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22 December 2017

Transforming through the years

Transforming through the years

Today, Tearfund works in more than 50 countries and is known as one of the UK's top aid agencies. Born out of the Alliance in the 1960's, Tearfund marks its 50th year in 2018. We celebrate its transforming impact to so many, and talk to chief executive Nigel Harris on Tearfund's legacy and what 2018 will bring.

Linked with the Alliance over the years, Tearfund started out literally as a fund – through gifts sent to the Alliance in response to the refugee crisis in the 1960s. As the outpouring of donations continued from Christians across the country, the Alliance employed George Hoffman, a former curate, to help develop the work of the fund. In 1968, he and others met for the first time as The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund: TEARFUND and in 1973, Tearfund became a registered charity.

Says Nigel: "Tearfund came into existence because evangelical Christians wanted to do something about suffering in the world - and to do it in the name of Jesus. It started with a handful of people sitting around a table at the Evangelical Alliance headquarters in London in 1968. 50 years on and it has grown beyond all expectations." 

In the last 10 years alone, the renewing work that Tearfund has achieved is staggering. It has helped more than 45 million people through its relief and development programmes across the world. A key member of the UK government's Disasters Emergency Committee, it continually responds in times of crisis such as the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and in the 1980's when famine hit Ethiopia. And it's the local church, Nigel believes, that is key to being able to help in the most difficult circumstances: Church at the heart

"The Church is at the very heart of the work that Tearfund carries out. Tearfund's mission is to see people freed from poverty, living transformed lives and reaching their God-given potential. We do this by partnering with local churches around the world."

Responding to help people in Thailand hit by the 2004 Tsunami, Tearfund gave practical help to re-build lives and houses as well as developing plans to equip people to prepare for future disasters. Mr Suwan, a fisherman from Phang Nga, Thailand, had a wife in bad health, a disabled child and absolutely nothing to his name following the disaster. Through local partners, a new house was built and his daughter was able to go to school. "We are filled with joy as we see their love and care for us,' he says. 'We are finding new courage and strength.'

International influence
And as well as the practical steps needed to help communities turn situations around, Tearfund has also been able to influence key policy makers nationally and internationally in order that poverty and disaster is tackled. Says Nigel, "Over 10 years, we have seen more than 300 policies changed at local, national and international level. Contributing hugely to this success is the fact that we have envisioned and mobilised more than 154,000 local churches."

Recently visiting San Pedro Sula, the second city of Honduras and one of the most violent cities in the world, Nigel saw this community and church partnership in action. "During my visit there I met Maria. She has lived in the slums, known as the bordos, all her life. Before receiving help from Tearfund's partner Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM), the family had been separated. Maria suffered from severe drug and alcohol addiction – a regular story in the bordos. But now she is a member of the local church, the family are back together and she runs a pulperia, a tiny grocery store, out of her house.

She is also a respected community leader in the district. The community is educating people on the risks of diseases and how they can be prevented. They're also creating safe places for women to talk about the domestic violence that many of them still face."

So key is the church and its community coming together to respond to their situation to enable any success, that Nigel feels he is reminded time and time again of the powerful role the Church has to play in making change. The Church knows "The Church is the largest civil society organisation, with millions of local churches. They are situated in some of the hardest to reach places. They know the people, they know the problems and so often they can see simple, inexpensive solutions. If every one of those local churches was enabled to bring transformation to its community, our world would be very different," he says.

Asked how we get involved to make a difference and be part of the continuing transforming work in 2018, Nigel is clear: "As we enter our 50th year, we are more motivated and determined than ever to beat poverty. There will be no holding back, and it's this conviction that's behind our new campaign which will launch in January 2018: We won't stop until poverty stops." "We have a number of things planned to enable you and your church to pray, act and give to end extreme poverty. Do visit www.tearfund.org/wewontstop for more info."

Sylvia - Malawi
Like most farmers, Sylvia has stamina. She gets up early and works the land to feed her four young children by growing maize in her village, Chagunda, in Malawi.

But the world is out of balance, the seasons are unstable and the climate is changing making it harder for farmers. This year she harvested four bags of maize, which isn't enough to feed her children for the year. Hunger gaps aren't new, but rapid climate change is making them worse for families like Sylvia's. More droughts, floods and unreliable rain drastically affect the results from months of hard work farming.

Just an hour away, Polly, aged 24, harvested nine bags. Through Tearfund partner Assemblies of God Care (AG Care) she received expert knowledge on how to farm the dry, barren land. Now Polly has surplus food to buy livestock, set up a small business and plan for the future. 'My children will be educated because AG Care gave me a gift,' says Polly. 

Sylvia is now also getting that life-saving training giving her back the ability to reach her potential.

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