The military held its first news conference since toppling the government. They said the armed forces would not remain in power for long, and would ‘hand power back to the winning party’ following another election. On 18 February the military ordered more arrests, and civil servants went on strike. Large numbers have protested for 16 days. ‘It is incredible to witness that our people are unified. People’s power must return to the people,’ actor Lu Min wrote on Facebook. Many of the country’s lawyers have joined the Red Ribbon Campaign calling for the restoration of democracy in the country. The Defend Lawyers website reported that forty barristers could face prosecution for participating in the anti-coup movement. Doctors Without Borders are ‘gravely concerned’ about the recent arrests and detentions of health care workers and other civilians. The situation has the potential to severely interrupt the lifesaving healthcare that they and others have been providing to the most vulnerable people in the country, particularly in the time of the Covid pandemic.
IS has taken a firm grip on territory in Mozambique, far from its original strongholds in Syria. Even though it is losing territory in most other places, it has killed and kidnapped thousands in the country since 2017. Sphiwe, a Christian worker with Trans World Radio, says, ‘They behead people, they attack homes and villages. People live in fear. It causes displacement, as people move away to protect themselves.’ Many fear the next attack so much they avoid working in the fields. Christian broadcasting continues in troubled areas and also provides support for refugees. Sphiwe says, ‘It is emotionally draining. Sometimes they are adopted or taken in with other families, so that one family may end up having fifty people within one home because they are trying to help out.’ Pray for those fleeing from trauma in Mozambique to find hope and life in Jesus.
2020 was a year that disrupted workers in Asia Harvest, a non-denominational Christian ministry working in various countries. Covid made them suddenly twice as busy as usual. The lockdowns saw mission workers helping people in their churches and communities to survive. A great harvest of new believers was reaped in many locations. In some places, believers were excluded from food distribution by callous officials and villagers. When Asia Harvest provided help, the Christians not only welcomed the crucial aid but gave some to their persecutors. This attracted many to the truth of the Gospel and the love of Jesus. Asia Harvest never asks for anything except prayer, as they believe the Holy Spirit leads people to give financially if he wants them to give. Remarkably, in a year of global economic stress, the Lord provided more support than any year in its history.
IJM Thailand was informed by the Myanmar embassy of a potential human trafficking and forced labour case. 18 Myanmar workers needed rescuing from a confectionery factory in Bangkok. They were illegally brought in and wanted to leave, but could not. IJM personnel, embassy staff, and other agencies went to a residential neighborhood and attempted to call out to the workers locked in the upper floors of a building behind locked gates. Eventually, one worker began to climb out over the gate and a ladder was brought to help him escape. 17 other migrant workers followed him to freedom. They will undergo Covid testing and continue to receive IJM legal and aftercare support in a safe location. Pray for the successful prosecution of their captors and traffickers.
Throughout the pandemic, the Christians in Parliament team have been sharing regular psalm reflections with Members and staff to encourage them in this challenging season. Psalms remind us there are so many reasons to praise God, he is still in control and offers us true stability. Please pray for the weekly video conferencing services every Tuesday lunchtime. They are attended by a good range of Members and staff. May they all be blessed as they work through John’s Gospel, looking at what happened when different people encountered Jesus. Please pray for the speakers as they prepare and that everyone attending will grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus through these different encounters. Pray also for the two weekly Bible studies, now beginning to look at Philippians. Please pray that all those attending will continue to fix their eyes on Jesus.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, the government announced that anyone seeking a test or treatment for coronavirus would not have their immigration status checked. It is now being made explicit that this principle applies to vaccinations also; people living in the UK unlawfully will not risk deportation by coming forward for inoculation. Ministers are urging illegal immigrants to come forward and register with a GP. The vaccine is free, regardless of their immigration status. However, this is not an amnesty for immigrants; no-one will be given leave to remain in the UK as a result of being vaccinated. The last official estimate, dating back to 2005, was that about 430,000 people were in the country with no legal right to remain; independent research since then has put the number at over a million.
A common theme is emerging among church leaders experiencing lockdowns: the importance of connection and how to connect as a church. Refreshments after church, shared events, coffee shop catchups, Sunday dinner get-togethers have been stripped away. Leaders have lost the thermostat of knowing how church people are. Many are wondering if and how online church is translating into everyday life. It is encouraging that this season has produced worship that is decentralised, has moved out of the building, and is more tightly woven into the daily fabric of life. Mission no longer has a visiting evangelist. Evangelism is now central in conversations with neighbours and colleagues. We are sharing our faith. Another common theme is how Christians have taken hold of their own discipleship because of the decentralisation of worship and the democratisation of mission.
Please pray for young people like Frances who have had their lives put on hold. Having worked hard at university and achieved her dream job, she was making plans for the future until lockdown made her unemployed. Now there is a question mark over everything. 18-year-old Eleanor had her education disrupted across two academic years, in both school and university. Last year, her A-levels were caught up in exam chaos. As a university student this year she has been taught entirely online, unable to make personal contact with other students or tutors. She faces uncertainty around her job prospects, whether her A-level grades are ‘proper’, and if her social life will recover after so much time at home. Evidence shows primary pupils' levels of English and maths are ‘significantly lower’ than three years ago. The scale of the disruption will need a ten-year programme to get back on track. Many students now have mental health issues, particularly depression.