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The sound of jubilee: 1971-2021. Tearfund 50th anniversary celebration.

The sound of Jubilee – Reflections from the Tearfund Community

Countless people over the past 50 years have contributed to making Tearfund the organisation it is today. People who have been involved in Tearfund in a whole range of ways – as staff, fieldworkers, board members, volunteers – reflect on where they’ve seen Jubilee lived out.

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Life-giving expressions of our good God

I was married in the same year that Tearfund began in Australia, so 2021 is a double Jubilee for me. Both ventures were undertaken with love and hope and both are still lively 50 years on, which says much about the power of a good idea underpinned by faith in a trustworthy God.

My years on the staff at Tearfund were rich and wonderful but I was never seduced into thinking we could change the world. Just as the Jubilee notion of economic amnesty in the Old Testament expressed a divine ideal, Tearfund’s work is always a planting of “signs of the new world in the ruins of the old”. But they were, and are, strong, meaningful signs about the nature of God and of the places where God in Christ chooses to be.

I saw those signs in work with street kids in Zimbabwe, people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, with mothers in Myanmar, with the chronically ill in Galiwinku, northern Australia, with the rural poor in India. Despite the significant challenges that we as global citizens face now, the world remains a hopeful place for me because of the insistent, life-giving expressions of our good God among Tearfund partners. Happy Anniversary Tearfund! May you continue to thrive and bless others.

Barbara Deutschmann worked for many years with Tearfund in international development and the First Peoples program. In retirement she cares for family, maintains an active interest in Indigenous peoples, and researches in the area of gender in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

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Jubilee 2000: breaking chains of debt

Although we’ve been involved in Tearfund since 1985, our time on the staff, as NSW State Coordinators, coincided with the peak years of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, so any mention of Jubilee always invokes memories of those heady days.

Having lived in South America for most of the 1990s, the thought that national debts might be cancelled seemed like a pipedream. A great campaign slogan, tying a one-off Jubilee style debt reduction to the turning of a new millennium – but highly unlikely.

Despite widespread knowledge that much of the debt that had been run up was the result of failed IMF and World Bank development strategies (including massive currency devaluations that magnified $US denominated debts in local currencies), kleptocratic dictatorships and self-aid from the West (lending money to create markets for its military exports), the Western lenders were not going to set a dangerous precedent and forgive debts. While bankruptcy courts exist for individuals and corporations, there was no mechanism for national governments to declare themselves insolvent and restructure their finances.

Against all odds, and with the backing of Christians around the globe, Jubilee 2000 shifted the conversation, and provided impetus to the formation of other lobbying efforts from other civil society groups. Perhaps the strongest memory is witnessing the huge crowd of peaceful protesters and pray-ers surrounding the G7 Meetings in Birmingham in 1998. In Australia there were large public meetings across the country, and Tearfund was part of a delegation to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, with Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Harry Goodhew.

Despite sustained resistance, some countries, notably Britain, began to embrace the possibility of change – eventually the World Bank and IMF agreed too.

In a sign of goodwill and in recognition of the gross injustices, debts were indeed cancelled. Money that had been flowing out from the poorest nations of the world stayed there – and governments were able to increase spending on education, health and infrastructure.

Tearfund played a leading role in the Jubilee 2000 campaign, hosting the national secretariat and seconding Grant Hill to the campaign. Chains of debt were broken, the hungry were fed, children went to school, and Christians joined together and found their voice on an issue of global significance that was entirely other centred.

They were heady days indeed.

Jude Powell Thomas and Trevor Thomas first joined the Tearfund network in 1985. Since then they have been engaged in a number of ways, serving on the staff, as Joint NSW Coordinators, and Overseas Fieldworker Coordinator (Jude), and on the board (Trevor). They are active members of Newtown Mission, a Uniting Church community in the inner west of Sydney.

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Kujadiliana Huleta Amini! (dialogue brings peace!)

On one troubled night in Kenya late in December 2007, as political violence and disruption broke out all around, the sound of Jubilee rang out in the Mai Mahui district of the Rift Valley.

Civil unrest, instigated and incited by politicians on all sides, was spreading throughout Kenya following the disputed presidential election outcome in December 2007. As political parties wrestled for power, tribal groups and gangs clashed around the country, dividing neighbours, attacking townships and driving families from their homes. In 59 days, as many as 1,400 people were killed and 600,000 displaced throughout Kenya.

North of Mai Mahui in Naivasha, hundreds of farms and houses were burned and more than a hundred people were killed.

In stark contrast, Mai Mahui stayed calm that night as thousands of traumatised people fled there to find refuge and a safe haven. Overnight Mai Mahui became known as “the place of peace”.

Through the 1990s tribal clashes had resulted in large numbers of displaced people. Many had settled in areas like Mai Mahui, leading to overgrazing and competition for land and water. In Mai Mahui, skirmishes between Kikuyu and Maasai over these scarce resources had turned violent in 1992, 2000 and 2005 with the torching of villages and the destruction of the disputed water points.

Tearfund’s partner organisation, the Mt Kenya District Anglican Church of Kenya Christian Community Services (now Anglican Development Services) had been working with the Mai Mahui community for some years when it was invited by local leaders to support four Kikuyu and two Maasai villages in an effort to end this cyclical conflict. They began to discuss the reintroduction of traditional systems of conflict resolution and dialogue in an attempt to find appropriate and lasting ways of resolving and settling their disputes, and to find particular solutions for the differing water needs of each village.

The resulting Mai Mahui Water for Peace project was barely a year old when the national violence of 2008 put to the test the fledgling dialogue between the six diverse villages.

So why did Mai Mahui remain calm on that and subsequent nights?

We were told by community leaders that, on hearing the news of the post-election incitement to violence, the project leaders and elders from the six villages went out together during the night to stand with their communities, encouraging them to reject the rumours and lies of provocateurs swirling around them, and to trust each other.

Where development projects in most other places were suspended due to the conflict, the Water for Peace project continued. No one was killed, no farms were burned and trading continued and tractors were able to move about.

“The Kikuyu and the Maasai are now brothers and sisters”, said a Kikuyu community leader.

“It was common to hear ‘war cries’ in the past, but no war cries were heard during this period,” said a community leader from Mai Mahui in May 2008.

The sound of Jubilee – a deafening peace-filled calm!

Community peace building has continued since that time. The majority of disputes are now being heard at village level by leaders who have been trained and supported by local magistrates and police.

Peace committees have been established in the villages to run “peace campaigns”, and training in peace building skills has been facilitated.

Alongside this, cooperative ways of rehabilitating and sharing existing water resources and building new ones have been developed and are ongoing.

We give thanks for those community leaders who were tangible instruments of God’s peace in Mai Mahui in 2007-2008 and whose actions embodied the sound of Jubilee: good news made flesh in those troubled post-election times in Kenya.

We continue to pray for the villages in Mai Mahui, and for their vision for enduring peace and reconciliation through ongoing dialogue.

Geoff and Marjorie Quinn served as fieldworkers in Zambia. Geoff subsequently worked on staff in the International Program Team supporting our African partners, and Marjorie was on the Tearfund board. She serves on the International Program Allocations Committee.

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That day is coming. Jubilee is coming.

In Matthew 11, we read about John the Baptist being thrown in prison for criticising the authorities of the day. It seems this turn of events led John to go through some hard self doubt. And he wonders, perhaps if he has got it all wrong. He sends word to Jesus, asking: “Are you the one – or is there someone else?”

Jesus says: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

This is the evidence that Jesus gives to John. That’s it. No personal words of reassurance, just: “John – look at what is happening. People are healed, the poor are hearing good news.”

Perhaps it did encourage John that he was on the right side of history, but in any case things didn't improve much for John, who shortly later was killed by Herod.

I find great comfort in this story. It is essentially saying: you can be doing the right thing – following the truth, speaking hard words to oppressive powers – doing all that, and still it will come to a hard end for you. These are the realities of this world. Jubilee is coming. The Kingdom will be fully born. Don't worry about when: just keep going.

I hold on to this. And for all the people I have known in hard countries whose lives are still marked by enduring hardship and pain, chaos and fear, I hold on to this. They may not know healing, not yet. They may not see the Kingdom of God and his peace made on this earth. And their sons and daughters may not see it. But that day is coming. Jubilee is coming. God is true to his word. Hold on to this.

This contributor is a former fieldworker in Afghanistan.

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Informed discipleship at the heart of Tearfund’s mission

When the board was first set up, we all became Tearfund volunteers, energetically promoting biblical understanding about poverty and our relationship with it. Supporting Tearfund, right from the early days, we had a strong emphasis that in supporting Tearfund, the invitation was as much a lifestyle decision as a charity response.

For me, I had been working with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students for many years, so connecting with Tearfund was an extension of sharing with students about the global dimensions of what a biblical response to discipleship meant. As I travelled, I met many people, students and young graduates.

We were always on the lookout and seeking to develop robust, theological and biblical material that unpacked what it means for Christians to respond to issues of poverty today. I remember early on a fantastic little booklet on the Jubilee theme that the board was being encouraged to look through.

This is at the heart of Tearfund’s mission, informed discipleship, and it is a perennial task. It is easy to be seduced in our society but Christians need to be continually reminded of issues of poverty, justice and discipleship.

Tony McCarthy is a long-term Tearfund supporter and was Chair of the Tearfund board from 1979 to 2004.

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Building resilience from generation to generation

In south west Bangladesh, in the delta of the Ganges, the second and emerging third generations of families will now be benefiting from the HEED Bangladesh community development project which was supported by Tearfund.

Forty years ago there was a large population of very poor people living in this salty tidal backwater which was only accessible by boat. It lacked supportive government services and was somewhat controlled by exploitative absentee landlords who tended to extract finances from the area. HEED encouraged these people to form small groups for savings, functional education, improved health services and enhanced income opportunities.

Over time the women especially responded. They found themselves liberated from their trapped circumstances and freed to explore their own worth, support their children’s future and to build their community. Some were even elected to local government positions. A few men’s groups also responded, learning to share resources, improve livelihoods and tackle corruption through learning to use due legal processes. Such is one aspect of sharing the good news of their worth to the humbled poor. They are lifted up.

It was a privilege to be on the ground during the early years of this process, to journey with Bengali staff as we learnt how to be facilitators of these outcomes. In time the expatriates withdrew to allow Bengalis to take responsibility for the organisation. The number of groups expanded and the diversity of outcomes continued. With the passing of the years and the maturing of the groups, HEED moved to other locations.

It would be interesting to research the long term benefits of the community support offered. Given the area’s sensitivity to inundation from rising sea levels, increased intensity of cyclones and now the impact of the COVID pandemic, the hope is that the life skills learnt and community robustness will pass down from generation to generation and enable the local families and communities to manage their future options and to live their God-given lives more fully.

Ross and Gail Lantzke have been involved with Tearfund since the 1970s when they moved to Bangladesh to work within a Tearfund-supported partner organisation. Since their return to Australia in the mid-80s, Ross was a member of Tearfund's allocation committee, and both he and Gail have continued to actively support Tearfund in WA.

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Seeing work of partners in India was a humbling experience

I loved my time on the Tearfund board and it was a great privilege to serve as chair for four years. My fortnightly meetings with Matthew were a highlight, where I gained a much better appreciation of the extraordinary work carried out by our staff daily. The board work, particularly on governance and strategy, challenged all of our preconceptions and assumptions – I recall one particularly passionate debate on if and how Tearfund should grow, with the blessing of so many opinions and views to enrich our discussion. This was important work.

My outstanding memory, however, which epitomises the lived experience of Jubilee, is when a few members of the board travelled to India in January 2018. This is when the work of Tearfund, and our extraordinary partners, suddenly became reality rather than reading. In nine days we met with three of our partners and had the privilege to meet the people they were working with in urban and rural environments. A number of them remain sharply etched in my memory. Welcoming, warm, generous with what little they had. A very humbling experience for someone from such an affluent society.

These were the people trapped and imprisoned by poverty, disability, lack of education and opportunity. Those afflicted by disabilities were particularly courageous and were undergoing such joyful restoration into a loving community. The young women desperate and determined to break their children out of the cycle of early marriage which had given them often situations of violence and abuse and little opportunity to fulfil their God given potential – but even in that situation, they joyfully sang and danced and gave such a glimpse of laughter, mutual support, new life and restoration. Their thirst for literacy, education and other opportunities was palpable.

Through each of these, and through those working with our partners, this was the sound of Jubilee. Truly inspirational.

I cannot help but wonder how many of them have been able to survive the terrible toll the pandemic has taken on India – but they were unfailingly brave and resourceful people and I can only hope that they have weathered this further trial.

Creator God, we who inhabit your earth have allowed so much inequality and damage to occur. During the tragedy of a global pandemic which has destroyed so many lives and livelihoods, we have all been given the chance to witness the dreadful impact of that inequality of healthcare, of resources and food, particularly on those whose lives are already made fragile by poverty. We have seen great generosity and great selfishness. We ask you to use this tragic situation affecting all countries on earth, to intensify Tearfund’s work and influence, to accelerate, amplify, and inspire those who have plenty and who have resources, to respond with generosity and empathy, to share the resources of the earth, and to work towards the restoration of and freedom from poverty of those in the greatest need.

Amen

Joanna Betteridge, Principal of Betteridge Legal Consulting, is a lawyer practising in employment and safety law. Joanna served on the Tearfund board between 2010 and 2018, including as Chair for four of those years.

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Volunteer-run projects making a tangible difference

During the 1990s Tearfund volunteers came up with an innovative scheme to involve Australian Christians in a practical response to global poverty and to educate people about international development challenges. It was called Christmas Tucker.

Volunteer Kylie Tomalaris was instrumental in launching Christmas Tucker, which encouraged church communities to stage a short-term café, or a one-off meal, in the prelude to Christmas. Menus for these events included snacks, drinks and dishes from developing nations. The aim was to educate people about the needs of the poor and all proceeds raised went to Tearfund’s partners.

Kylie’s determination and enthusiasm for Christmas Tucker was infectious and soon a wide range of church communities across Australia – from large youth fellowships to small Bible study groups – staged all manner of Christmas Tucker events in halls, homes and other venues. Tearfund provided support including recipes, decoration ideas, guest speakers and educational materials. There was a strong focus on raising awareness about the work of Tearfund’s overseas partners.

When groups began staging events outside the Christmas period, the program was renamed Just Tucker.

A second powerful educational initiative of this era was the 40,000 Faces Project. During the 1990s around 40,000 children aged under five were dying each day from poverty-related causes. Moved by this tragedy, Kylie Tomalaris launched 40,000 Faces to raise awareness of the toll poverty was taking on children in very poor communities. She asked supporters of Just Tucker and Tearfund to cut out photographs from magazines and newspapers and paste them on a piece of cardboard. These were then collected to create an installation display of 40,000 faces, representing the number of children needlessly lost each day.

There was a huge response to the challenge and Tearfund’s NSW office was swamped by sheets of cardboard covered with faces sent from across the nation. In the end the organisers received far more than 40,000 faces. This activity was an especially powerful educational activity for schools and many of the pasted faces were received from classrooms.

The cardboard sheets were made into walk-through educational displays featuring 40,000 faces and shown at venues across Australia including churches, Just Tucker meals and many other Tearfund events.

Christmas Tucker and The 40,000 Faces Project were both great expressions of Tearfund’s mission. They were created and implemented by Australian volunteers, they focused on Tearfund’s partners, they educated people about injustice and poverty and, ultimately, they made a difference to poor communities.

Matt Wade worked for Tearfund from 1988 to 1999 and was a fieldworker in India. He is a senior writer for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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‘Serious people loving God and living to serve’

An hour before writing this, I heard of the death of an old colleague in north east India. His name was Kabi Gangmei. Both he and his wife succumbed to COVID-19.

Over many years Kabi served in leadership roles with churches, missions, and development NGOs. When I first met him, more than 30 years ago, he was heading up NEICORD, a sister organisation to EFICOR based in Shillong and working with communities across the north east through small-scale agriculture extension and livelihoods projects. That first meeting fixed him vividly in my memory, and the memory still brings a smile to my face.

I was there as the representative of Tearfund, responsible from our side to manage Tearfund’s interests in the partnership. Significant funding was involved and there was serious business to do – and plenty to talk about. When I went to Kabi’s house to get started, he suggested that we hold off for an hour. There was something he had to watch on the television and I was welcome to join him. Turned out to be a boxing match, a world heavyweight title bout between Mike Tyson and somebody who did not last long. Throughout, Kabi was glued to the grainy black and white picture; diminutive, animated, dodging blows, and wincing when they hit. What a strange and wildly incongruous beginning. But one that opened me up to the warm, multi-faceted and interesting man he was.

Over time my knowledge of him broadened of course. There was a lot to admire. A fearsome intellect, high energy and work capacity, above all an undeviating and fierce commitment to serve God, the Church and the community. All that rigour, moderated by his love for a good laugh. And the occasional boxing match.

Men and women like Kabi were my lifeblood through the near 30 years I worked with Tearfund – my Jubilee music if you want – the hundreds and probably thousands of people whose paths I crossed and with whom I had the honour to collaborate on Tearfund’s behalf. None of those people were superhero types or perfect in every way. We all have our frailties and flaws and blind spots. They were an odd bunch in many ways. But they were serious people loving God and living to serve. That service was often brilliant in what it achieved, and heroic in what it cost. I cannot be grateful enough for the inspiration and learning that came my way through them, nor for the honour they gave to Tearfund as an equal and trusted partner committed to them and their work. With them, I always felt proud of Tearfund. The sound of the music, the joy of the journey.

Peter Fitzgerald worked at Tearfund for nearly 30 years serving as the International Program Director for most of that time. He continues to volunteer his time as a member of Tearfund's International Program Allocations Committee.

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Jubilee 2000: Tearfund at its educative, informative, collaborative and evangelistic best

When I returned to Australia from India, I wanted to continue my commitment to the struggles of our brothers and sisters in the majority world, so in 1985 I joined Tearfund Australia, which I knew was a Christian aid and development agency dedicated to helping people make “biblically-shaped” responses to global injustice. I had already encountered Tearfund Australia staff while I was in India and I was very impressed with their simplicity (travelling in economy class rather than in business class), solidarity (staying in homes with locals rather than in hotels with other expats) and service (supporting projects initiated by partners rather than running their own programs from abroad).

I discovered that Tearfund worked in coalition with the Micah Network, which was a growing global network of over 300 Christian relief, development and advocacy agencies in 75 countries, who were committed to calling, influencing and leveraging leading decision-makers in our societies in order to “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed [and] rescue the weak and needy” (Ps. 82:3–4), particularly in the two-thirds majority world.

The key challenge of the Micah Network leading up to the year 2000 was to champion Jubilee 2000, which was an international campaign calling for the cancellation of third world debt by 2000. I think our involvement in the Jubilee 2000 campaign represented Tearfund Australia, as an evangelical aid agency, at its educative, informative, collaborative and evangelistic best.

An “educative” role I played in Tearfund was in helping establish support groups, consisting of about six to 12 people, who met regularly to foster a nurturing, encouraging and challenging culture in which people of all denominations could come together to help each other respond to God’s call to practise compassion and rally people around the country to demonstrate their concern for Jubilee 2000. Through these groups we trained people to speak in their churches, write to newspapers, chat on talkback radio, run forums, circulate petitions, meet with their MPs and organise demonstrations around the country in order to promote Jubilee 2000.

We used the campaign to be actively “informative” about foreign aid. Members of support groups went to city centres around Brisbane to talk with passersby about aid, asking them: “What do you think about the amount Australia gives to overseas aid?” Fifty two per cent said they thought we give “too much” or “way too much”. We then asked them: “What percentage of our national income do you think Australia should give to overseas aid?” Many who said we give “too much” or “way too much” said we should “only” give 1 per cent to 2 per cent – which was five to 10 times more than the 0.26 per cent Australia was currently giving! When we informed them about how little overseas aid Australia was actually giving, they were shocked. In the light of the new information, two thirds (66.9 per cent) were actually in favour of increasing our aid. And an overwhelming majority said aid should be directed towards countries that were poor (87.6 per cent), had poor social services (91.5 per cent) and poor health standards (89.8 per cent) – just as the Jubilee 2000 campaign envisaged that aid, liberated from forgiven debt, ought to be used.*

During the Jubilee 2000 campaign, Tearfund seized the opportunity to develop unprecedented “collaborative” alliances with other aid agencies, which were otherwise often in competition with each other for donor dollars. This Drop the Debt coalition organised a demonstration at Parliament House in Canberra with delegates from all over Australia, which presented the largest foreign policy petition ever tabled in Australia, with over 450,000 signatures. This was also a significant contribution in terms of the total global Jubilee 2000 petition, which (according to Guinness World Records) holds two world records: the largest petition ever signed (with 24,391,181 signatures) and the most international signatures (with people from 166 countries signing).

Tearfund, as a credible aid and development agency, necessarily proscribes any proselytisation, which targets, manipulates and exploits vulnerable people to advance a religious agenda. But as an evangelical aid and development agency, Tearfund is committed to “evangelisation”, which seeks to respectfully share a “biblically-shaped” response to poverty as a “good news” option. The Jubilee 2000 campaign, based on the biblical idea of Jubilee, stimulated unparalleled opportunities for “evangelistic conversations” about the radical “good news” option of the year of Jubilee, during which those who were enslaved because of debts would be freed, any lands lost because of debt would be returned, and any community torn by inequality would be restored.

Jubilee 2000 led to the global cancellation of $100 billion of debt. In 2001, as a result of pressure from Australian Jubilee 2000, the Australian government pledged 100 per cent debt forgiveness for countries that qualified for relief under the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Country scheme. Moreover, in 2004, the government cancelled the bilateral debts of Nicaragua (worth $5.4 million) and Ethiopia (worth $7.9 million). In 2007, Jubilee secured $75 million of debt forgiveness for Indonesia so that they could invest in tuberculosis treatment and prevention programs.*

Dave Andrews worked for Tearfund from 1986 to 2016. During that time he and his wife Ange worked to implement the community development approach that Tearfund partners practised overseas in their own backyard with disadvantaged groups in Brisbane.

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