Behind the Wall Study Tour – International monitoring of the worsening situation

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


On the recent Behind the Wall Study Tour in Israel and Palestine we met many people, both Israeli and Palestinian, involved in peace-making. These amazing people are impressive in what they do and so too are the more dispassionate international observers who are involved in monitoring the situation on the ground. I am still haunted by our meetings with them and the information they provide to governments and all who need to know.

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A presentation at OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, showed the worsening treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government in terms of use of weapons and entitlement to water, electricity and land. I now receive updates by email from OCHA. In Gaza they speak of ‘escalations of hostilities’ ( in the last year 199 Palestinians, including 43 children, were killed by Israeli forces and nearly 30,300 Palestinians injured, including 25 per cent wounded by live ammunition), ‘trauma injuries’ and high levels of psychological distress ( an estimated 10,420 people will have severe mental health problems). It is chilling to read that in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem, the demolition of residential, livelihood and basic service infrastructure, on the grounds of a lack of Israeli-issued permits, continued in the first quarter of 2019 at a higher rate than in the previous two years. In 2019, OCHA has recorded 104 incidents where illegal Israeli settlers killed or injured Palestinians or damaged Palestinian property, including over 2,500 trees. This marks a 53 per cent increase in the number of incidents compared with 2018.

We were horrified at what we heard from staff of Military Court Watch who tell of the way children and teenagers are forcibly taken from their homes in the middle of the night, often blindfolded, cuffed, abused and subjected to extreme methods of interrogation. The way this is carried out is designed to traumatise families and to build suspicion of collaborators in the Palestinian community. The most recent report states that ‘The traumas that Palestinian teenagers and children experience in Israeli jails can cause lifelong scars, for them and their communities alike.’

At the British Consulate in Jerusalem we heard the same concerns and the mission statement on the wall as we entered the building was clearly for a peaceful future with justice for the Palestinian people

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Behind the Wall Study Tour – Sabeel

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


Can theology be brave? Talking about God might be challenging or comforting or difficult or dull or exciting, but can it be brave? Think back to those Germans in the Confessing Church in Germany as Hitler rose to power: those who, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were prepared to defy to prevailing ideology of the day by proclaiming that Jesus Christ alone is the Word of God, a declaration which led Bonhoeffer to his death in a Nazi concentration camp. Think of another German, Martin Luther, standing up to the greatest power in Europe, the power of the Pope in Rome, even though he knew that his life was at risk, for the sake of a theology of the cross. Or think of a room in East Jerusalem where a group of Church of Scotland people gathered for lunch with Naim Ateek and listened spell- bound as he expounded a Palestinian Theology of Liberation.

Naim Ateek is the co-founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. Sabeel is a Partner of the Church of Scotland and Naim Ateek is a good friend of Scotland (he spent his honeymoon here!). Ian Alexander, the Secretary of the World Mission Council, worked for Sabeel in Jerusalem for two years; Marc Falconer, a Church of Scotland elder from Inverurie is working there just now. In Ateek’s own words, Palestinian Liberation Theology is a prophetic theology that demands that faithful Christians courageously speak truth to power. Since the aim of this theology is to speak of God’s will for the freedom of oppressed Palestinian people it is indeed a brave theology: it arouses hostility and opposition, not least from Zionist Christians who expound a theology which gives unblinking support to the government of Israel. For thirty years now Ateek has suffered threats and smear campaigns. But last month he held us spellbound.

His latest book is “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation” (Orbis Books, 2017) In it he sums up his thinking as “the peace circle”!; and he writes The peace circle begins with the doing of justice and ends by opening the possibility of reconciliation, forgiveness, healing and love.. He repeatedly emphasises that Palestinian Liberation theology is characterised by inclusiveness. 

Our group was a Church of Scotland group organised by the World Mission Council. The tour was called “Behind the Wall”: a tour designed for people who had been before and were familiar with the holy sites. Our purpose was not to visit the pilgrimage sites but to meet people on both sides of the wall, to listen, and to seek to understand the conflict. We walked with Sabeel every day of our tour. Our daily worship was guided by Sabeel’s “Contemporary Way of the Cross”, a rich source of liturgical material, reflections and photographs which relates the impact of the occupation to the traditional Stations of the Cross. Each evening members of our group found the worship challenging, shocking, moving and inspiring. I used part of “Contemporary Way of the Cross” at a Lent event in Scotland a few weeks ago and it had the same effect. You can find out more on www.sabeel.org; or on https://www.sabeel-kairos.org.uk/

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On the last day of our tour I had the honour of preaching in St Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem, where it was a joy to see Naim Ateek in the congregation. I was very touched when the great man grabbed me at the end of the service and exclaimed “Andrew, you must send me a copy of your sermon! I want to read it over and over”. I was very touched. Then he exclaimed: “You see, I could hear hardly anything of what you were saying”!

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– written by  the Very Rev Andrew McLellan

How Odd?

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


It is sometimes quite amazing how quickly the commonplace becomes unusual at times.

The other day when I was walking into town I met a young couple with a baby, nothing unusual so far, the baby was crying again nothing unusual, the father was comforting the baby, nothing unusu… wait we are in Malawi That is highly unusual! Here it seems child raising is exclusively seen as the mother’s domain and men have little, if anything, to do with all the things a baby demands. Yet here was a young man holding his offspring and comforting him as slowly he coaxed the trapped wind out and calmed the baby down into sleep. One Malawian friend told me once of how when their first child was born her husband and she were living in Texas as he studied for his PhD. Her husband was the perfect ‘modern dad’ changing nappies (OK diapers they were in USA), feeding when he could, even taking the baby out in the pram (a concession to the West as the sight of a baby wrapped in a shawl tied round mum would probably freak out the locals!). All of this he did unbidden and without complaint. They returned to Malawi before the second was born but daddy had now reverted to his culture and never did a thing baby care wise.

Smoking is something else that has become very odd to see. I again was once told that the decline in smoking in the West had had dire effects on the Malawian economy several years ago as tobacco companies cut back on production. On the basis that every cloud and all that, I was also told that Malawian farmers had invested heavily in macadamia nut trees and were now the World’s largest producers (I never checked if that was correct but have always hoped it was so). Back to smoking, it is very unusual to see anyone smoking although I did have the misfortune to be seated at a table near to a South African gentleman the other day who chain smoked throughout my meal Don’t let anyone tell you the UK smoking ban is not a good thing. A packet of twenty costs a little over fifteen pounds here, whereas a good lunch can be bought for £3 – 4, and even my grocery bill for the week probably comes to little over twenty pounds, so an investment in a pack of fags becomes a major consideration. That said, the other Saturday outside the Market I saw two gentlemen sharing one of the biggest spliffs I have ever seen, measured by Canadian or even Dutch standards, this one was huge.

Drivers here seem to assume pedestrians will get out of their way and drive accordingly. They might sound their horn once but that is all the warning you get and it is your responsibility to get out of their way. It’s not too bad if they are turning off of or onto the road but in my early days here I had one or two very close shaves until I realised drivers will not deviate from their course just because some fool is walking on the road.

There are other cultural differences to take into account.

Queuing to pay at the till in a shop; in Britain you leave a space between you and the person paying so as not to intrude on their business. Here leaving a gap is taken to mean you are not queuing at all and anyone else is entitled to nip into the space.

Prayer is very important, of course, but also very public. In restaurants and cafes it is commonplace to offer Thanks before eating. Prior to starting on any journey in a vehicle, prayer for safe trips are offered. On previous visits I would agree with a friend who told me when you see the state of the cars and mini buses you too would pray before getting in! Thankfully that is one of the changes I have noted that the standard of vehicles, although well below British standards, is far better than it was.

On the topic of prayer one of our hosts here always starts his morning prayers with the phrase “Dear Lord we thank you that we awoke alive this morning”. On my first visit here 6 years ago every market no matter how remote or small would have at least one supplier of coffins, three years ago they were fewer and today you have to go looking to find them all of which is a good thing as the devastating effects of the AIDS pandemic, although still considerable, are ameliorating as more treatments for HIV become available to more and more people.

I was asked the other day what I thought was the biggest difference in Malawi over the last six years and, apart from the growth of cars on the road and the explosion of motorbikes everywhere, the one major change is how much healthier well fed and fitter everyone appears to be now. I am not blind to the fact that problems abound, and the effects of the recent floods are still to work their way through, but progress has been made.

Long may it continue.

Rev Bob Milne

Zomba Theological College

 

Victims of Human Trafficking Double in Two Years – Understanding the Statistics (and What you can do to Help)

The National Crime Agency has released their end of year summary for Human Trafficking statistics in the United Kingdom, but this year’s findings were more harrowing than ever: the statistics told us that potential victims of trafficking in the UK have more than doubled in the last two years. Nearly 7000 victims were reported in 2018, breaking the record for the number of victims ever recorded.

Of those 7000 potential victims, most were found under labour exploitation. This means people have been forced to work on farms, in factories, nail bars, car washes, within illegal drug cultivation, or on fishing trawlers all across the UK. Victims of trafficking were also forced into sexual exploitation within brothels or within people’s homes, which is the second most common type of trafficking in the UK.

A disturbing finding was that referrals of children doubled compared to last year. Nearly half of the 7000 potential victims were under 18, and were mostly found in labour exploitation. In fact, more boys than adult men were reported under labour conditions last year; this is thought to be because children find it more difficult to learn of and understand their rights, and are easier to manipulate, transport, and threaten into exploitative situations.

Of the 7000 potential victims recorded, there were over 100 claimed nationalities. This means that well over 100 countries have trafficking links with the UK, not just for labour or sexually exploitative purposes but also for organ harvesting, forced marriage, illegal adoption and domestic servitude (working within people’s homes).

As the reasons behind trafficking become clearer, and as numbers of victims ever increase, it is easy to feel helpless at the seriousness and complexity of human trafficking. However, the fact that more victims than ever are being reported shows us that the systems we have in place are becoming far more effective. Businesses are more ethically conscious about their supply chains, funding for charities has increased, police training as well as private sector training (such as hotel staff) are becoming more widely available. People in congregations and within faith groups are also more aware than ever of the signs of trafficking, and aware of how to report suspicions: are you someone who knows what to look out for?

World Mission Council has developed resources that can help you raise awareness of global trafficking. We can provide Bible studies and a report on our partner’s work to give you an understanding of the worldwide implications of trafficking. We also work with Action of Churches Together in Scotland who have released their new ‘What are the Indicators’ leaflet on human trafficking, and will soon release their new leaflet on the biblical interpretation of modern slavery. Someone from World Mission would be happy to come and speak to your guild, presbytery or congregation on Human Trafficking, which would allow you to learn more about the crime and ask questions if you have any. If you are interested in any of these resources please contact rerskine@churchofscotland.org.uk.

We’ve got a long way to go before Trafficking is eradicated; but the more we make ourselves and others aware, the better chance we have of spotting, reporting and stopping the crime.

Have a read of the National Crime Agency statistics here: http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/publications/national-referral-mechanism-statistics/2018-nrm-statistics/1019-modern-slavery-and-human-trafficking-national-referral-mechanism-statistics-annual-report-2018/file

Beginnings New and Old – Rev Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


I have a habit of joking about things and then later, as events develop, discovering they were no joking matter at all. Such was case the recent rains we had in Southern Malawi where, to be honest, they were a nuisance here in Zomba City but in nearby country areas their effects were far greater than nuisance value.

As is always the case, getting information in from the remoter areas has been difficult not only just because of communication problems but also, as one minister in a rural parish reminded Presbytery’s office bearers, there are more important things to do at times like this than complete forms!

Over the weekend reliable information did start to come through and from 19 Parishes came the news that at least 800 families are in dire need, some having had their homes collapse or become uninhabitable. Some are able to stay with neighbours. We visited one such family on Friday but it means something like a dozen children and six or seven adults are sleeping in a one room house. Might be OK in an emergency but is not even a midterm solution. A church is providing shelter and sleeping accommodation for nearly forty people in one Parish. The folk have only the clothes they were wearing when their homes collapsed, there is very little bedding, cooking utensils for the communal outdoor kitchen are the very minimum they were able to borrow from neighbours yet they still manage to provide food for the company every day. As their school books and school clothes or uniforms have been lost, none of the children are attending school and prospects of returning are very bleak at present.

The Presbytery despite wanting data forms completed is not sitting on their hands and have already put some relief measures in place but, as always, they are restricted as to what they can afford. Yesterday I preached for the first time since arriving and I was given (pre rains) the text 1 Peter 4:9 “Open your homes to one another” I am pleased to say that this instruction is being put into action in several ways.

I am currently in touch with a couple organisations back home as what is really sad about this whole affair is that, in European terms, it is not hugely expensive to provide cooking utensils, bedding and clothing. The buildings are another matter. One of the reasons why so many failed is the lack of foundations, the situation is very reminiscent of the children’s hymn (almost) saying the wise man built his house with decent foundations so when the rains came down and the floods came up the house stood firm.

The one positive that came out of my trip into the fringes of the affected area was that the crops do not seem to have suffered too much. Maize, ground nuts, sweet potatoes and pumpkins seem to have weathered the storm surprisingly well but it is not known yet how bad things might be further out. Please remember in prayer the victims and the efforts of Zomba City Presbytery as they seek to provide help.

As well as my first sermon I also delivered my first lectures to third and fourth year students last week which seemed to go well. I am amazed at how willing to engage in discussion the students here are. They were not shy at telling this white man from Great Britain that one of the main causes of poverty here and elsewhere is former colonisation and, more recently, western multinationals exploiting (i.e. stealing) Africa’s plentiful natural resources for their own profit. I am not here to defend the indefensible and had to agree with a lot of what they were saying. The bright light in this is that the future leaders of the Malawian Church (perhaps in politics too) are determined to seek change so they can not only stand on their own, but also take their place in the 21st Century world where equality, fairness and justice take precedence.

To end on a lighter note. I have started my Zomba jogging campaign and can be seen heading out at stupid o clock when it is cooler, three or four mornings a week. I was told Malawians will think you mad to be doing that but so far I have had nothing but encouragement from those walking along at that time of the morning unlike a lot of the remarks I have received back in Scotland!

 

Rev Bob Milne

Zomba Theological College

 The pictures below show two families standing in front of what remains for their homes

The third shows some of the people taking shelter in the Church also Rev Alexious Mangitsa Convenor of Zomba’s Church and Society Committee. Thrown over the piles of bricks is what little bedding they have being aired and dried.

Beginnings New and Old

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Deluged – Rev Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


When arrangements were made for my arrival here the primary consideration was the start of the new semester, which was Monday 11th March. This also fitted in well with what Zomba Presbytery had in mind, so arrival at end of February was agreed. As an added bonus I was told it would mean I would miss the rains as they would be long gone by now.

All I can say is: Ha!

I am writing this on Friday and it is raining heavily. Had I written it yesterday I could have said the same. Had I written it Wednesday I could have said the same. Had I written it Tuesday I could have said the same because’ in fact, it has rained steadily almost without a break since Monday afternoon. Heavy continual rain, the kind of rain of which in Scotland you say “Well it won’t last long like this” but here it does! In fact when it did eventually relent, for a quarter of an hour, the other night the lack of noise on my corrugated iron roof caused me to wake up! Normal service though was quickly resumed.

Flood warnings have been issued for some areas and I was told that heavy rain in March was last noted some ten or eleven years ago. The general consensus is it’s further evidence of climate change. I have had the opportunity to visit Canada in all months of the year and it is very true there that snow, whilst it causes some problems, is expected and catered for, the same goes for rain in Malawi, even when it comes out of season.

Huge channels are there either side of nearly all roads which, even at the height of the downpour yesterday, were coping admirably with the run off and taking it down to the next stream. When all those streams issue into the same river then there can be problems of course. Sadly reports are coming in from the Lower Shire that severe flooding is taking place and tragically lives have been lost as bridges and vehicles have been swept away. This last minute edit has been made to what originally was intended to be a light hearted piece. Please remember those caught up in forces way beyond their control in your prayers.

If you read my last blog you will recall me mentioning the electricity was off when I arrived because a large branch had fallen off a tree and taken down the power cable. Well the penalties for such actions are severe and capital. A programme of felling has been commenced to ensure that in future power cables and houses (which had been damaged too) will be safer.

I awoke on Saturday last week to the sound of chopping and, on going outside, saw the chap in the photograph wielding a machete high up as he took the tree down. The horticulturalist in me might have questioned the need to fell the tree but the arborist in me (before being a minister I was a manager of Parks and Recreation in Local Government) was having kittens at the total absence of even paying lip service to Health and Safety considerations. The tree surgeon merely climbed the tree in his bare feet and hacked off the branches but he did do this expertly and with a very sound methodology. Eventually as he got nearer the bottom and thus into the thicker branches and trunk a chain saw was brought into use, but operated with no helmet with ear defenders, no gloves, no Kevlar jacket and trousers and no goggles but there was a rope. The costly chainsaw was attached by a rope to the tree so that in the event of the operator falling the saw would not be damaged.

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There is a connection between these two stories. On Monday morning before the rains broke there was a fierce electric storm for a couple of hours. During which our tree surgeon could be seen sixty feet up an eighty foot tall tree happily wielding an all metal machete above his head. The threat of lightening strike did not phase him but heavy rain did and he and the rest of his squad have not been seen on site since the rains came. Which gives the baboons and vervet monkeys a few more days to enjoy the trees and my former professional standards a chance to adjust, not to mention my nerves!

I shall, from this week, be lecturing on Thursdays and working as an Associate Minister in Sadzi CCAP on Sundays my duties with Zomba Presbytery should keep me out of mischief for another one or two days a week. So I will be busy and very appreciative of your prayers.

 

Rev Bob Milne

Zomba Theological College

Arrivals – Rev Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


Journeys are great fun in anticipation, but often not so in the event as the frustrations of plans going slightly askew add up, and threaten the whole thing

Edinburgh airport, far from my favourite port of departure, started the ball rolling No way could they book me all the way through (three flights) they could only book me as far as Heathrow. They could possibly book my bags through, although my faith in her ability to do so was severely shaken when she calmly asked, if “Addis Ababa and Malawi were in the same country?”. The staff at Heathrow, for whom switching between Terminals is commonplace, seemed unable to understand that a bloke from rural Perthshire does not know where and how he is supposed to go. That apart, all went well.

To me there is little to surpass a Malawian welcome. Emerging from the terminal building having undergone the tedious process of visa buying (make sure all notes are crisp and new an old $5 was summarily rejected) then going back to process immigration, the frustrations are quickly forgot when you see several smiling faces and are embraced as warmly as the Prodigal son. Perhaps the nicest greeting came from the Depute Presbytery Clerk who warmly shook my hand saying “Welcome home Rev Bob, you are home again”. Bags disappear into the carpark but the joyousness of the reunion is such you neither notice nor care.

I well recall my first landing at Blantyre and how brown everything looked in the late September heat, returning in July 2016 following the poorest rains for years the land was scorched and bereft of crops. But now in the February sun the land glows green even at 6000 feet the maize can be seen standing straight and tall with bountiful crops yet to come. It was like seeing an old friend who had been going through tough times but has now turned the corner. They don’t need to tell you for you see it in their eyes, their smile and the way they walk. The land cannot smile and many twists turns and hairpins remain for Malawi to negotiate perhaps but you can feel and share the joy and relief.

The journey through Blantyre to a large café (which must be a compulsory stop for visitors I noted several of my fellow passengers lunching there including a group of squaddies from Queens Dragoon Guards stocking up before heading into the wild lands for a month’s exercise) served to remind you, if you needed it, that you were in Malawi. A long line of traffic all moving at 30mph, the mini bus a few cars in front pulls off the tarmac to drop a passenger and collect a new one, it then re-joins the flow all accomplished without the need for indicator, brake lights or giving way and with only losing a few places in the traffic. We come to a small hill and everything grinds to a walking pace as a Mercedes lorry, which looks like it was looted from El Alamien after Rommel’s defeat, overladen beyond belief puffs thick black smoke as it chugs so slowly upwards and onwards. The police officer on point duty, if he noticed it at all, ignores it.

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Can’t tell you too much about the trip from Blantyre to Zomba as I spent most of it catching some sleep, but along the way the sun set it, grew dark and night had fallen as we pulled into the houses at the Theological College and I was shown to my new home for the next few months. I do not say shown the house purposely for we were informed on emerging from the car “A tree blew down the other night and took out the power cables. Hopefully electric will be back tomorrow”. It wasn’t. It took two whole days and two long dark nights.

One thing though is drastically wrong in the centre of Zomba. There used to be a small “street café” serving just two dishes, namely beef stew and roast chicken with rice or maize, cooked on charcoal outside, as delicious as it was cheap and reliable, not being dependent on electricity but it and the neighbouring shops are sadly no longer there.

A few days to rest up, sort out phone sims, a whirl of meetings, people coming to the door who all seem to know me and what I’m doing here and suddenly it seems you are getting given tasks and timetables, schedules and targets, deadlines and data. Quite rightly so, for I am here for a purpose, to be busy, to be of assistance, to do what needs done, not what I want or think should be done.

God has led me here to my small house with cooker (one working ring) fridge (freezer part acts as fridge, fridge as a cupboard) and plates but no cutlery or kettle to do His will to His glory so Lord I place my hand into Yours.

Lead me on, Lord.

Rev Bob Milne

Zomba Theological College

Climate Change – Fiona Kendall

Rome, 26 February 2019

In December 2018, the much-heralded “Salvini Law”[1] finally came into force in Italy.  By connecting “immigration” with “security”, it reinforces the populist message that these issues are directly related.  The provisions of the new law are a barometer for the climate of mistrust which has grown since the present government came to power.  Without going into detail, key aspects include the following:

  • Withdrawal of the possibility of applying for a permit to stay on the basis of “humanitarian protection” (which falls short of refugee status but covers deplorable circumstances which do not meet the criteria within the 1951 Geneva Convention);
  • Implementation of a much narrower system of applying for protection;
  • Withdrawal of the possibility of “SPRAR” accommodation for all but, essentially, those with refugee status and unaccompanied minors. The Italian SPRAR system has been much praised for providing not only accommodation but a means of integrating migrants within Italian society.

Climate Change

 

Whilst the Salvini Law was making its way through the Italian legislature, its spirit was already being implemented.  The last few months of 2018 saw a number of high profile evictions of informal refugee settlements, including that run by Baobab Experience (about which I blogged in “Defiant Optimism”). Anecdotally, we hear that those whose permits to stay are based on humanitarian protection and will no longer be renewed are already being asked to vacate reception centres.  To compound matters, on 22nd January, a large immigrant reception centre to the north of Rome was closed with only two days’ notice.[2]

The effect of all this: greater numbers of “irregular” migrants, greater numbers of migrants on the streets and a significant increase in anxiety for both migrants and the population at large.  On 4th February, 600 Italian psychoanalysts who work regularly with refugees signed a letter to President Mattarella highlighting the negative psychological effect of these measures.[3]  However, they added, “Another Italy exists and is beginning to express its own profound dissent:  we are part of that.”

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The existence of this other Italy was very much in evidence on 9th February, when eight mayors gathered in Rome[4] to form an alliance to counter the policies which result in human rights being trampled.  This open meeting was a small but important first step in harnessing the power of cities – and communities – to stand up for an alternative approach.  The courage of these individuals in taking steps to combat these policies should not be underestimated.  “We have to create a parallel and integrated network of solidarity,” said one mayor.  It is their intention to convene an assembly of mayors from across Europe once the EU elections have taken place and, from there, to develop a manifesto and action plan.

This, I would suggest, is the kind of climate change we can live with…

[1] Legge 1 dicembre 2018, n. 132:  “Disposizioni urgenti in materia di protezione internazionale e immigrazione, sicurezza pubblica, nonché misure per la funzionalità del Ministero dell’interno e l’organizzazione e il funzionamento dell’Agenzia nazionale per l’amministrazione e la destinazione dei beni sequestrati e confiscati alla criminalità organizzata”

[2] https://bit.ly/2EbrWuV

[3] https://bit.ly/2RNaDW0

[4] Present were mayors from Palermo, Florence, Naples, Bologna, Latina, Syracuse, Barcelona, Zaragoza, with support from Milan and Madrid.

Preparations – Rev Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


I sit compiling lists in my head of things to do, then bin them as I remember other important things I had temporarily forgotten! Restarting I then try to prioritise them, is it more important to make sure the allotment is ready for spring or to make sure Sheila knows the dates for MOT’s insurance renewals and where I put the plumber’s number. All of which enables me to indulge my favourite pastime of procrastination!

My flights are a day away! I fly off to Zomba, Malawi, to help at the Theological College, lend a hand at Zomba Presbytery and also assist at Sadzi CCAP church from March to September. On paper it all looks straightforward until you factor in visa requirements, remembering to pack everything, selecting what books to take for researching the lectures and for good measure Sheila has just noticed the final leg of my return journey  is with Flybe and panics till she realises that is not the same as Flybmi (I hope!) In short it’s all the normal preholiday hassle times ten.

Two things come to mind as I prepare for this walk with God Two walks other people have made. One a fellow student who applied to work in China as an English teacher. As she prepared for her assessment her Minister included in that week’s service, a hymn “Just as I am without one plea” that sent such a reassurance she went to the assessment event and, as the kids say today, ‘ smashed it’.

The second goes way back to my time at Selection School at St Colm’s in Edinburgh. St Colm’s had at one time been the training centre for Deaconesses and missionaries in the Church of Scotland and in the mid-nineties, the log books of previous residents remained in the room. I read a great many of the entries. One was a young woman in the years before the Great War she spoke of her fears. Would she be good enough for what God had in mind for her? Would she be able to do the work? A great deal of self-doubt but in the end she put everything before God in prayer. Her final note was that she herself lacked confidence but she had no such doubts in God, so happily she would go out into the world to do His will with confidence.

I have no idea where she went to serve but perusing the memorial tablet in the Chapel later I was brought up short when I saw her name listed. She had died less than three years after writing of her fears.

I too, look towards Zomba with a mixture of excitement and doubt but like her and my fellow students, I know that this is what God wants me to do so do it I will, but only because I know He is with me. Whatever my skills (and sadly for the College DIY is not among them) I can and will use them for the next six months to help His kingdom in Zomba and then on my return use the new ones I have developed to help Him here too.

Bob Milne

  • Rev Bob Milne

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.