Ramadan in Lock down

Many of our Muslim friends and neighbours are about to enter a very important time in their religious calendar – the time of fasting known as Ramadan. As many of us are aware, this is one of the 5 pillars of the faith, an essential way of expressing their devotion to God through the discipline of refraining from water and food from sunrise to sunset over a period of 30 days.

This will be a different kind of Ramadan though – one which is done entirely from the home.   Some rituals which are a key part of Ramadan will be missing.  This includes praying in the mosque and the collective act of worship demonstrated by that, as well as the social interaction enjoyed over the ‘Iftar meal’ at sunset when the fast is broken. I have had the pleasure of being at a number of Iftar meals, have sat on the floor in people’s guest room, breaking the fast with dates (in the tradition of prophet Muhammad) and enjoying the benefits of South Asian hospitality.

According to the Manager of Makki Mosque in Manchester

 “The hardest part for us will be the social aspects.  Each year we take part in gatherings for breaking the fast meals with friends, family and the wider community. These will be in our own homes this year.  We often share food with friends and neighbours. This will continue but with carefully observing social distancing and ensuring ‘no-contact’ drop-offs.”

One of the biggest challenges might be having to spend the traditional Eid celebration which comes at the end of the 30 days of fasting, with immediate family only.   Many of my Muslim friends go in and out of each other’s homes during this time giving and receiving food as well as gathering to eat in large groups with the wider family that is valued so highly in the Pakistani tradition.

In a similar way to Christians working out how to respond to the current climate, Muslims have been urged to see this as time of self-reflection, a time to show love to those in the community and to demonstrate godly qualities during a time of testing.

This could also be an opportunity for us to reach out to our Muslim friends and neighbours.  Let’s send messages of support and love for them and show them that we are aware it’s their fasting month and that it might be strange and difficult for them.   Why not tell them that you are praying for them and ask for any particular requests?  My Muslim friends always respond positively to this!   We can also ask  how they are doing and be open and honest about our own struggles.   It’s an opportunity to talk about faith in the light of what’s happening in the world. It’s a great way to show the love of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Rebalancing Life in this Coronavirus world.

posted in: Jane Reynolds 0

By Jane Reynolds

One of the great things for some of us in this Coronavirus world, is we’ve had more chance to join with our families in worship. For me this means going to ‘church’ in different places around England and Wales. I offer this unashamedly from one of my ‘trips’. My life group has found this helpful and I hope you will too.

It’s not unusually to be feeling a bit confused and out of sorts by all the changes in our circumstances. As Christians we don’t always understand what’s going on inside. We know we have a mighty God who is faithful and true in every way, but Gods plans are not always our plans and he does things his way, and in his time. There are five key areas in all of our lives that have been affected by the Coronavirus . Five areas that are found in Jesus. Up to this point we may have thought they were rooted in Jesus, but these suppositions may be being tried and tested at this time. The may need a little rebalancing.

  1. Connection

God made us to be connected to each other and to him. When He looked at Adam he decided it was not good for man to be alone. Our God is a triune being: Father, Son and Spirit, living in unity together.

Jesus also asks us to be devoted to one another in fellowship. It is therefore natural that we are missing each other and the contact we use to have with each other.

But we are not disconnected, either from each other or from God.

Let us use this time to make deeper connections with our Father God. As we spend time with Him, let us catch His heart for others, those in our fellowships, those around the world. Let us catch Gods heart for the suffering, the lost and the lonely, those that do not know Him and those that do.

Let us plug into the free gift of the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray and teaches us all things: The spirit of wisdom and of grace. May we be changed and grow as we spend time with God, with our families and friends during this time.

  1. Structure.

We have a God of order and design. Without structure comes disorder. Our normal structure of life have changed, making us feel off balance. We can take steps to rectify this. Lets develop new structures and routines make time for exercise and personal prayer. For some we need to guard from over working, for others we need the structure to ensure we remain productive and don’t leave this time with regrets. Let’s make time for personal prayer and reflection, time to have important conversations with friends and family. Just because there is a disorder in the world doesn’t mean we have to be disorganised. Let’s build new routines and bring order into our lives

  1. Safety.

So did you want to stand and fight or fly away when this all started? Did you ignore it, thinking it would all go away, or did you rush to the shops and panic buy? Perhaps you have lost your job security or been placed on furlough. All of us have our health threatened by an unseen force, so tiny yet so powerful. Yet we have a God who is far stronger, who faced death without fear and won that ultimate victory.

Jesus asks us to be ‘strong and courageous’. We say God is our strength and refuge, that He is our security and we can trust Him because He is faithful, He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider. However, many of us felt insecure and frightened as we learnt more about this virus.

We need safety and security to flourish. The truth is the world offers nothing absolute. When we know who God is and what He has done for us, who God made us to be, and who we are in God, then we can stand secure in our faith and praise without fear.

  1. Freedom.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t like being told what to do at times. We feel our freedom has been taken away with the lockdown. Things are frustrating, plans have had to change.

The truth is it is God who brings true freedom. Let us not be pulled down by the loss and confusion of the world at this time. Let us not be foolish but listen to wise council and stay at home. We have more freedom that the apostle Paul who rejoiced in prison. Let us redirect deceptive thoughts that tell us we are disconnected, alone and trapped. We are part of a world wide family and have far more freedom to worship, to make new routines, exercise and enjoy Gods magnificent creation than many others, despite being in lockdown.

  1. Purpose.

God made us with a purpose. We can confuse our purpose with our identity. Some of us are grieving because we feel a loss of purpose, or status as our jobs change, we feel of a loss of identity. However our identity has not changed, we remain children of the living God. Heirs to His kingdom and adopted into His family through Jesus. Neither has our purpose. We were created for good works which we can still do, just in new ways. We were created to worship and fellowship, to love God and each other. During this time we can learn even more what that means and how we can outwork the two key commandments and elements of our faith, loving God and loving our neighbour as ourself, in new ways.

 

Let us remember that we are able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Let us be strong and courageous through this time because we were created to have connection, structure, safety, freedom and purpose and that has not changed. We find all that we need in Christ our rock and our salvation. God knows our needs, He gives us our identity and purpose. His mercies are new every morning and we can put our Hope and trust in Him.

 

Jane. With thanks to Dave@Ascot Life Church.

 

Children and Mental Health during Isolation

By Shirley Weston

When it was announced that schools were closing – there was a mixture of emotions – some joy and relief maybe, some resignation, some initial shock.  But for one group of children, the events of the last few weeks have been met with a considerable amount of panic and fear. Calls to Childline have apparently rocketed with a peak number of counselling sessions required following the announcement of school closures on March 18th.

Other children may not have demonstrated these more extreme reactions but , talking to people it appears that isolation from friends, lack of structure, lack of physical activity and confinement with the same people may be leading to various kinds of stress, arguments, boredom, irritability and low motivation.

Inevitably this has had an effect on the rest of the family.    A number of parents have essentially gone into survival mode to try to cope with the situation which may continue for several weeks, dare I say months!

 

What advice is available?

 

Parents and carers, if you are needing some support during this time then these two articles may be helpful and I encourage you to read them:


https://childmind.org/article/supporting-kids-during-the-covid-19-crisis/

https://www.baps.org.uk/content/uploads/2020/03/FACE-COVID-by-Russ-Harris-pdf-pdf.pdf

Of course, I am aware that I am not a parent and therefore don’t have direct experience, but I have tried to put together some ideas and advice by reading articles and talking to a number of families.

The written, online advice at the moment seems to be suggesting key factors at this time are:

  • Structure

It is important to provide some kind of structure to each day with fun planned activities.  Try to ensure children are starting the day at the same time and going to bed at a normal school time.

  • Communication

Allow children time to express their fears and anxieties, be open about what’s happening and give appropriate information.  Set regular times to talk to them individually or together and respond to their emotions as they are expressed during the day in different ways.

  • Modelling

Model (if possible) a good calm attitude in the midst of what’s happening and stay positive.   But also, be honest about some of the things you are feeling and don’t be hard on yourself when it doesn’t go well!

 

Suggestion for Family Activities

  1. Contribute positively

Encouraging children to be part of the solution to the problem can be an important part of helping them to think and act positively.

‘The research from natural disasters suggests that involving vulnerable children in family and community responses to potential danger increases resilience, protects against development of helplessness and may help mitigate against post-traumatic effects’ (Mental health Grace Alliance)

This may include:

  • Writing cards to elderly people or people on their own
  • Planning and cooking meals for people in the home
  • Writing positive messages to display in the windows

My 9 -year-old niece has found a place (a plastic container under a tree) where she can leave cards and gifts for her friends who live in the flats nearby to find when they have their turn to play in the area.  This has been a great source of motivation for her and given her a sense of purpose.

 

  1. Sports and games
  • Set different physical challenges for the children for each day. How many times can they run around the garden? For how long can they stand on one leg?  How quickly can they roll across the lawn?
  • Try some new games – hopscotch, scavenger hunt (find something shiny/ round/ a feather/ three different shaped leaves etc.), tug of war, hide and seek. One of the girls I was in touch with told me how her mum had been teaching her a game that she used to play as a child in Pakistan!
  • Encourage the children to plan their own workout for the rest of the family to join in, or to organise a game or quiz.

 

  1. Positive communication
  • Communicate about a common interest with a friend – my 6-year-old nephew does ‘nature club’ with his friend over skype. They talk about something of interest that they have found in the garden!
  • Communicate regularly with remote family members – allow the children to share pictures or models that they have made and play games remotely. Again, depending on the age of the child, have them organise the game!

 

  1. Crafts and hobbies

There are many things they can do but here are a few:

  • Writing and drawing things in chalk on the paving slabs
  • Giving children an area of garden to work on
  • Baking cakes – trying out new recipes
  • What can you do with scraps of material or things lying around the home? A junk modelling challenge is fun and easy to organise.
  • Encouraging children to take photos and create a gallery on the wall.
  • Researching the songs and names of birds and trying to identify them.
  • Making a cardboard box TV – create characters that they can stage or present (craft puppets can be made for this game too)

 

A time to draw closer to God..

Bring God into the situation – He knows what’s going on, He is faithful and loving and good.  Be honest about your own fears but model giving them over to God:   God knows what is happening. He is not surprised and He doesn’t want us to be afraid. In fact, the Bible tells us 365 times that we don’t need to be afraid. That’s enough times to read one per day for an entire year!

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

 

Encourage the children to pray.  Have them write down the names of people that they want to pray for – you could display them on post-it notes or on a big poster.

 

This may also be a unique time to read the Bible together – encourage the children to learn verses.  There are lots of ways of doing this.  For example:

 

  • Write down a Bible verse with one word on different pieces of paper. Stick them up on the wall/fridge.  Encourage the children to look at the verse.  Gradually remove the different words until they have learnt the whole thing.
  • Set Bible verses to music or get the children to come up with some actions to go with them.

 

There are some great online resources for children’s ministry

 https://www.gocurriculum.com/5kingdomofheaven?utm_source=aweber&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MTC-popup-corona

 

https://www.worshiphousekids.com/

https://ministrygrid.com/gospelproject

 

You are not alone…

 

In conclusion, it is not unusual to feel overwhelmed at a time like this and if you children are feeling overanxious, irritable, demotivated etc. be aware that you are definitely not alone in having to deal with this.  Please reach out to others within the church and outside of it, seek help and ask for prayer.  Connect with your small group, share with other parents and if you have input and ideas please do share anything that has helped you.

 

Refugees and Covid-19

posted in: Filipe Almeida 0

By Filipe Almeida

 

The Covid-19 situation has caused massive suffering for the whole world. A calamity that has prevented many from working for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people and those in extreme poverty are those who suffer the most in this situation. Refugees are among the most vulnerable. According to the latest report by UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – the world today has about 25.9 million refugees, which, together with displaced persons and asylum seekers, totals about 70.8 million people. Of this number, around 27 million are children and young people up to 18 years old. These are people living in situations of vulnerability, the vast majority living in developing countries where health facilities have fewer beds and ventilators.

 

According to the article “Refugee and migrant health in the Covid-19 response” in ‘The Lancet’, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, announced on March 7 the temporary suspension of resettlement programme for refugees due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this will cause many to suffer various persecutions and be vulnerable to the Corona virus.

 

Other changes for the displaced have also occurred: According to the article quoted above from ‘The Lancet’, search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, where more than 16,000 migrants have died since 2015, have been suspended due to the difficulties faced at this time. Before border closings due to Covid-19, few search and rescue operations were carried out. The migrants rescued in this period were taken to the reception center for immediate quarantine.

 

In refugee camps in the Middle East and some European countries (such as in Calais, France), conditions are worrying, as refugees they live in inadequate living conditions and are subject to overcrowding, with the lack of basic sanitation, water and soap. These refugee camps have few doctors and poor access to health information. On April 6, the Greek government reported that two refugee camps in Athens had confirmed cases from Covid-19. These refugee lives that already suffered biopsychosocial consequences due to forced migration, such as mourning, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Ulysses syndrome (referring to loneliness), generalized anxiety, adjustment disorders, cultural shock, among others, now face the global uncertainties of this terrible virus.

 

For refugees living in the city, the so-called urban refugees, access to the basic health system is challenging because there is a language barrier and they face financial difficulties: for many it is because they are in developing countries. It is common to hear testimonies from urban refugees about social isolation and loneliness and with Covid-19 this gets worse. How many may be feeling even more lonely at this time. Many will have taken time to understand the seriousness of the current situation because they are not speaking or communicating well in the language of the country in which they live. How many others will have delays with respect to decisions on legal status or not, as well as other types of legal and administrative services? How sad to think that refugees, along with other vulnerable groups, are at enormous risk these days.

 

However, on the other hand, it is possible to see practical examples of encouraging solidarity in favor of refugees in Covid-19 times, such as:

 

  • A hotel in Madrid received Venezuelan refugees and homeless people to stay in the quarantine period;
  • World Vision in Chile provided shelter for Venezuelan refugee families who had dengue (tropical disease), providing shelter and food for families to be safe in this time;
  • A group of Scouts in Geneva – Switzerland, are organizing online solidarity movements for refugees.

 

Other encouraging examples are refugees who are fighting the Corona virus. Here are some brief reports:

 

  • In Iran, refugee nurse Moheyman is working 12-hour shifts putting his skills into the fight against Covid-19;
  • Hassan, a Syrian refugee who has lived in London for some years, said it is “an honor, after training, to be part of an army that with cleaning products disinfect the wards of Covid-19”, and adds: “London has been my home since we left Syria and the least I can do is ensure that my neighbors and the incredible NHS team are safe and sound”;
  • Syrian children in Spain made drawings and wrote messages of thanks and encouragement to hospital health teams;

 

In this way, it is possible to see refugees – both children and adults – fighting Covid-19, including some on the front line. It is these refugees, who have been received in a dignified and fair manner, who are cooperating in the countries where they live with professionalism and empathy. Many of these refugees can teach civil society to be resilient in these times!

 

Among the various verses found in the Bible regarding the duty to welcome the stranger, it is possible to find in Jesus’ words very direct teaching:

 

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 New International Version (NIV)

 

In light of this biblical passage, what can we do for refugees in the time of Covid-19? In case you know refugees or have them as neighbors. Here are some suggestions:

 

– Connect refugee families with Shirley and Filipe and they will be able to support you in developing relationships and provide them with support (even if it is online);

 

– Pray with the refugee over the phone, if you feel like it, and demonstrate in a natural way that God is our strength and refuge (Psalm 46.1).

 

Another practical response to  Refugees and Covid-19 is to pray. Here are some prayer requests:

 

– For the holistic health of refugees;

– For the provision of shelter and food;

– For governments to have a fair response that shows carewith refugees;

– For foundations, organizations and churches that develop projects with refugees;

– For those living in refugee camps and for health teams and other areas on the front lines;

– So that even if online, people are awakened to develop friendships with refugees and in this way can encourage them;

– So that at this time, many refugees can receive through Christians a message of hope from the Father who gives strength and is the true refuge!

 

 

There are many risks faced by everyone in the face of Covid-19, but in this crisis, the mission of serving refugees and showing the Father’s love is constant! For in the crisis, practice in social causes and service to others must still continue! What reflections like this motivate everyone to move (even if online), for the most vulnerable. Reflections like this, encourage people to reinvent themselves in serving the King of kings, and as part of His kingdom and what He is doing in the world!

 

Filipe Almeida

 

On- line References

 

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30791-1/fulltext

 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059602

 

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2020/4/5e79e2410/live-blog-refugees-covid-19-crisis.html

 

https://www.acnur.org/portugues/2020/03/31/acesso-aos-servicos-de-saude-e-essencial-para-conter-a-covid-19-e-salvar-vidas-de-refugiados/

 

https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/greece-quarantines-second-migrant-camp-after-covid-19-case-confirmed/

 

Jesus and his transforming power

posted in: Bible, Filipe Almeida 0

By Filipe Almeida

 

Biblical texts: John 4. 1-42; Luke 8. 43 – 48.

 

In several passages of the Bible, we find Jesus facing people on the margins of society. When Jesus found vulnerable people and people excluded from the society, he demonstrated his power with integral healing. He always looked at the people he met in a relational and holistic way.

 

The basic biblical texts for this reflection show how Jesus fully demonstrated his power to women who were excluded for social reasons. And I believe that because they were women, this exclusion process was more intense.

 

The first example of one of these encounters with Jesus is with the Samaritan woman. We know that the Jews did not relate to the Samaratines and put them on the margins of society and that is why they did not pass through Samaria. When they needed to go to a city whose route was on the way to Samaria, they made the journey if I am not mistaken by the Jordan River so they wouldn’t have to step into Samaria.

 

Jesus at all times broke the established patterns so that the kingdom of God was properly and fairly signaled. In this way, Jesus passed through Samaria and there he met a Samaritan woman. Jesus meets a woman who, due to being a woman, would already face barriers and challenges, but in the case of this woman, social oppression was more serious. In addition to being a woman and Samaritan, she had already had five marriages and the man she lived with at the time was not her husband, that is, this woman was an excluded by the excluded people.

 

Through sincere dialogue, at a time when Jesus shared life, this woman recognizes the most transformative message that anyone can receive. She believes in Jesus as the Messiah and receives the water of life in such a significant place.

 

This same woman is unable to contain herself and shares with all her community that she had met Christ. This woman was an unlikely person to signal something important, but her life is transformed by Jesus and someone “unlikely” signals Jesus’ power to an entire community. (John 4. verses. 29, 30 and 39).

 

This passage makes me think of how Christ does the same with us today. He did the same in my life! He transformed me (and changes me every day), and he uses someone like me to share Christ in a community too.

 

Another example of a transformative encounter with Jesus, was with the woman with blood flow. In this passage we have a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She had spent everything she had with the doctors, who could not cure her. As a woman, like the Samaritan woman, she already suffered many restrictions. In addition, she, according to the Law, was unclean and anyone who touched her or touched something she had touched was made temporarily unclean. For this reason, she did not participate in temple activities and was probably socially despised.

 

After she touched Jesus she left the crowd so that no one would notice her.  After being healed she had to come back because of Jesus’ question (“who touched me?” – Luke 8 verse 47). For this woman to have come close to Jesus was very difficult, to have exposed herself in this way was her last hope of being healed and she risked disappointment. She went to Jesus and did it. What an example this woman gives us to reach out to Jesus and ask for his help after we don’t know what else to do or maybe after trying everything by our own strength.

 

She was not healed because she touched Jesus, but because she had faith. The woman knew that she would not go unnoticed by Jesus, who had the power to heal her, just because He knew all things.

 

I believe it was important for this women not to go unnoticed so everyone knew that she no longer needed to be excluded from society. Once again this woman proved to be courageous and once again she demonstrated faith in Jesus. At that time, the whole society, including hypocritical leaders, could understand that this woman could start her life in society again.

 

The healing that Jesus gave to that woman went beyond physical, but it was also spiritual and social as Jesus repositioned her in front of everyone. I believe it is also an emotional cure, because a woman excluded as she was 12 years ago, should be in deep sadness and from that day her emotional could have a process of restoration.

 

Jesus demonstrated his healing and transformation directly in the lives of two women in different ways. Jesus cared for the excluded from the excluded. Jesus used the lives of these women to let communities know about his kingdom, his love and salvation. How can we apply this today in our lives and from there apply it so that lives may know the transforming power of Jesus through our lives?

 

Filipe Almeida

Taking God’s Word Seriously

Linda talked in her recent preach about the need for the church to draw closer to God at this time.  Some of us are in a position where we have more time on our hands and it occurs to me that this is a wonderful opportunity to get to know God’s word better!

The Bible is sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), a lamp for our feet (Psalm 119:105), and endures for ever (Isaiah 40:8)  We are encouraged to use it for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training (2 Timothy 3:16), to listen to the word of God and to obey it (Luke 11:28)  and to meditate on it day and night.(Psalm 1:2).

When I visit families in Luton who I hope to support and encourage I often reach for a Bible text or story and find myself not quite remembering where it is or struggling with the details.  Of course, we can also always ‘google it’ but it’s not the same as having the word at our fingertips.  So, let’s use this time to get into the Bible!

If you enjoy discussing things, then I recommend doing this with friends.  In addition, I, like many people, can be very lazy when it comes to reading the Bible so doing it this way has also helped to keep me accountable!

I have two plans that I am finding really helpful.  One of them involves following daily online Scripture Union notes.  My friend and I read the Bible passage together over WhatsApp and then use the questions and reflections as a basis for discussion and prayer.

The other one is a plan from the online Bible app.  There are a number of plans available and the one we have chosen involves Francis Chan videos based on the book of James (its brilliant, short and punchy and very challenging!)  We do this in our own time and are invited to record our thoughts which are sent as a message to the other person.  If a day gets missed neither of us will be judgmental about it but it certainly helps me to get into a good routine.

Of course, there are many other ways to get into the word together and as individuals.

  • Choosing a book to read and study with a friend or as an individual – Nehemiah, Esther, Philippians, I John for example.
  • Meditating on a Psalm or an individual verse
  • Memorising some verses. I once tried to learn the amazing prayer at the end of Ephesians 3 (verses 14-21)- not very successfully!

I would also encourage people to look at the Bible as a whole.  There is so much value from seeing the whole story, not just focussing on the ‘nice bits’ and seeing how Jesus is reflected throughout the Old Testament as well as the New.

Today one of my dear Muslim friends sent me a ‘Surah’ from the Quran that she hoped would encourage me during my time in isolation.  I responded by thanking her and sending her a couple of verses from Scripture which she emphatically agreed with!  I hope and pray that these words will be light and life giving to her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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