Faith in Action – Fiona Kendall

“The Waldensian Church, the first to devise and finance humanitarian corridors, will welcome the 15 (sic) Sea-Watch migrants (characterised as “tolerated”) at no cost to the Italian state.  Heretics persecuted for centuries, today the Waldensians are vigilant witnesses to a humanity which we are at risk of losing.  THANK YOU”

So tweeted Gad Lerner, a respected Italian journalist, last Thursday (10th January) in response to the news that the FCEI (Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy), through its Mediterranean Hope programme and the Waldensian Diaconate, will be permitted to host and support ten of the migrants who have been stuck at sea for almost three weeks.  The FCEI’s offer to look after the migrants was reiterated on 4th January in an effort to break the deadlock preventing two rescue boats from landing anywhere in Europe with their cargo of survivors.

Late last Wednesday, when it became clear that eight European member states would share responsibility for the 49 migrants, Malta permitted the boats to dock at last.  Italy, which will bear no financial responsibility for its share of the migrants thanks to the support to be provided by the FCEI, is amongst the eight.


It is humbling to read comments made in response to Lerner’s tweet, which include “If I were not an atheist, I would be a Waldensian”, “I’ve given my 8/1,000 [tax allocation] to the Waldensian Church for years.  I’ll keep doing so” and “They are applying the Gospel”.

Of course, not everyone is happy.  Other tweets in response pour scorn on the efforts of the FCEI.  Scathing posts with the Italian flag prominent denigrate migrants.  This, sadly, is a barometer for the polarised society in which I live.  It seems that now, more than ever, is a time to stand up for what you believe in.




Welcome Manifesto – Fiona Kendall

The body which gave life to the Mediterranean Hope project is the FCEI[1], generally referred to in English as the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.  Currently comprising eight member churches, one adherent church and two observers, the FCEI provides, amongst other things, a vehicle for members to act collectively in living out – rather than simply talking about – faith.


The Mediterranean Hope project is one manifestation of the FCEI’s commitment to justice.  Its work has grown considerably in scope over the four years since the project came to life, including the migration observatory on Lampedusa, reception centre in Scicli, Medical Hope in Lebanon, relocation desk in Rome, the pioneering humanitarian corridors programme, and collaboration with search and rescue operations at sea and in the air.


This year, perhaps more so than ever, it has been important for those involved in the project to speak out about migration issues in broadcast, print and social media.  In the face of a rising tide of populist nationalism and, on occasion, blatant xenophobia, a counter-narrative is vital.  Facts, rather than opinion; information, rather than speculation; measured argument, rather than fear-mongering are all important tools in re-balancing the discussion on migration.


For the FCEI, it has been equally important to re-state why these issues matter, and the basis for its approach. Perhaps unusually, whilst migration may polarise from a political perspective, from a theological perspective, the fundamental principles seem fairly straightforward.   There is clarity about what our attitude to “the stranger” should be.  In light of that, the FCEI has seen fit to cut through the political maelstrom with its “Welcome Manifesto”, a two-page leaflet which sets out the biblical position on migration and, significantly, how that applies in today’s context.




For those coming at this from a faith perspective, it can be helpful to go back to basics and to be reunited with some markers in the mist of the conflicting chatter.  For those coming at this from another perspective, it is perhaps helpful to know what motivates some of us to act as we do, and also to know that this is not party political.


The Welcome Manifesto[2] was formally adopted by the FCEI this summer, and has been shared widely with congregations across Italy.  Notwithstanding the Italian context, the principles it expounds are universal.  Fundamentally, the FCEI is arguing for radical hospitality, even where that presents some personal challenges.  For the FCEI, this is nothing new.  However, its willingness to be transparent about its motives sets it apart from some other organisations, and its clarity about how we might also choose to act is to be welcomed.







At the Frontier – Fiona Kendall

At the closest point, the coasts of Turkey and Greece are only a couple of nautical miles apart.  Notwithstanding the significant risks to life and the sums charged by the people-smugglers facilitating crossings, in the past three years, over 1M people have opted take this route into the EU in the hope of finding a better life.


At the Frontier


It is fair to say that Greece has felt overwhelmed by the numbers arriving since 2015.  However, in March 2016, the EU and Turkey made an arrangement with one another.  The arrangement was recorded in the form of a “statement” rather than a regulation or directive and, as such, bypassed the scrutiny of the EU Parliament.

The joint EU-Turkey Statement (“EUTS”) provided a mechanism for returning every single migrant crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands directly to Turkey, except where it was assessed that (1) the person in question was “vulnerable” and (2) Turkey was a “safe third country” to which that person could be returned.  In return for its co-operation, Turkey would receive six billion Euros.  In addition, for every person returned to Turkey, a Syrian could be sent by Turkey to the EU to be resettled.

Whilst there is no question that the number of arrivals has decreased dramatically since 2015, the effect of the policy has not been the steady return of migrants from Greece to Turkey.  In the two years following publication of the EUTS[1] 2,164 migrants have been forcibly returned to Turkey and a further 2,401 voluntarily returned.  In the same period 57,450 arrived, of which 21,847 were relocated from the island hotspots.

The principal effect of the policy has in fact been to cause tens of thousands of migrants to become blocked on the Greek island hotspots.  As the policy applies only to those on the islands, new arrivals are no longer being routinely dispersed to mainland Greece.  Instead, already overcrowded refugee camps at the hotspots are under increasing pressure from new arrivals.  At the Vial camp on Chios, which I visited at the end of October, estimates are that twice the anticipated number of people currently occupy the maze of metal containers and tents, with one toilet for every 50 people.

There is significant concern that the vulnerability assessments being made are cursory, and are being carried out by people with little training or experience.  It is well-documented that interpretation is inadequate, both in terms of the numbers of interpreters available, and the range of languages spoken.  It is equally well-documented that there is insufficient legal advice available regarding the asylum process, particularly at appeal stage.  The result: a legal system which cannot process the claims being made and camps which cannot support the numbers arriving, to say nothing of the physical and psychological effect on those trapped within the system…and the resentment of islanders whose economies are reliant on tourism but find tourists staying away in increasing numbers.

At the Frontier.jpg2

In the drive to limit the numbers coming into the EU, we appear to have lost focus on the very values upon which the EU was founded, including that of human dignity.  It might be worth spending a moment in the shoes of someone living at Vial before we consider whether the sacrifice is worth it.

[1] EU Turkey Statement Two Years On




On Friday evening, the eve before World AIDS Day, the UCZ hosted the traditional Candelight Service at St Paul’s, Kabwata. The programme began with a musical interlude from the Boy’s Brigade Brass Band and choirs from the UCZ and Reformed Churches. The meeting was interspersed by further contributions from them.

After the national anthem the opening prayer was offered by Kabwata’s Uniting Presbyterian Church and the opening hymn ‘To God be the Glory’. Rev Elizabeth Phiri, the Minister at St Paul’s bade all welcome, while Mr Friday Nkhoma from the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ)  compered the evening. The homily based on the readings from Hebrews 12:1-4 & I Corinthians 9:24-27 was given by Lusaka Presbytery Bishop Rev Rodwell Mwape Chomba around the theme, Run the Last Mile: Leaving No One Behind.

The congregation sang a moving rendition of ‘When Peace like A River’. There then followed Spiritual Statements from representatives of the Church Council of Zambia (CCZ) and the Bible Society of Zambia who also distributed to those attending a special copy of Luke’s Gospel with some introductory material on HIV & AIDS. There were intercessory prayers from participating Churches for Peace Unity and National Reconciliation, for rains and a good harvest, saying no to stigma and greater leadership and Church involvement in interventions to combat the pandemic.

The highlight was when a young women gave a moving testimony of her life and work living with AIDS. Her child was born HIV positive. She stressed the importance of adherence and avoiding listening to fake pastors and other charlatans peddling miracle cures. A representative of the Mayor of Lusaka City read a speech on his behalf after which the candles were lit, the benediction given and a candle-lit procession walked to the neighbouring Presbyterian church and back in memory of all those brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and children lost in the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

On Saturday there were a variety of marches, speeches and meetings in the Lusaka area and nation-wide. The major focus this year was on the event held in Livingstone which was graced by the presence of the Republican President.

On Sunday we set out at 0700h picking up Deaconess Carol Nyirenda from St Paul’s, we headed for St Philip’s in Kanyama Compound.  As Health Secretary, Ida had been invited by the Community Development and Social Justice Committee (CDSJC) to address both morning services and share something of her work to mark HIV and AIDS Sunday. It is a large and vibrant congregation with over 2000 communicants. The present Minister is the former Northern Presbytery Bishop whom Keith got to know at Senga Hill School Board meetings. There are two services on a Sunday, the early one in English and the second one in Bemba. Each last around three hours. Again we were ministered to by a large youth choir and various praise teams. Ida spoke about the importance of knowing your status to help make the correct choices for you and others. She also shared about the need to improve service delivery for children. In the sermon Deaconess Nyirenda largely reinforced this message. The service ended with Holy Communion being efficiently served to the large congregation. At 1100h it all began again, the same things happening, but in Bemba this time. After a traditional Zambian lunch of chicken, nshima and cabbage we bade farewell to the congregation. As we left the various church groups were eating lunch together before beginning their afternoon meetings.

  • Keith Waddell – Mission Partner in Zambia20181202_114238.jpg

Fire and Ice – Fiona Kendall

George is 25 and comes from The Gambia, a country otherwise known as “the smiling coast of Africa”, he tells me with a grin.  Back in The Gambia, George was a bodybuilder.  These days, it’s not so easy for him to get to the gym.


George has a deep Christian faith.  He tells me that The Gambia is a country where Muslims and Christians live side by side without difficulty.  However, when a Muslim scholar was invited to be the last president’s personal guest a few years ago, George was unhappy with the message which this scholar spread, a message which, in his view, fundamentally misinterpreted both the Koran and the Bible and would create division within the country he loved. George took to social media to explain at length why he thought this scholar’s teaching was flawed.  His criticism was not appreciated by the authorities.  Within days, it was made clear to him that his life was at risk if he remained in The Gambia.  He knew that he had no option but to flee.


George’s eighteen month journey north out of Africa took him through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Libya.  On arrival in Libya he was detained.  He tells me that nothing could have prepared him for the time spent in detention.  Every kind of abuse was practised on detainees, whose meals were drugged to reduce their defences, and who were given salt water to drink.  George was able to leave the detention centre only because one of the guards decided he would take him for himself.  For the next six weeks, George was effectively a slave to this man and his wife.  George then found sufficient strength and opportunity to flee to the coast where he joined a boatful of people heading for Europe.

Men being held in detention centre in Libya

[Men being held in a Libyan detention centre.]


The overcrowded boat was at sea for eleven hours, which George describes as utterly terrifying.  Eventually rescued by a German NGO, the passengers were disembarked at Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island around 70 miles off the coast of Tunisia.  From there, in line with the government’s migrant dispersal policy, the passengers were taken to other parts of Italy.   George has now been living in Piedmont for just under 2 years in accommodation run by the Diaconia Valdese.


George speaks to me with little rancour.  Although he misses The Gambia, he has no regrets about standing up for his beliefs.  His focus is on the future.  Finding work has been difficult.  His Italian is good but his English is better.  There is little use in Piedmont for the other five African languages which he speaks fluently.  However, he has been volunteering in a care home for people with disabilities and is studying hard so that he can be employed there.


Although he cannot currently afford 45 Euros per month for gym membership, George and his friends have been introduced by locals to curling, which has grown in popularity in the region since the Winter Olympics were hosted there in 2006.  With the support of the local community, George is proud to be a member of the First Africa curling team and effusive about the merits of his new sport.

Curling team


George’s courage, tenacity and willingness to adapt are clear from his story.  But this new life of his could be altered at a stroke, for George’s application for asylum has not yet been determined.  He will learn the date of the interview which will determine his fate tomorrow.  I am starting to learn that self-determination is a privilege rather than a right.  For those of us used to having a modicum of control over our lives, this is a fairly terrifying thought.  For those who are asylum seekers, it is a reality.

  • Fiona Kendall, Mission Partner with Mediterranean Hope.



Children playing together at Um Al Khair – John McCulloch

It is four o’clock on a weekday afternoon, and we are driving through the West Bank with our children through a parched landscape of saffron yellows and various shades of ochre, at the end of September. We are on our way to meet our friends who live in the Bedouin village of Um Al Khair, in the south Hebron Hills. The Bedouin village lies along the perimeter fence of the illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel. Although it is a school week, our children are excited at the prospect of seeing their friends again, and playing with them as the evening sun sets over the distant hills.

The road from Beit Jala takes you along Route 60, criss-crossed with military checkpoints and watchtowers, and ever-expanding Israeli settlements deep into the West Bank. Between the villages and settlements are clusters of olive trees and vineyards, in an otherwise harsh landscape that is scarred by the injustice of military occupation.


The undulating beauty of the olive groves and vineyards contrasts with the man-made slabs of reinforced concrete and barbed wire that encircle the military checkpoints.

We arrive at Um Al Khair, and are warmly welcomed, with sweet mint tea which we drink on the floor of one of their tents, as the sun begins to set. The children have already run in different directions, one to go and look at the goats, another to play football, another to pick up a small baby. Seeing how children make immediate connections across the boundaries of language and culture is an art that is often lost on grown-ups. Our conflicted world could learn a lot from how children interact.



Over the fence I can see some Jewish children playing, and although they are only metres away, they are in a world apart. They too, are just children, born into a context which is not of their making, and yet, even though they can see my children playing with the Bedouin children, they are divided by a fence. I lament the fact that children are born into our world of structural injustice, violence and fear. A world where walls and fences keep us apart.

It was Mahatma Ghandi who said If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.


  • John McCulloch, Mission Partner, Israel and Palestine.




Long way home – punctures and prayers – Keith Waddell

Yesterday I was in a Synod vehicle with Kingsley the driver, on my way to one of the School Board Meetings and in the back of beyond, the rough gravel road surface dislodged a plug in the front right wheel so we had a blowout. We got the tools out and managed to unlock the nuts and jack up the front with the help of some flattish rocks underneath it.

The spare was chained up underneath at the back the pick-up. The rods were there but no winder. We tried to improvise but to no avail. Then an ancient rusting charcoal lorry passed and was flagged down. We were able to borrow a spanner from the driver to quickly unwind the tyre. No good Samaritan he: he wanted us to buy the spanner! But Kingsley appealed to his better and more charitable nature and off he drove with the gratefully returned but unpurchased spanner in a cloud of reek and stoor from the road’s dust, exhaust and charcoal. I, of course, was in my meeting suit with collar and tie. Ideal clothing for a puncture in the bush!

To our dismay we found that the spare was flat too! We had passed a cattle ranch about 2km back so Kingsley said he would roll the wheel and tyre back and see if the workshop there could mend it. He left me to guard the vehicle as we were carrying a new aircon unit for a local clinic too.

As he was almost disappearing round the corner a cyclist caught him up and offered to help wheel the tyre to the workshop which was a great blessing. I had tried to phone the Synod and the school to apprise them of our difficulty but the phone showed we were out of coverage. I know there are hot spots in areas of no coverage so I locked the car and set out to find the closest one I could find.

Not too far away was a painted stone saying Malilo Section. I headed towards it holding my phone like a compass to see if it would pick any signal up. Then out of the bush came a voice, in English too, “Not there, try here!”. Into the bush a little way back, was a small settlement with three houses and a termite mound in front of it. A young mother with a baby on her back pointed to it, I climbed the termite mound and hey presto! Lo and behold! I had found a signal.

Two calls later one to the school and the other to the Synod, our situation was explained and a car from the school was being sent to help us. With a wave of thanks, I returned to the car and read another two chapters (critically!) of Niall Ferguson’s “Empire “, while waiting for the vehicle

Makoni, the School’s driver, arrived quickly but it was around an hour and a half after the puncture. So we went to look for Kingsley and the tyre at the ranch and found him with the tyre fixed, waiting for change. The change was duly given and we set off for our vehicle. With the extra person the tyre was soon fixed and tightened, the jack lowered and all the tools packed away. The school was less than 20 minutes away but the whole puncture escapade took almost 2 hours from start to finish. I was just over half an hour late for the meeting and other Board Members were even later, being held up for a variety of reasons.

Although it was in retrospect quite a daunting and challenging time we were conscious of God’s grace, love and power throughout that time. So you see your prayers do help.


  • Keith Waddell, Mission Partner, Zambia.

Jeju 4.3: a little-known Korean tragedy


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Jeju is the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula (1,848 km², population 621,550, cf Skye in the Scottish Hebrides, ‎1,656 km², population 10,000).  It was the venue for both the Presbyterian Church in Republic of Korea (PROK) Pre-Assembly and 103rd General Assembly, both which I attended.

With beautiful beaches and mountains Jeju is a hugely popular tourist destination with over 10 million visitors a year which goes someway to explaining why Seoul-Jeju is world’s most crowded flightpath.

But PROK did not hold its Assembly there to take advantage of the tourist hotspots. This year is the 70th anniversary of Jeju 4.3 which refers to the uprising and massacre that took place between March 1947 and September 1954. [i]

On 15 August 1945 World War 2 ended and Korea was liberated from 35 years of Japanese colonial oppression.  The country was quickly divided into North and South, a division that would be made permanent following the 1950-53 Korean War. The administration in South and the US military government wanted to establish a separate country but others wanted Korea to be unified with the North. Jeju islanders almost all supported the unification of the two Koreas.

On 1 March 1947 six marchers were killed at a ceremony marking the 1919 uprising for Korean independence. Police arrested some marchers further alienating the people of Jeju. It was on 3 April 1948 that things took a turn for the worse. There had been protests against the government and the planned south-only elections planned for May. Protesters had already been killed on that day there were attacks against the police. This led to a further crackdown as the police, backed by US military command, claimed the trouble was being stirred by communist sympathisers. In the coming weeks and months villagers were arrested, people emerging from hiding were shot and a “quarantine” operation was implemented where Jeju islanders were shot on sight.

The crackdown was brutal. Up to 30,000 people – 10% of Jeju’s population at the time – are thought to have been killed, almost all of them islanders. Incredibly no-one was allowed to speak about the massacre for nearly 60 years. No one has been brought to justice for giving the orders or carrying out the massacre. It was only in 2000 that a law was passed allowing reparations to be paid to survivors.

The government has also created a memorial to the victims. Jeju 4.3 Peace Park includes a wall of stone tablets engraved with the names of 14,000 victims identified so far; headstones and a monument to over 3,000 who were arrested, often on trumped-up charges, and executed; a sculpture of a woman and her baby who were found frozen to death as they tried to escape and hide from government forces; exhibitions and a film of the atrocities that occurred; and reconstructions of mass graves that have been discovered.

jeju4.3 Peace Park_sculpture of prisoners

Sculpture in memory of over 3,000 prisoners who were executed during Jeju 4.3

This year is the 70th anniversary of Jeju 4.3. The government is encouraging people to visit Jeju to find out more about this dark chapter in South Korea’s history. This is why PROK held its General Assembly here and why I have written this blog

While PROK and international partners were gathered in Jeju, the third summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was taking place in Pyongyang. They agreed to continue to pursue a complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Peninsula and conclude a peace treaty, among other important decisions.

In the South’s delegation was Rev Dr Lee Hong-jung, General Secretary of National Council of Churches of Korea which runs the Peace Treaty Campaign.  Dr Lee’s inclusion is testament to his qualities and abilities and also recognition of the Korean churches’ long commitment to achieving sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula.

Rev Dr Lee Hong-jung at Mt Paektu during Pyongyang Summit talks

Rev Dr Lee Hong-jung (6th from left) with Chairman Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in at the sacred Mt Paektu

[i] More information on Jeju 4.3 can be found in a helpful booklet available to download at

Sthree,a growing social enterprise



Two years ago I wrote about Women’s Development Centre, an organisation that grew out of the Scot’s Kirk in Kandy, Sri Lanka. WDC’s areas of work include work with commercial sex workers who were vulnerable to HIV, rehabilitation of disabled young people but is best known for its work with victims of sexual violence(see the article here)

Nine years ago, WDC started the social enterprise called ‘Sthree’, which means ‘woman’ in Sinhala and Tamil languages. This women’s initiative provides a market for Sri Lankan women and differently-abled entrepreneurs to sell their hand-made products.

Kandy_Sthree Shop_3

Handmade baskets for sale at Sthree

The latest development is the Sthree Cafe. A Canadian travel company has underwritten the costs for developing the back of the building and fitting out a kitchen. The tables and chairs were all made at the WDC vocational training centre and the cooking and serving is all done by women from WDC’s programmes.

Kandy_Sthree Cafe_3

Sandiya and the Sthree Cafe menu

The food is all grown locally, there is minimal use of plastic and maximum use of recycling and composting.

Initially almost all the customers are people on the travel company’s tours. They can come for a delicious breakfast, morning and afternoon snacks or a light lunch. In time Sashi Stephens, WDC Director, hopes the cafe will be fully open the public.

Already the cafe is drawing more customers into the original craft shop.

If you are in Kandy, try to visit Sthree – and I can recommend the Hopper Combo breakfast!

Kandy_Sthree Cafe_Hopper Combo

Hooper Combo Breakfast at Sthree Cafe

Home Truths – Fiona Kendall

Rome, 18th July 2018

Fiona blog

I recently saw this image on Twitter.  There are few people, I think, who were not shocked by the original image of Alan Kurdi washed up on the shores of Turkey on 2nd September 2015.  Yet the point made so succinctly by the cartoonist is that our collective memory fades quickly.

Were that not so, urgent efforts to create a coherent European migration policy might now be in evidence.  Instead, yesterday, an equally distressing photograph on Twitter showed the bodies of a woman and child, fuel burns on the shoulders of the woman, found drowned by crew of Proactiva’s Open Arms.  The remains of a boat floated alongside them, as did Josefa, the sole survivor of the wreck.  How did the boat come to be destroyed?  Perhaps Josefa will be able to tell us, when she is finally permitted to set foot on dry land.

Fiona blog 2

Everyone wants to stop deaths at sea.  On the face of it, European countries recognise that the current approach to migration is not working, that Italy cannot shoulder the migration burden on its own and that reform is urgently needed.  However, whilst member states wrangle over what that means in practice, the current Italian policy of closing ports and making it all but impossible for NGOs to carry out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea is not stopping migrants from setting off from the shores of Africa.  And so people continue to drown.

Statistics published this week by UNHCR and the Italian Ministry of the Interior[1] showed that the migrant “invasion” this year is five times smaller than in the same period (January – July) last year.  The numbers coming have clearly reduced.  However, the same data set shows that the number of dead and missing has actually doubled.  This increase has occurred in a period when NGO boats have been impounded, NGO light aircraft used to locate boats in distress have been prevented from flying and the Libyan coastguard has acquired primary responsibility for co-ordinating SAR operations.

Not all Italians are comfortable with the current policies of the newly-formed government.   Yesterday, outside the Ministry of the Interior, a silent flash mob stood with their hands aloft, hands painted red to symbolise the blood of those who continue to die at sea, blood which, it is suggested, is now on the hands of the government.

Fiona blog 3

The default policy is that the Italian ports are closed to rescue boats.  Perhaps surprising, then, that an offer was made for the Open Arms to disembark Josefa in Catania.  Instead, the Open Arms is heading for Palma de Mallorca, a decision which the Minister of the Interior has suggested points to the NGO having “something to hide”.  An alternative possibility is that Josefa has “something to tell” and that, in the current hostile climate, the NGO considers it safer all round for the Open Arms to head for a Spanish rather than an Italian port.

As matters stand, we do not have a functioning system for rescuing, disembarking and settling migrants across Europe.  Instead, we appear to have a climate of hostility and mistrust, where collaboration has been replaced by accusation.  What has happened to our collective memory of the little boy washed up on the shore who inspired so many to say that this should never happen again?