Having just returned from Manila, where I attended the installation of the fourth Prime Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines (The Most Revd Edward Malecdan), I give thanks to God for the work of our Partners and the relationships we have built over the years. Over the last six months the impact that the global economic crisis has had on our programs has weighed heavily on the minds of ABM’s Staff and Board. The significant fall in the value of the Aussie dollar meant that we needed to negotiate reductions in support for some programs. So i it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I made this journey.
At our meeting the first concern of our Filipino colleagues was for the bushfire victims and the devastation in Victoria. Several of the bishops had visited these areas in happier times and had strong memories of the people and the land. They told me that they had launched an appeal and raised funds for us as an expression of their solidarity and sorrow.
When we finally got round to talking about the economic crisis they said, “We have had the good years, but now we have some famine. We know that the funding will be reduced but we want to keep the same targets – it’s important for our people. We think that we can cut some costs and it spurs us to be innovative so we make the funds go further. Don’t worry, John, we travel through this together.”
I felt a burden lifted and also inspired to try our hardest to maintain our current levels of funding.
To help us do this I am pleased that we will be blessed by Lent visitors from two partner churches. The Rt Revd Danilo Bustamante who comes from the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines and the Revd Nael Abu Rahmoun who comes from Ramallah in the Palestinian Territories. Both visitors come from situations of conflict and inter-faith rivalry. Although a minority the Anglican Church still plays a significant role in living out its witness to Christ and building peace and understanding.
Sadly, these are not the only places where conflict and other disasters increase the impoverishment of our Partners. Zimbabwe remains constantly in our prayers. The recent flooding in Fiji and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands received scant coverage in our press but has impacted severely on the local people. Also, let us not forget the people of Myanmar (Burma) who are still trying to rebuild almost a year after the catastrophic cyclone. In each case, our partners struggle to make scant resources go even further.
I know that the next few years will not be easy for our Partners, nor for many Australians. However, the season of Lent is a time that reminds us that, even through deprivation and despair, God is never far away.
I wish you a holy Lent and all joy at Easter.
The Revd John Deane