Help for a messy world
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Date: 26 February, 2003

Click on the book cover above to purchase it and raise money for Christian Aid projects. Image: Hodder & Stoughton


'Short provoking readings around bible verses with prayers, encourage us to look inwardly at our spiritual health but never letting us forget the world we are immersed in.'

While travelling around South Africa, Charlotte Haines Lyon reads Christian Aid's Lent book, Jesus: Opening Our Hearts

As I travel around South Africa, two months before the tenth anniversary of the country’s first full elections, reviewing this book for Lent has extra poignancy.

Extremes of poverty and riches are severely juxtaposed here, emphasizing the inequalities in the world.

It has become a daily struggle to reconcile the opulence of the shopping malls with the women I meet who despite finally having electricity being supplied to their homes can not afford to use it.

The book, Jesus: Opening Our Hearts, is for use by both groups and individuals. There is a weekly reading for groups, followed by activities, questions and suggestions for prayer covering topics as diverse as temptation, persistence, justice and prayer and those in need of refuge.

The latter has had particular significance for me after a visit to a church which used to provide refuge to antiapartheid activists.

However, it is the daily sections for individuals that I have found the most helpful and profound.

Short provoking readings around bible verses with prayers, encourage us to look inwardly at our spiritual health but never letting us forget the world we are immersed in.


Readings are grounded with stories of remarkable people from around the globe such as Zung Paum, who uses traditional medicine in Burma to help the ever increasing number of AIDs sufferers for little or no money.

Amazingly, he had found herbal remedies which have relieved pain and various symptoms, resulting in approaches from commercial companies. He has refused their advances, knowing that it is the only way the poor will continue to receive treatment.

Last year, my brother-in-law was hijacked at gunpoint, as was a friend of the family more recently; during the time you take to read this about 60 women will have been raped in South Africa.

Only too aware of the crime rate here, I am angry that I have started fearing everybody as potential attackers rather than human beings.


However, the Archbishop of Cape Town’s contributions in the book have really helped me. He writes about the African concept of Ubuntu – meaning, “I cannot be a whole person without you and you cannot be without me."

As I have talked to those around me, I have enjoyed a less fearful trip as well as making friends with people whether in cafes on the waterfront or in an old township.

It is too easy to switch off and hide from the messy realities of the world due to feelings of utter helplessness.

What Lavinia Byrne, the Archbishop and other contributors to the book do is to provide us not only with glimmers of hope, but short manageable thoughts and stories to help grapple with the pain and confusion of a messy world.

Jesus: Opening Our Hearts, the 2004 Christian Aid book for Lent, published by Hodder & Stoughton, 112pp, £4.99

To buy Jesus: Opening Our Hearts, and raise money for Christian Aid projects, click here.

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