Faith takes you to interesting places. I grew up in a family where three generations had all followed a calling to serve God in far off countries. China, Venezuela, the Belgian Congo, Tanzania and Zambia had drawn in various members of my family. My uncle, Jim Ford served in the forces in east Africa during WW2 and felt the call to return as a missionary. He ended up spending most of his life in Zambia. The blue airmail letters home to his sister, my mother, were part of the fabric of our household. For that reason, when the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) asked me to visit Zambia for their Lenten appeal 2017, I was more than inclined to say, 'yes.'
SCIAF wanted to let their supporters know about their work in Zambia and how small donations to their WEE BOX appeal make a huge difference to the people there. Along with their local partners at Caritas Zambia they are changing the lives of poor farming families . Although Zambia produces copper in the north of the country, farming is still the staple industry of the vast majority of the population. Maize (though not an indigenous crop to Africa) has become vital to the food supply and in years where the rain doesn't come and the land brings scant reward for labour, a shortfall in maize production leads quickly to widespread hunger.
It wasn't difficult for me to get the story. On my first day in Lusaka we went out to join the Zambian Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference at their morning coffee break. Sitting with Bishop Evans Chyemba from Mongu Diocese, he was at pains to tell me how SCIAF helped. "Mongu is in a semi-desert," he told me, "The land is very sandy, but also prone to flooding" He said that through their work with SCIAF and Caritas many people are learning new ways of farming using sustainable organic farming techniques so they can grow more food and improve their soil.His colleague Bishop Kasonde sat with him and explained how this help wasn't limited to those in his own flock but was aimed at "Empowering farmers to become better farmers.'" It was becoming clear to me how the faith of Scottish parishioners was really improving the wellbeing of people thousands of miles away.
It didn't take me long to meet the farmers themselves. Leaving the city behind we travelled down to Livingstone and out into the little village of Siakasipa. There we gathered in the school house, a simple structure with a blackboard and some old desks and chairs over a dirt floor. The villagers arrived carrying a gift of 'chiwatu' - a sweet milk beer and we sat down to introduce ourselves. By custom in these parts the locals are asked if someone would like to offer a prayer and soon one of the villagers stood and thanked God for the changes they have seen and for the life they now enjoy. Even before we heard their personal stories I was moved by the authenticity and simplicity of their faith. Seeing and hearing gratitude from people who, in our eyes, have so little is one of the most moving experiences I can recall.
In the hours that followed the locals explained to us how their lives had changed for the better. The partnership between them and SCIAF is slowly changing their expectations of what the land can yield and how they can improve their lives. Vulnerable, small fields at the mercy of drought and floods have begun to change the way they are farmed thanks to the support of the Catholic community in Scotland. Christians believe that Faith can move mountains. Perhaps we won't see mountains moving overnight but the land is shifting, slowly and certainly in a good direction.
SCIAF helps families in some of the poorest countries in the world to free themselves from hunger, poverty and injustice, get an education, and fully recover when disasters strike. The charity's WEE BOX BIG CHANGE appeal runs through Lent (1st March to 16th April). To make a donation or find out more, visit www.theweebox.org.