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
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
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
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
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
For 11 years we were at the heart of this exciting development,
which was funded by Christian Aid and was a prototype for future
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
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
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
Since then, it has been amazing to see how the organisation has
grown with powerful campaigns about debt, fair trade, and Make
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