Christian Aid chief praises "transformational partnership" with Church

Poverty is “an avoidable scandal that robs people of their dignity and diminishes us all,”the chief executive of a major Christian charity has said.

Moderator with Loretta Minghella
The Moderator with Loretta Minghella

In a powerful speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Loretta Minghella OBE chief executive of Christian Aid UK said ending poverty means changing attitudes here at home as well as in the world’s poorest countries.

“Never has there been a more important time to connect the local national and global pictures: to challenge the devastating myth of them and us,” she told an audience that included HRH The Princess Royal.

A transformational partnership

Identifying climate change and discrimination against women as two of the key causes of global poverty, Ms Minghella, sister to the late film director Anthony Minghella, said Christian Aid is empowered by its “transformational partnership” with the Church.

“We are your international development agency and it is your unflagging commitment that drives our work forward,” she told the Assembly.

“We share your belief that poverty is an avoidable scandal that robs people of their dignity and diminishes us all. We believe that each person is made in the image of God, gifted with life and created to flourish.

“Our firm faith statement: We believe in life before death’ calls us into transformational partnerships that let the changes begin in us.”

In 2010, she made her first overseas visit for Christian Aid to Nairobi, Kenya, and was changed forever, she said:

“I met children too weak with hunger to walk to school, their grandfather dying next to them for want of £12 for his cancer treatment.

His daughter an intelligent young woman who realising his death was very imminent was contemplating trading her virginity so that the family could afford to bury him.

“You cannot meet someone agonising over such a possibility and remain the same.”

It's up to us to solve climate change

Climate change is making extreme weather events, such as drought, famine, floods and hurricanes, more frequent, she told the annual gathering of the Kirk, and the people most affected are those least responsible for causing it. It is up to us in the developed world to take action to solve the problem.

“Our Big Shift campaign calls on individuals and groups here and elsewhere to demand of themselves and from government and businesses an urgent move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

“We commend the Kirk’s ongoing conversation and divestment from fossil fuels.”

Loving our neighbours

Across the globe, wars, conflicts, drought and famine have resulted in more than 65 million people fleeing their homes, Ms Minghella said. Loving our neighbour means helping those displaced people.

“Somehow a narrative has taken hold that we cannot afford to worry about these people refugees and other displaced people because they are ‘not our own.’

“But we know that we can count on you to cling to the commandment to love our neighbour in the sense that Jesus meant it: People like us and not like us; those near and those we will never meet.”

Empowering women

Projects that support equality for women across the world, such as the church-supported Thursdays in Black campaign, are crucial, she said,

“Everywhere I go across the 40 countries in which we work, I see this stark truth—that women and girls are much more likely to be poor, less likely to finish school, more likely to die young, more likely to be a victim of sexual violence, less likely to be given a job or a political voice, or opportunities to lead.

“Empowering our women and men to speak up for gender justice is key to changing a world that excludes women from the centre.”

Signs of hope

The charity chief’s message was not all gloom. She also pointed to signs of hope, saying the Church and Christian Aid have a transformational partnership to share new technologies that can help end poverty.

“I’m excited by the work we’ve done together in Malawi,” she said.

“Last summer when the country was suffering its worst drought in a decade your generous response to our Scotland Malawi appeal match-funded by the Scottish government not only fed people through the worst of the drought but fed the future as well by enabling those communities keep going through an innovative project using solar irrigation systems so that they can harvest all year round.

“That means next time a long drought ravages Malawi those communities have a chance of getting through it on their own. Ours is a transformational partnership.”

We belong with you

Ms Minghella also praised church initiatives including The Guild’s work to support a pioneering solar oven project in Bolivia and the work of the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees.

“It’s a great witness to your willingness to work across the denominations and faith groups in Scotland to provide welcome and hospitality to the stranger and to bring alive the truth that all our futures are bound up in each other,” she said.

“The divisions between you as Church and Christian Aid as development agency are not always clear,

“We may have a separate legal identity but we are of you— and it is your solidarity with us that helps us face the enormous challenges in our path.

“And we feel a sense of belonging with you and not just to you—an overwhelming sense of being part of the family of the Church. Ours is a transformational partnership. And in a world of heartbreaking need and heartstopping beauty this is something precious that we will never take for granted.”

Sally Foster-Fulton, head of Christian Aid Scotland, agreed.

"We are not trying to simply help people survive the latest famine or disaster, we are funding projects that bring about lasting change.

"And it is the transformational partnership we have with churches at a local and national level that mean we can help bring about that sustainable change in countries where people struggle."

Read Loretta Minghella's full speech