guest blog: worship, justice and parenting (part 1)

Our friend Frances Bryant is an inspiration. She has a deep commitment to her faith; to its implications for the world’s injustices; and to living a life of joy and thankfulness that makes a difference. To her and her husband Mark, it’s important that their sons – Joe (8.5) and Daniel (6.5) – also grow up to understand how they can make a difference. Here she tells us just why she cares so much and explains the impact a Mum can have from her own experiences as a child.

Frances Bryant

“For me, the thing that first got me fired up about poverty and injustice – especially at an international level – was my childhood and the flavour of the home I grew up in. And I want Joe and Daniel to experience the same thing.

“My Mum was (and is!) a rep for Traidcraft and there were quotes on every notice-board and memorabillia from round the world in the house.

“From an early age, I definitely knew that our way of living was as part of a privileged minority – that there was a whole massive part of the world where most of the people lived very differently – and with much less. At Christmas we had advent calendars where we put money in each day, rather than taking chocolate out – at the time I thought that was what everyone did!

“I vividly remember Christmas Eves too. Together with some other Mums and their children, we would hold a vigil for a particular charity – praying for an hour for them, and then giving to support their work. I remember it being my favourite part of Christmas. One year, we focused on Shelter, and we actually made a shelter and sat in it for the hour and I remember thinking how magical it was to be sat in there whilst people rushed around or had parties.

“Now when I think back, I see it was a pretty brave thing to do with kids. I think the secret of why it touched me so positively was two-fold. The first was that it flowed out of my mum’s own thankfulness and ability to make things fun. I loved these things – I distinctly remember never being made to feel guilty; and I didn’t feel hard done by either. We weren’t materially rich but we were comfortable. And it was an incredibly secure and loving home. We had lots of fun.

“The other is that I knew it came out of her faith. I knew she was praying every night. It was real, and it was authentic to how she lived her life. Understanding God’s grace at a fresh and deeper level has also richly blessed me and I want to pass it on too.

“I knew that we were privileged and I was thankful for that, but I also knew that there was something I could do – pray, give, get involved and make a difference. And I want Joe and Daniel to know the same thing.

“Of course it wasn’t just my upbringing… but that was the foundation that everything else was then built on. At 13 I had a long holiday in Africa and as a teenager I went to Greenbelt multiple times and really got the bug! I found it challenged me about what I really need to live through a mixture of the camping experience, the speakers, the worship and the stalls which felt like they opened my eyes to the big wide world.

“But it was my time living alongside poverty, and sharing my life with the people it affected, that had a massive impact. I spent a gap year in Uganda at 18, and then worked in South Africa with LINK when I graduated. Then, it just got into my blood and I couldn’t shake it – because you learn to love people as the friends you are sharing life with – not just as anonymous faces.

“I guess from then on I just chose to keep my eyes open. Some people actively avoid knowing what’s going on in the world but I can’t do that. I need to know – I want to help.  I know what it’s like being the stranger, the foreigner, so I look out for the stranger here.

“Whether it’s people in a totally different culture, or individuals struggling in your community, it comes down to the same thing: I know that I’m loved by God, created by him for him and that’s exactly the same for everyone I know… they are precious… obviously I do judge people and I do fall short, but underlying that is a genuine longing that I will see them as God sees them, and that I’ll somehow be able to show his love in all those relationships.

“I have memories of being so generously welcomed in Africa by people who had very little. And at the same time, a memory of one of the guys we were helping through Watford New Hope Trust giving me shoes for Joe that would have been for his kid if things had been different. Both acts of kindness were materially and emotionally sacrificial – and that just humbles me… Personal relationship, and knowing that every single person has got this incredible capacity to love and share, reignites the flame for love and justice in you.

“Amazing though it is, Christ has no hands but our hands – often we say we feel we should respond to a need – that is Jesus’ spirit prompting us to do something, talk to someone, look out for the stranger.

“In the past I’ve worked for LINK Community Development – an international charity helping to provide education to poor communities and Watford New Hope Trust – a local organisation providing services and care to people who are homeless. (And I continue to support organisations such as Christian Aid and Neema crafts in Tanzania.)

“But actually in many ways, not working in this field anymore is helpful. Before I could spend all my time doing assemblies about homelessness – you’re making a difference of course, but you’re not actually doing it – now I’m privileged because I have the time to respond to people in conversation, do something at home to raise money, or to meet the needs of those I meet.

“In a way there’s more scope now to put my worship into action – through prayer, giving, campaigning and simply walking the walk. And through passing on the values my parents gave me to my children too.”

(Look out for part two, coming soon, where Frances shares various things that her and her husband Mark are trying to do to ensure that loving God, and pursuing justice, again gets passed to the next generation.)

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