Saturday, 28 February 2009

Israel’s Channel 10 talk show mocks Christianity

Lior Shlein, the comedian and host of Israeli TV Channel 10’s late night talk show, kicked up a storm last week when he mocked the Virgin Mary and Lord Jesus Christ.

In two separate shows aired on February 15th and 16th Shlein suggested Mary was a promiscuous teenager and became pregnant at 15 through a school friend. Shlein also jokingly claimed that Jesus died at 40 because he was obese, and could never have walked on water apparently because he too ashamed to leave his house, let alone go to the Sea of Galilee in a swimming costume.

The clip, originally on YouTube here was withdrawn by Channel 10 allegedly for copyright reasons. However it has been discussed and reported extensively on Arabic TV channels. Some of these are viewable on YouTube such as on Al Manar and Al Jazeera and here with English subtitles, although the images are themselves self explanatory.

The Transcript

The website of the Latin Patriarch has gone one step further and transcribed the text of the programme:

Scene from 16/2 Announcer: We will talk about the “Vatican” the Christian church. It’s annoying really annoying……..Every time, new one denies the holocaust, cardinals, archbishops, priests, monks, or choir-boy who has been rapped by the others…….. (Laughs) Audience…… laughing Announcer: He laughs less than the audience. They are denying the Holocaust and instead of getting angry, I decided to hit back. ……to deny the Christianity…….. I am not laughing, that’s true, and I am not laughing. Some one have to teach them a lesson and that is what we will do. Now, every night we denies different things, the Christian Church telling you remember yesterday, we denied the fact that Jesus walked on water, an now here is the movie…….

read more here

Friday, 27 February 2009

Iranian Centre for Christian Culture and Thought

Last night I spent a lovely evening with friends at the Iranian Christian Fellowship in Chiswick, London, at the invitation of Iranian Centre for Christian Culture and Thought.

I gave a presentation on Christian Zionism and together we examined the relationship between Israel and the Church found in the Scriptures. You can read the presentation here. After some traditional Iranian refreshments we had a stimulating question time.

The congregation is young and dynamic, committed to evangelism and discipleship, especially among the Iranian community in the UK. On Sundays they hold services in Farsi and Armenian.

For more information on ICF visit their website.

For some excellent resources on Islam check out Malcolm Steer's A Christian's Evangelistic Pocket Guide to Islam and A Muslim's Pocket Guide to Christianity.

For an informative introduction to Christianity in Iran, see Mark Bradley's, Iran and Christianity.

I wrote this short review of the book recently. "Mark Bradley clearly knows Iran and the Iranian people. Dealing honestly with the historical and political identity of Iran as well as the growth and suffering of the Iranian church, the book reads like a novel, I did not want to put it down.With so much mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between the United States and Iran, this is an important and timely book. It deserves a wide readership. I hope it dispels ignorance and helps diffuse tensions between Iran and the West. It should become a standard popular text on the development of Christianity in Iran."

Thursday, 26 February 2009

For the sake of the Gospel: Motives and Methods in Ministry

"I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:14-16)

"Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

"Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:11-18)

Should We Imitate Paul's Strategy?

John Piper asks, "The first question to ask is whether this remarkable testimony of Paul is something we should imitate, or is this just something that apostles did—or that missionaries do who must adapt to other cultures?"

Read more from John Piper here...

Listen to John Piper here...

Monday, 23 February 2009

CO-OP to Sell Olive Oil from Gaza

The Co-operative Group is to become the first supermarket to stock Fairtrade Palestinian olive oil – the first Palestinian product to receive Fairtrade certification. The Equal Exchange Fairtrade Palestinian Extra Virgin Olive Oil will be available in around 300 stores across the UK for £5.99.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also welcomed the announcement, saying: "I'm delighted that, at the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, Fairtrade-certificated Palestinian olive oil is to go on sale in British supermarkets. Olive oil production plays an essential part in the West Bank economy. In buying this oil, British shoppers will be helping the farmers of Palestine to make a living."

Almost 75% of Palestinians live below the United Nations poverty line. Olive and olive oil production is a vital source of livelihood for Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, where olive production is a crucial alternative to abandonment or desertification. For many, the olive harvest provides their main means of survival.

The Daily Mirror writes, "The Co-op has stepped in to help deprived Palestinian farmers by stocking olive oil from war-torn Gaza. Growers are struggling to make a living in the devastated region and the supermarket hopes to boost their income with the move."

Initially some 265 growers will benefit from Fairtrade status, but the intention is to bring as many growers as possible into the scheme through the registered small farmers’ co-operatives, which include some 1,700 growers.

Nasser Abufarha, founder and director of the Palestine Fair Trade Producers’ Company, which has played a key part in image of olivesachieving Fairtrade accreditation, said: “This is a ground-breaking move, and the importance to us of having the first Palestinian Fairtrade product on sale nationally at The
Co-operative cannot be under-estimated.”

Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategic Development Manager for The Co-operative Group, commented: “The Co-operative has supported Fairtrade since its inception, because we believe trade is one of the most important ways in which a country can lift itself out of poverty.

“This is a particularly significant development, given the circumstances of many of the Palestinian olive growers. Fairtrade certification should make an enormous difference to them, and we are delighted to be the first supermarket to be taking the first Fairtrade product to come out of Palestine.”

Palestinian olive oil producer Mahmoud Issa officially launched the product at Coop's Archway store in London today [Monday 23 February] – the start of Fairtrade Fortnight – along with Minister for International Development Mike Foster, and Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive Officer of the Fairtrade Foundation.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Parents told: avoid morality in sex lessons

Next month, Beverley Hughes, Minister of State for Children will be distributing a new booklet aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies through 3000 pharmacies. Entitled, Talking to Your Teenager About Sex and Relationships the guide is part of a package of support launched by ministers encouraging parents to play a role in preventing teenage pregnancy. Yet, as Jack Grimston observes in today's Sunday Times, the government naively believes you can divorce sex from moral education.

"Parents should avoid trying to convince their teenage children of the difference between right and wrong when talking to them about sex, a new government leaflet is to advise. Instead, any discussion of values should be kept “light” to encourage teenagers to form their own views, according to the brochure, which one critic has called “amoral”.

No - not "amoral" Jack, immoral - indeed criminally negligent would be more accurate. Britain already has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world. And the government thinks it can reduce it by divorcing sex from morality? The Daily Telegraph describes this as a national shame.

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls lays the blame on cheap alcohol. Maybe there is a correlation. Britain already has the record for teenage cannabis abuse in Europe.

Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, attacked the new leaflet, saying: “The idea that the government is telling families not to pass on their values is outrageous.

“Preserving children’s innocence is a worthy goal. We would like to see more of that kind of language rather than this amoral approach where parents are encouraged to present their children with a smorgasbord of sexual activities and leave them to make up their own minds.”

Here are some useful articles if you want to pursue the subject:

The Christian Institute

The sex lives of Christian teens

The secret of sexual satisfaction, self fulfilment and a strong society

Christian ministry aims to make teenagers pledge abstinence

Iran: the friendliest people in the world

Will Hide writes in today's Sunday Times about his recent visit to Iran. His observations corroborate my own from last year. They confound those like John Hagee who want America to join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran.

Hide writes, "Beaming smiles, gel and a joke about lavatory brushes and weapons of mass destruction - Iran overturns all expectations." As it should!

Photos of Iran

Friday, 20 February 2009

A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation: Naim Stifan Ateek

Twenty years in the writing, Canon Naim Ateek’s long awaited sequel to Justice only Justice, may prove to be the most important work ever written by a Palestinian theologian.

For those who know and respect Canon Ateek and the reconciliation work of the Sabeel Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem, the title says it all: A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. He is unwavering in his conviction that “Our God-given mandate is to see that an enduring peace is achieved in the Middle East” (p. xiii). The book explains the reasons for the struggle for justice; the tortuously slow progress made in the last twenty years; why successive peace agreements have failed; and why reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis is as elusive today as it was in 1948 or 1967. While brutally realistic, it is nevertheless a hopeful book, calling for justice for Palestinians, peace for Israelis and reconciliation for both.

The book has three parts. The first part is entitled, “Recapping History” and traces the birth of Sabeel, Canon Ateek’s own personal story, the generous offer of the Palestinians to share the land in a “two state solution” and the consistent refusal of Israel to abide by international law which has led to both political extremism and the breeding of violence. There is an extended exposition of the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18) and some of Jesus’ harshest words against those who deprive others of justice (Matthew 23:25-26). With great care, Canon Ateek explains why successive peace negotiations failed because they failed to address the root cause of the conflict - Israel’s illegal occupation, annexation and colonisation of the West Bank. One of the most helpful sections refutes Zionist propaganda about the “generous offer” and shows how Palestinians have consistently been willing to compromise land for peace but to no avail.

The second part addresses Palestinian Liberation Theology in the service on nonviolence and peace. Here Canon Ateek examines the place of “Land” in Scripture and the centrality of the biblical demand for justice. He exposes the deficiencies and inherent racism of Zionist theology. There follows an examination of the theology and politics of Christian Zionism and he contrasts this with the non-violent way of the cross of Jesus. In successive chapters, Canon Ateek compares the strategies and paradigms of contemporary, historical and biblical figures such as Saddam Hussein, Jonah, Samson, Daniel and Judah Maccabeus.

The third and final part is appropriately entitled “The Peace we Dream of”. With sensitivity and compassion, Canon Ateek summarises Israel’s predicament - how to remain a Jewish State committed to ethnic nationalism without rightly being compared to apartheid South Africa. He identifies the deficiencies of the “Two State Solution” and need for Israelis and Palestinians to move from justice to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and there are four appendixes dealing with the Zionist plan for Palestine from 1919, the infamous Balfour Declaration, Palestinian loss of land from 1946-2005, and the West Bank Barrier route as of June 2007.

Consistently throughout the book, Canon Ateek, seeks faith based solutions based on biblical models and scriptural injunctions “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. Canon Ateek shows compellingly that one cannot divorce religion from politics. Both are he insists “deeply intertwined” He insists “Religion can be a source of tremendous spiritual strength, but religion, when misused and translated into action by people of power, can also become a deadly weapon.” (p. xiv).

It is clear why to many Zionists, Canon Ateek and other Palestinians who have disavowed violence as a means of achieving independence, are a greater threat than the terrorists. (see Camera and CUFI for examples)

In this vitally important book, Canon Ateek identifies the major principles or building blocks upon which a just and lasting peace can and must be built. Canon Ateek strikes at the heart of the conflict and fearlessly addresses the major obstacles to peace, not least the unconditional support successive US administrations have afforded Israel. Canon Ateek warns prophetically, “Only when justice is done and Palestinians can celebrate their own independence will a comprehensive peace be felt throughout the land. As long as one side celebrates while the other mourns, no authentic celebration or peace is possible.” As Jesus says, “Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

Some Reviews:

“This is one of those books that are capable of transforming the reader and can change the world” Walter Wink.

“An important book for understanding the deeper issues impacting the path to peace for the people of Palestine and Israel. The concrete course of action Fr. Ateek proposes is rooted in non-violence, grounded in current realities, and can finally open a clear path to justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness for all the peoples of the Holy Land” Dave Robinson, Pax Christi USA.

“This book… is essential reading for anyone committed to the non-violent struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East” John H. Thomas, President, United Church of Christ.

Ateek’s vision is three-fold: the unity of all Palestinian Christians, dialogue and solidarity between Christian and Muslim Palestinians, and the creation of justice and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It demands dismantling those theologies and readings of the Bible that turn God into a racist God of war who chooses one people over others…” Rosemary Radford Ruether, Pacific School of Religion.

“Naim Ateek offers a welcome contribution to the struggle that so many share for peace, justice and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. His new book is an important reminder of the unique role that Palestinian Christians… can and should play in resolving one of the most painful situations of injustice and violence in our world today. I share its dream of a Holy Land that truly is a land of peace, justice and reconciliation.” Clifton Kirkpatrick, President, World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

The Revd Dr Naim Stifan Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest, is an Arab citizen of Israel. He is the president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical theological centre in Jerusalem, which he founded to work for the liberation of Palestinians. For more information see the Friends of Sabeel North America and Friends of Sabeel UK.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Imitating Christ: Philippians 2:5-8

It has topped The New York Times’s bestseller list. It has sold over a million copies in a year. It has been called The Pilgrim’s Progress of our generation. It’s received rave reviews from Christian leaders. So what is it about William P Young’s The Shack that has captivated so many people?
Without giving the plot away, the heart of the book is a series of extended conversations between a man called Mack and the three Persons of the Trinity, about why God allows suffering in his creation. These conversations take place in a shack associated with a deeply traumatic family tragedy, the worst nightmare of any parent. Through these conversations, God reveals deep secrets about himself, about the nature of the universe, that slowly begin to heal Mack’s anger and pain.

Allowing for the fact that the book is fiction, you need to know that Young depicts God the Father “(addressed throughout the book as “Papa”) as a middle-aged, slightly overweight and extremely cheeky African American woman who loves to bake, Jesus as a man of Middle Eastern appearance in blue jeans, and the Holy Spirit as a slight woman of Asian appearance who is seen more clearly when you aren’t looking directly at her.” (The best critique is by Paul Grimmond here)

So what makes an imaginative but extended dialogue with the three persons of the Trinity so popular with non-Christians? At several key points in The Shack, God declares that love must involve no compulsion and therefore no expectations… The message is reinforced when the Father declares, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p. 120). God says the Mack, “we are submitted to you… we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.” (p. 145-146).

Put simply, the God of The Shack, while sometimes angry at people’s folly, is never angry with people. Sad yes, angry no. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that his anger will never lead to judgement. So we are relieved to hear the God of the Shack assuringly insist, “Evil and darkness… do not have any actual existence.” (p. 136).

In a beguiling way, The Shack speaks words about God and sin and judgement that will scratch itching ears, but this is still not enough to account for the book’s popularity. If there is one thing that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code exposed was the deep seated suspicion that the Church down the ages has distorted and corrupted the real Jesus. And the failure of the Church is woven into the fabric of this story too. So Jesus insists, “who said anything about being a Christian?” (p. 182) “My life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus’…” (p. 149).

Read the rest of the sermon here

Check out Mark Driscoll's fine critique here

Friday, 13 February 2009

Robbery at the Vicarage

Yesterday, between 1:00pm and 2:00pm thieves smashed their way into our Vicarage and stole my laptop computer and two digital cameras.

I've forgiven them but if you come across a Sony Vaio Z11WN offered cheap, or a Nikon D300 with a MB-10 battery grip and an 18-200mm lens (serial numbers 8019676 and 2835318) or a Canon G10 offered cheap, please let the police know. They also took my Breitling replica watch.

I hope the Bible software on my laptop will edify, if not convict, who ever now has it, and that they are also moved by the photos on the cameras of my visit to Uganda and recent snow scenes of Virginia Water lake. I didn't back them up so would love to get them back!

Once before, a few years ago, I was robbed at University and a few days later, the good Lord providentially guided me to the person, he was arrested, confessed and sent to prison. I'll let you know if something similar happens this time.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Ruth Gledhill on the fate of the Christian Encyclopaedia pulped - for being too Christian!

Ruth writes, "41NegjzYVlL._SL500_AA240_ Was Paul Eddy perhaps being more prophetic than we knew? Read the following in the context of the anti-Islamist politician Geert Wilders being banned from entering Britain today. He wants to attend a screening of his film Fitna at the House of Lords. According to Emily Gosden in The Times today, 'The film features verses from the Koran with images of terrorist attacks in New York, London and Madrid and calls on Muslims to remove “hate-preaching” verses from the text.'

So what about the pulping of the Christian enclycopaedia for being too Christian?

From clavi non defixi:

'...a substantial encyclopedia slated for 2009 (and released at AAR/SBL) has faced objections from prominent members of its editorial board for being “too Christian, too orthodox, too anti-secular and too anti-Muslim and not politically correct enough for being used in universities.” The encyclopedia has been pulled by the publisher, and existing copies are being sought out and destroyed.'

And National Review Online:

Wiley-Blackwell, a major academic press, was set to release its four-volume Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization this month. According to the encyclopedia’s editor, George Thomas Kurian, the set had been copy-edited, fact-checked, proofread, publisher-approved, printed, bound, and formally launched (to high praise) at the recent American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference. But protests from a small group of scholars associated with the project have led the press to postpone publication, recall all copies already distributed, and destroy the existing print run. The scholars’ complaint? The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, they have reportedly argued, is “too Christian.” “They also object to historical references to the persecution and massacres of Christians by Muslims,” Kurian says, “but at the same time want references favorable to Islam.”

source: Times Online

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Have the Church Commissioners secretly sold their shares in Caterpillar?

In what may be a major triumph for the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment, unattributed sources linked to a leading British Newspaper claim that the Church Commissioners have secretly sold their £2.2. million shares in Caterpillar.

Caterpillar is the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment and the largest UK employer in the earth moving and construction industry. With 93,000 employees and 3,000 branches in 180 countries, its sales and revenue in 2004 amounted to $30 billion. Caterpillar also markets a range of rugged boots, branded clothing and fashion accessories.

Caterpillar has a Code of Worldwide Business Conduct. In it they state that “We avoid those who violate the law or fail to comply with the sound business practices we promote.” Caterpillar bulldozers have been used by the Israeli military since 1967 to consolidate its illegal occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian Territories. Caterpillar bulldozers have been used by the Israeli military to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes, schools, farms, wells, roads, orchards and ancient olive groves.

Their frequent use has come to international public attention following three major incidents: the destruction of the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002; the killing of peace activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza in March 2003; and the destruction of homes, roads and agricultural land in Rafah in May 2004. As a consequence, Caterpillar have been subjected to unprecedented criticism from the United Nations and international human rights groups.

The Israeli army has around 100 Caterpillar D9 bulldozers, each weighing over 53 tons. At nearly 4 metres high and over 8 metres long, with a powerful front-fitted blade and rear ‘ripper’ blade, the D9 bulldozer is as tall as a double decker bus and as heavy as a tank. Caterpillar bulldozers are further customised by the Israeli military adding machine gun mounts, smoke projectors and grenade launchers.

In an interview in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s most popular tabloid newspaper in May 2002, following the use of Caterpillar D9s causing widespread death and destruction in the Jenin refugee camp, Moshe Nissim, a bulldozer operator admitted,

“I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D9 … when I was told to bring down a house, I took the opportunity to bring down some more houses … They were warned by loudspeaker to get out of the house before I came, but I gave no one a chance. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give one blow and wait for them to come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as fast as possible.”

According to War on Want, the bulldozer unit was cited for outstanding service for its role in the operation.

Following the devastation caused by Caterpillar D9s by the Israeli army during their assault on the Rafah refugee camp in May 2004, John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, accused the Israeli military of grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In his report to the UN General Assembly Dugard noted:

“Homes have been destroyed in a purely purposeless manner. Bulldozers have savagely dug up roads, including electricity, sewage and water lines, in a brutal display of power … The time has come for the international community to identify those responsible for this savage destruction of property and to take the necessary legal action against them.”

Caterpillar bulldozers are also being used in the construction of Israel’s controversial Separation Barrier, encroaching deep inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The route of the Separation Barrier, with imposing watchtowers and sniper positions built every few hundred metres, is clearly intended to incorporate Israel’s illegal Settlement Blocks, annexe significant portions of the Palestinian Territories such as the Jordan Valley and imprison Palestinians within a series of isolated Bantustans (see later for definition).

Deprived of their land and denied access to employment, schools and hospitals, the impact of the Separation Barrier is deeply traumatic and will further exacerbate the exodus of Palestinians from their homeland. In July 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest judicial body, ruled the Barrier illegal, demanding construction be halted, dismantled and compensation paid to Palestinians affected by it.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand Israel abide by the ICJ’s ruling. All countries which are party to the Fourth Geneva Convention are obliged to ensure Israel’s compliance with the Convention, and to restrain corporations such as Caterpillar from participating in the Barrier’s construction.

The Caterpillar D9 is now an indispensable weapon used by the Israeli military against the civilian Palestinian population, largely funded by the US government’s Foreign Military Sales Programme.

Jewish Voice for Peace insist “Caterpillar bulldozers are not given to Israel as construction equipment but explicitly as weapons.”

In the words of Robert Fisk, the Middle East analyst, the Caterpillar bulldozer that killed Rachel Corrie “was part of the regular US aid to Israel.”

The uses of Caterpillar D9’s by the Israeli military in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is in violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and this constitute war crimes under international law. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both urge Caterpillar to take a closer look at the UN Norms on business and human rights. As HRW point out, “The UN standards exist for the behaviour of companies. Caterpillar has every reason to know that the D9 is being used to destroy homes illegally, and it is therefore complicit in these facts.”

The Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment now call upon UK churches directly to exert pressure on companies and corporations to discontinue business activities that:

1. Provide products, services or technology that sustain, support or maintain the occupation of the Palestinian Territories;
2. Provide products, services, or financial support for the establishment, expansion, or maintenance f settlements on occupied land;
3. Provide products, services or financial backing to groups that commit violence against innocent civilians;
4. Provide finances or assist in the construction of Israel’s Separation Barrier. Disinvestment is a non-violent option that brings attention to the issues, and promotes peaceful change.

“Non violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding… It is a sword that heals.” Revd. Martin Luther King

"Our aim is not to bring Israel to its knees but to its senses" Zougbhi Zougbhi, Wi'am, Bethlehem. The Church of England General Synod Votes to Divest from CaterpillarIn May 2005 the Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) gave consideration to the Church of England’s investment in Caterpillar Inc. and in September 2005 determined not to advocate disinvestment from Caterpillar. Nevertheless they have stated:

“EIAG is concerned at the uses to which the Israeli authorities have put Caterpillar machines in the past. It will therefore actively monitor the situation, and review this decision rigorously if further sales are made that appear likely to result in the destruction of infrastructure or to place lives or livelihoods at risk.”

Canon Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Centre in Jerusalem together with the Right Revd Riah Abu El Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, have both extended an invitation to the members of the EIAG to visit Palestine urgently and see first hand the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and farms caused by the 100 Caterpillar bulldozers the Israeli army already owns. Canon Ateek and Bishop Riah have both called for disinvestment.

In January 2006 the Church of England's General Synod made an historic decision to divest from Caterpillar. Here is the text of the motion passed by General Synod:

"This Synod:
(a) heeds the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies;
(b) encourages the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to follow up the consultation referred to in its Report with intensive discussions with Caterpillar Inc, with a view to its withdrawing from supplying or maintaining either equipment or parts for use by the state of Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes &c;
c) in the light of the urgency of the situation, and the increased support needed by Palestinian Christians, urges members of the EIAG to actively engage with monitoring the effects of Caterpillar Inc's machinery in the Palestinian occupied territories through visiting the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East to learn of their concerns first hand, and to see recent house demolitions;
d) urges the EIAG to give weight to the illegality under international law of the activities in which Caterpillar Inc's equipment is involved; and
e) urges the EIAG to respond to the monitoring visit and the further discussions with Caterpillar by updating its recommendations in the light of these."

Read the Open letter sent to the Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) of the Church of England from the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) in April 2006 challenging the EIAG over its premature decision and superficial engagement with Caterpillar.

For more information on the Caterpillar campaign see here

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Christianity Explored in Uganda and Kenya

I have just returned from two weeks in Uganda and Kenya, assisting Jim McAnlis of CMS Ireland and Craig Dyer, training director of Christianity Explored to equip and train pastors and church leaders in Uganda and Kenya to use CE as a tool for evangelism, discipleship and leadership development.

The visit also coincided with the
launch the first ever African CE translation – Luganda - a joint partnership with the Kampala Evangelical School of Theology (KEST) and the Bible Society of Uganda. My role on the team was also to help teach the Gospel of Mark as the foundation for expository preaching and inductive Bible study.

The aim of the CE training is to equip hundreds to train thousands to reach millions. The strategy is based on: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

The main conference was held at Kiwoko Hospital. Kiwoko which is about 50 miles north of Kampala is at the centre of the Luwera Triangle – the area of Uganda devastated by war in the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1986 over 250,000 people were killed in the civil war between the forces of Milton Obote and Yoweri Museveni. Piles of skulls were often left at the road side. We visited one of the war graves while there. A further 500,000 people became refugees forcibly removed from their homes and villages.

In 1988, Dr Ian Clarke, a young Irish Physician found himself at the scene of devastation of two civil wars, surrounded by evidence of recent genocide and the despair of people robbed of the means of rebuilding their lives. The land was rich in fertility but the people poor and weak. Challenged by what he had seen, Ian resigned from his Medical Practice near Belfast and returned to Uganda to become the only doctor to tens upon tens of thousands people in an area half the size of Northern Ireland.

He began with a clinic under a tree but the seed was soon to grow and gradually, with the help of Christian friends and various capital grants, a modern hospital took shape and with it a whole community recovered hope and the means of survival.

The complex now includes adults' and childrens' wards, a T.B. ward, an Obstetric Unit, Operating Theatres, Outpatient Building, and a Laboratory as well as a Nursing School for 150 students and staff accommodation. Regular outreach clinics are held, including an AIDS support programme in the community. We saw a new maternity unit being constructed.

Kiwoko hospital is built on a strong Christian foundation, with evangelism and medical help going hand in hand. The Kiwoko Mission Team led by Shadrach Lugwago, the hospital pharmacist, and made up of other hospital staff, leads missions in the surrounding villages. There are also strong links with the Pentecostal as well as the Anglican Church of Uganda and the local church, St John’s runs a primary school for 1,000 pupils.

During our stay in Kiwoko, we visited the New Hope orphanage nearby, founded by Jay and Vicki Dangers, which now cares for 600 children. Together with the Kiwoko Hospital they are helping to rebuild community life in war torn central Uganda.

The medical staff at Kiwoko advised that average life expectancy is around 45. 10% of the population are HIV positive. 30% live in poverty. 50% are under 15. 50% of women are abused. Most people survive by subsistence farming. A significant proportion are malnourished. Malaria is the chief killer of children. Polygamy is common. Witchcraft is the norm. Instances of child sacrifice are prevalent enough to be a news item in the media. One in 20 women die in child birth. At Kiwoko Hospital 70% of the patients have HIV and without adequate protection, such as proper surgical gloves, the medical staff place their own lives at risk to care for their patients.

The conference was based in an open field nearby the hospital and was hosted by the 40 strong Hospital Mission Team. They have already taken 3,000 people through CE in the past five years and the conference drew 800 pastors from a wide area.

Two further smaller conferences were held. The second, in Bweyale near Masindi, 100 miles further north is an area with 56 different affinity or ethnic groups and hosts refugees from Kenya, Sudan and the Congo.

The third conference was held in Nairobi at Carlile College, the Church Army training institution. Located in Kibera, one of the world’s largest slum communities on the outskirts of Nairobi, Carlile College also has an extensive urban ministry training programme, preparing ministers to serve the fast growing urban populations of Africa. Students and faculty who attended the two dasys CE training came from 14 different countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, besides many from Kenya and Uganda.

During the two weeks, over 1,000 pastors and evangelists were introduced to Christianity Explored and trained to teach others in how to use the course to lead people to Christ, build them in the faith and equip them to do the same.

Teaching in the open air, on the equator, under a burning sun, for six or seven hours a day, without PowerPoint, cross culturally, and through translation was exhilarating if a little exhausting. From the first night we learnt to sleep under a mosquito net and coating of insect repellant spray. From the second night, we learnt to live without hot water and to sluice the toilet manually with water we’d previously washed in. From the seventh night we learnt to live with flying ants, cockroaches and spiders and without running water and only occasional electricity. I began to identify a little with those who had travelled up to a hundred miles in the back of an open lorry or on a bicycle, and were happy to sleep 40 to a room and eat basic food cooked on an open fire, to be a part of one of these conferences.

Someone once said rather sarcastically that Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep. I agree with Ben Byerly that “The depth of faith I have seen in many Africans - East and West - puts any other Christianity I’ve seen to shame - especially the petty Christianity I’ve seen portrayed by so many “deep theologians” of the West.”

You can read the full report here.
Photos are accessible here.