This summer, Church Action on Poverty and Christian Aid organised a unique exchange between the UK and Angola. Revd Dr Clare McBeath, Co-Principal of the Northern Baptist Learning Community, took part. In the first of a series of guest blogs, here are some of her reflections on the experience.
‘Two Sides of the Same Coin’ saw a group of church leaders from Greater Manchester visiting Christian Aid’s partners in Angola and Church Action on Poverty’s partners in Greater Manchester, to see how they are tackling poverty and to begin to articulate a shared story between the global North and the global South. The more we shared our stories and experiences, the more themes emerged and the more connections we began to make.
Seven miles outside the city of Lubango in the south west of Angola we visited the community of Tchavola. Sitting under a tree, the community told their story of forced eviction and demolition of their homes and relocation seven miles away from their livelihoods to a piece of scrub land, the site of massacres during the war. No building materials, no affordable transport, no health care, and a pump they had to pay to use. We heard how the children couldn’t go to school for fear of being mugged or raped on the dangerous dirt roads. All to make way for the building of a railway.
And we met the local priest and staff of Association Building Communities who campaign with the community for rights to housing, water, health care and transport. The tiny project office was ‘wallpapered’ with flipchart paper bursting with creative ideas.
Back home we visited Petrus in Rochdale which works with homeless people through befriending and help to access benefits and supported housing. We heard their stories of how mental health issues had often led to the losing of tenancies and of how more and more landlords won’t rent to people on housing benefit.
What came over was a strong sense that all have a right to a place to live and belong.
And I was reminded starkly of the story of Naboth’s vineyard from 1 Kings 21:1–19. Naboth owned a vineyard, a family inheritance not far from the royal palace. King Ahab decided he wanted the vineyard for a vegetable garden and offered to swap or buy the land from Naboth. Naboth refused because this was his home which had been in his family for generations. And to cut a long, very violent story short, Naboth was falsely accused and executed and the land taken by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel for a vegetable garden.
Contrast this to the vision in Isaiah 65:
My people will live
in the houses they build;
they will enjoy grapes
from their own vineyards.
No one will take away
their homes or vineyards.
(Isaiah 65:21, Poverty and Justice Bible)
Here in Tchavola and in Rochdale we heard again the story of Naboth’s vineyard. But we also heard a story of hope, of Christians who were working towards the vision from Isaiah where all people have a home and a place to belong. This is a call to respond with creative and courageous imagination to start, community by community, to celebrate the signs of God’s kingdom.