Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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Posted: January 5, 2017 in Uncategorized
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After a break from blogging I can now be found at thecafeseries.wordpress.com

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Taking a child to Church to get some prayer might sound like a nice idea, but in some countries it is not a wonderful and blessed experience.

This is not an easy topic to write about – I already have a lump in my throat as I think about the stories I am going to share – but I believe this issue is one that Churches around the world have a duty to a) wake up to and b) respond to.

Let’s begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country which has been described as the “rape capital of the world”*, where there is a widely held belief that misfortune such as sickness, job loss and death can be attributed to evil spirits working through a person who is present in your life. Many inhabitants also subscribe to the belief that anyone who is different, whether that be due to a disability, an above average intellectual ability, or even because of something as simple as bed-wetting, must have some malevolent spirits at work in them. When these accusations are made against children there are often tragic consequences. UNICEF estimates that there are around 30,000 street children in the captial of DRC, 70% of whom are living there as a direct consequence of being accused of being possessed or involved in ‘sorcery’, either having fled from home or been thrown out.

A mother from the Congo with 8 children was struggling to look after her large family so sent her 11 year old son to live with his Aunt and Uncle. The move would most probably have been an emotional upheaval for the boy, but the challenges he was to face intensified dramatically beyond simply settling into a new home. Everyone in the household got sick upon his arrival, so he was accused of being a witch who had brought a curse upon the family. They swiftly took the boy to see a Pentecostal Pastor** who claimed to have discernment skills. After paying a fee to the Church leader it was  announced, “yes, he is definitely a witch”, and the boy was taken into the care of the Church to be cleansed.

The young man and 3 other boys (also in the custody of the Church) were led to a wasteland where a bonfire was lit by the elders and pastor. The skin on the boy’s bottom, legs and groin were burned off as he was turned like a chicken on a spit. Along with a number of other children, he was held in captivity in the Church building for 5 months where he was barely given enough food to survive. God alone knows how his hurting, peeling skin was treated during that time.

This is not an isolated situation, but one of many reports coming out of the country. Susie Howe of The Bethany Children’s Trust, who is also part of the Stop Child Witchcraft Accusations Coalition, says that every case is different dependent upon the country in which the situation occurs. She explained to me that there are a variety of methods applied to ‘treat’ children to rid them of whatever has supposedly caused harm to those in their life: “they are starved, they may be beaten, they may be forced to take poisonous fluids, they may have acid put into their eyes… we’ve known cases where they’ve had red hot pokers put up their rectums… and the saddest thing is that it’s being done by so called pastors in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Taking a child to get some prayer in church might sound like a good idea, but in the case of accusations (a crucial word) of child witchcraft involvement the consequences are almost always negative. Money crosses the palms of those promising discernment or a solution, meaning that some bogus pastors have become self-appointed bishops or spiritual leaders. Susie clarified the situation with these false pastors: “they’ve never been to theological college… they are in it because they can make a breath-taking amount of money from this”.  The sad reality though is that some pastors who are trained in Biblical Studies, Church History and Theology, who are part of respected denominations, genuinely believe that the way in which they handle these cases are advancing the Kingdom of God. She explained, “Some of the pastors do believe that they are doing the right thing by God.” This is not just a case of poorly handled deliverance ministry (that would be a blog topic in itself), it is large numbers of children being wrongly labelled as ‘witches’ and then suffering brutal abuse as a result.

When the mother of the 11 year old boy tried to contact her son she was blocked from gaining access to him by the Church. It was then she realised things were not right so sought the support and assistance of another Pastor, one who had previously been involved in this type of activity himself but consequently realised that it was not Godly behaviour. He was able to help, with the good news being that the pastor who had abused the children by burning and starving them was arrested. However, the bad news is that he left prison after just 3 months because he was able to pay his way out.

While these situations are commonly found in African nations, South America and some Asian countries, it is important to acknowledge that there have been increasing incidents of children being labelled as witches even in the UK, which tragically have ended in death. The famous Victoria Climbie case hit our shores in 2000, highlighting that those brought up in cultures believing this teaching (that children can bring a curse to a family) travels as people leave their home country and set up life somewhere new. In 2010 another British case hit headlines: the story of Kristy Bamu, a young woman killed by her sister and partner, through physical abuse as well as the removal of food and water, all due to them thinking that she was a witch. The death of Kristy served as a wake up call to the Government, and so a plan was launched in 2012 to try to deal with the rise in cases of child witch accusations in this country. Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, speaking to the BBC said, “Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a ‘wall of silence’ around its scale and extent… There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

In the Bible we see that evil does exist and that sometimes prayer is required to free people from demons, but it crucial to distinguish between a) those who are truly possessed so are in need some spiritual freedom and 2) minors who are accused of something which is a falsehood and are then abused in an attempt to free them. Jesus’ message was one of loving people to freedom not subjecting them to abuse for spiritual benefits. Susie has drawn her own conclusions from the various case studies she has assessed: “These are innocent children who have done absolutely nothing… They become scapegoats for misfortune.”

Action: What can you do? If this information breaks your heart or you want to find out more then please consider responding. There is a coalition of Christian individuals and organisations called Stop Child Witchcraft Accusations. For their vision, resources and more information visit: www.stop-cwa.org  They are doing some training next year for Pastors in the countries where this is commonplace, to help them discuss these issues and discern how best to respond.

May the Church lead the way in ministering love and freedom to people, providing hope for those in despair, healing for those who have been hurt, as well as bringing teaching and formation to those who are misguided. Lord, help us to be a voice for those who are too young or too weak to speak out against the abuse they are experiencing.

©Maria Rodrigues

* McCrummen, Stephanie (9 September 2007). “Prevalence of Rape in E. Congo Described as Worst in World”. Washington Post

**Not all Pentecostals agree to such methods of handling the situation, in fact the majority globally would condemn this abuse of children.

beggar lady

Recently I was away from home with work, but whilst the world’s media were focussed on the breaking news story taking place in that location, I was aware of a secondary story rumbling in the backdrop of the media mayhem. Many people were begging on the streets, not an uncommon sight in any city, but my suspicions were aroused that something wasn’t quite right when I noticed that those who had been asking for money during the day were nowhere to be found at night, when the Salvation Army came round handing out food to the homeless. Where had these beggars gone and where had they come from in the first place?

After 3 weeks of casual observation something rather disturbing unfolded. For every person I saw begging, invariably there was another person standing nearby watching the beggar, approaching at regular intervals to give a pep talk about how to get more money from passers by. During these brief dialogues the overseer would take the earnings achieved thus far, pocketing them, then promptly fall back to the other side of the road to continue monitoring the progress. One example of this was when I witnessed a young girl, probably in her twenties, sitting outside a Church. Across the road was a man who looked just a few years older than she was, who clearly acted as the boss. He was leaning against a lampost watching the girl’s every move. The relationship was like that of a master and their slave.

I stood for some time waiting for those inside the Church to come out so that I could interview them about the big event happening in the city, all the while watching the unpleasant begging scene unfold. The man supervising the girl became uncomfortable with me watching him – I knew this because we made eye contact and a few moments later he walked round the block before returning to lean on the wall near his ‘worker’. Perhaps he thought I was a journalist investigating his activity because I was standing with a recording device? Every time someone walked past the girl she changed from a more relaxed pose to putting on a strained, desperate face, shaking a cup of coins, glancing over her shoulder as she did so to check that her ‘supervisor’ was noticing the effort she was making. She looked young, afraid and controlled. I felt helpless as I watched, so used the time standing there to pray for her. Once the congregation emerged from the Church I approached the entrance to interview some of the worshippers, giving the girl a smile which she returned with a beautiful beam. She had noticed earlier that I had been watching the man – our exchange of smiles felt like shared solidarity that I knew she didn’t want to be there.

On another occassion during my trip I saw an old woman begging, and a man who was of an age that he could have been her son was the one in charge this time, almost bullying the elderly lady into looking more bedraggled. He was rough with her, paying her no respect when up close, and looking at her with disgust when watching from his look-out post. She was on the floor in the dust holding out a broken polystyrene cup, with a wooden walking stick laying on the ground beside her. As with the girl outside the Church it was a horrible thing to witness a woman being controlled in this way.

Over the weeks I began to notice that I never saw adult men begging unless they had some sort of deformity – whether those injuries were inflicted by those in their care to aid the begging or is something they were born with I will perhaps never know. One man had no hands, it looked like they had been chopped off – if I had a copy of Nick Vuijicic’s biography (the man born with no limbs) in the native language of the dust-covered gentleman then I would have given it to him, to show that physical limitations don’t mean you have to be on the streets. I do acknowledge though that if the man is living under the control of a carefully crafted begging operation his freedom to get out of street-working may be limited. Another man I saw begging had one foot which looked as if it had been broken and never put in a plaster cast to heal. The women sometimes had laminated photos of children, but my limited knowledge of the country’s language meant that I couldn’t ask where they got the laminator from or where their young were being kept whilst they begged. Some older children were also part of the act: one boy I saw was playing the accordian and being forced to sing to get funds, something I would label as child exploitation. Bernie Gravett, former Met Police Superintendant, told the BBC when speaking about children being made to beg in London: “This is modern day slavery. How does a four-year-old child consent to be exploited?”

We never know what someone has been through so cannot judge their situation – Mother Teresa said that if we judge we don’t have time to love – but I feel there is a need for us to open our eyes to those around us, to look out for the vulnerable who might be longing for support and help. Some of those I saw with broken cups asking for money may have been trafficked, either stolen, sold into slavery or forced into it. Perhaps they all slept in a base somewhere at night, coming out to work during the day, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I want Jesus’ heart of compassion so that rather than using my energy to speculate about what is really going on I use my energy to intercede and then act with wisdom.

I feel sorry for these beggars, they do not appear to have freedom to be who God created them to be. May we be God’s eyes, ears, hands and feet, to make a difference.

Prayer: Lord, give us your heart of compassion for those we encounter in our daily lives. Please give us wisdom about how to respond to shocking scenes we witness, directing us as to how to do our bit to help and support those who are in need. Come, Holy Spirit.

Action: There are many great anti-trafficking charities run by Christians in the UK (e.g. Stop the Traffick, A21 etc), but should you want to contact The UK Human Trafficking Centre with any concerns their phone number is: 0844 7782406

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

When writing a blog aimed at Christians from all Church traditions, it is probably not advisable not to write an entire post on the Pope, but hopefully you will agree that I made the right decision in doing so!

pope laughing

Here are 20 things you might not have picked up on which either Pope Francis has done during his pontificate or got up to before he came to Rome:

1. Today he has broken years of tradition by choosing not to hold the Maundy Thursday foot-washing in one of the main Churches in Rome, such as St Peter’s Basilica. Instead he is heading to a young offenders institute in Rome to wash and kiss the feet of 12 of them.

2. When leaving Argentina to cast his vote on who the new Pope would be, a couple of his friends clubbed together to buy him some new shoes because the ones he was planning to wear were shabby and worn. (Those same new black shoes are apparently the ones we’ve seen him wearing as Pope!)

Pope shoes

3. Once declared the new Pope (something he was not expecting due to his age) it was customary for the Cardinals to greet him one by one. He decided not to sit on the throne prepared for the welcome, instead choosing to stand up and greet his ‘brothers’.

4. As the Pope and Cardinals were leaving for St Peter’s (where the new Pope was to appear on the balcony), a special Papal car had been prepared for Francis, however he opted to travel by bus with the other Cardinals.

5. Having left his life in Argentina there are few things he had to sort out. Rather than ask a PA or secretary to call up his newsagent back in Buenos Aires to cancel his daily paper delivery, he decided to do it himself! It took a while to convince the boy on the other end that it really was the Pope on the phone, calling from Rome, wanting to thank them for their service all these years. (It has been reported by the newsagents that the paper delivered to the Cardinal was always bound by a rubber band, and at the end of each month he would return all the elastic bands! A thrifty Cardinal.)

6. He liked to dance the tango when he was a young man.

7. When Pope Francis was a Cardinal he turned down the bishop’s palace, choosing more modest accomodation, which included cooking for himself.

8. In his first week in office Pope Francis had Mass with the Vatican gardeners and cleaning staff.

9. Once he became Pope he decided to return to the guesthouse he had been staying in prior to the voting process to collect his belongings himself… and also to settle the bill and thank the staff!

10. His financial advisor in Argentina was an evangelical Christian, with those who know the Pope saying that he reportedly chose him because he knew he could trust another Christian. Apparently they spent hours reading the Bible together.

11. He has washed the feet of Aids victims, sick children and new mothers.

foot-washing-1

12. He said that the papal apartment is too big for one man so has not moved in there.

13. The Pope is living in the Vatican guesthouse with other clergy who work for the Vatican, using a communal dining room and living in modest accomodation.

14. Evangelist Luis Palal (who runs Christian crusades the world over) counts Pope Francis as a personal friend, sharing how he is a man of prayer who knows the Gospel/kerygma.

luis palau

15. He had the Patriarch of Constantinople at his inauguration Mass, the first time since the split from Rome.

16. Pope Francis has chosen not to wear a gold cross usually worn by Popes, wearing a simpler one.

17. He likes to give the thumbs up to people when he sees them in the crowd!

thumbs

18. Pope Francis said his first Mass in the small church on the edge of the Vatican instead of in the main basilica, and then stood outside afterwards like a parish priest greeting all the parishonners one by one.

19. He is a friend of Pentecostals, evangelicals, Jews, Orthodox Christians and more! Reports suggest that he always asks other Christians to pray for him, often asking them to ‘lay hands’ on him.

20. He chose the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi because his Cardinal friend whispered to him ‘don’t forget the poor’ just before he had to choose a name.

st francis

I think he is a man who reminds all Christians that our faith is about love and service, and that through reaching out to others we will point them to Christ.

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

“When are you two going to get married?” can fast turn into “so when are you starting a family?”, but for many people their dream of becoming a parent never becomes a reality. Although technically you won’t be tested for infertility until after a whole year of trying for a child, questions can arise even after 6 months.

Mags* is in her late twenties.  She got married young.  Her and her husband decided to wait a few years before starting a family, but they were met with a brick wall when the time came.  A number of years has now elapsed.  She is confused but clinging to God.  On the one hand she blames herself for waiting and not being open from the start, on the other hand she can’t close the chapter marked ‘baby’ because she doesn’t know whether one might unexpectedly come along down the line.  She is walking into a future marked ‘unknown’, secretly hopeful but not wanting to get her hopes up too much so as not to put her life on hold whilst waiting.  She admits that sometimes she cries herself to sleep over the situation.

It is not just married couples who go through the challenge of wondering if they will ever become parents, single men and women are faced with the same query.  Katie* always dreamed of being a mother, but she has now gone past the age of 40 with no sign of Mr Right on the horizon.  She is bubbly, dynamic, faith-filled and beautiful, yet she has come to accept that if she ever has children it will have to be through adoption.  Katie says there is nothing wrong with adopting but that she has had to go through a painful grieving process in order to reach a place where she accepts that her bloodline will probably stop with her.

Young girls grow up often assuming that it is their right to be able to have children if they want to, so chatter takes place about the number of boys and girls they would like to have.  Some women pick out potential names for their desired dream team only to discover that Prince Charming hasn’t come along in time or that the life she hoped to have with him isn’t unfolding like the fairytale she imagined.  There are people who tell me that their first child came along ‘too quickly’ or their baby was ‘unplanned’.  When I hear these claims I am reminded of those at the opposite end of the spectrum who are hitting disappointment month after month when signs of the woman’s monthly period arrives in place of a positive pregnancy test.

Increasingly couples labelled as infertile (unless a miracle occurs) are coming into my path.  What many of them have in common is a sense of guilt for being upset about it.  We know that God can come through with a miracle even after a long wait – Abraham and Sarah are classic examples of that with her becoming pregnant when she describes her womb as being ‘good as dead’ – but when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t come to fruition it can be challenging.  Perhaps we need to create a culture within our Churches where we tell people that it is ok to grieve, whether that be for the loss of a loved one or the loss of fertility, rather than thinking that because we are believers we need to have it together all the time.

Everyone goes through struggles during the course of their life, many of which are unknown to the people around them, but the question we can put to ourselves during those dark moments is whether we will allow the tough experiences to crush us or make us.  Will we let God use the hard stuff to mould us into someone more compassionate with an increased capacity to receive His love or not?

A thought:  If we have God then we have everything we need.

A prayer: Lord, we ask you to be the strength we need in our times of weakness. Be with all those who are hurting or suffering in secret this day. Give us your heart of compassion and use us as a channel of your healing love. Amen

Resources:

1. HTB Church (sorry if you are not in London) run a course called ‘Waiting for Children’. The course title is one of hope and expectancy rather than closing a door because of a label you have been given. If you or anyone you know is in that place of waiting or struggling with fertility issues perhaps take a look:

http://www.htb.org.uk/whats-on/courses/waiting-children

2. There is also a book written by two Christian women who had different outcomes to their fertility journey. It is called ‘Just the two of us?’ by Eleanor Margesson and Sue McGowan:

                                                          Just the two of us?

Also a book by Rosemary Morgan called ‘Living With Infertility – a Christian Perspective’:

rosemary

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Real names have not been used