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Tom Defis retires

Tom Defis is retiring from Christian Aid after completing 29 years of service. Dyfed Roberts spoke to him as he comes to the end of this amazing chapter. Today is his last day with CA.

Well, Tom, the big day has finally arrived! How do you feel about it?

It’s an odd feeling really, since Christian Aid has been both a ministry and a calling, and a central part of my life and my family’s life. Things will be very different, though naturally Christian Aid will continue to have a central part. I happen to be the Treasurer of the Union of Welsh Independent churches and the denomination has committed itself to discussing the latest climate change and justice campaign and has agreed to have a denominational appeal next year. But like anyone who retires, hopefully there will be an opportunity to relax.

How will you fill your time?

It will be nice to give more time to the family and especially my grandchildren Corran and Serian, Tristan and Efa. There will also be time to do more on our small holding  –  on which we rear sheep, goats, pigs and alpacas.

Canolfan Heol Dŵr/the Heol Dŵr Centre is a project setting up a Welsh Christian and community centre in Carmarthen. As chairman of the trustees, I’ll have  plenty to do there. I’m also a member of many organisations in the county, so I’ll probably become like most retired people and get even busier!

After 29 years, you must have many memories. What has given you the most pleasure in your work?

I’ve really enjoyed working with campaigners, supporters, the churches and denominations, as well as people in the community, who have been so generous in their support for the work. It’s also been a pleasure to visit many schools to share about our work. But the thing that brings me greatest pleasure is seeing the impact of our supporters’ work here in Wales on the work of our partners around the world, and the change that happens in communities because of that support. It’s been a privilege to have been a link between our partners here in Wales and our partners in those countries where Christian Aid is working. I have had the opportunity to share the stories of the poor and have received such a positive response.

You’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally many times to see the work of Christian Aid’s partners; what experience has stayed with you from those trips?

One of the things I’ve felt over the years is what a privilege it is to work with the poor and those living in situations of injustice. Not working for the poor; not us giving and them receiving, but working together to strengthen the weak, lifting people on their feet so that they can support their communities and alleviate hardship. Some of the things which stay with me – witnessing areas of extreme poverty in Africa and Asia, the impact of violence in Guatemala and especially in Palestine, the effects of the natural disasters which keep hitting the same places time after time, like Haiti.

But I also remember the transformative impact of Christian Aid’s work and the joy and appreciation that is  displayed by people receiving help and support. For example, seeing a 9-year old who had recovered from extreme malnutrition in Tanzania; women working hard to repair an important dam in Zimbabwe; seeing families in Nicaragua rebuilding their lives following a tsunami and those in Haiti moving into new homes and out of their shanti houses, following a big earthquake. Realising the positive effects of reconciliation campaigns, with refugees celebrating as they returned home to Guatemala and sitting around dinner tables with Israeli doctors in a Palestinian village.

For the first time in years, extreme poverty is increasing; do you lose hope sometimes?

It can be difficult and frustrating at times and one can be disturbed by how the actions of the rich have an impact on the poor. Take, for example, grain. Due to the current shortage of global supply of grain, the rich are buying grain without a care for the poor who are without, or that the price is rising beyond what the poor can afford. This has happened with the Covid vaccinations too, where rich countries have stockpiled doses. Despite this, we must not despair but persevere in the work, remembering that each gift or campaign action makes a difference. I have realised that God takes our small gifts and turns them into a great blessing for others. It’s not too much poverty that is the problem in our world, but too much wealth. Wealth possesses the world’s resources, and the poor suffer.

According to some, we live in a post-Christian Wales; what is the role of a faith based development agency in the modern Wales?

Christian Aid gives churches and Christians the opportunity to work together and to bear witness to their faith in their communities. If it’s done correctly,  I trust that Christian Aid’s work is a demonstration of God’s work in the world. It is a witness to God’s love in a world  which insists  on making a profit from everything. I remember hearing one of our partners in India answering the question, ‘What does Christian Aid mean to you who hold a different  faith?’. And the answer was, ‘Christian Aid gives without expecting anything back.’

What message do you have for the churches of Wales as you retire?

Two things really: my thanks for their support in each campaign and each gift, but also a word of encouragement for them to continue to make a difference. It is the churches that mandate Christian Aid, so:  Continue to give generously, campaign robustly and pray persistently for success. May God bless this work.

Head of Christian Aid in Wales, Mari McNeill, said:

Tom has made a great contribution to Christian Aid’s work in west Wales. He and Christian Aid have been indistinguishable in the region, and we know that supporters there will really miss him, as will the staff. However, I know that he will continue to make a significant contribution as a valued supporter of Christian Aid’s ongoing work. I’d like to thank him for his dedication over these 29 years and pray God’s blessing upon him, his wife Anona and the whole family on his retirement.