Tearfund Advent Reflection 2019
If I reflect upon the last year or so of my travels for Tearfund, the abiding memory I have is one of community and connectedness.
When the west appears to be in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness; identity politics a device to divide; and migration is discussed in terms of walls, barriers and threat – we seem to be living in a time where community is both fragile and precious.
In the midst of this, I’ve seen firsthand how people, like Vedette in Rwanda, have been given opportunities to learn new skills and support themselves for the first time. For Vedette, the greatest part of her new tailoring talent isn't the ability to stitch together a snappy shirt, but being empowered to pass on the blessing, making clothes for a poorer neighbour.
Through the work of Tearfund’s church and community mobilisation programmes, I’ve seen churches and communities come alive to this idea. Seeing afresh that they are deeply connected to one another - like a neighbour we hadn’t noticed.
On one level, this is about awakening to the power of sharing each other’s resources and ideas for the greater good of the community. But importantly it is also about seeing beyond the walls we build around our immediate communities – appreciating different others and building co-operation and affection, not distance and fear.
Another tailor demonstrates this well, this time in Nigeria. Christopher lived and suffered through the trauma of violence in his community. But through a series of peacebuilding workshops, he saw that peace, rather than fighting, was a better way of living together. He now teaches that message of nonviolence to students all over the community’s schools. He also renamed his tailoring business: ‘Man of Peace’.
When we look to the gospels, Jesus often complicates the idea of who our community, family or neighbour is (Matthew 12: 48-50, Luke 10: 25-37). In other words, it is not just something we’re born into or a group of ‘people like us’. It is something we are called to build with mercy and compassion and hope.
And when I think about hope, I’m often reminded of Alina, in Nepal. Once cruelly marginalised in her own community, a Tearfund self-help group at a local church helped her transform into a successful business owner. The shop she runs on the edge of a crossroad, where she brings nourishment to her village, feels powerfully symbolic. Now respected in her community, she embraces it and is a strong role model for other girls and women there.
Thanks to the work Tearfund and its partners have been doing for more than fifty years, Vedette, Christopher and Alina represent thousands more like them, all over the world. They are ambassadors of a better kind of community. Creating spaces where the radical act of loving our neighbour is practiced daily. It’s not always easy, but it’s humbling to see and it gives me hope.