Warm greetings to rural church friends and rural people of faith world-wide. We are the family of IRCA - a network sharing stories, praying for and encouraging one another.
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Thank you to all those who sent in their news. The response to the call was so good that it is quite a long newsletter this time. You will need to click "View entire message" at the bottom to see everything shared.
Blessings to you all
for the IRCA Leadership
Prayer is learning the art of the connection… We believe, if we continue to be faithful, the time will come when our lives will be broken into by another order and we will be transformed and as transformed, will become transformers.
Do join us for the four-yearly IRCA-Europe Conference to be held in Sibiu, Romania on 8-11 June 2020. We will be basing our reflections on the Biblical image of yeast (‘sauerdough’) and thinking about what this means for churches in the rural areas we represent.
Keynote speakers will give presentations on the work of the Congress of European Churches for the Rural Areas and the contributions we can make to a sustainable Europe. The site visit on Wednesday will take us to Rasinari to learn about sustainable alpine pasture, and the role of the Orthodox Church in Romania in preservation of the forests - in sharp contrast to the illegal logging.
In addition to the formal sessions and presentations, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk to old friends and make new ones as we share our own experiences of the role of the village church in developing and encouraging sustainable and flourishing rural communities.
The conference will be based at the Lutheran Academy of Transylvania in Sibiu (see photo above), which is a welcoming and hospitable venue. Single rooms are available on request. The cost for conference and accommodation is 250 Euros per person. Conference languages will be English and German, with simultaneous translation available.
The photos below show the work of Association For Life of Africa - Liberia reaching out to rural communities in Liberia.
George Festus Blamoh writes that:
One of the major challenges facing youth in post-war Liberia is the prevalence of fatherlessness. Problems include unemployment/poverty, increase in crime, living by "survival of the fittest", and homelessness of children with no parents. This leads to an absence of hope, values and family bonding. Our passion is to develop leaders and communities for effective change.
The average age of the youth of Liberia is 16 years. They need life-mentors and coaches. The unique idea in transforming youth in post-war Liberia is to raise up a new generationa of leaders throughout the 15 Counties of our nation, by undertaking discipleship training, leadership and life coaching training to turn war-affected children and youth into change agents through counselling, mentoring, leadership development, and whole life coaching. Aspiring young adults will be identified and trained so that they can go back into their communities and serve as agents of transformation. We want to present a holistic coaching and life transforming experience, both for the leaders and their communities.
FLEEING FOR SAFETY
News from Cameroon
Archbishop Alfred Ayuk of Christ Episcopal Church (formerly known as Church of Cameroon) sends greetings and tells of how badly affected they are by the socio-political crisis in Cameroon which has is going on for three years now. Church members have been forced to flee from their homes, and congregations have also had to find other places for safety.
Archbishop Alfred asks for our prayers and help to make this situation as widely known as possible.
PRAY FOR UGANDA
Bible Gospel Ministries in Kampala, Uganda, ask for our prayers in a time when they are feeling under invasion from radical Muslim individuals within the country's leadership. Their church has been interrupted, they have been robbed and battered, and church property and equipment has been destroyed.
Pastor Edward Baligonzaki Mwesigwa asks: pray with us that God will preserve our lives amidst such chaos and fracas. Our efforts to bring these people to book have been frustrated by corrupt police.
REMOTE MISSION WORK IN MALAWI
Pastor Charles Hora writes:
The main church I am pastor for has planted a new church in the south of Malawi, taking the gospel into the remote district of Balaka to the village of Utale.
Recently six members were baptized and we ask for prayers for growth in this mission and to get a better building for the meetings of the saints.
I personally thank God for it as a mission for rural people for Christ.
LOCUST PLAGUE IN ETHIOPIA
Pastor Dereje of Ezra Rural Ministry asks: Please pray for the current locust crisis in Ethiopia and other parts of East Africa. It is hurting many rural churches, especially damaging the people's farms, vegetables, crops, and grass for the animals. This badly impacts on food supplies and we need to pray to God to protect them and provide food for those who are worst affected.
LOVING HANDS MINISTRY
Medical Camp at Vanasthalipuram, Hyderabad, Telangana State, India.
Click here for the international website
FROM THE UK
Floods and storms: Much of the UK has been hit by a series of strong winds and heavy rain over the last couple of months, with blizzards and snow in parts of the north. Many of the places worst affected are those that were finally getting back to normal after flooding in previous years – and it is really dispiriting to have to face the same thing again so soon. Some towns and villages have been cut off by rising water, bridges swept away, homes flooded and evacuated and businesses affected. One colleague in the middle of the country writes:
Floods here have been pretty close to the worst I’ve ever seen on the flood plain near to my house which is a usually a park and is now impassable. I wait to hear how folk I work with in the area are personally affected – places which have a high water table are particularly vulnerable. Churches here with regular flooding have been repeatedly impacted which is awful - but so is the experience of residents, especially those who can’t afford or get insurance due to previous flooding. The roads around here are still are struggling to take the volume of water down the drains so there are major puddles (often of unknown depth) from run off and there have been accidents on major roads likely caused by this. I’ve taken to avoiding travelling at peak times wherever I can. Who knows if it will put all those impacted farmers out of business - it must be a very tough time for them.
This short article is helpful in putting the flooding in the wider context of climate change and of our response: Global heating hits home.
Please pray for people who have had to leave their homes and farms because of the floods, the churches who are offering support and hospitality and the emergency services and others who are trying to prevent flooding or help with clear-up operations.
Political and social issues continue to affect vulnerable people throughout the country. Uncertainty about the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union makes future planning difficult and is likely to have an on-going detrimental effect despite promises of ‘sunlit uplands’ ahead. There is general anxiety about how divided communities can be brought back together, the relationship between the four countries in the UK, and the future of employment. Of additional concern to many Christians is the apparent absence of any regard for truth and the growing willingness of people to say and believe things that run counter to experience and facts!
Rural life is also under stress. Farming always has a level of uncertainty, but in addition to the weather and issues around Brexit, bovine TB has continued to spread. A new Agriculture Bill is going though Parliament which has received a cautious welcome, but will reward farmers for delivering ‘public goods’ rather than having links to food production or farming the land. Better access to the countryside and environmental benefits will be welcome – but there is concern that trade deals with other countries will reduce food safety standards and viability of many farms. Rural poverty has been quietly but steadily rising, and so has crime in rural areas, including the increased availability of drugs through ‘county lines’ of mainly vulnerable young people being drawn into criminal gangs operating from the cities and towns into the countryside.
The Churches Rural Group meets three or four times a year to discuss rural life and ministry. The first meeting of 2020 reflected on the challenges facing village churches and ways that we can encourage an effective Christian presence in all our rural communities. We heard stories of hope as well as concern about areas where there are major challenges. One member reminded us that a sustainable Christian presence will be ecumenical, flexible, and ready for change, but might not necessarily meet on a Sunday or in a church building. We look forward to continuing this discussion in May.
Scotland is going through a season of change. Post-Brexit, there is a rhetoric calling for independence for Scotland which is polarising people. Concerns about the future of agriculture and fishing are coupled with anxiety about provisions for low income households and those with disabilities. Cuts to healthcare provision are having devastating effects across the Highlands and Islands where medical practices are unable to recruit or retain GPs, local hospitals are reducing services and directing people to Inverness, which is increasing the pressure there, and reductions to ambulance staffing are leaving people stranded in emergencies.
The Church of Scotland (the national church, which is Presbyterian), is undergoing a radical restructure at an organisational level. As a result, councils and committees were dissolved at the end of 2019 and there has been little communication about what may replace them or how the voice of the rural church might be heard at a national level. Rural churches in particular are feeling the pressure of uncertainty regarding their futures and diminishing resources. One of the plans for the reorganisation involves the consolidation of Presbyteries from 43 to 12, with concerns that big ‘super presbyteries’ will focus on urban churches and neglect rural areas.
On the other hand, the Free Church of Scotland (also Presbyterian), centres around smaller or more rural churches in the Highlands and Islands and has recently held a day conference on rural mission. Another conference is coming up in May and it is encouraging to see people discussing the future of mission and ministry.
Please continue to pray for rural churches in Scotland. Many are struggling with small and aging congregations, old buildings that are not fit for purpose, poor resourcing and concerns about losing clergy. Fewer people are training for ordained ministry and many of those currently in post are due to retire within the next ten years. At the same time, there are some exciting conversations about church plants and pioneer ministries or ‘Fresh Expressions’ in rural areas or among farming people.
On a personal level, I am completing my PhD thesis on the challenges facing rural parish (Church of Scotland) churches and the future of mission and ministry. I am excited to be able to share aspects of it once I’m finished and praying that it will be received well. As a teacher at Highland Theological College (HTC) I am encouraging ministry candidates to consider placements in rural churches. My future with HTC, and indeed the future of HTC itself, is dependent on many factors from student numbers to finances and a continuing relationship with the Church of Scotland, so prayer for the future would be much appreciated.
Many blessings to you all
A STORY FROM USA
Keeping Independent Grocery Stores Open in Rural Communities
When rural grocery stores close their shutters, communities lose more than their only source of food. A visit to two small groceries in North Dakota revealed innovative ways to keep the lights on.
Our thanks to Dave Ruesink for forwarding this story.
Rural Routes through the Holy
Recognize – Replenish – Rejoice
A gathering was held last June for those who touch and are touched by rural ministry in Maritime Canada (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island provinces). It was led by Dr Marvin Anderson for whom "Small is also bountiful".
Catherine Smith reports: We learned a lot and laughed a lot. We took risks, among them wringing out the heaviness of our hearts in a ritual of lament. Some spoke who said they’d never be able to speak, and some became still in those profound moments when it might have felt easier to keep talking.
Catherine speaks of excavating, affirming, and celebrating in their time together thereby recognizing, replenishing, and rejoicing "in the way those on rural routes move through and Holy and the way the Holy moves through us."
A second gathering is planned for June 11-13, 2020. Click here to link to the website.
Murray Corner (Bayfield-Little Shemogue Pastoral Charge), a tiny congregation in a small fishing village, took the risk of hosting the first gathering. They will again be lead hosts, holding the gathering at a larger venue and others will help with the preparation. Catherine shared her excitement in seeing these people embrace this work.
Women in rural communities continue to play vital roles in the development and sustainable of local or rural churches in Fiji. This is common in many denominations serving in most communities across the country.
Manasa Vatanitawake has shared a story that focusses on the women of Navauvau, the village of Korovou, in the Tavua district within the province of Ba. In this particular village they have two churches operating from within the village boundary – the Methodist Church in Fiji (largest church in the country) and the Sugar Pentecostal Church. In these churches and others in Fiji, it is evident that women contribute immensely to the growth and the sustainable of their home church with their contributions not only in time through prayers, volunteerism, mission and ministry (house to house visitation) most importantly through their financial contributions.
Women in Korovou village are givers and they give gladly to the work of the church – says Temalesi Dabea, leader of the Methodist women’s fellowship. We love to give and share what we have in abundance for the blessings of those who have less, or nothing” added Dabea. Every week, when we come together for fellowship and prayer, we also bring our financial contributions and also groceries so we can visit a family in need – within the village, or someone who is sick, an elderly or a couple with a new born – that is what we do, and we believe that GOD’s blessings is extended to us so we can reach out to others – that is the foundation of our faith – to love GOD and to love and care for others around us.
Their motto is: To know Christ and to make him known”.
Martin Harrison writes: After spending 16 years in one parish recently I made the move to the Parish of Kaikoura and also to a new denomination. Change always brings about new opportunities and one of the things that my wife and I decided was we wanted to learn more Te Reo (NZ first language – Māori) and Tikanga – customs. We were fortunate to find a great teacher who patiently worked with us on Tuesday nights. During our discussions about Tikanga we discussed how the Māori readily embraced Christianity when it arrived with the missionaries because of their own belief structure. There was much in the Old Testament that resonated with it.
NZ church history has some very proud moments in its early history because of the way Maori embraced Christianity. For instance often the “missionary” would travel to a new area only to discover Māori missionaries have already been ahead of them. Having a pastor's heart I asked if there was any local indigenous Christian worship services. As there were none it has been a delight to help facilitate a monthly Te Reo service.
The Presbyterian church I pastor had some buildings that had been effected by the Kaikōura earthquake that needed to be demolished and the area redeveloped. This led me to researching the history of the land and the district. The church has owned the land since they built the church in 1877. The first settlers – whalers, arriving in the area in the 1840’s. Māori of course had occupied the area for a number of centuries. However when the settlers arrived they found very fewer than 70 Māori in the area. This is because in the late 1820’s a north island tribe lead by Te Rauparaha surprised the local Maori tribe numbering over 2000, attacking with modern weapons (guns) and killing over 1400 with the survivors fleeing to the south and not returning. Te Rauparaha did not stay or settle the area.
There was a incredible significance when we held the first Te Reo service at St Paul's which stands on a small hill above the very place where Te Rauparaha raiding parties would have landed and killed so many. There was a real feeling of the Wairua Tapu (Holy Spirit) ministering and healing. We look forward to continuing our journey of learning and discovering what God wants and is doing in this district.
Build stronger, healthy, drug-free communities - a resource developed for rural communities. Click here
From the Rural Health Research Gateway: Rural Disparities in Health and Healthcare by Race and Ethnicity. Click here
FROM VIA CAMPESINA (International Peasants Movement)
Negotiating the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition: our concerns and proposals. Click here
INTRODUCING A NETWORK MEMBER
I am Balathoti Gnana Prakasham from India working as a pastor and evangelist. My father was a farmer and my mother a housewife. When I was only 15 years old, my father died with heart failure, and after two years my mother also died. I suffered very much at this time crying out many times in the presence of the Lord and became physically very unwell.
In 1992 on 19 March I accepted Jesus Christ as a my personal saviour and was baptised and became well again. I studied theology and became a Mennonite church pastor.
Presently I am working independently in my own villages, helping poor people especially widows and children. My goal bring to the more souls in the presence of the Lord.
A NETWORK PARTNER
La Via Campesina, the International Peasants' Movement, has called to mark international Women's Day - 8 March - with a call to global solidarity and action. The focus is food sovereignty and a dignified life.
La Via Campesina shares IRCA's concern that the voiceless are given voice, are heard and empowered.