I case you were wondering what I preached this morning… (I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that placemat story!)
Given at St John the Divine, Victoria. Third Sunday of Advent: March 11, 2012. Gospel: John 2:13-22.
I remember my first encounter with The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). I was young, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, and what stands out are those placemats. We’ve all seen them… from coast to coast, many Anglican church potlucks have had those placemats covering the tables where we sit and eat together. But those placemats are not what gave me a passion for the Primate’s fund, nor are they what has kept me involved in it, nearly 20 years later… Rather it was the stories told by a passionate person in my parish who knew about and believed in the stories of what the Primate’s fund is doing around the world.
But more on those stories in a minute…
First, who am I and what do I do with PWRDF? In my day-to-day life, I am a counsellor with the Cool Aid Society. In my weekend life, I worship down the street at Christ Church Cathedral where I, amongst other things, serve on Parish Council. With the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, I am the youth council representative for the ecclesiastical province of BC and the Yukon. That is a fancy way of saying that my role is to bring the voices of youth in BC and the Yukon to the national board of the Primate’s Fund and then turn around and bring the stories of PWRDF partners to people, particularly youth, in the same region. I am not on the board, rather I am part of youth council: a separate and autonomous entity composed of a dozen youth from across this country who are passionate about international relief and development, and social justice. Youth who both create programs and resources for Canadian Anglican youth and who tell the stories of PWRDF to youth.
Why PWRDF? For one thing, it is homegrown, beginning as an Anglican response to disasters within Canada and over the last fifty years spreading to have a national and international relief and development focus.
But what I love about PWRDF is the model we use to operate. We don’t import “western experts” into countries and tell locals how best to fix the problems in their regions and communities. We don’t spend precious resource monies on a large staff or on bringing products overseas. Rather, we partner with organizations who are already working on the ground in their own communities and support and resource them in continuing the work they are already doing.
And people like myself volunteer to tell their stories…
In relief efforts, our partnership might look like providing the funds for an organization to buy precious food to be distributed in drought-stricken or famine-ridden areas.
In development, it looks like translating documents into indigenous languages to help a people group re-learn the skills to grow and harvest their own crops rather than rely on corrupt corporations who will under-pay and overwork them.
Or it may look like providing the start-up money for a women’s microcredit organization, like the one we heard about this morning in Mozambique. In fact, with that organization in Mozambique, one woman who first entered with just a cow and an idea to produce and sell milk to other villagers to support her family now owns not only a herd of cattle but also the land they graze on and she is able to employ many of her neighbours.
In relief, it looks like the villages in Kenya that I visited in 2009. There the Canadian Foodgrains bank, of which PWRDF is a member, was involved in distributing food to thousands of individuals who were affected by the devastating East African drought. We travelled around regions of the country, bringing giant bags of beans and maize and jugs of oil: enough supplies of food to feed a family of eight for a month. In each village we went to, we sat down with a group of people from the village to hear their stories. In each village, the stories were heart-breakingly similar: the rains had not come. Yes, there had been sprinkles here and there, but the big rains, the rains that nourished the ground and gave life to growing crops, had not come for five, six years. Crops would not and could not grow. The livestock that had not been sold, given away, or eaten, simply sat in the shade of scraggly trees all day, as there was no grass to feed on.
We met a woman, 34 years old, the 4th wife of her husband, with eight children of her own – who could finally feed her children, including the young one still breastfeeding. In another village, a man tearfully told us of how grateful he was for the food relief for his village because, as he said it, if we had not come, some of the people in the village had found “chemicals” to use to end their problems as they could not bear the shame of being unable to feed their families.
Yet it was not all tales of woe. One village in the Mt Kenya region refused to roll over and let the drought win. They did not want to receive food relief… While we sat and talked, they spoke of the projects they wanted to do to develop their village so that they could better withstand another drought. So we talked about how to set up a “food for work” program in which we provided food and resources for irrigation and they, in return, would create an irrigation project in their village so that when the rains did come, they would be able to capture and save as much rain as possible for as long as possible.
In relief and development it looks like our partnership with the Organization of Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation or OfERR, an Indian/Sri Lankan organization that PWRDF has partnered with for 30 years. OfERR works with refugees of the Sri Lankan civil war who have taken up residence in refugee camps in South India. They not only help with getting identification documents for the refugees and skills retraining, but they provide community support to the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India. When the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit India and Sri Lanka, OfERR was able to assist in the relief and rebuilding of the communities in which they lived, giving back to a place that had accepted them as refugees. This past week, a priest of our diocese and a friend of mine left for two weeks in India and Sri Lanka. He goes with a number of other Canadians associated with PWRDF to spend time with OfERR, supporting their work and, if everything going according to plan, to bear witness to one of the first groups of the 100,000 Tamil refugees as they return to their home in Sri Lanka.
In development, it looks like the Keiskamma Trust, a PWRDF partner organization in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, an area of South Africa hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. Founded by an artist, who also happens to be a medical doctor, the Trust provides medical support to individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS. I had the opportunity to meet the founder and director of the Trust at PWRDF’s board meeting last fall. Her vision is extraordinary: knowing that health is more than just physical health, she has expanded the original medial clinic to include both a women’s arts collective and a children’s music academy. The medical centre works at providing health care and medications to a group of people so frequently shunned and stigmatized in their society. The arts collective brings women together to create masterpieces of fabric arts that have been exhibited around the world. The music academy gives the children something bigger than themselves to be a part of and has given them the opportunity to tour and play for large audiences in cathedrals and on game reserves throughout South Africa. Not only do I know the stories of these individuals through meeting the founder and director, but also my sister has been in South Africa since August teaching music at the academy.
Reflecting back to words we heard read this morning, the Gospel reading gave us quite a different picture of Jesus than we typically see on Sunday School flannel boards or pictures mounted on the wall. In this story, Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and uses a whip to drive out all of the vendors and money-changers. Wow. To put into perspective what these guys were doing… it would be like you coming to church this morning and having to pay exorbitant fees because you needed to change your Canadian dollars into American dollars in order to buy the things you need for worship: your leaflet, your hymn book, or your prayer book. Ridiculous. Completely Unjust. But that is what was going on.
If we look around us, there are injustices everywhere. We have before us a model of Jesus taking action and, to use the words of one of the Marks of Mission: “seek[ing] to transform the unjust structures of society”. In our gospel reading, Jesus is actively challenging, in a very visible and somewhat violent way, the structures of his society that were creating injustice.
Another one of the Marks of Mission is “To respond to human need by loving service.”
Human need is all around us and through PWRDF we have an amazing vehicle for acting on that need. We are called to respond and we are constantly challenged in scripture to follow the example of Jesus.
For me, a big part of that is the work that I do with PWRDF and what I would challenge you with today. I’m not saying that everyone has to go out there and start overturning tables, though sometimes that might work, but what can you do, what can I do, to follow the example of Jesus, to work against injustice and to respond to real human need with what resources we have at hand.
Because I have seen that together we do make a difference. We can make Another World Possible.