Embrace the Middle East is the fairly new name for
BibleLands, the 160-year old Christian charity. Most
people have seen our Bethlehem Carol Sheets, but our core mission
is as an ecumenical development charity. We fund hospitals,
schools, refugee centres, and community programmes run by
indigenous Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt,
Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Syria.
I became chief executive almost five years ago.
I met a headhunter at a cocktail party at the Victoria and Albert
My career at first glance was no preparation at
all for running a development charity. I served with the Foreign
Office as a diplomat, and then I spent 15 years as a City
investment banker. But God's planning is unimpeachable: my
networking skills from the Foreign Office and my financial skills
from the City have been invaluable at Embrace. And I have learnt a
few new skills, too.
Our biggest change, of course, was to rebrand the
charity from BibleLands to Embrace the Middle East in
2012. It was bold, but one that we needed to do, as the
charity's image seemed out of date.
Most people think charities are run by cuddly
amateurs, but we must attract supporters, just as
companies must attract customers. We compete with other Christian
charities, and secular ones who know that Christians give more
generously. For instance, Tearfund and the Children's Society
produce carol sheets, like us. Of course, the ideal is not to fight
for a bigger share of a small cake, as it were, but to make a much
We've changed a lot under the bonnet, too. Our
iconic Bethlehem Carol Sheets are free now, to attract new
supporters; and we're more professional in our grant-making and
programme work. There's still much to do, not least because there
are still many Christians who don't realise that we are the biggest
UK Christian development charity focused exclusively on places
where Jesus walked.
The Christians through whom we work are often tiny
minorities in their communities; so most of the people
they serve are from other faiths, particularly Muslims. This is
most obvious in Gaza, where 1.8 million people are effectively
imprisoned in a space no bigger than the Isle of Wight. The
Christian community now numbers just 1313 - we conducted a survey
recently - so they are less than 0.01 per cent of the population.
But they serve their community.
Many supporters have been with us for 30 or more
years, but we're also attracting many new supporters,
especially at festivals such as Greenbelt.
It is never easy to raise money. We're a fairly
small charity. There are just nine in the fund-raising team in our
office in Buckinghamshire, many of them part-timers, with two
regional managers out on the road. We're also blessed with a
committed volunteer team. But our supporters are very loyal and
generous, especially when it comes to remembering Embrace in their
wills. Legacies accounted for a quarter of our voluntary income
People have been incredibly generous in
responding to our recent emergency appeals for Syria and
The situation in Syria has had an enormous impact on our
work. The terrible civil war has led to the displacement
of ten million people - about half of the pre-war population. The
needs of the many refugees and internally displaced persons are
almost overwhelming. And yet, in both Lebanon - where there are
maybe 1.2 million Syrian refugees, swelling the population by a
quarter - and in Syria, there's a vibrant Christian
One of the questions we are confronting, given
that we focus on a part of the world which is in almost constant
crisis, is how we balance the demand for humanitarian relief with
longer-term development needs.
Many people see the Middle East in terms of religious
conflict; but there have been times in the region when the
different faiths have co- existed perfectly happily. The
long-running sore of the Israel-Palestine conflict is, primarily, a
political struggle over how to share the land. This leads to major
economic problems, and, in particular, youth unemployment, which
was one of the key drivers of the Arab Spring uprisings.
As Christians, we have to hope that peace is possible in
the Middle East. At the last General Synod in York I gave
a talk, "Ten Reasons for Hope in the Middle East", and my audience
were surprised that I could come up with ten.
I am not sure what I think of the West's latest military
action. All violence is to be deplored. I spoke out
forcefully against Western military intervention in the Syrian
civil war against the Assad regime, arguing that it made no sense
to try and end the bloodshed by more bloodshed. Western
interventions in the Middle East have often been disastrous. But
the militant extremists of the Islamic State are a new and
frightening phenomenon, and the international community needs to
respond quickly and forcefully.
I never had a Damascus-road conversion. I think
I always knew that God existed. I was brought up as a Roman
Catholic. At university, I got involved in the Christian Union and
drawn to fairly Evangelical Anglicanism, and what I hope is a more
intimate knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ.
I was adopted with my twin brother as a baby;
so I don't know much about my biological family, although I did
meet some of them later. But not my natural mother or father, who
had both died by then.
I grew up with my adoptive family in Essex, and
went to a comprehensive in Clacton-on-Sea. The principal merit of
Clacton was the endless supply of summer jobs. I worked as a bingo
caller and as a barrow boy at Butlins.
I love football, but I've always been rubbish
at sport, having two left feet and zero co-ordination; so I got
qualified as a referee. I'm a long-suffering fan of Tottenham
Hotspur and try to see them sometimes with my children. I still
referee amateur matches at the weekend, and I absolutely love it,
notwithstanding the abuse that's regularly hurled in my direction.
I just like to be in charge.
My favourite activity is fell-walking in the Lake
District. I love its remoteness and the sheer beauty. I'd
have to opt for Italy as my favourite country, though. I was posted
to Rome as a diplomat for three years, so managed to pick up the
language. I fell in love with the people, their slightly chaotic
but laid-back lifestyle, their cuisine, and, of course, their
For many years, I wanted to go into politics;
and, at one stage, I tried to become a parliamentary candidate for
the Conservatives. I came second in seven successive constituency
contests, so decided that God had other plans for me. But not
before I wrote a rather splenetic piece about the chaotic selection
process for The Guardian. It was quite rude about the
Tories and how they chose their MPs.
My other burning ambition is to become an
actor. Directing and acting in a production of The
Elephant Man in my first Foreign Office posting in Islamabad
was my thespian high point.
My favourite music is the theme tune to Match of the
Day. It's been playing for 50 years now. When I was a
child, to hear it meant that I had somehow managed to persuade my
parents that I could stay up after Kojak to watch the
My greatest influence was my adoptive mother.
She wasn't the easiest of women, and she had many sadnesses in her
life, but she was strong and determined and always wanted the best
for me, while pushing me hard. I'm quite a driven personality,
which has its downsides, but it's also due in large measure to
I love reading history, which was my subject at
university, especially Middle Eastern history. Richard Rohr's book
about middle age, Falling Upward: A spirituality for the two
halves of life, has had a big impact on me recently. I found
his call to transition from the egocentric and dualistic first half
of life to a soul-centric and more reflective second half
compelling: something I'm still working on.
I try to pray every day, although I have often
struggled to find a good prayer routine. I particularly love
praying with my wife, Ruth. We pray for friends and family who are
ill or in need, and, of course, for the situation in the Middle
East. I also pray a lot for my three grown-up children. Once your
children are older, the one thing you can do as a parent is pray
daily for them.
I'd choose to be locked in a church with St Francis of
Assisi. I hope I'd have enough Italian to communicate with
him, and I'd love to hear how he had the courage to cross enemy
lines and meet the Sultan of Egypt.
Jeremy Moodey was talking to Terence Handley