This is messy, this is hard work, this is The Gospel

World Development & Relief work closely with Christian Aid Ireland, co-funding two development partners. One of these is Church Land Programme in South Africa. In November 2018, Rev. Paul Maxwell visited this partner with a group from Christian Aid. Here Paul reflects on his visit and what we can learn from our friends in South Africa. 

Last autumn I had the privilege of travelling to South Africa with Christian Aid to represent the Methodist Church in Ireland and World Development and Relief. Christian Aid wished to take a small group of emerging church leaders from the UK and Ireland to visit one of the projects they partner in South Africa. 

On Saturday 3rd November the Ven. Martin Gorrick, Archdeacon of Oxford, Rev. Canon Dr. Ellen Loudon, Director of Social Justice in the Diocese of Liverpool and myself met in Heathrow Airport along with three staff members from Christian Aid to began our journey to South Africa. 

In South Africa, (minus my luggage for 36 hours!) we were met and hosted by Graham Philpott, Director of Church Land Programme (CLP). CLP are based in the city of Pietermaritzburg, an hour north of Durban, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. During our seven, non-stop, days we travelled around Pietermaritzburg and Durban seeing the work that CLP are involved in and meeting various groups and organisations who work alongside CLP. Our trip included a welcome and briefing about CLP, a tour of Pietermaritzburg, discussions with Abahlali leadership at their offices, visits to two settlements to discuss in-situ upgrading and women's issues, a reflection session with Bishop Rubin Phillips in one of the settlements, a sleep over in another settlement, attending a conference and discussion with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, watching a Padkos documentary about land and extractives, discussion with Paulo Freire Institute about methodology, debrief sessions with CLP staff, a visit to a game reserve and a Sunday service at a local Pentecostal church.

For a number of years both Christian Aid and World Development & Relief have been journeying with and supporting CLP. In 2018, WDR’s service material focused on the story of David Ntseng, programme manager at CLP and some of the communities that they work with.  

A personal highlight for me was the day and a half spent in Durban with Abahlali baseMjondolo. Abahlaliis a movement of shack-dwellers and other impoverished people in South Africa. It is the largest popular movement outside of party politics and trade unions in South Africa but has its strongest base in Durban. It has over 55,000 members.  

Due to its opposition of evictions and their stances on land rights, Abahlali finds itself in constant conflict with those in authorities. During our time with Abahlaliwe heard many harrowing stories from people who live in various settlements around Durban. People told us of multiple evictions, arson attacks and physical assaults. One lady shared how her husband had been shot eight times and has been left permanently disabled. 

Cato Manor

Cato Manor

During our time with Abahlali, we were taken to Cato Manor, a settlement, built in 2016 and made up of roughly 300 homes. Here, we were told of how the authorities regularly cut off the electricity and water supply (2-3 times a week) and how they regularly face attempted demolishing of their homes from the wider community and the authorities. 

With the help of Abahlali and CLP, the settlement in Cato Manor has built a community hall which was officially opened in December after our visit. We were taken into this hall and met with many of the local people. One of the community leaders told us how the people in power and the people living around them see them as criminals and no-bodies. He said to us “However, your visit gives us dignity. The fact that you have come to us from the UK and Ireland means so much to us.” A lady from the community shared with us of a time when she came home to find her house being demolished. She started to take pictures with her phone to use as evidence and was shot in the eye. 

Hearing these stories and seeing the conditions the people were living in filled me with a great sadness and anger. As I listened to people speak about the lack of involvement in their struggle by the church I found myself asking why was the church not doing more for these people.

I was also beginning to feel quite scared for the next stage of our trip. From Cato Manor we were taken on a 30 minute drive to a different part of Durban to another settlement in Briardene. 



This settlement was much bigger and more densely populated that the one we had just come from. We were met by the community leaders who provided us with a beautiful dinner and showed us to our accommodation for the night. I was sharing a room with one of the Christian Aid staff, Ven. Martin Gorrick and Thapelo Mohapi, General Secretary of Abahlali, whose home this was. Thapelo’s wife, who was pregnant with triplets and her sister moved out for the night to accommodate us. 

The front door of my accomodation

The front door of my accomodation

Having heard about the violence and intimidation earlier in the day I really did not know what to expect in Briardene. I certainly did not expect to be spending my evening playing pool, watching Liverpool lose in the Champions League on the TV, socialising with the locals and dancing to some local music. It was an incredible evening of fun and fellowship. Thankfully there are no videos! The whole time I was in Briardene I never felt like an outsider. I was welcomed and accepted into the community. In fact, the way the people treated me made me feel like I had always been there. 

However, I was keenly aware that right beside us were middle-class housing surrounded by security fences and people who did not want these people there. I was also reflecting on the questions I had been asking around the lack of involvement from the local church when I suddenly found myself thinking about my manse in Carlow. Right beside us there is an empty field. During the summer a couple of homeless people put up two tents and I suddenly thought to myself how would I feel if that field beside me suddenly filled up with tents and people living in them? Instantaneously my anger at the local church turned to guilt. 

One question that I have not been able to stop thinking about since coming home has been this: If Christian Aid was to bring a group of church leaders from South Africa to Ireland where are the places where people might say, “The church in Ireland does not care about us”? 

There is certainly great need where the church can, and sometimes does, intervene. My mind goes towards the 1,728 families who in November 2018 were accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland including 3,811 children,[1]the 450 families in Carlow who reported domestic violence to Carlow Women’s Aid in 2018 and, the families who received just over 900 food parcels from The Food Pantry in Carlow. My own church, Carlow Methodist, has been involved in some of these responses but there is a challenge to every local church to see the need and to respond in a real way.

It is easy to travel across the world and see injustice, to stand in solidarity and speak out but it is much harder for us to do so on our own door step. This is messy, this is hard work, this is the Gospel and as we seek to live out our calling as followers of Christ there is an awful lot we can learn from Graham Philpott and Church Land Programme. 



Running for God's purposes

Beth Hand was one of our relay runners at the 2018 Belfast marathon. Inspired to raise money for rural communities in Zimbabwe, and spurred on by Paul’s words in Romans (as well as some words from Usain Bolt!), Beth laced up her trainers and got training!

Belfast. 7th May 2018. The words of Usain Bolt ran through my head as I watched out for my team mate “train hard, turn up, run your best and the rest will take care of itself”. Bolt and I are in no way similar in fact I am his complete opposite especially in regards my athletic ability; in rounders I would be the one to put the team out, in squash I get hit with the ball and normally even the sight of football on the television puts meet sleep (perhaps a blessing to my husband so that he can peacefully watch the slaughter of his beloved Leeds FC). 

However, for the past few years one thing has taken me off the sofa and out into the highways and byways in my trusty trainers… Belfast City Marathon Relay for WDR. I think this is the one stage at which I get excited about running. The cold, wet and miserable training is an honour when you know that many are running alongside you to raise funds and awareness for partners connected WDR. Paul wrote in Romans “so we, though many, are one body in Christ” and I love that we have the opportunity to stand with our brothers and sisters though miles apart. It is a blessing to be able to run, walk or jog knowing that God uses it for His purposes.

The day itself was thrilling with runners of all shapes and sizes spread like confetti over the city of Belfast. I dropped my husband off at the starting line (as he was running the full marathon) and headed to the change over point for my leg. When I arrived there was already a sea of Methodists in their luminous WDR bibs stretching and chatting. Most of us were a little apprehensive but filled with the adrenaline rush of community and excitement. We stood together waiting for our teammates and on their arrival it was our turn. Step after step we ran along the route watching faces cheer, smile and encourage us as the miles passed by. 

As we crossed the finishing line I felt exhilarated and exhausted but mostly thirsty! I drank nearly a whole bottle of water and as I held it in my hand I was reminded of why I had signed up in the first place. Dabane Water Workshops work in Zimbabwe to find and implement creative water solutions, something we very much take for granted. It is a gift that all should have access to and so as I had trained this was in the forefront of my mind. If we are one body in Christ then I must do my part to ensure that resources are shared equally and fairly so that all may know his provision and love. 

The marathon relay was one of the best things I have done and I hope that as a family we can continue to be part of WDR and their efforts through the marathon. Please think about joining up, you will be part of a community as you run and part of God’s mission as you cross the finishing line. 

Want to follow in Beth’s footsteps and join us at the marathon? Get in touch!

Bitten by the running bug

Rev Dave Sweeney enjoyed his relay team experience at the 2017 Belfast marathon so much, that in 2018 he decided to run the full marathon. Why? He tells us here…

What sort of numpty decides it would be a good idea to run a marathon?! Well, this sort, I guess!

Having been “out of shape” for the best part of 20 years, a few years ago I began a journey back to health and fitness. Initially this was through walking regularly and diet, but as weight decreased and fitness improved, I was encouraged by a good friend to start running. I never had been much of a longer distance runner at school, much preferring the short distance sprints . However, the bug bit.

At the start, I was content just going out for 2 or 3 miles a couple of times a week and doing the odd Parkrun. Then, in 2017, I decided to take part in the Belfast City Marathon as part of a relay team. There were three of us from Bloomfield Methodist along with two others (Michael Sloan and Peter Kerr). For me, as minister of a church, it was an excellent way to promote the work of World Development and Relief with the congregation. Personally, the buzz of the day, taking part with thousands of others was just amazing – and that was just over 4 miles. I think a seed was planted that day – not that I realised it then. 

In January 2018 I had decided that I might like to train for a half-marathon and had begun to do so. Then the promotional material arrived from Tim & Laura and I thought, sure, I’ll put together another relay team – that worked well last year. A bit more support for WDR, that’ll be great. About two weeks later, I heard that my former team mate, Michael, was going to do the full marathon; another colleague told me, ‘you run a lot, you could do that no problem’. Before I knew it, I had my entry fee paid and was now doing a marathon in 3 months’ time!!


I have to say that the support of my local church, of family and friends completely blew me away as I prepared to run. Huge generosity in giving to WDR in support of Dabane; moral support and encouragement when I thought I couldn’t do it; people on the day who came out and cheered me on.

Doing the full marathon was an amazing challenge and opportunity. It took more out of me than I ever knew I had to give! Achieving the time goal I set myself brought a great personal sense of achievement, but more than that, to know that I had encouraged many to support WDRF and that people in Zimbabwe would have clean water to drink brought even greater fulfilment. 

Time is short if you’re thinking of doing the full marathon – but if you have any running training behind you, it’s still possible. But there are loads of other ways you can get involved – relay runner, walker, fun runner. Or sponsor someone else who is taking part. Just do it – you won’t regret it!

If you’d like to join us at the 2019 Belfast Marathon, please email Laura. There are 5 events to choose from, including a 2.5 mile Fun Run/Walk, so there’s an event for everyone! This year our fundraising is for Wenchi Methodist Hospital in Ghana.