I have always been proud to work for Baptist World Aid. It’s a wonderful organisation that truly values its staff and volunteers here at home… and seeks to be love overseas in a very practical and tangible way.
But in this year, our 60th year, I have found myself uniquely grateful for Baptist World Aid’s vibrant history, and the brave and faithful service of others who have come before me… and made it possible for this organisation to be what it is, to so many, today.
While it has been repeatedly said that we don’t want the celebration of this milestone to become an exercise for self-indulgence, it is important for us to honour the contribution of those who have been an important part of writing its story. And last month, that’s exactly what we did, officially celebrating our rich history with a small gathering at our Sydney office.
In attendance were some of the key figures from our collective Baptist World Aid history – staff members, volunteers, supporters, and ministry leaders. Together, we reflected on a story that’s been sixty years in the making.
The first day I arrived at the office, it was actually someone’s house, and I cracked my head on the infamous low doorway. After about two hours I was revived… and worked out it was a fantastic place! If you can imagine an organisation full of people living and working and burrowing deeper under someone’s house, then you’ve got the picture. And they were all volunteers, except for two of us. You couldn’t stop the volunteers working! They would stay on for hours, you couldn’t get them out the door. It was great. And that is one of my favourite memories – my friends and workers. Everyone was just so warm and friendly and hard-working and industrious. It was a pleasure to be there.
Obviously, my time with the organisation has impacted me tremendously, but there have been other things that we’ve been able to, I hope, contribute and that have really benefited our going on together.
We negotiated to incorporate the organisation, giving it the freedom to grow to where it is today – if Baptist World Aid had remained a committee of the Baptist Union of Australia, it wouldn’t have been able to grow at all. The new fields we established work in, included Africa. I went to Africa myself to connect with the Baptist folk there, and I was terrified – ok… we’d been 15 years in Irian Jaya, but Africa just scared me to death!
One of the things I found when I was just new in the job, was that all the Australian theological colleges had a subject on their books called “Community Development”, but they were not teaching it. We were able to volunteer some people who had expertise in that area, and it became an examinable subject. Some of the people who took that course (Les Fussell is one, Alan Smith is another) then joined this organisation and made huge impact themselves.
We need to be aware that there’s real oppression and real evil, in the affluent world. We are here to combat that with grace and with, I hope, a lot of creative initiatives that are going to build the kingdom of God.
I started at the organisation with my wife in 1981, we sponsored children, and I was also on The Board from 2004 until 2005.
In 2005, my wife and I were very fortunate to go to Uganda and Kenya, when there was a team going out to monitor some projects there. It is one of my favourite memories. It was a real joy and a privilege to travel around Uganda and Kenya and to see some of work in those two countries.
It was also a real eye opener. It opened up a whole new world.
I was a country kid and going overseas was a special occasion. Meeting people with so little was very impacting. It just made me realise too, just how fortunate we are here in Australia.
We might grizzle and groan and carry on, but we are just over-blessed in so many ways. And by trying to help the people we do through the work of this organisation, it almost seems it’s just a small token to what we should be doing… but it really is a joy to do.
I started as a volunteer in 1993. I was working in a publishing house five hours a day, four days a week, and I wasn’t really being stretched. I attend Frenchs Forest Baptist Church and so was very aware of Baptist World Aid. So, I thought I’d like to volunteer. After a few months, David offered me a job. I’ve been here off and on ever since.
For me, working for Baptist World Aid has been life-changing, it really has. It’s the wonderful people that I’ve had the privilege to work with. As time has gone by, I’ve done quite a few different roles and, in each case, have met more people. It’s been an amazing journey for me to have the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful people and also (of course) our partners overseas.
That in particular has been super special, because it’s just such an honour and it gives such a different perspective to what we’re doing back here in Australia. It helps you see the benefit of it all and round out your whole experience. And I love interacting with the partners and with the children in the program, it is very humbling.
But the other thing I love to experience is watching the transformation of people. Just now I’ve been approving surveys of the children. Each year, our partners go out to visit children in our sponsorship program at their homes and interview them, with their families, to map their progress over the last 12-months. They fill out a survey, take a photograph of the child, and it’s my job to check those and process them.
With children who have been in the program for many years, to see their first photo taken when they first join the program – young, scruffy clothes, and often hungry – and over the years to witness the tangible transformation as they grow… it always touches my heart to see that.
I joined the organisation in 2009 – I came in on a one-year contract!
On occasions such as this, there are so many memories that come back to you of people that you work with, teams you’ve been a part of, and, obviously, the privilege that I get being a part of the International Programs, to actually go out and see our work.
One moment that has stayed with me was the time I was blessed to meet a woman in Bangladesh.
We were doing a standard kind of monitoring trip, where we were meeting with Self Help Groups – small groups of men and women (mostly women) coming together, combining their savings, talking about the issues that they’re facing, and taking part in informal learning – and this particular woman was just so incredibly proud of the work that her group had done.
She had come from a background where she had no opportunity for schooling, and she was someone who spent a lot of time in her house – she wasn’t allowed to leave her home. As she reflected on what had occurred in the group that she had been a part of, I saw she was holding a book… and I could really tell that this book was incredibly precious to her.
After she explained what she and her group had achieved, she offered up this book and gave it to me as a gift. It was actually a book of poems that she had written and self-published – the story of the community, the story of her journey in this group.
Now, here’s someone who was completely illiterate, who has not just overcome the challenges of poverty and overcome the difficulties that she had in her own household, and she wasn’t just empowered, she had been genuinely transformed. Imagination had been sparked in her and it was coming out creatively, as much as it was coming out in her group in terms of their savings, how they were using their savings, and how they were addressing economic poverty.
She was alive within herself as a woman and it was more than empowerment, even though we might use that word. It was more than a sense of confidence, too. It was a genuine sense of transformation and it was incredibly moving.
I wanted to be able to pay her for her book – it was her own business to self-publish and sell her writing – but she just would not have it. Essentially, she told me, “This is my honour to be able to give to you”.
There was a real sense of, “I’m you’re equal. I’m not your passive beneficiary of your money and your generosity. I’m your equal, standing here, and this is my contribution to your life”.
You get back in the car after moments like that and you just have to sit in silence for a while.
Sometimes, I think, you can treat this as a job… and when you do, you lose sight of the bigger cause that you’re caught up in. Often, when I come back from the field, the thing I bring back is to just live life the way I see people living life in the community. And that’s to live life boldly, to live life courageously, to live life in a way that is generous.
I started around the same time as Anthony Sell, just two months before Ant in January 2009. As soon as I turned up on my first day, we were right at the height of the Global Financial Crisis. And I’ve never regretted a minute.
One of my lasting memories, I need to put into context for you. Every year in December, we run a Christmas party for our volunteers. And every year we have a theme for that party.
There was one particular Christmas party that we had, where the theme was water – water was precious in many of the programs we were running at the time. We thought it would be a great moment to wash the feet of the volunteers, as Jesus did. It’s a really special moment to me because it was a wonderful way of honouring our faithful volunteers, who have such an important history in this organisation.
For me personally, working for Baptist World Aid has led to a life transformed. As Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”. My work has helped and challenged me to always do these things.