Redhill, Chivu, Bethany, three very different places, three very different communities and yet we have brought them together this Lent in a very powerful way. People are people wherever they are, our needs are not that different to be honest, somewhere to live, someone to love, something to eat. It’s the latter that we have been concentrating on during this year’s Lent Call. Redhill, Chivu, Bethany, three very different places but in each of them there are people going hungry, people who are suffering because of food poverty.
What Jesus says in Mark 8.2 I find so powerful:
‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.’
We have just reflected as a nation on the year that has passed. We have been through so much together and learned so much about ourselves, our churches and our communities. What we thought was strong and resilient has often be shown to be otherwise. What we thought was weak we discovered was strong. Like looking through a magnifying glass the pandemic has been a lens that has highlighted the inequalities, the divisions that exist in our society and the deep inequalities around the world.
Many of the key workers that we have been celebrating and applauding over this year have been those who have been working as volunteers in the various food banks and feeding programmes that have either been established or have expanded to meet the needs revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. So many people needed food support in one way or another. Whether it was in Redhill or Norwood, Brixton or Wandsworth, churches, congregations and generous volunteers have been there to try to meet local need.
The global nature of the pandemic has made it very clear that the world is small and what we face we face together. As a Diocese we benefit from the very close links that we have with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Since the beginning of the year we also have a link with the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. Redhill, Chivu and Bethany are just three places among so many where our help is needed.
Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. It was a bolt-hole for Jesus, especially in the week leading up to his crucifixion. He would teach in the Temple and then head back to Bethany where Martha would be in the kitchen getting the next meal ready. It was a real place of generous hospitality.
Today you can’t walk between Bethany and Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives, you can’t follow the route that Jesus took. There is a wall in the way, the Separation Wall, built by the Israeli Government. Bethany is in the Palestinian Authority but is overlooked by huge Israeli settlements built on the tops of the hills that surround it, served by huge new roads and great infrastructure. The contrast between the haves and the have-nots could not be greater.
Chivu is a town on the main road between Harare and Masvingo. It’s a junction and a good place to break the long journey along difficult roads that we always take when we are visiting. There are shops, there are stalls on the roadside, a petrol station, even a bit of a run-down hotel. What is also apparent though is huge poverty, it’s there before you on the street. The church community there are doing their best to grow food that can feed people. But there is a limit to what they can do without real support.
Redhill in many ways is part of the affluent South East. The station is busy – in normal times – with commuters; there are some lovely houses around and a decent shopping centre. The roads are always busy whenever you drive through. But as we heard back at the beginning of Lent, St Matthew’s Church is serving hundreds of families a week through its food bank.
We are in this together, in this business of addressing food poverty. Jesus seeing the needs, the hunger of the crowds, had compassion, bread was broken and shared. It is the same response that we make, we follow where Jesus has led.
Redhill, Chivu, Bethany, three very different places, yet united by the very same issues – and we have the chance not just to feel compassion but to be compassion, to do what Jesus did and to make sure that the hungry are fed, wherever they are.
Here is a prayer for use with our Lent Call materials.
we give thanks for all that you have given to us.
We pray for those who are experiencing food insecurity
in the places featured in the Lent Call and elsewhere.
Help us to show compassion for them.
Give us the will to work with others to help to bring about change.
Help us to show our care and concern for those around us who are in need.
Bring justice and fullness of life to all your people.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.
For more information about the ways you can donate to the Bishop’s Lent Call please visit the How To Give section of our Lent Call pages.