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20 December 2013

2013: The year that was.

2013: The year that was.

From the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan and the discovery of slave women in London to the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries and significant births and deaths – 2013 has been another eventful year.

The death of Nelson Mandela this month means the year has ended on a poignant note, leaving us with a strong reminder that as individuals and communities we should strive towards forgiveness, reconciliation and justice - biblical themes which are foundational to the Christian faith.

On 10 December 90 world leaders, dignitaries and faith leaders gathered together in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium along with thousands of singing and dancing mourners to bid farewell to Mandela. Among the leaders were Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro whose countries have been at loggerheads for more than 50 years. The event served as a challenge to follow in Mandela's footsteps by putting into action the values they applaud in him.

The demand for foodbanks hit a record high this year with three new food banks being launched every week, mostly by churches. The Trussell Trust runs 400 foodbanks across the UK, and reported in April that there had been a 170 per cent rise in people turning to foodbanks than in the previous 12 months.

Almost 350,000 people received at least three days' emergency food from foodbanks during that period, nearly 100,000 more than anticipated and close to triple the number helped in 2011-12. The reason for this, according to the Centre for Social Justice, is that personal debt in the UK has reached £1.4 trillion, equivalent to 90 per cent of the UK's total economic output last year. This is a wake-up call to the nation.

Marriage underwent re-definition under the watch of prime minister David Cameron this summer. The Coalition for Marriage sought to protect marriage but in July the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act passed into law. The Alliance said this was nevertheless an opportunity for Christians to continue to model marriage to society.

This year brought the appointment of Justin Welby the former Bishop of Durham, as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, an appointment widely welcomed by the Church. Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "This is a huge step forward for the Church and we hope that in the coming years, under Justin Welby's leadership, the Church of England will continue to play a vital role in the life of the nation. We are confident he will bring unity to the Church so that it can speak with one voice."

The battle for Christianity on our own shores might seem a little tame when compared with the attacks on Christians in Egypt and Pakistan during the summer.

Eighty-five Christians were killed in Peshawar, Pakistan, when a suicide bomber blew himself up after a church service. It was named as the worst attack ever on Christians in Pakistan. In Egypt, gunmen opened fire on a Coptic Christian church wedding in Cairo, killing two adults and two girls aged eight and 12. The Evangelical Alliance, Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Open Doors have joined together to form the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC). The RLC exists to raise awareness of persecution and encourage individual Christians and churches to take action on behalf of the persecuted Church worldwide.

The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall's baby George Alexander Louis in July was big news for the nation. The third in line to the throne is known as His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. In October his christening prompted a wider discussion about the meaning of the event. Archbishop Justin Welby said he hoped people would not view baptism as only for a future king or for special people. "God's love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people, in all circumstances, always," he said.

Concern about human trafficking is keener than ever. The discovery in November of three women in London who had been held in slavery for 30 years woke us up to the fact that this is happening all around us, close to home. A Malaysian woman, 69, an Irish woman, 57, and a British woman, 30, were rescued from a house in Brixton on 25 October after one of them made a call to Freedom Charity saying she had been held against her will for decades.

Typhoon Haiyan swept across parts of the Philippines in November leaving a death toll of around 6,000 with millions more affected. The world watched in horror as the disaster unfolded leaving an entire city, Tacloban, devastated and millions more affected by the destruction. The overall public response to this was markedly generous with help from major relief organisations as well as Christian charities such as Tearfund providing much–needed and ongoing intervention.