Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Going barefoot and getting wet for
the sake of God’s love and friendship

Jeanette O’Neill, chief executive of Us, and Linda Chambers de Bruijn of Us Ireland with the new charter for Us (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

At the opening session of the Us (USPG) conference in High Leigh, Rachel Parry was talking about the problems climate change is bringing to the people of Bangladesh. And as Rachel was speaking this afternoon, the heavy clouds that have been hanging over these parts of Hertfordshire and Essex all day opened and started to rain down a heavy midsummer shower on the whole countryside.

It was an object lesson for all of us about the consequences of climate change.

We heard of the work of Us throughout these islands and throughout the world from a panel of speakers last night [Monday 23 June 2014], drawing on a wide variety of experiences.

Linda Chambers de Bruijn of Us in Ireland, who was a member of the panel, spoke of her work, including going barefoot for Holy Week.

“Why?” she was asked. “Could you not have done a sponsored silence?”

Her husband Jan promptly interjected from the floor: “No?”

Linda raising over €9,000 for the work Us in Ireland supports in Swaziland, where, she pointed out this evening, half the school-going children are without shoes.

Linda was then asked whether she was worried about losing face as walked barefooted through Dublin. “Dublin is such a diverse city with so many eccentrics, no-one even noticed,” she explained.

She told of how two rectors from the Church of Ireland, the Revd Andrew McCroskery and Canon Nigel Kirkpatrick, who are “priest bikers” are going to use their holiday time to spend the first 10 days of August visiting the 30 cathedrals in the Church of Ireland.

Their tour marks the 300th anniversary of Us in Ireland, founded in 1714 as the Irish Auxiliary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG).

Linda said exciting things are happening with Us in Ireland, but the biggest challenge is finance. People have great ideas and enthusiasm, “but the money doesn’t always follow.”

However, she said mission is about friendliness, building up relationships and trust. She spoke too of the rectory kitchen table as the heart of where the relationships are built up between Us in Ireland and local parishes.

Bishop Derek Kamumkwamba echoed these sentiments when he said mission is sharing the friendliness of God. God is love, and friendliness is part of God’s love.

Bishop Derek and his wife Evelyn spoke of their work in Zambia, where he is Bishop of Central Zambia and she is a teacher. She is in England on with the diocese’s companion link in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, but in Zambia she works in a community school in a shanty town that has no roads.

Bishop Derek was asked: “Who cares for the bishop?” He admitted this is challenging in Africa, where everyone looks to you as bishop. You are the fundraiser without a financial department, he explained, and it can be both challenging and frustrating when people come only with problems and not with their light moments.

Dr Elizabeth Taylor of the Diocese of Oxford talked about her recent work in Tanzania as an IT consultant, when she had only one holiday in seven years.

She told us (and Us) to listen to the local needs and work with them.

Canon Tony Barnard from the Diocese of Lichfield spoke of his diocese’s links with Malaysia and Mozambique, and also referred to his work at Erasmus Darwin House and museum in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield.

Others panel members and speakers earlier in the day spoke of their work in Belize, Brazil and India. It was like a World Cup of mission, with all the passion but without any of the conflict.

It was still raining when we that session finished with Compline late in the evening. But has not dampened the enthusiasm of anyone for what is ahead of us at the rest of this conference. I sat up to watch Brazil defeating Cameroon.

We begin the day at 7.30 this morning with the Eucharist celebrated by the Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, the Right Revd Michael Lewis, who speaks later in the morning at Session 3. The other speakers this morning are the Revd Dr Samuel Packiam, Director of the Henry Martyn Institute in Hyderabad, India, and Bishop Munawar (‘Mano’) Ramalshah from Pakistan, a former Genereal Secretary of USPG.

The afternoon rains covered the countryside around High Leigh and continued into the late evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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