THE ROHINGYAS – WHERE ARE THE PEACEMAKERS?

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There have been many sad and sorry stories about trouble spots around the world – about people who have been caught up in the midst of war, civil unrest, barbarity and violence, but none are so poignant at the present time as that of the Rohingyas. The Rohingas Muslims are from the Rakhine state in Myanmar (formerly Burma). They are a ‘stateless’ people who have faced many years of persecution from the Buddhist majority and deep seated historic tensions have fuelled the latest catastrophe, sparked by the actions of Rohingya militants earlier in August. However, the scale of the military response from the Burmese Generals alongside Buddhist monks has been vast and unprecedented, driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, men, women and children, across the border and into squalid relief camps in Bangladesh.

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Systematic burning of Rohingya villages

This terrible situation has become even more tragic as the Burmese leader is Aung San Suu Kyi – the 1st State Counsellor of Myanmar (akin to our Prime minister), the former ‘non-violent’ civil rights campaigner and leader of the National League for Democracy who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Quoted in 2007 as saying “I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for political and practical reasons”. This statement may ironically shed some light on her current, bewildering silence as the leader for Myanmar. Does she now believe that for political and practical reasons, violence against the Rohingyas is justified? Has she been persuaded by her Generals that violence is necessary? Is she prejudiced against the Rohingyas? Admittedly, it may appear that her actual power is very limited, but her ambivalence seems to perfectly illustrate the statement often attributed to Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”. Which is such a shame, as for many years she was held up as the shining light and beacon for civil rights and democracy. It seems that this mantle has now passed to another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – young Malala Yousafzai, herself the victim of violence in Pakistan. “We can’t be silent right now,” she says. “The number of people who have been displaced is hundreds of thousands …. This should be a human rights issue. Governments should react to it. People are being displaced, they’re facing violence. We need to wake up and respond to it,” she continues, “… and I hope that Aung Sang Suu Kyi responds to it as well.”

The Christian will be aware that when Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, tried to protect Jesus and prevent his arrest by the temple guards, Jesus warned him urgently to put his sword back into place “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26.52) and had conversely famously promoted the cause of peace in his ‘sermon on the mount’; “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” he said “…blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” (Matthew 5.7,9). So, where are today’s peace makers? Well, they are all around us – in fact they are us! For like Malala Yousafzai, we should be encouraging our government to act swiftly to put pressure on the Myanmar government and not to stand silent. There may be very little that we can do personally, other than to pray for peace and support relief organisations and charities that we know are working in the area, but we can also be clear that these sorts of actions will never be seen by us as being part of a just, fair, civil and democratic society.


“… and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”

Micah 6.8


 

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IF MY SYSTEM IS COMPROMISED – HOW DO I PAY THE RANSOM?

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Over the last few days we have seen an unprecedented cyber-attack which has hit more than 200,000 victims worldwide across 150 different countries. In the UK, the National Health Service was hit hard with 48 health trusts sufficiently compromised that they had to turn patients away, close down their IT systems and resort to ‘pen and paper’. The culprit was the WannaCry malware virus (or worm) which had the innate ability to encrypt people’s files and lock them out of their computers. People may not have literally felt like crying but it was extremely annoying, disruptive and potentially had the capacity to put lives at risk. Although the majority of PCs were safe, older systems without the appropriate software patches and up-to-date antivirus solutions left their users with the dilemma of either having to rebuild their systems from backups or possibly pay ‘the ransom’ demanded by compromised machines. Despite the scale of the attack, the evidence suggests that very few people actually paid the ransom (usually $300 (£230 per machine) in a virtual currency known as Bitcoin). This was probably because; firstly, purchasing Bitcoin is a very difficult process and secondly, ‘a lucky break’ by a software engineer found a way to stop the ransomware, and ‘kill the virus’ containing the spread of its contagion. Well done that man!

This whole episode demonstrated just how ‘interconnected’ we are in modern society and how dependant we are upon the good services of others. When one person or area is attacked, the implications for the wider community can be vast (rather like an earthquake, or the ripples generated by a stone dropped into a pond). Our ability to function is severely impeded, our relationships are broken, sometimes resulting in a lack of confidence, hope and trust. Sometimes, people prefer to either ignore the problem and hope it will go away or pay any cost to simply get on with their lives again.

It’s not difficult for the Christian to see immediate parallels with the theological concept of ‘sin’ as described in the Bible. Sin is that innate part of the human psyche which seeks to put itself first before anything else and often at the expense of others. It’s the selfish ‘I’ which lurks deep within and doesn’t usually care if something is right or wrong as long as it satisfies the self. Sin is often selfish, greedy and manipulative and is usually the very opposite of genuine, generous giving and sacrificial love. Like a virus, sin has the capacity to spread out and ‘take down systems’ and its consequences can be disastrous; it’s often the root cause of a lot of anger, hurt and mistrust. It spoils our relationships with one another, our communities and even with God himself. The difficulty is that without genuine regret, remorse and repentance it’s usually difficult to find a way to move on, to be positive or find forgiveness. Sin enslaves the individual and makes them less than they were ideally meant to be. They are ‘bound’ by it and effectively held to ransom!

This is why the Christian story is such ‘good news’ and so wonderfully positive, because despite our sin, we are told that God still loves us, and literally steps into this sinful world of ours in the person of Jesus, and through his death upon the cross, Christ absorbs within his own body the terrible pain and consequences of all our sin. He bears the hurt that our sin has caused, freely, lovingly and generously so that we can be spared its consequences and find forgiveness. The Bible says that by his death upon the cross Jesus paid a ‘ransom’ for our sins setting us free when we put our faith and trust in him. This is wonderful news and doesn’t simply change who we are before God, but our hearts and our perspective. We are set free and given a brand new, fresh start! So how do we pay the ransom? We can’t and we don’t have to – because it’s already been paid. All we need to do is embrace it and say thank you.


“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”

Matthew 20.28

CHRISTMAS – ARE WE IN DANGER OF MISSING THE POINT?

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There’s nothing quite like a traditional British Christmas! The hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping; the writing of cards and the exchange of presents; the decoration of houses both inside and out, and the turning on of lights on the Christmas tree. Christmas is a time for rest and relaxation, family get-togethers and stories of childhood. A time for mulled wine, cake and mince pies besides a real open fire. It’s a time to fondly remember those who are no longer with us and make plans for all we shall see in the new year. It’s a time to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, ‘peace and good will to all men’ and dream of snow, Rudolf, robins and Father Christmas. And – O yes – there’s church for those who want it!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the things listed above – but if Christmas really is, just about rest and relaxation and time spent with families – then are we as individuals (and indeed as a nation), in danger of missing the point? It would certainly seem so if the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent conversations are anything to go by. The Telegraph has printed a story where Justin Welby notes that there is a fundamental lack of ‘religious literacy’ in Government circles about those who are religious. They want the church to back them when it comes to promoting basic “British Values” but fail to appreciate that many of these values stem from our Christian religious heritage. In their efforts to understand religious extremism (mainly Islamic) they fail to understand that Christians are also motivated ‘first and foremost’ by their Christian faith and are desperately playing ‘catch up’ when it comes to appreciating the differences between these two religions and others.

So like government, have we all tended to take our ‘Christian Heritage’ for granted, so much so, that like music in a shopping mall it just becomes background noise and largely filtered out? So, in a world which is desperately crying out for peace, have we largely forgotten the ‘Prince of Peace’? Have we forgotten the real meaning of Christmas? I hope not! Christmas is about a loving God, who so loved the world that despite its shortcomings he literally steps into it. Christmas is about a young man who was both at one with his humanity but also his divinity. Christmas is not just about a baby that was born in Bethlehem but the man who died in Jerusalem and rose again. Christmas is all about the one who died for our sins so that we might be forgiven of them. Christmas is all about the start of a process where a loving God puts things right through the power of the resurrection – including us. Christmas is therefore fundamentally a celebration for all about a God who loves us.

So on Christmas Day, we could be left with a lot of empty parcels, that we may or may not, appreciate on Boxing Day, but the significance of Christmas for Christians is that in Jesus Christ every day is Christmas Day and worth celebrating. That’s the point of Christmas!

So may I wish you all a very happy Christmas and warmly invite you to celebrate it with us. God bless you all.


‘The angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born… he is Christ the Lord”.’ Luke 2.10-11


 

888,246 REASONS TO REMEMBER

On Saturday 11th October a small coach party left Necton on a trip to London. The original intention was to take the members of our church youth group to London to see the sights and play a Monopoly style treasure hunt game where the youngsters (having been split into two teams of boys against girls), had to follow various clues to famous landmarks and take a ‘selfie’ of their team at each place to prove that they were actually there. In order to make the coach trip a little more affordable we opened our invitation to other members of the congregation who might like to come with us. Naturally, as youth group leaders we all hoped that we would have a great day out and a lot of fun (which we did!), but it was also hoped that our trip would spark a moment of reflection, because we were deliberately starting our day at the Tower of London in order to see the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red art installation situated there. The artwork consists of a huge display of ceramic poppies progressively filling the Tower’s famous moat from the 5th August to 11th November – 888,246 poppies to be exact, each one representing a British serviceman killed in action during the First World War. Of course 888, 246 poppies is a huge number of poppies, and a number which is difficult to comprehend or imagine until you see it symbolically laid out before you. When you do see it, it takes your breath away, and of course each poppy represents an individual, each with their own poignant story to tell, and each individual represents a grief stricken family which had lost some one in the service of their country. We may be marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, but the pain felt by each family then was just as acute as any that might be felt today; and of course the freedom that our youngsters enjoyed as they ran around London, and that enjoyed by each one of us in our daily lives is largely due to all those men and women who have served their country in two world wars and other such conflicts around the world. Their bravery and stubborn tenacity in the face of an overwhelming and fiercesome foe secured our freedom and the way of life we enjoy today. We had hoped to visit the Cenotaph in our travels, but unfortunately street protestors made that element of our trip impossible – and yet, of course freedom of speech and the right to protest is also a well won right and democratic freedom which we enjoy. Our day concluded back at the Tower in time to hear a ‘roll of honour’ and a bugle playing the Last Post, a sombre reminder that many people couldn’t return home as they had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus said ‘that greater love has no-one than this, than he lay does his life for his friends” (John 15.13), a thought illustrated so vividly in the artwork at the Tower and in the lives of countless men and women who died in two world wars, and other conflicts, in the service of their country – but then you see, Jesus should know – from beginning to end the Bible tells us the story of another conflict, and another amazing battle for hearts and minds in the face of an overwhelming enemy. It’s the story of a pervading force called sin that destroys people’s lives and ultimately leads to their destruction, but it’s also the story of wonderful new life, love, joy, justice and peace born out of an act of tremendous bravery and self sacrifice. It’s the story of Jesus! Our coach party returned home from London with a new sense of gratitude and perspective on what had happened during the First World War and what was truly important. It’s my hope that as we remember with gratitude this Remembrance Sunday those who have served their nation and those who have died for it, we will also remember that greater story of which theirs is such a poignant echo, the story of Jesus whose life, death and subsequent resurrection has accomplished so much more for us than we can possibly imagine!

Yours as ever,

Stephen Thorp

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. John 3.16