This is a supplemental post to my sermon of 5th December. It is converted from a HTML web page, one of several that I created after our trip to India with Tearfund in 2006.

Tearfund’s principal Indian partner is the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR)

We had been told to look forward to this event all week: instead of just a group of us from the UK visiting yet another village, we would be part of a much larger gathering to celebrate the official handover of the 104 houses that EFICOR had built in two villages after the tsunami. These had been among the worst hit villages in the area. The new houses have been built 1km from the sea in a wooded area. In this instance, EFICOR were not involved with replacing fishing boats – another NGO did that.

Revd Dino Touthang (right), Director of EFICOR

Everyone then made their way to where a podium had been set up in fromnt of rows of chairs with an awning to keep the heat off. Most of the speakers at the ceremony spoke in Tamil or Malayalam, but Dino Touthang, the Executive Director of EFICOR, spoke in English. He spoke to the community of the need for them to take responsibility for the maintenance of their new houses, and that it was also their duty to build families in joy and peace and free from violence (we had been told in many places that domestic violence is a major problem in Tamil society). He spoke of the benefits of many NGOs working together.

Design for the new houses

After the speeches, representatives of the supporting agencies were presented with awards, and Phil Bamber accepted one on behalf of Tearfund. Our other leader, Katy Hands, was given the opportunity to cut a ribbon to declare a house open – the householder’s name was Caspar. One of the householders was presented with a large mock key to symbolise the handing over of the properties to the people.

Dedication plaque

Beauty for brokenness

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Beauty for Brokenness” by Graham Kendrick.  I’m not sure whether this song was written specifically for the development charity Tearfund, but it was published around the time of their 25th anniversary and they certainly adopted it as being a perfect description of their work and their theological stance.

Let’s look at the chorus first, which to save the song being overly long is usually sung after the second, fourth and fifth verses only. “God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray”. That is Tearfund in a nutshell: supporting churches around the world to respond to the needs of the poor and weak in their communities, with the love of God and the compassion that can only really be shown by those who live alongside them. 

It goes on, “melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain, come change our love from a spark to a flame”. I admit to feeling ‘compassion fatigue’, the thought that all the money, time and prayers I have given over the years to the work of Tearfund and similar agencies is in vain, when there is still so much need, so much discrimination and structural injustice in the world.  But the words and works of Jesus suggest that however little we achieve, it is still recognised by God: “whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me”.

The first of the five verses starts with the vision of what development work can achieve: “Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair”. It’s not just about the day-to-day practicalities that follow (“bread for the children”) but about a message of the hope of God’s kingdom that can transform lives. “Sunrise to sunset, your kingdom increase”.

The second verse reflects the reality that war is behind much suffering: “Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear, cities for sanctuary, freedoms to share, peace to the killing fields, scorched earth to green”, but finishes with a specifically religious vision, “Christ for the bitterness, his cross for their pain”.

The third verse speaks of medical work and provision of training and trade opportunities and land for farming, programmes that help local communities become self-sufficient, and also the advocacy work that forms much of Tearfund’s success (“voices to plead the cause of those who can’t speak”).  

The fourth verse speaks of the ecological emergency that has only become a mainstream concern in the last few years, though the song was written in 1993. “Rest for the ravaged earth, oceans and streams, plundered and poisoned, our future, our dreams”. We pray “Lord, end this madness, carelessness, greed, make us content with the things that we need”.

The final verse turns clearly to Jesus who is the only one who can truly change the world. “Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame, until your justice burns brightly again, until the nations learn of your ways, seek your salvation and bring you their praise”. If verse 4 could have been written by Greta Thunberg, verse 5 could have come from the mouth of Isaiah.

You might gather from this lengthy commentary that this is one of my favourite hymns, for the music as well as the words. It deserves the classic status it has won in the churches. If you wish to donate to the work of Tearfund, they are currently appealing for support for their work in Afghanistan and you can donate here.