Christian Today Digest

Issue 1 2020

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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 recently on Torch Trust does not necessarily agree with any opinions expressed in the magazine.

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Sri Lankan church and hotel bombings were ‘utterly barbaric’, says Prince Charles

He told the congregation at Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in East London this week that the attacks were an “assault on religious freedom everywhere”, the Press Association reports.

Over 250 people were killed in the suicide bombings in April, which targeted Saint Anthony’s Shrine, Colombo, Saint Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, and Zion Church, Batticaloa. The victims included many children who had been attending Sunday school.

He said: “I’ve come here to stand with this community in remembrance of all those who were killed or whose lives were changed forever in the utterly barbaric attack on churches in Sri Lanka this past Easter day.

“The appalling loss of life made Sunday the 21st of April the single worst day of violence targeting Christians in the modern era.

“There are no words that can heal the wounds that you and your fellow Christians have endured, but I did so want you all to know just how much I, and so many people in this country, mind about what you’ve suffered and how much we have been thinking of you all.”

He went on to call the attacks “an assault on religious freedom everywhere and against all of us who prize tolerance over division, and love over hate”.

Relatives and friends of the victims were among others in attendance at an Advent service at Emmanuel Tamil church.

Kamiston Jogathilaraja, who is originally from Sri Lanka but now lives in East Ham, spoke of forgiving the attackers despite losing six members of his extended family and four friends in the attack at Saint Anthony’s Shrine.

The 27-year-old said: “Jesus told us to forgive those who do wrong to you and show the other cheek, but even though we did it and are Christians, sometimes it’s hard – because we are human – just to forgive.”

Speaking of a cousin he lost in the bombing, he added: “Every time I see my cousin’s wife, whose got a three-month-old baby, crying in front of my cousin’s picture it’s very hard – but at the end of the day we are forgiving, we are just moving on as a nation.”

The Prince of Wales, who greeted individual members of the congregation over a cup of tea after the service, spoke of how inspired he had been by the response of those affected.

“To see people grieving together across community, ethnicity and religious denomination and standing together in quiet defiance of those who would divide us, gives me confidence that compassion and community will always prevail,” he said.

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Middle East Christians at risk of ‘second genocide’

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic charity supporting persecuted Christians around the world, has warned of a "second genocide" in the Middle East.

The charity said that the region’s Christian community is at risk of a “wipe-out from the lands of the Bible” because of the persistent threat from extremist groups.

Although ISIS has been pushed back in the region, Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East projects at ACN, warned that other groups still active in the area share their aims to “eradicate” Christians.

“I cannot imagine the Middle East without Christians. But the threat is real. Daesh (ISIS) wanted to eradicate Christians,” he said.

“The genocidal mentality is alive with Al-Nusra and other groups.

“If Christians can stay together and help each other, they can stay in the Middle East. If they don’t, it can be like Turkey after the terrible genocide in 1915.”

The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen dramatically since 2003, when there were around 1.5 million in the country. Today, some reports put the number of Christians at only 120,000.

The picture is similarly grim in Syria, where there were around 1.5 million Christians in 2011. After years of civil war, that figure has now dropped to half a million.

Father Halemba said it would be a huge loss for the region if Christians were to be wiped out completely because they play a key role in peacebuilding.

“Christians are the soul of the country and they play a very important role in Middle Eastern societies. They are the peacemakers,” he said.

“Christians work for peace and peaceful co-existence and collaboration for the good of the country.”

He said that if Christianity is to survive in the region, all Christians must work together.

“Families which pray together stay together. We all need to work for the good of all,” he said.

“ACN helps all Christians – not only the Catholics. Christians should stay together and this is the desire of Jesus Christ. He wanted unity among His supporters.”

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Work starts on two new Bible translations

Wycliffe Bible Translators havs started work on Bible translations for two languages in Chad that have no writing system.

The charity said it would be a “long process” to translate the Scriptures for the Mulgi and Gula Iro people groups.

There are only around 5- to 7,000 Mulgi, while the Gula Iro number between 10- and 11,000 people.

Preparatory research is being carried out by linguists Dorothea Reuter and Maria Gustafsson to lay the ground for translation and literacy work.

They have been researching the languages since the summer and have already created a draft alphabet chart for each one.

“We began our assignments at the end of June,” said Dorothea, who will focus on Gula Iro.

Maria, who is focusing on Mulgəni, the language spoken by the Mulgi people, said: “We will partner with other organisations, working towards an oral Bible translation which at some point will be written down as well.”

An indication of the challenges ahead, Wycliffe Bible Translators said it was not even known how, where and when the languages were used.

“That will be part of our research,” said Maria.

“We know that Mulgəni is not well known, except by immediate neighbours. Gula Iro does have some written literature, and we know that for the Gula Iro their language is a key part of their identity.”

The translation project is not only significant in providing Scriptures for these people groups; it’s a milestone for the languages themselves.

Caroline Tyler, Wycliffe’s team director in Chad, said: “It’s such a privilege for our team to start working with these two people groups.

“Of course, we want them to have the Scriptures in their language so they can hear and read about Jesus in the language they understand best.

“But the Mulgi and Gula Iro will obtain so many other benefits from having their languages formally studied, written down and taught.”

Meetings have already been held with representatives of the Mulgi and Gula Iro communities in the capital, N’Djamena.

Caroline continued: “We visited representatives of each community in the capital, N’Djamena, to explain the work and to hear from community members about their aspirations and concerns for their language.”

The draft alphabet charts presented during the meetings generated positive responses from those present.

“People get enthusiastic about this simple document as it’s often the first written material they’ve seen in their language and they immediately want to provide feedback, give corrections and make suggestions,” said Dorothea.

“In both instances it led to some lively interactions,” she continued.

“The chart sparked considerable interest in the Mulgi meeting as everybody wanted a copy; people were fascinated as one of them read the words out loud. At the end of the meeting they were singing in their language and dancing.”

French and Arabic are the two official languages in Chad, but many members of the Mulgi community do not speak either of them or only know enough to hold down a basic conversation, Dorothea said.

At school, this creates additional challenges for the children as lessons are taught in French. Many in the communities have attended school for only a few years; some have never been at all, and so levels of education and literacy are low.

Dorothea is optimistic that learning to read and write in their own mother tongue for the first time will help to reverse these trends.

“The work will benefit the whole community, not just the Christians, who are a minority,” she says.

“Writing down a language shows it has a value. It also helps to keep knowledge about the history of a people – their traditions, culture, and stories.

“If children can learn to write and read in their own language first, it will help them then to continue with French later in school.”

In terms of the work ahead translating the languages, she said she was relying on God for his help.

“First, we need to figure out what sounds there are in the language, and how they affect the meaning of a word. Then how many letters we need in the alphabet and which letters to choose – and how to represent in the written language everything that is important in the oral language,” she said.

“It’s exciting to start this work, to work directly with the people, and to do something that no one has done before or very little. It’s also challenging, because there is so much to do and you can’t look up ‘the right answer’.

“It’s definitely something I need God’s wisdom and strength for and I can’t do on my own.”

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The Prime Minister must address the crisis in care for the elderly

[Louise Morse, of Pilgrims’ Friend Society, on the action she wants Boris Johnson to take to support the elderly]

The election is over and the lights and cameras have been rolled away. But a sombre fact remains: out of sight, away from the cameras and the lights, 81 older people a day - that’s three an hour - have died waiting for social care.

Around 78,000 older people in England have died waiting for care since a Green paper was promised in July 2017, according to Age UK research.

It’s not for want of lobbying. Many groups, including cross-party MPs and the Economics Committee of the House of Lords, have done their best to push for a funding plan to end the crisis.

Among them is the National Care Forum (NCF) the body for not-for-profit organisations (including PFS) in the care and support sector.

Vic Raynor, NCF executive director asks what will it take to kick-start the process. They’ve tried everything else, so would Scrooge like apparitions to the Prime Minister do it?

A blog she wrote this month imagines a visitation where the first apparition takes the PM to a moribund past of discussions, committees and the Care Act 2014 ending with rows of people sitting on benches facing each other, doing nothing.

The phantom guide to the present has a more urgent feel. He whizzes the PM from home to home, ‘seeing people struggling to cope, carers pressed beyond measure, workers racing from home to home with barely time to connect with people, MP’s surgeries pressed full of people unable to access services because of escalating eligibility, people isolated and alone, adults unable to live independent and fulfilling lives. Alongside this sits a revered star, the NHS, where behind the glitter of the shining name, the PM is shown with unerring insight that the challenges for people, workforce and funders are a mirror of their symbiotic social care twin.’

At this point in his story we know that Scrooge ‘got it’ and changed everything in his world. But, ‘being well versed in literature, the PM implores the phantasmagorical guide to rush forward, and hand them over to the future – desperate now to see how their efforts in charge have played out. With remarkable likeness to the Dickensian plot, the spectre of the future takes the PM toward a grave yard. The tombs lie deserted, the graves unkempt. Peering through the gloom, the epitaphs are clear...

‘Wrenched from this night of spectral insight – the PM looks in the mirror. The stories have been told, the impact on lives writ large before them. The tipping point has come and the fulcrum lies with them.’

The fulcrum does indeed lie with them, but we have a unique opportunity to leverage it. Archimedes said, ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.’

We now have a secure government with a majority that means it can get things done. We can be the lever that tips it in the right direction - each one of us adding a weight that moves it. We can talk, email and write to our Members of Parliament until a social care plan is produced that works.

If Japan and other countries can do it, why can’t we?

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God will still be God, whenever and however we choose to leave the European Union

[Baptist minister Rob James reflects on entrusting Brexit Britain to God]

Political landslide? Seismic shift? A new dawn? The opposition walls seem to have ‘come a tumbling down’ as easily as those that Joshua was faced with at Jericho. Whatever your political allegiance though, you have to admit Boris’ victory will have the commentators and historians talking for decades. I just hope his trade talks with the European Commission don’t last that long.

My wife was asked if I had cast my vote and she was pleased to reassure the enquirer that I had. It seems that I have ‘infuriated’ at least one person by openly declaring my intention to vote for no one. But I was determined to vote because I believe it is both a democratic responsibility and a privilege. I hail from Chartist country and my forebears fought long and hard to win the cause for universal suffrage. I will not betray my heritage.

But I was equally determined to put no cross on the ballot paper. I placed it into the ballot box as untarnished as when I was given it by the three friendly ladies sitting in the local polling station. I had voted for Brexit and I have been a life long Conservative supporter, but for the first time in my life I abstained. And with a clear conscience too! In fact, as I dropped that prized piece of paper into the box I viewed it as an act of worship, or at least an act of faith.

I believe I was trying to live out the implications of something the apostle Paul said: “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”

For all sorts of reasons which I don’t need to elaborate here I found myself unable to endorse any of the parties standing in this part of South West Wales. To do so would have left me feeling I had done the wrong thing and, like the apostle, I am persuaded that I will have to give an account of my actions to the Lord.

And so I didn’t vote for my local Conservative MP but I do accept the verdict because I left the outcome of this unwholesome election to God. I prayed, “Lord your will done on earth as it is in heaven.” And I will do all I can to encourage people to respect and to pray for those who have authority over us. Like the apostle Paul I believe that this is what it means to offer myself as a living sacrifice. Having said that, I will also be encouraging God’s people to live up to their prophetic calling and call these authorities to account whenever they seem to depart from Biblical norms.

But I will do so with a sense of peace, the kind of peace I felt as I dropped my empty ballot paper into the box. For as I prepared for this election, I was reminded of a story that reassures me that God is always in ultimate control.

In September 1999, a lone gunman entered Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth Texas and violently killed seven people before turning the gun on himself. You can read the story in the immensely moving book “Night of Tragedy, Dawning of Light” written by Dan Crawford, Kevin Galey and Chip Gillette.

Police officer Gillette tells of how he felt the strong presence of God as he walked through the worship centre on the Thursday morning following the shootings. “The crime scene search guys had picked it clean,” he writes but as he walked towards the rear of the rook heading for home, he discovered a hymnal which contained a bullet stuck in the pages. He read the words of the chorus where the bullet had come to its final rest and “a great outflow of emotion” came over him for they read, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords and He shall reign forever and ever.”

Gillette began to cry because he realised Jesus was assuring him that whatever happens, we need to remember that “He is the Lord”.

As election fever subsides I reckon this could be a good time for us all to stand still and remember He is God. He was before Brexit and He still will be whenever and however we choose to leave the European Union.

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I was a child bride. Now I stop child marriages in my community

I still remember the morning that changed my life forever. As dawn broke in and the skies began to turn bright, my mother, rather hurriedly, woke me up. As I struggled to open my eyes, my inner voice reminded me that it was a school day, so I’d better hurry up.

I rushed out of bed and spent the next two hours helping my mother do household chores– washing dishes, washing clothes, milking the buffaloes.

Just as I was going to pick my school uniform, my mother told me to wear a dress that she had bought for me. I replied that that type of dress was not suitable for school, but little did I know that the outfit had been carefully chosen for an event I did not expect.

I was only 13 when I became a child bride. After one year, I gave birth to my first child. I was a child myself and I wanted to study and become a teacher. I really did not understand marriage and its facets until later on in life.

My husband, Krishna, was supportive and allowed me to study, but when I was supposed to write my final tenth-grade exams, my family convinced me to miss them as I was eight-month pregnant with my second child. I dropped out of school altogether.

Around this time, I became familiar with the work of international children’s charity World Vision in India, which was conducting a sensitisation programme on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in my village. I attended this programme, where I learnt about the importance of providing newborn babies with nutritious and healthy food. My second child, who was born that year, was weak and malnourished. Hence, this programme came as a timely help for me to see my baby grow into a healthy child.

Since then, I attended every programme World Vision India conducted in my community because I felt empowered by the knowledge I was acquiring. I soon learned that education is one of children’s primary rights.

With the support of World Vision and my husband, I began exploring the possibility of retaking my tenth-grade exams through open schooling. I did it and my hopes reignited. Nothing has stopped me from pursuing my dreams ever since.

Ending child marriage

A mother of three children, I am studying to become a teacher while I also work as a news anchor – a platform I use to further speak up on children and women’s rights.

At the age of 13, a young girl doesn’t even know how to do things for herself. At such a young age, boys and girls cannot financially support their new family, nor do they have a proper education to avail a decent job. They do not have the maturity to endure this responsibility at that age.

Ever since I was sensitised about my rights, I’ve left no stone unturned. I used to be very angry about my marriage, but now I have left the regret behind and I’m determined to make the lives of other girls in my community secure.

I feel extremely proud when girls come and thank me for stopping their marriage. One of them recently completed her schooling and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

#Although this is encouraging, more needs to be done to end child marriage, which crushes girls’ dreams and prevents them from thriving and becoming who they want to be in life.

Child marriage almost slayed my dreams. I don’t want other girls to endure this.

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