46 years in CHIPS! A reflection by Elfrida Calvocoressi

As Elfrida retires from the board and passes the baton to Julie Finn as our new Chair of Trustees, we asked her to tell us about some of her experiences and highlights from 46 years of service to CHIPS and to peacemaking around the world.

All of us at CHIPS wish Elfrida a blessed and fulfilled retirement – and we’re delighted that she will continue her close connection to the charity as Spiritual Advisor.

Other than your personal connection with your late husband Roy, the founder of the charity, what drew you to the work of CHIPS?

My first introduction after our marriage was providing hospitality for the many different people and groups who visited our home at 31 Green Street, London – a CHIPS project in itself.

A whole new world opened up for me, beyond the boundaries of my previous experience of nursing in England and Uganda: I found myself in the place where different nationalities, cultures, denominations and social customs would have collided. However, I witnessed that through the catalyst of meeting, listening, praying, worshipping and eating together, disparate opinions were changed and began to harmonise creatively.

Everything we did grew out of Roy’s years of forensic Bible study, searching for the principles by which Jesus had entered and lived on earth, and how we could apply them in the context of peacemaking, mainly between opposing groups. This was even more exciting!

After a while, a Green Street team gradually formed, helping with hospitality for meetings and overnight stays, as by that time our daughter Caroline was born. A young Northern Irish man, a young American woman, an English couple, an Australian lumberjack, a Southern Irish nun and a Dutch South African couple joined the team over the years, as we welcomed friends from Cyprus, Uganda, Nigeria, India, Singapore, the Philippines and America. I loved the diversity, learning so much from them, and the joy of giving hospitality together with Roy.

How did your understanding of the work evolve, and what are some of the highlights of your time with CHIPS?


I think it was a growing understanding, as I studied more deeply the relevant New Testament passages, their application to the various CHIPS projects as they came along and I saw how adaptable they were to each situation while retaining the underlying principles.

I have seen at first hand the spiritual forces of evil that militate against peacemaking, because it is God’s work and we, his agents, are but fallible human beings! The eventual failure of one of our projects can be traced back to jealousy and selfish ambition, instead of that loving humility that “seeks the highest good of the other.”

However, the seeds of peace sown in the hearts of the communities during each CHIPS project continue to germinate and bear fruit, perhaps many years later. In Cyprus, just after the CHIPS team had to leave, the island was divided in 1974 by a “wall of partition” but the seeds sown there from 1964 to ’72 never died. Since 2016 many friends from the two communities meet annually for a picnic, alternating between one side of the partition and the
other. It was the greatest joy for me to join them there in 2017.

In Uganda, after the destruction by the army in 2001 of one of our project bases – a devastating, heart-searching time for everyone – the team’s resilience and their desire to sow the seeds in the “soil of conflict” spurred them on to a further ten years of expansion. God made the seeds grow, and those who had asked us to come said, at the handover of our 25-year Uganda project in 2011, “This peace is irreversible.”

Which CHIPS project was the most personal to you?

The Uganda project was very special to me. I had many friends in the area to which we were invited, and knew the language of one of the two groups involved, through my nursing years with CMS in the early 70’s. 

Riding pillion on a motorbike through thorny scrubland, or sitting round the campfire under a vast starry sky was wonderful. However, it was more amazing to watch the development of the project, and how the principles worked – of going in with nothing, relying on the local people, learning both languages, living as they did, facilitating practical projects, and bearing the aggression from both sides quite often, when perceived as traitors by one side or the other. Gradually the enmity was being borne away through the actions and prayers of the team.

In 2009, on one of my regular visits to help the Uganda team in their understanding of the CHIPS Bible studies, I suddenly had a deeper insight into the possibilities when all the elements of reconciliation – between human beings and God, between individual human beings or groups, as well as the “reconciliation of all things” – had come together in one place. It was a most thrilling moment for me and for the CHIPS team.

What thoughts would you like to leave with CHIPS as you retire?

After ten projects across seven different countries over 56 years, five directors and six chairs of trustees, it seems clear that the work is the Lord’s, and we are but stewards and workers in his world.

However, for CHIPS to continue, we have to have that balance of practical, high-quality competence and financial acumen combined with an ever-growing understanding of the Biblical principles on which we are founded.

Above all, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, as we seek to follow his example; to let Christian love be our motivation in everything – in humility putting the highest good of the other person before our own. I have proved for myself that, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways, we can grow in wisdom and understanding if we are open to His promptings – even outside our comfort zone.

I pray for that same exciting experience for those who come after, and I have full confidence in those who will take CHIPS into the next era. May the God of peace bless you mightily!

Read or download our latest impact report here!

Elfrida and a young helper baking for the CHIPS 2020 Peace Sunday Challenge!

#Black Lives Matter

When I was asked to write this blog, as honoured as I was, I also was very wary around how likely I could find the right words to convey the message I want to tell.

This past week alone has been A LOT. I have been asked to proof read, check over, advise and help people and organisations on how and what they said in response to the murder of George Floyd. As a Black person this is a lot to process, alongside the reports of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting us. 

Black people are being killed by those who have sworn to protect us. Our deaths are being justified by a range of arguments which are nothing more than excuses. This is not just happening across the pond, it is happening in Jamaica, in Brazil, Nigeria, in France and here in the UK – in London and in South London.

The hashtag has gone beyond being a solidarity post, now used to raise awareness of police brutality globally. #BlackLivesMatter has raised questions and debates around policing, the criminal justice system, how our Black community functions and what happens next.

I wish I had the answers but I do not. All I have is God. I pray he gives us the answers and solutions to do what is needed and what is right. Seeing the protests around the world, we can easily question how effective they are. I have been involved in activism for around nine years now and I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. 

Social media has been giving me the idea that everyone is speaking – which to some extent is good. We are having those necessary conversations activists and organisers have been calling for. But, nothing is 100% perfect. We are seeing performative digital activism where people act like they are genuinely doing the work. 

The Black community, but also the wider BME community, is no stranger to injustice. Lived experiences have taught us a lot about what we can do during these times. But, as we are in pandemic, I am aware that everyone is different.

First, I offer some advice for good allyship for non-Black people.

Educate yourself.

There are a variety of books, talks, podcasts and so on which could provide you with a good starting point to fully understand what is happening. And donate to organisations doing the work with those who are affected by police brutality and other injustices. 

The advice I have given, and I will continue to give, to others is this:

Take regular breaks from social media.

A lot is happening right now and it is a lot to process. Create boundaries, do not be afraid to tell family and friends to stop sharing footage of the events that could trigger you. 

Check on those around you.

Now more than ever you need your family, friends and your community. Be mindful of social distancing guidelines, but still connect.

Take this time to explore your creativity.

It is an amazing outlet: write, draw, paint, dance, sing.

Breathe.

I am no way an expert on breathing, but those in the performing arts and therapists often share how we do not always explore the full wonders of how one can take a breath. 

Feel.

Feel the emotions that you usually attempt to fight, through processing them can one truly move past them. 

Pray.

As someone who believes in God, in these strange, unusual and trying times we are in, I speak with God a lot more frequently. 

I send you peace, love, light and power. 

Jemmar 

What does Coronavirus mean for peace?

Updated 19 April 2020

Human behaviour is difficult to predict at the best of times. It’s even more difficult when people are forced to re-evaluate their priorities and change their habits during a pandemic.

We’ve already experienced the selfishness that leaves supermarket shelves devoid of toilet rolls, pasta and tinned foods as behaviour becomes less rational. On the other hand, we’re also seeing more people make sacrifices for the common good and mobilising themselves to look out for their neighbours.

The fact is we are still nearer to the start than the end of this crisis in many countries, and its impact on peace and violence is difficult to predict. So, what are some of the issues that – as Christian peacemakers – we are looking out for?

Importance of relationships

First, as a relational organisation, we believe that having constructive, energetic and diverse relationships across communities at all levels is foundational to any peaceable society. Right now, as a result of social distancing and the anxiety that the crisis brings, we’re starting to see our usual relationship structures be strained in ways we’ve never seen before.

Yet we are also seeing people come together right now in new and amazing ways. This crisis is already teaching us that we must learn to approach our challenges differently and more collaboratively. We now have an opportunity to radically transform how we think about and ‘do’ community, and turn that into a permanent shift in our thinking and behaviour.

Can we continue to pull together, to find new ways of building community, and put in place stronger foundations for the future? It will be a challenge, once the crisis is over, not to return to ‘business as usual’ but this is a chance we need to try and seize.

Lockdown brings new risks 

Second, we need to be alert to the new risks that lockdown brings. The root causes of division will not magically disappear because people are staying at home or keeping themselves to themselves.

In the UK, fewer people on the streets in principle reduces the opportunity for violence and leads to a drop in knife crime. Indeed, West Midlands (one of Britain’s biggest police forces) reported year on year falls of 41% in serious violence and 39% in knife crime during March, while London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner said at the beginning of April that “Knife crime has dropped considerably.”

But we still don’t know how long isolation will last, how people will respond during an extended period, and how well and how sensitively rules will be communicated and enforced by authorities. What’s more, increases in frustration, mistrust and suspicion may only manifest themselves later on.

Anecdotal evidence we are hearing around Brixton and reading in the newspapers also suggests that county lines drug gangs are capitalising on school closures and boredom to prey on young people and recruit them into criminal activity. The drugs trade has not gone away and, clearly, it is the vulnerable and those without strong family and community support who are most at risk.

As we mentioned a month ago, there is also a very real risk that the threat of violence moves inside, with a rise in domestic violence behind closed doors. Sadly this has proven true for China, Spain and France, three countries which entered lockdown ahead of the UK. They have all reported a surge of cases: in France’s case, authorities reported a 30% increase in the first week. There is now concern that the same could be happening in the UK, at a time when cuts have left a shortage of refuge spaces.

Poverty and inequality

Third, it’s clear that many households will feel a sharp economic shock as a result of this crisis. As usual, it’s the vulnerable and marginalised who will feel the effects most.

In general, poverty and inequality are now more likely to increase. And we know from our experience that these are two of the root causes of conflict in Ghana and Brixton respectively. Any exacerbation only heightens the risk of violence – and even if that doesn’t follow immediately, there’s a real danger it could happen later on.

The effects of this crisis will not be short-lived and how authorities respond during the crisis will significantly shape the long-term impacts.

A lot to process

Fourth, whatever happens next, the coming months will continue to bring a great deal of anxiety. We still have a lot of processing to do and the effects of collective trauma could take some time to emerge.

Yet one positive consequence of the crisis in Brixton is that we’ve been able to have much more open discussions with the people we work with on a range of subjects such as fear and panic, the importance of community and mental health – conversations which some people may not ordinarily have. These cut to the heart of some of the root causes of conflict. We hope that these more open conversations will continue – and become a permanent part of our fabric of personal and public debate.

Looking to the positives

Even in the midst of the current chaos and uncertainty, we see much to be encouraged about.

In Brixton, it’s been great to see how the community has pulled together. Our phones are buzzing with What’s App messages from group chats full of people wanting to help. One of the longer-term outcomes of the current crisis might be that community organisations find new ways of building partnerships together. That would be great for peace. Certainly, it’s something we would welcome and want to be part of at CHIPS. Taking a partnership approach is core to our principles of community organising and peacemaking!

In Ghana, we know that our current mix of projects works – both in terms of helping to alleviate poverty as a root cause of violence, and bringing people together to forge positive relationships across the divides. Much of our work is scalable. So, if the need grows as a result of Coronavirus (and of course if we can secure funding), we’d be able to expand and reach into new areas.

We hope and pray that this crisis will continue to bring out the best in people and that communities will pull together. We also know (as we used to say a lot in our work in Uganda) that God is good ALL the time. So we place our trust in him and, while we expect the year ahead to throw up new challenges to peace, it should also present new opportunities for Christian peacemakers. We stand ready to respond wherever God calls us.

Further help on domestic violence

Domestic abuse impacts many people and most of us know someone affected, as their friend, family, neighbour, carer, colleague or key worker. Now is the time to be extra-vigilant and to check in with loved ones, but check first if it is safe for them to speak as the perpetrator may be able to overhear.

For 24/7 advice for yourself or someone else, no matter where you live, please contact the freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline. Tel: 0808 2000 247. If you or someone else is in immediate danger always call police on 999.

If you’re in Lambeth the Gaia Centre can help. Confidential advice and support can be provided by phone, text or email – whatever’s safest. Tel: 020 7733 8724 / Email: lambethvawg@refuge.org.uk

 

Can youth violence and knife crime really be ended ? We believe they can

It is just over two weeks since Glendon Spence, a 23 year old young man, was killed at the Marcus Lipton Youth Club, close to our offices in Brixton.  The attack happened in the early part of a Thursday evening and many young people and children witnessed what happened.  The police have said they believe Glendon was targeted and attacked deliberately. 

Knife crime and youth violence have been in the headlines again as the lives of Glendon and others have been taken.  The press talks of a national crisis and ‘war on the streets’.  Politicians are under increasing pressure to do anything which will stop the violence.

Alongside the tragic deaths, there are many young people being injured and traumatised in incidents that don’t make the headlines and may not even be reported.

We see first hand the impact this violence has on a community.  The trauma for those who were there and saw the attack.  The devastation for the family and friends of the victim.  The fear of further attacks.  The anger and frustration that nothing seems to change. 

A whole range of solutions are proposed and debated – from greater police numbers to increased stop and search to more public spending – anything which will work quickly to prevent any more young people being killed or injured and their families, friends and communities devastated.  

But we know from our own experience that building peace and ending violence takes time.  Youth violence and knife crime will not end overnight.

That’s why we’re committed to live and work in an area for the long term.  Short term interventions may tackle some of the symptoms of violence but they won’t tackle the root causes.  Those root causes are are multiple and complex and revolve around deprivation, a lack of opportunity and the anger and frustration that result.

Our peacemaking work is relational and practical.  We believe the levels of violence will reduce as we empower the community to cross divides, to build relationships and to work together to bring about the changes that are needed.  We are using community organising to develop and equip community leaders and groups who are then mobilised to bring about change.

Many young people we know and work with closely have been directly affected by the recent attack in our community.  They have also faced other huge challenges in their lives.  Some have lost friends or family members to violence, had those they are close to go to prison, been excluded from school, had parents working all hours on minimum wage trying their hardest to provide, have families who have suffered the instability caused by benefit sanctions, suffered racism or lived in terrible housing.

Yet many of these young people show incredible resilience in the face of these challenges.  They should be celebrated and they should also be supported so that, rather than leading them down a path towards violence and more suffering, their experiences lead to more hopeful and fulfilled lives. 

Our role is to come alongside and provide that support  – building deep, meaningful and healing relationships, to work together to create more opportunities for these relationships to grow and develop and to look at what actions can be taken by these young people and their families to tackle the injustices they experience.

All this happens through simple activities like making pancakes together or games nights, 121 mentoring, school group sessions or community meals.  Unexpected places of healing, celebration and hope. 

As we work together, change is happening.  The situation remains extremely challenging and the path may be long but with new relationships crossing divides, anger turned into powerful action for change and a lot of love and time, we are on a journey of peace.

We’d love you to be a peacemaker and join us on the journey.  You can support us by clicking on the donate button on this page.

Can the violence and knife crime be ended ?  We believe they can.      

 

 

London’s knife crisis

by Paul Maxwell-Rose


The threat of violence is an everyday reality for many young people across our capital, particularly for those we live and work alongside in Brixton.

Violence is sometimes experienced on the streets through knife crime, but it’s also in our homes, in interactions with authorities and police, on social media, and in many other arenas of life.

Our experience says that young people wish that this was not the case — they would much rather have the freedom to develop and flourish. However for those most affected the fear of violence means they have to develop a means to protect themselves.

Many hide their true selves under a hardened outer demeanour, find people to back them up, grow a reputation for violence themselves, or even carry a weapon.

Current press coverage is very focused on the young people themselves, often implying that they could (or should) make different choices to get themselves out of the situation. Even when a very young person is involved and therefore is seen as a victim, the blame is often laid on the older members.

Yet the truth is so much harder – it’s not an issue of good guys and bad guys – nobody wins in this world. Some older people at the top might be making a lot of money, but many are feeling just as trapped and desperate as the new kid just starting out.

Just last week at an event hosted by the Synergy Network I listened to a young man called Destiny tell his story of working his way to the top of a group dealing drugs when he was a teenager. When he started out it was hard, but he thought that those at the top had everything, so he wanted to be in a similar position But when he got there it was just as hard and scary as when he’d first got involved. He wished he could get out, but didn’t know any other life.

These lives are very hidden from the wider world, and many of the people involved – or affected – don’t want to speak out. When something huge is kept hidden for so long it will one day blow up – and we’re suddenly seeing that exposure now.

The fact is we are all part of the society where this violent and hidden world has grown and is destroying so many lives – and we must wake up to the fact that we are all partly responsible for it.

Dez Brown, CEO of the fantastic Spark2Life, who now employs Destiny to work with young people, said at the Synergy event, “We as adults are the custodians of the our society – our children are products of it. So we are the ones who have created this situation”

I see a key factor as the breakdown and disconnection of relationships across society – there is growing relational separation between people from different classes, backgrounds, and wealth levels; between communities and government; between generations; between authorities like the police and those the communities they are meant to protect or support; between the systems of education and the children in our schools…I could go on.

These are issues all of us are involved with, and therefore all of us are responsible for. Which means we all – together – have the potential to change it.

I believe the key to change is the rebuilding of relationships and the overcoming of the division and disconnection in our society. And we can all do that.

We must start by facing our fears: the further we are from someone, the less we understand about their lives, and the more fear grows. Whether we’re afraid the young men who hang out at the end of our street are dangerous, or whether our neighbours will think we’re weird if we try to talk to them, or whether we think no one will care or listen if we try to speak up about an injustice to our local government, there’s a lot of fear of ‘the other‘ around us.

Building relationships always begins with moving through our fear of ‘the other‘ and reaching out. If we all start to do that a bit more, then maybe we’ll start to re-form the web of healthy divide-crossing relationships which form the basis of a peaceful, healthy, flourishing society.

There are so many examples of brilliant people doing this around us who we can learn from. Dez and his team at Spark2Life build relationships and work with people in prisons, on the street, in schools, making deep, lasting (and transformative) connections which show those who feel marginalised by society that they have value, are worthy of love, and have a future.

Our amazing neighbour in Brixton, Pastor Lorraine Jones and her team at Dwaynamics show so much love to the young people who come to learn boxing. Their programmes give young people purpose, determination and passion, then help them to develop their skills to get into work and education. Most importantly it shows them they have value, opportunities, and a place in society.

We’ve had a privilege of working with some amazing young men in a local school – young men going through some really tough times. They’re involved with the criminal justice system, under threat of exclusion from school and many other things. But by taking the time to build relationships, through games and activities; by having fun together, and showing that these guys are valued through open, honest, mutual relationships, we and the school are starting to see them flourish.

We’re also starting some exciting new work, stepping up a focus on using Community Organising methods to build up relational networks in and across communities in Brixton. As members of South London Citizens we’ve learnt new methods for how to empower and develop community leaders. These methods help grow strong and active groups of people who are mobilised to use their relational power to bring about positive changes in their communities.

We believe this will fit perfectly with the practical and relational focus of CHIPS, enabling the communities we work with to cross divides, create that web of relationships, and work together to bring about the relational, societal and structural changes which are will lead to a reduction in violence. 

We all have a responsibility, and we can all be part of the solution.