Reflection on the ‘debt that is owed’ to Commitment for Life

The Revd Zimbabwe Nelly Tapelo 554x415Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of the South Western Synod of the United Reformed Church, reflects on her recent visit to Zimbabwe representing the URC’s Commitment for Life world development programme

‘I owe Commitment for Life a great debt. Of all the General Assemblies I have attended, the one at which I came nearest to standing on my chair and cheering was in 1992 when Commitment for Life was launched. The concept of learning about, praying for and giving to people in the developing world, through Christian Aid, stirred in me a desire for justice, action and committed giving.

‘Now, with the programme in its 25th year, I owe Commitment for Life even more, as I was chosen to be part of a group of six people who went out to Zimbabwe to see the work of  Christian Aid. The partners included Silveira House and Dabane Trust (who I'd heard of) and a new name to me, the Institute for Rural Technologies.

‘It is a long way from my home town of Taunton to Bulawayo – over 7700 miles –  yet the overwhelming sense I had in Zimbabwe was that I was meeting sisters and brothers in Christ. I am in debt to Commitment for Life for rekindling my sense of belonging to a world church.

There are so many stories I can tell from the days I spent visiting projects, but one stands out. We went to visit a group of villages who have organised themselves into a village bank, offering low interest loans to local people so that they can set up businesses – rearing chickens, grinding corn, making fencing, sewing, and so on.

Zimbabwe Mkhuleko Nleya 554x415‘Explaining the scheme, one woman told us that if someone could not repay their loan they would be brought before the village head. The village head decides whether to write off the debt (if the loss in the business is not thought to be the person’s fault), confiscate goods in payment, or ask the person to repay through community work ‘until the debt be paid in full’. The phrase immediately made me think of the parable of the servant who is forgiven (Matthew 18: 21-35), where Jesus helps us think about our proper response to God's immense grace.

‘I have come home from Zimbabwe more aware than ever of all the riches God has poured into my life and the debt I owe my God. Jesus' parable encourages me to seek ways to repay this debt in love of God and my neighbour (even one 7700 miles away).

‘As for the debt I owe Commitment for Life, I will try to repay that by stronger advocacy on behalf of the poorest of our world and more sharing of the sort of stories that help people understand Commitment for Life more fully. I pray that as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Commitment for Life programme in the URC we will all learn, pray and give even more. Those who want to see a blog of our journeys will find it at the Commitment for Life Facebook page.


Images © Linda Mead

Caption top Image: Nelly Tapelo and her husband Davies Dube have set up a village hotel (votel) in their community. They have had stargazers from Japan, and birdwatchers, to stay.

Caption bottom Image: Mkhuleko Nieya leads Datose village bank and runs a poultry project and a village hotel (votel). These earn her income to help the children she is supporting.