Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mission Sunday collection for Luyengo Farm Project, Swaziland

The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) is vivid and memorable - so typical of the stories Jesus uses to convey his teaching.
And its message is clear – God will judge us in accordance with our response to human need.

In NT times sheep and goats were usually kept in mixed flocks, as they still are in the Near East. But it was sometimes necessary to separate them into their kinds, at shearing time for instance. Or at the approach of hard weather – sheep are hardier than goats and can be left to graze over winter in the uplands, but goats must be brought down and folded in the shelter of the valley. Or to manage grazing – sheep eat only low growing herbs while goats will eat the leaves of bushes so that when forage of one kind is running out the appropriate animals must be moved to other grazing.

Jesus uses this image of separating sheep and goats, so familiar to those he was talking to, as a metaphor for how people can be separated into two kinds. ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory’, says Jesus, ‘… he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left’.

Those that are righteous will be blessed by God and receive everlasting life, and those that are not will be accursed and receive eternal punishment. ‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”, and ‘he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”’.

The test for whether a person is righteous or not – to be blessed or accursed - is how he or she responds to the human needs they encounter. The king tells those who are blessed, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”. He tells those who are accursed that they did none of these things.

And when both kinds of people express surprise because they did not recognise him, the king tells them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.

Jesus confronts those who hear him, then and now, with this great truth: help given to those who need it is help given to him as the Son of Man, the king; and in contrast help withheld is help withheld from him. God is our loving Father, we are made in his image, and it is our Christian duty to help his children, our fellow human beings.

This teaching of Jesus is wonderfully apt for today, Mission Sunday.
Mission Sunday is the day designated by the Bishop for a special collection for overseas mission. In previous years the money has been split over many projects, all most deserving, but inevitably this has meant that none received very much. But this year the Diocesan Board of Mission, with the support of Bishop Trevor, has decided all the money should be directed to a single project in Swaziland. By concentrating resources in this way our diocese can make a real difference, which seems like a very good idea to me.

Most of you will remember Amy Hanna’s inspiring talk about her experiences in Swaziland on Mission Sunday last year. She told us that this small landlocked country squeezed between South Africa and Mozambique, with a population of around 1 million in an area about the same as Northern Ireland, is desperately poor – most people live on less than €1 per day. And she shocked us by telling us that as many as 40% of people have HIV, with the result that Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world, just 32 years.

The poorest of the poor in Swaziland need help. The Anglican Diocese of Swaziland recognises that it is their Christian duty to respond. They have initiated a programme to help people affected by HIV, which includes these elements:

  • Care Points: Places run by parish churches where orphans and vulnerable children can come after school for fellowship and food, and to interact with adults who care and will listen. Swaziland has 140,000 orphans. 15% of all families are headed by a child.

  • Home Based Care: Anglican teams of retired nurses visit homes, bringing painkillers, antibiotics, vitamin supplements etc to supplement the antiretroviral drugs supplied by the state.

  • Egumeni: In Swaziland this is the reed fence around a homestead where women sit and girls learn from their mothers and grandmothers. The egumeni programme is about passing on wisdom from generation to generation, and in particular training in safe behaviour and self respect - not just a matter of morals but a matter of life and death in Swaziland.

  • Life Skills: A training programme for teenagers, enabling them to take control of their lives and stay safe, covering topics from personal identity to safe sex.

The programme sounds splendid, doesn’t it? There is just one problem – paying for it. But the diocese, supported by USPG Ireland mission partner Andrew Symonds and his wife Rosemary, has identified a way to do so.

  • The diocese owns 200 acres of good agricultural land, with unlimited access to water, at Luyengo Farm at Big Bend.

  • An investment of €300,000 would turn it into a productive commercial farm. Part of the site would be used to produce baby vegetables for export. Three harvests annually would create regular seasonal employment. Pigs would be fed from farm waste.

  • A commercial partner has agreed to provide half the investment and USPG Ireland seek to raise the other half on behalf of the Diocese of Swaziland.

  • The income from the farm is expected to rise to €40,000 in the 2nd year. And what will be the result? The diocese will become self-sufficient, with a steady, reliable income to pay for the HIV/AIDS programme.

Our Mission Sunday collection this year will go to support this Luyengo Farm Project.
As the Bishop of Swaziland the Rt Revd Meshack Mabuza puts it, ‘As a church we see agriculture as an answer to the continuance of our AIDS ministry. This land that we have is arable and fertile, with plenty of water running through it. We must use it, and we desperately need your help to get started’.

The Board of Mission has challenged the whole diocese to raise at least €40,000 for it this year. That may seem a lot, but it is only €20 for each active member of the diocese. It is therefore a challenge we can meet, if we choose, and meet in a single year. This collection is the first bite at it, and they invite us to use our creativity to find ways to raise more in the next 12 months.

I commend the project to you. By helping the Diocese of Swaziland we are helping Swazi people in need, and as today’s Gospel teaches us, when we help those in need we are helping Jesus himself.
So please be truly generous with your money in the Mission Sunday collection envelopes. However rich or poor you may feel in these recessionary times, we are all rich compared with the people who will be helped by it. If you usually put a coin in, look for a bigger one; if you planned to put in a note, pull something bigger out of your wallet.

Our heavenly Father will bless us for our generosity!

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