A couple of years ago, Burger King ran an advertising campaign with the slogan:“You like your friends, but you love the whopper”, and invited people to sacrifice ten friends and get a free burger. The friends it referred to were those on the social networking site Facebook. What they wanted users to do was erase 10 people from their contacts list – defriending them – so as to claim a free flame-grilled Whopper. Losing a so-called friend that we have never seen and hardly know, does not seem, to me, to be much of a sacrifice. During Lent we often sacrifice something – well actually we give something up for 40 days. It’s not really a sacrifice. It’s not like using our wealth to bring about positive change to help millions of our neighbours around the globe who toil in conditions we can’t even imagine, for wages that fail to provide any measure of stability or security.
If we can tithe or part with any of our resources, without a grudge, then perhaps we’ve embraced something of the spirit of sacrifice. One small step is to identify with the poor and shop for goods that have been fairly traded. Ok so Fairtrade is not in the same league as the abolition of slavery – but it is transforming the lives of those who can’t stand up for justice against the power of consumerism and exploitation. And it some ways it is about trusting in a bigger vision, bringing about the transformation we read in the psalm: “The poor will eat and be satisfied…all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord…all the rich will feast and worship…future generations will proclaim His righteousness.” (Ps.22:26-31). In a world where poverty kills 30,000 children every day, many simply long for their children to have a future, and when we buy Fairtrade products we are campaigning for justice.
In the larger scheme of things we may feel our efforts count for nothing. How can we possibly make a difference?
A boy is on a beach throwing starfish back into the sea as they will die in the roasting sun before the tide comes back in. A cynic sees him doing this and criticises him for wasting his time as there are too many starfish for him to possibly make a difference. The boy picks up a starfish and as he throws it back into the sea says, “I can make a difference to this one.”
Sometimes it’s easier to “pick up starfish”, rather than look for larger causes. Fairtrade restores dignity and respect. It’s not about charity. With every packet of biscuits, or bunch of bananas purchased, it’s providing opportunity and hope for the future in making a better world. It’s something at the heart of our faith as well. Let’s say these verses together:“What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Js.2:14-17).
We manifest our faith in our conduct. True faith transforms our conduct as well as the way we think about things. It’s not being self-righteous, which Jesus spoke against, it’s about serving God and serving our neighbours – locally and globally. This text is saying that our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t live it out. Encouraging others gives them strength.
On average we consume 10-12lb of chocolate every year. Do you ever stop to think about where all this chocolate comes from? Ghana is one of the world’s largest cocoa producers. But there is a dark secret. Thousands of children are illegally trafficked to harvest cocoa beans. Taken from their homes they become slaves forced to work on the farms. They are given dangerous tools and they live under a constant threat of violence. Most of them have never even tasted chocolate made from the same cocoa beans they are made to harvest. They are growing up without a childhood. But there are ways to help.
Shopping is a complex matter as we have so much choice! Nonetheless, despite its complexity we can all do something — and it can start with something as simple as bar of chocolate (but only on a Sunday if you’ve given it up for Lent!!). We may have to pay a bit more, but the cost is minimal compared to the benefits to farmers and workers and children at the other end. It can put a smile on the faces of many making their lives bearable.
Many cotton farms in Mali, West Africa belong to co-operatives that are Fairtrade certified. One farmer writes:-
Cotton prices were going down and down until they were below the cost of production. People were demotivated and it was very depressing. But now, because of Fairtrade, we can make a sustainable living. My family can eat and we have better health. In the past, my children had to walk 10km to go to school, so really it was impossible. We have now been able to build a school. At first it had two classrooms. When we had more money and wanted to expand, we challenged the government to match our investment. Now there are five classrooms in total, and every child in the village can go to school. Pregnant women had no access to healthcare. Many died in childbirth and there were high rates of infant mortality. Now we have built a maternity centre. We have also built a food storage facility so that we can have a year-round food supply, and we have installed a pump for drinking water. We have built a new road, enabling us to travel further than 5km outside of the village without difficulty. Fairtrade standards called for better agricultural practices. Before, empty pesticide containers would be used as water carriers. In some cases this led to death and disease. Now, we dispose of waste properly. We don’t burn bushes any more, we prevent soil erosion and we have effective irrigation. I thank God as Fairtrade has really changed the life of my community. I feel as though I have a future, which I didn’t before. My wife is pregnant with our first child – this is how optimistic we are! I encourage everyone to buy more Fairtrade products if they want to make an impact on millions of lives.
The world is filled with hurting people who are just trying to make it day to day. Many of these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. If God values them, we have to think about what that means for us. We cannot just tell them “It’ll be ok” – without doing what we can to help them. So let’s ask Jesus to show us how to be brave enough to stand up for what is right and fair. To give us the courage to change the things we know are wrong – so to make the world a fairer place for each and everyone. Let’s petition Him now sharing these verses from Ps.82:“Lord God, defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Amen.” (vs.3-4).