We were very fortunate to have a speaker, Richard Pitt, from the Tear Fund at our principal Harvest Festival service at St John’s Itchen Abbas on Sunday 14th October 2018.
He gave the following talk:
Imagine if you started a game of Monopoly.
As I’m sure you know…. In Monopoly you gather money and buy streets and put houses and hotels on them.
Some people can end a game owning half of the board and other people have almost nothing. But what if the next time you came to play, the winner set up the board the way the last game finished.….with all of their money and property already there?
That’s not a very fair way to begin a game is it?
What if real life was like that? Where the people who have a lot are able to keep gathering more, and the people who don’t have much begin at a disadvantage?
Actually, it doesn’t sound that unfamiliar, does it?
This morning I would like to look at one of the places that Tearfund is working…. the DRC.
With a population of more than 80 million, the DRC is the second largest country in Africa. Despite being rich in natural resources, it’s one of the world’s poorest countries, with 87 per cent of the nation living below the poverty line.
Poverty in the DRC is fuelled by brokenness. With the country devastated by repeated conflicts, relationships have been broken. Turmoil is ongoing. The country is not just economically fragile, but socially and politically fragile too. The DRC is what we call a ‘fragile state’.
But the thing is…. broken countries and communities are no new thing.Brokenness and injustice are a part of the world,
If we look at our bibles…
God’s intention was for the Israelites to live in a way that reflected good, healthy, honouring relationships with God, with each other, and with creation.
In Leviticus 25, a number of laws are laid out which are essentially concerned with how the Israelites should treat one another (social relationships), economic security, and the stability and wellbeing of the Israelite community.
But alongside this vision of life as it was meant to be, this passage acknowledges the reality that society would gradually drift further from God’s intentions; and as this happened, some families would become poor (v25), some would be tempted to take advantage of each other (v14) and some would find they needed to sell themselves into bonded labour (v39).
God wanted to establish a system that encouraged justice to be right at the heart of their community, so that redemption and restoration, liberation and renewal could be experienced by all.
And so, the year of Jubilee, which was to take place once a generation (every fiftieth year) would restore Israel and the Israelites to the life that God intended for them.
In that year, the board of life would be reset so that it was fair again.
Those who had done very well might have to give some things up, but those who had struggled would know that their children could have a fair start in life.
God’s idea was that everyone should have the chance to flourish. God laid out the way he would like things to work, so that no one would be at a disadvantage for too long.
Jubilee provided a counter to natural successes and failures, to greed and exploitation and other sin that led to growing inequality and poverty. Ultimately, it restored Israel as a just society in which all creation could flourish, under God.
And just as God longed for the Israelites to live in a just and fair society, Jubilee reminds us that God’s heart today is still for justice and liberation for everyone: for individuals, communities and nations to be restored.
At Tearfund we want to be a part of making that happen.
This is our 50th year, our year of Jubilee
So we’re using it as an opportunity to remind ourselves of why God introduced a Jubilee
And as we look back over the last 50 years, we see countless examples of individuals and communities across the globe who have experienced restoration, freedom, equality and justice – just as God intended for his people.
The number of people living in extreme poverty across the globe has halved. In the countries we’ve been working in, we’ve seen millions of people lifted from material and spiritual poverty through the work of our local church partners.
Because of the continued support of churches and individuals across the UK, we have seen incredible transformation
But the need is still great. You only need to watch the news or look around you to see that we are still living in a broken world. Families who have been forced to flee their country due to conflict, farmers who can’t feed their families because the rains haven’t come, individuals who don’t have access to the skills or training they need to lift themselves out of poverty
With 87 per cent of the country’s population living below the poverty line, the needs in the DRC are certainly great… but so too is the opportunity and desire for restoration. And God’s people are carrying his light into some of the hardest-to-reach places there. As they do, we are seeing incredible transformation.
In the film we met Birungi, who lives in a small village in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC for short. Her village is so remote that from Bunia, the nearest town, it takes three modes of transport to reach her community. You would drive by truck to the river. You would then take a boat to cross the river. And finally you would ride a motorcycle down a narrow track into her village. Can you imagine if that was how you had to get to your house? No one would ever want to come and visit you!
Many people would be put off by this long and difficult journey. But Action Entraide, our partners in the DRC, are committed to bringing hope and restoration to Birungi and other women and families like her.
By giving people the skills and training they need to be able to lift themselves out of poverty, Action Entraide are living up to their name, which in French means ‘self-help’. Through our Church and Community Transformation approach to development, individuals and families are not being given ‘hand-outs’ or ‘aid’. Instead, Action Entraide are equipping people with the tools and training to build strong and sustainable futures for themselves and their families. Through livelihood-building initiatives like the skills workshop, they are enabling people like Birungi to discover that the answer to poverty lies within themselves… and in doing so, their dignity and self-worth is being restored.
Birungi was the eldest child in her family. Coming from a poor, rural family, she, like many other girls around her, was expected to stay at home and look after her younger brother and sister. She was never given the opportunity to go to school like the boys in her village. Instead, the long term plan for Birungi was to get married to an older man when she came of age in order to bring dowry and financial stability to her family.
But Birungi’s uncle believed there was so much more for her, and told her about the skills workshop Tearfund’s partners offered to both men and women. This opportunity gave Birungi the chance to start rewriting her future. With this training, she has been able to set up a business and earn money to look after herself.
Birungi also grew in her faith and understanding of God too as she spent time with the teachers, and her self-belief blossomed. ‘God’s word says we are all equal,’ says Birungi.
Her eyes have been opened to the God-given potential inside of her, and she is using her gifts and skills to run a successful business in her community. No longer brought down by the social brokenness that labels her as ‘just a woman’, she is seen differently by those within her community. And not just that, Birungi has discovered her true self-worth as a child of God.
There’s a special word for what has happened to Birungi, and that’s ‘restoration’. Restoration means putting things back together, making them the way they should be. It means making things whole again.
That’s what Jesus does for us: he restores us to where we should be. And that’s what, through the workshops, God did for Birungi.
In our 50th year, it is these stories of redemption and restoration that we not only want to share, but be part of writing into the future.
In Luke 4, Jesus returns to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day, he goes to the synagogue and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He reads Isaiah 61:1–2, which says:
‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’
He finishes by proclaiming, ‘Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ He applies these verses to himself and his ministry. Jesus was saying to the listeners that he had come to make Jubilee possible. ‘The year of the Lord’s favour’ is a direct reference to Jubilee, and Jesus says it is for everyone.
No longer was this an ancient law that the Israelites were unable to fulfil, but one for his audience and their neighbours too. He was saying that his mission was God’s mission – and that he longed for his disciples to follow his footsteps and bring freedom, restoration and redemption to their communities.
In the DRC, Tearfund’s local church partners are doing just that – bringing good news to the poor and setting the captives free. They are helping women like Birungi rewrite their futures so they no longer have to live in poverty, because they are given the knowledge, skills and tools they need for a good and secure future.
And as we know, we are his disciples too. By restoring people to God, Jesus makes it possible for his disciples to live in ways that pursue the values of Jubilee. God is calling us – the church – forward to meet the needs that still exist in our fragile world head on; to bring restoration where there is brokenness and to be a channel of his relentless love in everything we do.
He calls us to be Jubilee people.
How can we do that? How can we be Jubilee people? How can we be the kinds of people who will make things right and fair?
Birungi said: ‘Without my training I would still be at home, without even enough food to live on. I would be suffering.’
This could have been Birungi’s future.
But instead, Birungi is a successful business woman.
She’s viewed differently within her community.
And she has a hope and a plan for the future.
Sadly, in the DRC 87 per cent of people still live in extreme poverty.
Poverty is far too common, and women in particular are given very little opportunity to learn the skills or training they need to be able to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Women just like Birungi, but who haven’t yet been given the opportunity to rewrite their future.
In our 50th year, we have a vision to see five million people restored from material and spiritual poverty.
Alone, we know this vision would be impossible. But with the support of churches and individuals across the UK like you, and with God, we know this vision is achievable.
And so I want to invite you and your family to be part of this.
And so to end, I would like to lead us in a short prayer, written by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for Tearfund’s 50th year.
Gracious and generous God, you became poor so that we might be enriched by your love, and you gave the world’s wealth and resources as a common inheritance for all human beings.
We pray you would strengthen your church to be a beacon of hospitality for the poor.
We pray that, seeing the light of Christ’s love, the nations and peoples of the world may fight not to kill, but to outdo one another in care for the poor, and in actions of gracious generosity.
Through him who for our sakes did not grasp the wealth of heaven, but instead gave all to live for us as a slave, and die for us in pain, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.