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!