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Thought

God is merciful

The case of Omar Farouq, a 13-year-old boy, in northern Kano state in Nigeria has attracted international attention. In August Omar was convicted in a Sharia court of making uncomplimentary remarks about Allah during an argument with a friend and was sentenced to 10 years in prison with menial labour for blasphemy. Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, said the sentence “negates all core underlying principles of child rights and child justice.”

In a remarkable intervention, Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in Poland, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to pardon the teenager. In an open letter Piotr wrote, “He should not be subjected to the loss of the entirety of his youth, be deprived of opportunities and stigmatised physically, emotionally and educationally for the rest of his life.” Omar’s case has struck a painful chord for Piotr because countless children were imprisoned and murdered in Auschwitz by the German Nazi regime.

In his letter Piotr also said that if Omar cannot be pardoned then he would be willing to serve part of his sentence along with other volunteers from around the world. He wrote, “However, if the words of this child absolutely require 120 months of imprisonment, and even you are not able to change that, I suggest that in place of the child, 120 adult volunteers from all over the world, gathered by us – myself personally among them – should serve a month in a Nigerian prison.” More than 120 people from around the world have already offered to serve part of Omar’s sentence. If Omar is pardoned, Piotr also offered to personally fund his education resulting in “an aware and educated young citizen” rather than a “destroyed young man.”

Piotr’s intervention reminds us of the words of the prophet Micah, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In the Bible the principle of substitution was the foundation of the sacrificial system. When anyone sinned, they were commanded to offer an animal in their place and were told that because the animal died their sins would be forgiven. The supreme substitute is the Lord Jesus. Philip Bliss’ hymn says, “’Man of Sorrows’, what a name for the Son of God who came ruined sinners to reclaim! Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood; Guilty, vile, and helpless, we, spotless Lamb of God was he; full redemption—can it be? Hallelujah! what a Saviour!”

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Thought

Super Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines

Super Typhoon Haiyan has brought devastation to parts of the Philippines. Haiyan is one of the most powerful storms on record with gusts of wind reaching 170mph, 15 inches of rain and 45 feet waves. It is estimated that 10,000 people have died in the city of Tacloban alone. More than 600,000 people are homeless and without food and water. The international relief agencies face huge challenges in getting desperately needed supplies to the people.

The pictures and reports have been heart-breaking. A 21 year old woman lying exhausted on the debris where she had just given birth to her baby, after seeing her mother being swept away by the storm surge. Brief interviews with survivors have been deeply moving. One mother, who was holding her young baby, said, “My husband and I know how to swim, so I told him to just save our baby and forget me. I will trust God.” A young woman said, “I don’t know how to swim and I’m so blessed to still be alive.”

The response of these people to the terrible disaster which has befallen them is striking. When faced with possible death, the mother was more concerned for her baby’s safety than she was for her own. She was ready to trust God. The young woman had come though a terrifying experience yet felt she was “blessed” to be alive. In a time of great crisis they have found strength in the living God whom they know and trust. They know that he is with them.

Life in this world is precarious. Faced with the powerful forces of nature we are so vulnerable and feel so helpless. People in the past have known the same vulnerability and have found strength in God. In Psalm 46 the psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! The Lord Almighty is here among us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the world.” Let us pray that help will soon come to the people of the Philippines and that, even in the midst of the devastation and sadness, they will know the presence and strength of the living God.