This week's blog has been written by a friend and supporter of World Development & Relief. She shares about her experiences in The Gambia, Kenya and Ireland and how God has used these times to challenge her response to poverty.
My interest in poverty alleviation cannot be pinpointed to a specific incident; my upbringing, my faith and the way God has led me, all feed into it.
As a child, growing up in County Longford, we heard stories about relatives in Sierra Leone and Myanmar (then Burma) and a family link in India. We collected for JMA and my sister and I had little enterprises to supplement this, including making craft items and selling them to family members and growing extra lettuce in my father's vegetable garden and selling it to the local grocery shop.
At the age of 13, I read a book about the war and famine in Biafra. It had a huge impact on me, and having always wanted to be a nurse I wondered if I would ever get an opportunity to nurse overseas. Years later, while nursing in Dublin, I volunteered in Christian Aid and, as I grew in Christian faith, I felt a very clear sense of God’s call overseas which led to me serving in the a clinic in The Gambia for two years. Here we saw real poverty among the wonderful folk we worked with and it was a real privilege to serve there.
A few years later, when my husband was in ministerial training, he had the opportunity to do a placement in Kenya and so we headed to Mombasa for ten weeks, with our 6 month old daughter. In many ways Kenya was more challenging because, while in The Gambia everyone was some level of poor; in Kenya, rich and poor were side by side but the gap between them was vast. These experiences stayed with me as we returned to Ireland and, as our family grew, we moved to Dublin which gave me the opportunity to get involved in Christian Aid again where I worked as a Fundraiser for several years.
My husband ministered in a dynamic, multi-ethnic church in the heart of Dublin city, which was set up with, and continues to see, part of it’s purpose being to support those in need in Dublin. Here, I had the privilege of becoming the Pastoral Care Coordinator. In this position, I started to understand more about the poverty experienced on our doorsteps. There were those who had come as asylum seekers and were living in (state provided) appalling conditions with no right to work and receiving only nineteen euro a week. For others who had also left their countries and were trying to settle in Dublin, life was tough. For many, the qualifications from their home countries went unrecognised and they worked multiple jobs, often poorly paid; while trying to raise families and support extended families back at home.
In these years, we also saw the gap between rich and poor grow in Dublin. We set up a soup run to give practical support, hope and encouragement to the homeless that could be found just metres from our doorstep. The homeless of Dublin are perhaps the most visible sign of a state that has failed to address the basic needs of its vulnerable; despite the continuous warnings of a housing crisis, the number of social housing being built is tiny.
My time in Africa and in Dublin has shown me that the words of Jesus, in Matthew 12v31, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, has no geographical boundaries but is a huge responsibility to each and every one of us. For those of us with much, the demand is clear: "To those whom much is given so much will be expected" (Luke 12v48)
While it is easy to be overwhelmed, the Methodist Church has a strong tradition of social justice and John Wesley's life is a testament to helping those in need in a way that does not pity, but empowers.
Giving is not enough. We must be conscious of how our lifestyles and political choices influence the world. Climate change will hurt the poorest countries with limited infrastructure worst even though it has been us that has contributed most to the cause. Psalm 24v1 says "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it", I believe that as Christians, we have a role to play as stewards to ensure that the earth our children's children inherit is no worse than at present, preferably better. At an individual level this can be as basic as recycling and preventing food waste, at a larger scale, apps have allowed charities to avail of produce supermarkets would have previously binned.
In a wider sense it is also about changes at individual and national level that have a positive effect on the environment. A good example is the Irish tax on plastic bags, the number used annually by Irish people has decreased from over 300 to 21, considering the impact of plastic on the environment this is real progress.
Another aspect of what we can do to address poverty is by engaging with our politicians. Our governments make trade agreements that hurt the global south in our name, however, our politicians need to hear that while aid to the global south might be important, what we really want is to give them a fair opportunity to compete in our markets and to profit from the resources we take from them.
An encouragement for us is that our daughters have picked up on these themes. At present our eldest daughter is serving in Kenya with Peace Brigades International, and our second daughter is preparing to leave at the end of April to serve as a nurse in a hospital in Togo.