Saturday, May 31, 2014

Examin Saturday 31 2014

Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth; and he guides both us and God's Church. But be wary when the guidance you think he gives you is contrary to that which he has given to the Church through all the ages. St John tells us in the 4th chapter of his first letter not to believe that every spirit is sent from God, and that we must 'test the spirits,for any 'spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.' If the spirit you think guides you is not what Jesus teaches through his Church, how can it be said to confess Jesus? More likely it is a temptation trying to lead you from Christ's narrow way. Pray for strength to resist; and for forgiveness if you have already fallen prey

prayer diary Saturday 31 2014 The Visitation of the BVM to St Elizabeth

'And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?' 
Luke 1.41-43

Reflection
Blessed indeed was the fruit of the Virgin's womb, the Word made flesh, God himself coming among man as one of us. And just as St Elizabeth was blessed by the visit of the Mother of God, so too we are blessed daily by our Lord's continuing presence among us.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Priest & 17 others killed in attack on Catholic church in Central African Republic

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Foreign jihadis have been implicated in an attack on Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church in the Km 5 district of Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), on 28 May that left 18 people dead, including 78-year-old priest Paul-Emile Nzale.

According to eyewitness reports, the attack began with grenades being thrown into the church compound followed by 30 minutes of sustained and indiscriminate gunfire. At the time of the attack, the church was sheltering approximately 5000 internally displaced people and was a place of refuge for both Christians and Muslims. Eyewitness also report their assailants spoke in English and took at least 42 people as hostages, some of whom may have been killed.

Seleka has long been known to include Chadians and Sudanese amongst its ranks, however in February 2014, following extensive international media coverage in which anti-Balaka forces were described as 'Christian militia'; Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to avenge what he termed the massacre in the CAR of Muslims by Christians. Subsequently, several hundred Fulanis were reported to have arrived in northern CAR in vehicles, on horses and on foot during the week beginning 21 April.

In a comment to the Catholic news agency Fides regarding the sighting of foreign jihadis in the Km 5 area, Bishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia, Bishop of Bossangoa, said: 'Although the authorities pretend not to notice, many Central Africans know that jihadists terrorists from Sudan and Nigeria have infiltrated into the Seleka and are now in the Km 5 district. Likening the anti-Balaka to Christians, the western media offered these criminals a perfect means of propaganda.'

Following the attack on Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church, young people took to the streets of Bangui on 29 May protesting the lack of protection offered by troops belonging to the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). Some protesters, rumoured to be members of the anti-Balaka militia, looted and vandalised a mosque in the Lakouanga neighbourhood. However, there were no reported casualties.

The attack on Our Lady Fatima Church comes at the end of a week of reconciliation organised by Churches in Bangui, bringing Christian and Muslim communities together. While the anti-Balaka groups have been generally described as Christian militia, their actions have been condemned by the Church in CAR, which is calling for peace, the disarming of all armed groups and national reconciliation.

Father Nzale's death is the latest incident amid a targeting of clergy. Over Easter, Father Chris Forman Willibona and Reverend Thomas Ndakouzou were killed in separate attacks on 18 April and 19 April respectively. The Bishop of Bossangoa, Monsignor Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia was kidnapped on 16 April with three Catholic clergymen by Seleka militants. The clergymen were eventually released near the Chadian border after the intervention of the international community. In Bangui, The Apostolic Church of Gbaya Domia and the Dombia Baptist Church were attacked on 8 April and 17 April respectively. 

In April, the UN Security Council voted in favour of sending a 12,000-strong UN Peacekeeping force to CAR in September 2014 to bolster security across the whole country and help to steer the interim government to institute democratic elections by early 2015.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, 'Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have lost their lives. CSW condemns the senseless attack on unarmed and vulnerable civilians and deplores the targeting and destruction of places of worship, regardless of their creed. We appeal for adequate protection of facilities housing internally displaced populations and continue to echo the calls of religious leaders in the country who are working tirelessly towards reconciliation in the face of relentless atrocities. We also call for increased assistance for the administration of Interim President Samba-Panza in its efforts to disarm the various militia groups, to encourage reconciliation and facilitate the return of one million displaced citizens to their homes.' 

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Friday 30 May 2014

'Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.' 
John 16.20

Reflection
The suffering of the Christian is a pleasure to the persecutor. But those who remain faithful despite the cost are rewarded with the bliss of eternal life. And what then of those who rejoiced? Pray for them that they will repent and be saved.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Thursday

rising for the Ascension
I turn back for the sermon
i had forgotten
then turn the car 
to face the hill again

at its peak, looking down,
I wonder if I am higher
than the clouds 
that hid him on that day

preaching, with the world
laid out before us,
I whisper it is to that world
that we are sent

NIGERIA: OVER 70 DEAD IN BOKO HARAM ATTACKS IN BORNO AND YOBE STATES

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Over 70 people have died this week in a series of attacks by members of the Islamist terror group Boko Haram on towns and villages in Borno and Yobe States of north eastern Nigeria.

The renewed attacks come amidst reports on 28 May that five more of the girls abducted from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram on 14 May are now free and are being kept in an undisclosed location. Some news sources state that four of them were released after they fell ill, while the fifth escaped. The arrest of a suspect in the 20 May bombing in Jos, Plateau State was also announced on the same day.

On 28 May, sect members reportedly attacked Gurmushi Village in Marte Local Government Area (LGA), Borno State, killing at least 40 residents and razing the village to the ground.

Earlier, an estimated 33 people were killed in separate attacks by Boko Haram in Borno and Yobe States on the evening of 26 May. Eight people died and several were wounded when Boko Haram gunmen attacked Chinene village in the Chikide-Joghode-Kaghum Ward of Gwoza LGA in Borno State, destroying six churches and razing several homes. Sect members also attacked Amuda Village, where one person was killed and several others were injured. In addition, the insurgents are said to have hoisted their flags in the Ashigashiya Ward of Gwoza LGA, declaring it their headquarters and vowing to launch further attacks on surrounding villages.

In neighbouring Yobe State, at least 14 soldiers, 11 policemen and two civilians were killed in Buni Yadi, Gujba LGA, after troops were taken unawares by Boko Haram gunmen. The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and the Divisional Crime Officer (DCO) are believed to have been among the victims of the two-hour night attack, during which the divisional police station, the Emir's palace, the District Head's residence and office, and several military posts were either vandalized or destroyed. One eyewitness told Nigerian news sources that the insurgents, who arrived in Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Toyota Hilux vans, had informed civilians they had nothing to fear since the attack was aimed at the military. This was Boko Haram's third assault on Buni Yadi this year.

On 25 May, Boko Haram members targeted a market in Kumuyya Village in Biu LGA, Borno State, killing around 20 people and destroying market stalls. Sect members were reportedly angered the villagers had only managed to collect a little over £250 after being given two months to hand over £900 for 'God's work'.

Meanwhile, villagers in Borno State appear increasingly to be fighting back. On 23 May, women are reported to have assisted in repelling an evening attack on Attagara Village in Gwoza LGA, when ten members of Boko Haram descended on the area on motorcycles, seven of whom died at the hands of vigilantes after the women raised the alarm. On the evening of 25 May, several sect members died following an encounter with the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) and the military in Kawuri Village in Kandunga LGA. According to the news agency Sahara Reporters, villagers and local hunters had killed at least 100 Boko Haram militants in three different Borno villages by the evening of 26 May.

On 20 May, the Nigerian Senate approved the renewal of the states of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said, 'While rejoicing at news that more girls have escaped their captors and at the breakthrough in Jos, we also extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed in these senseless and seemingly relentless attacks. Particularly reprehensible is the reprisal attack on Kumuyya Village, which underlines the fact that as well as indulging in terrorism, Boko Haram is essentially a criminal syndicate that uses religion to extort protection money from vulnerable villagers. The renewal of the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe may stem some of their attacks, but clearly not all. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive overhaul of security arrangements, especially in rural areas, in order to counter Boko Haram and secure the safety of Nigeria's citizens in both urban and rural settings.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Thursday 29 May 2014 (The Ascension)

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 
Acts 1. 8,9

Reflection
We are called to be Christ's witnesses throughout the world until he comes again. Remember always that this work is the most loving you can ever perform for your fellow man, because by it you bring before him the way to save his soul unto heaven.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 28 May 2014

'When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.' 
John 16.13

Reflection
Christ taught that the Holy Spirit would guide his disciples into all the truth. The Holy Spirit strengthened the Church in the beginning, guided her path down through the centuries, and still guides her today.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SUDAN: MERIAM YAHIA IBRAHIM GIVES BIRTH IN PRISON

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

(a happy event, but with a serious side to it, becuase even though her death sentance is under appeal, one of the reasons the court was delaying carrying it out in the first place was becuase Meriam was with chlild. To help her go here)

Imprisoned Sudanese Christian Meriam Yahia Ibrahim has given birth to a baby girl five days early. 

According to local sources, Mrs Ibrahim's husband Daniel Wani has yet to be granted permission to see his wife and newborn daughter, who are currently incarcerated in Omdurman Federal Women's Prison along with his 20 month-old son Martin, but has been informed that both mother and baby are well.

On 22 May, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim's lawyers lodged an appeal against the Public Order Court's decision on 11 May to sentence Mrs Ibrahim to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery.

Mrs Ibrahim was charged and sentenced for adultery and apostasy under articles 146 and 126 of Sudan's Penal Code respectively. The Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum, Sudan, chaired by Judge Abbas Khalifa, confirmed the sentence on 15 May, after Mrs Ibrahim refused to renounce her faith.

Mrs Ibrahim was born in western Sudan to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. The case against Mrs Ibrahim began after Sudanese authorities were made aware of her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian with dual American and Sudanese citizenship. Morning Star news reported that Mrs Ibrahim testified before the court on 4 March that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as evidence. Three potential witnesses from western Sudan who went to court to testify of Mrs Ibrahim's lifelong adherence to Christianity were prevented from giving evidence.

CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas says 'We are pleased to hear that Mrs Ibrahim and her baby are reportedly in good health; however, we urge the authorities to ensure that Mrs Ibrahim's husband and lawyers are granted access to see them, and that they are guaranteed medical attention. CSW continues to call upon the Sudanese authorities to annul the inhumane and unwarranted sentence given to Meriam Ibrahim, and to release her and her young children immediately. The charges against her are a violation of her right to freedom of religion or belief, guaranteed under Sudan's interim constitution and in the covenants to which Sudan is party.'
(to help Meriam go here)
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Tuesday 27 May 2014

'Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.' 
John 16.7

Reflection
Christ did not abandon his Church; he promised and sent the Holy Spirit 'to guide it into all truth.' And therefore we, as his followers, can trust his Church and must be faithful to her teachings.

Monday, May 26, 2014

prayer diary Monday 26 May 2014

'an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.' 
John 16. 2,3

Reflection
The true disciple should not fear suffering for the Lord. Around the world, many still do, with the roll of martyrs growing daily. Pray for those who suffer for the faith, even as you draw courage from their example of faith in the face of adversity.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Examin Sunday 25 May 2014

God loves us – so much he sent his Son into the world. And his Son tells us that it is those who keep his commandments who love him, they are the ones who abide in his love. Our hope of eternal life is linked to obedience to God, to the teaching his Son gave us, the teaching he passed on through the Apostles to his Church. Examine your conscience; see where it is that you have sinned by failing to obey what it is that Christ taught us. And repent and turn back from your sins that you may live and attain unto everlasting life.

(no sermon today - Confirmations in the parish and the bishop is preaching!)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 24 May 2014

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 
John 15. 18,19

Reflection
Christ was hated by the world. What of you – are you loved or hated? And if you are loved, is it because you make it seem as if you belong to the world, and never challenge it with Christ's truth? And if that is the case, are you truly Christ's?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Watchers of the storm

Giggling, Timaeus and Perez ran through the warmth of the late autumn sun towards the sparkling waters of Lake Galilee. The summer had been dry and the level of the lake was lower than usual, exposing a carpet of rounded rocks on the edge of the water. As they splashed in, their laughter soon turned to shrieks: they always forgot how cold the waters of Galilee could be and the water was like ice on the skin of their bare legs.
Still, they paddled anyway, less because the activity was truly pleasant, than because by doing so they knew they were delaying their lessons with old Isaac. As they ran splashing through the water they came upon the battered remains of an old fishing boat, exposed to the air by the falling depth of water. They paused before it, staring at it solemnly. They were both sons of fishermen. In the normal course of events they would grow up to be fishermen themselves. The broken and battered vessel, her boards scarred from the rocks and coated with a layer of weed and slime, was a stark warning of what their own future might hold.
'I recognise that boat,' said Timaeus.
'Yes?' said Perez.
'Yes. It belonged to Jacob son of Simon from the village along to way. He used to fish with his five sons in her.'
'What happened?'
'She went down in one of those sudden storms. Clear blue skies and then … wind, thunder, rain out of nowhere. Those watching from the shore said it was like a curtain dropped between them and the boat. One minute they could see her, next just a solid wall of rain. When it lifted, the boat was gone.'
'Was Jacob able to afford another?'
'He didn't need to. He and his sons all went down with the boat. They found the bodies near Tiberius.'
Both boys suddenly shivered. As one they turned and ran to the small house near the shore where old Isaac lived and gave lessons to the village boys. Somewhere unspoken in their minds was the thought that the slight education that Isaac offered might be the key to a future other than one that involved trying to scrape a living from the sometimes unpredictable waters of the lake.
'You're late … again,' said old Isaac as they scampered up. He didn't seem angry. Indeed, he hardly seemed to notice they were there. He was staring out at the waters behind them with a slight frown on his already wrinkled brow. The boys turned to look. Timaeus saw nothing unusual: the lake, still sparkling, the mountains beyond. Perez gave him a nudge and pointed to a boat that was just launching from the shore.
'That's what's taken the smile off old Isaac's face,' he said under his breath with a knowing look. Timaeus didn't understand: the boat looked like any other fishing boat. The only difference seemed to be that there was more people on board than was needed for a fishing crew, but even that was not all that strange. The same boats that were used for fishing were also used for trips from one side of the lake to the other. Seeing his puzzlement, Perez explained further.
'That's Jesus and his lot. The rabbi from Nazareth that spends his time going around preaching from town to town. Old Isaac doesn't really approve of him.'
'Why? What harm does he do? There's lots of wandering preachers.' Timaeus looked with interest at the group. He wondered which one was Jesus. He supposed it must be the one at the front, settling himself down on a cushion in the prow. He looked like he was going to have a nap for himself. Timaeus thought it strange that someone would want to go to sleep so early in the day. But then probably all that walking around the countryside, preaching all the time, must be tiring work. You probably slept when you could.
'Yes, but people are starting to say this one is special. That he's something of a wonder worker, healing people and things. Some are even starting to say he might be the Messiah!'
Timaeus shrugged.
'They said that about John the Baptist as well … until Herod chopped off his head. Anyway, isn't it possible that he is? I mean, if he really can heal people?'
Perez shook his head.
'Not according to old Isaac. Jesus comes from Nazareth. And the prophesies say the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. So Jesus can't be him.'
Timaeus shrugged again.
'I guess we'll find out if some one executes him. If they kill him as well, then I guess that'll prove he can't be the Messiah!'
'What are you two gossiping about?' said Isaac. 'First you're late, then you stand around chattering like a pair of old women. Are you here to talk or to learn?'
'To learn, master,' they both said at once.
'Well, come along then.'
They all settled out of the sun on a rug that was spread out under a canvas awning attached to the front of Isaac's house. That was one advantage of living in a fishing village: plenty of men who knew how to work with canvas and put it to others uses than just as sails.
'Now boys,' said Isaac, clearing his throat. 'Yesterday, we were looking at the beginning of the book of scriptures called Genesis. Before we start reading some more, who remembers what we were talking about yesterday?'
Both boys were silent. Isaac raised his eyebrows.
'Really? Neither of you have anything to say? Weren't you paying attention? Am I wasting my time with you two?'
'No, master!' they both said quickly.
'Well then?'
'We were talking about how God created the world,' said Timaeus hesitantly. 'How he created the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the plants and animals.'
'And did he not create anything else?'
'Us,' said Perez quickly. 'He created all the people as well.'
'And what did we say that it meant when we said that God created the earth and everything in it?' said Isaac, smiling a little now.
'It means that everything is his,' said Timaeus. 'That he is in control of everything.'
'And did we mention how he shows his power and mastery?'
'Yes master. You said that sometimes he shows it by how he controls what happens in people's lives … and other times in other ways … for example the weather.'
'Yes,' said Perez. 'For example, at the time of Noah, he unleashed the waters from the heavens, and the whole earth was flooded.'
'Indeed,' said Isaac. 'God's power is limitless. It is not only he who made the world but keeps it in being. He knits us together in our mother's womb … and he watches over us in the world that he gave us to live in.'
'Master?' said Perez.
'Yes, child?'
'I was wondering … '
He broke off his question, as old Isaac sprang to his feet. He was staring out over the lake, a look of fear in his eyes. The boys turned. Behind them, the scene had changed. The clear blue sky had turned a cold, iron grey. The sparkling blue waters were now a thick, ugly green. And from the south, a storm was charging across the lake, hiding the mountains beyond from their view with a solid barrier of rain, churning high waves from the surface the waters of the lake with strong winds. Lightning laced the clouds above them and thunder suddenly boomed, so close and loud that all three jumped.
Perez raised a trembling finger.
'The boat,' he gasped. Timaeus looked where he pointed. The crowded boat carrying the young rabbi was right in the path of the storm. Within seconds it would reach it. He could see the men straining on the oars, terrified at the terrible force that was sweeping down on them. But it was no use. They were too far from shore and the storm was moving too fast. There was no way to avoid it. Timaeus had just time to notice that the rabbi still slept on his cushions before they were all lost to his sight.
He looked at Perez. Both thought of the crushed remains of the boat they had seen earlier on the shore. It was just such a storm as this that had destroyed her and her crew with it. The overfilled boat stood no chance. No boat and no crew could survive such a furious onslaught of wind and rain out on the middle of the lake.
He sighed. Perhaps it was for the best that the rabbi was sleeping. He would surely never know what had happened to him.
'I guess he wasn't the Messiah,' he said softly to Perez.
Suddenly old Isaac gasped. He was staring at that part of the lake where they had last seen the boat. His mouth was open. With a shaking hand he pointed.
'Look,' he said. His voice was a croak. Both boys looked. They gasped also. They could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was as if the storm was being ripped apart from its very heart. As a stone when dropped in still water causes a ring of ripples to roll away from it, so the storm seemed to be flowing away from the centre of the lake. The clouds were disappearing, the waves vanishing, the wind and the rain ceasing. As suddenly as it began, the storm was departing. And at the centre of the spreading ring of calm was the boat, rocking gently on the now placid waters.
Timaeus gazed at it. What was happening? Was such a thing possible, that a storm could die down so quickly? Suddenly he noticed that something was different about the boat. The young rabbi was on his feet now, standing at the front of the boat. He was facing the water, one hand outstretched. The gesture reminded Timaeus of something, something he had seen before, but he couldn't think what.
As the danger moved further and further away from him, Jesus slowly lowered his hand, almost causally. He turned to face his companions in the boat. All the eyes of those on board, still huddled together, still crouching low in the boat where they had fallen to try and protect themselves from the certain death that had befallen them, were upon Jesus.
What had happened? Had Jesus done something, Timaeus wondered? Perez had said he was a wonder worker. But could a man who could heal a person of their disease also cause the wind and the waves to obey him?
'Master,' he said in a trembling voice. 'Have you ever seen a storm end like that?'
Without taking his eye off the boat, old Isaac shook his head.
'I have lived by this lake all my life,' he said. 'For more than 70 years. I have seen many storms like that blow up. And when they did I have seen many good fishermen die. Occasionally, some were lucky. Their boats would hold together. Or they might cling to some wreckage and be swept, half dead to shore. But never have I seen a storm simply cease, as if it had collapsed from the inside. What I have seen today I have never seen before, nor heard anyone every speak of such a thing. I do not think anyone has ever seen a storm end like this.'
Old Isaac's face looked troubled.
'What does it mean, master?' he said.
'I do not know, child. Who can say what such a thing can mean?' He waved them away. 'That is study enough for today. Go home. Remember as you go to give thanks to God that he has saved the lives of those men this day. Give thanks also that you have seen such a thing.' He shuffled away into the darkness of his house.
Timaeus and Perez stared at each other.
'Well, I guess you were wrong,' said Perez finally.
'About what?'
'About Jesus. Maybe he still could be the Messiah.'
As the walked home along the shore, Timaeus thought about what they had spoken about with old Isaac, about how it was the power of God which controlled the weather. The wind and the waves were under his control also. Had he chosen to save the boat? But what of the young rabbi, standing in the prow with his hand outstretched?

Timaeus remembered now what the gesture reminded him of. Once with his family, as they had journeyed to Jerusalem with his family, they had been stopped by a group of Roman soldiers. They were looking for some bandit or other. As the group drew near the soldier in charge stepped forward. Causally he raised his hand, palm toward them. There was a sense of absolute confidence and power in the way he stood, knowing without doubt that he would be obeyed, that they would stop, that he was the one in control.

The way Jesus stood before the wind and rains reminded him of that soldier. That he stood as if he had been ordering the storm to cease. Did he have the same power over that wind and wave that old Isaac said only God had? He must have, if he had stopped the storm. And if had, what, could such a thing mean?
Perez nudged him.
'Thinking about the rabbi?'
Timaeus nodded.
'Me too.'

Timaeus worked hard at his studies with old Isaac. A couple of years later he had learned enough that he was able to go to Antioch to study with far greater scholars. Despite the cost, his father was proud to send him, proud that his son was clever enough for such an honour. Some months after he arrived, a boy called Jude burst into their school room. Jude was from a Jewish family living in Rome and sometimes treated the others as if they were country bumpkins compared to one such has him who came from the capital of the empire.
'Well,' he announced. 'You'll never guess the latest fairy tale from the old country I've just heard.'
The others ignored him. It was best not to encourage Jude. Nonetheless, he went on.
'The Romans executed some country rabbi, someone called Jesus from Nazareth. They crucified him.'
Timaeus felt his heart sink within him. He wasn't sure why. He had never been a follower of Jesus. But after what he had seen that day by the lake he had always wondered if he might have been the promised Messiah. And now they had killed him.
One of the other boys spoke.
'And why does that have your tunic is such a knot? The Romans are always executing people!'
'Ahh!' crowed Jude, delighted to have their attention. 'Because that's not all! His followers are claiming that he has risen from the dead! Have you ever heard such nonsense? Hey, you!' he said, turning to Timaeus. 'You're from Galilee, aren't you? Nazareth is near there, isn't it? What do you think of this? Are all Galileans inclined to believe such wild stories?' He laughed at his own joke. But Timaeus only smiled at him.
'Before you call this story nonsense,' he said slowly, 'let me tell you a story about this Jesus. A story that might make you believe that if anyone could rise from the dead it would be him.'

(C) Fr Levi/Patrick G Burke

(One from the archives ... I din't have time this week to write a new one! But the children enjoyed hearing it again ... )





prayer diary Friday 23 May 2014

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' 
John 15. 12,13

Reflection
Christ's love was to spare nothing, not even himself, so that all men might know the truth. His truth is sometimes hard, but we have no choice for his words are those of eternal life. If you truly love someone, you will make sure they know that truth also, whatever the cost, be it their friendship or your life.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

SUDAN: LAWYERS APPEAL MERIAM IBRAHIM'S DEATH SENTENCE

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has learned that Meriam Yahia Ibrahim's lawyers have lodged an appeal today against the Public Order Court's decision on 11 May to sentence Mrs Ibrahim to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery.

Mrs Ibrahim was charged and sentenced for adultery and 'apostasy' (leaving Islam) under articles 146 and 126 of Sudan's Penal Code respectively. The Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum, Sudan, chaired by Judge Abbas Khalifa, confirmed the sentence on 15 May, after Mrs Ibrahim refused to renounce her faith.

The Christian mother, who is eight months pregnant, continues to be held at the Omdurman Federal Women's Prison along with her 20-month-old son, Martin Wani. After months of incarceration, Mrs Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani has recently been able to visit her and their son, but only when accompanied by her lawyers.

Mrs Ibrahim's case has prompted an international outcry. In a joint statement, UN human rights experts have also condemned the sentence, stating that it is the right of every individual to 'adopt, change or retain a religion of one's choice, and to manifest their religion in practice, observance and worship, as well as the right not to be subject to discrimination or coercion on religious grounds.'

Mrs Ibrahim was born in western Sudan to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. The case against Mrs Ibrahim began after Sudanese authorities were made aware of her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian with dual American and Sudanese citizenship, Mrs Ibrahim testified before the court on 4 March that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as evidence. Three potential witnesses from western Sudan who went to court to testify of Mrs Ibrahim's lifelong adherence to Christianity were prevented from giving evidence.

CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas says 'CSW continues to call upon the Sudanese authorities to annul the inhumane and unwarranted sentence given to Meriam Ibrahim. Furthermore, we call for immediate release of Mrs Ibrahim and her young son. Their continued imprisonment violates international statutes to which Sudan is a signatory as well as article 38 of the country's interim constitution which guarantees freedom of religion or belief for all and in particular states that 'no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.' CSW calls on the international community to hold Sudan to its international obligations and to provisions contained within its constitution.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

LAOS: CHRISTIANS STILL DETAINED IN SAVANNAKHET AS EU-LAOS HUMAN RIGHTS TALKS BEGIN

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Multiple sources have informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that 11 Christians detained in Savannakhet Province on 11 May 2014 remain in prison after being arrested for meeting in an unauthorised location. Twelve others, including women and teenagers, have been released after signing documents agreeing to not meet at that location again.

The news comes as the EU's regular dialogue with Laos on human rights and good governance begins in Brussels this week. A new briefing by CSW urges the EU delegation to ensure that the EU's key concerns in relation to freedom of religion or belief are raised consistently through exchanges on human rights and good governance.

The 23 Christians in Savannakhet Province belong to a church in Paksong Village in Songkhone District, which was barred from holding church services in 2012. The pastor of the church was arrested and coerced into signing a document saying the church would stop meeting. According to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom, the authorities, including the new village chief, claimed that Christians in that area did not receive permission to hold worship services; however, the Christians claimed they received permission from the former village chief approximately a year before.

The recent arrest of the 23 Christians, including the pastor, appears to involve two locations. The authorities are trying to prevent Christians meeting at a 'new' location, which they claim is unauthorised. However, the group has reportedly been meeting there for over six years.

CSW's briefing includes an overview of the most common violations of freedom of religion or belief in Laos, including forced eviction and being 'forced to sign documents recanting their beliefs'. Although Laos has seen some improvements in the protection of freedom of religion or belief, including 'a reduction in the number of long-term Christian prisoners of conscience and in the average length of sentence' over the past decade, cases like the one mentioned above in Savannakhet Province are not uncommon.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, 'We welcome this dialogue on human rights and good governance between the EU and Laos. However, such efforts towards constructive dialogue are overshadowed by incidents like the one described above. Freedom of religion or belief is a touchstone for human rights standards. We therefore strongly urge the authorities involved in this case to release the remaining detainees in Savannakhet Province, and to allow them to meet for communal worship according to their rights under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Laos ratified in 2009'.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Thursday 22 May 2014

'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.' 
John 15. 9,10

Reflection
Christ loves us all ever and always. But only those who abide in his love receive the rewards of eternal life. And to abide in his love you must be obedient to what he commands.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NIGERIA: ATTACKS IN BORNO FOLLOWING JOS BOMBINGS

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Boko Haram gunmen attacked two villages in southern Borno State on 21 May, killing over 40 people. The attacks follow a double car-bombing in the commercial heart of the central Nigerian city of Jos in Plateau State that claimed at least 118 lives on 20 May.

According to local reports, the attack on Alagarno Village in Askira/Uba Local Government Area (LGA) began at around 11 pm on 20 May and continued into the early hours of 21 May. As well as attacking residents, the gunmen razed the entire village to the ground and stole vehicles. Alargano is located near Chibok Town, where over 200 school girls were abducted in April.

A subsequent attack on Shawa Village in Damboa LGA at around 4am on 21 May reportedly left around 30 people dead. Boko Haram gunmen also set fire to several homes, as well as to bags of maize and millet stored for sale in markets, and carried away goats and rams.

Funerals for the identified victims of the Jos bombings have begun to take place, as officials express fears of the death toll rising even further as bodies are uncovered under debris and in shattered stores.

According to local reports, the first bomb exploded at Terminus market at around 3.00 pm on 20 May, detonating at peak time when, according to a local source, 'many women were doing last minute shopping, so many of the victims were women and children. People were also returning home from work using the nearby motor park'.

The second bomb exploded around 20 minutes later in van that had been parked for hours close to the temporary site of Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH). Several residents had reported the suspicious vehicle to the police. When they failed to take action, local youths set the vehicle ablaze; forcing an explosion that felled part of JUTH's fencing, but caused no injuries.

The bombings in Jos follow the 18 May suicide bombing in Sabon Gari, a predominantly Christian suburb of the Kano State capital, which claimed four lives, including that of a young girl. Observers speculate that the bombings may be an attempt by Boko Haram to provoke sectarian violence in order to stretch the Nigerian security services and divert national and international attention from the search for the abducted school girls.

Commenting on the Jos bombings, the Most Rev Dr Benjamin Kwashi, Anglican Archbishop of Jos Diocese, said: 'This is obviously the work of Boko Haram and was intended to ignite the usual divisions in Jos, but this has clearly failed because as soon as casualties occurred, Muslim Aid, the Red Cross and Christian and Muslim youth came together to assist the victims. Our pain, however, is that people have died, ordinary people going about their daily business. I am deeply saddened by this, and our prayers are with their families. These people came from somewhere with deliberates plan to sow chaos. Please join us in praying for calm and greater understanding. The time has now come for every part of Jos to reject and expose Boko Haram's activities.'

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said, 'We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the Jos bombings, the attacks in Borno and the suicide bombing in Sabon Gari. The toll of lives lost weighs heavily on the hearts of families and communities across Nigeria and we stand in solidarity with them, urging Nigeria and its international allies to deal decisively with Boko Haram, which constitutes a threat to Nigeria and its neighbours. We echo the Archbishop's prayer. Boko Haram and its remaining supporters and enablers are attempting to create schisms in this pluralistic, diverse nation, and they must not be allowed to prevail.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

prayer diary Wednesday 21 May 2014

'Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.' 
John 15.4

Reflection Christ commanded that we abide in him. And so we must, by being faithful members of his body the Church. For just as the branch withers when cut from the vine, so too our faith struggles and fails when we separate ourselves from Christ.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 20 May 2014

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.' 
John 14.27

Reflection
The world offers vain pleasures and things that pass away; Christ offers things that are eternal. Therefore we need never fear whatever it is that we face.

Monday, May 19, 2014

prayer diary Monday 19 May 2014

'They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father.' 
John 14. 21

Reflection
Our love of Christ is reflected in our obedience to his teaching. But the struggles we may face are more than made up for in the reward that comes to those who remain faithful – the love of the Father.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

the way, the truth, and the life

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is a very popular one at funeral services – although perhaps 'popular' may be the wrong word to use. Commonly chosen might be a better way of putting it. And it is not surprising that it should be so, because in that reading Christ speaks words that are of great comfort to those who have lost a loved one and are grieving because they know that they will not see that loved one again in this life. But we need not let our hearts be troubled, as our Lord tells us, because in his Father's house are many dwelling places, and he himself goes to prepare a place for us. More, having done that, he will come again and take us to himself so that where he is we may be also.

And these words of Christ are comforting for several reasons. First because he assures us of life after death; and second because he assures us that he himself not only has prepared for a place in heaven, but will also come again and take us there himself so that we may be with him there forever. The third reason it comforts is by implication – if all who are faithful to him have the hope of eternity with him in heaven, then even as we have that hope for ourselves, we may have it for those we love, and therefore may hope that we will one day meet with them again there in that place were tears and sorrow are no more as the Revelation to St John the Divine has it.

But – and there is always a 'but' – we must ask ourselves if it is reasonable or rational to accept Jesus' words of comfort in this part of our reading while rejecting or ignoring what he says elsewhere in this same passage. In particular I am thinking of his words when he says 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.' There are many ways of interpreting what Christ is saying here, but a fairly obvious reading is that he is saying those who wish to have the eternal life with the Father that he promises must accept Jesus as Lord and follow his teaching. And this is a hard teaching for the modern ear – it sounds so exclusivist. We don't like that kind of thing, especially not claims about absolute truths. 'you have your truth; I have mine' is something of the catchphrase of our times; with those who take Jesus' words here seriously likely to be condemned. 'Who are you,' they say 'to say that Jews or non-Christians' can't go to heaven?'

This is not, of course, what the Church teaches. Those who for no fault of their own do not know Christ or the Church he founded cannot be held accountable for that; God sent his Son into the world to save all men; and Christ said that on the Cross he would draw all men to him; those who seek God with a sincere heart, and try to do his will as best they are able, may well enter in his Kingdom. After all, it is not for us to claim we know who does and does not go to heaven – God is the sole judge of that.

But – again another 'but' – that is not the same as saying all faiths are the same. Christ told us he is 'the way, the truth, and the life' … and the way he offers to eternal life is a narrow, difficult way, but it is a sure way; we can not simply shrug our shoulders and leave those who do not know his path to their own devices. His way is hard, but it is sure. And we who are called to make disciples of all peoples have an obligation, driven as much by duty as by love, to share that way with everyone.

In any event, what might we do to accommodate those who find such words uncomfortable? Edit Scriptures? Change Church teaching so that it ignores Jesus claim to be the way, the truth, and the life? We have no authority to do either. And if we acted as if we did, where would such accommodations end? Would we eliminate the doctrine of the Trinity, simply because many find it difficult to understand? What about Jesus being fully God and fully man? The Virgin birth; the fact that he rose from the dead; our understanding of the Eucharist being his body and blood; what the Church teaches about Hell; or that the Sacred Scriptures are the word of God? These things are all inter-connected – start to pull at one, and the rest unravels. What's left might be a lot less challenging, but it would also be something else – which is not the Church that Christ founded.

But just as we can take comfort from the words from today's Gospel at times of loss, as so many of us so often have, so too we can take comfort on occasions when we struggle to understand what Christ taught and passed down to us through the Apostolic teaching of his Church. We may not always understand, but we can trust his words are true. And if they are true, then we have faith in him and faithfully follow, trusting that on that day that we hope for, the day when we are with him in one of the many rooms of his Father's house we will fully understand.


To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed, who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday 17 May 2013 Examin

A person can make themselves seem busy by doing small, inconsequential jobs all day while neglecting their real work. So too may we as Christians give a good outward show of being faithful disciples by enthusiastically engaging in the externals of Christian living we find pleasant, while avoiding both putting into practice the hard teachings or accepting those teachings in our hearts. The faith is not like a menu from which you can pick out a few items you like and ignore the rest; it a seamless garment, which can not be torn.

prayer diary Saturday 17 May 2013

'If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ 
John 14.7

Reflection
We encounter Christ in the Word of Scripture and in the Sacraments of his Church. These, and conversing with him in prayer, we may not neglect. For it is thus that we know him, and the Father who sent him.

Friday, May 16, 2014

help save Meriam Yehya Ibrahim

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is a heavily pregnant Sudanese Christian. She’s just been sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ – leaving Islam – although she’s been a Christian all her life (see previous posts here  and here - to take action to help her go here).

Meriam was arrested on 17 February, and sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy, after Sudanese authorities became aware of her marriage to a Christian man. She is currently detained in Omdurman Federal Women's Prison along with her 20-month-old son, Martin Wani. Since she was arrested she’s been allowed no visitors, and has been denied vital medical treatment.

Although she testified that she is a life-long Christian, the court ruled that she abandoned Islam, and that therefore was originally Muslim. Since Muslims are not allowed to marry non-Muslims, her marriage is invalid under Islamic law – so she was convicted of adultery as well as apostasy.

Meriam is eight months pregnant, and has a toddler to look after too in prison.

Please don’t allow this terrible injustice to happen.

Please click on this link to the Christian Solidarity Worldwide website. That page will allow you to send a pre-written message to the Sudanese Embassy in your country (which you can you can edit if you wish to before submitting).

CHINA: CSW BRIEFING EXPLORES TENSIONS BEHIND ZHEJIANG CHURCH DEMOLITIONS

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

A new briefing by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) analyses the context and possible reasons behind the demolition of churches and removal of religious symbols in Zhejiang, China, and recommends consistent dialogue between the authorities and religious leaders.

The briefing highlights that 'the demolitions in Zhejiang and the reaction of the Christians there highlight tensions between churches and the state, but also between local and provincial authorities, and between the approaches to different religions.'

Wenzhou, known as 'China's Jerusalem', has a large Christian population and numerous churches. From April to May 2014, at least 20 churches in Wenzhou and elsewhere in Zhejiang Province have had all or parts of their structure removed or demolished, or have been threatened with demolition. The churches affected include both Protestant and Catholic, registered and unregistered. Some have moderate numbers, while others are mega-churches with hundreds or thousands of members.

Most recently, China Aid reported the demolition of two churches in Longwan, Wenzhou on 8 and 9 May. Longwan is home to several churches established by missionaries over 100 years ago; one of the demolished churches, Shangwan Church, was built in 1868.

The most well-known demolition occurred on 28 April at 3000-member Sanjiang Church. Weeks earlier, the church leaders had entered into negotiations with the local authorities in an attempt to avoid the demolition of the church and the removal of its cross. It is unclear whether officials ignored an agreement made at this time, or whether the deal 'broke down'.

Some Zhejiang Christians believe the removal of crosses and the demolition of some churches was triggered by a visiting provincial secretary's complaint about the number of Christian crosses in the province. The authorities responsible for the demolitions maintain that they are simply complying with the Three Rectifications and One Demolition campaign targeting illegal structures. It is noticeable, however, that in the majority of cases, it is specifically the cross, or another religious symbol, which has been hidden or removed.

Freedom of Religion or Belief in China is a complex issue. According to the briefing, 'while there has been a de facto improvement in the level of religious freedom enjoyed by Protestant churches in urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai, this has been not reflected in, or the result of, improvements in the law.' Nor is this the case in rural, remote or conflict-prone areas, where Christians continue to experience violations of their freedom of religion or belief.

CSW's Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said, 'This timely briefing explores the context in which these worrying incidents take place and contains a number of important recommendations. We urge the Chinese authorities to make consistent efforts to enter into dialogue with religious leaders on all matters relating to their activities, with a view to promoting mutual trust and positive relations; to provide clear instructions about the process of applying for permission to build a religious structure; and to establish a complaints mechanism for religious buildings which have been refused permission to build.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Stephen - a story

Naomi brought the last of the food to her mother in bed early in the morning. Her mother coughed and sat up. Looking at the small meal – a piece of bread and a few olives – she said:
'And what about you? Have you eaten?'
Naomi smiled.
'Don't worry, mother. Stephen will be here soon.'
Her mother smiled too.
'He's a good young man. What would we do if he did not come with food from the Church?'
'Others would help us, mother. Our neighbours would not see us starve.'
'Would they not? And what help have they given us since your father died and I became too ill to work?'
'Well, none … but they know the Church helps us!'
'And does that mean that they can not call to the house, to see how we are doing, and offer a little help?'
Naomi said nothing. Her mother pushed the wooden platter towards her. 'Eat a little. I can't manage it all.'
Naomi shook her head.
'No. You eat it. You are weak and can't wait. I'll be fine until Stephen arrives. And anyway, I haven't time to eat! I have the house to clean and tidy before he arrives.'
Her mother looked around their small, single-roomed home, with little by way of furniture or other possessions, and then looked at her. 'And has the house gotten so dirty since he was here yesterday.' Naomi looked down and blushed.
'I thought so. You like Stephen, don't you?'
'Oh, mother!'
'It's all right – I understand. He's a good looking boy.'
'Oh, he is, isn't he mother?' Naomi sat down on her mother's bed and grasped her hand. 'He's so tall and handsome; and he is always so smiling and kind.'
Her mother patted her hand and said: 'And his curling hair is as black as raven's wing; and his blue eyes are so dark they are almost black. As I said, he is a good-looking boy. But he is a little old for you, Naomi.'
'No he's not; I'm nearly old enough to get married, mother. And Stephen is not yet twenty. Most men don't get married until they're years older. There's no reason why when I'm old enough …' She trailed off and blushed even deeper. Her mother gripped her hand tightly.
'And has he said anything to you, child? Anything that might make you think that he likes you too?'
Naomi shook her head.
'No, mother. But he always smiles at me. And when he visits, he always stays and talks. I know he has so many people to visit, to bring food too, but he always stays and talks. With me,'
'Does he now? And what does he talk about?'
'Well he told me about how he was chosen as a deacon. He's from Galilee, you know, just like Jesus; so he knew him almost from the beginning and followed him. So when the twelve decided they needed deacons to help with the food distribution, he was the first one they picked. It's easy to see why – he's so full of the faith and the Holy Spirit. They only picked seven; and the apostles prayed over them and laid their hands upon them to ordain them for this work.'
'And has he told you about anything else?'
'Well, yesterday, you were sleeping when he came, and he told me about what happened in the Synagogue earlier in the day. Some men from Alexandria and other places, men with fancy educations, tried to argue with him about Jesus, saying that he was wrong in what he believed. But he was able to prove them wrong in all they said. He was able to point to what Moses and the prophets say in Holy Scriptures about the Messiah and show how Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies, which meant that he really must be the Son of God. They didn't like that, I can tell you! But there was nothing they could do except get cross!'
'He seems to talk a lot about himself.'
'Oh, he's not like that, mother. He's not doing it to make himself look wonderful. He only tells me so I will know the wonderful way God works. He says it is the grace of God that allows him to speak with such power. On his own, he could say nothing to such well-educated men, much less defeat them in an argument. But when he is filled with the Holy Spirit he can do anything.'
Her mother gave her hand a squeeze.
'Well, he's a lovely young man and I'm glad you like him. As to marriage, we'll see. You're young; in a few years time you may not feel the same way. But if you do, and he does ask, you'll hear no objections from me. He good, he's kind, and more important he is a faithful disciple of our master, Jesus. A mother couldn't ask for anything more.'
Naomi threw her arms around her.
'Oh, thank you mother.'
'Get away with you. Save your thanks for when and if he asks. Now let go. I can't breathe. Try to remember I'm a sick woman!'
Naomi let her go and got to work cleaning their little house. She dusted and swept and polished and it seemed like no time at all before there was a knock at the door. Naomi brushed down her clothes with her hands to knock any dust off them, swept her fingers through her long dark hair to tidy it a little, gave her cheeks a little pinch to give them some colour and rushed to the door.
'Hello, Stephen …' she began, smiling, as she flung it open. But it was not Stephen. It was Timon, one of the other deacons, and he was carrying the food basket Stephen normally brought.
'Hello, Naomi,' he said. He looked sad. 'Can I come in?'
'Of course,' she said, stepping aside. She closed the door behind him.
'Hello, Rachel,' he called to her mother as he placed the basket on the table.
'Hello, Timon,' she called back from her bed in the corner of the room. 'No Stephen today?'
A tear fell from Timon's eye onto the table.
'No,' he said in a choked voice.
'Timon,' cried Naomi. 'Whatever is the matter?'
'Stephen is dead,' he said. 'They killed him. They said he was a blasphemer and they stoned him.'
'No,' said her mother. Naomi said nothing. She felt like she couldn't breathe; her chest was tightening and her vision began to blur. And then she screamed, so loudly her mother put her hands over her ears; but to her it sounded like a tiny sound, very far away. Then everything went black and she knew no more.
***
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on her mother's bed. Her mother sat on the bed next to her, a worried look on her face. Timon hovered behind her. He looked worried too.
'What happened?' said Naomi. Her voice sounded very small and weak.
'You fainted,' said her mother.
'Fainted? Why would I …' and then she remembered and began to cry. Her mother held her very tight until the sobs grew less. When she had stopped crying and wiped her face, she turned to Timon.
'What happened?'
'I'm not sure now is the time … ' he began, but Naomi cut across him.
'Please tell us.' He looked at her mother. She nodded her head. Timon sighed.
'Yesterday Stephen was arguing with some scholars …'
'He told me. They couldn't beat what he had to say and they didn't like it.'
'They surely did not. They went to the scribes and the elders and accused him of Blaspheming against God and Moses. So they seized him and took him before the Council. Of course, he had spoken no words of blasphemy – as if Stephen would ever say anything against God! - but they called false witnesses to say that he had. And then they asked him to speak. He quoted scripture to them; he explained our people's history of resisting God and rejecting those he had sent to guide them; and he then told them they had betrayed and murdered the Righteous One sent by God.
'Their hearts must have been made of stone. Stephen’s face looked like that of an angel, but they were enraged and ground their teeth at him. Then he looked up into the heavens and told them he could see the Son of Man, our Saviour, standing at the right hand of God. But instead of listening to him, they covered their ears. They dragged him out of the city and stoned him. Even as the rocks struck him, he prayed that the Lord Jesus would receive his spirit. Just before the end, he cried out in a loud voice to the Lord, asking him not to hold this sin against them. And then he died.'
For a long time, no one in the room said anything. Tears ran down the faces of the two women; some even ran down the face of Timon. Then Naomi said:
'Thank you for telling us, Timon. You are a good man.'
'Not as good as Stephen,' he said. His voice was sad.
'Why do you say that?' said her mother.
'He died for the Lord Jesus. I do not know that I could do that.'
'You say that now; but tell me, Timon – do you truly believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God?'
'Of course I do!'
'And what of his promises of eternal life – do you believe those?'
'How could I not? Did he not rise from the dead after three days as he said he would? Did I not see with my own eyes how he returned to heaven, rising into the sky until the clouds hid him from our sight?'
'And is what you saw a truth that you could deny?'
'Never!'
'Even if it might cost you your life?'
Timon smiled. 'You are a clever woman, Rachel. Perhaps I could die for the faith. But I am still not as good a man as Stephen.'
'Will you be here tomorrow?' asked Naomi.
'I will indeed.'
'Then you are a good man, and a good follower of Christ. And that is good enough.'
'Thank you, both of you.' said Timon. He hugged them, took up his basket, and left. The two women looked at each other.
'Will you be all right?' said Rachel.
'What do you mean?' said Naomi.
'About Stephen; about his death. I know how much you liked him ...'
'No mother; I did not like him – I loved him. But I will be all right. A man can die in so many ways at any time. He could be killed by a cart, fall off a building, be taken by some disease. But Stephen died defending the faith – it was a holy death. I miss him already – my heart aches. But Jesus promised eternal life to those who were faithful to the end. Father died of a fever; but we know because he was a good man who trusted in the Lord he is with him in heaven and we take comfort in that. How much more, so, can we be sure that Stephen is there also, having actually died for the Lord?'
Her mother hugged her.
'You are a good girl,' she said, 'I'm proud of you.'
'Remember that over the next few days and weeks,' said Naomi ' when I'm crying my eyes out for Stephen because I miss him so much and I'm angry that he has been taken from me.'
'I will,' her mother promised, with a smile. 'And now, perhaps, a little food? I know you have not eaten anything all day.'
'In a little while,' said her daughter. 'There is something we must do first.'
'What is that?'
'We must pray.'
'For Stephen? But why child? We are sure he is in heaven.'
'Not for Stephen. For his killers. With his last breath he asked God to forgive them. We must pray for them and hope that they will repent and come to believe in Jesus also.'
Naomi slipped from the bed and knelt beside it on the floor. After a moment, her mother leaned forward and placed her hand upon her daughter's shoulder. And in silence they prayed for the men who had killed Stephen.

(c) Fr Levi/Patrick G Burke 2014