As we all watched the unfolding horror in Paris and Brussels on our TV screens, we were shocked, upset and sickened to the pit of our stomachs. If we are honest with ourselves, perhaps even more so than if the stories had been about Baghdad, Beirut or Syria.
Perhaps this is understandable. There is something that resonates when we know a person in our street who dies suddenly. We naturally feel loss more acutely because we have history with them, we know them and therefore have developed more of a sense of relationship and connection.
Cynically, though, it may also be because fear and uncertainty has struck closer to home and unsettled the safety nets, home comforts and structures that we have built around ourselves, cocooning ourselves from the fragilities and dangers of today’s world.
Similarly, when the victims of extreme poverty and injustice in the world today do not have faces and names, when we don’t know their children and appreciate their funny personality traits and idiosyncrasies, then somehow, we learn to coexist in a world where such a disconnect between the rich and the poor is acceptable and seemingly unchallenged. It shouldn’t be the case.
For those of us involved in Christian mission and development, there are times when it can feel like being caught between two opposing worlds where an underlying battle rages - a battle of wills, priorities and values. It can be a confusing, lonely and frightening place, especially when we have come to know and love people living in unacceptably impoverished conditions. We must guard against “the poor” becoming an abstract concept but rather see them as human beings made in God’s image for whom Christ died.
The lines that define poverty sometimes get blurred and fade to grey. Sometimes as I travel throughout Central East Africa, I am left wondering exactly who is poor. The “religion,” which tries to convert me on a daily basis, says “Taberna Ergo Sum,” meaning “I consume, therefore I am” (my sixth-form Latin has counted for something).
I am acutely aware of my own spiritual poverty and what I have been robbed of living in the developed world. I am constantly persuaded to consume certain things that often I don’t need in order to have identity, to constantly strive for more at the expense of shalom and contentment, and to accumulate debt to fund all of it.
Perhaps if we rediscovered real friendship, real community and what it is to serve those around us, we might see radical transformation in our own land, our own churches and, subsequently, beyond our borders. I would suggest, and I am speaking to myself first, that when there is radical transformation in how we live our own lives here, only then might we see real transformation occur in the developing world.
Our heart and mission at Fields of Life is to encourage young Africans in Christ and to attempt to break down the poverty barriers, which are as much mental, social and spiritual as they are material. We believe young people, especially if educated, empowered and built up, can be entrepreneurial, can lead, can become contributing members of their communities and nations. We believe they can influence, shape and start to break down some of the systemic causes of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. We believe they will be the generation to break through.
We are delighted as an organisation that Alex Gason has joined the Fields of Life family as Regional Development Officer for the Republic of Ireland. Why not drop him a line to connect and grab a coffee with him to explore some of these issues as we seek to support the church be salt and light in some of the most challenging places in Central East Africa?
You can contact Alex on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fields of Life is committed to sharing the Christian faith by collaborating with local communities and churches in East Africa to bring about positive change through the provision of quality education, clean water, health promotion and other community based projects. From its headquarters in Northern Ireland, this Christian development agency is passionate about seeing local partners strengthened and empowered to be the drivers of change in their own communities.
Richard Spratt joined Fields of Life in 2009, taking up the role of Chief Executive in 2011. He travels extensively throughout Central East Africa and is passionate about communicating how God’s kingdom can challenge the injustice and poverty that exist in our world today.