On Tuesday I found myself talking about Fair Trade to a small group of local supporters, as part of a chocolate and coffee tasting that had been arranged by the Co-op. Being me, I'd left preparation of the talk til the 11th hour, and rushed off to the Fair Trade Foundation and Christian Aid websites for helpful material...My brief was to cover the human angle, leaving the co-op rep to provide facts and figures, - and the all important chocolate, and both websites were full of great stories about the way Fair Trade really does change lives. The story that struck me most, though, was not told by a struggling cocoa farmer whose world was transformed, but by a visitor to a Fair Trade vineyard in S Africa.
He described the "model village" conditions of the Fair Trade community, with freshly-painted homes, clean playgrounds for the children and the huge pride that the workers had in taking control of their own destinies, and then took us to another corner of the vineyard, close to the boundary with its neighbour.
On their side of that fence were beautifully painted houses and carefully groomed gardens. There was a little school and a play area. There was colour and beauty and all of that freedom and ownership we had just heard about was bursting with life. But on the other side of the fence…was the neighbouring vineyard. There was literally the thinnest breadth of wire dividing. And on that other side there was dirty, faded, paint peeling houses. There were rough dust and dirt paths between them. There was no colour, no energy, no pride and no sense of hopefulness. It was a stark contrast. It was the most challenging piece of land I had ever stood upon. The choice was clear and stark. Buy into one side of the fence and there is a sense of care and justice for the workers. Buy into the other and there is simply exploitation, disregard and neglect of workers and their children
Literally the thinnest breadth of wire - but absolutely no doubt which side of the fence was which...and nobody would choose to spend time straddling the divide. In a great article, the writer goes on to develop the theme of choice, and of choosing God's justice, choosing the Kingdom. Do read it all - I thoroughly recommend it...
That image of the thin piece of wire has been with me for the whole week, specially in the long hours when I've sat with a the dear soul from our congregation whose earthly journey must surely soon reach its end. Her body is so very weak now, and it has seemed again and again over the past many days, that she must leave it behind with the very next laboured breath...but she lingers on. It's not unlike watching the sea as low tide approaches. There will come a moment when the waves recede no further, when we are officially at Low Tide - but on the way, it's impossible to tell whether this is the final marker. Once the tide has turned, there is of course no mistake - but on the way, there's no such clarity. That's how it is in that hospital room, as she treads the foothills of eternity, without yet crossing the border and finding herself at home.