a church in carrick-on-shannon

Listen to the voice of the refugee


 If you examine the post in this blog entitled “A word about riversmeetings” (which unaccountably, gets more visits than any other), you will realise how close to the heart of our church is spiritual bridge-building.

On my street here in Carrick-on-Shannon, (West of Ireland) we have an two Iraqi/Kurdish families, a Bangladeshi family, a Turkish family, Latvian, Polish…. A little Kurdish girl asked me: “Where are YOU a refugee from?” I said “London” and she nodded, wisely.

What I mean to say is that on my street, as in my town, as in my country… we just have to learn to get along.

And it is no different anywhere else: the rivers have to meet. We have to find that point of confluence. In other countries, of course, the majority/minority roles are reversed and the issues compounded in a different way. It is so interesting –for example- to read last week of the mass solidarity rally in Lahore (Pakistan) with a meeting of one hundred thousand Hindus and Christians demanding an end to their second-class status.  

The All Pakistan Minorities’ Alliance marked their country’s 60th anniversary of independence celebrations to present a 30-point charter for change. Demands included proportional representation of religious minorities in national and provincial legislative bodies and the lifting of a blasphemy law that can result in the death penalty.

The Muslim population of Pakistan is about 95%. There’s only about three million Christians in the whole country.The same kind of urgency for toleration exists in Azerbaijan. Listen to this news report from last week:World Baptist leaders have condemned the sentencing of an Azerbaijan pastor after harassment by local authorities and unproved allegations. Pastor Zaur Balaev was seized during a police raid on his church in May in the remote village of Aliabad. Charges against Mr Balaev included holding ‘illegal meetings … without concrete authority’. He was convicted of violent behaviour against five police officers despite admissions by prosecution witnesses that they had not seen the incident and only testified under police pressure. Revd Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, described the arrest as ‘a shocking breach of human rights’. Baptist World Alliance president, Revd David Coffey, said the Alliance would back local appeals against the verdict and he had previously highlighted the church’s situation to the British Ambassador to Azerbaijan. Mr Balaev is reported to have had two heart attacks since his arrest because of the conditions in which he has been held.You read stories like this and the adrenalin/ hysteria begins to mount. The accounts of mad Dutch bishops instructing us to call God “Allah” (I loved Pat Robertson’s comment: Where’s the pope when you need him?”) and you receive emails from Concerned Christians…. Someone sent me a Pilcrow Press report on The Islamisation of Britain…”We’ve got to DO SOMETHING…”Our answer has been this: we have fostered five Muslim boys. And our lovely church (a bit gung-ho in the evangelism department) was forbidden to “witness” to them or Proselytise in any way. We decided that our role was to love them, help them heal up from their terrible experiences (one or two had been persecuted in their home countries by “Christians”) and, basically, to encourage them to be good Muslims, if that meant to love God, do justice and kindness and walk humbly. What do you think about this adventure in bridge-building?It started with a word from The Message: “Listen to the Voice of the Refugee.”Let me tell you: it’s hard to listen to that voice. Sometimes it’s swollen with anger, twisted with resentment, lost in pain. Sometimes you have to strain your ears to hear it. Sometimes you don’t like what you hear. But it’s worth the wait.

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