|Matthew Frost, CEO of Tearfund|
|Simon Jenkins, Dave Walker, Pete Phillips, Anita|
I spent the day in the Tearfund offices in Teddington, near London (invited as part of their first Bloggers Day) and met several other bloggers and digital media people whose work I knew—Richard Littledale, the blogger; Simon Jenkins, the editor of the wonderfully irreverent Ship of Fools(check out what they say about your church; or, on second thoughts, perhaps you better not); Dave Walker, artist of the hilarious churchy cartoons for The Church Times; Pete Phillips who teaches theology at Durham, Liz Clutterbuck, etc.
I knew very little about Tearfund’s work, and am always eager to understand more about the causes and solutions of poverty—and I am glad I went.
Matthew Frost, the CEO of Tearfund spoke grippingly for a couple of hours on Tearfund’s work. (Read Matthew’s take on the Real Hunger Games.)
He used a story of “Tom and Margaret” from Uganda who were converted, and thereby gained hope. They were particularly struck by the feeding of the 5000. They worked in a quarry for six months, and saved money. They bought chickens, sold the meat and eggs, bred them; and then bought goats with the proceeds. Sold milk and meat, bred them, and bought citrus trees with the proceeds.
All this with the help of the local church supported by Tearfund.
Matthew felt that the key to their transformation was that the gospel offered them hope.
* * *
This is a familiar rags to riches romance. Why doesn’t it happen elsewhere in Africa, and the fourth world? I remember asking my friends who worked with desperately poor people in Mozambique and Sierra Leone about whether the poor could grow tomatoes in pots; keep laying hens. No, she said, deferring gratification would be too hard. It would be too tempting to have chicken for dinner.
So interestingly, the way Tom and Margaret broke out of the cycle of poverty was the way Dickens recommends as the surest means to happiness, and the idea at the heart of Rob Parson’s simple but practical book, “The Debt Trap.” “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”Somehow or the other, consume just a little bit less than you earn. Somehow or the other, save just a little bit every month. Eventually invest it in capital goods (which help you earn more) or in income-producing investments.
* * *
I sat next to the dynamic young Jay Butcher at lunch. Jay was converted in his final undergraduate year. He was to be an aeronautical engineer. Well, Jesus wrecked that!
He interned for a church after graduating, read the Old Testament, and heard the scalding, uncomfortable call in Amos and Micah for compassion on the poor. He worked with a Human Rights organisation for a couple of years, and then joined Tearfund.
He’s a passionate and charming Campaigns Officer—and learnt all his skills on the job!! He’s working on the Unearth the Truth campaign now, which is lobbying the EU for full transparent disclosure of transactions of multinationals in Africa. £3000 is lost every second due to corruption. It simply vanishes. Africa is very rich in natural resources, and the sales of its natural resources—gold, oil, diamonds, mining rights, land—brings it 9 times the aid it receives. However this money largely vanishes into the pockets of the corrupt, or into private Swiss bank accounts. Corruption is possibly Africa’s largest problem. (And so you can see how non-taxable enterprise—the hens, goats, garden model might well offer hope to her people.)
The Tearfund staff seemed happy and charming. I would have imagined that people who see poverty, corruption and injustice on a daily basis would become bitter and angry. (Well, I fear I would!) But perhaps, like “Tom and Margaret,” they have hope. Campaigns do work eventually, Jay said, perhaps not as thoroughly as campaigners wish, but they do work, incrementally.
Matthew Frost said, “Prayer is the most significant development intervention there is.” And that brings hope to Uganda, and hope to London!