Category: justice

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Wake up call – what are we doing about refugees?

The Calais Jungle is gone. The pre-Brexit threat of France opening the border which would move the camp right across the Channel to Dover has fizzled away. The Dubs Amendment which required the UK to take more unaccompanied minors already in Europe has been discontinued. Are the British people, even Christians, breathing the smallest sigh of relief – the flood never quite came our way?

I hope not but I do fear so. Thankfully, there are many organisations, both Christian and otherwise, in Britain and across Europe who are pitching in to give help and welcome to the thousands of refugees who are on the move, looking for a place to settle and call home.

I was recently at a conference in Budapest run by the Refugee Highway Partnership, where I met many such people working with refugees. The keynote speaker, Patrick Johnstone (Operation World author) predicted that this recent flood will be followed by more and more floods over the years to come, and we need to learn, as the church, how to respond. The focus of the whole conference was: if we as Christians don’t welcome and love the refugees, who will? And if we don’t, we have simply forgotten how the God of the Bible loved and shepherded displaced peoples, from the third chapter of Genesis to the end of the New Testament.

One hundred and fifty Christians from all over Europe shared stories of the work they are doing in all sorts of ways with refugees. Some are visiting camps, giving out clothes and phones, some are working with resettlement agencies, giving practical help, or language lessons, some are going into camps equipped with Bible stories in middle eastern languages, sharing the gospel with everybody they meet.

One of many excellent seminars, led by Rachel Uthmann of International Action For Refugees (IAFR) focussed on the ethics of evangelising refugees. Whilst everyone there would agree that we want to share the gospel with refugees – and indeed it has been said over and over that here is actually an opportunity for thousands fleeing from closed countries to hear the gospel – Uthmann raised the question of the power relationship between the refugee and the Christian helper – who offers food, shelter, community at the same time as, and maybe even conditional upon, preaching a gospel message. This could bring us all the way back to the holistic mission discussion. Mission practitioners today have well understood the need to follow Jesus’ example in showing God’s love for the whole person, offering healing, help and acceptance as well as showing the way to salvation. But Uthmann’s point was that we must avoid the trap of unintentionally manipulating people into hearing the gospel – we must find ways that enable the power balance between helper and receiver to be corrected, and then offer the gospel from a more even platform.

People at the conference held differing views on what we should be doing and the ways we should be doing it, leading to interesting conversations over lunches about the rights and wrongs of different approaches.  But the message I came away with was: we should all be doing something!

“Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus told his listeners in Luke 6:31. If I were a refugee, wouldn’t I wish that someone would offer me help, hope and a future?

Redcliffe is running training days for people working with refugees, focussing mainly on the Member Care aspect of building resilience in refugee workers.

Several current Redcliffe students are directly involved in refugee work, and some are writing dissertations in this area. Redcliffe also has a research project on the go, about how churches can be more involved with helping Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).

What do you think about this complex issue? Where does evangelism fit in, and how do we point the way to Jesus in a caring manner, without taking advantage of the vulnerable and displaced? What lessons have you learned throughout this ‘Refugee Crisis,’ and what role would you like to see Christians play in meeting these great needs?


If you want to wrestle with the complex themes of migration, refugee issues, ethics and evangelism, sign up for our MA in Contemporary Missiology. You can even specialise your degree to recognise your skills and passions in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation.

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Down with the System?

I had an “ah-ha” moment the other day.

I was reading Mark 11 which has a part in it that I have never really understood. In Mark 11, we see Jesus in the triumphal entry, cleansing the temple, cursing the fig tree which is out of season, saying that praying to get rid of a mountain will work, and with a call to forgive people at the end. My ah-ha moment came as two things at once.

The first was that I realised all the sections were about the same thing. The triumphal entry is the coming of the king. The stopping of the temple is a prophetic action declaring that the temple system will stop, and a new regime will come. The cursing of the fig tree (Israel’s signature tree) is saying that the nation will fall. Jesus’ talk about praying that a mountain will fall away is about the temple mount. “This” mountain, the temple mount, will stop and fall. The phrase “whatever we pray for” is in the context of praying to ask God to stop a destructive system. The chapter then ends with Jesus saying that we need to forgive people.

In this, I have often wondered about the fig tree being out of season. Why did Jesus curse it when it couldn’t be expected to have fruit?  I did some digging and found that fig trees will fruit and then come into leaf. Early fruit appears and then they develop their leaves.  This tree had leaves so it should have had fruit. It was saying, “notice me, I have fruit,” when in reality, it didn’t. And, indeed, it was out of season, when it shouldn’t have been acting like that at all. Something was seriously out of sync with that tree.  It was a tree that wrongly promised fruit out of season, but failed miserably. The out-of-season comment shows just how messed up the tree was. Symbolically, something was seriously wrong with the situation there. Out-of-season religious leaders were promising “fruit” and acting like they had access to God, but in reality, they didn’t. It had all gone horribly wrong.

In mission, we often run into systems that are dysfunctional, corrupt, destructive and evil. I’ve seen the rights of minorities, including Christian minorities, being trampled over. This ranges from political disenfranchisement, to land grabs, to outright violence and oppression.  The temple system was fleecing the poor, and Jesus said it would fall.   Similarly, we can be sure that, in the end, evil systems will fall. We can say to them “fall into the sea” and they will.

And this leads me to the second element of my ah-ha moment: the call to forgive at the end. The mountain (temple system) may fall, and the system will come to an end, but we are called to forgive people. In this, I thought of the Berlin Wall. There were many of us who were against communism and recognised the evil there; but for many, there was also a great love for the people caught up in it.

The system was wrong. As were people. We can stop the system but still love and forgive the people involved. Last week I sat with a Romanian who heads a mission which has sixty-one Romanians working in mission abroad. That is almost as many as the British mission agency I work with. They had come to faith through love and were now passing that on. Thinking back to 1989, that is a miracle.

God is about big changes. Changing systems. Bringing in new things. There are many systems out there that promise much but are like diseased trees. We can pray that these fall, but are reminded to also work for forgiveness.


If you want to look deeper into our responsibilities as missional people to stand up against oppressive systems, why not consider an MA in Contemporary Missiology with Redcliffe, and maybe specialise in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation? Deeply understand our complex world, and study as you work with part-time blended learning. What’s more, Colin is the course leader! Contact us today to have an initial conversation.

The image above is graffiti found on the Mauerpark section of the Berlin Wall, depicting the interplay between contrasting political and social systems across the globe.

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Gender, Violence and a Missional Response | an interview with Elaine Storkey

Violence against women and girls is not new, but there seems to be a growing awareness of the massive scale of the problem, and a realisation amongst Christians that it demands a missional response.

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Storkey, Elaine (2016) Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women, London: SPCK

Gender-based violence is one of the topics we will look at in the new Gender and Mission module at Redcliffe this summer, with Elaine Storkey coming to address it for us in two lectures. Storkey’s recent book, Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence against Women (London: SPCK), explores and analyses ways that gender-based violence occurs across the globe. She points along the way to those who are trying to oppose it, brave people who stand out in the book as beacons of hope. Each chapter looks at one troubling manifestation of gender-based violence, including selective abortion, Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage and honour killings. We meet women who have been raped in war, who have been abused in the home, tricked into prostitution, and watched – or even participated in – the killing of a daughter in a so-called honour-killing.

It is a very tough read. But we need to know these things, we need to be shocked, dismayed, and more than indignant about these stories: we need to be spurred into action. If a key part of the missio Dei is the reconciliation of all that was divided and scattered by the Fall, then surely this issue of the prevalent oppression and abuse of women and girls needs to be addressed and put to an end. It is an injustice on a grand scale. But it is only seen and understood by looking through the eyes of a little 11-year-old girl forced to marry a 40-year-old man, or a woman in labour suffering the effects of FGM as she tries to give birth. Storkey successfully describes the scale of the problem, with impressively researched facts and figures, whilst also revealing the all-too-human and personal implications.

Storkey spends the last third of the book discussing the “Why?” question. I found this section fascinating. She explains and considers the various theories that have been offered as to why violence against women has persisted through the centuries, by evolutionist thinkers, sociologists, feminists, and those who blame the patriarchy found in religions. She ends with her own view, a theological interpretation which leaves room for redemption and change. Thus alongside the call to action is a message of hope, much needed at the end of an often harrowing read.

Elaine kindly agreed to answer some questions I posed to her about Scars Across Humanity:

What were your goals as you wrote this book?

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Elaine Storkey

I had three main goals: 1) To help people everywhere to see that violence against women was a global problem, manifest in many different ways in different cultures, but with the same underlying story of women’s lack of value, and the abuse of male power. 2) To encourage the Church to see that addressing this problem is our responsibility also, and to enable Christians to have the information and strategies to make a difference. 3) To counter some of the explanations given for violence against women, and to ask what insights Christian theology might offer.

Was there one story you came across, or one encounter, that made you feel you just had to write?

Yes, my visit to the Congo in 2006, travelling down the North and South Kivu Provinces and seeing rape as a weapon of war. It was the extraordinary Christian witness of Heal Africa – a hospital which stressed integral healing, and treated women victims with enormous care and compassion. A young 17-year-old girl was brought in – a music leader in a local church. She had been gang-raped and was in a terrible state, physically and emotionally. I realized no woman was safe in that climate.

In hindsight, is there anything you would have said differently, or anything you wish you had included?

Oh, lots of things didn’t find their way into the book, and I would love to have been able to give more stories from the many Christian initiatives which are labouring in this area. I did write around but responses came in very late or not at all, and the book had to go to print! I don’t think there is anything I would have said differently. I chose my words carefully!

What kinds of reactions have you received to it?

Mostly shock, consternation, alarm at the extent of the violence, and support from those working in the various fields. Many women have written to tell me of their own experiences, and I have found that very moving. Some men have been tremendously responsive: writing reviews and recommending the book publicly, even creating openings for me to go to their part of the country and speak about it.

Your book is clearly calling out for a response from everyone who reads it: in what ways would you say gender-based violence is a missional issue?

Religion is often blamed for creating the culture in which men can violate women with impunity. All religions have their ‘patriarchal’ edge and history. Gender-based violence is so opposite to a Gospel vision and Christians must be challenged to eradicate it. But it is also certainly a missional issue in that it offers an opportunity to present the truth of the Gospel and call for redemptive change.

What are some things that ordinary Christians can do in response?

They can support the many initiatives already busy in the area, in prayer, financial support and sometimes in active involvement. They can call some of the Christian training agencies, like Spark and Restored into their churches to work on gender-violence awareness, and pastoral response training. They can join or form some advocacy initiatives – like the work that Jill Seward left behind on rape, after her untimely death – or IC Change, set up by a young Christian who caught the vision very early on after I had given a talk, and committed herself to getting the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. She has brought people together from so many different backgrounds and the campaign has taken off brilliantly. A Member of Parliament got the issue through the third reading of a Private Member’s bill and so it’s looking very good.

Are you already working on another book, and so, what is it going to be?

Yes, I’m writing the biography of Lyn Lusi, who founded Heal Africa along with her husband – Congolese surgeon Kasereka Lusi. We began it when Lyn was alive, but her death left me with many gaps in her story and it has been difficult to fill them in. I hope to finish it this summer. And of course, there is my novel which has been in gestation stage for quite a number of years…..

I’m looking forward to that novel!


Elaine will be one of the speakers in Redcliffe’s new MA module, Gender and Mission, running for the first time this summer. Have a look at the link if you are interested to hear Elaine in person and spend time thinking through a missional Christian response to gender-based violence, gender injustice, and other issues where gender and mission interact.
Find Elaine’s book at: http://spckpublishing.co.uk/product/scars-across-humanity