Feed the World

I’m just back from Tesco where the range and choice of food available is quite amazing. I am still living with images of hungry Ethiopian people imprinted on my mind and how so many millions are living in a state of food insecurity. We really are part of the rich and over-fed minority in our world.

A report on today’s BBC website, and which will be highlighted in Newsnight, points to an imminent crisis with regard to food production and the moves that many nations, including the UK, are making in order to protect food supplies in the future. One British company is leasing huge areas of land in Ukraine from which it hopes to harvest 60,000 tonnes of wheat. Arab nations have land in Africa and China is in Cambodia. This new-style colonialism has massive implications for the local farmers and landowners, and the idea of rich nations taking land in under-developed countries is highly questionable. But this report points out that if the predictions about a global food shortage prove correct, the balance of the ethical argument may shift. Continue reading “Feed the World”

An Ashes Day Out

George and me at The Oval

I fulfilled a boyhood ambition yesterday when I attended the final Test match of this current Ashes series between England and Australia at the Kennington Oval in London, now known as the Brit Oval. (It’s important to be precise because I mentioned to a friend that I was looking forward to going to the Oval on Saturday and they said, “I didn’t know that you were a Glens supporter”!) It was a very special day out for me, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks to my good friend, George, who made it all possible.

The rivalry between England and Australia for the Ashes is well-documented as two teams battle it out for what is simultaneously the biggest prize in cricket and the smallest trophy. It all goes back to 1882 when the Ashes urn had its origins. In that year, England lost to Australia by seven runs and the result enveloped the nation in such gloom that a mock obituary of English cricket was published in the Sporting Times. It was the birth of the Ashes.

Peter Siddle does "the teapot" at fine leg
Peter Siddle does "the teapot" at fine leg

Everyone has their favourite Ashes moment. The Ashes series was in 1981 is a favourite of mine when Ian Botham’s batting and bowling were more Australian than the Australians. It was also unforgettable because it was the summer my first daughter was born. Many will remember Shane Warne’s first ball which bowled Mike Gatting in 1993 or Kevin Pietersens’s century at the Oval in 2005 to clinch the draw for England. It has always been a great encounter.

What I loved about yesterday was not only England’s domination of the Australian bowling and Jonathan Trott’s century as a debutante, but the fact that it all took place in the most pleasant temperature and with long sunny spells. It was idyllic. The banter from the crowd was good-humoured, especially when an Australian fielder came down to our section of the boundary rope. It was a great day out.

Urban Mission-Ethiopian style

Simon Haile
Simon Haile

Simon Haile is the head of Kale Heywet Church’s department which encourages congregations to become more missional, its Church and Community Mobilisation for Development department (CCMD). The Kale Heywet Church was originally established in southern Ethiopia in the early 1920s following the pioneering missionary work of the former Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). The church now has a membership of over 6 million people and more than 6,000 congregations.

From the moment we met, it was clear that Simon understood the issues involved in moving churches from maintenance to mission, and especially in helping them understand their calling to be salt and light in their local community.

Simon and his colleagues have developed a well-organised programme that begins with raising the awareness of the need for mission within a local congregation, and then proceeds to envision both the leaders and members of a local church so that they can work to transform their local community. All of this is underpinned by a commitment to a few basic biblical concepts such as Christ’s call to add flavour to a tasteless society by being salt, and to challenge and drive back the darkness of society by being light. Simon also talked about “yeast theology” whereby the church, although small in number, is a catalyst for transformation.

Of the twenty-eight Kale Heywet congregations in Addis Ababa, nine are committed to the programme developed by CCMD. The particular challenge is to move the people from a mindset of dependency to one where they embrace the challenge of making a difference through their own efforts depending on the grace and strength of Christ.

In the local congregation of Mekinessa, they have taken up the challenge, and altogether 100 people in their neighbourhood have been organised into self-help groups (SHG). The facilitators of each group began by encouraging the members to save a small amount of money each week (about 5 pence). Some members were unsure that they could even make this contribution, but they were shown that by cutting down on their coffee consumption by one cup per day they could save that amount.

One woman told us that her husband was unemployed and she had no job, and they were drinking coffee four times a day. But by cutting down on her coffee, she had a little money to save , was able to join the SHG, and was eventually able to borrow from her SHG’s fund. With that loan she bought some goods which she sold in the local market for a small profit. Soon the message got around that if you join the SHG you won’t be poor nor will you have to use the loansharks who chargeĀ  huge interest rates.

Some have borrowed money to buy the raw materials for handcrafts, while others have sold charcoal and vegetables, and some have baked and sold injeera, the local bread.

Thhuy making injeera with her SHG facilitator

We visited in the home of Thhuy, a member of one of the SHGs, who borrowed some money so that she would have the stove for baking injeera. She is now able to earn some money for her family through this small enterprise and with the support of her SHG.

In this way, the Mekinessa church believe that they are modeling Christ in their corporate life, and it has created “street cred” for their work and mission. Local people have told them, “Your God is the real God” because of their willingness to demonstrate a compassion for people who have struggled to survive as they have battled against poverty. They believe that by showing the love of Christ, not only will the lives of individuals be changed, but the whole community will improve. Their vision is to see the whole community transformed.

Some time ago I asked the question “What is a missional church?” I believe that Simon Haile and his colleagues in KHC have an understanding of what it means for them to be missional in their situation. There is scope here for a longer conversation so that we in Ireland have a clearer picture of what it means for us to be missional. Simon and his colleagues have given us some clues as to how we might proceed.

The complexity of being compassionate

As we sat in the airport lounge in Heathrow waiting for our connecting flight back to Belfast from Addis Ababa, Patricia was flicking through the current edition (September 2009) of House and Garden. She pointed out a new labour-saving feature in a modern kitchen-a pot-filler tap over the hob so that saucepans and pots can be filled with water without being carried to the sink. It comes in polished chrome or matt platinum and retails at a mere 1,o35 pounds.

A few hours previously we had stood among a crowd of people who had traveled several hours with their jerry cans to a tap beside a road, and who faced a long wait before their cans could be filled with water. Then they had the long walk home again with their water. Given that context, it seemed decadent, if not immoral, that modern gadgets in the West mean that one does not have to take even two or three steps between hob and sink in order to fill a pot.

While we see the discrepancy and the injustice so clearly, we have also come to see that the task of bringing food to the hungry and water to the thirsty is not an easy one. For one thing, it is incredibly hard to decide who gets the food and water, and to manage its distribution in a fair and just way. It requires careful assessment of needs and intelligent management of the resources. But in all the projects we visited, we were encouraged to see that these issues were being addressed by capable and intelligent people, and were being carefully monitored. Continue reading “The complexity of being compassionate”

Telele’s Story

teleleWe met Telele at a water tap beside a dusty road in southern Ethiopia.

She is a fifteen year old girl with a big smile and beautiful eyes.

There were probably around a hundred people waiting in line with their twenty five litre jerry cans arranged in order to get them filled. The vast majority were girls and young women. And standing nearby were almost twice that number of donkeys.

We asked Telele how far she had travelled to get to the water tap. She said that it took her and her donkey three hours to walk there from her home. Sometimes the queue at the water tap is so long that she has to wait for four hours before she can get her cans filled. Then it is another three hours to walk home again.

But this is much better than it used to be. She used to have to walk for half a day to collect dirty water for her family. This water is clean and it is closer to her home.

Telele has to come to the water tap every other day in order to get her family’s water. That means that she can only go to school every other day, or, if she gets up very early in the morning, she can be back home in time to do some studying in the evening. So far she has reached Grade Seven.

This remarkable young woman was only one of dozens around that one water point. The whole region of southern Ethiopia remains drought- stricken and getting water to drink and to water their animals is the basic priority for every family.

Christian Aid is supporting a number of very large water projects in this area and the difference it is making is remarkable, especially in the lives of people like Telele and her family.

Two things struck me as I stood with Telele and the crowd of young people at the water tap. Firstly, I remembered Jesus’ words about giving a cup of cold water in his name. This work of Christian Aid is an appropriate extension of that command of Christ.

Secondly we asked Telele about her future. She said that she wanted to become a teacher. In the midst of a desperate situation, Telele has hope. That is the difference that such gospel-inspired action makes in the lives of ordinary, poor people.