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29 February 2012

Putting the Christian back into Christian Aid

Putting the Christian back into Christian Aid

It seems a mini revival is going on at Christian Aid. We put your questions to Loretta Minghella, the charity’s director …

What proportion of Christian Aid’s money goes to the people who need it most?

In some cases our money goes very directly to alleviate those in need today but it also helps to change things so there will be no need tomorrow. We are driven by a vision of the gospel as good news to the poor. In Isaiah 58 we’re told that when we stand with the poor and the oppressed, God will say ‘here I am’. God requires us not only to clothe the naked and share food with the hungry but to loose the chains of injustice. We’re passionate about making every single pound work hard and it’s not just about operational efficiency but about wise investment. We recently invested in a community coffee mill in Nicaragua. By supporting that project the community now has an international export business of fair-trade coffee and ploughs money into education and healthcare. The facts and figures are that long-term development projects received 49 per cent of our funding this year, 18 per cent went on emergency relief, 16 per cent on advocacy and campaigning, 16 per cent on fundraising and one per cent on administration.

Is it possible for the charity’s executives to be non-Christians?

All members of the board of Christian Aid are Christians and many are senior church leaders. The director and all associate directors have to be Christians and many of the staff are Christians. It is the most enormous blessing for me to have a role in which my faith can have such a central place in my work. I know that’s also a real motivation for many of my colleagues.

As public funding of faith organisations is scrutinised more by the secular lobby and church membership declines, what does the future look like for Christian NGOs? Will increased scrutiny mean a decrease in funding?

Every NGO is facing a bleak financial climate in which it’s difficult to find the funds we need to take our work forward and in which we are asked ever more to demonstrate the impact we’re having. As a faith-based organisation we have to be prepared to meet these standards like anyone else. We shouldn’t be afraid of increased scrutiny because the feedback we receive from those we work with makes me very confident of our impact and the difference we can make as a Christian NGO and part of a worldwide network of Christian NGOs, the ACT Alliance.

How does Christian Aid feel about the recent secularisation agenda?

Sometimes it feels like we’re living in an increasingly secular society and we’re aware that being called Christian Aid doesn’t always open doors for us. But we’re also encouraged – we see other doors opening. It’s a time when the government has said they ‘do God’. The Department for International Development has been talking to us about how it works with faith organisations and we’re pleased to contribute to that. The most important thing when you’re under threat is to hold on to your integrity and be clear who you are and what you stand for. You just have to be very courageous. It’s a testing time but as a Christian organisation we are up to the challenge of continuing to demonstrate the value our faith brings to the world.

What does it mean to be a Christian charity as opposed to a secular charity?

It makes a huge difference. We have particular things to offer as a Christian organisation that other organisations can’t. Our faith gives us a vision of how the world could be that brings unique motivation and inspiration. For example our belief that each human being bears God’s image and the biblical hope of a new earth transformed by God’s love makes a difference to what we do and how we do it. Being part of the worldwide Church provides fantastic international networks which wouldn’t be open to Oxfam or charities of other faiths. The Church goes beyond the end of the road, reaching into the hearts of communities. I was asked recently how I cope despite seeing such misery and it’s partly because my faith keeps me going and partly because of the solidarity with other Christians who have the same hope in God and share in God’s great mission. We’ve realised recently that in reaching out to more and more parts of UK society there’s a risk we don’t give enough focus to the core, churchgoing supporters who most share our gospel vision. As we move forward we will be focusing more on them, celebrating more not less our status as a Christian organisation.

Is Christian Aid evangelical?
Christian Aid was birthed in the 1940s out of the British Council of Churches and today we retain the support of the breadth of the Church in the UK. Not all of our supporters or the denominations they’re drawn from would describe themselves as evangelical. But our work is founded on a biblical vision of who God is and what He requires of us and though we wouldn’t describe our work as evangelism we want it to be an expression of the love of God. We’re very proud to be who we are. We are and will remain a Christian organisation and cherish the opportunity to help the breadth of the Church end poverty.

What is Christian Aid’s view on God and suffering?

Wow, that’s a tough one. The Church has wrestled with this issue for centuries and we should all engage with these big questions. What is clear is our response should be to try and alleviate suffering. Looking at Jesus, he was with those who were suffering. If he was here today he’d be with the poor and the marginalised, and therefore so should we.

Are there communities or individuals that you wouldn’t try to help?

Christian Aid firmly believes that the good news of the gospel is for every person, that they are made in the image of God and offer inherent worth. Therefore we are proud to work with, through and for people of all faiths and none. We believe that God’s mission is to bring light and blessing to all nations.

How do you prioritise what causes to support?

One of our strengths is the analysis we bring to the problem of poverty, examining the structures which keep people poor and ways we can tackle them. We also work with more than 500 partner organisations around the world whose staff best know the needs of local people on the ground. We’re currently working around issues of economic justice, secure livelihoods, accountable governance and community health. We’re looking to put more emphasis on peace building and gender equality. Recently there has been some great work improving the resilience
of communities dealing with the effects of climate change. God’s creation is not ours to steal it’s ours to nurture.

What is the role of prayer within the organisation?

We encourage vibrant, diverse expressions of faith as the organisation contains both non-Christians and Christians from different denominations. We have a prayer room where staff can gather for prayer at least once a week. Every meeting I have with the directorate starts with a reflection and a prayer. We encourage and are inspired by prayer with our supporters and we provide lots of resources to facilitate prayer and reflection on our website. I am personally very nourished by the knowledge that people pray for us a lot.

Interview by Joe Ware

Loretta joined Christian Aid in April 2010. A lawyer by training, with a law degree from Cambridge University, she became the first head of enforcement law, policy and international co-operation for the Financial Services Authority. She became the first chief executive of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and was awarded the OBE in the New Year’s Honours in 2010.

Interview by Joe Ware

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