International Modern Slavery Day – How Brexit Could Make Trafficking Worse

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Becky


Rebecca Erskine is an Executive Assistant at the World Mission Council. She also sits on the Action Of Churches Together in Scotland- Anti Human Trafficking Group. 
Here she shares her thoughts on International Modern Slavery Day.

 

There aren’t many certainties surrounding Brexit at the moment, but one thing we know for sure is that it will affect many elements of British life.

There is one Brexit-related uncertainty that hasn’t yet made the news.  Have you ever considered how it might affect Human Trafficking?

It is imperative that our leaders are reminded of the importance of providing adequate legal protection for victims of human trafficking throughout Brexit negotiations.  Trafficking victims found in the UK can currently rely on EU Law for legal protection. After Brexit negotiations are completed, victims will have to rely on UK Domestic Law alone. Many lawyers have expressed concern about the level of safeguarding that the UK’s Modern Slavery Act (2015) provides for victims, stating that it offers inadequate protection, and is vastly underdeveloped compared to the EU Law.

We cannot afford to let this issue slide off the radar of our leaders. The European Union provides access to the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive, as well as Europol (the EU’s law enforcement agency), Euro Just and other European justice tools. Negotiators will need to find viable alternatives, or ensure that there is still some form of access to this justice system.

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and the present lack of a robust alternative to EU justice systems, also offers a window of opportunity for traffickers to exploit and enslave more and more vulnerable people.

Sadly, trafficking is getting worse, with figures from the National Crime Agency stating that the number of victims recorded has nearly tripled in the last three years. There are a number of reasons why this is happening, such as the increased movement of people because of conflict and disaster. Ensuring that, after Brexit, there is a robust justice system for victims of trafficking, and modern slavery, is vital.

The World Mission Council is concerned; partners in numerous places are working towards bringing an end to human trafficking in their own countries, and it is important that we have the capacity in our own country to break the cycle of trafficking. The Church is represented on the Cross Party Parliamentary Group for Human Trafficking, and on the Action of Churches Together Anti-Human Trafficking Group. Both groups are working to ensure that new policies and victim protection are a high priority in Brexit negotiations, and World Mission is ensuring that our partner’s voices are heard as they too seek to help victims on a governmental and pastoral level.

AHTWM

What can you do?

  • Please pray for strengthened law and policy development to help protect victims of human trafficking in the UK.
  • Have a read at World Mission’s Report on Anti-Human Trafficking, or read about our scriptural call to fight this injustice through our bible study guides.
  • Know the signs and know who to contact; have a read of the ACTS advice leaflet so you can be prepared.
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Rohingya Crisis Appeal

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Christian Aid are a Church of Scotland Partner. They have launched an appeal in response to the violence in Myanmar.

Below is some information from the Christian Aid web page about what is happening, and some suggestions on how we can respond. 

“Escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in late August 2017 has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, including many Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh, fearing for their lives.

More than 500,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed the border into Bangladesh and unknown numbers remain displaced in Myanmar. As villages in Myanmar continue to be destroyed, figures are expected to rise, with up to 15,000 people crossing the border each day.

Those fleeing to the border have walked for miles, and for days on end. They have no money for food or shelter. Many mothers are escaping with newborn babies. With limited medical facilities, people are sick and at risk of serious disease.

Together with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), we will help them before it’s too late. Please donate to the Rohingya Crisis Appeal today.

The UK Government will match pound for pound the first £3 million donated by the public to the DEC Rohingya Appeal.

DEC Rohingya Appeal

What is Christian Aid doing?

In Bangladesh, we are sending £40,000 to our longstanding partner in Bangladesh to provide food, clean water and sanitation support to 23,000 people, and to support healthcare.

We need to scale up our response. We need to raise as much as we can to reach more vulnerable displaced people in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

We’ve been working through local partners to support internally displaced people in Myanmar for many years. Permission to work in refugee camps in Bangladesh has until now been limited to a handful of NGOs, but authorities in Bangladesh are now willing to accept further support. We are working with authorities in both countries to secure permission to work with affected groups.

What can your church do?

We have a great powerpoint presentation to show in your church service this weekend.
And you’ll also find some
prayers on our website.

Our Rohingya sisters and brothers desperately need food, water and shelter. Please consider arranging a church collection this weekend.

£260 could provide ten families with food for 15 days
£150 could provide clean water kits for 30 families.
£312 could provide shelter for 15 families.”

 

Source: christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/rohingya-crisis-appeal   

Partnering With Days for Girls

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Denis Robson writes about the twinning between Innerleithen, Traquair and Walkerburn Church of Scotland with Thondwe in Malawi.

 

Daysforgirls’ is a well-established organisation which highlights the importance of access to feminine hygiene products, without which young women have to stay at home during the days of their period. This can lead to them missing over 60 days of schooling each year, which inevitably leads to a disruption in their education and may mean that they drop out of school.

They have developed washable sanitary products for girls to use. They also provide training in health education and support in setting up small businesses so that the women who need these products can make them for themselves and sell them to others.

The Rev. Picklen Chafulamira travelled from Thondwe to Innerleithen last October and made quite an impact on the community in Tweeddale. He was seen in St Ronan’s School and many of the cafe’s and businesses getting to know people. He inspired many to think of ways of developing a link with those in Thondwe. Supporting Daysforgirls seemed like a good way of doing so.

On Saturday 26th August, a sewing workshop, organised by the Thondwe Twinning Partnership and the Peebles Team of ‘Daysforgirls’, took place in Innerleithen.  The Thondwe Twinning Partnership is a committee set up by the local church to develop and strengthen the relationship between the Innerleithen community and a rural community in Thondwe, in the District of Zomba, Malawi.

The aim of the workshop was to make 50 packs of essential feminine hygiene kits to give to 50 girls between the ages of 10 and 16 years in Thondwe, Malawi. These packs will last for 3 years and enable them to go about their usual tasks without worrying about their period.

 

With this goal in mind over 20 women gathered together: some with their sewing machines, but all with their individual skills and enthusiasm to learn, to achieve the task. They set about measuring, cutting, sewing, ironing, checking, sorting and ensuring that the finished product was up to the high standards required of ‘Daysforgirls’.   People travelled from as far as Edinburgh and Skirling to join together and many new friendships were made. By the end of the day everything was ready to create 50 kits.

Lois Hindley of the Thondwe Twinning Partnership said; “The project does not end here. I plan to go to Thondwe in October together with Shirley Bean and other members of the Twinning committee to distribute these kits to the 50 girls, and provide some health education. We will also be teaching people how to make these feminine hygiene products for themselves, and give them support in setting up a small enterprise to make and sell these items within their community.

If you would like any further information about ‘Daysforgirls’ visit www.daysforgirls.org.uk  or contact Helen Hunter of the ‘Daysforgirls’ Peebles team at peeblesscotland@daysforgirls.org.uk

If you would like to hear more of the partnership with Thondwe and the projects underway there please contact Lois Hindley on lois.hindley@btinternet.com , or if you would like to consider a twinning relationship for your congregation contact wmoutreach@churchofscotland.org.uk

 

Just South of North Pole

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Richard Baxter writes about welcoming Ida Tenglerova from the Czech Republic to Caithness, where she will serve as a minister for a year. 

On Friday 25 August, the congregation of Thurso West was delighted to welcome Ida Tenglerova and her family. Ida will be serving in Caithness as parish minister for a year, as a representative of our partner church, the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren.

The joy of the congregation was self-evident as they met in the bright, welcoming church which has been thoughtfully renovated. In tune with the World Mission Council’s emphasis on women in the world church, the minister being inducted, the presbytery moderator, the interim moderator and the preacher for the evening were all women (respectively, a minister, an elder, an OLM and a reader).

Ministries Council and the World Mission Council have worked together to make this partnership possible. Ministries were represented on the evening by Angus Mathieson and World Mission Council by Richard Baxter. Angus spoke of the strength of the links between our churches, and the benefits to both from arrangements like that which has brought Ida to Thurso.

In her words to the congregation, Ida said many friends had asked her where exactly she was going for the next year. Her reply had been “a few miles south of the North Pole.” Those friends initially laughed, until it was pointed out on a map that it was actually true!

We wish Ida and the congregation well on their new partnership together, which further strengthens the already deep links between the Czech Republic and Scotland (including the bits just south of the North Pole!).

Standing With Refugees on World Refugee Day 2017

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Becky

Rebecca Erskine is an Executive Assistant at the World Mission Council. She also sits on the Action Of Churches Together in Scotland- Anti Human Trafficking Group, and has an active interest in the response to the refugee crisis. Here she shares her thoughts on World Refugee Day 2017. 

 

Checking the news has become a bit of an apprehensive activity. Headlines endlessly emerge, breaking news hurries across our screens, and dozens of case studies and images are presented before our eyes each day. Although this is an issue which has been with us for 1000’s of years, the media surge of at present brings the refugee crisis home in a way that perhaps before, was unimaginable to many.

More widely reported than ever, the crisis has urged people and countries around the world to respond to the needs of millions, calling on ethical, financial, political and legal resources. In the midst of the ongoing crisis, many corporations and organisations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency, have stated that they believe now is the time to show world leaders that the global public stands with refugees.

World Refugee Day is marked on the 20th of June in recognition of our need to deal with the immensity of this crisis. This year, on the 20th of June, the United Nations will launch its #WithRefugees petition, to send a message to authorities that they must work together to respond to this crisis more effectively, and work towards a better, safer World.

 

 

The World Mission Council seeks to support our partner churches and organisations who are working tirelessly to make an impact on the everyday lives of refugees. On this World Refugee Day, we reflect on the work some of our partner churches are doing in response to the imminent and long term needs of refugees in their countries. Below are just some examples of how our partners stand with refugees:

  • St Andrew’s Refugee Service (StARS) provide quality education to over 280 refugee children from pre-school to senior grade 3. This takes place in a safe space for children to interact and play, where they also receive their breakfast and lunch. StARS also provide a psychosocial programme for women, which includes a young Somali women empowerment group, weekly Iraqi women support groups, a photography workshop for Southern Sudanese women, women’s sewing workshops, teenager mother support group, and a Sexual and Gender Based Violence awareness week programme.

 

 

  • In the Church of South India, nutritional supplements for pre-school children and the elderly are given to the Refugees Rehabilitation Programme in the Karimnager Diocese. Safe transportation, income generation training for women, health screening and career guidance for youth are also provided.

 

 

  • The Presbyterian Church in Myanmar provides food and shelter construction for communities that have been displaced by floods and landslides within the Chin state.

 

 

  • The Evangelical Church of Greece provides safe, ‘homely’ feeling spaces where refugees can have their own personal space, receive basic health care, education for their children and daily social interaction with the local community.

 

  • The Church of Scotland’s Needing A Neighbour Campaign supports the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan who provide relief for those who have been displaced because by the civil war. Through their agency, the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA), they are able to reach areas in great need with much needed assistance. David Bradwell, the Church of Scotland’s Refugee Coordinator, is doing an interfaith Pilgrimage in July to raise money for this project. You can sponsor him here.

 

 

These are a few examples of the work undertaken by our partners across the globe. On this World Refugee Day 2017, and each time you turn on the news and are presented with the refugee crisis, please keep in mind our partners across the world who are reaching out to refugee communities and individuals, and who work hard rebuilding lives with peace, love and dignity. The World Mission Council stands with its partners who work to end this crisis.

Visit the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees webpage for more information on the Church of Scotland’s response to the current refugee crisis in the UK.  

A Visit to Wi’am; Non-violence, Playgrounds, and The Wall

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Hebron 33 (Maureen Jack from CPT in red cap)

Maureen Jack is Vice-Convener of the World Mission Council, and has a particular interest in the Middle East. Here she writes about a recent visit to Palestine and Israel. 

 

At last year’s General Assembly one of the international delegates was Tarek Zoughbi, who works at Wi’am (Palestinian Conflict Transformation Centre) in Bethlehem, a Church of Scotland partner.  The centre runs children’s, youth, women’s, job creation, mediation and nonviolent resistance programmes.  The core tenet of the work of this Christian organisation is its commitment to nonviolence.

This is illustrated on its website:  ‘Our physical presence next to the Wall is a continuous non-violent resistance. By having a community center with a garden, playground, and place for people to gather, we are more than anything showing our persistent resilience and commitment to peace and justice. Wi’am networks with other individuals and groups in the West Bank in order to build civil society and promulgate a culture of nonviolence.  Much of our non-violent resistance is focused on Palestinian youth, because they have the potential to create great positive change in our society.’  For information on the full range of Wi’am’s work, please see http://www.alaslah.org.

What is not clear from its website, though, is the difficult situation under which Wi’am operates.  In March I was privileged to be invited by Usama, one of the staff, to visit the centre.  In their grounds they have a children’s playground (full of children during school holidays) and some raised beds in which the people they work with grow vegetables.

 

The centre is in an extremely vulnerable position.  As this first photo shows, Israel’s separation barrier has been built right up against Wi’am’s grounds.  Also extremely close to Wi’am is Aida refugee camp.  There are frequently clashes between Palestinian youths throwing stones and the Israeli military shooting tear gas, sound grenades, skunk water etc.

The second photo shows the remains of tear gas and sound grenades that had landed in Wi’am’s grounds during one such clash just a few days before I visited.  Tear gas is extremely painful to the eyes and brings on coughing: it can be dangerous for anyone with asthma or a heart condition.  Usama pointed out that the tear gas canisters indicated that they were out of date, and so were likely to be even more of a risk to health.

On the separation barrier the Israeli military has installed remotely controlled cameras and a mechanism for dispensing skunk water under pressure.  On more than one occasion skunk water has been fired into the Wi’am children’s playground; Usama thinks this was perhaps simply for the purpose of testing its range.  Skunk water has a vile smell, and so does the sewage that comes onto Wi’am’s grounds from a culvert through the barrier (see the third photo).

We then visited the centre’s shop, where they sell nativity sets made from local olive wood (see the fourth photo), and other small craft items.  I was particularly struck, given the difficulties Usama had spoken of, by the piece of needlework with the message ‘War is not the answer’ (see fifth photo).  By its presence, its witness, and its work, Wi’am is following the path of peace in the birthplace of the Prince of Peace.

A Visit to House of Grace, a Church of Scotland Partner in Haifa: Rebuilding church, lives, and a community

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Hebron 33 (Maureen Jack from CPT in red cap)

Maureen Jack is a member of the World Mission Council who has a particular interest in the Middle East. Here she writes about a recent visit to Palestine and Israel. 

 

In March I went with Kate McDonald, our Minister in Tiberias, to visit House of Grace in Haifa. Here, we met Jamal Shehadeh, a Melkite Christian who now runs the project. The project is housed on the site of a beautifully restored church (see photo below) that Jamal’s family rebuilt from a shell.  New high buildings are being built just a few feet away from the church and the House of Grace buildings. It felt to me as if we were being imprisoned as we stood in their small grounds.

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Perhaps that sense came to me because I was aware of what the House of Grace family do.  Not only have they rebuilt a church, but their work, their ministry, is rebuilding the lives of prisoners on parole.

Non-Jews form 20% of Israel’s population, and 45% of the prison population. Despite such statistics, House of Grace is the only half-way house working with prisoners on parole who are not Jewish. Work with Muslims, Christians and Jews used to take place, but in 2011 the Israeli Rehabilitation Authority required it to work only with Muslims and Christians. Staff and volunteers at House of Grace do however include Muslims, Christians and Jews.

House of Grace can work with 15 released prisoners at any one time. They usually have a waiting list of between 10 and 16 men who have been granted parole, but are waiting in prison for a place.  The arrangement is that the men spend nine months living in House, and then a further twelve months living in the community whilst maintaining contact with House of Grace.  Most of the men interacting with the project have had a drug problem. Their work is very successful, and reoffending rates are lower than other facilities in Israel.

The project also provides job opportunities for men who have been sentenced to community service, as well as evening activities for children in an effort to raise awareness and prevent crimes from being committed in the first place.  Initially, this work was focussed on children who were seen as at risk of becoming involved in crime, but Jamal found that the children were self-conscious about coming and didn’t want their friends to find out. Instead, their children’s programme is now open to all youngsters in the community.

Another part of their ministry is the distribution of food to local families in need (see supplies stacked in church in photo on the right) around the time of their own religious holidays.  Jamal spoke of how encouraging it is when a family will thank them for the offer of food, but say that they no longer need this assistance.  The project cooperates with the welfare department, schools, churches, Scouts, and other community groups in their various programmes.

The work that Jamal and his family do is inspiring.  Jamal spoke of the benefits the men gain from being in a family community, playing with the young children in the family, and having the support of his mother (who was visiting a prison that morning); the regard in which his mother is held was obvious from the wonderful array of Mother’s Day flowers that seemed to be everywhere we looked!

The reputation that House of Grace has gained is impressive. It became vital when the authorities were proposing to cut their government grant.  This would have made their work difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.  As a partner, the Church of Scotland did what it could, through Kenny Roger, Middle East Secretary, to lobby on their behalf.  But, local support was more important.  At an emergency press conference held in the church Jamal was moved to see that sitting together were parliament members, a rabbi, a bishop, a monk and a sheikh. “I couldn’t help my tears” he said.  The funding was reinstated.

Most inspiring of all is listening to Jamal speak about the motivation and strength he gains through his faith.  For him, to be among people and able to help brings him joy.  He spoke of the Shehadeh family being used as a tool to show God’s grace.  For him, being chosen to do God’s work is a source of great joy.

It is a real joy for the Church of Scotland to be a partner of House of Grace.  To visit the project and listen to Jamal is a tremendous privilege.  I would encourage anyone who wishes to enrich their own faith to make contact through World Mission and arrange to visit.

Talitha Kumi. Young Woman, Rise Up

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Jalalpur Jattan_Eleri Birkhead at WDOP service_3Eleri Birkhead, Development Officer at the World Mission Council, visited Pakistan together with other members of the Church of Scotland Violence Against Women Task Group. Below is a short account of her experience:

 

I’m in an office with a line of people before me. Each one of these people has a story of suffering and perseverance. Directly opposite me sits a beautiful young woman and her mother. The young woman looks at the floor, holding back tears. As her mother speaks, the tears flow. She is a survivor, and has a story of abduction, rape, and injustice. The perpetrator is free.

Though the tears flow, this young woman is seeking healing. She will pursue an education, and will not give up. She speaks about the violence she has experienced as an act of defiance.

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Thanks to CLAAS (The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), a Church of Scotland partner organisation, this young woman has lawyers representing her, and a strong support network. Her mother has stood by her, despite a culture where rape is sometimes interpreted as an act of ‘spoiling’ a woman’s purity.

This office is in Lahore, Pakistan, where I travelled with the Church of Scotland Violence Against Women (VAW) task group. We were there to learn about the response of the Church of Pakistan, and other partner organisations to VAW.

After many conversations and meetings with a whole range of women and girls it became clear that VAW is a global phenomenon. It comes in different forms, but it has an impact on rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, Asian or European.

The violence experienced by women in Pakistan can range from honour killing, to domestic violence, or societal violence (where women are prevented from pursuing opportunities such as gaining an education). There are very few laws in place to protect women, and existing laws often fail to have any legal impact.

The human impact is devastating. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Things are slowly changing
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We met women who were pursuing further education, who are determined to bring about change. We met Rev Nosheen Khan, the first woman principal of  the Gujranwala Theological Seminary, and Dr Farhana Nazir who is a faculty member at the Seminary. We met professional women who were lobbying for the legal rights of women and minorities through Community World Service’s National Lobbying Delegation. These women are powerful leaders, and are bringing about societal change.

We also met women whose mission it was to bring an end to violence against women in Pakistan.

Valerie Allen, convener of the Church of Scotland VAW Task Group, was able to speak about violence against women during a church service at the Praying Hands Cathedral in Lahore. Following the service a women came striding towards her and gave her a big hug. This woman, Shunila Ruth, had experienced violence herself. She had taken this experience, and had set up her own organisation called ‘Talitha Kumi Welfare Society’- Young Woman, Rise Up, named after Jesus’ words in Mark 5:41.

Her organisation provides legal support for women who have experienced violence, alongside work and activities designed to provide young women with empowerment.

Lahore_Shuinla Ruth MPA, Director, Talitha Kumi_3

Shunila Ruth has a powerful presence. Her knowledge about the subject is deep, as is her understanding of Women’s Rights. Importantly, she knows what it’s like to experience violence. She can relate to women who come to her, and knows how to provide emotional and spiritual support.

Slowly, within organisations such as Talitha Kumi, and community initiatives, women are coming together and rising up to change a culture and a legal system which is harmful to women in Pakistan

As Shunila Ruth said: “My pain became my passion, and my passion became my mission”. Shunila was impacted by gender based violence. She became passionate about bringing violence against women to an end so that others would not have to suffer. Slowly, she is bringing about change in her community. This will be true for women all over Pakistan, Scotland, and the world, who will be turning their pain into action until we reach justice and fullness of life for all women, and men.

Scotland, Tea and Compassion in Action

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In 1852 18 year old James Taylor left Kincardineshire to be an assistant supervisor on a coffee plantation on Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). He learned about growing tea when he visited India, planted his first tea garden in 1867 and established the first tea factory in 1872. When blight devastated the coffee plantations the estate owners followed Taylor’s lead and opted to grow tea[1].

Local Sinhalese farmers were forced off their land and displaced by the plantations. Unable to find labourers in Sri Lanka willing to work for a foreign master, the planters brought Tamils from India to work on the estates.

The Church of Scotland sent ministers to be chaplains and built churches for the Scots planters, like Scots Kirk in Kandy, but they did no outreach to the local people or the plantation workers.

Fast forward 150 years and you can still visit Scots Kirk in Kandy. The workers on the tea estates are Up-Country Tamils who are among the most powerless people in Sri Lanka.

Thirty years ago a remarkable, visionary woman Pearl Stephen began a women’s’ project in the garage at Scots Kirk. Her husband George was the minister.  Out of that garage an organisation grew to become the Women’s Development Centre (WDC[2]). Pearl set up a school for disabled children to provide special education and rehabilitation. Community development work included work with commercial sex workers who were vulnerable to HIV. But WDC is best known for its work with victims of sexual violence.

Pearl died in 2013 and her daughter-in-law Sashi has taken over the leadership. Like Pearl, Sashi combines total commitment to the girls in WDC’s care with a love and compassion that does not judge.

WDC can accommodate 50 girls and young women under the age of 16 who have been raped or abused. Some of the girls have been abused for years before they become pregnant. They may have been abused by male relatives when their mother was working in the Gulf. They may have suffered because of the breakdown in moral behaviour as a result of the brutalisation of society caused by three decades of war between the government and the Tamil Tigers.

When the Sri Lanka justice system gets involved the abuser is charged with statutory rape and the girl can be referred to WDC. Girls come from all over Sri Lanka, they include Sinhalese and Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They can stay until the court case is resolved, which can take a few years in some cases. Sashi and her co-workers help the girls care for their babies, train them in crafts and weaving so they can learn skills that will help when they leave. Parents of the girls come for counselling so they can rebuild their relationship with their daughter. Other girls are admitted to local schools so they can return to education.

Sashi and her team at WDC care for and heal girls who are vulnerable and often discarded by their families. It is impossible not to be moved by what they do. The people who built the Scots Kirk may not have cared much for the people who toiled on their plantations. But the work that began in the garage is compassion in action.

[1] http://www.scotland.org/features/scotlands-legacy-in-sri-lanka

[2] http://womendev.org/

After the Easter Day bombing, resilience and defiance

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Sandy Sneddon writes about his visit to Pakistan in the aftermath of the Easter Day bomb attack in Lahore

On 23 March I was delighted to be invited to attend a ceremony at the Pakistan Consulate in Glasgow to mark Pakistan Day. This commemorates the Lahore Resolution that called for an independent federation of Muslim majority provinces in British-ruled India. Speeches from President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were read out and the Consul General spoke of the strong links between Scotland and Pakistan, the contribution people from Pakistan have made to Scotland and Pakistan’s fight against extremism.

Four days later on Easter Day a suicide bomber killed at least 74 people including at least 42 Christians and injured 300 more, mainly women and children, in a public park in Lahore. Pakistani Taliban’s Jamat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the attack saying they deliberately targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter.

Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park joins a list that includes All Saints Church and Army Public School in Peshawar, St John Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad, Bacha Khan University, Charsadda as just some of the places where Taliban suicide bombers have attacked and killed scores of people in recent years.

Along with two colleagues I was due to travel to Pakistan on Monday 28 March. After confirming with our partner church that we would still be welcome we arrived early Tuesday. A visit originally planned to focus on Church of Scotland property issues quickly changed to a visit showing solidarity and pastoral support for our partners and the Christian community.

When we arrived in Lahore we met the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan Synod, Rt Rev Samuel Azariah. He had already visited survivors in hospital and was organising meetings with church and Muslim leaders. He called on people to go beyond statements that condemned extremist violence and take concrete action to end the violence.

Later we met with a senior Muslim cleric, Maulana Tahir-ul-Ashrafi. A former Taliban fighter in Afghanistan he told how his experience of being treated with respect by Christians situations led him to re-read the Quran and discover there was no basis for discrimination against Christians in Islam. This changed him from being strongly anti-Christian to becoming a leading proponent of inter-sect and interfaith peace and harmony.

The Church of Scotland has supported the Church of Pakistan’s campaign against the misuse of the Blasphemy Law for a number of years and we also support the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) which operates in Pakistan and Britain. Churches and Christian NGOs established CLAAS in 1992 to be a place where Christians could come for legal aid and support when accused in blasphemy or other cases and to have shelter from their persecutors. We visited the offices and met staff including lawyers and activists. We also visited Apna Ghar (“Our House”), a shelter for victims of the misuse of the Blasphemy Law and forced conversions. We met four young women who were currently residents and who were being rehabilitated after suffering rape or abduction. The staff were interested to hear about WMC’s report and Bible Studies on Gender Based Violence, an issue they have been researching as part of a USAID project.

We attended Sunday worship at Salman Memorial Church, Ugoki outside Sialkot where Iain Cunningham, Convener of the World Mission Council, preached on the Road to Emmaus linking the grief and confusion of Cleopas and his companion to that of Christians in Pakistan following the terror attack a week earlier. We returned to Lahore when Iain, myself and Dr Caroline Carson from the Episcopal Church USA joined over 200 Christians as well as Muslims and Hindus prayed for peace at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. It was a sombre yet defiant occasion that included us singing Psalm 20, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”

In our final conversation Bishop Azariah asked us to consider how the Church in the West can show solidarity in this time of crisis with the churches in Pakistan. Christians and Muslims must listen and learn from each other so we can combat extremism and terrorist violence. We need to ask our government what is doing to ensure that human rights are observed in Pakistan so that people from all communities can live their lives to the full. The authorities in Pakistan must do more protect its citizens from terror attacks. And we must pray for the families of those killed in the park, pray for the injured to be healed and give thanks for the Christian community in Pakistan, for their faithfulness in the face of extremist violence.

Chillingly a Pakistan Taliban spokesman said this week that they are planning “more devastating attacks that will target Christians and other religious minorities as well as government installations.”

 

Further reading

On Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law http://www.claas.org.uk/blasphemy-laws/

Purifying The Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities by Farahnaz Ispahani (Harper Collins, 2015)

Church of Scotland report on Gender Based Violence http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/serve/world_mission/reports_and_resources/gender_based_violence