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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

Saving lives in Yemen

For more than 3 years Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, has been devastated by a civil war between Houthi rebels and the supporters of Yemen’s internationally recognised government. Children are paying the heaviest price as they face the threat of bombs, hunger and disease. Save the Children estimates that at least 50,000 children died in 2017 and that more than 11 million children now need humanitarian assistance. A recent airstrike hit a school bus carrying children under the age of 10 on a summer school trip: 40 children died, and dozens were injured.

Cholera is a major threat because the sewage and sanitation systems have been destroyed during the civil war. In 2017 there were more than 1 million cholera cases in Yemen. More than 2000 people died, many of them children. However, a new international initiative has reduced the number of new cases by 95%.

Using NASA satellite technology, the Met Office in the UK produces a rainfall forecast for Yemen 4 weeks ahead of time which pinpoints areas likely to be hit by heavy rain. This is important because downpours overwhelm the sewage system leading to a spread of cholera. The forecasts are analysed by a team of scientists in the USA to predict the areas where outbreaks of cholera are likely to occur. They use information such as population density, access to clean water and seasonal temperatures. The information is passed to the UN’s children’s charity, UNICEF, which then deploys resources to prevent the spread of the disease. Simple sanitation advice, such as washing hands and drawing water from safe sources saves thousands of lives.

The situation in Yemen illustrates our human predicament. On the one hand human beings are capable of great evil, leading to the death of many people, and on the other hand our God-given intelligence and skill can save many lives. In Yemen both facets are seen side by side. In our personal lives we also struggle with our natural inclination to selfishness and our ability to express love and kindness.

The apostle Paul vividly described his own struggle; “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” Paul and many other people have found the answer to this struggle in Jesus Christ through whom they have experienced forgiveness for their sins and have been given strength to live a new life.

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Thought

The transforming power of love

Some years ago I visited Cambodia. On the flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh I sat next to an American lady. She told me she was going to visit a Cambodian child whom she was sponsoring. Each month she sent money to an aid agency to help provide food, clothing and school fees for this child. More than 9 million children around the world have sponsors like this lady. The total value of the sponsorship is £2 billion pounds each year. The aim of sponsorship is to give children living in the poorest countries of the world the opportunity to overcome deprivation and achieve their potential.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) “children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, leaving them unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential or participate as full and equal members of society” A recent study assessed the effectiveness of sponsorship in 6 developing countries across the world. The results showed that sponsored children stayed in school longer, were more likely to have white collar jobs and were more likely to be leaders in their communities and churches.

The study also showed that the spiritual aspect of sponsorship plays a vital part in transforming children’s lives. Sponsorship builds children’s self-esteem and aspirations. It makes them happier and more hopeful. In Uganda the impact on education was particularly striking. Sponsored children were 42% more likely to finish secondary education and 83% more likely to complete university. The leader of one aid agency said, “There’s a huge psychological benefit for a child to know that someone on the other side of the world really loves and cares about them.”

Knowing there is someone who really loves and cares about us is a need we all have, whether we are children or adults or live in a poor or prosperous country. Loves gives, not takes; it does not seek its own interests, but seeks to enrich the lives of others. The Christian message declares the amazing love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, whose life was transformed by an encounter with the risen Jesus, said, “I live my life by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Experiencing the love of Jesus, who really cares about us, transforms our lives and gives us hope!