I have been a long term supporter of Christian Aid, as a collector, organiser, treasurer, and in the spring of 2015 I was asked to be the chair of the newly formed Christian Aid committee for Harrogate, North Yorkshire. The committee is being formed to help coordinate the efforts of the various churches in the Harrogate, to maximise opportunities for awareness raising of what Christian Aid does, and most importantly, of course, to maximise opportunities to raise funds for the fantastic work Christian Aid does in addressing the causes and effects of poverty in the developing world.
This song, Kindness, sung by Steve Bell (Steve’s website), of Winnipeg, Canada, sums up, to me, the spirit of what Christian Aid does, and why, the motivation behind its mission:
The causes and effects of climate change have become a top priority for Christian Aid, climate change also being directly linked to emissions into the atmosphere of burning fossil fuels. Christian Aid is calling this campaign “The Big Shift”.
On 11/12/2015 Christian Aid, Harrogate, held a community screening at St Peter’s Church, Harrogate, of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate”, the film version of Naomi Klein’s book. Following the film, a representative of Christian Aid, Peter Wright, shared with the those attending about “The Big Shift”. There are huge overlaps between the messages of Klein’s book, and Christian Aid’s Big Shift campaign, and it seemed logical to combine the two in an event that coincided with COP21, the UN climate change conference in Paris. The evening was was well attended, and the evening was drawn to a close with a discussion and questions and answers chaired by the Environmental Officer for the Diocese of Leeds, Jemima Parker. Good contacts made, and some funds raised for Christian Aid, which went to their Christmas Appeal. The UK government very kindly agreed to match fund Christian Aid’s Christmas Appeal.
This was my introduction to the evening:
On 26/09/2015 I was one of 69 people who abseiled down Snaith Priory, near Selby, North Yorkshire, fund raising for Christian Aid. A fantastic total of £9,971.60 was raised for the great work Christian Aid does in helping communities in the developing world haul themselves out of poverty, by addressing the causes and effects of that poverty.
Minutes of the Overseas Mission Group of St Peter’s Church, Harrogate, meeting date 15/12/2015
19/01/2016 saw the launch of Zero Carbon Harrogate, under the leadership of Jemima Parker, environmental officer for the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. This inaugural meeting, to start to work out practical strategies for local initiatives, was held at St Peter’s Harrogate.
The 2016 Christian Aid Christmas Appeal is bringing attention to the desperate situations faced by displaced people and refugees. In a question and answer style sermon at the 9:30 service, on 11/12/2016, with Vicar Alan Garrow, St Peter’s, I spoke about this appeal. The congregation’s response was magnificent, both in feedback and donations, £373.50, plus Gift Aid, and signatures on the Christmas card to the Prime Minister about the plight of refugees, and the work Christian Aid is doing. The text of what Alan and I discussed in front of the congregation is below.
9:30 service discussion 11/12/2016, Alan Garrow, and Ian Fraser, St Peter’s Christian Aid representative
This year’s Christian Aid Christmas Appeal is called “Light the way”.
What do the 65 candles represent?
This Christmas, 65 million people simply cannot be at home. Forced out by the darkness of violence and fear, they are searching for safety and refuge.
Each candle represents 1 million people who are displaced from their homes. In 2015 the UN estimated that there are 65 million people displaced around the world. This is the highest number of displaced people since World War II, and the numbers are going up, not down. Wars, conflicts, and climate change are driving more people to take desperate measures.
There are 65 million people displaced around the world. Where are they trying to find refuge?
We are familiar with the news about refugees in Calais and Greece and the crisis in Syria and Iraq, crossing the Mediterranean in their thousands. We all remember the image of little Alan Kurdi, his lifeless body face down on a beach at Bodrum, Turkey. It is worth remembering that the majority of the world’s displaced people are either displaced within their own country or are seeking sanctuary in a neighbouring country. Turkey currently holds 2 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon hosts over a million, Ethiopia and Kenya are hosting well over half a million refugees from Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea.
What is Christian Aid doing to help refugees in Europe & the Middle East?
Working with refugees is nothing new for Christian Aid. Christian Aid was founded by the churches of the UK & Ireland as a response to the refugee crisis in Europe after the WWII. Our partners in Greece and Serbia have been working with refugees providing practical help, and counselling, informal education for refugee children, and working to break down barriers between refugee and host communities. Many of these refugee communities are now stranded, unable to continue onwards and determined not to return to places of war and conflict.
You said the majority of displaced people are not in Europe. What is Christian Aid doing in other parts of the world?
Christian Aid is active in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese Civil Wars, which began in 1996, have devastated the country. The wars ultimately involved nine African nations, multiple groups of UN Peacekeepers and twenty armed groups, and resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people.
Christian Aid is active in Myanmar, for over 30 years supporting refugees from Myanmar’s civil conflict taking refuge in camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
Now, as the political situation shifts and the possibility of returning home has become more realistic, Christian Aid is helping refugees to prepare for their return.
I see there are envelopes for donations; can you give us any examples of how any money we give will be spent?
£20 could help a refugee family forced to flee conflict in Myanmar by giving them enough food to last an entire month
£50 could pay for seeds and tools that a family forced out of their home can grow crops to feed themselves.
£100 could pay for medical care for people traumatised by conflict so they can re-build their lives. This Christmas, your gift could light the way to a brighter future.
What else can we do?
The refugee stories we hear and tell are important. They help us shape our thoughts, form our opinions and set the agenda. Christian Aid wants to tell a story that upholds those escaping injustice and war, and that celebrates those who offer a welcome.
While many communities and churches are united in welcoming those seeking refuge, the response of the UK Government has not matched the scale of the crisis.
The stories told about refugees in the UK media too often promote discrimination, which in turn discourage the UK Government from taking steps that put human dignity first.
But every one of us has a voice in this story, and in times of political uncertainty at home and around the world our message of shared humanity is more important than ever. God’s Kingdom is built by making bridges and opening hearts and minds, not by closing doors and building walls.
Through sharing stories of hospitality, and the positive contributions that refugees make in our communities, we demonstrate our commitment to a pluralistic United Kingdom that has a long and proud tradition of helping refugees.
So I would like to invite you to begin your own story today – join Christian Aid in changing the story around refugees. Everyone can do something about this: we can give to support Christian Aid’s work with refugees, write to our MP and MEP, and to the Department for International Development, and support Harrogate Borough Council and our local churches in their efforts to welcome refugees here.
This Christmas Christian Aid is asking churches to send a Christmas Card to the Prime Minister urging her to welcome refugees: not only through Government policy and action, but also through the language she chooses to use. I have prepared one for our congregation, and you are most welcome to sign it, if you feel able to support its messages. It reads:
Will you help light the way for those fleeing violence, fear and desperation?
This Christmas, 65 million people simply cannot be at home. They have been forced out by the darkness of violence and fear, by poverty and climate change.
As our Prime Minister, the stories you tell about refugees carry great power and the words you use help to set the tone for our conversations.
During this season of peace and goodwill, please reflect on your own rhetoric about refugees. And into the New Year, please ensure your words reflect our proud tradition as a nation that welcomes those in need and your policies offer hope to those looking for a safe place to call home.
May the peace of Christmas be with you.