Elizabeth Perry, Millennium Development Goals Coordinator talks about her personal calling
Life isn’t like in films. There’s no sound track. No swirling music to let you know you’re on the verge of something big. It’s only looking back you see it.
One critical moment in my faith journey happened in early 1998 when I went to a talk about poor country debt at the college where my husband was training for ordination.
It was a really hard night in the life of the college because the life support machine of the baby of a student couple was going to be switched off. At 9pm we paused to pray and mark the moment.
Afterwards John Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, got up to speak. He spoke of the tragedy of the baby’s death, and then continued, “That baby was given every medical chance to live. In my country children die because their parents cannot afford the £1 it would cost to cure them in hospital.” He paused. “And it used to be free”. He explained how user fees had been introduced as a result of Zambia’s debt; a condition imposed by the international financial institutions.
Something inside me caught fire. My anger at such injustice, such needless waste of life burned. It still does.
This was my political awakening to poverty. My compassionate awakening to poverty had happened years before when I spent time working with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.
In his mission statement in Luke 4, Jesus says, “I have come to bring good news to the poor, release to the oppressed.” In John 10 he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It is Jesus’ passionate engagement with the world, the way he seeks the marginalised and puts them centre-stage, and the way he confronts the oppressive powers of his time that draw me. This is the Jesus I try to follow.
After that night in 1998 I became very involved in Jubilee 2000 – the campaign to cancel the unpayable debt of the world’s poorest countries. Later I became the World Development Representative for our Diocese, worked for Christian Aid and am still deeply involved with the World Mission Group, working on the Millennium Development Goals and this year’s campaign, ‘Enough Food For Everyone If…’
This might all sound very certain, assured, and a not a little worthy. It’s not. I absolutely feel compelled (called?) to make a difference in the world but agonise about whether I’m being simplistic; my faith wobbles. I can’t and don’t live up to the standards I profess. And there are times when I want to give up on the church, especially with all the life-sapping arguments about women and gay people.
But two things keep me in. First, the lovely ‘ordinary’ people found in every church; people for whom Jesus really means something (I know they’re there because my husband has six churches and I’ve visited loads in Somerset in the various roles I’ve had).
Second is the witness of all those Christians who work to make a difference, to help people live abundantly, whether here in the UK, in Zambia or elsewhere. I am privileged to count a number among my friends. Their belief that goodness is stronger than evil, love stronger than hate and light stronger than darkness strengthens my resolve and sustains my faith.
First printed in April 2013 edition of Manna Magazine.