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24 February 2017

Unity – when it seems impossible

Unity – when it seems impossible

At the Alliance, we're continually encouraged by the stories we hear from our teams and members of biblical unity when unity seems difficult - or even impossible. Our Gather network of unity groups has hundreds of examples, and we love celebrating those. Here are four other incredible examples of unity.

CAMPAIGN

The subject of abortion is fraught with tension and is an issue that is so potentially divisive, that subsequently it's difficult to talk about. Particularly in Northern Ireland, hardly a week goes by without a media headline of some sort or another. The campaign to change the law in NI has reached a crucial point with direct and targeted legal, medical and social challenges. But whatever the outcome of these challenges in years to come, legally or medically, we wanted to start right now to improve the care and support for women, children and their families.
I think it's safe to say that at the heart of people's feelings surrounding this very difficult issue is a desire to show compassion to a woman in need. However, there are different opinions as to what constitutes a compassionate response and many people feel disengaged or repelled by what they see as the entrenched and possibly aggressive tactics used by some individuals and/or groups.
Some don't feel that they can align themselves definitively with one 'side' or the other. There was space for a different voice and a new narrative. We wanted a new way to frame the abortion debate in NI; to find common ground, and break down barriers. So we brought together individuals who may or may not have aligned with any of the labels used; pro-life, prochoice and feminist. We had no expectations of where that would lead or of any further commitment, but we were hopeful that it would be the start of something. And it was. A year later, we are launching a new movement. Both Lives Matter is a collaboration of organisations and individuals seeking to re-frame the abortion debate in Northern Ireland. Advocating for better care in pregnancy crisis and creating a culture that values every woman and her unborn child. We imagine a people and place that values the life & health of women and unborn children, and pursues the wellbeing of both, because Both Lives Matter.
Dawn McAvoy,
Northern Ireland Evangelical Alliance

CULTURE

Cultural diversity is a part of the richness of following Christ. It comes with its own challenges.
For many years the variety of South Asian churches in the UK spent their time 'minding their own business'. South Asian churches in the UK are often made up of different languages as well as religious and cultural backgrounds. Loyalty to traditions, culture and politics of the homeland may be hard to understand from the Western perspective. But for us Asians our past and our future are not so compartmentalised.
One of the most satisfying roles of South Asian Forum (SAF) is to bring all the South Asian Church leaders together. South Asian family holds the highest cultural precedence. Gathering at the Evangelical Alliance means differences of language, culture and politics are not just put aside, but overcome for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Practising being one body, unified by Jesus goes beyond leaders' meetings, but is rippling through the community as leaders model unity amongst themselves as well as teach it and live it in their churches.
This year the SAF is dedicated to promoting, encouraging and leading the way for unity amongst the South Asian churches by organising gatherings to celebrate Jesus together so that we can make him known.
Usha Reifsnider,
South Asian Forum

COMMUNITY

It was never going to be an easy to reconcile the frustration felt by members of Mark Duggan's family, his friends and the wider community following his death, with the official position of the police and statutory sector. Initial conversations with the police didn't quite get the response I had hoped for, which was a meeting with the family and community to avert a crisis. Then came the riots, which went way beyond anyone's wildest expectations - like a wild bush fire that refused to be tamed.
At the end there was carnage, distress and a total breakdown of law and order and trust, which I must admit also affected me.
Tottenham needed to regroup and demonstrate what a resilient community we were. Prayer gatherings were held on the high street and in churches as church and community members came out in their numbers to give clothes, books, toys and donations to those who lost everything when their homes and businesses were burnt down. We needed to ensure, while relating with the victims of the riots, we engaged with the frustrations of Mark Duggan's family and supported the investigations of the Independence Police Complainants Commission for which I was a member of its advisory group. Providing my church in the Tottenham Town Hall through the years for open and sometimes confrontational conversations became an absolute necessity then. The church became a hub for police and community press conferences, family meetings and mediation between aggrieved parties. The importance of remaining objective was crucial, albeit the perception was not that this was always the case. I had to remain undaunted by pressures from different quarters to express feelings that aligned with their position, but stay true to what I believed was right and would help
build the broken bridges. Today, as I look back at the many interventions I was privileged to participate in or observe, including those carried out by the clergy, family, community activists, council, IPCC, politicians and police, I realise that amidst the tensions there was always the tenacity to create a better narrative for the future. My prayer remains that as we see the power of unity, we will not only work in our preferential silos but recognise how good and pleasant it is when we come together to work for peace and unity despite the diversity that confronts our ever-changing society.
Pastor Nims Obunge,
Freedom Ark Church

CHURCH

Twenty-one years ago Rev T.M.I Sathiyaraj came as a missionary from Sri Lanka to work with the growing Tamil community fleeing civil war between Tamil and Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka, and making their home in Southall, west London.
In the ministry, the first person who came to Christ was a Sinhalese. Other believers converted from Buddhism and Hinduism and eventually Bethany Church was planted to serve people from both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The church was the first in Europe to serve both Tamil and Sinhalese people, demonstrating how the love of God and the unity of the Church can help overcome division and how God's people can worship together in harmony.
We are now serving three generations of the Sri Lankan community, from the first generation who migrated here and who are steeped in Sri Lankan culture, through to second generation who experience life as half Sri Lankan and half British, to the third generation who were born here and are fully immersed in British culture. The older generation fear losing their cultural context, but the younger generations want church to be more British. One thing all generations have in common is rice and curry!
Pastor Chrishanthy Sathiyaraj,
Bethany Faith Ministries

Are you part of a unity group that has overcome hurdles and broken down boundaries to work together? We would love to hear more about it. Tweet us @idea_mag using the hashtag #EAunity.

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