Rev Hilary Howarth – 20th March 2022

We have all been praying for the situation in Ukraine for the last few weeks and rightly so. For the people we see fleeing their homeland, leaving everything behind. For the lives lost. The children traumatised and the unspeakable horror we see of war. We’ve prayed for the politicians and those prepared to fight. We’ve also prayed that Putin would stop his evil campaign and bring an end to the war.

One group of people I, and others, have prayed for are the journalists who report the news for us. I am staggered night after night as I watch the BBC news and see Rita Chakrabati, Clive Myrie and Lyse Doucet, amongst others, as they report from Ukraine and Steve Rosenberg reports from inside Russia. They only represent a fraction of the journalists – and their crews reporting from inside Ukraine who have travelled from all over the world. I am in awe of their bravery and courage when they do not have to be there and could be safely in a studio somewhere in another part of the world. I was saddened to read of the deaths of the journalists who were there to report and have lost their lives so we can see and hear the news. Every time I watch Frank Gardner on the news I remember how he nearly lost his life reporting from Saudi Arabia in 2004 and what an amazing man he is.

I am impressed with the courage of the Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who held a sign up on Russian TV this week calling for the war to stop. People are concerned about what will happen to her now when new laws have just been passed that could see her go to prison for up to 15 years. What a brave young woman.

One thing that I always find amazes me is how they report the news and don’t allow it to appear to affect them. I watch images and find it hard to hold back the tears, I find it very hard to do so from the pulpit, but in front of millions of viewers they remain calm and dignified. I wonder how they carry on because surely it must affect them too? It is down to their professionalism isn’t it. Yet, when the cameras are turned off or they go home it must have an impact – they need our prayers too.

On the other side of all this bad news at the moment, yesterday we heard the wonderful news of the release from Iranian prisons of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after six years and Anoosheh Ashoori after five years. A lot of credit goes to Richard Ratcliffe who refused to be silenced and the local MP Tulip Siddiq, who worked so hard alongside him to keep her plight in the news. I was driving from a meeting when the news came on the radio that they had been released and were on their way back to the UK to be reunited with their families. The journalist announcing the news could barely speak, she was so overcome with emotion. Her voice alone made me teary – not good when driving on busy roads, but it was the news many people had been praying and hoping for a long time. Myself included. Newsreaders and journalists may read or give us the news without emotion most of the time, but it is there under the surface and occasionally it comes out – for these brave men and women, it makes them extra special.

Prayers for Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori have been answered, thank God. May our prayers for the situation in Ukraine be answered as well, and quickly before more lives are lost and may our prayers be for the brave journalists who have put their lives in danger to bring us the news.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for those who have worked so hard to bring Nazanin and Anoosheh home to their families, and we pray that they are able to rebuild their lives once again. We pray for Morad Tahbaz, who has also been released from prison but unable yet to return to the UK, we pray that it may happen quickly. We pray for the worsening situation in the Ukraine, for the government and her people and those hiding within the country, those who have fled and those left behind to fight. Lord, our prayer is also for the journalists who show great courage to bring us the news. Thank you for their resilience and bravery and we pray they may be safe day by day. Amen.