The year was 1960, and John F Kennedy had just been elected to the White House.
It was the year when 40 million people were made refugees around the world – by war or disaster.
Media coverage of the suffering sparked a spontaneous outpouring of compassion among UK Christians. Many of them started sending money to the Christian organisation, Evangelical Alliance (EA).
EA wasn’t involved in overseas aid or development work, so they established a fund to distribute the cash. The money was given to existing Christian agencies around the world. Slowly, word got out about the fund and donations continued to flow in.
In 1967 the EA employed a former curate, George Hoffman, to develop the fund’s work.
Tearfund is born
On 29 May 1968, George and members of the Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund Committee, as it was then known, met for the first time. They hatched a vision for a new organisation which was ultimately to be called Tearfund. Tearfund’s aim was to marry Christian compassion with practical action around the world.
Tearfund called for a new, radical understanding of the gospel as a message that truly was ‘good news to the poor’, as Jesus had originally described it. The new emphasis was on caring for people’s physical and spiritual needs.
Tearfund attracted the interest of singer Cliff Richard. In 1969 he performed two benefit concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, which raised valuable funds. Cliff has remained a loyal supporter of Tearfund.
Tearfund’s income grew year by year, and in 1973 it became a registered charity. By now it wasn’t just administering emergency aid; 80 per cent of the money raised was allocated to longer term development projects.
Preparing for the worst
In 1994, Tearfund launched a Disaster Response Unit – a key milestone in our development. We have gone on to pioneer important new thinking about how to help vulnerable communities become more resilient to natural or human disasters.
Within six months the unit was called into service, responding to the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 people were killed. Tearfund staff headed to Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo to offer help to thousands of refugees who have fled the carnage.
The biggest test for the unit was the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Together with partner organisations, Tearfund reached out to 700,000 survivors in Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Somalia.
The long haul
Today, Tearfund is one of the UK’s leading relief and development agencies. Our reputation is built on good practice and decades of experience.
God’s direction over Tearfund’s development can be seen in the innovative ways in which it has responded to injustice over the years.
Regular campaigning work has earned Tearfund a reputation for being a voice for people living in poverty. We played a key role in the campaign to cancel overseas debt for the millennium in 2000, and in the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005.
The X factor
There is one other factor that is crucial to Tearfund’s success in making the biggest possible difference: the local church. For decades now, we have been building partnerships with local churches and Christian organisations around the world. There’s a really good reason for this.
Again and again, the local church is embedded at the very heart of communities. They know so much more about people’s needs and the best way to respond to them – often with plenty of willing volunteers.
It’s the perfect formula for powerful and lasting change and it’s key to our effectiveness around the world.
Then, of course, there is the church and the Christians of the UK, who continue to make this vital work possible with their generosity.
Over half a century since it began, Tearfund’s story continues. And you can play a vital role as we seek to end extreme poverty around the world.