A Gothic horror?

No, not those Goths!

No, not those Goths!

In the spring of 376 AD, thousands of hungry, weary Goths arrived on the northern bank of the Danube, in what is now Romania, and asked the Romans permission to cross the river into safety.  Displaced by war and violence in their homelands further east, they had migrated to what they believed was safer territory behind the Roman frontier.

For Rome, it was a wonderful opportunity.  Thousands of new citizens who could become workers, soldiers, farmers, taxpayers and consumers could breathe life into the old empire.  But it was also a threat.  Such a large influx could disrupt lifestyle, change culture, bring unhelpful new influences and potentially crime and violence.

The Romans prevaricated, and by not being decisive, lost the initiative.  The Goths forced their way in but instead of being settled and absorbed, they remained a separate cultural (and military) identity within the empire.  Within a few years war broke out, the Goths had inflicted on Rome its biggest defeat in centuries and killed an emperor.  For decades they migrated around western Europe looking for a home, and became the first invaders to sack Rome in nearly a millennium.  They destabilised the empire and contributed to the collapse of the western half of the empire.

1640 years later, is Europe now in the same position as the Romans were?  Faced with a massive influx of people from different cultures, desperate for safety, jobs, a home, will we make them into friends or enemies?  How are they going to influence Europe?

This is the background to next month’s EEMA conference on refugees.  Refugees in Europe – a Fence or a Bridge? will consider what the church in Europe will be doing in the face of the current refugee crisis/opportunity.  How do we show we care about refugees?  What changes are going to be forced on the European church as a result of this?  Is it legitimate to take this as an opportunity to evangelise displaced people, and if it is, how do we do it?  What does this mean for mission from, to and in Europe?

For more information on this key conference, which will be held in Bucharest (in Romania, where the Goths arrived) from 21st-24th June, go to the EEMA website.  We’re going – we hope to see you there!

The refugee issue

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

The migrants who have so spectacularly been coming into Europe from Africa and the Middle East are already having a huge impact on Europe which will last for generations.  Whether this impact is revealed in the vast numbers of new residents taken into countries like Germany and Sweden, or the huge fences that have gone up around other countries’ borders to keep out even people only wishing to pass through those countries, the entire continent is being affected.  In the UK, the first of the refugees taken from camps in Syria are beginning to arrive, and across the continent politics is being affected by the argument between those who say we should show more compassion to our fellow humans, and others who say our countries are already full and charity begins at home.

These issues are so huge that many individual Christians are feeling disempowered, despite caring deeply about the issue.  They feel they can’t change anything, have no impact on government policy and don’t know what they can do to help.  So here are some of our suggestions.

Pray – It goes without saying that refugees, whatever their religious beliefs, need our prayers.  So do the charities, churches, government officials and individuals working with them.  Many refugees have seen their loved ones killed, and have lost their homes and communities.  They are traumatised, and so are many of the overworked counsellors trying to help them.

Donate  – Many of the charities working with refugees could do so much more to help if they had more resources, to help them feed and clothe people in refugee camps, provide education and healthcare, and help to welcome and settle immigrants.

Be informed –  Many mission agencies are working with refugees – find out which ones they are through their websites.  The European Evangelical Alliance has an excellent webpage, and the latest edition of Vista addresses the issue of migration.  The Refugee Highway Partnership has a major role to play in this and the European Evangelical Mission Association is hosting a conference in June focussing on refugee issues and the church’s response.  Find out if your network or denomination has a policy, spokesperson on refugee issues and get involved.

Help – Volunteering to help a charity might seem like a huge challenge, but they may need people to sort through donated clothing, distribute food packages and do other tasks which their own staff may be overworked with and would value some help with.

Do – Find out if any refugees are coming to your town, get in touch with whoever is coordinating care for them, and ask what you can do to help.  Over 50 local authorities have been helping to settle refugees so there are probably some near you.  They will need practical support, help understanding your country’s dominant culture and language, and friendship.  You don’t have to be particularly skilled to show them around your community, or drive them somewhere, or go with them to meetings with benefits officers to make sure they understand.

Serve –  Many of us have skills which we don’t think about using to help mission workers.  We can cook, drive, and speak the dominant language of the host community.  We have many connections we can utilise to help.  Many of us have professions like hairdressing, nursing, or teaching which we could use to help refugees.

Advocate –  In a world where much in the media is openly hostile to the idea of taking in more refugees, write letters to newspapers, local counsellors and members of parliament advocating for them.  Sign petitions and use social media to keep the issue in peoples’ minds.

The issues of refugees in Europe is not going to go away quickly.  It will change our societies, our understanding of community and the ways in which we go about mission.  Churches have a huge part to play in this transformation and have a wonderful opportunity to be on the cutting edge of change.

On the road to Jericho

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

There is one small but significant word which is often overlooked when reading – and preaching – on the story of the Good Samaritan: ‘down’.  In Luke 10:30 Jesus makes it perfectly clear which way the traveller was going: down.  ‘Down’ is repeated in verse 31 – the priest was going down the road too.

This does not immediately come to the attention of English speakers since we customarily use the expression ‘down the road’ to mean ‘along’.  But in this instance it is topographically specific: ‘down from Jerusalem to Jericho’.  And that road is indeed a downward route, which drops over a kilometre from 754 metres above sea level to 258 feet below.

Yet it is not the topography which is the point being made in the specific use of the word ‘down’, it is the spiritual implications.  Why were the priest, and by inference the Levite too, going down?  At that time, it was common for many of the priests to live in Jericho, with its abundant water supply, warmer climate and good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, than in Jerusalem.  They would go up and stay in Jerusalem while it was their turn to serve in the temple, and then return home.  So these two had just finished whatever their ministry called for them to do, and were returning to their ‘normal’ life.  They were off duty.

The unspoken criticism of them is that their religious activity had not had any impact on their relationship with their fellow human beings.  They should have had compassion, but it took an outsider who wouldn’t even have gone to the temple to show them how to live with compassion on those less fortunate.  And ‘compassion’, in Biblical usage, does not mean the bland sense of “oh, what a shame” that it conveys in contemporary English, but means “to be gutwrenched”, so eaten up with feeling that we get a physical response to what we see and hear.

This speaks to those of us who find beggars coming to our church premises, or trip over the homeless sleeping under the lych-gate.  If our relationship with God counts for anything, it should be working itself out in our compassion for the needy.

And so it does, in many cases.  Churches are largely the impetus behind food banks in this country.  Many people working for overseas development agencies are Christians.  Many of those agencies have Christian roots.  And many of us give sacrificially to these agencies, making up the lion’s share of emergency donations in the UK.

But we can easily become weary of doing good.  Particularly when it hits closer to home.  How compassionate am I when a homeless person starts sleeping in the lobby of my block of flats?  How much do we care about the plight of Syrian refugees if compassion means Britain letting into our country hundreds of thousands of them like Germany has done, and having to build more homes, schools and hospitals (at taxpayer expense)?  When push comes to shove, our compassion hardens.

Next week, we’ll be looking at some Christian responses to the current refugee crisis, but in the meantime let us remind ourselves of the words of St Paul:

Let us not grow weary of doing good.

(2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Featured Ministry: Open Doors

hist_beetle_driveIn 1955, a young Dutchman went to a youth congress in communist Poland carrying hundreds of Christian tracts to distribute.  During his visit he discovered an isolated evangelical church struggling to retain its morale in the face of communist persecution.  The young man, now known throughout the world by the name ‘Brother Andrew’, embarked on a life travelling to difficult and dangerous places, smuggling Bibles to a needy church, inspired by the words of Revelation 3:2 –

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

Driving his battered VW Beetle all over the Soviet bloc, Brother Andrew smuggled Bibles into communist eastern Europe.  But his exploits did not stop there.  He pioneered work into China, and then the Middle East and parts of central Africa.  Open Doors, the organisation he founded, has gone on to print Bibles, broadcast the Gospel by radio, coordinate international prayer ministry, keep the church informed about persecution  and become well-known for delivering practical support to the suffering church.  They also advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and their annual World Watch List is a must-have for Christians seeking information about how to pray for countries where Christians are oppressed.

60 years on from Brother Andrew’s first journey, Open Doors has become a worldwide agency working in over 60 countries through nearly 1000 workers – most of them national partners, because in the places they work people who are obviously foreign can’t always be effective.  Many of them work in challenging and dangerous places, training up new generations of church leaders and equipping the church to survive in the most hostile places on the planet.

All this is true to the adventurous spirit of Brother Andrew, who is famous for pointing out that there are no countries which are closed to the gospel.  There are of course countries from which it may be hard for Christians who preach the gospel to come back alive, but Brother Andrew has proved throughout his escapades in places like Palestine, Iraq, China and the Soviet Union, that God really can shut the eyes of the authorities and open doors.

Today tens of thousands of suffering Christians are supported and encouraged by Open Doors’ campaigns of aid and encouragement.  You can read more about these on their website, where you can find more details on how to pray for them and to join in the ministry.  As the UK CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce said at a recent celebration of 60s of Open Doors’ ministry:

There isn’t a persecuted church and a free church – there is one church.

Or as St Paul put it: “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).  Let’s be inspired by the example of Brother Andrew and his many colleagues to relieve the suffering and pray for the parts that suffer.

Sykes-Picot and the ISIS dilemma

NThe ISIS insurgency in Iraq has hit the headlines in the last few weeks as this Islamicist group has rapidly gained control of territory and prompted a mass-movement of refugees by its extreme persecution of minority religious groups, prompting many Christians to show their solidarity with the persecuted church by changing their Facebook photo to the Islamic letter ‘n’, which ISIS have been writing on the doors of the homes of Christians so that they can be easily identified.  It stands for ‘Nasrani’, the Arabic word for Nazarene, the local term for Christian.  Many people will not however have heard of the obscure Sykes-Picot Agreement which ISIS has vowed to overthrow.

ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is the successor to a number of Al-Qaeda-linked organisations which emerged in the aftermath of the Western invasion of Iraq, and which gained ground as an insurgent group in the Syrian civil war.  It has gained sympathy among Iraqi Sunnis marginalised by the pro-Shia regime of the recently-deposed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and it aims to impose a Sharia religious state (or Caliphate) throughout the Levant.

Sir Mark Sykes (left) and François George-Picot

Sir Mark Sykes (left) and François George-Picot

Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot were diplomats, British and French respectively, who in 1916 drew up a secret treaty agreeing how Britain and France would carve up the remains of the Ottoman Empire, which they confidently expected to be defeated in the First World War.  When this happened, The League of Nations gave Britain and France a mandate to run the countries we now know as Syria and Lebanon (France) and Israel-Palestine, Jordan and Iraq (Britain) as part of their Empires while creating independent countries.

Sykes and Picot drew lines on a map with little consideration of ethnic, religious and tribal affiliations, rather as the European colonial powers had done in Africa a generation previously.  The two countries subsequently imposed their own rule on these countries, overthrowing local arrangements which had emerged following the collapse of the Ottomans and reneging on previous agreements, particularly those made with local potentates by British soldier T E Lawrence in exchange for their support in fighting the Ottomans.

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Ongoing persecution for the church in Iraq?

This meant that local groupings had no opportunity to work out their own spheres of influence in the region.  In fact, since the arrival of Islam in the mid seventh century, the entire region has been in the hands of large empires (the Abbasid Caliphate, the Mongols, the Mamelukes and the Ottomans) which have artificially kept a lid on this turbulent region.  Centuries-old tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims are now erupting  in what experienced Middle East observers, including Lord Ashdown, have pointed out could be their equivalent of the Thirty Years’ War, as rival religious/tribal/ethnic groups vie to carve out their own polities.

The challenge for the Western world, which for the last century has continually tried to keep the lid on tensions in the region through a policy of appointing and supporting local strongmen like Bashar al-Assad and Saddam Hussein, is whether we step into this carnage and reimpose order (at what cost to ourselves and the locals?) or let the conflict that might have resolved issues a hundred years ago play itself out – at incredible cost of life and the ongoing persecution of minorities.

The dilemma is whether the Sykes-Picot Agreement should be overthrown, and if so, can we justify the consequences?

Many Christian agencies are working to help our brothers and sisters fleeing from the conflict in Iraq.  Open Doors is one of them.   Christian Today has some very practical suggestions on what individuals can do to help.

The Parable of the Oppressors?

1354359_fifty_pounds_2The western church has traditionally interpreted the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27) as an encouragement to use wisely the gifts that God has given us, though we usually play down the bit about the wrath of God poured out on the servant who doesn’t.  As we observed two weeks ago, this fits in neatly with our protestant work ethic – our performance demonstrates our salvation, and God is looking for a return on his investment in us.  But are there other ways of interpreting this parable when seen through the eyes of other cultures?

When workers’ groups in Latin America looked at this parable they came up with a very different interpretation, because their perspective is different.  In Europe, theology has traditionally been done by wealthy, white, educated men.  But the worker’s groups were the opposite: poor, uneducated, marginalised people who recognised in this story a situation only too relevant to their own situation.  They pointed out that in an agrarian economy anybody who was returning 1000% profit (Luke 19:16) was clearly exploiting someone, and was therefore a bad guy.  Only an evil and corrupt king would commend him.  By their reckoning, the only person who comes out of this story with any credit is the one who buried his talents – because he didn’t oppress anybody.

No pressure then...

No pressure then…

Most Europeans find this interpretation hard to accept, but possibly this is only because we are so accustomed to our traditional interpretation – that God has given us certain talents and expects us to make the most of them… or else.  Which, when you think about it, doesn’t really square with our idea of the totally unmerited grace of God.

The marginalised South Americans who developed their own understanding of this parable would be far closer to the culture of Jesus’ audience than we are.  And while there may be flaws in their interpretation (is Jesus really telling us it’s good just to bury our treasure and do nothing with it?) there are also flaws in ours – is God really an exacting man, reaping where he did not sow, and punishing those who don’t perform well enough?

We also face the challenge that the word ‘talent’ has a double meaning in English.  We understand it to mean a gift or ability, which is stretching the original text too far, as a talent was in Bible times an enormous sum of money.  Luke uses the equivalent word ‘mina’ (an ancient middle-eastern currency unit), which emphasises that there is a financial context to this parable.  A mina was worth about 9 months wages for an agricultural worker – a phenomenal amount of spending money for the sort of people Jesus was talking to.  A talent was the Greco-Roman equivalent.

Jesus is in fact basing this parable on a real life incident involving the king of Galilee, Herod Antipas.  When his father Herod the Great died shortly after Jesus was born, his will had to be confirmed by the Emperor, so all his sons scurried off to Rome to persuade Augustus to grant their claims.  The Jewish people also sent a delegation asking the Emperor to get rid of Herod’s dynasty altogether!

Which raises a relevant question:

Would Jesus really use Herod as a metaphor for God?

We naturally assume that the authority figure in any given parable – a king, a judge, a landowner – stands for God.  But that’s not necessarily so.  There can be the very odd occasion when the authority figure is an anti-type of God – see for example Luke 18:2-8 where the judge is clearly contrasted with God.  This parable is designed to contrast the oppressive behaviour of the king with that of God.  The king commends his stewards who exploited the poor by saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

SheepIt is interesting to note that immediately after this parable Matthew places the judgement of the sheep and the goats, which also features a reward for performance.  But in that story, the slaves are not expected to make a huge profit out of the people, but to be generous to them.  They were expected to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Is it possible that Matthew has set up a deliberate contrast between two ways of behaving – a worldly way embodied by an evil human king, and the heavenly way following the righteous God-King?

This understanding frees us from the pernicious pressure to perform in order to earn our salvation (or at least our reward) and allows us to love generously and freely, in a way that brings hope to the marginalised.  Over history, faced with the choice of being the oppressor or siding with the oppressed, the church has at different times done both.  Institutional church has often been the oppressor, while many courageous, counter-cultural individuals like Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa have met Christ in the poor and downtrodden as they served them.

Which course will you take?

Ebola update

Dr.-BrantlyThe news this week that Kent Brantly, a doctor working with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, and Nancy Writebol, an SIM mission worker, are both seriously ill with the Ebola virus has resonated round the Christian world as tens of thousands are moved to pray for their recovery.  Both have received emergency care and Dr Brantly has now been evacuated to the United States for ongoing medical attention.  Please pray for their recovery.  They were both involved in treating others at a medical facility and Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse, commented: “Their heroic and sacrificial service—along with the entire team there—is a shining example of Christ’s love in this crisis situation.” 

An overview of the Ebola virus outbreak (www.samaritans purse.org)

An overview of the Ebola virus outbreak (www.samaritans purse.org)

Sadly it took the illness of two western development workers to draw the church’s attention to this outbreak which has already killed nearly 1000 Africans since it broke out in February in Guinea before spreading to Sierra Leone and Liberia.  The virulent Ebola virus has been a persistent threat since it was first identified in 1976, yet despite the speed at which it kills its victims, good quality containment has prevented it becoming the global pandemic that is often feared, and the current outbreak is the worst on record.

Ebola spreads easily through exposure to bodily fluids, and since its principal symptoms include diarrhoea and vomiting is is hard for those caring for patients to avoid infection without access to protective clothing, which can be difficult to obtain in the early stages of an outbreak.  Ebola can take two to three weeks to develop, and in its early stages many victims may not be able to distinguish it from malaria, which means it can easily take hold of a community before it is identified.

Ebola-careAs well as the tragedy of the deaths of its victims, Ebola can traumatise survivors.  The need for isolation to contain the outbreak means that relatives cannot touch patients or say proper goodbyes.  Bodies need to be disposed of rapidly and hygienically, which in parts of the region where the culture involves sitting grieving over a body for several days, can lead to a feeling that the victims have not been accorded due respect in their deaths, and may lead to fear of reprisals by the departed spirits.

There is no cure for the Ebola virus, but patients treated with rehydration therapy may fight it off for themselves.  Ironically, for such a virulent virus, it is relatively easy to eliminate outside the body, with regular handwashing with soap and water being sufficient.  The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has updates on the situation in all three affected countries and advises against all non-essential travel to some parts of Liberia.  You can read further health advice on the outbreak here.

Mission workers in the region should:

  • avoid contact with infected people, corpses and bodily fluids wherever possible
  • if the above is not possible, use protective clothing
  • wash hands thoroughly and regularly
  • avoid contact with uncooked meat or wild animals
  • wash and peel fruit and vegetables carefully
  • seek medical advice at the first signs of a fever

Please pray for:

  • the rapid recovery of those who are infected
  • the families of the deceased as they come to terms with the trauma
  • government, medical and development agencies as they struggle to care for those affected
  • the protection of all medical workers from infection
  • churches to be able to demonstrate and proclaim God’s love in the midst of this tragedy

Cooking with Poo

img-poo_04Most of us are pretty adventurous when it comes to food, and often have stories to tell which shock those who’ve not had the opportunity to have their culinary preferences stretched to the limit on a bush tucker trial.  So Syzygy is proud to be promoting an event which will attract a lot of interest for the exquisite food.

We have talked before on this blog about the remarkable ministry of Urban Neighbours of Hope in Klong Toey, the largest slum in Bangkok.  One of the people whose lives has been affected by their work is Poo, who ran into financial difficulties when the small catering outlet she ran from her home couldn’t make money due to rampant inflation.  The UNOH team helped her start a cooking school which has subsequently become what TripAdvisor has called

One of the best-rated activities in Bangkok

Which is quite an accolade when you think of all the exciting things you can do in Bangkok!

PooNow you have the opportunity to taste this remarkable Thai food for yourself without leaving the UK, to learn how to cook it and to hear more about the amazing work of UNOH at the same time.  We are running two events, both on 4th April at Rowheath Pavilion in Birmingham.

Starting at 10.30 am and running through to 3.00 (ideal for people picking up kids from school) there will be a cookery school taught in person by Poo.  This is an opportunity for up to 50 people to cook genuine Thai food for themselves.  Then at 7.30 in the evening there will be an interactive cookery demonstration by Poo, which will also feature stories from Klong Toey, an opportunity for people from the audience to join Poo in cooking a dish, and an open Q&A time.  The cookery school costs just £30 per person, and the cookery demonstration is £10.

You can find out more about Poo on her own website.  If you can’t make it to Birmingham to meet her, there are events in other parts of the country listed here.

We speak from experience when we recommend Poo’s cooking: the intrepid Syzygy team went all the way to Thailand to sample it, and came away delighted.  We can’t wait to find out how she does it!

Featured ministry: Koshish Nepal

KoshishMatrika grew up the youngest of 3 brothers in a small village in the hilly Nepali district of Gorkha.  He attended a mission school and by the age of 15 had shown himself to be one of the top students, with a bright future ahead of him.  Then he was struck by illness:  pounding headaches, pains throughout his body, choking sensations, and constant tiredness.

As months passed, even writing became an overwhelming task and by the time he took his high school leaving certificate he barely achieved a passing grade.  Despite suffocating feelings of hopelessness and failure, including an impending sense of death, Matrika pressed on to take a 2 year certificate in forestry.  His mother was very religious and as he struggled through his illness, Matrika often considered what lay after death, but he found little appealing in the options presented by his mother’s Hindu faith.  By then in his early twenties, Matrika remembered his missionary teacher and a missionary doctor whom he knew, and how they had endured many difficulties living as foreigners in Gorkha.  Speaking with the doctor, and later reading a Christian pamphlet, Matrika found the comfort he was looking for and turned to Jesus Christ with his life.

Souce: (www.sxc.hu)

Despite his new-found faith, Matrika continued to struggle with his illness.  His sense of hopelessness and extreme anxiety led to his isolation from friends and neighbours who saw him as a lazy, good-for-nothing youth who would do better to pull himself together and get a job.  It was only when a neighbour  suggested he might see a psychiatrist at the nearby mission hospital that Matrika finally got an explanation for his crippling illness.

10 years after it first struck him, Matrika was diagnosed with unipolar depression.  He spent the next 5 years coming to terms with his illness and investigating treatment options as he tried to cope with the heavy side-effects of anti-depressants.  Matrika prayed fervently that God would heal him so that he could become independent of these medications, but that did not happen; in his own words “it is good, it reminds me of my true situation”.

While starting work as a forester, Matrika continued to ponder his situation and that of the many other people he encountered in daily life whom he could see were also struggling with mental illness.  He had a vision from God in which he saw a channel of water carrying love to dry, desert banks, but wondered how God could use him when he himself was so weak in his own mental health.  He now understands that “having this pain in my own life allows me to have not sympathy, but empathy from my heart” for others with mental illness.  After a few periods of working with mental health NGO’s, Matrika enrolled for a Bachelors in Social Work.

photo_98706From the earliest days of his own treatment, Matrika has made an effort to respond practically to the needs of those with mental illness.  Keshar was such a person: a young Christian man with a steady job at a hospital, he became ill with schizophrenia and, like so many, ended up living alone on the street.  He was distinctly recognizable, expressing his mental isolation in the wearing of layers and layers of stinking rags so that he looked like a perverse Michelin man.

Matrika, armed with the dual confidence of his training and God’s calling, as well as the financial support of a woman involved in Keshar’s childhood, stepped in with appropriate legal measures to have Keshar taken into residential care for the administration of his medicines.  Several years on, Keshar lives a simple but contented life as part of Matrika’s family.  A member of the church choir in his youth, he now writes folk songs that raise awareness about mental illness.

In August 2008, one month before he passed his final exams, he established and registered Koshish Nepal, a national mental health self-help organisation.  “Koshish” is the Nepali word for “making an effort”; the organisation works in advocacy and awareness-raising to have mental health recognized as an essential element of overall health, to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to have treatments included in the country’s primary health care system.  A defining feature of the organisation is its inclusion in its governance and membership of those who themselves are living with mental illness.

awareness1Koshish continues to be involved in the rescue of mentally ill persons who are imprisoned by their families or living homeless on the street.  In 2011, Koshish opened a transit home for homeless women with mental illness, where they receive treatment and are stabilized before efforts to reintegrate them back to their families and communities.  Koshish continues to advocate for people with mental illness and last year Matrika won the prestigious Dr Guislain Award as recognition for his efforts.

You can read more about the work of Koshish on their website – http://koshishnepal.org/ – and donate to the charity through the website of the United Methodist Church.

This article was written by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal.

Malaria

mosquito

An anopheles mosquito

A new malaria vaccine – the first in history – has passed its trials recently, so we thought it might be a good idea to bring you all up to speed on it.  Malaria is a significant global public health issue, claiming over 600,000 lives a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa, so anything that can make a dent in those statistics is a welcome development.

The new vaccine, RTS,S (also known as Mosquirix)  is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, with $200m of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and is the culmination of a sixty year search for the Holy Grail of tropical medicine.  Because malaria is such a varied disease, it is notoriously hard to fight, but RTS,S works by introducing one protein from the parasite into the human immune system so that it will respond more rapidly to an infection.  In Phase III trials in seven African countries in children and infants it was found to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria for up to 18 months.  You can read the GlaxoSmithKlein press release here.

Malaria zones (source: Rpyal Perth Hospital)

Malaria regions (source: Royal Perth Hospital)

GSK hope to get the vaccine to market by 2016, and plan to sell it at a price which will cover the cost of production plus 5%, with profits being ploughed back in to product development.  It remains to be seen, of course, whether the cost will be low enough to be affordable to many countries which desperately need it.

As well as this prophylactic, there are also well-established preventatives such as malarone, a relatively expensive but highly effective prophylactic , and doxycycline, a mild antibiotic noted for its lack of serious side effects other than reducing tolerance to sunlight, which makes it problematic in the tropics.  Many adult prophylactics are not recommended for children, particularly Lariam, which has been linked to vivid nightmares, anxiety, depression and mood swings.  For more information visit the Interhealth website, but you should always seek bespoke medical advice from your GP or other medical adviser before taking anything to prevent or treat malaria, especially as strains of malaria differ across the world.

Effective prevention

Effective prevention

Of course, the best way to prevent malaria is not to get bitten by a mosquito in the first place.  Sleeping under impregnated mosquito nets, fitting mesh to windows, and keeping skin covered, particularly around sunset, are suitable barrier methods.  Having an electric fly killer also works, as does regular spraying of rooms with insect killer, though take care not to be in the room for a little while afterwards.  Burning mosquito coils and wearing insect repellent are less dangerous ways of deterring mosquitos.  There is also evidence that eating garlic works, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking!

One of the most effective ways of making sure that mosquitos are eliminated from your environment is to ensure that there is no standing water near your home.  That’s not easy during the rainy season, but mosquitos don’t travel far from their place of birth – some studies say as little as 100 metres.  If you can’t eliminate the water, introduce fish to it to eat the mosquito larvae, or add a small amount of paraffin to it to reduce the surface tension of the water which means the eggs fall through and drown.

Another method is to eliminate the mosquito’s food source – nectar and other plant sugars.  Many of us plant lawns or flower beds round our homes or offices to make them look nice, but that’s just building a mozzie diner.  Contrary to popular belief, mosquitos don’t feed on blood; the females use it for reproduction.  So by replacing your lovely green lawn and flower beds with gravel, you starve the mozzies.  If you must have the greenery, spray it regularly with an insecticide.

Sensible precautions could save thousands of lives a year.  But so could RTS,S.  And the best thing is that all of us who have moaned about our MS Windows over the years have indirectly contributed to its development.  Eat your hearts out, MAC users!

_____________

Postscript

In a recent development, a new test for malaria has been discovered, which promises to be much more accurate than the current standard slide test.  For more information visit http://allafrica.com/stories/201312311173.html

Featured mission: Kapumpe

kapumpe-logoMany of you will already be familiar with the excellent work of Kaniki Bible University College in Zambia.  What you may not be aware of is that after many years of working to support orphans in its local community through feeding, clothing and facilitating school attendance, not long ago Kaniki conceived a vision for providing its own primary school to increase the available facilities in the area.

God has provided amazingly for this new project.  Funds were donated, land was bought, buildings were put up by a mixture of local workers and visiting volunteers, and staff arrived.  The school is set to open next month and will add to the existing  educational opportunities in the area by raising teaching standards and increasing capacity.  You can read more about this amazing journey on their website.

But the work continues.  Kaniki still needs volunteers of all sorts – short term, summer teams, long term – to help with construction, teaching, admin, children’s work and a variety of other ministries.  The cost of volunteering at Kaniki is incredibly low, and good accommodation, food and mentoring are provided.

kopThere is also ample opportunity for getting to know the students, who come from a variety of African nations, for working in local churches and exploring this amazing country.  This is a well-managed project which will be ideal for people seeking to dip their toes in the waters of overseas mission.  You can find more information about volunteering at Kaniki here.  There is an ongoing need for volunteer teachers – click here or more information.

For over thirty years Kaniki has hosted volunteers, whether as individuals, couples, families or as part of organised groups.  They have contributed to the life of the college and in turn been profoundly affected by their experience of overseas mission there.  Many are now full-time workers overseas, others are key mission advocates in their home countries.

Two such volunteers are Tim & Gemma, who now run the Kaniki volunteers team.  They started out as students on a training programme at Kaniki, and subsequently went on to lead that programme before taking on responsibility for the whole community programme.  “Both our lives were changed forever when we came to Zambia on short-term mission,” they say.  “It turned out to be the start of an amazing journey and we would love other people to join us.”

Syzygy is happy to be part of facilitating volunteers at Kaniki.  For further information contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk or get directly in touch with Kaniki at kop@kaniki.org.uk.

Mission report – Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Typical scenery in Mozambique

Recently Syzygy was back on the road again, as Tim went travelling in Mozambique for two weeks.  Visiting old friends Aaron & Sarah Beecher, Tim was also able to visit and encourage a number of other mission workers in the area.

The first event was Staying Healthy for the Long Haul.  It was attended by 23 people from several ministries working in Mozambique, along with Christian expats in business locally.  We spent time considering the principal internal pressures we place on ourselves which reduce our capacity to manage stress.  Then we identified some of the most significant external demands on us, and thought about strategies to manage and reduce them.  Given that stress is a key factor in mission attrition, it is important to address such issues.  Our discussions focussed on helping mission workers develop the emotional intelligence to understand their inner drivers, recognise how this influences their choices and become empowered so that the are no longer dominated by them.  Much conversation followed over the next two weeks.  One of the participants said:

There was so much good quality material we could have spent the whole weekend reflecting on it!

Others who were unable to be there were disappointed when they found out how helpful it was.  Syzygy is now able to bring this day-long workshop to other locations to help mission workers.

Quality metalworking at Tariro

Quality metalworking at Tariro

For the first time in nine years, Tim was able to visit Tariro, a technical school teaching high quality carpentry, metalwork and motor mechanics to Mozambican students.  It was encouraging to see so much development in this significant ministry and find it having such a powerful impact on the neighbourhood in terms not only of training, but of the spread of the gospel and a consistent Christian witness.  Tim spent two mornings providing Bible teaching to all the students which generated significant discussion among them about how Christians should live, particularly bearing in mind their witness to the local community.  It was also encouraging to see the long term training and discipling of key workers in the community leading to their ability to take responsibility and hold key roles in Tariro.  One man who was raised in a local orphanage and joined Tariro as a teenager is now the Vice-Principal and is studying for a technical degree.

Mural at Africa 180

Mural at Africa 180

Tim also spent plenty of time visiting the mission workers at Africa 180, a local ministry of I Reach Africa, a most impressive agency with great compassion and a ‘can do’ mentality.  Dedicated staff there run a number of ministries including prison outreach, a clinic with a nutritional programme for babies, a pre-school and a developing secondary school.  This too is a powerfully compassionate witness in the local community.

There were also plenty of opportunities to preach, teach, and provide one-to-one support for mission workers.  Tim caught up with a number of old friends, and engaged in a variety of ministry with them.

We are very grateful for your prayers for the effectiveness of this mission, which helped bring results in a number of challenging situations.  Please continue to pray for the work of the missions mentioned above, and the people who work with them.  Life in Mozambique is far from easy for mission workers, with many challenges varying from a tough spiritual climate to large quantities of poorly-driven lorries on the congested roads.  Their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being is always at stake.

Secondary Stress

Recently I seem to have been talking a lot about secondary stress with mission workers.  It’s a common though relatively unrecognised problem among overseas workers, particularly those working in compassion ministries or among poorer communities.  Secondary stress is the burden we take on not as a result of our own working or living conditions, but those of others.  It’s not excess baggage so much as other people’s baggage.  It’s what we pick up when we try to lighten the load on others who are already weighed down.

It is perfectly natural to feel a degree of anguish when working, for example, in a refugee camp, or when counselling others who have problems.  We would be pretty heartless if we were not affected by the tragedies we witness or the grief we hear about.  Our resulting compassion should spur us to more action to help the afflicted.  But when we can’t sleep at night because of it, or have images we can’t get out of our heads, it is becoming hazardous to us, and even in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis we need to take some steps to ensure that we maintain ourselves in a condition to be able to continue to help those who need our help.

The first step in dealing with secondary stress is to recognise that we may be suffering with it, because we often don’t notice.  It creeps up on us, daily growing, until something goes wrong.  Because I’m involved in debriefing a lot of people, often with major problems, last summer I arranged a debrief for myself, not because I thought I needed it, but because it is good practice.  Only after I emerged emotionally exhausted from the debrief did I realise how much other people’s baggage I was carrying.

One excellent tool for doing an inventory on yourself is Dr Beth Stamm’s Professional Quality of Life Measure, which can be downloaded free of charge from the Headington Institute.  It is simple to use, and asks just 30 questions about your work in helping others.  There are also other useful self-assessment tools on stress, burnout and lifestyle inventory available from the same website.

Once you have recognised that your levels of secondary stress are unacceptable, put into action your usual anti-stress techniques – debrief, holidays, or relaxation.  See our stress archive for more suggestions.  If none of these suggestions work, and you are still showing symptoms of elevated stress levels, you should take medical leave of absence, extended rest and seek counselling or even the help of a professional psychotherapist.

If when you return to work things immediately get worse again, you should be reassigned.  This of course, will add to your stress as you will feel guilty that you have let needy people down, but if you are not sufficiently resilient to cope in this situation, you may end up being a needy person yourself, and it is better for you to move on and to let a more resilient person take over.

If you’d like to learn more about secondary stress I recommend you listen to Member Care Media’s 4-part podcast by Dr Brent Lindquist, who in addition to being excellently named really knows his stuff.  Each episode is packed with helpful information and the whole series will take you less than an hour to listen to, but much longer to work through!  There are also a lot of other good materials on the MemCare website which will help you to stay healthy.

Featured ministry: Soapbox African Quest

Earlier this month five intrepid young people flew out to Zambia, and found that seven of their bags of luggage and equipment hadn’t arrived.  Cue wry smiles all round among the experienced travellers.  “Welcome to Africa!”

This is all part of the training for young people on the Soapbox African Quest (SAQ) missions training course.  For six months they will learn the art of cross-cultural mission not in a lecture hall in England, but in situ, living and working alongside African people.  Experienced Zambian pastors will give lectures, eat meals with them, and work alongside them in their churches and communities, as the students develop and hone the skills they will need to function effectively as mission workers.

The course, which has been running now for 15 years and has dozens of graduates, continues to be a key part of preparing people for the mission field.  It is specifically designed to mix academic study, personal discipleship, field experience, and practical training in the skills needed to help them survive – including bricklaying and motor mechanics.

Many of the students have gone on to become full-time mission workers, and most of them have maintained a passion for global mission, made regular short-term visits, and been involved in missions on the home front.  Several students have returned over the years to become leaders and pass on to a new generation the experience and understanding of mission that they have had.  And for all of them, there is the long-term impact of SAQ on their spiritual lives, as the continue to unpack the significance of their training, experience and learning.

It’s not all about the students, though.  SAQ has left a legacy of people who have met Jesus through their ministry, not only in the environs of Ndola but in neighbouring districts and countries as well.  Their outreach programmes have touched thousands of lives, whether through the gospel presentations, relationships they’ve forged, or the buildings they’ve constructed.  Several church buildings, widows’ homes, schoolrooms and orphanages have been raised through the participation of SAQ.  They’re even responsible for introducing clean water supplies to a number of villages.

SAQ is based in a purpose-built accommodation block at Kaniki Bible College in Ndola, where they are able to meet, befriend and work alongside a number of future church leaders from several African nations.  The SAQ block includes dormitories for the students and separate accommodation for the leaders, together with a communal lounge, kitchen and study room.  Staff and students live and work alongside each other, which adds to the discipleship aspects, as experienced leaders share their lives with the students.  Tim & Gemma Mills, who have led the team for the last two years, describe the experience: It is a pretty intense program.  Each day we work alongside the volunteers visiting orphans, those suffering from HIV/Aids and doing practical projects together in various communities.

SAQ is run by the well-known mission agency Soapbox, and you can find out more about it at its website http://www.soapboxtrust.com/New/SAQ/Overview.html.  We particularly recommend SAQ for people looking to do something productive with their gap year.  They will have a great experience, blending personal development with practical service to others.  The programme runs from January to June, leaving several months after the end of the academic year to prepare and raise funds.  It’s not too early to apply for the 2013 intake though!

 

We love because…


"He had compassion... go and do the same"

…He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  I never really understood this verse until a woman I hadn’t really noticed began to pursue me.  Slowly, I responded to her persistent overtures until I realised she had provoked in me a sentiment that resonated with the love she had for me.  And then I understood that I do not love God out of my own resources or efforts; I simply respond to God’s lavish love for me.

In his first letter, John writes a lot about love.  For him, it is proof of how genuine our salvation is.  An ancient story tells that he endlessly repeated his injunction ‘Little children, love one another’, to the exasperation of some of the younger members of the Christian community.   The Apostle of Love had come a long way from being a Son of Thunder (Mark 3:17).  I am sure many of us working in the mission field often feel more like calling down fire from heaven (Luke 9:54) on those who don’t receive our message than persisting in faithful love for them.

And therein lies our challenge: we are called to love the unlovely, the hostile and antagonistic, the corrupt, the uninterested and indeed all the different types of people that we come across in the police stations, immigration offices, shops, schools, farms and churches where our work takes us, yet we so frequently run out of love.  We give so much that the well runs dry, and a relationship is damaged as a result.  We end up breaking down from exhaustion.

In the discussion preceding one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus makes it clear that we fulfil the greatest commandment by loving our neighbour as ourselves.  Our devotion to God is expressed in our compassion for humanity, of which the Good Samaritan was a prime example as he rose above racism and hostility to care for his enemy even at risk to himself.

The ability to live like this can only come from God.  As the Holy Spirit lives in us, so does the love of God, inspiring us and equipping us to love others (1 John 4:16).  It should not be something that we have to force or fake – since we are born of God, it is only natural that the children should bear the family likeness, and do just what they see the Father doing (1 John 4:7).

When we find ourselves ill-equipped to express this compassion, when our resources have run out and we feel we have given all we have left to give, then it is time to read again 1 John chapter 4 and remind ourselves how much love God has given us…. and then pass some of it on.

 

This is the first in what we hope will become a devotional series, aiming to provide some spiritual input to complement the practical and pastoral support Syzygy provides for mission workers.

 

Short-term mission trip: Brazil

Brazil is a massive country which takes up half of South America and crosses three time zones.  Bustling cities give way to vast expanses of jungle, beautiful beaches, rugged mountains and endless plains.

Brazil is also home to some of the biggest cities in the world – and some of the largest slums.  It has a population of nearly 200 million and is one of the worlds biggest economies but it is estimated that there are also 8 million street children in Brazil.

This summer Tim is leading TWO short-term teams organised by SoapBox to Belo Horizonte, the country’s third largest city, to support a local Christian ministry which works with children with a variety of needs who can no longer live with their families.

The teams will be building walls, repairing a leaky ceiling and painting the living areas.  They will be staying at the same home as the children so there will be plenty of time to play with, teach, and encourage the children.  Please pray for them all as they undertake this expedition to communicate the love of Jesus to some of the world’s poorest  and neediest people.

 

KEY DATES

20th July        Team 1 leaves England

7th August      Team 1 leaves Brazil

12th August    Team 2 arrives in Brazil

25th August    Team 2 arrives in UK

 

TEAMS

Team 1 (A youth group from Ashwell, Baldock and Royston in Hertfordshire): Jen (co-leader), Amy, Callum. Kia, Millie, Rosie, Rufus, Tom

Team 2: Helen (co-leader), Jennie, Jono, Marie, Sam, Val

KEY PRAYER POINTS

Pray for:

  • the team to know Jesus working in them and through them
  • God to work in the lives of the many hurt children they’ll be helping
  • health and safety as they do manual work they’re not used to
  • protection and safety as they travel
  • leaders to be able to do an excellent job and work well together
  • team members who are under 18 to be able to cope well away from home
  • them all to be able to cope with the culture shock of experiencing a different world

 

This expedition is organised by SoapBox, a charity which provides opportunities for short-term mission projects throughout the world.  It has a childcare programme that operates in the countries where they have practical aid projects. They also work in UK prisons and schools.

 

Featured ministry – Urban Neighbours of Hope

Ash Barker seems like a really nice guy.  He looks cuddly, has a bashful smile, and a soft voice.  The sort of person it’s comfortable to be around… till he starts talking about his passion – the urban poor.  Then he starts saying things like If every Christian would take in a homeless person there’d be no homelessness. Awkward sound bites like these fall from his lips with ease, interspersed with equally uncomfortable statistics like 1 in 6 people in this world live in slums.

As if this isn’t bad enough, you know he’s talking from personal experience.  As a young man, he moved into a Melbourne slum in order to spread the love of Jesus to people the rest of the world was rejecting, and founded a missional order called Urban Neighbours of Hope.  UNOH has subsequently extended its work to a number of cities in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand.  It helps to empower the poor to take ownership of their own problems, it advocates on behalf of the urban poor and provides training in mission to young people.

After ten years in Melbourne, Ash and his wife Anji moved with their two young children to Bangkok, to set up home in the infamous Klong Toey slum, where 80,000 people live packed into just two square kilometres.  Living in the same conditions as their neighbours, they reach out to the community, where drugs, crime and prostitution are endemic.  Through partnering with local people they have empowered them to change their situation.  One lady called Poo, who was a good cook, started a cookery school and has just published a book called Cooking with Poo, which isn’t such a humorous title when you remember that the sewerage in Klong Toey is pretty basic.  Another lady began a handicraft cooperative which now employs sixty people earning twice the minimum wage.  There are a number of other local catering businesses.  These small enterprises help people out of poverty and provide them with an alternative to prostitution and crime.

All this is run out of a local community centre, which is also the base for a school with 60 children, a youth centre with 200 daily users, a medical programme and a prison visiting ministry.  There is also a church, started not by outsiders but by a local man set free from drug addiction and gang membership.

Ash is clearly frustrated that there is so much work to do among the urban poor, and so little support from western Christians.  He points out that if you plot on a map the areas of greatest population density (south and east Asia, urban inner cities), and the areas where the greatest percentage of Christians live (north America, suburbs) there is hardly any overlap. However in recent years more churches and individuals are recognising God’s call to the poor and many are partnering with Urban Neighbours of Hope to bring hope to some of the most downtrodden people in the world.  You can find out more at www.unoh.org.

 

 

 

Featured Ministry – Project Gateway

The old prison in the South African town of Pietermaritzburg was a notorious place.  Its sturdy 1860’s construction spoke of a grim determination to detain the body and break the will.  During the apartheid years, not just criminals but many activists were imprisoned there, in overcrowded conditions, and many of them were executed.  When it was finally closed in 1991, few would have shed a tear.  It was a symbol of brutality and oppression.

But a group of local Christians had a bold vision – they wanted to turn a place of darkness into a place of hope.  Operating under the name Project Gateway, they took over the abandoned premises and began to restore them.  Using this place of darkness as a base, they began ministering to the needy.  In the two decades they’ve been working, things have gone from strength to strength.  They have set up feeding programmes, an orphanage, a women’s refuge, homeless shelters, sewing clubs, HIV and TB support programmes and many other initiatives which support and empower needy people throughout the region.

Keen not merely to help people in a crisis, but help them out of it, they have set up business empowerment initiatives, skills training workshops, and a primary school.  They also have a school of fashion supported by UK designer Karen Millen!

In an effort to make the project self-funding they are using the central cell block – which is a National Monument because of its architectural significance and its notable former residents – as a tourist attraction, and they even provide accommodation in the cells!  While the rooms are now comfortably decorated, the original doors and high, barred windows remain, and the resident often wonders who else slept in that room in the past, and why.

One former inmate of the solitary confinement block is one of the few men who escaped from the prison and lived to tell the tale.  Curiously, he came back – voluntarily – having become a Christian, and is now employed as the premises manager.  He takes great delight in showing people his former cell, which along with that entire block has been left unrenovated so visitors can see exactly what it would have been like when the cells were in use in earnest.

The dynamism behind this project is truly inspiring.  And, amazingly, the project is not sponsored by a narrow community, but by a very broadly-based coalition of over 20 different churches, from different backgrounds, and representing many different races.  The reconciliation and hope that has taken birth in this previously horribly location is a powerful witness to the transforming power of Jesus at work in South Africa.

You can find out more about Project Gateway by visiting www.projectgateway.co.za

Japan – how can we help?

When faced with such devastating destruction, what can we do?  On the one hand, it may seem that there is so much to be done, that we cannot possibly know where to start.  One the other hand, Japan is such a strong and capable nation that perhaps they don’t need our help.  We recognise that countries like Pakistan or Haiti cannot possibly rebuild on their own after a major disaster, whereas New Zealand and Japan seem so much more capable to us, and maybe they don’t really need our help.  Should we be giving our support to other, more needy nations instead?

An experienced Japan mission worker remarked recently that in many ways Japan does not need our help.  Technologically, there is no country in the world more capable of dealing with such a disaster; financially, they have a huge capacity for reconstruction even if it will significantly set their economy back; and organisationally they are unparalleled.  However, with donations to established disaster relief agencies significantly lower than those for Haiti at this stage, and the DEC not organising an umbrella appeal, immediate funding for emergency supplies such as blankets, food and water is in short-supply, and reports coming out of north east Japan indicate that there are many cold and hungry people still waiting to be cared for.

One area where they will clearly need help, however, is in dealing with the emotional fallout.  So many families have lost loved ones, and with the scale of the disaster many do not have a body to grieve over and cremate in accordance with their tradition.  The whole nation will have unanswered questions.  There will be nobody who is not personally affected by a disaster of this magnitude.  How do they grieve?  Who will comfort them?

While such disasters are an unmitigated tragedy which we wish had never happened, they do represent an incredible opportunity for us to reach out and support others.  The small number of Japanese believers, supported by the Christian family worldwide, has a chance to express love and compassion, and give an account for the hope that we have even in the midst of such trauma.  Demonstrations of support and sympathy will carry great weight in Japanese society and do much to counter any suspicion that Christians are viewed with.

In terms of providing immediate care there are already many appeals in place to help feed, clothe and house the refugees.  Syzygy recommends OMF’s Sendai Earthquake Relief Fund if you want to give financial support.  You can also find regular updates, including prayer requests on their Japan website.  OMF have a large number of mission workers who speak Japanese well and are able to get into places and communicate effectively where other foreign workers may not be so successful.  They are associated with a number of Japanese churches who provide contacts and networks that are already in place, particularly in Sendai where they have been operating for many decades.  OMF already have in place established procedures for transferring funds to Japan and communicating needs and prayer requests back.

Please pray:

  • for Japanese Christians, who have to deal with the burden of their own grief while consoling those who don’t know Jesus.
  • for the overseas mission workers, already coping with their own disorientation, who have to function in ways they are not accustomed to while ministering hope and comfort to others.
  • for the Japanese people, particularly the military forces and rescue workers, faced with the unpleasant task of clearing up the destruction while still bearing their own unresolved trauma.
  • for Mr Sato, Vice-Minister for Construction and Transportation, who is the only Christian in the government.  He is currently in charge of the response to the nuclear crisis and will have a key role in rebuilding the infrastructure.  Pray for his health, and that he would be an excellent ambassador for Jesus.

Featured Ministry – Tunari Treasures

In the poorest country in South America, young people have little hope for the future.  Over 80% of Bolivian children live in extreme poverty, and 80,000 of them are addicted to drugs.  Many children are abused, trafficked or simply abandoned by parents unable to care for them.  Tunari Treasures is a small not-for-profit Foundation   making a difference for the lucky few in the heart of the country, Cochabamba.  They are training up a group of disadvantaged young men, some of whom come to them through Compassion and others from an orphanage. Teaching them metalwork helps them stand a better chance of earning a living in the future.  As well as being taught practical skills, the students are also taught administration and life skills, so that they are more rounded and capable individuals when they graduate.

When the students finish the course, they will have the skill set to design, produce, work out the cost of products and sell them.  They’ll also know how to do some basic administration.  This will help them set up their own small business, so they’re not dependent on finding an (often abusive) employer. In addition, because they are mentored as well as trained, they will have personal integrity, respect for others and for themselves and, most importantly, a deeper understanding and knowledge of God.

Gray and Andrea Parker, who set up Tunari Treasures in 2004 after moving with their family to Bolivia to work with Latin Link, now employ a team of Bolivians to share the responsibility. Their aim is that one day Bolivians will take the project on.  Gray commented after six students recently graduated:

During the graduation ceremony I realised that this was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. I thought to myself “if I never do anything else in mission again, I feel I’ve made an important impact in the lives of these 6 lads”. It was brilliant. One of the lads, Wilson, gave an impromptu speech, saying to the other lads (who’ve only just completed half the course) that the certificate he had just received wasn’t just to be thrown away, but really meant something. Wilson was the one who 8 months ago nearly got chucked out of the course for breaking some ground rules. The leader of the Compassion project where he goes says Wilson is a different person!

Graduation isn’t the end of the relationship between the staff of Tunari Treasures and their students.  Even after the lads go on to get jobs, or start their own businesses, staff will continue to monitor and mentor them, to help them navigate the difficult path into self-sufficiency.  There are also plans to make private business loans to graduates of up to £600 in order to help them set up their own small enterprises.

The biggest problem facing Tunari Treasures is, unsurprisingly, financial.  The students are charged a nominal 20 Bolivianos per month (about £2).  The real cost of their training is twenty five times that.  Moreover, the programme has attracted such positive attention that Tunari Treasures has been asked to look at the possibility of opening more training centres in other cities.  This of course requires a lot more logistical support, premises costs and the training of new staff.

  • Please pray for the staff of Tunari Treasures to be able to effectively train and mentor young men, and help release them from the bondage of poverty and low self-esteem.
  • Thank God for the young men who have graduated and pray that they will find employment and take ownership of their lives
  • Ask God to provide more funding so that this valuable work can be expanded to help more people. They would really like to have their own premises so that they can be truly independent.

If you would like to donate to Tunari Treasures, go to http://www.latinlink.org/Donate.aspx and where it says “support a person or associated project” choose “project” and then scroll to “Gray and Andrea Parker: Tunari Treasures”.