Crisis in Iraq - five things you can ACTUALLY do to help
A few weeks ago, I changed my social media profile photo. Like many others, I was responding to the awful situation in Mosul, Iraq, where my fellow Christians are reportedly being forced to convert to Islam, or otherwise being threatened with execution. It was a vague attempt to do something - anything - to help. I was standing in solidarity, if nothing else, and hopefully encouraging others to do the same.
The trouble of standing in solidarity however, is that when it's done from being a laptop screen in a cosy branch of Costa Coffee, it achieves pretty much nothing.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the situation is worse than ever. I don't need to recount here the horrible stories of forced conversions, people starving up mountains and beheaded children.
Here's the thing: we can't stand by while this happens. We just can't. If we call ourselves Christians - or even just human beings - we have to care enough to put down whatever we're doing and take a few minutes to engage.
So what, practically, can we do? I've spent a little while thinking, praying and asking others about that question, and here is a start.
1) Pray - in informed and specific ways
Prayer changes situations. It really does - just look at the unexpected release of Meriam Ibrahim. If you're anything like me however, you might find praying for situations in entire cities and nations difficult. Specifics helps us to focus and sustain our prayers, and we understand the specific needs by reading up on the facts. Canon Andrew White (the 'Vicar of Baghdad') has written an insightful post which provides a useful place to start.
In addition, various leaders have produced helpful prayers which can aid our own commitment to pray. Here's one example from the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.
2) Give - to organisations working directly on the ground
There ARE humanitarian and persecuted church organisations working right now on the ground to alleviate suffering. They urgently need our support. And the truth is, I tend to gloss over when I read something like this, because we're all suffering from online fundraising ask fatigue. So in a one-off contravention of biblical teaching on giving (Matthew 6:3-4), I'm going to stop writing this article, make a donation, and then come back.
Right, I've done it. Now over to you. Christian Aid and Open Doors are both raising funds to help.
3) Write to your MP. ACTUALLY DO THIS NOW.
Let's be honest - this is the sort of thing we always suggest, but never get around to. Perhaps that's due to our lack of faith in the political process - but it does work: if an MP hears a concern from a constituent he or she is duty-bound to consider it. If they receive a (virtual) sackful of mail, they absolutely can't ignore it. If Christians all took a few moments to do this, we'd have every MP in Westminster singing from the same hymn-sheet.
This is now really easy. This site will take your postcode and give you a list of the councillors, MP and MEPs that represent you and an easy way to contact them. Go there now!
4) Sign a petition
Another way to practically influence the political mood - and subsequent action - is by signing online petitions. Take a few moments to sign this now. If you're resident in the USA, there's a great petition to the White House going strong here.
5) Raise awareness on social media
Finally, the truth is that engaging with this issue on social media does work. Because others did so, I found out about it; because I changed my profile photo in 'solidarity', I ended up pacing around my room searching for practical ways to help. Please don't let it be all you do, but why not join those of us who are making a public display of support? You might want to upload this image to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and you might want to share this article, and others like it, with your friends and followers.
In 2014 it's getting easier to fall into the traps of clicktivism and compassion fatigue. Let's not do that. Please, choose something from the list above, and do what you can to help. Please, do something.
Martin Saunders is an author, screenwriter and creative director at Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter.