Week of December 7 – Advent Two (International Human Rights Day, December 10)

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Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"

See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. 

PWRDF Story – A Voice Cries in the Wilderness – Human Rights Advocacy in Dangerous Times, based on interview with Prof. Stephen Toope, President, University of British Columbia, August 2011, by Suzanne Rumsey

As we mark International Human Rights Day we remember that throughout its 55-year history PWRDF has understood its work to be both framed and cross-cut by a holistic understanding of human rights – civil and political, social, economic and cultural, and environmental. This has brought it into Canadian and international, secular and ecumenical partnerships and initiatives that have directly confronted human rights abuses. In so doing it has been a “voice in the wilderness” and an advocate with and for those living in dangerous times.

During a sabbatical in 2011, I had the opportunity to interview Prof. Stephen Toope, President of the University of British Columbia. A law professor and human rights and international law expert, Stephen served on the PWRDF Committee as a member from 1989 to 1994, and was chair from 1995 to 1998. He described his nine years of service as a “wonderful experience, one of the more formative of my life” and “hugely important” in the work he went on to do both in the academic and international human rights fields.
Stephen recounted that through [former PWRDF Director] Robin Gibson’s work as Asia-Pacific Coordinator, PWRDF developed deep partnerships in war-torn Sri Lanka. As a result of this engagement, Robin had Stephen invited to a consultation in Thailand that brought together Tamils and Sinhalese to discuss ways in which the international community could support peace building and human rights initiatives in their homeland. Out of this consultation a joint Canadian civil society and parliamentary/government delegation to Sri Lanka was organized in 1992 with Robin acting as coordinator. Stephen was among three civil society representatives and Members of Parliament representing the Liberals, NDP and governing Progressive Conservatives also participated.
Stephen explained that because the Canadian government was represented, it was much more difficult for the Sri Lankan government to deny access to the country, to its people and to conflict regions. And the Canadian government had to assist the delegation. At the same time given the presence of civil society representatives, the delegation was less bound by protocol. All this affirmed that the “model” of the delegation was a good one and that it was possible for civil society and government to collaborate effectively. The delegation had unprecedented access and a powerful voice and the report, which was carefully drafted, served as a principal advocacy tool that is relevant and important to this day.

Stephen also noted that the experience gained and connections made through the delegation served him well when, a decade later, he became chair of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

For Reflection

For Advent the four national leaders of the Anglican/Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches in Canada and the United States have each written a devotion on one of its four Sundays. In her reflection for Advent Two, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. writes, “Patience in this season of waiting is not just about putting up with delay, but having deep compassion for all who wait for justice, healing, and peace. It is about solidarity, and suffering with (which is the literal meaning of compassion). And she offers these questions for reflection: “In this season of patience, what suffering claims your heart? What do you wait for, in solidarity with another? Will you join in building that road through the wild and fearsome darkness?”

Closing Prayer

We believe in one God, Author of life,

Creator of the universe.

We believe in the Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord,

who came into the world to seek the lost

and to redeem the whole creation.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life,

who leads us to all truth, renewing us

and enabling us to grow in the likeness of Christ.

We affirm that the church and all its members, especially the young,

have a mission for today: to proclaim the Good News, and to

work with those who struggle to see justice and freedom won

by the people in our communities.

We affirm the dignity of all who live in the world, and the basic

right of every human being to develop as a child of God, for

whom Christ has given himself in love.

Our hope is in Jesus Christ, the bearer of truth, whose purposes are

fulfilled through God’s people.

National Christian Council India Sub-Unit on Youth, published in “Your Will Be Done,” CCA Youth, Christian Conference of Asia, Singapore, 1984

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