On remaining evangelical, even when I’m not sure what it means

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On Tuesday evening I staggered home from the tube station, zombie like from nearly a full 24 hours travelling, from the rising of the sun on one side of the world to its setting back home in London. I’d been in Cambodia for just a little over a week, but the time I was gone failed to do justice to the intensity of the experience. Seeing communities overcoming poverty, and churches working for the good of their neighbours. Hearing about a regime in living memory that saw the deaths of a quarter of the population, many tortured and executed, many more dying from starvation and disease. Experiencing hospitality from a church of a dozen people.

I thought perhaps I would have a lot to process and a long post of reflection to scribe. In fact, it was rather simple, the good was great, the opportunity brilliant, the place beautiful and the food wonderful (mostly). The things that were hard, were not really that hard. It was tiring, exhausting, and has taken me almost as long as I was there to begin to feel human again. The burden I felt we carried through the trip was the attempt to encourage new supporters to back Tearfund and help communities such as those we were meeting in Cambodia become self-reliant and shrug off the anvil of poverty weighing them down. It was awkward, and it was tough, and we failed to achieve what we had set out to do. I found that very hard, and Rich has also written about this.

More than anything I was overcome by the beauty of the place I had spent a few precious days. And the chance to move beyond the sights and sounds of the capital and share meals with people in their houses, and hear the hopes and dreams they shared, and the problems that together they were going to overcome.

As I barely crawled along the footpath outside Bermondsey tube station with a rucksack on each shoulder I bumped into a friend and uttered some incoherent words. She offered to carry my bags, I turned down the help and staggered on, regretting my refusal to inconvenience her a few streets later. I had spent a week seeing and writing about the virtue about helping one another, and yet I carried on alone. Continue reading

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In which I ask you to donate to Tearfund

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Over the past week I’ve written a lot about my time in Cambodia with Tearfund. This is my sixteenth post, with half of them being here and half in various places across the internet.

And in most of them I’ve ended with a line letting you know how you can keep up with what we’ve been doing, and how you can give money to support Tearfund’s work.

That was always an explicit part of this trip: to visit one of the communities featured in Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative and tell the stories to help bring them our reader’s attention and encourage them to be part of an initiative where each month they get a prayer update from the village, and every few months a video update.

It’s also been the only part of the trip I’ve found even slightly stressful. The rest has been busy, new, unusual, unexpected, warming, and hot. But the target of getting people to sign up to give money is not something I’m used to or something I find particularly easy.

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I’ve felt uncomfortable writing lines asking people to give, I’ve felt worse when I’ve added them to posts on other people’s blogs.

And yet I am fully convinced of the value of the work supported in Cambodia. I haven’t got the least bit of hesitation in saying that. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit English but I want to preface it by saying: “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but if you wouldn’t mind, and if you do, don’t worry, but if perhaps you might be able to, could you possibly give Tearfund some money?”

13354971775_15ed75af35_bWhile I have been here I have seen the people trained, and the projects that have come out of the training. There is often scope for material donations, for wells, for toilets, for classrooms. But the commitment of this programme to people and investing in them, and doing so through the church which will remain, rather than a charity which might move on after a few years, is both obvious and exciting.

Tearfund are supporting work that makes a difference, and doing so in a way that is sustainable, and centred on the role of the local church engaging and changing its community. And your money can make a difference to communities who struggle to feed their families, who are placed in crisis when their chickens die, or the market pays a poor rate for the pig they’d banked on supporting them. It can prompt churches to lead the way providing education, raising awareness about healthcare and improving savings for the whole community.

As I prepare to return to the UK tomorrow, please support Tearfund. If you give as part of this initiative you’ll be able to keep up with the people we met this week, and hear about the impact your support is having.

To give online go to www.tearfund.org/bloggers and hit the button in the banner image.

To give by text just text HOPE TODAY to 70444 – the first 60 to sign up to give will also receive a print from my talented fellow blogger Rich Wells. This will subscribe you to give £3 a month to See For Yourself, Tearfund.  It will be added to your mobile phone bill and Tearfund receives 100% of the money. This subscription service will cost £3.00 per month until you send STOP to 70080.

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Cambodia – seeing beyond Indiana Jones

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Aged fourteen and on a ferry to France I was upgraded to Club Class to ensure this unaccompanied minor didn’t get up to any mischief. Instead of mischief, I sat with my complementary papers and cup of tea and read about the funeral pyre for Pol Pot splashed on the front page.

Now I want to travel to see the country, hear from the people and learn how you and I can make a difference.

That ferry journey was when I first heard of Cambodia. I later learnt of the Vietnam conflict which spilled across borders and read accounts of the killing fields, where grass was turned red as up to two million of Pol Pot’s countrymen were killed under the command of Brother One. Twenty three years prior to his death his Khmer Rouge fighters took Phnom Penh to, as the Chicago Tribune described, turn his ideology into bloody reality.

And nearly two decades on in a country with an economy growing, the poor are being left behind.

Pol Pot dreamt of recreating the glory days of Angkor Wat and the Khmer empire of the twelfth century, instead he left a country crippled by civil war, a population haunted by poverty and a nation that nobody noticed. Twenty years after the start of his atrocities his death brought the country back to the front pages for those like me to hear of for the first time, and after a brief flirtation with the public interest it faded from view again.

Apart from the occasional photos from a friend’s travels through south-east Asia, usually posed before the stunning temples from an era belonging more to Indiana Jones than the present population, Cambodia remains an enigma. One of those places far away where dreadful things happened by one of the last great dictators of a twentieth century haunted with a litany of figures robbing humanity of their own.

The present is further away than the past.

The past can be accounted for, it can be condemned and it can be denounced, it can be labelled an aberration when man killed man for nothing but a misplaced sense of national glory. The present is with us. It is a mother left caring for children when a father dies. It is an eldest daughter looking after her siblings when HIV robs a family of its parents. It is poverty ingrained in community life, a norm that should be anything but. A status quo which must be questioned, condemned and dealt with, denounced with as much force and far more action than the slaughter of innocents decades before.

It is something you must do and I must too.

The effects of poverty, the lack of clean water, the unceasing hunger, the paucity of education that stumps development at its root. It can all seem too much. It can stun us into inaction, blinded by complexity, blinkered by politics, blanked out by poverty so vast it seems almost normal. The tyranny of grand problems block us from acting even when the step we can take is small and very achievable. It doesn’t take much but it takes something.

The coffee I drunk as I wrote this is all it costs to support their work each month. If you gave £3 to Tearfund each month it would enable them to work with local churches and community organisations. By doing this communities are able to support themselves, help feed each other, access resources and help put families beyond the reach of poverty that rips families apart and takes lives without care for the cost.

I am going to travel the thousands of miles across continents to see how the help helps. To see the work work. And to see what your support would support. To see the lives that Tearfund are already helping transform, and those it could affect with the cost of your coffee each month.

I am not a fundraiser, I am not a particularly good at self promotion. I even stopped blogging for the past few months. But I have my words, and I want to hear the stories from Cambodia and tell them to you. I want to bring them to life so that you can help Tearfund sustain life in places where it too often hangs by too thin a thread.

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I’m thrilled to have been chosen by Tearfund to travel to Cambodia in March as part of their bloggers’ trip. Along with Anita Mathias and Rich Wells, I’ll be telling stories of what we see on the ground and the work that Tearfund are doing to give a helping hand up out of poverty. Stay tuned for more!

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Syria: Prayer is not a weapon of last resort

Last night Threads hosted a gathering to discuss Syria and what we can do in response to it. It also involved a broken chair which I was unfairly characterised as having ‘brandished’, but the less about that the better.

The need acutely highlighted by articles such as ‘9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask‘. A meme spread a few weeks ago where you had to pin point on a map where Damascus is – I was relieved to only be about 80 miles out, apparently better that most other users.

That the situation is complex is a statement so obvious it borders on meaningless. Neither side are angels (are they ever?), the crimes committed are disputed, the efficacy of military action disputed.

Complexity can blind us. Imperfect options can ground us. Fear can stall us. Fatigue can make us turn away.

I put the case last night that while there is a just cause and a moral case for intervention, we should still not take military action. I made the case that without a good prospect of success, or a clear idea of what that success looks like, the moral weight behind military intervention would be scuppered. Continue reading

Living on porridge and making pea soup: I’m living below the line

20130429-151914.jpg50 grammes of porridge isn’t very much. And it’s fairly tasteless on its own, but I’d ran out of money so couldn’t afford even the cheapest jam, honey or golden syrup.

For £1 I’ve got a pot of broth on the hob that will be my lunch for the entire week. A bag of split green peas, a carrot, an onion and part of a swede. And to do this this with the greatest level of integrity I have to account for the shake of salt, pepper and parsley from my shelf.

And yes, the pot is still on the hob and won’t be ready until gone 3pm. And this is my lunch. Good job I’ve got a day off work as I start living below the line for a week. Time in the morning to go shopping, time to prepare cheap but labour and time intensive food. A luxury I won’t have time for the rest of the week, so today’s goods will be divided up, put into boxes along with 3 slices of value bread.

I had to put food back on the shelf at the supermarket. I couldn’t afford as many eggs as I would have liked. If I want to drink tea, which I do, I’ll have to forego an apple one day.

If you haven’t came across Live Below the Line before, let me explain. Across the world 1.4billion people live in extreme poverty while we are too busy buying happy meals. This is twenty times the number of people in the UK living on the equivalent of less than £1 a day. This isn’t one of our pounds taken over to different countries, it is calculated through purchasing power parity – adjusting prices for different countries. More details are available about the calculations on the Live Below the Line site.

So for five days I am joining with many others and living on £1 per day. That’s why my caffeine intact will be down, why I’ll have a small breakfast, the same lunch each day, and an unexciting rice and beans dinner, on a couple of days I get to have eggs.

This is not just a stunt. It’s not just an exercise in embodied empathy, but hopefully it will do that. It’s about learning what many, far too many, go through each and every day. They cannot look forward to Saturday like me, when I can have a fry up.

Live Below the Line is also a fantastic way of raising money for charities who are doing vital work in many of the countries those 1.4 billion people live in. I’m joining up with Tearfund as I live below the line this week, and I would love if you could sponsor me – all the money goes direct to them.

SPONSOR ME NOW!!! (Forgive the poor etiquette, this is important.)