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LET US PRAY

"Pray for London." "Pray for Madrid." "Pray for Paris." It seems "Pray for such-and-such a place" is increasingly becoming the catchphrase in modern times, especially following acts of terror or natural disasters. We rally around these catchphrases and calls for prayer and even use them as our profile pictures in our social media pages. It's the "in thing." But do we really believe in what we're calling for? And why do we often only want to pray when we're in trouble?

Does prayer work? I mean really work?

You bet it does!

But saying that does not mean that prayers are the spiritual equivalent of coins which we place in a Divine vending machine and that if we put the right ones in, in the proper sequence, we will automatically be granted whatever it is we ask for, especially in tough times. That would be magic or manipulation, not prayer.

Atheists are often very aggressive when it comes to attacking Christianity, and one of the topics they often criticize is prayer. Since they believe (deny, lack belief, etc.,) that there is no God, therefore prayer cannot work – no matter what is said. The problem is that atheists who attack Christianity regarding prayer have three major problems. First, they need to deal with their own false assumptions that constrain their objectivity. Second, how would they judge if prayer works. Third, they don't understand how prayer works.

In the first case, atheists can only assume that God does not exist. They cannot know for sure that God does not exist because it is not possible to know all arguments and evidences for and against God's existence – which means there could be arguments and evidences they have not yet heard. So, ultimately, his position is held by faith–even if he wants to say it is an informed "faith."

Once his belief is in place, all evidence and arguments for God must be filtered through that paradigm. Prayer, then, could not possibly work because it would mean that God existed.

Second, how would atheists judge whether or not prayer works? Do they want repeatable experiments and regular quantifiable data so that the efficacy of prayer can be tested and measured? That would be a problem. If prayer "A" resulted in effect "B," then we would see a correspondence of prayer and result – something the atheist could see and verify. But if this were the case, such a phenomena would not be a demonstration that God exists. Instead, it would be a demonstration that uttering certain words in certain patterns brings certain results.  This would imply that a new property of the universe has been discovered, and that by saying certain words certain results occur. This would not demonstrate that God exists. Besides, we call this phenomena sorcery.

Third, prayer doesn't work the way the atheists imply it should. Biblically speaking, prayer is offered to a Living Being who, according to Christianity, works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and not ours. God, like any rational being, may or may not answer a request from someone. Think about this: if my child asks me for ice cream and I don't want to give it to her, does it mean I don't exist, or that her asking me for things doesn't work? Of course not.

That doesn't stop the atheist from citing "studies" where the efficacy of prayer is measured and found to be useless – according to them. But that is what you'd expect if God, in his infinite wisdom, refused to be quantified by those who deny him and want him, essentially, to perform parlor tricks by responding to prayers in such a regular and man-centered manner so that his "performance" (and prayer's efficacy) can be measured. In other words, atheists, who deny God, want God to do what they want him to do, so they can be convinced. But God doesn't submit to his creation – especially to those who deny him.

But still, does prayer work? Yes it does. I've experienced profound answers many times. But, of course, if I were to offer my experiences and answered prayers, the atheist would say it's too subjective and not quantifiable. Therefore, they would reject it. So we are at an impasse. The atheist requirement of observation, testability, etc., can't affirm or deny prayer's efficacy. So, it isn't possible to win with the atheist when he sets up a criteria that is impossible to satisfy and especially when all answers have to be filtered through his atheistic worldview which requires that prayer will not work.

The atheist, in my opinion, has arrogantly challenged God by viewing non-answered prayer as evidence that He does not exist. The Bible says that God hides himself from the proud (James 4:6). So according to Scripture, atheists cannot and will not see that prayer works, and they will continue to deny God and elevate their own sense of truth and reality.

I believe in a personal God – one who listens to my prayers, especially when those I love are suffering, when I am at a loss, or when things seem so dark in the world that there is no other response that makes any sense. I pray to that God and hope that I do get what I want, but we all know that’s not exactly how it works. I wish it were that easy.

The one or ones to whom any of us pray, and for the purposes of my question it makes no difference who that one or ones is or what name they are called, is not a vending machine which is manipulated by the user in order to obtain goodies – even very serious and totally appropriate ones. And if one can only appreciate the efficacy of prayer in those terms, then I take back my initial assertion about prayer working.

For example, and contrary to what some people believe, there is no reliable evidence to support the notion that prayers offered on behalf of sick people make them any healthier than those for whom nobody has prayed. In fact, the studies which purported to prove that kind of efficacy for prayer, have all been debunked. But that does NOT mean that prayer doesn’t work. I'm only presenting this from purported "scientific" studies. We need not assume that prayer is working only when it gets us the end result we seek. Observations and studies aside, the Bible commands believers to pray for the sick and promises them that such prayers will result in the sick being healed. To be fair, Jesus in fact commands to HEAL the sick, not PRAY FOR the sick. Maybe that's why most sick people have stayed sick even after prayer! They didn't require prayer but healing. But that's a subject for another day.

But if I, or any other believer, know that our prayers won’t get us what we want, at least not in any direct way, why bother? Because, and I mean this quite seriously, as the Rollings Stones sang, "you can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just may find, you get what you need." Well, maybe not in the ultimate sense — that’s up to God, the individual, or some combination of the two, depending on your belief system, to confirm or deny. But we can find more than we often imagine of that which we need to get through the tough stuff, and prayer is a wonderful way of doing so. For that there IS evidence.

Prayer works amazingly well at providing some of the most important things we need especially at life’s most difficult moments – it takes us beyond ourselves, it connects us, battles loneliness, focuses attention on that for which we hope, and so much more. I think that’s why the impulse to pray transcends pretty much any religious and theological categories that exist and over which people battle. People can argue about the existence of God, which religion(s) are true and which are false, etc. but the desire to prayer is bigger and deeper than all of that. It's why, I think, according to the Bible, spontaneous prayer is with us from the very beginning of the human story, though formal liturgies take millennia to emerge.

Having been sick myself and having shared sickness and so many other difficult moments with countless others, having prayed for others and having asked others to pray for me and those I love, I know two things: first, that there is no way to prove that prayer directly effects or creates the outcomes we may seek and second, that prayer is a profound source of strength and clarity which enable us to achieve those outcomes or to deal with the fact that we may fail to achieve them.

The first premise is from a non-faith, philosophical perspective. It's based on scientific deduction. The second premise is from a faith perspective. And that's my main interest area. The prayer of faith works, manifestly so. There are millions of people the world over so can attest to its efficacy. There are people who have miraculously recovered from terminal and incurable illnesses after prayer.

In my experience, prayer works not as a manipulation of God, but as an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves and to experience the reality that we are not alone, no matter how much we may feel that we are at any given moment. And there is plenty of evidence for the material benefit of overcoming loneliness and alienation, restoring a sense of hope, and reminding ourselves that there are sources of strength upon which can always draw – whether they are located within us, within those who care about us, or within the God in whom we believe. So yes, prayer works.

I've seen it work. It's working for me daily. In fact, where I currently am in life and the man that I am today is owing to prayer, my own prayers and countless people who have prayed and are praying for me. While I respect the man who doesn't believe in the power of prayer, I pity such a man. He is the poorer for it. Prayer works.

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.

The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.

The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.

Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.

We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.

More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.

The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the  market.

Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.

We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us  succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?

Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?

Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?

They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?

What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?

They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?

We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?

To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?

Batswana must be made aware that the  end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.

For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with  the arduous imperative of  analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.

Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.

Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the  mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute  in Botswana is overdue.

If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.

Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.

Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are
Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication

Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.

Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.

Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.

The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.

So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.

The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.

We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.

They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.

As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.

Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme.  
WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.

As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.

I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.

I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?

Counting the cost of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.

It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.

Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.

The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.

Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.

By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.

Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org

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