus, an organisation running Bible clubs, sports and educational activities for around 500 children.

As a trained pastor, it's important to Keith that their work doesn't just give the children practical life skills, but also the spiritual truths they need to flourish.

"It's an interesting life and there's rarely a dull moment," he said. "It's not just about us overseeing 500 kids, it's about inputting truth into them so they are prepared for life. It's a practical outworking of the gospel."

Many of the children are from impoverished families, and substance abuse is a real issue.

"Some of the boys who sniff glue have been in our Bible classes," he explains. "We care for them and love them and show them the good news. Without being super spiritual, we believe we are God's presence in the shanty town."

That's why Keith and Joy also reach out to the parents and the wider community.

"Some of the kids I work with are in their teens but I started getting to know their families when they were just ten. We build relationships and liaise with their parents and schools. We get involved with the whole community and the idea is to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble. We also don't just focus on the children but we try and help the parents. For many of them, all they've ever known is poverty so it's about breaking the cycle. I don't want to see them hooked on sniffing glue or taking marijuana so I'm motivated to make a difference."

Keith's hard work over the years was recognised with an MBE from the Queen in 2011, but he is keen to stress he wasn't looking for recognition.

"We went to Buckingham Palace to get the award and I was a bit embarrassed really because although people congratulate us for the work we've done in Costa Rica, we've always just felt that all we are doing is obeying God. There have been sacrifices along the way but when you do something so enjoyable you don't expect an award for it."

And he may have had some scary experiences in Costa Rica, but even they didn't compare to meeting the Queen.

"It was a nerve-wracking experience, meeting the Queen, even more so than when we were breaking up a knife fight in the shanty towns of Costa Rica. There have been other scary experiences we've been through too," he says.

Although he is modest about what he has sacrificed over the years, he admits that one of the hardest things is being so far away from his own children.

"As Christians, we're supposed to be good news wherever we go. It's not always easy being a missionary. We have three children of our own back home and we don't get to see them much and that's the hardest part, but we know God's called us to do this and it's a great privilege."

Keith and Joy are supported by Rope, a Christian development charity based in Buckinghamshire. Rope helps provide shoes and clothing for children who don't fall under the Educación Plus remit while they also give help to parents with food and medical bills.

Rope's Chief Executive Jon Dobbs said: "Keith and Joy are an inspiration to us all. Working in these circumstances is not everyone's call, but they are clearly gifted and called to the young people and families in Costa Rica. It's hard work but so rewarding when God transforms lives. Rope considers it a privilege to partner with them in this work."

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Internet supplied to 20 African communities

BT has partnered with SOS Children's Villages to connect 20 of the charity's sites across Africa to the internet, bringing radical changes to thousands of people. The first two sites to get online are in the Gambia. The remaining 18 Children's Villages are scheduled to be connected by October 2013. The villages are located across 12 countries in total.

Under BT's "Connecting Africa" programme, the telecoms company is designing and building the network infrastructure from under-utilised or decommissioned BT equipment in each country.

Local IT support teams will receive training from BT engineers to maintain and operate the infrastructure. BT will provide connectivity for the Children's Villages for three years via its global satellite network, run from its operational centre in Madley in the UK. The new connectivity means children in the villages will now be able to access e-learning courses and the charity's online mentoring programmes.

Meryl Davies, from SOS Children's Villages sees benefits for the charity too. She said: "We see the real difference that IT and connectivity make to our children's lives, opening their eyes to a whole new world of information, and wonderful education opportunities. The other significant value of this partnership is the way that BT is helping us as an organisation. BT has the vision to understand that with improved systems and structures, we will be better able to bring long term value to incredibly vulnerable children and families."

Kevin Taylor, President of BT Asia, Middle East and Africa, said: "We believe that communication is an incredibly powerful tool and can transform the lives of many people. We've seen the real impact that broadband internet can have through our projects around the world.

"This latest initiative builds on our know-how and on our long-standing commitments to communities in Africa and elsewhere where through technology we help children and whole communities reach for a better future. This project is enthusiastically supported by BT employees around the world, who will engage through volunteering and fundraising activities."

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Jackie Pullinger: God will use us

Christians gathered together at the WEC headquarters in Buckinghamshire over the weekend for the missions conference GO2013. They heard stories of missionaries' triumphs in bringing the gospel to the lost and had the opportunity to discover how they too can get involved in missions. They were encouraged to spread God's Word within their communities and transform lives.

A variety of missions organisations from around the world were present at the conference offering resources and advice. Guest speaker Jackie Pullinger delivered her testimony of how God has used her to change the lives of drug addicts and victims of human trafficking in Hong Kong.

"After drug trafficking and weapons trafficking, human trafficking is now the most lucrative industry," she said. "There are more slaves than there have ever been in history. Approximately 800,000 new slaves are trafficked across borders every year."

Touched by what she had witnessed in Hong Kong, Pullinger was determined to make a difference.

"I prayed, 'Dear Lord, it would be worth my whole life if you would use me to save just one of them, I want to be in your purpose.' God wants to save men, he wants to save the girls who are raped and even the ones who do it. He wants men everywhere to be saved and he will use us."

Included in the programme was also a selection of interactive, thought-provoking seminars. Titled "Is the gospel really good news for everyone?", Redcliffe College lecturer Dan Button offered fresh perspectives on evangelism.

"There are many different ways to present the gospel to people," he said. "The gospel needs to be seen as good news to every culture, people group, language, nationality and even each person's particular needs. How do we love strangers? The UK has become this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, pluralistic society filled with people of all religions and no religion. How do we engage with someone who is very different from ourselves? Once you engage with someone, it leads to a relationship. They'll want to get to know you better and then you have a platform for discussion. When they want to get to know you, who are they getting to know? Christ, because Christ is in us."

He added: "Love is intentional and it requires action, it is not a feeling, it is an awareness of those around us and a purposeful desire to break into their world and to understand them."

Button highlighted the importance of knowing where our hope comes from as Christians.

"This is where we reach the heart of the gospel, it is all about Jesus. Jesus is our gospel message. One must be convinced that the gospel is good news, otherwise they will be trying to convince someone about something they haven't really taken hold of."

Another guest speaker at this year's conference was Andy Hawthorne, evangelist, author and leader of The Message Trust, based in Manchester. Born out of concerts and outreach to schools, it now spans tough urban communities and prisons.

Hawthorne made a request for the conference guests to "pray for missionaries around the world spreading the gospel, reaching out to the lost, to those who have yet to hear about Jesus".

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Leprosy Mission says levy on charities "unfair"

The Leprosy Mission has hit out at suggestions that the Treasury take a share of Gift Aid or impose a levy on charities.

The call came from the Charity Commission, which has warned that it will not be able to cope with the Treasury's request to make a further saving of 10 per cent in the year 2015/16.

The Leprosy Mission said, however, that it was "unfair" to take a slice of gift aid to plug the Government's spending cuts.

Peter Walker, national director of The Leprosy Mission, said a levy could put people off giving while penalising recipients of the money.

"If the Government wants a Big Society," he said, "it is responsible for providing the framework for the charitable sector to operate effectively, which includes rigorous investigation where necessary. The charitable sector is paramount to the delivery of the Big Society and it is, therefore, unreasonable for the government to expect charities to pay to regulate the sector."

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Archbishop of Canterbury praises Queen

The Archbishop of Canterbury has thanked the Queen for her commitment during the six decades of her reign. The Most Reverend Justin Welby delivered the sermon at a service in Westminster Abbey today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.

The Queen was accompanied by members of the royal family, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

In his sermon, the Archbishop said the Queen's coronation in the abbey in 1953 and her public service since then have symbolised "the very nature of being British". Inviting the congregation to put aside the splendour of the spectacle for one moment, the Archbishop reflected on the moment she knelt before the altar 60 years ago and offered a silent prayer to God.

"Her Majesty knelt at the beginning of a path of demanding devotion and utter self-sacrifice," he said, "a path she did not choose, yet to which she was called by God. Today we celebrate sixty years since that moment, sixty years of commitment."

The Archbishop went on to speak of the Queen's pledge of allegiance to God as being symbolic of the model of liberty and authority enjoyed in Britain today.

"Liberty is only real when it exists under authority," he said. "Liberty under authority begins, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, with our duty to God, 'whose service is perfect freedom'. We live in a hierarchy of liberty under authority that ascends to God's limitless love. As we see in the life of Jesus, with God, justice and mercy are perfectly joined, wisdom is unlimited, generosity is unstinting, and love pours out to the whole world in an overwhelming embrace that is offered universally and abundantly. A nation that crowns its head of state with such a model of liberty under authority expresses commitment to the same glorious values for itself."

He encouraged others to find the joy that comes from obeying God and serving him wherever they are.

"In those moments of prayer are symbolised the basis for the greatness of this country," he said. "In their silence lies God's call. In their humility lies God's authority. In their resulting service lies God's perfect freedom. What follows is the joy of security that comes from obeying God alone. Such consecration to God is followed by a crown. When we obey God's call, whoever we are, leading Government or quietly serving our local community, we establish a country that is open-handed and open-hearted, serving others with joy."

He went on to say that beyond all the pomp and circumstance of such occasions there was "radical commitment, single-minded devotion and servant leadership. And for that we give thanks today."

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, led prayers for the Queen and gave thanks for 60 years of duty "done with a glad heart".

"Sixty years ago, in this holy place," he said, "Queen Elizabeth II was anointed with holy oil, clothed with sacred garments, and, after receiving symbols of authority, crowned with the Crown of St Edward, King and Confessor, just as were Her Majesty's royal predecessors from 1066. Here today we gather to give thanks to almighty God for the faithful ministry and dutiful service the Queen continues to offer God and the people of this nation, the overseas territories and the realms, and as head of the Commonwealth."

Queen Elizabeth II was 27 years old when she was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953. Members of the congregation included some of the choristers who had sung on that day. The congregation of some 2,000 guests joined together in singing hymns and the national anthem. Prime Minister David Cameron gave a reading from the Book of Kings.

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Prince Charles and a multi-faith coronation

by David Baker

Will it matter if Prince Charles is crowned king in some sort of multi-faith coronation ceremony?

Some news sources have suggested that "the coronation of the next Monarch of the United Kingdom will not be exclusively an Anglican ceremony and will feature a wide range of religions". The Sunday Telegraph claimed to have "learned of a major shift in attitude within the Church, towards allowing the representatives of other faiths to participate in a coronation service for the first time".

It would be easy at this point to react with knee-jerk emotion rather than theology. So let's step back and ask what the Bible actually says about monarchs in particular and rulers in general.

Perhaps the most striking point to be observed is that, for a Christian, the only king who ultimately matters is God.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel started to go wrong when they forgot God was their king - and demanded a human monarch, to be "like other nations". But the prophets who ministered over the centuries which followed looked forward to a time when God would come as king and rule.

When Jesus arrived, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, he made it clear that his kingdom was "not from this world". And when questioned about where and how his rule might fit in with the supreme earthly power of the day - the Roman Emperor - he declared, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

What are the implications of this? As former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright has written, "The New Testament declares: God is king, and the kingdoms of the world are thereby demoted. The crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is God's Messiah, Lord of the world". A believer's ultimate loyalty is to Christ - something which more and more brings us into conflict with increasingly secular governments and legislation in the UK.

But does this mean, therefore, that government doesn't matter? Not at all. As Wright also says: "God has instituted rulers and authorities (even at the obvious risk that most of them don't acknowledge him and only have a shaky idea of what justice actually is), in order to bring to his world such order as is possible until the day when the rule of Jesus himself is complete". Thus, while it is true that, if there is a conflict of interest, we are to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), then it is equally the case that when there is no clash, we must "be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13:1).

Do forms of government matter? Wright continues: "All human power-systems are subject to Christian critique. All power can become idolatrous." But the best forms of human authority can function as sacraments, he argues - using action, drama, symbol, ritual, words and prayers to "tell God's story and invoke his presence and power." At its best, he says, our monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II has done this.

No doubt this is at least in part because, as Cole Morton argues in the Sunday Telegraph, the Queen "came to her Coronation as a woman of deep personal faith". As she said in her 2011 Christmas broadcast: "God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive."

What's most vital is not our form of government, nor even the way it is instituted - important though both those questions are - but whether our rulers acknowledge that, they themselves are subject to the ultimate Kingship of Christ.

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Samaritan's Purse

Samaritan's Purse has launched a new campaign to lift 30,000 families from a life of grinding poverty to a life of hope by 2016. The Raising Families initiative aims to give a sustainable future to some of the families surviving on less than £1 a day around the world.

The launch, at the recent Christian Resources Exhibition, came a day before the United Nations' International Day of Families.

Samaritan's Purse will be working through local churches to break the cycle of extreme poverty that some families are trapped in. This includes enabling them to access essential resources like healthcare, education, nutritious food and housing.

Samaritan's Purse UK Executive Director, Simon Barrington said: "Healthy and loving families provide many of the essential building blocks for a strong and stable society. But in the world's poorest countries, too many families feel powerless and under constant threat from disease, malnutrition, poor housing, and the problems caused by a lack of education and a regular income."

One person to have already benefited from similar support from Samaritan's Purse is 63-year-old Ugandan grandmother Namwandu Nakabale, who became mother to her three young grandchildren when her son and daughter-in-law died suddenly. Without the money to clothe, feed or educate them, she was suicidal before volunteers from the local church, supported by Samaritan's Purse, stepped in to provide uniforms and the fees to send her grandchildren to school.

Nakabale was also helped in setting up a garden where she was able to grow crops that could feed her family. She is part of her church's savings group and will use the money to start a business that will provide longer term security for her grandchildren.

The Raising Families initiative will assist other families in desperate situations.

Mr Barrington continued: "Even faced with the current economic pressures in the UK, these are things that the majority of people here take for granted, but these are precious and rare commodities for the people we serve. This is no hand-out. We work with local families and communities to effect long term change. This is not charity either. This is an investment in the future of a family and the future of their children. Regardless of whether it is a child-headed family, a single-parent family, a granny-headed family or a mum-and-dad-with-four-children family, the need is there and the local church is responding and ready to do more."

Chris Blackham, Samaritan's Purse UK Head of Programmes and Projects, added: "Through Raising Families, families in the UK have an opportunity to play an active and necessary part in the miracle of transformation that is now taking place among families in the poorest parts of the world - from Kyrgyzstan to Kenya, from Liberia to Rwanda, from Swaziland to Uganda.

"Over the next three years, we seek to see 30,000 families go from a point of despair and destitution to real hope and a sustainable future. We hope that many will join us on this exciting and essential journey and make a real difference to a family that really needs something different to change their future forever."

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The church and building community in the digital age

Discipleship has existed since the church came into existence and while the importance of deepening faith, learning God's Word, and becoming more effective witnesses has not changed, the context has and Christians are now having to think through what discipleship means in the digital age.

Why does it matter so much? Because there are an estimated two billion-plus internet users around the world and that means huge opportunities that the church cannot afford to miss out on, says Dr Bex Lewis.

She is part of the team at CODEC (Christian Communication in the Digital Age), a research project committed to exploring the newest forms of social and digital media, and how the Good News, one of the oldest messages in the world, can be decoded and encoded in digital spaces.

The Good News will not spread itself on the internet, Dr Lewis points out, and that means we as Christians have to do it. We have to think of ourselves as "digital disciples", she says.

Digital discipleship is the core of The Big Bible Project she helped create in 2011. The Big Bible Project was a response to research by CODEC, which found low levels of Biblical literacy among UK Christians. The idea is to encourage every Christian, from the pew, to the pulpit, to the academy, to contribute to conversations around the Bible with other Christians.

In days gone by, connecting on a large scale meant Christians having to meet in person, in conference centres or church halls. Now, Christians anywhere and everywhere can connect with each other online every day. A virtual community has built up around the Bible, thanks to The Big Bible Project, which currently has 60 active contributors and has around 148,000 visitors to the website.

And there are other possibilities through existing social networks like Facebook, with its 700 million active users, and Twitter, with its 300 million active users.

The Twurch of England is tapping into these possibilities by building a virtual community on Twitter around tweets related to the Church of England. Peter Ould, Church of England priest and Twurch founder, believes the Twitter initiative is helping "Anglican tweeters to feel they belong" and build a social media community within the Church of England.

Twurch follows over a thousand Anglican organisations and individuals, including bishops and other clergy, but the target audience is those in the Church of England as well as those beyond it.

"Beyond the Church," Peter said, "we help to show the wider world that the Church of England is as engaged with social media as the rest of secular society, if not more so."

Twurch is not an official ministry of the Church of England but they have "very friendly" relations.

"The Church of England has been showing in the past year or so that it's really getting to grips with the challenge," he says.

Ould reminds us that "the sense of being in community is the heart of what it means to be the Church" and social media can help the Church do this.

"It's important for the Church to make use of modern technology and Christians up and down the country are showing that they not only understand the challenges of an e-age but also are able to make the best use of it."

He adds: "As Web2.0 makes way for Web3.0 and cloud management becomes mainstream the internet will become vital to everyday life and integral to the way people think about how they interact with others."

This change in the way we interact is also impacting seminaries and theological colleges. The London School of Theology and All Nations Christian College both say they have benefited from the digital age.

Students "share experiences, interact critically, reflect on practice and contextualise what they are learning", explains Dr Marvin Oxenham, Applied Theology lecturer at the LST.

This has been the case particularly for distance learners. Previously, it was a one-way, one dimension communication via mail - students receiving course materials in the post from their teachers, students sending it back in the post. There was little to embed them in the student community or connect them with other distance learners. Now they can do all that through the web.

It's about creating "communities of learning", explains Dr Oxenham. "Students acquire knowledge and understanding through written text and a variety of other media, but then they engage with each other and their tutors participating in forums, wikis and discussions on blogging platforms."

He adds: "This is also a place where friendships and genuine relationships are being formed, despite the lack of embodied presence."

For Clive Thomas, All Nations e-learning technical coordinator, the internet has revolutionised communication between missionaries and their supporters.

"Travel costs have been reduced as a result of holding virtual meetings and time previously allocated to travelling can be re-assigned to other tasks. Geographical restrictions, including hostile terrain, no longer provide the constraints that they once did as support and management can be provided remotely," he says.

Most of us are not overseas missionaries, but we are not less bound to witness to those around us, believes Dr Lewis. The virtual world is a place we should be demonstrating a Christ-like attitude too.

"To many, the church is a place full of smoke and mirrors, irrelevant, full of homophobic misogynists," she says.

Two people she thinks are doing a great job of demonstrating Christ online are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, and Pope Francis, who are sharing their thoughts with thousands of people on Twitter (@ABCJustin and @Pontifex).

Whereas the physical church is always looking for ways to get out of the building to where the people are, digital media is about creating attractive content that brings people into the church's online spaces. Social media is a "pull media" rather than a "push media", she explains, and this means we have to get people's interest by what we post.

She points to her Facebook page as a good example of this. Posting the odd thought on church sermons alongside funny pictures and birthday wishes may not seem like a big deal, but three people came to church as a result of what she was posting, she says.

If we just "be ourselves, be interesting, be relevant, be honest", Dr Lewis continues, and if our whole life is influenced by Christianity, what we post will be evangelising in one way or another.

"God is a communicating God so we should be communicating in the spaces where people are."

Ould agrees: "It's important for Christians to be where people are, and since most people are now online that's the place to be!"

But she stresses that churches have to see engagement with social media and the internet as more than "a bit of an add-on". Broadcasting Sunday sermons or updating websites with the latest church news once a week is not enough anymore and churches should consider social media as something "that can be brought in to augment what the church is already doing, to connect as part of a whole-community - in people's everyday lives through the week".

It's going to take time to get people involved and confident in using it, she admits, but being intentional and putting thought into the content is a good start.

"A church may decide to get to grips with Twitter. Talk about the kind of things you want to share on there, give someone responsibility for it, and let them focus on that for a couple of hours a day for eg three months, and see where it's making a difference."

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Tony Campolo on why tackling corruption matters

Evangelical author and speaker Tony Campolo talks here about why he is taking a stand against corruption as part of the church-led Exposed 2013 campaign.

What attracted you to Exposed 2013?

Tony: I thought this would be an important subject to deal with, and so I accepted the invitation. I found it a subject that we haven't tackled before, I have been very committed to helping the poor. My whole life has been organised around developing ministries for poor people but I don't think we have ever dealt with the issue of corruption. So this was a wonderful opportunity to begin to study something that needed to be studied and because it was crucial.

We all knew the reality, that it was hurting people within the Third World. That billions of dollars was being used in corrupt ways that weren't benefiting anybody. Those of us who have had to ship medicine and food into Third World countries in times of emergency knew that there was corruption and trouble getting things through unless we bribe people. It all irritates you and you realise what a hindrance this is to doing the good you want to do. So needless to say, this is a subject I have never thought of researching before. I thought I'd better take a good look at this.

What difference would Exposed 2013 make to the world's poorest people?

Tony: If we are able to get rid of corruption it would do more good, I think it is as simple as that. A lot of good doesn't get done because corrupt politicians are siphoning all the money. People are bribed to get services that they should be getting for free.

The Exposed Global call to end corruption aims to gather a million signatures on a petition to be handed to G20 leaders in 2014. How effective do you think this will be?

Tony: I am all for that because it gives exposure that Christians are concerned about this. What petitions actually achieve is hard for me to describe. I can't imagine politicians saying "I'm dishonest, but a million people signed a petition so I'd better repent". I don't think that is going to happen. I think what this will do is to begin to propagate the fact that evangelical Christians are aware of the problem and are going to be talking about this, and this is something that politicians corporately are going to have to listen to.

Politicians are people who, one of my friends said, have wet fingers. They put their fingers in their mouth, get it wet, hold it up to see which way the wind is blowing. Then they tend to go in accordance with the direction of the wind. One of my friends says even if you can't change politicians, if you can get enough people talking about something, you can change the direction of the wind and they will respond. I think this is a very important thing.

The problem is the politicians know that it is all too easy signing a petition. I think this is the beginning of getting Christians aware of a problem they should have addressed a long time ago. There will be a million people who are now becoming aware that we need to be doing something to change this horrendous system of corruption. What we have to do is get Christians so worked up over this that they will not settle for anything less than action. That's what the petition will do. It will change those who sign it, it will make them into more committed people, and it will raise consciousness on the issue.

Tax evasion has been around since the dawn of taxes. Can you see governments being able to put a stop to tax evasion?

Tony: I think the British government could, I don't think the American government could. The reason is, the way we run campaigns in the United States is that candidates have to raise huge amounts of money. In order to run the presidency this year took $2bn. To run for the US Congress is $2,500,000 for your campaign, you have to do that every two years. Where are you going to get the money? Corporations will give you money, labour unions will give you money but there is no such thing as a "free loan". When they give you the money, they are assuming that you will be obligated to vote for tax laws that will serve their interests. The major oil corporations in the United States pay almost no taxes at all because what has happened over the years is these corporations have given candidates huge amounts of money to run their political campaigns. When they're elected, they pass laws to serve the interest of the givers, especially tax laws.

What impact does child sponsorship have?

An independent study has found that child sponsorship makes a "statistically significant" impact on the lives of participating children. The study was led on behalf of Compassion International by Dr Bruce Wydick, Professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Although around $3.2bn is spent each year on child sponsorship this is the first major independent research into the difference it makes to the roughly nine million children taking part.

"We were surprised to see that no one had ever done research to determine if international child sponsorship really works," Dr Wydick explained, "so we conducted a study of Compassion International's programme in six countries we believed to be representative of its work around the globe. What we found was that Compassion's child-centred development approach to sponsorship has many strong, positive impacts on the adult life outcomes of these formerly sponsored children."

The study looked at over 1,850 people across six countries who had been sponsored as children through Compassion between 1980 and 1992. Wydick's team made a number of key findings:

Compassion UK chief executive, Ian Hamilton said: "We have known for years that our projects are transforming lives and communities, so it is wonderful to have independent research to support that.

"What I will say is that our projects today are even better than ever. The research was, understandably, conducted with participants of our projects in the 80s and 90s.

"If we conduct the same research in another 30 years, I am confident the extent of impact will be even greater."

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