Songbirds in Cyprus

In the early summer of 2017, I was praying and I said to God, “I usually ask you for things. Is there anything on your mind that you would like me to pray for.” I barely had this question formulated when I had the thought, “Songbirds in Cyprus.”

This meant nothing to me and I found myself saying to God, “I was being serious and I was hoping you would be serious with me but this does not appear to be serious and it has no meaning; it’s irrational.”

However I had asked God a question and that is what came to me, so I hesitatingly decided to check it out online. I typed in “Songbirds in Cyprus”.

I immediately discovered the following: Songbirds migrate from Europe down to Africa every year and they go by way of Cyprus which is their stop off point crossing the Mediterranean Sea. They don’t usually go to the lights of the city but are rather drawn to groves of trees. There is a large British military base on Cypress that has large groves of trees which are especially attractive to the songbirds.

It so happens that songbirds are considered a delicacy to many of the people of Cyprus. They call the songbird delicacy, ambelopoulia. Even though it is illegal, many people enjoy eating the songbirds. A songbird can cost five dollars a bird. Criminal gangs have learned that they can make a large amount of money by capturing and selling the songbirds to restaurants. So they set up traps in these groves of trees: nets and glue sticks. (If you go on YouTube and type in Songbirds in Cypress”, you will see videos of helpless songbirds trapped on glue sticks placed on the trees on the British base.)

The criminal gangs make millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of songbirds are killed each year. The authorities in Cyprus have been halfhearted in enforcing the laws because there is such a cultural appetite for the ambelopoulia. One authority bragged that he had sent his child to Harvard with the money he gained through this illegal trade.

Activists have been concerned that certain species of songbirds could be eliminated because of this massive slaughter. But in spite of protesting and activism they have been helpless to significantly change the practice. As of the time of my call to prayer in early summer 2017, nothing had worked and there was a a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the air.

I took all this as a real indication that God was calling me to to pray for the songbirds in Cyprus. So I began to pray for the song birds in Cyprus. I prayed dutifully and occasionally and without a lot of passion. I sometimes tried to visualize what an answer to my prayer would look like, but I did not see how the culture could change or how the authorities would really tighten the legal system. So I simply had to pray in faith that God would somehow intervene and make a difference to save the songbirds.

I actually spent more time pondering why God would have given me such an assignment. I had the following thoughts:
1. God does care for the birds which He created and called “good”. And He cares even more for us humans.
2. If he cares for birds trapped on glue sticks, he cares even more for human beings trapped on the glue sticks of addiction, chronic despair and dysfunctional and sinful living.
3. Asking me to pray for songbirds in Cyprus was such an unexpected, even irrational request, that maybe He’s saying to me, “If I can ask you to do that, I can ask you to do other things that seem irrational such as starting a missionary training school in Paraguay. “
4. But maybe the meaning of the “songbirds in Cyprus” assignment is very simple and straightforward. Maybe God is saying, “Can I trust you with a simple task or will you take it lightly. If I can trust you with simple things, then I will give you more difficult things to pray for.”
A year later

In July 2018, a year after my initial prayer assignment, it again came to my mind to pray for the songbirds in Cyprus. As I was praying, I thought, “Maybe I should check to see whether my prayers have been answered.”
So I went online and discovered an article just published in a nature magazine at the end of June 2018. This article reported that a new commander had been installed at the British military base in Cyprus. When he first took his job, he was impressed with the amount of mail in his inbox imploring him to do something about the slaughter of the songbirds in Cyprus. He decided to mount a strategic campaign to deal with the issue.

He systematically began to dismantle the equipment and systems used by the criminals to lure and capture the songbirds including the glue sticks and netting. This involved giving a show of force in that the criminals were armed and on several occasions there was potential violence but no one was killed or seriously injured.

This campaign of the commander would have started around the time that I began to pray for the songbirds in Cyprus. The commander was now reporting at the end of his first year of office on the results of his strategic campaign. He reported that there was a reduction of 72% in the slaughter of songbirds in the preceding year. What a successful outcome!

My reflections:

1. Wow, God does respond to
intercessory prayer. Praise God, my
prayers were answered!
2. Someone could say that I am being presumptuous to think that my prayers caused this outcome. All I know is that I sensed a call to pray for songbirds in Cyprus. I prayed and a year later events had dramatically changed. My faith was strengthened to believe that God answers prayer.
3. It continues to stagger my imagination
that the sovereign Lord of the universe
would invite us to participate
in His rule on this earth through our
intercessory prayers.
4. God must’ve meant it when he said, “I’m giving you authority on the earth.” He then respects us and that authority and waits for us to invite him to participate in actions on earth. Psalm 8 says he placed animals and birds and fish of the sea under our authority. What an amazing responsibility we have!
5. As we show ourselves faithful in small intercessory assignments, He gives us larger assignments.
6. Do not despise the small assignment that was given to you by an all wise creator who delights to hear our invitation for Him to participate with us in small things and large things.
7. If God responded to my occasional, dutiful intercession for songbirds in Cyprus, how much more will he respond to our passionate, persevering prayers? Yes, “The effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much.” James 5:16
8. We are often focused on the apparent centers of power in our earth such as the White House or the media or the wealthy. But God is focused on what is happening in the centers of power in our intercessory prayer closet for that is the “center of power” which most has His attention.
9. Lord, forgive me for worrying about problems in my personal life and problems among the nations. You have invited us to bring all problems great and small before you. And you promised to answer beyond what we can ask or imagine! Blessed be your name!
10. I renew my commitment to make prayer the first option even before worry, gossip, handwringing and well-intended activism.

Note about photo: A man tries to free a bird caught on a stick. Photograph: Petros Karadjias/AP

Grandpa 21

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