Notes from the sermon preached by Katherine Hogg (Christian Aid Regional Coordinator for South Yorkshire) to celebrate Easter and the work done by Christian Aid (this had a PowerPoint presentation)
Jeremiah 8.18 – 9.1
Luke 17. 5-10
You will all be holding something in your hand today which I would like you to feel, to hold on to, throughout my talk this morning. What do you think is coming round in the bag?
Did you know that every Brazil nut you’ve ever eaten was gathered from wild trees in the Amazon rainforest? Amazingly, Brazil nut trees cannot survive without a particular type of bee, orchid and rodent all of which live in the forest. So, they are actually rather special nuts and not just a snack to wolf down (as I do – especially the chocolate covered ones! – There isn’t a special tree which produces those – what a pity!)
Can you spot the whole Brazil nut pod in this picture? I expect you didn’t know it existed. It’s on the table, alongside the bowl containing lots of individual Brazil nuts. You have to crack the pod open to get to the nuts, a bit like you would a coconut. I then imagine that all the nuts inside are in their individual cases. PAUSE.
Brazil nuts are just one of many types of nuts and foods we have, but they are essential to the Brazilian community of the quilombola people who I will be speaking about today.
Bebé Albenize (who you can see on the left here) is a quilombola – her community is descended from slaves who escaped from plantations and hid in the Amazon rainforest for safety. Quilombolas today are very isolated and suffer high levels of malnutrition, so the highly nutritious Brazil nuts are an essential part of their diet. Selling the nuts is also virtually their only source of income for buying items like medicines, clothes and schoolbooks.
This struggle for existence and their existence itself is so unlike our own that it is difficult to really imagine what it must be like to be a quilombola. They are so different to us but one thing we have in common is the one thing you hold in your hand.
Let’s try to engage with their lives a little by thinking about what it must be like to live in a forest. Close your eyes for a moment and try to peel away years of ‘modernisation’ – imagine living without our basic luxuries and utilities, such as electricity, washing machines, hot water, comfortable beds. Going back beyond the industrial revolution what was life like then? I’m no historian but poets like Wordsworth tell us there was a lot more unspoilt countryside then than there surely is today. And what about all the years prior to this? At one time Britain was surely covered in forest and presumably people lived there alongside the bounty of nature. PAUSE. Life at harvest time must be something like this for the quilombolas. (you can open your eyes now!)
If we go down to our woods today, as indeed you may do later, we go to enjoy the changing colours of the leaves, we probably take a water bottle, snacks, a flask and perhaps a whole picnic to enjoy with friends. How different. The lives of the Quilombolas provoke wonderment in me: they are not like us in so many ways, they have a distinct ‘otherness’ about them. They have escaped modernity yet they are alive today sharing our planet, God’s world, like so many other people groups which we rarely hear about.
Harvest for us is a time to celebrate the bounty we have –largely in our shops for our easy purchase but still in the fields too. Yet if we were to go down to the woods today in Quilombola territory in Brazil with Bebe we would be in for a big surprise……and it’s no picnic! Everyone in Bebé’s community is involved in a harvest for survival, gathering the nuts from the trees and they must all work hard together – men, women and even the youngest children.
Bebé Albenize is a Castanheira: a woman respected in her community for her knowledge of where the wild Brazil nut trees grow, scattered in the forest. She says: ‘The best areas for trees are deep in the middle of the forest. At harvest time, the whole village goes out into the forest and lives there to gather the nuts for weeks at a time. We paddle for three and a half hours in small boats, then walk for another day into the forest, and there we make houses from wood and palms called barraco… If we are close enough, we come back to the community every Saturday to go to mass at church. On Sundays we hold prayers.’ …something else in common.
When the harvest is finally gathered in there is much celebration that would put our hymn singing to shame!
Harvest is truly a community celebration. Imagine how it must feel – a group effort, achieved together. A harvest that is essential to the very survival of everyone in the community for the coming year. A harvest that has been safely gathered in from remote places many days’ walk from their village, carried on backs and in boats through the jungle. What a joy that celebration must be! It must be full of the energy and passion that is evident in this photo, which shows community members dancing the old slave dances of their ancestors, as they remember their heritage.
Slide 5. Nasty surprise
Yet, for the quilombolas there is a nasty surprise in their midst. They are rubbing up against ‘progress’ – against the ways in which parts of the world have developed and are now hungry for profit, for oil, for land and sea. The community’s way of life – and very existence – is being threatened by logging, mining and industrial fishing companies who see the financial potential of the natural resources in their land.
Just as you or I would be lost and vulnerable if we were to live in a vast forest today – remember that image you had in your mind, so too are the quilombolas lost and vulnerable as they face their goliath from a world very different to their own which they cannot understand or influence. Their very existences are at risk!
How does that make you feel? After all I’ve told you about these people I hope you feel some of the righteous anger like the prophet Amos when he witnessed the rich and powerful trampling on the needy. He knew people’s hearts then and they haven’t changed today. In those days people were greedy for wealth saying ‘when will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’ they were boosting the price and skimping on the measure. (get louder and angrier) They were ‘buying the poor with a pair of sandals!’ (hold them up!)
Do we feel anything close to this or Jeremiah’s pain as he witnessed the move of Israel away from God’s righteous ways. ‘Since my people are crushed, I am crushed.’ he says ‘Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people’ he cries.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we are to use the Amos and Jeremiah texts today to throw light on the unknown, voiceless, needy places in our world TODAY then we cannot fail but to assume God’s ANGER at the way his people are treated today. We must realise that GOD is OUTRAGED by the unjust practices which disregard the poor and vulnerable and so too must we be if we are to be his true people today. That’s why CA is involved in the IF campaign this year which proclaimed that extreme poverty can be ended IF…big companies are not able to GRAB land for their own use. Yet, what hope do the quilombolas have in the face of multinational corporations? Well, this is the good news…
Christian Aid partner the Pro-Indigenous Commission of São Paulo (CPI) has stepped in and is providing them with vital legal advice to claim rights to their land and is working with them on scientific data such as satellite images to map the extent of the their lands. They also provide transport for faraway meetings with the companies and government representatives so their voices can be heard in the decisions which affect them.
CPI is also funding a research project which will help the community bid for funds from the Brazilian government to enable them to set up a small Brazil nut processing plant. Bebe says ‘we are very excited about the possibility of a processing centre to shell the nuts and even make some Brazil nut projects from them.’
Raimundo Printes do Carmo, pictured here, holds the elected position of village coordinator. He organises meetings and helps to bring the community together on important issues. He speaks of how quilombolas live in harmony with the land and the forest: ‘We are not greedy, we only cultivate a small patch to meet our needs… we understand the forest.’
What a scene. What a different view of the world to Raimundo and his people.
Brazil nut trees are protected, so logging companies leave them standing when the forest around them is cleared. But without the complex forest eco-system on which they depend, it is no surprise that the trees eventually die. CPI’s support means that huge areas of forest can and have been protected. No longer can corporations simply GRAB the land, the precious, beautiful Amazon rainforest and its people.
Almost 20 per cent of the Amazon forest has been destroyed since 1970. However, in territories which are under the control of quilombola or other indigenous communities, only one per cent of forest cover has been lost. This is due to the hard work of the CA partners and the people’s campaigns. Bebé’s community needs CPI to help them defend their rights to the land against logging and mining companies, and CPI needs your support to continue to work – and we all need the forests.
The destruction of forests worldwide is responsible for up to a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change. This is more than every plane, car, truck, ship and train on the planet combined. The recent news on the warming of the earth is not good news. We need the forests to help stabilise the earth’s climate. The quilombolas ‘tread lightly’ on the land and protect it. The forest is a huge ecosystem, but it is also a vulnerable one; if it is badly damaged, it will be gone forever.
If you don’t believe that the actions of a movement of people really can make a difference then think again of the sandals…to what was this a reference? SLAVERY. Ironically part of the Quilombolas’ story. The data isn’t super sound but it seems likely that 300 million lives were taken in three centuries and only a third of those people survived. Slavery in this traditional sense no longer exists. Why? Because people worked hard to eradicate it. They fought to put one bill after another through parliament and didn’t give up and only after many years eventually succeeded. It must have been like trying to shift that massive fishing boat I showed you.
We, as God’s people CAN bring about massive changes. We can bring in glimpses of God’s kingdom which Jesus revealed. Do you want to be part of the movement for change on behalf of the world’s poorest and the places they live? Do you have the belief that if we all act together and work hard then even the most ingrained systems and structures which uphold extreme poverty and damage God’s creation can change? I know that here at All Hallows you do! THANK YOU so much! Thank you for anyone who can give a direct debit gift today to help us plan our work and rely on regular income. Thank you if you are considering leaving a legacy to Christian Aid, thank you if do the house to house collection and thank you if you give a harvest gift today.
So to finish,
This photo shows early morning mist in Abuí village (home to Bebé’s community), on the Trombetas River in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
As we move towards the BBQ think of this:
£4.20 could pay for a litre of oil for a river barge so that CPI staff can travel between the quilombola communities to help them in making their land claims.
£24 could pay for one quilombola to attend a two day workshop to learn about their communities’ land rights.
I’ll finish with the words from Jeremiah as you see a picture of quilombola children playing in the river:
‘ You who are my Comforter in sorrow
My heart is faint within me
Listen to the cry of my people
From a land far away.’