Friday, 15 December 2017

It's not an inspiring photo.  Partly it's the set-up.  Mary* and her family are standing stiffly facing the camera, not the most creative of poses.  On a deeper level there's a sadness in Mary's eyes.  She's been struggling to provide enough for her 2 children to eat so she's at a feeding centre in this village in Burundi.

Here she'll learn how to make nutritious porridge and will be given some flour supplies to last her family for a while.  But how can Mary and her family's lives be transformed long term?  And what hope is there for other families in this poor country where 65% of children under 5 are malnourished?  One key answer is to mobilise the church, through church and community transformation, to empower people to make the most of the resources they do have.

How do I fit into this story?  The new Country Representative for Burundi, a wise
and gentle man, has asked me to help him spread church and community transformation across the country.  I could just provide advice, based on my experience.  However I think the best thing I can do is to build on his understanding and wisdom through coaching him.  Coaching, like church and community transformation, releases people's potential to solve problems for themselves.  Through this small input I hope we can help put some hope into Mary's eyes.

*Name changed for privacy.

Monday, 22 May 2017

'Say one thing at a time.

I know, you might not get the microphone back for a while.

And I know, you want to make sure everyone understands precisely what went into your thinking.  Not to mention your desire that everyone who hears you hears something they'd like to hear.

But if you try to say three things, we will hear nothing.  Because most of the time we are hardly listening.

Ads, instructions, industrial design - they all work better when they try to say one thing at a time.'     Seth Godin, business guru.

What's the one thing you need to say today?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

‘Christians are a disease’.  It is hard to believe that this small group of believers in Nepal had such a bad reputation.  Pastor Kancha Bahadur* and his wife Batuli have just welcomed us into their home and served us a generous lunch of goat curry, water chestnut and rice.  I guess the wider community didn’t yet know them.


When, two years ago, a major earthquake struck, the church responded by providing 50 people with the church as a place to sleep, blankets for warmth and sheeting to start rebuilding their homes. The wider community saw that these Christians cared about them and so relationships started to improve.

Nowadays the church is a channel of all sorts of blessing.  Inspired and trained through church and community transformation, the church has worked with the community to start goat rearing, beekeeping and vegetable growing as ways to improve their lives.  Shyam demonstrates making bricks using hand-worked machines for sale at 60 rupees (45p) per brick.  The church has also worked to repair and upgrade the local road so that the vehicle that collects milk can access the area even in the monsoon.  When asked what keeps him persevering Pastor Kancha Bahadur says ‘I want to be like Jesus, caring for the poor and being part of their struggles’.

With local elections looming the community have strongly encouraged Pastor Kancha Bahadur to stand for election as Ward Chairperson.  He’s come some way from being seen as ‘a disease’! Praise God.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Community meeting in Tanzania (Sara Butterfield, Tearfund)
Would you invite someone with Down Syndrome to a community meeting?  Perhaps we'd be worried that they would disrupt the meeting or not have anything to add.  Yet the humbling truth is that people with Down Syndrome need to be treated with love and honour and have more to teach us than we may realise.  So Jané writes: I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some videos with you:

"We are all frightened by the ugly, the dirty.  We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives.  Civilisation, is at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are.  We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves.  We shun our own weakness and the weakness in others.  We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy.  How easy is it to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make our broken world a place that can become more beautiful?" (Jean Vanier).

I think people with Down Syndrome, like anyone when given the space to be heard and welcomed, make our world more beautiful. 

Friday, 10 March 2017

Do you ever get angry and then feel embarrassed? I do. I remember driving with four church and community transformation (CCT) facilitators through lush, green countryside in a West African country. It had been an encouraging trip seeing the changes that CCT was bringing - that day we’d witnessed a new health clinic, school and borehole. We stopped for an enjoyable lunch of boiled eggs and bread. So far, so good. As we finished our last mouthfuls the other facilitators threw the Styrofoam containers into the bush. I was horrified and angry.

I then felt embarrassed for getting angry with such nice people. But the fact is that Styrofoam is not biodegradable and it would still be there in hundreds of years. We picked up the containers and I learned something.

Environment is often a blindspot in CCT. We work to restore relationship with self, with others and with God. But what about our other key relationship - with his creation? This is often overlooked. And we often neglect to help people think about God’s call to care for the world around us. People’s individual actions can seem small and insignificant but they add up. For instance, we were stood in a country that treats its forests as disposable - 19,300 hectares are lost every year.

CCT is all about caring for people living in poverty, but when we don’t care for the environment it’s those living in poverty who suffer most. It’s time to change our approach. Perhaps we need to reflect on what God says about the Earth in the Bible. This short Bible study helps us explore our responsibility to care for God’s Earth.

And perhaps we need to join a group of people who feel a responsibility to bring about change. Renew our World launched earlier this month and is a global movement of Christians united for a more just and sustainable world for all. I've joined this movement - will you?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Here's a picture of...... oh no, Mary* wasn't there. 

I met Mary in South Sudan.  She was an elderly lady living in her daughter's homestead. When we arrived I saw her crawling on her knees.  She couldn't walk because her right foot was missing and her left foot had no toes.  It was poignantly sad to see her reduced to moving like this.

People like Mary are often missed out in our church work.  Maybe not deliberately but just because it is more difficult for some people with disabilities to travel to meetings.  So their voices aren't heard in decisions.

And they need to be heard.  As people made in the image of God (Genesis 1v27) their opinions are important.  They also have particular perspectives to add.  For instance I was shocked to think for the first time about what it is like for a person with such disabilities to use a pit latrine.  Most pit latrines have no space for access with a wheelchair.  As a result people people like Mary would have to crawl into them getting their hands and knees covered with the remains of urine or faeces from when people missed the hole. Shocking but true.

Image result for photo inclusive pit latrine

It's comparatively simple to build pit latrines that are 'inclusive' and therefore suitable for people with disabilities or the elderly (for example see 'Washplus' advice page 7 or the more comprehensive Compendium of Accessibility).  Changes needed include enlarging the door and using a raised seat.

However sometimes the reason why people with disability are not included is stigma.  This Bible study from Tearfund's REVEAL toolkit explores knowing our true value and this activity helps people understand how disability can lead to vulnerability and exclusion.  

What do you and I need to do to ensure that people like Mary are valued and included?  

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Friday, 24 February 2017

'A place of thugs and thieves' is how Tito* described where I was standing back in 2010. 'When we heard you were visiting we said to ourselves "will they really come?"'. Despite the bad reputation of Owii in Uganda I didn't feel afraid. Instead I felt inspired by the story of this community.

'This place was isolated, there was no education here.  Most children were not going to school – it was too far. We were worried about our children being kidnapped for child sacrifice'.

However as a result of church and community transformation (CCT) the community started to make the most of their own small resources to bring change. 'One of our church members gave some land and we've now made 5 classrooms. Each household contributes 3,500 Ugandan Shillings per term ($1) to pay the teachers. There are 151 children at the school. The children are happy about the school as they do not have to walk so far'.

The classrooms were simple grass-roofed huts but their plans were bigger. ‘We are seeing that we are going to develop more than this.  We plan to have permanent buildings.  We will talk with the government to see if they can help us’.

Now travel in time with me to 2017. The next time I hear about Owii I am standing in a black jacket and yellow tie at the UK Houses of Parliament. It's a rare event, me wearing a tie, but suitable for this event. This time Owii is featured in a film (link to film).

Photo by Andrew Philip, Tearfund

The community now has those brick built classrooms they had dreamed of. The local government has also built teacher's houses, cleared roads, vaccinated children and dug boreholes for water. This has all happened through linking CCT and advocacy. As a result the Owii community has been helped to effectively persuade local government to provide the services they need.

It's a story to celebrate. Could you help the communities you work with to link with their local government and celebrate too?

*Name changed for privacy. 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

'I was burying my head in the sand about climate change just like an ostrich. I knew it was a big problem but didn't want to face it' said my friend Hannah.  I think a lot of us feel like that about climate change and the whole issue of creation care.  I wonder whether you feel that way too.

Yet our calling is to care for God's beautiful creation.

'God saw all that he had made and it was very good' Genesis 1v31

So last Saturday I found myself carrying bricks and cardboard into the grounds of our church.  A passer-by gave me and my family a strange look.  We were there to start building a 'bug hotel', a refuge to encourage rare and not so rare insects to thrive on our church's land. Insects such as bees that are so vital to pollination.

Our church is starting to make some small contributions to caring for the environment. We've been inspired by A Rocha's great initiative Eco Church.  This helps ordinary church congregations to improve their teaching, use of land and lifestyles.

My youngest son got up from our dinner table last week in the middle of supper.  We were about to tell him off but noticed he was just turning off unused lights.  These are small steps, yes, but if everyone does them great things happen.  One third of the planet's population are part of churches so if we all do something the impact could be amazing ... 

So I wonder whether you could try Eco Church with your church and what would happen if you did?

Image result for bug hotel image

Friday, 3 February 2017

Image result for image intelligence

Once when my eldest son was just 2 months old I sang him to sleep with 'Happy Birthday' because I couldn't remember any other tunes!  I can easily remember pictures but can't recall songs at all. How do you like to learn?   Perhaps you learn best when you move, hear words or see the logic.  

I will be using insights from Multiple Intelligences as I prepare to facilitate a workshop on church and development in Asia.  This theory says each of us are intelligent in different ways and categorises intelligence as verbal, visual, intra-personal, inter-personal, physical, musical and logical/ mathematical.  It's good to provide exercises that cater for all these types during an event.

Image result for image footballSo often I think workshops involve small group discussions with notes written on flip charts and then fed back to the wider group.  Eventually I get bored with this.  It is one valid way to draw out learning but I think it is good to bring in more variety and fun.  I'm planning on some drama, songs and games at my workshop.  One game I like is getting everyone to play football with just one person on one team and everyone else on the other.  Often the one person gets close to winning because the rest don't play as a team.  It's a great game for helping people to reflect on the importance of unity.

What would happen if you added more variety to the approaches you use?