News Release from the Newcastle office
In May 1945 the leaders of all the main churches in these islands asked that on the Sunday after VE Day, Christians should resist celebrating a victory and instead donate what they could to help reconstruct Europe. More than £3 million in today’s money was raised that weekend. It was used to buy bicycles and boats so that pastors could minister to their people, to provide food and medical supplies so that refugees could rebuild their lives and to find teachers and equip schools so that lives could begin to return to normal.
That was the beginning of Christian Aid. Its origins lay in the determination of British church leaders during World War 2 to build a different kind of world. Throughout the War, and especially after 1942 when the British Council of Churches was formed, they felt that the churches, acting together, must save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which had killed, maimed, destroyed, uprooted, bereaved and impoverished their own. And this work would be best achieved, they believed, through the churches being united by their common calling to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Christian Aid’s founders had a vision of a world where each person was respected because they were a human being; of a world where women and men and large nations and small would have equal rights; and of a world where there would better standards of living and opportunities for all with everyone’s needs met. They had a vision where everyone would live in peace and harmony with others as good neighbours; and of a world without poverty. And they decided to create an agency to help build this vision. In the first instance it was called Christian Reconstruction in Europe. It then became Inter-Church Aid and Refugee Service and now it is known as Christian Aid.
Over 70 years the organisation has tried to expose the scandal of poverty so that no-one here can plead ignorance of the poverty that afflicts more than a billion of God’s children in developing countries, and the reasons for that. It has worked with partners in more than 80 countries to take practical action with local partners to help people pull themselves out of poverty. And it has sought to challenge and change the systems and structures that make and keep people poor. It has done this because the churches that created it and those that now ‘sponsor’ it believed that there could be no healthy ecumenical fellowship without practical solidarity.
Taking practical action has been a hallmark of Christian Aid throughout its history. It has acted – and continues to act – in the spirit of the four friends in Mark 2 who brought their disabled companion to Jesus. They risked the wrath of the congregation who were determined to hear a sermon in peace without the intervention of gate-crashers by making a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus. They were determined to challenge the status quo. And when Jesus saw their faith, he acted and healed their friend. In the same way, Christian Aid has seen need and injustice throughout the world and taken action.
The agency’s archive tells an amazing story of what God has enabled to happen over 70 years. In the 1950s we helped found Voluntary Service Overseas. We also decided to hold each year a week of awareness-raising and fundraising to enable the public to meet human need through Christian aid. (This is now celebrated each year as Christian Aid Week, the biggest act of Christian witness in Britain and Ireland which in 2014, thanks to the active support of an incredible 20,000 churches across the UK and Ireland, and tens of thousands of supporters, raised some £11m. This year we hope to do even better.)
In the 1960s Christian Aid took the lead in setting up the Disasters Emergency committee to ensure different relief agencies cooperated rather than competed during a crisis. In the 1970s it enabled 500, 000 slum dwellers in Calcutta to have clean water, sanitation and primary education. In the 1980s it issued an emergency appeal for Ethiopia raising £1.35 million and campaigned to end apartheid in South Africa. In the 1990s it helped to establish the Fairtrade Foundation and successfully called for western governments to drop $130bn of debt owed by poor countries. In the 2000s it reached more than half a million people in need after the Indian Ocean tsunami and in the 2010s it has helped 953,500 Africans to adopt preventive health practices and get the medical treatment they need. All of this has been done through the dedication and generosity of Christian Aid supporters.
Yet we at Christian Aid know there is still much to be done. If you want to change things for good for the next 70 years, then please join us. Visit christianaid.org.uk or call your local office on 0191 228 0115 to find out how you can get involved.