Forgetting Ourselves, Remembering God

I’m not sure how you’re feeling at the end of this term. Maybe you’re tired or burnout and this term has been a hard one. Or maybe it’s been great and you’re thankful for lots of the good things that have happened over the last few weeks. For me, the end of this term is a little bittersweet because it’s time to hand over to a new exec who will lead Just Love in Durham over the next year. As an exec, we’ve had a wonderful year serving on committee and we’ll be sad to end our time together, but we’re also so incredibly excited to be handing over to the new exec and we can’t wait to see all that God is going to do over the next year here in Durham.

Endings can be a little tricky, especially when what’s ending has been such a good thing. This is true for me and the team as we leave the Just Love exec. We’ve seen God do wonderful things this year and it’s been a joy to be part of. From students spending time every week volunteering at foodbanks, to seeing pioneering work being done to bring an end to homelessness in our city through the Durham Winter Night Shelter, as well as prayer being raised for our nation, God has clearly been at work in our hearts and in our city this year. It’s wonderful to be able to look back on these things and celebrate what God has been doing in our city through his Church.

However, it’s also incredibly important for us to remember that these good things have only been possible because of God. This is not about us. This is not about the things we have done. Rather, this is a story of how God has been at work in our city, redeeming all things and all people to himself. Humility is a crucial ingredient in the pursuit of justice. In Micah 6:8 we are called to ‘walk humbly.’ Rather than resting on our own abilities and allowing our pride to grow as we look back on what we see as our own achievements, we need to remember that none of this is about us. In his book The Power of Humility, R.T. Kendall draws our attention to Uzziah as an example of how costly this kind of pride can be. Uzziah was one of the longest-reigning Kings of Judah, sitting at the throne for over fifty years. In 2 Chronicles 26:5 it says that ‘as long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success. God made him successful in war (v.2), his fame spread far across the land, and he became exceedingly strong (v.8). However, once he became powerful and successful, he seemed to forget the source of this success. He forgot that God was the one that had enabled him to achieve these great things and he became riddled with pride. For Uzziah, this led to his downfall and destruction. For Uzziah, pride had a high cost.

The danger of pride for Uzziah, and for us here today in Durham, is that we focus on all the good things we have managed to achieve and we forget to look to the true source of perfect justice in Christ. We forget to thank God for his mercy on us, that he would choose to dwell amongst us and use us for the building of his kingdom on earth. As we finish our time on exec together, it is right to look back and consider the good things that have happened in our city. Crucially, however, we want to remind ourselves that, as Proverbs 3:6 calls us to do, we are to remember the Lord in everything and point all the glory back to him. When we humble ourselves, God gets more of the glory that he ultimately deserves. In everything we do, let’s pray for even less of ourselves, and even more of God.

By Curtis Irvine
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Volunteering: a personal pursuit of justice

This year the Anti-Human Trafficking Stream have been building Just Love Durham’s relationship with a local charity called City Hearts. They have support services across the North of the UK, and we have been working with the branch in Sunderland. The main way we have done this is by volunteering at their midweek drop-in clinic. Each week, a few volunteers from Just Love Durham have travelled to Sunderland to help with craft activities, play games with clients and help entertain young children so that the case workers at City Hearts can carry out their vital support work with the clients. Today we’re hearing from some of the volunteers’ personal experiences of working with City Hearts.

How has the volunteering helped you to understand the issue?

Before volunteering, I have always thought about human trafficking and the suffering it causes its victims on a day-to-day basis in a quite abstract way. My understanding of the social injustice that human trafficking is was bound to be very limited before I began to engage with the lived experiences of people who have been affected by it. I have been immensely humbled by the women, men and children I have met since starting to volunteer; their friendliness and openness has touched me deeply. They taught me a very important lesson in resilience, and should be a role model for anyone who has finds themselves in a position of perceived hopelessness and despair.

Carolin Kost

 

What has surprised you about the volunteering?

Whilst volunteering I have uncovered the joy that comes with helping others and that small actions and contributions can have a great impact on others. Sometimes for them just chatting, socialising and taking part in activities can make their day-to-day lives easier and better, and this is something I am grateful to be part of.

Jazmina Nelson

 

How has local volunteering impacted your understanding of a personal pursuit of justice?

God is a relational God and this is clearly expressed in justice. Supporting the drop-in has invited me into friendship with individuals; fashioned by the hands of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, no more or less broken than any other human and similarly undeserving of the mercy of a saviour but gloriously also individuals that Christ died for and longs to bring to full restoration. Justice and freedom on earth but also that they might step into the prophetic promise in Luke 1 that ‘because of the tender mercy of our god, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace’ (Luke 1:78-79 ESV). Personal justice means recognising each story is valid, important and worth loving and seeking justice for but also recognising that justice is seen in Christ’s personal and intentional pursuit of each person to see years the locusts have stolen restored and what is dead be brought to life in relationship with Him.

Ashaleigh Hall

 

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to the volunteering?

I always knew volunteering would have its challenges alongside the rewards, but the biggest challenge by far is feeling that I can’t actively intervene and change the victim’s situation in that moment. Knowing it’s a process with many steps and often convoluted. Not being able to take away the pain and traumas these people have dealt with and immediately make their lives ‘normal’ is something I find frustrating. Also, when there is a language barrier it can be really hard not being able to connect, advise and comfort them to the greatest of my ability, but this is something which gets easier each time.

Mimi Swaby

 

Has the volunteering inspired you to take further action in your life?

In a word, yes. Volunteering at City Hearts has been a truly enlightening experience. It is so easy be overwhelmed by numbers and statistics but this experience has really brought home the message that this happens to real people and that restoration is a long and complicated process. I have been dwelling on the human brokenness that has caused it and how this is true in my life specifically. In first term, I made a resolution not to buy any new clothes, and the more I went on the more I realised I did not want to buy into an industry that was not honouring the dignity of people in the way God made them to be. I am trying to stretch this to other areas of my life: more ethically sourced food, tea and clothes.

In James 5 it says God hears the cries of the farm workers, and we should be hearing them too, asking God to open our eyes to what changes need to be made to see His justice reign.

Emily Carter

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There’s life in surrender: lessons from the persecuted church

Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting Hea Woo, a Christian who was brutally tortured for her faith in a North Korean prison camp. She shared of the unimaginable horrors that she witnessed amongst her inmates, and the unspeakable terror that kept her awake every night. Yet, even in all the darkness, she held on to the hope of Jesus. Meditating on Psalm 23 everyday sustained her and kept within her a steadfast faith in the Father. She was so passionate about Jesus that she led 5 other prisoners to the lord and started a secret church.

There was an unquenchable fire within her heart – she had laid down her own life so that she could experience more fully the life of Jesus.

I find remarkable echoes of Hea Woo’s story (and countless other heroes of our faith) in Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, “Brothers and sisters, you need to know about the severe trials we experienced while we were in western Turkey. All of the hardships we passed through crushed us beyond our ability to endure, and we were so completely overwhelmed that we were about to give up entirely. It felt like we had a death sentence
written upon our hearts… It has taught us to lose all faith in ourselves and to place all of our trust in the God who raises the dead. He has rescued us from terrifying encounters with death. And now we fasten our hopes on him to continue to deliver us from death yet again…” (TPT)

I’m struck again by the power of resurrection life. Paul was at a point where he feared for his life, yet the life of the Holy Spirit, which has triumphed over death produced in him a hope in the deliverance of the Father. In order to recognise and step into that life, he had to lay himself down and surrender before God. To rely on God is to acknowledge Him and His power; it’s to remember the magnificence of what happened on the cross; it’s to allow the truth of the redemptive power of the life of Jesus engulf all fear and desperation. Jesus laid it all before the Father. He was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Yet, He says, “not my will but yours” (Luke 22:42 ESV).

He laid all before the Father, that He might bring resurrection life; that death might be defeated.Anything that comes from or points to death requires that resurrection life to bring restoration and hope. Suffering has to be surrendered to him in order to receive resurrection life in a situation – the only life that triumphs over death.

All has to be laid before Him to receive all He has laid down for us. This is how Hea Woo, and so many others who endure such loveless persecution hold on to hope. They have received and live in the reality of resurrection life, because they have laid their own down.

In singing, praising, whispering – glorifying the lamb, they thank God for their suffering and they worship Him for His goodness – in the midst of horrific injustice. They have laid it all down and chosen to rely on His strength. What they are living in is the resurrection life of the Holy Spirit. Death and suffering have no claim on them, because they stand aligned with the power of the cross and the hope of the Spirit of life. They are sustained not by might, not by power, but by the Holy Spirit living in their hearts.

The fact that this faith can strengthen and sustain those living in inconceivable trial bears testament to the depth of the life that Jesus has offered us through his Holy Spirit. If they, bound and silenced, beaten and ridiculed, can exalt the name of Jesus and can taste of his joy and hope, how much more should we be worshipping and glorifying the almighty in our freedom and prosperity!

How much of the depth and extremity of the life of God, revealed to us in Jesus and given to us in the Holy Spirit are we missing out on because our contentment circumscribes our surrender?

The gift is free, and it’s beyond our understanding! It’s there to be received, and to the measure to which we are willing to surrender for it.

In the heart of winter, when Hea Woo was stationed on the watch at the prison camp’s gates, God told her that if she sang praises, she wouldn’t feel the biting cold. So, when the wind rose, she sang at the top of her lungs, out of earshot of the guards, and every time she felt warm. Her experience of Jesus in the darkest moments of her life led her into greater revelation of his goodness and his glory. Psalm 42:7 says that “deep calls to deep”(ESV), and that is exactly what happens when we receive the life of Jesus. The power of the resurrection is transformational, it’s ongoing, reaching deeper the more we reach out for the One who is alive.

Emelyan Yaroslavsky once said, “faith is like a nail, the harder you strike it, the deeper it goes.” That is the power of God.

I know that I want that life. Do you? I invite you to pray this prayer with me:

Lord Jesus, you are so good. I will not be overcome, because you have already overcome all for me. In you, there is incredible life available for me, and I long to receive it. You invite me to lay myself down so that you can fight for me. I cannot be governed by my own life and by your life in me, and by myself I can’t cope with the challenges and struggles I face. Only your life can do that, Lord. I want to rely on you, to depend on you – to draw my sustenance from you; to totally trust and be confident that your life can and will uphold and deliver me. I surrender to you. I lay down my circumstances, my relationships, my desires, my fears – my life, to live fully in yours. Amen.

By Joshua Grew

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Politics, Faith, Justice?

Politics isn’t as confusing as it sounds, promise!

Most politicians only know what they’re talking about half the time because they have a large folder of facts in front of them which they’ve read very thoroughly before they go on TV or in the Commons.

In brief, politics is about recognising issues and trying to come up with solutions to them, and then having enough control over the resources needed to bring these solutions to reality.

As Christians, we see a lot of problems with the world, and we are charged to come up with solutions: “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34 ESV). There is so much we can do outside of politics. But within politics, we have the power to tackle the root causes of the problems, to change the way a government does things and to direct national resources towards solutions which work for all of God’s children.

Politics is difficult at the best of times: it’s confusing and confrontational.  A lot of very intelligent people say a lot of very different things about what the best solutions are and when you try to bring God’s love and peace to a system to which it is so alien, it becomes even more difficult. Not least because a lot of very sincere Christians seem to come up with radically different solutions.

The odd fact is that there’s no political movement which fits with Christianity, not entirely. I have my own beliefs and partisan allegiance, but

I firmly believe that there is no right or wrong political party to which a Christian can belong.

I know a large number of our siblings who hold radically different views from my own. As Christians, we are all aiming for the same thing and we must not deny anyone their particular political allegiance.  

And in this, Christians are perhaps different from any other kind of politician. Many politicians, especially student politicians, are dogmatically committed to their ideology and will defend it to the death and anyone who disagrees is a hateful traitor. It gets very distressing. Therefore, it is refreshing when, having hurled counterpoints at each other, we Christians are able to shake hands with each other and say how relieved we are that the debate was completely free of personal insults.

As in everything, there is a lot more that unites Christian politicians than what divides them.

We have shared values. Social justice. Cooperation. A desire for service, rather than a desire for personal glory. A desire for displays of God’s love and flourishing rather than monetary gain. And the knowledge that the political system, being human, is inherently imperfect and cannot save us: only Jesus can do that and we in the interim can just try to look after His creation and one another as His children. There is a lot that we can do to reach across the divide and work together.  

But all this talk about political parties may have put a lot of you off. But it is very important to remember that it doesn’t end there. The practice of politics is not confined to a few fusty rhetoricians or bureaucrats in the House of Commons. In democracies, one of which we are blessed enough to live in, we have a unique chance. We can hold our politicians to account; they are expected to represent and listen to us. We can also use our voices: speak out about causes about which we care and start campaigns to end them.

As Christians, I feel that it’s important that we get involved and try to change our country to be more kingdom driven. In political terms, we can do that most obviously by voting. If you don’t know who to vote for, then that is what party manifestos are for. Whilst manifestos are often very difficult to understand, loads of news websites publish them in plain English for precisely the purpose of helping people understand. Read the main points, pray over them, and then decide which one best matches God’s will.

There are, however, some people who refuse to vote, sometimes because of the problems I detailed earlier, but also because “our citizenship is in Heaven” (Philippians 3:20 ESV). If you want something more, then find a campaign and join it. That is in part what we do in Just Love all the time. It can become even more powerful by lobbying politicians or (if you feel so called) by becoming politicians and taking the campaigns into the national debate.

And, in the prayer of Micah, may we “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8 ESV)

Peace go with you all.

By Tom Pymer

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Christmas: A social justice story?

Picture the scene:

There’s a teenager who lives in poverty in a town with a terrible reputation, who suddenly gets pregnant outside of marriage. Alongside being poor, she’s now at risk of becoming a social outcast. However, the guy she’s engaged to for some reason decides to stay with her, leading to further social humiliation for him. Just when she’s about ready to have the baby, they need to travel hundreds of kilometres at the request of the oppressive regime they are under, to a small, lowly town that really has nothing going for it.

Once they get to this strange place, no guest rooms remain. The situation gets so desperate that they can’t even find somewhere proper to give birth. It ends up happening in what is likely to be the middle of some stranger’s house, and the baby is laid in what would normally be a feeding tray for animals.

Soon, a bunch of people arrive who have no place in civilised society. They are expected to stay out away from populated areas, as they are despised and marginalised. But, they seem to want to meet this baby.

Fast forward a year or two. The leader of this region orders a genocide of infants. The young parents are forced to flee to another country, just to escape the violence.

Poor. Homeless. Refugees. Happy Christmas…

The Christmas story has since been dressed up and sanitised. At best, it’s a beautiful coming of God to be with his people in a serene and peaceful stable, at worst it’s just an excuse for a celebration of positivity and human achievement. How much has been forgotten of the absurdity of how God chose to become human? The present danger that faced this young couple. The way that our God chose to become a victim of the same injustice that he later proclaimed an end to.

When we understand the Christmas story in these terms, for what it really was, we understand in a whole new way who Jesus Christ really is. And when we understand who the Son is, we get a clear idea of who the Father is, and where His priorities lie.

God could’ve brought about the incarnation through a Queen, living in the highest of society, attended to by many servants and in the most comfortable of settings. Surely, this would have been befitting of the birth of a King. However, He chose Mary, a poor virgin living as a part of a people under Roman oppression, in a town that has no prestige whatsoever. Jesus was born outside of wedlock, meaning the announcement of this pregnancy was no cause for celebration but instead a condemnation to public ridicule. To make matters worse, Mary and Joseph were called away from their home, to the lowest town of the tribe of Judah, where they likely knew no-one but some distant relatives. They must have presented an especially unattractive prospect to people thereAs Jesus was born, his earthly family lay rejected and extremely vulnerable.

Add to this the appearance of the shepherds, the lowest in society yet deemed worthy of an angelic visitation, who were among the first to meet the incarnate God and who became the first evangelists, and Herod’s genocidal tendencies which caused this young family to flee and become refugees in Egypt. This leaves a desperate situation, and that’s before you look to Jesus’ family history and see the many people who were themselves social outcasts, derided and ridiculed: these ancestors – much like every other character in this story – are not left out or overlooked but are championed as trophies of God’s ability to restore and work through anyone.

Before he even becomes a toddler, Jesus knows what it’s like to be poor. He knows what it’s like to be homeless. He knows what it’s like to be a refugee. He knows what it’s like to be oppressed, socially excluded, and marginalised. God chooses to be born and appear first to people exactly like this.

We need no clearer indication of God’s heart than the fact that His dramatic entrance into human history was done through such people.

The pivotal event in the history of the world was completed through poor social outcasts. And yet, in this, God reveals His glory.

So, what does it say about God that He brought about the incarnation of His Son in this way? It shows that He chooses, prioritises and loves these people. It shows that God is able to use anyone – even those we write off – to bring about His plan. And, in His very coming, it shows that God’s love works through a ridiculous and extravagant form of self-giving.

So, what does this mean for us? It means that we are called to choose and prioritise the same people that God does. It means that we don’t have the right to write off anyone from being used by God. And it means we get the opportunity to participate in the same self-giving love that God demonstrates in Jesus. To quote the Hillsong lyric, ‘If you gave your life to love them, so will I’.

However, there is one more important lesson to take from this Christmas story. We are not able, and have never been able, to do this by ourselves. Far from popular notions that Christmas celebrates all that is good about humanity, it actually reveals how thoroughly limited we are. God came in Jesus to bring about a salvation we could never have managed ourselves, to deliver us from sin that crushed us. In the same way, we are not able to love, choose, and prioritise those who are marginalised by society unless we are fuelled by God’s love for them. We can only see how God is able to work through people by getting His eyes for them.

And we are only able to get this self-giving love if we receive from the One who gave Himself away in the first place.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you rediscover the absolute craziness that God not only chose to become human but chose to enter fully into the midst of the worst injustice and vulnerability. I pray this shocks you, challenges you, and inspires you to do the same.

By Matt Jolley

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Fast Fashion; consumption considered

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth’.

1 Chronicles 29:16 ‘it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you’.

1 John 3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of shoes for £6 from Primark that I never wore. I bought them because it was nearly Christmas, I wanted something new, and they were cheap and convenient. It never even occurred to me where they had come from, how they had been made, or who had made them. I had what I wanted at little inconvenience to myself. I think this is our general mindset when it comes to our consumption – is it easy to get? Does it make me feel good? We are often so focused on ourselves we don’t consider how God views our consumption. But in Genesis 1, God gives humans stewardship over the earth, and in 1 Chronicles the writer proclaims, ‘all of it belongs to you’. If God has given us a world to take care of, how can we be so careless in this role?

The environmental implications of our consumption of fashion are enormous. To grow the cotton for an average t-shirt it takes 2,700l of water, and so the rate of our consumption of fashion contributes to the growing problem of water scarcity. The pollution of water systems and soil in developing countries where cotton is grown is also a serious problem, affecting already disadvantaged communities. It is easy to ignore these environmental implications as we feel so far removed from them. Due to globalization it is possible for Western countries to outsource their production to developing countries such as Bangladesh where the production costs can be minimized through lack of labour laws and the lack of enforcement of those in place. This means it is even easier for us to remove ourselves from the problem, all we see is the finished product. The lack of transparency in the industry is also problematic as it takes effort to research into where our clothes have actually come from, and its more convenient not to think about. However, it is probable that the garment worker who made your t-shirt is not being paid enough to live on, or, as is widespread in the countries which make 64% of our textiles, is in forced or child labour.

As a consumers we have power in the choices we make, what we do with our resources shows God’s love for the world, as it says in 1 John 3:17, How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? In caring for the world, we must be conscious of the impact we have and how we can serve God through our everyday choices.

How can we bring glory to God’s kingdom when we are supporting the exploitation of people made in the image of God?

It can seem that these environmental and social problems are far removed from ourselves, but our expectations of being able to consume fashion at the current rate is unrealistic and our attitude is self-focused. It says a lot about what we value the most; ourselves and how little value we place on God’s creation. God’s kingdom is established in love for all people, and we have a choice in reflecting His glory greatly by valuing what He has given us – speed up or slow down, what will you choose?

By Kitty Hamilton

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‘Who Picked My Tea?’

Last Wednesday, a group of us from Just Love Durham travelled to Newcastle to Traidcraft Exchange’s ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign event. We heard first-hand from two tea activists what conditions are really like in the tea estates of Assam, and how together we can change things.

Tea. We love it. In fact, in the UK we drink 165 million cups of it every day (that’s 60.2 billion cups a year). It will be no surprise then that the six biggest tea brands in the UK that account for 70% of the UK tea market (PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo and Clipper) have annual sales of £500 million. Many consider tea an absolute essential part of their day and yet how often do we think about how our favourite tea bags ended up on the supermarket shelf, and, ultimately ‘who picked my tea?”

Traidcraft Exchange, an organisation who promote justice and fairness in trade, went and found out.

Their journey took them to India, the second largest tea-producing nation in the world. Over half of the tea grown in India is produced in Assam, one of India’s poorest states, where ingredients used in UK blends originate. The tea is well known for its unique flavour and quality, however, the conditions in which it is picked are not so well publicised.

The vast majority of tea-pickers in Assam are women and they are required to work for eight hours a day starting work at 08:00. This means that they often have to get up in the early hours of the morning to wash, clean and cook before leaving for the tea fields. While at work, they are required to pick 24kg of tea leaves to ensure they get their full daily wage, which is 137 Indian rupees, or £1.51; less than half the Indian national minimum wage of 300 rupees a day for unskilled agricultural workers.

Tea estate managers are obliged to provide additional service benefits in order to ‘justify’ the tea-pickers low wage include housing, sanitation, health care facilities and primary schools, along with food rations. However, in many cases, these service benefits are non-existent, or are of a very poor standard, meaning teapickers have to put their own wages towards them. This often involves tea-pickers having to choose between schooling for their children, repairing their homes, accessing health care services, or eating properly. Tea managers have control over their workers and their families which makes it difficult for workers to protest against their situation, and inspectors and reporters are unable to ensure that conditions are of an adequate standard. UK tea brands, including the big six mentioned above, are aware of the conditions in Assam and have undertaken initiatives such as introducing safe drinking water to communities and have looked at improving living standards on tea estates. However, these projects are only dealing with the consequences of poor management and it is time that companies addressed the fundamental problems within the tea estates if real change is going to happen. Transparency on the issue is therefore key. By knowing which tea estates the tea companies buy from and the standards that tea companies expect their suppliers to adhere to, workers, local organisations and us, the consumers, are empowered to hold them to these standards. This is why it is crucial that we ask the question, ‘who picked my tea?’

In the face of this injustice, we are reminded in Micah 6:8 to ‘Act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ To act justly requires action. In this case, it requires cooperation from multiple parties to work together to initiate change.

So, what can we do?

Don’t stop buying or drinking tea from Assam (this is likely to push women on the tea estates into further poverty) but ask the question! Contact the tea companies directly explaining why you feel this is important or visit here to get involved through Traidcraft. One of the biggest methods of support we can offer tea-pickers in to pressure the companies into change. You could also consider buying a Fairtrade tea which ensures that money is reinvested back into the local community. It sends out a message to companies and tea estates that Fairtrade standards are required and desired, encouraging more producers to adhere to these – you can find out more about Fairtrade standards here.

Raise awareness of this injustice. The more people who are aware of the issue and pressure companies in to do something about it, the more likely it is that change will happen.

So, next time you enjoy a brew, think about the work that goes into producing the ingredients, and ask yourself, ‘who picked my tea?’ Then, see if you can find out!

For more information on Traidcraft Exchange or the ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign, here.

By Anna Bradley

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