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Christian Aid Week: Faith can be more than thinking and speaking about God

Canon George Irwin on how practical acts of kindness during Christian Aid Week illustrates a visible love and compassion for God. He also reflects on what inspired him to get involved forty years ago.  


During many years of helping to co-ordinate Christian Aid Week in the churches I served, I have always admired and have been inspired by the faith and dedication of the loyal band of volunteers who went out each year, in all kinds of weather, to collect door-to-door during Christian Aid Week.

 

Why did they do it again and again, despite potential discouragements on the doorsteps? What kept them at it year after year? I have no doubt that their perseverance and cheerful dedication flowed from an understanding of faith which saw it as a task to be done and not just a profession of belief. In other words, faith for them was not just a way of thinking about God and speaking about God, but something to be lived out in practical acts of kindness and compassion. Such a practical witness not only enables people to make the love of God visible but gives them a vision of an incarnate Christ who is involved in the suffering and the needs of humanity.
 
This brings me back forty years to my student days when I first became inspired to get involved in the work of Christian Aid. On reflection, the vital catalyst was a visit to the Theological College by the Rev. Ian McDowell who was the CEO of Christian Aid in Ireland at the time. Ian’s message was clear and straightforward and, in essence, a simple elucidation of St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ message to the congregation of the Synagogue at Nazareth when he launched his teaching ministry (Luke 4:14-21).  Jesus set out his ‘manifesto’ by reading from the prophet Isaiah:

 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 
because he has anointed me 
to bring good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim release to 

the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, 

to let the oppressed go free, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’                                   

(Isaiah 61:1-2)
 
This is a clear message about making visible the love and compassion of God through practical acts of kindness and the pursuit of justice. And so central is this message to Jesus’ ministry that he begins his sermon in the Synagogue by saying, ’Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4 :21). In other words, Jesus is here setting out a definition of his ministry and it is clearly a ministry which has at its heart a programme of practical service with respect to relieving the suffering of the poor, the deprived and the disadvantaged. Indeed, the rest of the gospel is just an outworking of this practical programme announced at Nazareth. And furthermore, it is this same programme which Jesus endorses yet again when, later in his ministry, he is questioned by John the Baptist about his credentials as the Messiah: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’ (Matt. 11:4-5)
 
Ever since hearing Ian McDowell’s commentary on Luke 4:14-21 the words ‘Christian Aid’ have never failed to remind me of Jesus’ message about preaching good news to the poor. But Jesus’ words spoke to me with an urgency, poignancy and clarity when in 2014 I had the opportunity to visit projects supported by Christian Aid in Zimbabwe. Here I was able to see, first hand what it means to make ‘good news for the poor’ a palpable reality. The development projects I visited in Zimbabwe made me feel that I was on sacred ground and gave me a vivid sense that what I was witnessing was very much part of that programme Jesus announced in the Synagogue at Nazareth. We too are sent to announce good news to the poor. It is for us to proclaim by our words and demonstrate by our lives that Jesus’ vision of a new world of peace dignity and freedom is indeed worth striving for.
 
Thanks and prayerful good wishes to all Christian Aid volunteers as they prepare for Christian Aid Week 2017. 

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