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Jack Arthey

24 April 2015

Jack Arthey project manager, Christian Aid's 70th anniversary

We decided that being 70 should be marked rather than celebrated. It would be wrong to spend scarce resources on patting ourselves on the back when there's still so much more to be done.

I was appointed to the task role of researching, developing, and delivering a programme to mark Christian Aid's 70th anniversary - without a budget. I've worked with colleagues to tell our history through an interactive timeline on our website, and with another group on a broadcast service with BBC Radio 4 to mark the way that Churches in these islands came together in 1945.

You could argue we were created in 1942, when the British Council of Churches was formed. "Christian Reconstruction in Europe" was its original name, formalised in 1944. But if there is a special day, it would be 13 May 1945, because on that day, your vicar might have said to his congregation: "The Archbishop has written to us, asking us not to celebrate a great victory but think how we could help mainland Europe, which is more devastated than we are." 

One of the midwives was Bishop George Bell, who, throughout the 1930s, was looking for ways to help the British Government to make it easier for European Jews to come to Britain. There were also people like William Temple and Reinhold Neibuhr, who had a sharp view of what it meant to love your neighbour as yourself in the context of war. And Anne Booth-Clibborn, who drove London ambulances during the war, and then drove military personnel round Germany afterwards, seeing the plight of people there.

This 13 May, we're inviting all those who work in our offices - we now have offices all over the world: we're a very devolved organisation with staff very close to the poverty we seek to eradicate in places like Nairobi, Delhi, São Paulo - to reflect on what it means for 41 British and Irish Churches to seek to be an agency to eradicate poverty. What are the cycles of Christian obedience required of us as we move into the next ten to 20 years?

I've worked for Christian Aid since September 1972. My current job is, I think, the 15th I've had during that time. Every time I wondered whether it was time to move on, another opportunity emerged which seemed to link an organisational need to my need for a new challenge. 

From as early as I remember, I was taken to church and went to Sunday school. Our church did Christian Aid Week, and the Ipswich Christian Aid committee was one of the first ones. A representative from VSO came to my school, and I applied to teach in a church-run primary school in Papua New Guinea, funded by Christian Aid. I had to write to someone in Christian Aid monthly, reflecting on my experience. I knew I somehow needed to be involved in international development work. On my return to the UK, I applied for the position of Youth Secretary, and spent my working life here - out of passion and commitment rather than inertia. 

I've always regarded myself as fortunate to have a vocation rather than just a job. With that in mind, the notion of retirement's a strange one. How can you remove yourself from a world that is still broken, and is crying out for wholeness? For the past five years I was the Senior Organisational Development Consultant, building staff capability for our ambitious strategy, Partnership for Change.

Christian Aid is an organisation that manifests, in the most prac-tical ways, how to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. It's an organisation that's taken risks and spoken out to end poverty in a hurry. Rather than wringing its hands and complaining about all the poverty it sees in the world, it gets on and does something about it. I think we are lot like the four friends who bring their companion to Jesus for healing in Mark 2. When they're prevented from bringing him to Jesus by a congregation determined to hear a sermon, they reject the status quo and climb up on the roof to find another way in. 

Christian Aid was born out of the commitment of church leaders in the 1940s to building the peace, after six years of war, through the work of the Council of Churches they had created. We were born at a time of structural ecumenism.

From the 1990s onwards, Churches have tended to co-operate and collaborate when it makes most sense to do so. It is what I'd call a relational ecumenism. This has led the Christian international-development sector to become more splintered and fragmented, and for its agencies to be even more accountable for their use of gifts of money, action, and prayer. There are more agencies doing God's work in more different ways. 

We tend to work through people of all faiths and none, with secular organisations where there's no faith organisation.

We've also learned that we need to communicate accessibly. We were criticised for appearing to be an organisation that saw any transnational enterprise as negative. Now we think more about global markets, capitalism. People assume our agenda is left-wing - but it's not left- or right-wing: it's a justice agenda. We work with anyone who believes that the world doesn't work in the interests of poorer people.

In the same way that people are not accidentally poor, the poverty of the poorest will not be accidentally eradicated. You need to have a strategy that enables anyone and everyone to make their contribution. If we're serious about loving our neighbour, especially our poorest neighbour, he or she is entitled to the best we can muster. To do our best we need educators, communicators, fund-raisers, ac-countants, programme managers, and the like, as well as money to pay for the expertise to administer the work effectively.

If there was one thing I'd change, it would be the status of women. It's scandalous that women represent half the world's population and are responsible for two-thirds of all working hours, yet receive only one tenth of the world's income, and own less than one per cent of the world's property. 

I've always found it difficult to take my own advice on working towards a good work-life balance. My work has always been all-consuming, leading my wife to describe Christian Aid as a mistress: "There were three in this marriage." 

I'm proud to have contributed to the campaign to end apartheid, the successful call for Western governments to drop $130 billion of unpayable debt owed by poor countries, in reaching more than half a million people after the Indian Ocean tsunami, and helping 953,500 Africans to adopt preventative health practices and get the medical treatment they need. 

I was born in Felixstowe, because there was no room at the Ipswich Maternity Hospital. My first breaths of air were those of the sea. My father was a pharmacist in Ipswich, and my mother a librarian. I was one of four children. As the middle one, I suffered from the fewest expectations, was able to operate a little under the radar, and had the most wonderful childhood. 

I studied for a social-science degree in Lancaster, where I met my wife, Sally. We married in 1973, and we have two sons and two grand-daughters. 

Derek Warsop taught history, but taught differently to anyone else. He encouraged his students to engage imaginatively with the stories he told us: what do you think was going on here? How do you feel about that? Learning became exciting and exhilarating. 

Phillip Lee-Woolf taught me to have the courage of my convictions: "Jack, I employed you to take risks; so let me know about the risks you are taking and why, and I will support you," he said. Michael Taylor became director of Christian Aid in 1985. He brought a rigorous pastoral cycle to our work and required me to measure the impact of my work rather than to just describe it.

If you asked me about favourite musical sounds, I'd say a group of Black South Africans in a township singing "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika". It evokes pain and suffering and demands solidarity. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.

I get great enjoyment from our small garden. Planting seeds, tending plants, and mowing the lawn are all therapeutic activities, and I love it. Another passion is tasting real ales.

What currently makes me most angry is the many large corporations which avoid paying their taxes. And the structural injustice driven by government policies that have punished the poorest in an age of austerity. 

From when I was tiny, we prayed to a God who was kind, benevolent, protective, and caring. Sometimes I negotiated a deal: I'll be good so long as you protect me. I now experience God as a living personal spirit who requires me to act as a co-creator with him or her. I pray most for peace and harmony. The conversations I have with God are around how I can contribute towards those outcomes. 

I'd choose to be locked in a church with Nelson Mandela. He stands out as a beacon of hope in a world still yearning for healing. How someone endured what he did and yet retained the ability to be forgiving and magnanimous for the greater good of all still amazes me.

Jack Arthey was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Christian Aid Week runs from 10 to 16 May. www.christianaid.org.uk 

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