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New CASI officer knows poverty first hand

A lifetime of missionary work has given the Churches’ Agency on Social Issues’ new research and liaison officer Paul Thompson a very personal awareness of social justice issues.

Paul’s parents were missionaries in Eritrea, so he spent a large part of his youth there. He attended university and trained for the Baptist ministry in New Zealand, then served from 1979 to 1999 as a missionary in Bangladesh with his wife Adrienne.

“I did a lot of my growing up in Eritrea, so I was exposed to poverty and social justice issues from an early age. When I returned to NZ as a teenager my family settled in Porirua, where I discovered that poverty is a concern in NZ too. Not just poverty, but the whole range of issues: from family violence, to educational opportunity, to finding a way forward in a multicultural society.”

In Bangladesh Paul worked with churches. He did church planting, trained pastors, evangelists, and church workers, and did development work.

“Because of the poverty in Bangladesh it is inevitable that we did development work. A big proportion of the jute handcrafts Trade Aid sells here in NZ came from one of our projects. Village women produced the handcrafts, which were marketed to Trade Aid and other international organizations,” Paul says.

“More than 1000 women were involved in the project. They were encouraged to put part of their income into savings scheme that helped create more income through micro credit projects. Our micro credit scheme had the advantage of a source of income from the jute. Other schemes had to start from scratch and build up savings.

“Despite experiencing cyclones, floods and the political instability that has been a part of its history, Bangladesh became home in many ways. Our four children were born there, and we still have good friends there. We left when it was time for our oldest daughter to begin tertiary education. Back in New Zealand we still pine to be involved with Asia in some way.”

Back in NZ Paul worked in the Wellington office of Scripture Union, an international organisation that uses the Bible to help young people and adults know God. He became deputy director of Scripture Union in NZ.

“This year I am working part time at CASI and doing a course in Development Studies at Victoria University. I would still like to be involved in overseas development work, whether it is through an aid agency, a mission, or a mission agency.

“I am challenged by the CASI job. I believe that CASI is looking at the right questions, and I am excited to be involved.

“In Bangladesh the Church has to consider how to contextualise the Gospel to an Islamic environment. That meant using the Muslim word for God in our preaching, paying attention to subtleties of dress and other customs, and helping people express faith in Jesus in ways suited to their culture and society. Similarly in NZ we have to learn how to shape the Church in a secular society.”