Much to celebrate, but more to do

by
08 May 2015

Anne Booth-Clibborn, who was there at the start, looks back on 70 years of Christian Aid

Envelopes and activism: a Christian Aid poster from the 1960s

Envelopes and activism: a Christian Aid poster from the 1960s

ON THE evening of 8 May 1945, as a 19-year-old army ambulance driver, I was outside Buckingham Palace with hundreds of thousands of other people, celebrating the end of the war. After five years of darkness, the lights came on, and the sky was lit up with searchlights.

On parade that morning, an officer had told us that we must always remember there was no such thing as a good German, and they were all vipers. But I knew this to be untrue, because of the Confessing Church in Germany, which had opposed the Nazi Party; and the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had visited my family.

A month later, I was in occupied Germany, driving through the Ruhr to Hamburg and on to Berlin. Nothing that I had seen in London prepared me for the devastation of whole cities, or the roads and railways clogged up with refugees, or the collapse of the currency so that cigarettes were the primary means of barter.

For the first months, we were forbidden to fraternise, but one day an elderly German woman reached across the barbed wire and handed me a small German New Testament, which I exchanged for one in English - a vivid reminder that the Church was above human conflicts.

I was glad that the British Council of Churches, formed in 1942, had -in the face of huge opposition - launched Christian Reconstruction in Europe to bring relief to those in need (some people asked why we should help our former enemies when we were still rationed ourselves).

This determination to help was the seed that grew into Christian Aid. Ten years later, after university, a stint with the Student Christian Movement, and a period in industry, I became personally involved.

In the mid-1950s, Kenya was in turmoil, and an emergency was declared. To respond to this, the Christian Council of Kenya came together and approached the newly appointed Director of Christian Aid, Janet Lacey, for help. She saw this as a wonderful opportunity for partnership and recruited some staff.

It was here that I met my future husband, Stanley Booth-Clibborn, who later became Bishop of Manchester. He went to do lay training, and I went to work in a community centre; when we married, Janet described herself as our fairy godmother.

It was an exciting time to be working in Kenya, as the country moved towards independence. Some of the challenges included famine relief, agricultural and technical development, and the training of new leaders, as the Churches worked together for justice and unity.

For 11 years we were at the heart of this exciting development, which was funded by Christian Aid and was a prototype for future partnerships.


ON OUR return to Britain in 1967, I delivered envelopes for Christian Aid Week in Lincoln and Cambridge, and in 1978 I was invited to join the Board of Christian Aid.

Over the next 13 years, I saw the organisation develop in unimaginable ways. More and more, we came to see that we had to move from simple relief to tackling the causes of poverty; that we had to educate people over issues such as fair trade; and that our publicity had to emphasise partnership and not dependency. Underpinning it all were biblical worship resources, drawing on our partners' gifts.

Through the Disaster Emergency Committee, our appeals were made jointly, rather than in competition, with other agencies.

During the 1980s, a strong link was built with the South African Council of Churches in their courageous opposition to apartheid. On two occasions I was sent on visits during times of crisis, and marvelled at the courage of Desmond Tutu and many others as they sought to bring about peaceful change.

In 1986, I sat in the Supreme Court in Pretoria with the wife of a Christian council worker who had been found guilty of treason, and heard the pleas in mitigation of the death penalty saying that his stand against apartheid came from the heart of the gospel.

Although I was powerless, my presence was at least a visible sign of support from the global Church. On my return, I went to the Foreign Office with letters appealing to our Government to impose sanctions.

On two other occasions I represented Christian Aid and the British Council of Churches at times of national transition: in Namibia, as the South Africans withdrew, and at the 1992 election in Kenya; and it was humbling to see the high value they placed on partnership.

Since then, it has been amazing to see how the organisation has grown with powerful campaigns about debt, fair trade, and Make Poverty History.

But, despite these successes, the developing world continues to face numerous challenges. There is still just as much need for light in the darkness as there was on VE Day.


Anne Booth-Clibborn is a former Deputy Chair of Christian Aid.

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