Friday, April 27, 2018

As two Korean Presidents shake hands and smile warmly for the cameras, I hope that few people in the world will be fooled into believing that the malign regime in North Korea has really changed. Recalling Prime minister Chamberlain waving his useless "Peace in our time" document at the airport upon his return from appeasing Adolf Hitler in 1939, I pray that the coming months will not witness a similar descent into chaos and war. I am by nature an optimist, but I can't help sharing the feeling expressed by the BBC's journalist on today's news who said that we have been here before and that nothing has really changed.

Today's significant events, however, do motivate me to pray for North Korea. I pray for the estimated 300,000 persecuted Christians there. These are the circumstances they have to endure:

"Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes." (Open Doors Website)

Open Doors estimates that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in North Korea's harsh labour camps; most will die there. Some have escaped to tell their stories. I have just finished reading the book A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (click to view on Amazon) which tells his own story of dreadful living conditions in North Korea and of his own amazing escape. Ishikawa is not a Christian but his book is a depressing exposure of the horrors of life in this rogue state.

Winston Churchill's comment still rings true, that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" and so we should be grateful that the spotlight is being turned onto the Korean peninsula for talks rather than for threats. Perhaps the Christians in the South, of whom there are many millions, will find ways to link up with their compatriots in the North, or at least to remember them in their desperate need. But I can't help feeling that we have not heard the last of Kim Jong-Un's belligerent posturing. Meanwhile, in the wings, waits the powerful president of the so-called 'free world' due to meet "Rocket man" in May! My goodness, if ever there was a time to pray it's now!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Suicide Capital of Britain?

Is Guernsey set to become the suicide capital of Great Britain? This headline in the UK newspaper the Daily Express, copied by others, has thrown a forthcoming debate in the island's government into the national limelight. In May the States of Guernsey will be asked by its leading minister plus six others, to decide whether Guernsey is in favour of 'assisted dying' for the terminally ill. If they prevail, and there are signs that they may, the island will set up a consultation to find ways and means to implement this momentous step, and may well lead the way in doing so within the British Isles.

One island politician, Deputy Emilie Yerby, in a blog on the issue, said "This is a very personal, emotionally fraught debate. Whatever side of the argument we are on, we need to approach it with compassion, mutual respect and honesty. People will bare their souls and confront some of their deepest fears over the coming weeks. We owe it to our community to create the kind of environment where they feel safe to do so."

Maybe not quite baring my soul, but I want to share my own perspective on this emotive issue. I do so not just as a Christian or church leader, but as a sufferer. In all my 22 years of the most appalling pain requiring around 100 admissions to hospital and over 30 surgeries I have always felt that the medics were on my side. I have often been embarrassed to be causing them so much work, and felt like a real nuisance, but they have always reassured me that they were with me in wanting to overcome this dreadful disease and keep me alive, even when that seemed so unlikely. I really do feel that my relationship with those doctors and nurses would have been changed for the worse if they were asked to become 'killers'.

Also, during the two decades I spent battling this most painful and deadly disease, if I had chosen to take a short-cut, I would have missed the amazing space-age transplant surgery that transformed my life nine months ago in Newcastle. Even now, the NHS in England is only proposing to start clinical trials into this surgery which is still not available anywhere in Europe. Medical research is constantly advancing, and short-cuts would have denied me this opportunity, even if I had wanted to take one.

I feel the utmost sadness and compassion for folk who are suffering appalling pain and life-limiting conditions. I also understand that carers and loved ones must feel desperate in the face of such circumstances and might feel that they would not even treat an animal the way their loved ones might be suffering. But we are not merely animals - we are body mind and spirit - and our lives are precious even when we might feel that all earthly hope is gone.

Please don't let us get agitated and heated over this, as Deputy Yerby advises us, but if you live in Guernsey do please engage with our States' deputies and help them to grapple with what is surely one of the toughest decisions they will have to make for a long while. And if Guernsey is a long way away from you, don't forget the words of the poet John Donne:
No man is an island entire of itself;... any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.