“Tearfund stands for The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund, and we are absolutely committed to international relief and development through networks of local churches.”
This from Wayne Johnson, Executive Director at Tearfund Canada.
Instead of sending foreign expats to do the work across Africa, says Johnson, Tearfund works with partners in Africa and Asia to reach people in their own communities.
“They serve them because they know them, they live there, they love the people, and they want to reach them for Christ, but also to serve relief when there is a crisis, to serve in development, working to build recovery and resilience, handling the issues of poverty.”
Tearfund’s staff of twelve people work to facilitate, empower, and provide technical assistance and training to 490 local relief and development experts who deliver 10 million dollars’ worth of programs.
“One of the things that I get really excited about, is that the local church exists in just about every community in Africa,” enthuses Johnson. “If you go in there – it’s not the government, it’s not an NGO, it’s not a social service agency. No. It’s the local church. Our job is to empower networks of national churches to be a catalyst for change in their own community. And because they share a faith in Jesus Christ, we help them to go beyond ‘loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength’ – to go and love our neighbour in a very practical way.”
When Tearfund goes into any community, they connect with the local pastor and find out what the community’s biggest problems are.
“Invariably it’s food security,” says Johnson. “They tell us that they don’t have enough food to eat. They also don’t have enough money to send their kids to school, build wells, healthcare, or improve housing. Our first task is to empower the church to train its people to grow more food on the same land.”
Johnson explains that the average farm in Ethiopia is less than one acre, and that’s to support an average of seven people.
“In Africa, if you don’t grow it, you don’t eat. And typically, 30% of the average grain yield is eaten by mice, weevils, and mould. So, through the local church, we’re training the community to grow up to three times more food on the same acre of land through conservation agriculture. And then how to store it.”
In this way, as a member of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Tearfund can leverage donated monies up to four times.
“When we start any project through a local church, for example in Ethiopia, we start a little farmer field school of 30 people and encourage the pastor to include no more than 20 people from their church. We want at least 10 people in this project to be from outside their church, because this is a community ownership project, and we’re training them so that they can train their neighbours – and to demonstrate the love of Christ, not just proclaim it.”
But Tearfund doesn’t only work overseas. Here in Canada, they are making a difference on the Prairies as well. Johnson reveals that when he was hired by Tearfund, they asked if he could engage the organization in the process of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. He replied that he would love to, but it must be relevant, sustainable, and what First Nations need – so they could be empowered to reach the next generation.
“We partnered with Loko Koa, a group of Pacific Islanders in Saskatchewan, some of whom are married to First Nations women. They told us that they have been working with First Nations children, youth, and women, but they wanted to work with men too. They had lost much of their identity and culture because there are almost no buffalo on First Nations land today. So, they wanted to give away a herd of buffalo.”
Initially Johnson replied that this was impossible, but his friends replied with a plan.
“They told me that the First Nation would provide the land and fence it, but they didn’t have access to buffalo – and that’s where Tearfund comes in.”
Today, Tearfund and Loko Koa have planted seven herds of buffalo in Saskatchewan on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territory, and that’s only the beginning. Three weeks ago, they planted another herd of buffalo on Pelican Lake First Nation.
“Every treaty ever signed with First Nations, all 75 of them between the Crown, have been broken,” shares Johnson. “So we don’t sign anything. Instead, we have a covenant with them, that when the herd reaches 100 animals, the First Nation gives away 20 pregnant cows and two bulls to the next First Nation, so eventually all First Nation lands in the southern Canadian prairies will have their buffalo back.”
Johnson says that this reconciliation project matters deeply to him, because his family came to Canada as refugees and immigrants and attained land here, so he wants to give back.
“If I am called as a Christian to reconcile, it’s not just a lot of talk – it’s also practical. It’s based on identity. It’s based on culture.”
Right now, churches in southern Manitoba are coming alongside Tearfund Canada to make a difference, together.
“They have been partnering with us not just for one year, but for thirty years. Because they believe in not just giving aid but giving aid alongside the local church community. In breaking the back of poverty in Africa, and here at home. We’re deeply appreciative of the support of Canadians who want to live out their faith by meeting the practical needs of the people, empowering them.”
To join in this community of churches and people supporting these important Tearfund projects, you can email Wayne Johnson at email@example.com or phone him at 416-707-9066. To learn more about Tearfund, please visit the website at www.tearfund.ca.
“You know, my friends at Loko Koa are cousins with Island Breeze in beautiful Steinbach,” adds Johnson. “I’ve had many a meal with Issi and his team. They’ve stayed in my home, and I’ve stayed in their homes. They’re my friends, they’re my brothers, and they’re islanders – their loving culture opens doors.”