The world may be in lockdown but the work of our Lent Call projects goes on

So much has changed since the Bishop of Southwark chose his Lent Call projects for 2020 that it feels as if we are in a completely different world. All the places where this year’s Lent Call projects are situated have been affected in one way or another.

Our friends in Zimbabwe tell us that the lockdown restrictions there are more restrictive than here. Banks are closed as well as government offices and shops. The stalls where many sell fruit and vegetables to make a living, and which many use to buy food, lie abandoned and it is hard to see how people will manage to get the provisions they need.  The government has imposed the lockdown for 21 days initially from 30 March following the reporting of seven cases of COVID-19 and one death. The situation in Zimbabwe has been so precarious for so long now that this added difficulty for the economy and the people will be incredibly hard. 

The Holy Land, as you will have seen from earlier posts on this blog, is also in lockdown as there have been cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and elsewhere. As in Zimbabwe, the situation in the Holy Land, with the years of tension and the increasing economic and social difficulties, will make the plight of those in lockdown even harder. Many Palestinians who work in Israel have travelled home because they are frightened of getting ill there and this is going to make the pressure on hospitals in the West Bank, which are already stretched, even worse.  

As you will know from earlier blogs, during our Diocesan Pilgrimage we were unable to visit the L’Arche Community which we are supporting in the Lent Call, but we know that they are struggling during the lockdown as people are unable to be together as usual.

Kaduna in Nigeria, where we are supporting the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, has gone into lockdown as well because of COVID-19 cases in the neighbouring areas. Here, too, is a place where there has been tension and so it is important that we pray for all those whom we are supporting that they might find ways to survive this crisis and work together to bring about an end to the spread of the virus as quickly as possible.

But it is not just in other parts of the world that the effects of Coronavirus are being felt. Here in our own Diocese and across the country people are having to deal with being locked down.

The offices of Sparkfish have closed on the advice of Government and the work that takes place in schools has had to stop. The Easter Experience, which the team had been planning for a long time, could not go ahead and the staff have been put on furlough as there is no work that they can do, although it is hoped that the staff will be able to come back to work when the schools go back.  Sparkfish asks for our prayers for the young people whose lives have been so profoundly affected at this time, especially those who were expecting to take GCSEs and A-levels.

The Nicholas Stewart Project has moved online during this period and the team is hoping to be able to stay in touch with those they work with in this way. It is not, they say, the same as working face to face, but it allows them to continue to offer help and support to at-risk young people in Wandsworth. 

Superkidz is still doing what it can for local families who are in need, as Nick Russell, Manager of the Superkidz Community Trust, says:  ”We are distributing more than 100 activity packs and Easter eggs to children and young people, with an Easter story colour in card. (See photos of the team social distancing!). I am also uploading videos for children and carers and young people which will include videos for Easter. We have a WhatsApp group for vulnerable girls, and we are setting one up for Years 6-8 and for Years 9 and above.”

He adds: “We are phoning around our parents and carers weekly to see how they are. We have applied for funding to be able to top up food and electricity or gas for families, where a wage earner has had to stop work and where shortages in budget supermarkets have meant extra spending in convenience stores.” So, as you will see, there is a lot to do and Superkidz continues to work hard to support local families.

This is an Easter day like none other that we have known and it will be hard for many, but please pray for our Lent Call projects and, where you can, give generously to them. Let us join with Bishop Christopher who at the end of his Easter message reminds us that we say today:

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen, he is Risen indeed, Hallelujah.

In Zimbabwe

The situation in Zimbabwe is often complicated and people rarely find life easy. Water shortages have been a constant problem over recent years because of the lack of rain, which has clearly been exacerbated by climate changes, making the rainy season warmer and drier. So, it is hard to hear that the coronavirus is also affecting the life and well being of our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe.  It is hard enough for us here in the UK to adjust to the new way of living and in Zimbabwe, where life is much more challenging anyway, it must be very difficult indeed.

Bishop Godfrey from the Diocese of Masvingo, which is linked with Southwark Cathedral, wrote on 18 March and here is what he said:

‘Because of the coronavirus, yesterday 17 March, the government of Zimbabwe banned all public gatherings of more than 100 people for the next 60 days. This ban includes all religious gatherings. The ban which is already in effect has affected the operations of the Diocese. The Mothers’ Union celebrations which were scheduled to take place 20 – 22 March (The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary) has been postponed. Other activities in the Diocese have also been affected. 

There is however lack of awareness about the coronavirus. The public feels that the government should give more information about it. There are 2 quarantine centres in Harare containing very few beds. Our health delivery system has collapsed. Hospitals have no equipment or essential drugs. People have expressed concern at the preparedness of the government to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, people are beginning to panic and are fearful of what will happen if there is an outbreak in the country.

Three Chinese nationals who entered the country on 1 March are under quarantine in Buhera. This was confirmed by Buhera District Medical Officer. Buhera District is within the Diocese of Masvingo. There are other reports of individuals who are under quarantine in other parts of the country. We have not yet had confirmed cases of coronavirus. Zimbabwe has not closed its borders to visitors from countries where the presence of coronavirus has been reported. However, screening is being done at Harare International Airport and Victoria Falls Airport. 

Despite the coronavirus challenges, the Diocese of Masvingo continues to preach the Gospel with Clergy adopting new methods of doing their ministerial duties without exposing themselves or the faithful to coronavirus. This of course is not easy but even in these difficult times the Church needs to remain relevant. We have stopped using the chalice for communicants. The faithful have been discouraged from shaking hands during peace. Health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus have been taken seriously in our ecclesiastical divisions throughout the Diocese.

The coronavirus is coming at a time when life is very difficult in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe annual inflation as measured by Consumer Price Index soared to 540% in February. The latest inflation figures are stoking fears of what we experienced as a country 10 years ago when we had hyperinflation leading to the collapse of our economy. Prices of basic commodities and services have skyrocketed. Shortages of diesel and petrol continue to persist in the country. There are, however, some petrol stations that sell in US dollars only. We are currently experiencing a hyperinflationary environment in the country.’

Since Bishop Godfrey wrote to us, on Sunday March 29, the Bench of Bishops in Zimbabwe has suspended Eucharistic services and worship.

In Central Zimbabwe we hear that they have taken the difficult decision to close their church buildings. Bishop Ignatios explains: ‘We have to manage our congregations from their homes. Communication is not easy in Zimbabwe; we have power cuts for long hours. We are not sure as to how widespread the virus is in Zimbabwe, the government is not clear as to how great the challenge is, it is all speculation. We have advised our parishioners and our suppliers not to visit the office physically. We are encouraging people to stay home. I know that it is not easy for the people in Zimbabwe to stay home since most of them are informal traders. The challenges of clean water are making the problem bigger.  Our streets are full of people and no testing is done to confirm cases of coronavirus.’  He goes on to say that he worries about how safe the priests are in their parishes.

There is much to be done in the Diocese of Masvingo and Manicaland even without the effects of coronavirus. In the Diocese of Manicaland they are still dealing with the after-effects of Cyclone Idai, there are still many displaced people and the threat of the spread of coronavirus can only make things worse. In Masvingo we are asked to support the work in their schools.  Most importantly they want to be able to repair boreholes or drill new ones to make sure that there is enough water to continue to offer feeding programmes for the schools. In so doing they will also be able to offer food to the villages around the schools.  

The schools also need more equipment particularly desks and chairs so that the children can have the best possible education.  Education remains hugely important even in these difficult times as young people still need to prepare for the future.  If the schools in Zimbabwe close they will not be able to work remotely, as we can here, because there is often no electricity and internet access is always unreliable and often non-existent in the rural areas.  More than that if schools close then there is a real danger that children will have even less to eat as so many depend on school feeding programmes.  It is so important that, even at this uncertain time for us, we continue to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and for the work of the Church there and wherever possible to donate to the Lent Call as a way of giving thanks to God and showing practical support for those in need in our link Dioceses in Zimbabwe.

Moffat Musasa, the Diocesan Treasurer in the Diocese of Matabeleland, has written on behalf of Bishop Cleophas.  He says, that ‘Covid-19 has caused a lot of despair and pain across the globe. Our country has not been spared of this affliction.’   He notes that the closure of churches will have a negative effect on the ability of the churches to collect funds which in turn are passed on to help run the Diocese. Mission schools are also closed and the levies collected from the Mission schools have helped to keep the Diocese afloat. He says, ‘Most of our people in the Diocese are not yet conversant with the digital payment platform. Most of the parish funds are collected on the offering plate on a Sunday when people meet for worship. The Diocese will find it extremely hard to function during the lockdown and the period soon after it. Stipends for the clergy, office running costs and support for the vulnerable will certainly be difficult to fund.’ 

Sadly, because of the global outbreak of the coronavirus a visit planned by a group of clergy from the Diocese of Matabeleland has had to be postponed.

Many of the things happening in the Dioceses in Zimbabwe are being mirrored here but the people of Zimbabwe have been suffering for a very long time and so we hope that you will still consider giving generously to the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call so that our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe know that we are supporting them not only in prayer but in practical ways.  Thank you.   

In Zimbabwe – Central Zimbabwe

Each year during the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call we focus for part of the time on our Link Dioceses in Zimbabwe.  Our Links are with Central Zimbabwe (Croydon Episcopal Area), Matabeleland (Kingston Episcopal Area), Manicaland (Woolwich Episcopal Area) and Masvingo (Southwark Cathedral).  The fifth Diocese in Zimbabwe – Harare – is linked with the Diocese of Rochester.

We try to keep regularly in touch with our friends and colleagues in each of the Dioceses sharing news and praying for one another.  The Croydon Episcopal Area sends the money raised to help the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe as support for the Diocese’s budget.  This means that the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe can choose its priorities and use the money in the way which is most needed in the Diocese.   This year the Diocese of Manicaland has told us that they wish to focus on feeding programmes for the food insecurity that they are experiencing in all parts of the Diocese.  

In recent correspondence with Bishop Ignatios, the Bishop of Central Zimbabwe, he tells us that there has been poor rainfall which leads to further concerns about food security.  He says:

‘The Diocesan catchment area is among the worst hit by the drought. The Famine Early warning Systems Network (October 2019-May 2020) indicates that the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe is within the crisis category. The dam catchment areas for Runde indicates only 38.9% capacity and Sanyati 48.3% capacity and these are the catchment areas covering the Diocese. This is the period that catchment areas should be recording 100%. This means the majority of our people are going to have difficulties in accessing adequate water for domestic use and livestock.’

Bishop Ignatios goes on to say, ‘The majority of households are not going to have adequate food as a result of the prolonged drought.’   He tells us that relief publications suggest that over 60% of population is now food insecure.   He says that visiting different areas in the Diocese indicates a pathetic situation in as far as crop stands are concerned.

The Diocese has made many interventions in trying to help people within the Diocese to farm as well as they can by encouraging them to farm in God’s way which is a tried and tested environmentally friendly method of farming used in much of Africa.  The difficulty is that, where there is not enough water, no matter how good the method it is impossible to farm.  So, the Diocese will be drilling and equipping boreholes in two or three areas, which they hope will help to supply water for both domestic and nutritional gardens.  They also hope to be able to supply seeds and young plants for people to be able to grow food for themselves, their families and their community.  But, the situation is so fragile that all we can do is hope and pray that these attempts to help the situation work.

Crops are helped to grow when a bore hole and tank offer water

As well as helping people to grow food the Diocese also wants to offer supplementary feeding to the worst affected areas by supplying Maheu (a nutritious drink made from leftover sadza) to the worst affected households as well as to Mission schools.  They hope also to be able to buy and distribute sugar beans to critically affected households and to distribute grain to those who are displaced and the elderly.

The situation is Zimbabwe has long been a desperate one and this continues even as people in our own country and other parts of the world are also finding their lives turned upside down.  As we seek to find new ways to be church here in this Diocese and this country it is important that we do not lose sight of those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ in Zimbabwe, and other parts of the world, and continue to support them whenever we can.

In Southwark Diocese – Superkidz

Superkidz started as a joint project between Eltham Green Community Church and St James’ Kidbrooke and is now a registered charity managed by a Church Army worker based at St Saviour’s Eltham. It works on four estates in the area, serving communities that are among the most deprived in the country, helping children and young people whose lives have been scarred by domestic violence, abuse and neglect.

Find out more at southwark.anglican.org/lentcall

In the Holy Land – L’Arche Bethlehem

We had hoped to be able to blog here about the Diocesan Pilgrimage visit to L’Arche, Bethlehem.  On Saturday 7 March, whilst in the Holy Land with 67 Pilgrims from Southwark Diocese and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, we were supposed to visit the newly renovated Church of the Nativity and half of our Pilgrims were due to visit L’Arche Bethlehem and the other half the Comboni Sisters.  Whenever there is a Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land we visit the project, or projects, that are supported through the Lent Call.  Sadly Covid-19 (the coronavirus) beat us to Bethlehem and the West Bank was closed from 4pm on Friday 6 March.  We were thus not able to go there and so were unable to visit the community and see the work that they are doing.

We were able to speak to one of the leaders, Rania, on the telephone, and Bishop Christopher sent her our greetings and told her that the Pilgrims would be praying for the community. Rania asked that greetings should be given to our Pilgrims and to the people of the Diocese and apologised to the Pilgrims that they could not be welcomed at that time.  We hope that she will be able to send us more information about how things are for them and if we do receive something we will make sure to put it onto this blog.

Apart from the threat brought about by coronavirus to the people in the West Bank and elsewhere, the L’Arche communities around the world have been much concerned and troubled by the report which was recently issued about their founder Jean Vanier.

Here is what we have said about the report:

‘When it was decided that the L’Arche Community in Bethlehem would be one of the projects in the Bishop of Southwark’s Lent Call for 2020 the investigation into Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche, had not been made public. The Bishop of Southwark is distressed to hear of the report’s findings and of the impact on those affected by these events. Yet, the work of L’Arche has proven to be beneficial to so many and it is for this reason that the Lent Call will continue to support the work of L’Arche in Bethlehem and the pilgrims will visit the group there. At this time it is important to support those affected including the members of the L’Arche communities as they seek to continue the important work of providing a community and work for those who might otherwise not feel part of society.’

We were fortunate to have Morwenna and Robin Orton on the trip and they have personal experience of the L’Arche community in London. Morwenna wrote something about this for our Holy Land Pilgrimage blog, which you can find here:  https://southwarkpilgrimages.com/recent-posts/pilgrims-reflection-4/

As we couldn’t get into the West Bank the whole group of Pilgrims went to visit the Convent of the Missionary Sisters of Sion – also known as the Comboni sisters.  We were able to hear the work that they had been doing with children who attended their nursery from Bethany.  Their work had been disrupted by the building of the separation wall which took many years to complete near them.  As a result the children were unable to reach the nursery easily, as they had to use a number of different buses to get there.  The Sisters were so concerned not to lose contact with those whom they had been working in Bethany with that they now have a flat behind the wall and work with the Bedouin families who have had to give up their nomadic life as a result of the restrictions on movement.  This is part of the report about the work that we posted on the Pilgrimage blog:

Standing on the roof and pointing to the wall Sister Alicia spoke about the effect that this has had on their work but most especially on the people who could no longer easily get to work or to school.  She spoke most especially of the need for pregnant women to have very detailed scans as they need to book a 24 hour pass to get through the walls to go to hospital.  It is so hard to imagine how women can manage, as it seems impossible that they can get the expected delivery dates just right and then deliver their babies and be back through the wall all in 24 hours.   There are hospitals the other side of the separation wall but they are 50 or more miles away and getting there once someone has gone into labour is very hard.

Sister Alicia also told us about the effect that the wall is having on the work of the hospitals that now serve the people.  She explained that they have become very overcrowded because they have to cater for so many more people but with no more resources.  Many people from Bethany had traditionally worked in Jerusalem which used to be just a short journey away and looked to there for their healthcare and now getting to work is very difficult as they need to get passes to it or to go to medical appointments.  Life is hard.’

This piece is also about the visit to the Sisters https://southwarkpilgrimages.com/recent-posts/pilgrims-reflection-2/

As I look back on the various visits that I have made to the Holy Land and the work that is happening to try to help the different communities there I am always struck by the determination of some, often women, to work tirelessly to try to make a difference to those around them and I give thanks to God for this and hope that you will feel moved to do so too and to support their work through the Bishop’s Lent Call.  We hope to be able to support the work of the Comboni sisters in the future and were able to leave gifts through the collection at the Eucharist and by buying the gifts that they had on offer.

In Nigeria – The Kaduna Centre

During the first week of Lent the project is L’Arche Bethlehem but as the Diocesan pilgrimage will be visiting them during their stay in the Holy Land, we are holding that over until next week. This week we are focusing on the Kaduna Centre For the Study Of Christian-Muslim Relations

Research shows that almost 90% of Nigerians working in the field of Conflict Prevention and Resolution have no knowledge at all about the religious beliefs of the ‘other’ and very little knowledge of their own religious profession. The Kaduna Centre focuses on Religious education with the aim of producing well-informed Nigerian Christians and Muslims with good basic general education in both Christianity and Islam.

Kaduna 3

After seeing the impact of their work with the Christian communities from around the flash points of the Northern States of Nigeria, the centre became recognized by the Federal Government of Nigeria to run programmes at both Certificate and Diploma levels for their students and became the ‘Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations’ in 2008. Since then almost 250 students, all Christians in secular and religious leadership positions, have successfully completed courses at the Centre. In August 2019 the Centre enrolled twenty students from the Christian and Muslim communities who are studying together for a year after which they will work in pairs on a project before graduating.

Kaduna 6.jpg

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who was at the time the Diocesan Bishop of Kaduna, funded the Centre with support from friends in the UK and using the facilities of his Diocese. The Centre’s classrooms were moved to Archbishop Josiah’s family house after he took up the post of Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, based in London, giving them three years of secure accommodation. The staff all work on a part-time basis and are paid a small stipend only.

The Board of Trustees now believes that the Centre needs a permanent home to meet its increasing needs and is in the process of setting up a permanent home for the Kaduna Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations within Kaduna metropolis. The building project will be carried out by qualified designers and engineers who are giving their services voluntarily as their contribution to the Centre.

The Centre now plans to include peace studies as well as Conflict Prevention and Resolution programmes. It is also aware that there are many young college and university graduates without jobs. In order to meet this need, the Centre also plans to run job acquisition programmes in useful subjects such as poultry keeping, fishery, dry-season vegetable farming, events, IT programming and rabbit farming.

Kaduna 7.jpg

The success of the project will be judged by how it achieves its goal of creating a group of young people who understand both their religious teachings and those of their neighbours. Young people who are willing and ready to respect those outside their religious community and to cooperate in building a peaceful and harmonious society devoid of extremism, leading to decreasing levels of intolerance and an increased respect for the ‘other’ and a willingness to live with differences.

Research has shown that there is a demand for a Christian Guest House in the centre of the city of Kaduna and the Centre intends to support itself by including within its development a 40-room guest house, which will provide accommodation for guests as well as facilities for residential conferences and workshops. Once fully operational, the staff costs of the guest house would be covered as would most of the activities at the Centre. It is hoped that there will also be the funding to provide sponsorship for those unable to afford the Centre’s programmes.