Reflection for Christian Aid Sunday
Rev Simon Walkling
Reading ~ Amos 5 18-24
We are coming to the end of Christian Aid Week. We haven’t been out door to door collecting to fill envelopes, but people have walked up mountains and filled their pockets with rain. We haven’t gathered for an ecumenical service in church, but Ray has encouraged us to count our blessings as part of the challenge to do 75 things to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Christian Aid.
Christian Aid was started by the UK churches to help people displaced by the Second World War and the news this week has reminded us that refugees still need our help. Down the years Christian Aid has responded to emergencies, and now in partnership with other charities in the Disasters Emergency Committee we are encouraged to respond to the COVID crisis in India. Through all that time Christian Aid have been our conscience, holding up a picture of the reality of our world, but also a channel through which we can direct our concern and hope.
Anniversaries prompt us to think about our memories, but they are also milestones along the way that make us think about our direction of travel. So, I have been thinking about the part Christian Aid has played in my life, in the development of my faith and in watering my sense of justice and fairness to help it grow. As our reading reminded us, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’ That was the song of Amos the prophet eight centuries before Jesus, Christian Aid helps us to hear the song of prophets today.
My first experience of Christian Aid was probably doing sponsored walks. It may have been linked to the Biafra crisis, I’m not sure. Maybe you walked too. The logo was a world with a person in need. In my teenage years when I was copying a couple of friends in a ‘mod’ phase, Christian Aid produced a range of pin badges, and it was those I had on my parka. At that time I remember going to workshops run by Christian Aid, where we were split into groups with a case study about growing pineapples in the Philippines, with some people as the growers, some the people whose forest was cut down to make space, some the displaced people collecting rubbish to sell from ‘smokey mountain’, the dump outside Manilla, to get a few coins to buy food, and some the company that canned the pineapple. It was then I woke up to what I would like to say to the Man from Del Monté.
My first experience leading public worship on my own was a year assembly during Christian Aid Week. The slogan on the poster was ‘It’s amazing what you can get out of a can these days’ with a picture of a collecting tin with all sorts of development projects coming out of it. It was linked to 2 Corinthians 9 – God loves a cheerful giver. During the 80’s there was a strong sense that Christian Aid was about ‘undesignated giving’: that when you gave a gift you shouldn’t want to determine how or where it was used. It was to go where it was needed and would be most useful. We were moving away from paternalistic doing good, to working with partners to support them in developing themselves.
Over the last twenty years, that has become more nuanced. The publicity has been less about statistics and more about focusing on people’s personal stories. There has been a recognition that people want to have a sense of what their money will achieve, and the ‘present aid’ scheme has been popular, knowing that you are buying a bike for a rural nurse in India, or ducks for a family in Africa, or cocoa saplings for Central America. I remember some of the ways that supporting Christian Aid has caught our imagination as a church: paying for a well or buying cows to empower women.
Even so, you will notice that Christian Aid does not rely on crying children to prompt people to give. It’s only when you know this that you notice how many other charities do this. The Christian Aid adverts and publicity rely on representing people’s lives with their challenges and resilience, their sadness and their singing, and their smiles. Christian Aid works by showing the positive difference giving makes. ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’
Still Christian Aid works with and through partner organisations. Learning from them is as important as our giving to them. That’s why the denominations of which we are part have developed quinquennial appeals and Commitment4Life. That’s one of the reasons why the priority at the moment is to campaign about climate change. It is true that it is an important issue in our world given a high profile by Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough. It is true that it is an opportune time with the Climate Change Conference Of the Parties meeting in Glasgow this autumn. But it is also true that the Christian Aid partner organisations in different parts of the world are saying that this is what is important to them and having most impact on their lives. When we were involved with the Jubilee 2000 campaign, the cry was, ‘It’s not about when are you going to give more, but when are you going to take less.’ Now it’s about when industrialised nations are going to stop ruining the planet for the poorest people who hardly have a carbon footprint. Our thinking about being an Eco Church isn’t just an agenda item or a project, it’s part of developing a sustainable way of life.
I remember visiting a Christian Aid partner in El Salvador, UNES, an environmental project, where the director said that 40 years ago El Salvador had one severe storm per decade, now they had more than one a year, with relentless rains that wash away millions of dollars’ worth of property and opportunities. I am thankful to have faces to go with the issues, but Christian Aid Week this year focuses on someone from another part of the world, whose life is being affected by climate change in a different way, by the impact of drought, and we can see her face what her community has done about it: Florence in Kenya.
The logo now is like a gift label attached to a present. It is like an arrow pointing forward to a fairer future. So although we might be celebrating 75 years of Christian Aid with a certain amount of looking back, let’s also work for a fairer future, where justice shapes our giving and receiving. ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’
Prayer for Christian Aid Week
Great God, who makes the sun to rise, and opens the heavens, hear the cry of the people who sow in hope for rain, but reap only despair. Hear the cry of the people, seeking shelter from the storm, their hopes and homes submerged. Hear the cry of the people. When creation is hitting back, with rage and resistance, give us hope, grant us salvation, give us a new relationship with creation, with reverence to tend this gift from You, and say once again of the earth and all you created: ‘It is GOOD.’
(Bob Kikuyu Global Theology Advisor, Christian Aid)
Prayers for others and the world
This pattern of prayer follows the course of a river, based on a Christian Aid prayer resource, and echoes the verse from our readings.
God of possibilities,
We remember that every day, people living in poverty are battling a crisis they did not create. Those who walk miles to collect water barely have a carbon footprint to calculate.
We recognise their weariness and are weary of the suffering in the world:
God refresh us.
We want to live faithfully with each other and the rest of creation: God help us find the way to do that.
We know that climate breakdown needs action now: God help us to face up to the right things to do.
God of all creation, we long to meet with you to be refreshed and restored, by the spring of living water, by the source of all life.
In your mercy, meet with us here.
God of life, in the early stage of a river, it is full of vigour: waterfalls cascade, rapids rumble over rocks, valleys are sculpted by erosion. There is energy to be harnessed. We remember that hydro power is a good source of energy but making big dams to create hydro-electricity can flood valleys and displace people.
We pray that the voices of displaced communities may be heard and heeded as we learn how to live in harmony with nature. We pray for a rapid and just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We pray that politicians see beyond short term solutions. We pray for the right thing to be done in the right way.
Spirit of God who hovered over the waters, harness your power in us to live faithfully and in harmony with the rhythms of righteousness, for the restoration of creation and the glory of your name.
In your mercy, meet with us here.
God who combines our efforts,
We think how the river gets larger as it is joined by tributaries. The streams of water join forces to bring even greater transformation to the landscape.
The river becomes an even greater agent of change.
We think how Florence and her community in Kenya have built a different kind of dam, that stores rainwater, creating a long-lasting source of water to help the community survive the climate crisis.
A water supply has transformed their lives.
Spirit of God who connects us and equips us and bubbles up within us like a stream of living water, inspire us with the example of others and a longing for justice. In your mercy, meet with us here.
We pray for the prophets of today. We pray for courage and wisdom to lift our voices in the cause of climate justice. We pray that those most affected by climate change have the resources they need to cope with the crisis.
We think of those we know who face challenges in their lives and those who take up the challenge to care for others and our world.
Let justice roll down like a river, may righteousness flow like a never-ending stream and may the joy of creation fill us anew as we pray, act and give for the restoration of creation and the flourishing of all people. God, in your mercy, meet with us here, Amen.
Followed by the Lord’s Prayer