Christian Aid launches Lebanon crisis appeal

Lebanon crisis appeal has been launched by Christian Aid following last week’s explosion at the port in the country’s capital Beirut.

Downtown Beirut

The explosion, which has left over 200 people dead and more than 5,000 injured, has deepened poverty and insecurity for millions of people in a country already in crisis.

The massive blast adds to the enormous problems facing Lebanon’s people. Food security, which is already precarious, has now been made worse by the destruction of its main port, disrupting food imports. The impact of Covid-19, a failing economy and mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and civil unrest provoked by corruption all contribute to extremely troubling times for the Lebanese people.

‘A country in pain’

Sally Foster-Fulton, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, said:

“Lebanon has been described as a country in pain. The explosion was the very last straw and part of a much wider crisis. The people are dealing with so much loss, on top of a global pandemic and political and economic instability.

“Our partners – normally busy working with displaced people and refugees – are already responding quickly to the situation on the ground setting up mobile kitchens and providing pre-prepared meals to the most vulnerable communities. Worryingly even before Tuesday’s explosion levels of food poverty were already spiralling. Please support our emergency appeal if you can.”

Fadi Hallisso, director of Christian Aid’s partner organisation Basmeh & Zeitooneh (which means ‘the smile and the olive’), said:

“I live 12km away from the port where the explosion happened, but nevertheless my whole building shook and we did not understand what had happened. Now we have formed a group of volunteers and we are going to the site of the explosion. From what we are hearing and seeing, the devastation is huge, many people’s shelter is unusable right now. We are preparing to set up field kitchens to cook hot meals.

“People immediately need food, shelter, clothes, medical care. In the long term everyone is now worried about supplies because all the stock of wheat and medication in the port has been destroyed. In the first week or two we will need a huge effort to help people settle down.

“The last few days I have been having so many mixed emotions, some anger and frustration over the evil of negligence and corruption that permitted such a catastrophe to happen; but at the same time I had a great feeling that the solidarity of people can overcome this; the solidarity of youth on the streets, but also the solidarity we are seeing from abroad, people from all over the world calling to check on us as to how they can help make things easier. This really makes you feel the balancing power of love and solidarity that will help us overcome all of this.”

Support the Lebanon crisis appeal

In response to the tragic explosion, Christian Aid has launched a Lebanon crisis appeal to provide much-needed support to the most vulnerable.

Together, Christian Aid and its partners are:

  • distributing food, water, hygiene and disinfection materials as well as clothes, mattresses, and blankets
  • helping affected households to access medicine and health services
  • mobilising volunteers to remove rubble in the places most damaged by the explosion
  • referring families to temporary shelters and providing minor repairs for homes including carpentry and electrical fixes

Please help support the Christian Aid Lebanon crisis appeal by making your donation here.

A prayer for Lebanon

Christian Aid has also shared this prayer for Lebanon:

God, our refuge in times of trouble
we pray for our brothers and sisters in Beirut today.
Lord, be with the emergency services as they battle to help the thousands injured.
Lord, hold those who have lost loved ones in the palm of your hand.
Lord, we pray your provision for poor and marginalised communities who face an even more uncertain future.
Lord, we pray for wisdom for leaders as they make difficult decisions.
Lord, open our hearts – may they be full of compassion for the suffering we see.
Stir us to action.
In the tragedy of loss, 
we pray your comfort.
In the chaos and injury, 
we pray your calm and divine healing.
In the devastation and the heartbreak,
we pray your peace.
We pray that in the despair that lies amid the rubble of the explosion
there will be glimmers of hope and life.

Amen.

Moderator issues an invitation to join him in a week of prayer

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair is inviting everyone to join him for a week of prayer starting on Monday 17 August and finishing on Saturday 22.

The initiative will include contributions from the Church of Scotland’s ecumenical partners as well as youth workers, ministers and others from across the church.

hand outstretched in prayer

The Moderator said the week of prayer will be a chance to “sense where God is leading us.”

“We’ve come through the most challenging of times and though there are glimmers of hope and possibilities, at least now the chance to open our buildings again, none of us can be entirely confident that we are out of the woods and that there are still many challenges ahead of us,” he said.

“And when I say that I mean for the church and for the country as a whole.

“It seems to me right therefore that at such a moment as this it would be good for us as a church across the whole nation and beyond to come together to pray.

“We believe in a God who has both map and compass, a God who knows the way, and a God who will lead us in the right way.”

Each day of the week of prayer will feature a short morning reflection and an online evening event.

The five-minute morning prayers will be led by Dr Fair or by one of his chaplains, Rev Gregor McIntyre, minister at Faifley Parish Church in Clydebank and Rev Catherine Beattie of Giffnock South Parish Church.

The morning prayers will be available on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook page. You will also receive a challenge that you can choose to complete that day, such as praying from the highest place in your local area.

Each evening you are also invited to take part in a 30-minute videoconferencing event, which will include contributions from ministers, youth workers and ecumenical partners including Archbishop Leo Cushley of the Catholic Church and Bishop Mark Strange of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

These online events will include a break-out section where people can reflect together in smaller groups. The events will also be recorded and will be available to watch again— or to catch up if you missed them –on the Church of Scotland’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

How to take part

Come to the Church of Scotland website or Facebook page to view the morning reflections. To join the evening sessions, please contact your minister for details of how to sign-up. If you don’t have a minister at present, you can contact Catherine McIntosh at the Church of Scotland offices by emailing cmcintosh@churchofscotland.org.uk.

Alpha Scotland director shares his journey from fallen to faithful

The head of Alpha Scotland has spoken of his unusual journey to faith, which began when he was working as a bouncer and caught up in alcohol and drug addiction.

Dez Johnston, head of Alpha Scotland spoke about his faith journey with Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair
Dez Johnston, head of Alpha Scotland spoke about his faith journey with Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair.

In an interview with Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dez Johnston says he had very little experience of church growing up and recalls a rare visit in which he rested a boot on a heater which caused it to smoke.

“I was the person who walked into church and caught fire you know so my church experience was somewhat limited”, he jokes.

During the candid discussion, which is part of the Church of Scotland’s It’s a Fair Question series, Mr Johnston explains he became interested in faith as he reached a low point in his life.

“I moved to Glasgow and in that time I started working on the door as a bouncer. As I was doing that my life just continued to go in that downward cycle and as I got involved in more and more violent acts and things”, he says.

“I took more and more drink and drugs to hide from it really. You know it became like a mask that I wore and then I took a massive overdose one night—not intentionally I was just quite greedy.

“I just took too much and I made what I now think of as a crisis prayer, like I cried out to God and was just like, ‘hey if you’re there I want to live’ and then I woke up the next day and never touched cocaine again.”

Becoming more curious about Christianity Mr Johnston decided to take part in the Alpha Course, which allowed him to explore his faith further in a “really safe environment” without judgement.

From there, he says, his life began improving as he moved into ministry, youth work and later into his current role as Alpha Scotland Director.

Normally, people attending Alpha courses meet together, share food, watch talks and discuss what Mr Johnston describes as the “biggest questions in life”.

However, during lockdown he says that 211 Alpha Courses in Scotland have been able to adapt and run online instead of in person.

Mr Johnston said churches have much to learn from the experience of the lockdown.

“What we’re seeing online is that people have been engaging with church in a totally different way”, he says.

“It’s not in the building on a Sunday and actually what does that look like?”

Having completely turned his life around, Mr Jonston is above all passionate about supporting others to find out more about Jesus.

“Actually what I’ve found by having faith is that that I have a life that’s totally fulfilled now in a really different way like my fulfilment comes from Jesus and that comes from loving people around me”, he says.

Find out more about the Alpha Course

People with “lived experience” must help craft solutions to social problems

An anti-poverty campaigner has urged the Scottish Government to directly involve people with “lived experience” in all decision making around tackling inequality.

Rev Dr Martin Johnstone said he would introduce the rule at meetings if he was the First Minister and claimed the move would eventually change the way the country is run.

Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament

He said he fully subscribed to a slogan used by the Poverty Truth Commission which states: “nothing about us without us is for us.”

Dr Johnstone made the remarks in the latest episode of the “It’s a Fair Question” series with Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly.

The campaigner, who is currently working with the Trussell Trust and Christian Aid Scotland, was the acting head of staff at the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh and secretary of the Church and Society Council until late last year.

Dr Johnstone, who is an ordained Kirk minister, said people must be involved in making the difference that they want to see.

The Moderator inquired about what he would do to change the direction of life in Scotland if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked him to take over while she was on holiday.

Homelessness

Dr Johnstone replied: “If you are going to have a meeting about a particular issue, you need to ensure that at least two or three people at that meeting have direct lived experience of the issue or the meeting is not allowed to go ahead and you do not get paid.

“So you could not have a meeting around homelessness unless you had people who have direct experience of homelessness.

“All the other experts, who are really important, would not get paid unless there were homeless people in the room.”

“If you could do that more than a week, for six months or more than a year, then you would change the way our country is run.

“If you did that in the church as well, you would change the way that the church is run.”

God treated unfairly

Dr Johnstone said tackling injustice was at the core of everything he believed in and he sees God in every person.

“For me the Christian faith is clearly at its fullest in the person of Jesus,” he explained.

“God in Jesus became a human being but he didn’t just become any human being.

“He became a first century Palestinian Jew living at the edge of an empire and living with struggle, poverty and injustice.

“God is at his fullest in the poor and most marginalised in the world and in our society.

“I cannot do anything else other than be passionate about justice because when I see people being treated unfairly, I see God being treated unfairly.”

Fresh nuclear weapons ban call to mark 75th anniversary of Hiroshima

The Church of Scotland has reiterated its support for a world free of nuclear weapons ahead of the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, has signed a Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament statement and is encouraging other minsters to do so too.

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The A-bomb dome at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park seen through the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb victims. Image courtesy of David Frame.

He added that he hoped that people of faith would pray for the rejection of an existential threat to humanity – a system that has not stopped wars from breaking out.

More than 120,000 people were killed when the USA, backed by the UK, dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945.

Two days later, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki which killed 226,000 people.

The majority of people who died in the two attacks were civilians and the environmental damage and suffering caused is something which many people continue to live with today.

Nuclear weapons are “inherently evil”

For over 30 years the position of the General Assembly has been that the possession, threat of use, or use of nuclear weapons is inherently evil.

However, the Kirk recognises and is thankful for the immense service, professionalism and commitment of Armed Forces personnel, their families and fully supports Royal Navy chaplains in their duties.

The Church supports the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons passed in 2017 and calls on more countries to sign up to it so it can be brought into force.

Dr Fair, minister of St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath, Angus, said: “This is a subject over which people will disagree, sometimes vehemently.

“But the General Assembly has been consistent in declaring nuclear weapons to be an evil and therefore the Church should have every confidence in continuing to campaign for their removal and eventual eradication.

“It is right that those who follow the Prince of Peace should themselves work for peace and this is no small part of that.”

Eight times the destructive power

The Christian CND letter, signed by religious leaders across the UK, states: “Shortly after the bombings, the international community came together at the United Nations to say ‘never again’ and pledged to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons around the world.

“Sadly, 75 years on, that goal has yet to be met, and many nuclear-armed states, including the United Kingdom, are currently pursuing upgrades to their nuclear arsenals, spending hundreds of billions of pounds in the process.”

Britain’s fleet of nuclear powered and nuclear armed submarines are based at HMNB Clyde, a base better known as Faslane on the Gare Loch.

According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, every boat is armed with eight missiles with each one carrying up to five nuclear bombs which are eight times as destructive as the one which flattened Hiroshima.

The Moderator Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair

The Christian CND letter continues: “As Christians we reject nuclear weapons.

“We believe that their capacity to indiscriminately kill millions of our brothers and sisters, and to catastrophically destroy God’s creation, makes them contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

“Recent events have shown that the global community must work together to overcome the challenges facing us in the 21st century.

“We must speak out and call for action to ensure that the horrific events witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never repeated.

“We call on the UK Government to make every effort to engage in meaningful international disarmament, most importantly by committing to the cancellation of the current programme to replace Trident.”

Scourge and threat

The Church of Scotland has also signed a World Council of Churches backed interfaith statement on nuclear weapons.

Drafted by a group called Faith Communities Concerned about Nuclear Weaponsit states: “After seventy-five years we can see that nuclear weapons have not brought an end to war.

“Nuclear weapons do not create peace, rather they intensify the scourge and threat of war in our world, lives and communities.

“We urge our governments to use the opportunity of the 75th anniversary of the only occasion that nuclear weapons have been used in conflict, to ensure that they are never used again in any circumstances.

“We call upon all states to join the growing community of states which have rejected nuclear weapons entirely.

“We appeal to you to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”