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Archive for November, 2016

I began my sabbatical study leave by attending an international consultation on Child Theology. This gave real space to engage freshly with theological exploration of what it means to do theology where the child is placed in the midst of us all by Jesus. Many of those attending also exercise ministry amongst poor and vulnerable children. The heart of Child Theology is to ask, ‘What happens to all aspects of theology when a child is placed in our midst?’
Then after a few days reading it was time to fly to Rwanda. I approached the researching around the projects in East Africa from a simple question: “Did these begin as a compassionate response to the needs of children in poverty and move over time into more questioning of why they were in poverty and thus towards action around questions of justice?”
The reasoning behind this was the simple observation that very often individual Christians (and indeed those of other faiths and none) see a need and respond with compassion. Only later as they discover more do some at least start asking more questions about why the situation has arisen in the first place, and then find themselves involved in advocating and working for justice. Many never move beyond a compassionate response. (This is not intended as a judgmental statement purely observational). This journey can be observed in the recent history of Foodbanks in the UK where the Trussell Trust, for example, began very simply wanting to respond to a need, and whilst continuing to do this has moved ever more into questions of advocacy and policy based on issues of justice alongside compassion. The same can be seen in the recent development of ‘Holiday Hunger’ activities taking place across my diocese during the past 2 summers.
The reality I found however was that in all the projects in East Africa with which I spent time from the outset there was not only a compassionate response but also inspiration from wanting to pursue matters of advocacy and justice. These have developed and altered through the years but every project had some root desire for justice from its inception.
BYUMBA, RWANDA
The Hannah Ministries’ Tumerere Project has worked with child-headed households since 2005. It began in response to the reality of child headed households created because of the 1994 genocide and the impact of HIV/AIDS. It has always been small scale. It involves feeding, developing skills that could be used for work (haircutting, basket weaving, tailoring), and helping ensure that these families rights are protected. As Josephine Mujawyira, one of the founders put it, ‘Care and love given to these children can help produce good citizens for our country.’ Alphonsine was first helped by the project in 2006; 10 years on her memory of the first impact of the project was, ‘it gave me lots of change; I grew up, gained weight, got hope, met other children and was helped to feel that life could continue.’
The Batwa Project in Kibali has developed a great deal since I first visited it. This project was the initiative of the Anglican Diocese who have had assistance from both Christian Aid and the Red Cross. The adults talked of how their lives had improved through fewer babies and infants dying because of ill health, cold and lack of shelter. They are pleased that their children attend the local school (including the first few to attend secondary school). They also invest hope in their children, ‘They will change our lives’. The children themselves spoke positively of school; they have good relations with other pupils. They feel confident and comfortable participating. There is less stigmatisation (a major change).
KABALE, UGANDA
African International Christian Ministry was established by Enoch Kayeeye in 1983. It runs a Vocational Training College, works in community development across the region, including some specialist work with the Batwa. They have worked with orphans care and fostering. Over 30 years there has been a consistent commitment to this work. It has been far from easy. Yet meeting a community development worker who began in 1989 with a small group of people now coordinating 88 local groups with 5,674 members is testimony to faithfulness and inspiring in regards to how things can develop and mature. Sitting with the Batwa hearing them talk of their changed lives through local community development and engagement is also deeply moving.

KISORO, UGANDA

The Potters Village was he project about which I had heard much but had never before visited. It began in 2007 when Revd Jenny Green, a CMS Mission Partner, had had more than enough of burying babies who did not need to die. What began as a baby rescue mission 9 years ago now still does that work, although in very different ways, but also has a paediatric medical centre, a child crisis centre, a nutrition centre and works out in the community with the families into which the babies are fostered. It has 58 staff, all local except for Sue and Dr Mike Hughes who lead the work today.

BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI

The Rainbow Centre, like The Potters House, started as a response to babies being abandoned, or parents simply being unable to care for their child adequately. It moved into fostering through local families very soon after its inception. The centre offers support, training, and activities. This was founded by 3 leading church women, headed by Mathilde, wife to the then Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi. This was a local response to local need, drawn from a conviction that acting locally was probably going to be more effective, and more able to use funds well, than that originated from larger international bodies. 13 years on it continues to work with the Childrn and families that came to them first in 2003. It continues, in the midst of a nation in crisis, to operate. Visiting foster families was truly inspiring.

 

Alongside these 5 ‘core’ projects Rosemary and I found ourselves visiting many others that also work with and for children in poverty in these 3 neighbouring nations in all their similarities and differences. An SOS Childrens Village, vocational training, health centre, and schools in Byumba; pre-school and single parent families work, schools and college, elderly persons work in Shyogwe Diocese, Rwanda; vocational training in Kisoro; health centre, church planting and community leadership in Gitega Diocese, Burundi and key conversations with those engaged in encouraging preschool development across Rwanda, tackling the support of orphans through community fostering in Rwanda, street children in Burundi, and education and health care in Uganda.

Alongside this there was the privilege of exploring with church leaders questions of the impact of the widening gap between rich and poor in all three of these nations. The questions raised by political stability and instability on the poorest, and particularly on the lives of children.

It was simply an enormously rich 4 weeks. I met so many inspiring people, from children in deep,poverty through to those in senior leadership. There were many smiles, laughter, an enormous amount of singing and dancing, and inevitably tears and heartache. But the abiding memories are of the former rather than the latter.

So in these first two posts I hope to have offered something of a flavour of what I did and why. Moving on I want to reflect on poverty and its causes; specific issues relating to child poverty. Then something about motivation of those who work alongside children in deep need. For now I hope you have enjoyed travelling with me through my brief memories of 4 wonderful weeks.

 

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INTRODUCTION
I last took 3 months sabbatical study leave in 1998 whilst I was Team Rector of Walthamstow. In theory I should have then taken some more 7 years after becoming a bishop; this would have been 2011. So this sabbatical study leave had felt a long time coming. Planning began when I was still Bishop of Southampton but first the move to Southwell and Nottingham, in 2010, and then to Durham in 2014, meant 2 postponements. However the idea of exploring children in poverty and some church responses to it had never gone away. The delays meant this was now being done from a different perspective – being a member of the House of Lords and actively engaged in political debates about child welfare; living in the North East with its wider range of child poverty and longer term engagement with Burundi alongside Uganda and Rwanda have all affected what I did, the reading I have undertaken and the overall approach.
Then as the 3 months came to a close I had to decide just what I would do with all the riches I have experienced and gained from this time away from the regular responsibilities of being the Bishop of Durham. I know that it will shape my thinking about life and ministry in the Diocese, as a bishop and in wider national and international matters. This shaping happens over the weeks and months that follow as further reflection happens on re-engagement with local parish and diocesan life.
Several people asked me if I planned to produce a book out of it all. Well for the present the answer to that is No. Instead I have decided to share some of the thinking and reflection through a series of blog pieces. I hope this may get some discussion going. The aim will be to publish a new piece every week for the next few. It might be that slightly more than that appears, or slightly less. I would not be surprised if I am still producing some into the New Year. Whilst I have an outline I have no master plan and the reflections that arise, and responses made, might make me change direction, or go off on a tangent. But to begin I thought I would simply set the scene of what I did and briefly why.

WHY CHILDREN?



Ever since I became a Christian as a teenager I have engaged in working with children. Any analysis of my whole ministry shows that at the very heart of God’s calling on my life has been ministry with, by, to and for, children. I believe every Christian, and every church, has a responsibility to engage with children in some way; how else can we learn ‘to become like a child’; how else can we express God’s love to these ‘little ones’? Hence it is nothing short of a tragedy when a church has no children, or when adult disciples have no opportunity to engage with children regularly; such a lack inevitably stunts the spiritual growth of any church or individual. If there is no child in our midst then we simply miss so much of what God brings to us through them.
In society, and the world, I am ever more convinced that how the most vulnerable are viewed and treated lies at the core of what makes for a Good Society. So much of what is often written and said about the Common Good appears to be orientated around an adult world; this is all the more so when economics is allowed to be the dominant narrative of our corporate lives. The vulnerable, which must include children because of their dependence on adults, can never be the economically most productive. So how they are viewed, valued, cared for, listened to and included is central to being a healthy society. As the prophet Micah outlined, ‘God has shown you what is good … to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6v8) The responsibility of a nation’s leadership includes, ‘defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.’ (Psalm 72v4) So children in poverty must be at the heart of all our concern.
But I also believe that some of us are called to a particular ministry role with, to and for children, and this has been a central part of my own calling. This has always had at its heart a concern for their spirituality, and their own living relationship with God in Jesus Christ. As the years have rolled on then my focus has broadened from simply the church’s ministry to, with, for and by children to a concern for all children and childhood. This has been particularly focussed around children and poverty. 2 of the blogs that will follow will explore the question of poverty in general and of child poverty in particular. For now I simply note its centrality to my own calling.

WHY EAST AFRICA?



Another part of my calling has been to be engaged with the world church; in particular I have found myself called to engage with the Anglican Church in South West Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Just as children were part of my engagement as a disciple from the outset of my Christian journey so too has my awareness of being a world Christian. Here I am deeply grateful to the folk of Staneway Chapel in Ewell, Surrey, and the leadership of the Christian Union at Kingston Grammar School. These were the 2 bodies through whom I came to love Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They nurtured me in the early years of my discipleship. Both taught me from the outset that I was joined to a worldwide body of Christian believers. I have always understood myself to be a world Christian. Now this is something I really wish every Christian would grasp for it opens up the world, and the faith, enormously. I have been so enriched by it. But it was at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, during my training for ordination, that my engagement with East Africa began. Enoch Kayeeye was a CMS Study partner from Kabale, SW Uganda. He was placed in the room next to me at Wycliffe in 1981 and a strong friendship developed, which remains to this day. It is this friendship which led me, and Rosemary, to become more directly engaged with this part of God’s world and church. My curacy parish (All Saints with Holy Trinity, Wandsworth) was very engaged with the Ruanda Mission, and my training incumbent Allan Sirman was a member of its Council. On joining Scripture Union as Inner London Evangelist I was encouraged to become a member of the Ruanda Council myself. In 1994 the Rwanda genocide happened and we moved to St Mary with St Stephen, Walthamstow, a parish with Rwandan links. In 1997 I made my first visit to Rwanda; another followed in 1998, alongside Kabale, as part of the first sabbatical study leave. Leaders of the Anglican church in these nations became friends; friendships that have now lasted over 20 years. Visits happened to either or both every year. Burundi followed from 2000 onwards, but particularly from pre Lambeth Conference 2008. So our connections are now long and deep. They are primarily with Ugandans, Rwandans and Burundians, not ex pat mission partners (although we have always had good friends amongst these too). Half the population of these nations are children. Huge numbers live in deep poverty. They have taught me so much.
So the idea was to in some way put this all together. Do some concerted reading around Poverty, and specifically Child Poverty, in my own context of the UK, and the context of a world where so many children live in poverty. Spend time with Ugandans, Rwandans and Burundians who have sought out of their own love for Christ to respond to the reality of child poverty in their own midst. So the focus was on local responses rather than those made by the global organisations (although there is inevitably some overlap as will become clear in later blogs).
I have made new friends along the way and I am enormously grateful to all who have given advice, time, challenge, encouragement and support.
In Part 2 of this first blog I will outline what I did.

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