WINNIPEG – When Kairos, the Canadian ecumenical justice group, suddenly lost $7 million of funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, the organization returned to its roots and moved forward.
"Worse than losing your CIDA money is losing your soul," said Kairos executive director Jennifer Henry in Winnipeg May 11, speaking at the Manitoba regional assembly of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
"In the first days we thought, 'How will we put together a budget?'
"But it was more important to ask who we are – a faithful ecumenical justice organization, because if we lose that, we lose everything and we were reminded of that by our partners," Henry said.
"People told us that even without CIDA, we were still Kairos with an important mandate, a response to Micah 6.8."
Micah 6.8 states, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
Kairos works to effect social change through advocacy, education and research programs in ecological justice, economic justice, human rights, just and sustainable livelihoods, and indigenous peoples.
Henry said Kairos said CIDA had funded Kairos for 34 years and the organization believed that funding would always be there. "We didn't think the government would cut off seven Canadian churches."
In December 2010 CIDA had in fact provided a document to the federal Minister for International Co-operation, Bev Oda, recommending continued support for Kairos.
But in a now infamous turn of events the word "not" was inserted, changing it to a rejection. The incident resulted in national media coverage.
"As we told our story we became reinspired," Henry said. "Donations from individuals increased dramatically, not $7 million, but some people told us 'I really got mad.'"
"Kairos is not going away," Henry said. "We're not just surviving; we are thriving due to a change that has pressed us into renewal."
Henry said there have been yet further cuts to foreign aid, to groups such as the Mennonite Central Committee and CCODP. She said the recent federal budget "says scary things" for the future of charities.
"It feels harder now to work for justice in Canada than it has for the 20 years I have been doing this," she said.
Henry said advocacy "has become a bad word and so has radical.
"I love those words. Radical means to get to the root of things, not use band-aid solutions. Advocacy is just raising your voice and that is how all good things happen. Everything that we love about Canada is because somebody raised their voice."