THE COUNTY LINES PSALM
The Clewer Initiative helps the Church of England to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in the community and to help provide victim support and care.
Their Lent course for 2021 is ‘Women in the Shadows’, and helps to shine a light on the suffering of marginalised women in the UK. It can be found here:
Below is my contribution to week four:
County lines is shorthand for criminal gangs who move illegal drugs from cities to provincial locations using unseen but vulnerable people carrying dedicated mobile phones. Young women are frequently used because they are not suspected, operating in the shadows; a disproportionate number are in care. In lockdown they have been more easily seen on sparsely used public transport. As the pandemic recedes and life returns, these women will blend in again. Coerced by threats of violence, their lives are fearful and precarious.
Bible passage Psalm 23
Having read this famous Psalm, consider this dark inverse:
COUNTY LINE PSALM
The gang leader is my shepherd, I shall not ask.
He makes me lie down in unheated flats;
He leads me beside needle-strewn stairwells;
He enslaves my soul.
He leads me down windswept streets
For his own profit.
As I walk down the darkest alley, I feel evil;
For he is with me;
My phone and my stash, they cling to me.
He prepares every deal for me in the presence of my enemies;
My head it drips with sweat;
My water bottle is empty.
Surely ruthlessness and cruelty shall stalk me
All the days of my life,
And I shall live in an unfurnished home
My whole short life.
What feelings do you have after reading the County Lines Psalm?
What should our intercession look like as we pray for girls and women caught up in county lines?
What are some of the darkest valleys in the UK today?
How do we help those who traverse these valleys know that God walks with them?
Psalm 23 has perhaps a greater brand recognition than any other piece of scripture and it’s not hard to see why. Its sparse words offer huge solace to fearful people. Though we try to look to others like we are not afraid, many of us live with this vulnerability. Psalm 23 is an anchor in an anxious world.
Getting in touch with nature is a way of soothing trouble, so the Psalmist’s reference to ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ quickly help. But we should be careful not to think God only meets us in nice views. There is ambiguity in Psalm 23 too, in talk of the ‘darkest valley’ and ‘the presence of my enemies’.
Many lives alternate between these realities. God comforts us, but we are soon aware of how near our enemies are encroaching and feel the need consciously to embrace his presence again. Some live only with the ever present fear of other people, who inhabit their waking moments like a shadow over their shoulders. Girls and women running county lines are frequently in the company of those who commit casual violence. Fear stalks each day.
It is not God’s will for people to endure this pain, so we have a rallying cry from heaven. Our first instinct may be to avert our eyes from suffering, but Jesus tilted into distress in his earthly life and in our prayer life he calls us to the same.
True intercessory prayer doesn’t skate over the frozen surface of others’ pain; it breaks the ice and sits in the freezing water until pain is felt. It’s the point at which intercession begins to kick in, if we have the endurance to stay the course.
Lord, you are a shepherd to those who are fearful and lost.
We pray for those who walk streets they don’t know to meet people they don’t trust.
May your goodness and mercy overtake those who are afraid of the only shadow they see, to restore souls that have been stolen.
For Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Call to action
Could we spend some time in daily prayer for the next week for those who are abused by county lines?
It’s possible some of us at the end of this time may feel called by God to a lengthier commitment. To be a voice for the voiceless.
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