For longstanding Tearfund supporters Jan and Paul Krom, time spent living among people affected by poverty in South Africa, Pakistan and south-east Asia has had an enormous impact. Jan shares about their journey of justice.
My husband and I are pretty ordinary people, but we’ve had an unusual life together, seeing parts of the world not normally seen by the average person.
In the 1970s, we were at what was then Melbourne Bible Institute (now the Melbourne School of Theology), around the same time as Tearfund began. There was a group of us – you’d probably call us rebellious or radicals or something! – who would get together to talk about what it means to be a Christian in the world. Where do we fit? How does Christianity fit? How can we be Christians in the world, and be useful? We were trying to discover what a serious, practical Christianity looked like.
We have tried to do that in suburban Melbourne, rural Victoria, in other parts of the world and still now in Tasmania, inspired by 1 John 3:16-18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
We started reading Tearfund Magazine, and that was such a big deal for us: finding other people who actually believed that Christians in Australia should have some responsibility for the rest of the world. We were challenged and inspired by characters who were contributors to Tearfund Magazine and the Church in Australia in those years – people like Dave Andrews, Tim Costello, C.B. Samuel, Ronald Sider. Their words helped us decide things like what sort of house we lived in, how much money we spent on ourselves and family, what proper time we gave to other people, how we use our home and where the rest of the world fits into our lives.
We raised our kids to consider their neighbours. To know what was going on in the world and see their own developing skills as good and useful to that world. I know they often had to contend with weird and wonderful people around the meal table. And we’ve always got a great kick out of hearing these grown-up kids telling their own stories.
We’ve had some marvellous long-time friends who have loved us as they’ve walked similar journeys for a long time now too.
In 2000, we were both teaching and we had the summer holidays free. We rang [former Tearfund staff member] Barbara Deutschmann and asked if there was something one of us could do for a couple months overseas. I went for a month to north-west Pakistan as a music teacher at an aid workers’ school there. I worked the mornings at school then spent most afternoons hanging around with various aid organisations who had bases there. I saw the terrible helplessness of thousands of Afghan refugees. I saw surprising women’s clinics and awful slums. I saw the worn-off fingertips of little children who spent their days scrounging for food.
In 2004 we were sent by our church to work on a project in South Africa for a year. It was a very hard and busy year. We saw terrible poverty, AIDS was rife and oppression still lingered in remnant apartheid.
We lived in a part of south eastern Asia for the year 2012, in what we had all planned to be a good long term service with Interserve. Sadly, a medical problem sent us home. But we did see the frailty of the education and health systems in that area and we did get to know the people.
We have seen various sorts of poverty up close. The images stay clearly in our minds. We can’t be over there now, but our journey makes us pray with all our heart. It makes us pray for the poor and forgotten and for those damaged and made helpless by conflict. We pray too for those in these difficult parts of the world who minister life and hope in the name of Jesus. It makes us try to encourage our brothers and sisters in the wider Church to keep remembering the world we are meant to bless.
And we will continue to explain to others that the world is not just us.
We have lived in Smithton, Tasmania for about 30 years and are part of the Anglican fellowship here. Paul visits people who are sick and sad, and over the years we’ve given talks in churches and to community groups, helping people understand what poverty is, and what it looks like, and about the work of Tearfund.
I’ve recently retired from teaching music full time, and know that God gives you gifts that are useful to people and that will bless his world. Music won’t help you if you’re starving to death. Music won’t help if you’ve had your leg blown off. There are lots of instances where music is just such a frivolous little thing. But I’ve seen how music can bless all sorts of people in all sorts of places. While Paul has fixed things and made teacher resources, I have taught action songs for teachers of English to use with kids, I’ve sat on the floor to teach recorder and taught songs and dances and a rehydration rap to be used in a place where there was a lot of sickness.
Graham Kendrick wrote an unusual and powerful song for the church a few years back. It has several verses about hunger and despair; fragile lives from war and dispossession; ravaged earth and greed. After all this awfulness a plaintive longing in the form of an anthem rings out: “God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain. Come change our love from a spark to a flame.”
This is how we’d like our justice journey to be. Please Lord give us courage.
We have seen various sorts of poverty up close. The images stay clearly in our minds. We can’t be over there now, but our journey makes us pray with all our heart.
Edward Everett Hale, an American author and clergyman in the 1800s, said: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I shall do.” We’ve got those words stuck up on our mantelpiece.