‘Broadening Horizons’ is an English and abridged version of the original Welsh publication, Ehangu Gorwelion, by the Revd Wynn Vittle, in which the history of Christian Aid in Wales is told through personal impressions and reminiscences. Cambria Nostra will publish the version in instalments.
By Wynn Vittle
My working life has been spent communicating. As a minister of religion I preached, and during my period with Christian Aid I addressed public meetings, gave talks to children and young people as I visited schools and colleges.
I never dreamt to see my name as an author on any publication. Yet it did happen. In August 2014 at the National Eisteddfod of Wales held at Llanelli, a Welsh book was launched at the Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales) stall with my name as the author!
As I had been a member of Christian Aid staff in Wales for nearly 18 years, and as no one had written the history of Christian Aid in Wales, I was often approached to undertake the task. Eventually, I agreed to put pen to paper, punctuated with my personal memories and impressions. As the year 2014 was 50 years after the charity was first known by its present title, I aimed at having the book published sometime during the year.
The Revd Tom Defis, Christian Aid Co-ordinator for West Wales offered to be responsible, through Christian Aid, for meeting the publishing costs. With such assurance and Tom’s support, I decided to begin my research.
Documents, minutes of meetings, staff reports, annual financial accounts and umpteen other materials were transported from the National Christian Aid office to my home. Reading the material was most interesting and time was also spent at the National Library in Aberystwyth reading related documents transferred there from the Council of Churches for Wales.
Apart from gathering information from these sources various aspects of Christian Aid activities, mainly in Wales, were read, together with my diaries of visits to overseas countries as I decided to include my experiences of those memorable trips.
With the required material at hand I proceeded with my task, but realised at the outset that I should decide on a title to keep me within certain boundaries. One evening, whilst mulling over my memories of childhood, a title suddenly came to my wandering mind.
From the house where I was brought up, in the Pembrokeshire peninsula known as Pencaer, I could see the sea stretching for miles. Seeing the ships ploughing their way on the horizon, I wondered in my wandering child-like mind what lay beyond. Years later, when I became a member of the Christian Aid staff with its world-wide outlook I found out. The title of the publication was thus born, ‘Broadening Horizons’.
When I became a member of Christian Aid staff my horizons were expanded on several levels: meeting church leaders, involvement with the teaching profession, and officers of overseas agencies and other organizations. Horizons were also broadened by Christian Aid’s method of operating through involvement with supporters at home and its overseas partners, enabling individuals and communities to develop their skills and talents.
Chapter 1: Its Roots and Motivations
It became apparent as I researched Christian Aid’s roots that the majority of overseas agencies began, like Christian Aid, because of the devastation of wars.
In 1863 an International Red Cross Committee was convened in Geneva and seven years later, following the war between France and Prussia, the British Red Cross was formed and in 1914 the British Red Cross and St John’s used their joint resources to assist the thousands suffering as a result of the First World War.
Owing to the atrocities and hardship experienced by children, as a result of the war, Save the Children was formed in 1919, following a public meeting in the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Also, because of the effects of war, OXFAM was established. A group met at Oxford in 1941 and became known as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, later to be called OXFAM, and to-day it is part of International OXFAM.
Another overseas agency was also formed as a result of a war – the Korean War – following a letter published in the Guardian by Sir Victor Gollancz calling for an end to that war and for an international fund to assist everyone who suffered. Around 10,000 responded within a month and a committee was formed which gave birth to War on Want.
Along with such organizations, because of war-torn lives of millions in Europe, the Churches were not deaf to the call for compassion to alleviate the hardship of sufferers. In 1945, following a meeting of the Officers of all the main church denominations in Britain, a United Kingdom Committee for Christian Reconstruction in Europe was formed and, in response to an appeal to the churches, raised over £1 million. This committee was later absorbed by the British Council of Churches, a newly formed body, and renamed the Department of Inter-Church and Refugee Service. This became the forerunner of Christian Aid. Within a short period it was realised that the call for support extended to countries beyond Europe.
In 1957 under the guidance of its Director, Janet Lacey, the general public was invited to contribute towards the plight of the starving millions when a house to house collection was held during one week in May. It was an outstanding success. With such a response, every year since 1957 a Christian Aid Week has been observed, and when the Christian Aid Board met in 1964 to consider a name for the agency it was influenced by the success story of Christian Aid Week and named the organisation, ‘Christian Aid’.
Two other Christian overseas agencies were formed in Britain. In 1962 the Roman Catholic Church established the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and became known as CAFOD, with an officer responsible for promoting its activities in Wales with whom Christian Aid staff co-operated very closely in organising educational conferences.
In 1968 the evangelical churches also decided to support firstly those suffering poverty as a result of the war in Nigeria, later forming an organization to be known as TEAR FUND. This agency has grown over the years supporting projects mainly through overseas churches of similar theological beliefs and combining its development programmes with the spreading of the gospel.
As for Christian Aid activity in Wales, it made tremendous strides in the 1950’s and 1960s through the committment and efforts of several ministers and clergy. Ecumenism grew and the Council of Churches of Wales was inaugurated in 1956, mainly through the entrusted endeavours of a small group of ministers. With local Councils of Churches being formed, Christian Aid committees brought churches together in order to raise funds for those suffering gruelling hardship in many countries. Apart from carrying out its task of fund-raising and informing supporters of conditions in Third World countries, Christian Aid was thus indirectly instrumental in extending ecumenism and forming local Councils of Churches.
From the outset, Christian Aid’s primary purpose was to offer service to those deprived of the essentials of life and to support anyone irrespective of creed, colour, religion, or indeed none. “Need before creed” was not a slick slogan, but the agency’s practical principle.
Chapter 2: Its Basis and Function
This chapter is devoted to the agency’s activities as it bases its criteria on the principles of the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, explaining Christian Aid’s methods and practices and how the agency co-operates with its partners in development programmes, monitored by a Christian Aid development officer for that particular country.
Occasionally, false accusations were made in the British national press that Christian Aid funds were being wrongly used, stating that some of the money donated was spent on the buying of arms for war purposes. This was totally untrue. Such accusations required members of staff to defend the agency and to explain the process involved in supporting development programmes.
Christian Aid was also occasionally accused of supporting CND activities, an accusation which we did not deny, as we did address CND meetings and support some of their fund-raising activities. We maintained that money spent by the government on the arms trade and nuclear warfare could be diverted to support the poor.
In spite of such accusations, Christian Aid became a highly respected charity. Its income increased annually as did the need in many countries. It was of paramount importance to appoint officers in Wales to raise public awareness, encourage churches with their valuable contributions and to inform people of the dreadful living conditions of millions in many countries.
A step was taken in this direction in 1962 when Christian Aid appointed the Revd Dewi Lloyd Lewis to be the first National Christian Aid Secretary for Wales. Through his labours he succeeded, with the support of many individuals, to form local committees right across the church spectrum. In some areas, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics and Unitarians sat side by side at meetings, which in itself was quite a feat!
Chapter 3: Staff in Wales and its Honorary Officers from 1962 to 1982
With an increase in the work load, the staff was strengthened in 1968 with the appointment of the Revd O.W. Owen to be Area Secretary for the counties of North Wales. When Dewi resigned from his post as National Secretary in 1972 I succeeded him, commencing my duties in February 1973. In 1975 an extra member joined the staff when the Revd Tom Evans became an Area Secretary for South and Mid-Wales. This enabled the three Area Secretaries to devote more time to their particular areas as they were backed by three efficient administrative secretaries in the Cardiff, Bangor and Brecon offices.
Much support was received from the Council of Churches of Wales through its Secretary, the Revd Dr Noel Davies. As Christian Aid was a department of the Council, a National Committee for Wales was formed, comprising representatives from each of the main denominations and other Christian organisations, with an Honorary Chairman and Treasurer.
Admirable services were rendered by the National Committee’s first Chairman, Sir Ben Bowen Thomas, a well- known figure in the cultural, educational and the religious circles of Wales. When he was appointed Chairman in 1966, the then Bishop of Bangor, The Rt Revd Gwilym O. Williams and Professor Gwilym H. Jones stated, “We have been most fortunate in having a person of his experience and stature to be the Chairman of Christian Aid in Wales.”
He was followed in 1968 by Dr Roderic Bowen, a former Liberal MP for Cardiganshire and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. At the time of his appointment, he had retired from party politics and was the Commissioner for the National Insurance in Wales. He served as Chairman until 1989. Both Chairmen in turn represented Wales on the Christian Aid Board in London.
Christian Aid was also fortunate to have Mr Lyn Howell as Honorary Treasurer for Wales, a position he filled for fourteen years until 1982. For 20 years he was the able Secretary of the Welsh Tourist Board. Lyn was a most efficient and reliable person and through his perseverance he succeeded in having all contributions from Wales to be sent to the National Office in Cardiff. Such a system enabled the Treasurer to record and acknowledge the exact amount raised in Wales.
Chapter 4: Christian Aid Week and Chapter 5: The Local Committees
Both of the above are closely connected. The local committees were instrumental in planning the Week in May as it was the focus of their activities. Prominence is given to the Week and how it was established, as the bulk of the annual income coming from events and collections during that one week. The importance and significance of the Week along with the endeavours of local committees cannot be over-looked in the history of Christian Aid in Wales.
The first Christian Aid Week in 1957 was the brain-child of Christian Aid’s first Director, Janet Lacey, a gifted person who many have labelled the “Mother” of Christian Aid Week”. Since that Week in 1957, envelopes have dropped into houses throughout the United Kingdom and each year has seen Christian Aid totals increase through its voluntary collectors.
Apart from fund-raising publications, educational material was also produced for junior and secondary schools, as well as orders of services for assemblies and united church services. Information leaflets and posters were printed and also posters and picture sets which were exhibited at local libraries.
Various fund-raising events were planned by the local committees together with the involvement of the junior and secondary schools in many towns. With the co-operation of the headmaster and staff a number of sponsored events were held during school hours. Although the support of local committees cannot be over emphasised, individuals planned their personal fund-raising events, giving their time and talent by staging, for example, a marathon organ-playing event.
Chapter 6: Communicating
Efficient communication is essential to inform the public of Christian Aid’s policy and also to tell them of the living conditions of people in the deprived areas of the world.
The agency could not rely on the British press to communicate the situations in poor countries, as it is only when catastrophes, such as floods, earthquakes or severe famine occur that the national dailies and media are interested. This is usually the only time the general public becomes aware of the plight of those suffering deprivation.
Christian Aid tried to meet this problem by publishing a newspaper, Christian Aid News, every quarter, but it only reached its supporters in the churches. However, in 1969 a group of students at Oxford formed the movement, “Third World First” and invited students who wished to know more of life in the Third World to become members. Within three years 33,000 had joined. Each member contributed 1% of the student’s grant towards development programmes and, for this donation, each received a copy of Internationalist, a magazine publishing articles on life in Third World countries. The organisation’s enthusiasm greatly encouraged Christian Aid and Oxfam.
Following the encouraging work undertaken by the students of Third World First, discussions were held with Christian Aid and Oxfam officers and both agencies decided to give financial support towards the publication of a new monthly magazine, The New Internationalist, which was first published in 1973.
Reference is also made to the various publications produced by Christian Aid – the printed word and visuals. Christian Aid staff in Wales accepted every opportunity to use the radio and television to communicate with the general public. With the formation of many Welsh medium junior schools it was important that staff had Welsh publications available, which meant having Christian Aid material translated. Such a resource was welcomed by teachers and pupils. Later, Welsh versions of some of our films for both children and adults were produced, with some members of BBC staff giving their time and talent as commentators for such productions. Much material was also produced in bilingual form, including the collection envelopes distributed throughout Wales during Christian Aid Week.
Taking advantage of modern technology, Christian Aid staff used all available resources to communicate its message to its supporters and general public. During the first sixty years of its existence great advancements were made and with the use of modern communicating methods, people’s horizons were broadened in Wales and in overseas countries.
Wynn is a Welsh speaking ”Pembrokeshire boy” but adopted by Carmarthenshire having lived most of his working life in different parts of the county as a Baptist minister, apart from an eighteen year period in Cardiff when he was Christian Aid’s National Secretary for Wales. Sadly, his wife, Nia, passed away in 2008, but he is fortunate in having a daughter and a son and their families, and a variety of projects to keep him occupied.
Ehangu Gorwelion (copies of original Welsh publication available).
Price: £11.50 (inc.postage) from UK – cheques payable to ‘Christian Aid’.
For overseas delivery please add £2.50 (total £14).
Swyddfa Cymorth Cristnogol/ Christian Aid Office
75 Heol Dŵr, Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen.SA31 1PZ
Rhif ffôn/Telephone no: 01267 237257