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Cuba and the World Day of Prayer

World Day of Prayer Cuba

Today, Sunday the 6th, churches around the world will celebrate the World Day of Prayer, officially designated as the first Friday in March. The movement began in the 19th century, led by lay women in the United States. Today more than 170 nations participate.

But Americans may be surprised at the official program this year.

Two years ago the country of focus was Egypt, and I was able to contribute an article to Presbyterian Today. The choice of nation was made four earlier in 2010, before the onset of the Arab Spring, leading many to remark the selection was prophetic.

One might say the same about this year, with a focus on Cuba. At that time relations with the United States were still frozen; now a new light is dawning.

I am not certain when the program was written, but it contains nothing of the thaw. Instead, worshipers were asked to pray this prayer:

Forgive us when we have not created a genuine space for dialogue among those who differ from us; when we have not lifted our voices sufficiently to denounce an injustice like the economic blockade affecting the Cubans for so many years…

And later:

In Cuba, we pray that you transform the walls erected by the economic blockade into wide open doors that are ready to receive.

Perhaps this prayer has now been answered.

The Cuban World Day of Prayer committee did make reference to oblique ‘detention centers’ for undocumented migrants , and in the opening skit one elderly Cuban woman said, ‘My generation has kept the Faith despite much discrimination.’ But a Cuban child praised her school which also teaches her the Bible.

As Americans, we are used to thinking of the Cuban blockade as an essentially just aspect of our foreign policy. It began to stem the tide of communism, and continued to check a human-rights violating dictator.

Certainly the reality is more complicated, on both sides. But it is worth noting that Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ chose to frame the issue as one of injustice.

Today, therefore, let us praise God with them that doors have been opened. Politics is messy; issues are rarely black and white; there is ample room to disagree with the shift in American policy.

But as the Cubans chose to pray, let us join them:

Forgive us … when we have built up walls that have prevented us from giving reason for our faith and hope… Enable each of us to do our part in providing help for the suffering world around us.

Lord, hear our prayer.

WDP Cuba

As a postscript, the 2017 World Day of Prayer will focus on the Philippines. Will the choice again prove to be prophetic?

Then again, the 2015 nation was the Bahamas. Perhaps it skips a year. Take care Suriname.

 

 

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Police Blotter

Flag Cross QuranGod,

The police usually do not belong in the papers. The criminal should take the headlines, with the officer behind the scenes. In Egypt, sadly, this has not been true. The pendulum, hopefully, might yet reach balance.

Police abuse and corruption was a prime catalyst of the revolution. Demonized, the papers scrutinized every fault. Later, the police stood with the army and multitudes of demonstrators against Morsi. Lionized, the papers rehabilitated their reputation.

But once again the police are back in the papers. Carefully, cautiously, reports of abuse and corruption hit the front page.

Some say it is sanctioned directly from the top. To reform an institution requires public will; shaping public will requires media dissemination.

Sisi may be saying: Get your house in order.

The police chief has also been vocal: We will treat citizens humanely, we will train in human rights.

And a few police have been arrested, accused in the deaths of detainees.

God, you know the realities of how Egypt works. You know the practices inside police stations. You know the relationship between government and press. And you know the sincerity of each man’s heart.

May good laws be enforced by good men in good institutions. Reform all to the extent necessary.

Let public rhetoric shape public behavior, and curb private but official violations. Let media shaming evolve into legal accountability. Let police take pride in their performance. Let justice and rule of law characterize the social order.

And give wisdom to Egypt to know how to get there.

God, bless this land and give her peace.

Amen.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Adjusting Justice

Flag Cross QuranGod,

One is free, one is pending, and dozens are confirmed to remain behind bars. With them are others in the thousands.

But the two individuals need special hoops to bypass the system. An Australian journalist is released after a year plus in prison due to a recently passed law permitting deportation of foreigners on trial. His Canadian dual-national partner is forfeiting Egyptian citizenship to qualify for the same.

God it is sad. It is sad freedom comes so as to clean up a problem of international image. It is sad a man must deny his country to escape a system that created it in the first place. It is sad so many people are imprisoned. It is sad the image problem transfers to the justice institution as a whole.

Of course, many in jail are guilty. Some are guilty of terrorism. Some are guilty of rioting. Some are guilty of violating a protest law many believe is flawed, but is the law all the same.

But some are innocent, swept up in the crackdown. Others are peaceful, swept up in the violence. Court decisions have included acquittals, but when mass sentences are issued the attention to individual justice is questioned.

God, let justice come through the system and not in its circumvention. Let justice be clear and not subject to politicized accusations. Let justice establish the truth of these past four years.

And if the institution of justice must be adjusted to achieve this, God, give Egypt the will to enact necessary reform. If the system itself is fine, God, give Egypt judges of conviction who will honor both law and conscience.

Save Egypt from the despair of doubt and the abyss of cynicism. These will destroy a nation’s foundation. But if manipulation of justice is institutionalized there is no foundation to begin with.

Help Egypt rebuild, God, both the pillars of the state and the reputation of the same. May society be free, though the verdict is pending. May it issue in justice, only justice, and protect the freedom her people seek.

Amen.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Remembering Maspero

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It is hard to judge the weight of Maspero on the conscience of the nation. Three years ago 27 Copts were killed while demonstrating, some by gunshot, some by the weight of military vehicles which plowed through the crowd.

This week the anniversary was commemorated by a small protest in downtown Cairo, and a small memorial at the church which houses their remains. The families of those killed call for justice, unsatisfied with the minor sentences given to three lower ranking soldiers.

Maspero marked the first blood shed by the army; whether by army or police much more has followed. To date, few have been held accountable, by any of Egypt’s successive regimes.

God, comfort the families of all who lost loved ones, but especially those on this anniversary. Comfort soon those others on the many anniversaries to come.

But comfort is cold without justice, God. You know those guilty, as well as their degree of guilt. Share this information with the people, to balance appropriately between mercy and judgment, between forgiveness and retribution.

For much of the nation has reconciled already with the military, relegating the sins of the past to the past. Others find aplenty the sins of the present.

Will the sins of the future come through ignoring this blood? Without proper rendering, will more blood flow?

Touch the conscience of the nation, God, that all might remember. Touch the conscience of the leaders, that investigations would be transparent. Touch the conscience of the guilty, that they might confess.

And with a healthy conscience, God, may Egypt heal. May Maspero – with all other blood – leave no permanent stain.

Amen.

 

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Pursuing Justice, by Ken Wytsma: A Review

pursuing justice

Subtitled, ‘the call to live and die for bigger things,’ Pursuing Justice hits the notes many Christians are beginning to hear, however faintly. Justice, argues Wytsma, is not an optional concern for those who follow God. It is his heartbeat, the expression of his desire to see his world put right – both for individuals and the systems in which they live.

Christians neglected a concern for justice in recent American history, though the Biblical testimony is ample. Whether consumed by culture wars or dismissed in favor of afterlife-focused evangelism, they have missed the clear message of Jesus’ foundational prayer. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ Pursuing Justice seeks to stimulate the Christian conscience, trapped in a world of unrecognized and privileged consumerism, to experience the joy of a life sacrificed to a greater cause.

If there is one fault, it is that there is little of a practical curriculum to follow. Wytsma gives reference to the need for purposeful education, noting the college he founded helps tailor studies to the justice passion of its individual students. This is a novel idea, for there is no one-size-fits all answer to entrenched issues of injustice.

Instead, Wtysma provides verse after challenging verse, and example after inspiring example, to enliven the imagination of the reader. Neither is he shy in providing a litany of heart-wrenching problems we all too often prefer to ignore. We do so, though, to our spiritual peril.

Fair enough, but what can the average Christian with a job and a family do to make a difference? This is where the lack of a curriculum is most wise. It is not for everyone to radically redesign their life, and even if they did, how could they choose between so many worthy causes? But when God opens our ideas toward his ideal of justice and we see our fallen world, ugly and distorted, through this lens, we cannot remain unchanged. It must convict us at the least to put right our own small circles of influence, that in all our relationships they function as God intended.

Let Christians argue about the details, Wytsma allows. But let their hearts be united in the pursuit of justice. This book purposefully avoids the former, so as to kickstart the latter. It is recommended; let the fun begin.

 

For more information about Pursuing Justice, please use this link to view it at BookLook: http://booklookbloggers.com/blogger/resources/9780529108173

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Coal and Lead

Flag Cross Quran
God,

You have given humanity flesh and blood, the softest of elements. How easily they are damaged by substances harder, also of your creation. Be it self-destruction or directed, how frequently this occurs.

Frequent power cuts and energy shortages are partially assuaged by coal substitution, polluting the air.

Frequent protests and police presence are partially assaulted by lead transformation, polluting politics.

Demonstrators are arrested and put behind bars. A journalist is killed by a debated bullet. A nail bomb rips through a university gate – and a policeman’s heart.

Not all the world is hard, God. There are oceans and trees and flowers and dirt. But Egypt has precious little of these. Your great gift, the Nile, has 90 million people crammed alongside.

Egypt has sand and cement. These hem in the nation and threaten her humanity. Give her to drink.

Give her draughts of compassion. Give her currents of mercy. Give her the freedom that is far deeper than slogan.

In lieu of these, God, does she need the iron rod? The king enacts justice with his scepter; there is no escaping the need of metal. It too is from your bounty.

But may it be employed rightly. Strike down those who would manipulate your creation for their own ends.

Even then, God, toward repentance and restoration. Heal Egypt from her wounds, both deep and recent. May she find the strength that comes from your least tangible of elements – the spirit.

Your spirit enlivens, it empowers, it creates. Breathe into this nation respect for all that is soft. The fabric of community. The web of relationships. The fruit of virtue.

Law may be on a tablet of stone, but write it into the beating of hearts.

And soon, God. Test Egypt no longer. May her flesh and blood triumph over her coal and lead. May she cling to her humanity, know your divinity, and find united the wholeness therein.

Amen.

 

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Churches Burn, Christians Sing

This video – with transliterated subtitles – was produced by a church choir in Minya, Upper Egypt, a region which witnessed several severe church burnings. They stand within one church’s charred remains, and sing about love and forgiveness.

May they truly live these words.

Many Christians have spoken that if these heinous attacks are the price they must pay to secure a civil state of free and equal citizenship, they are willing. But are they willing also not just to forgive alleged Islamists who committed these crimes, but also reach out to them in love and understanding? Right now, their temptation is to celebrate the upswing of their fortunes and join in the condemnation, if not demonization, of all things Islamist.

For a view of some of these crimes, please see this video, recently released by the Bible Society showing the attack on its branches in Minya and Asyut.

Yes, if they wish, condemn all things Islamist, but not all people Islamist. This is the test of their song: All crimes notwithstanding, can they differentiate between actions, ideas, and the people themselves? The love of which they sing demands they stand against the tide and seek transparent justice for all currently accused.

And then, amidst it all, to forgive. This is far easier in song than in deed, but meditation in song can transform the heart. Can it transform the Copts? Can it transform the nation? The outlook is bleak, therefore, keep singing…