Yearly Archives: 2020

Jacob in situ landscape

Courageous leadership in a refugee camp

Last month we began to connect learning with life in this time of COVID-19. How are the most vulnerable populations in East Africa coping? In order to find out we spoke to South Sudanese leader Jacob Karaba in a refugee settlement in northern Uganda. As a pastor and BUILD trainer he supports others in a range ways, and the pandemic has compounded local challenges, “exposing the community to hatred, poverty and educational problems.” But Christians like Jacob are responding with great courage.

Today Jacob reports: “Things are still at a stand-still as the lockdown and curfew has been increased for another 21 days. The restrictions remain on movement, public gatherings (including public worship), and schools remain closed. Lack of firewood has brought a number of conflicts between the refugees and the host communities. And there are shortages of drugs in the health centres, with fears of contracting the COVID-19 from social centres. Currently, people are scared and concerned about what will happen if this COVID-19 reaches the camps. And beside this, WFP [World Food Programme] has reduced the food ration to only 8.64 kg per month, there has been a lack of rain for two months now, and all this creates fear and worries among the refugees, not least in Imvepi Refugee Settlement which is a rocky land [and hard to dig]. Death rates, sickness, attempted suicide, cases of evil spirits, and domestic violence are becoming rampant.”

As a result, “COVID-19 has exposed tensions between the community of faith and local government. Some politicians are using this COVID-19 as an opportunity to finance themselves and to silence church activities. The challenge for all is how to foster community and to support one another while keeping physical distance.”

How are Christians and leaders like Jacob responding to these pressures and rebuilding community?

“Pastors and church leaders are under threat of harassment. As I speak now, when a pastor moves with a Bible it seems like he or she is carrying a coronavirus.” Despite this, “Many believers trust the blood of Christ to protect them, and in my community Christians are famous historically for staying to care for the sick and dying during significant plagues. After all to risk one’s life for the sake of another is the Jesus-like thing to do. They are never alone in these brave acts of service: this kind of self-sacrificial service is central to many of the pastors and the Christians.” And this, even though “pastoral care has become more complicated: some have set up a pastoral care roster of weekly phone or radio calls to check on both the physical and spiritual needs of members.”

In all this, “pastors are risking their life in providing some emergency services such as the burying of the dead, visiting and praying for the sick as well as reconciling families struggling with domestic violence.” Pray for Jacob and others that they would continue to do so.

The featured picture shows Jacob distributing food and support to the community

Joseph Adida

Living and learning through the pandemic

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley…” In BUILD Module Six we see the shape of the Psalter as a whole as it leads down into darkness and up through renewal into the light of mature faith. How are those involved with BUILD responding to the current COVID-19 crisis in the light of that teaching?

The growing death toll for the pandemic reveals an uneven spread of infection. Wealthier countries appear to bear the brunt of the disease while lower income ones are spared. However, this masks the wide ranging secondary impacts on lower-income countries such as those within BUILD’s footprint of East Africa, including the effect on livelihoods, on local economies, on education, on the political landscape, and on the vast volume of remittances normally received from the East African diaspora. And particularly, it seems, on the urban poor who are several steps removed from rural subsistence economies and are acutely vulnerable to widespread economic turmoil.

How can our blog begin to engage with the scope and scale of the pandemic and its fallout? Rather than attempt the analysis that is being done elsewhere, we will simply see how trainees respond to the crisis as they experience it and in the light of BUILD teaching – as they connect their learning with lived realities, and inform us of both along the way.

Returning to the Book of Psalms, early on in Module Six we trace the stages of the Psalter and its five books through five words: covenant, kingship, crisis, renewal, and maturity. Book I is grounded in the covenant and relying on the Lord who leads his people; Book II highlights kingship and obedience to the King who rules his people; Book III turns to crisis and reflection on God’s covenant in our suffering; Book IV looks to renewal, not least of our lives of worship; and finally, Book V heads to maturity and our growing faith as God’s people. The crisis in the middle is that of the exile, which we label ‘the darkest valley’ as we reflect on suffering and injustice through select Book III psalms. And we teach that Psalm 23 itself follows that pattern: it moves from trust in the Shepherd and obedience to him; into that ‘darkest valley’; and on to renewal and the celebration and stability of covenant love, where we “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

There were simply too many responses to this question: how does that learning speaks into your lives? Taking one person’s response by way of introduction, Joseph Adida, Christian Education Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Tanzania shared: “There is nothing people fear like death. People in Tanzania are devastated and disoriented as corona is hitting us. Among the people [around Lake Victoria], it is regarded as an evil spirit (Masamvwa in Sukuma), which is against the lives of people. Many Christians regard Covid-19 as the punishment from God because of sin: people are worshipping idols and power. Others see it as an effect of natural evil.”

But the Psalm assures us that, “He is the God who cares and protect his people against evil and death. Fear not. Psalm 23 is a very well-known psalm to most believers. People sing it when they are facing troubles that are beyond their control and beyond their understanding of power, politics, reason and thought. When President Magufuli of Tanzania first spoke about COVID-19 he was courageous about God’s power which is in control. He supported his talk by using Psalm 23 to encourage people to have faith in God alone who can control and finish COVID-19.”

“Psalm 23 shows how God cares and protect his people against evil. It is in this regard that people in Tanzania see it as the Psalm that speaks to the current situation of COVID-19. The people read it in connection with Psalm 121 and Colossians 1:15-20: through the Cross of Christ on Calvary God has conquered and controls all through his Son Jesus Christ, the image bearer of God who has become the agent of God’s grace. Therefore we should not fear, he alone can provide abundantly and protect his people by his power.”

As we continue to walk through “the darkest valley” with different people we will see what it means for them in practice to “fear no evil” in their various contexts.

AICMAR cohort 19 10 15 - Copy

The merry-go-round, ‘harambee’ and sustainability

An earlier post shared some promising data from BUILD training-of-trainers cohorts in western Kenya. Quantitative impacts were the focus but the qualitative ones include some fresh attitudes and approaches to sustainability, which are essential for the health and future of the Church, given the extensive training needs across East Africa.

There is no ‘silver-bullet’ for sustainability. Instead a range of approaches needs to be discovered, undergirded by a fundamental attitude of commitment to training, which needs to be set as the seedbed within which any creative initiatives can flourish.

Two of the three cohorts mentioned in the July post were, on the whole, locally resourced. This meant that something of a model had already been set – how the training starts can dictate its direction. However, one, with a regional reach, had significant external support, which was not surprising in a pioneering context. But the wider effect of the training was experienced and its value rose: “They see the need for the training and go out of their way to make sure they get it,” as one observer put it. And so with a new cohort beginning on 15 October 2019 there was an opportunity to observe and develop some fresh attitudes and approaches to sustainability.

To set the context, the cohort was fairly large for this sort of intensive training: 38 individuals with the 19 women and 17 men giving good gender-balance. The training is, like all BUILD training, in-service: in this case a day a week on Tuesdays, over a two and a half year period. All the participants are what we would call ‘mature students,’ with families to support and who cannot therefore afford to leave their homes for full-time study. All the participants are already serving in churches as lay-ministers, supporting the work of their vicars, and so the mode and content of the study is tailored to their needs and the needs of their parishes, who are encouraging them. The formation of the cohort was not driven by BUILD or even the Diocesan Education Coordinator in this instance, but instead by repeated requests from the institution itself, AICMAR (African Institute for Contemporary Mission and Research), which had seen the impact of the training as well as its suitability and teachability.

But the most striking thing about the current group is the way in which they are supporting themselves and one another. The course is running on a modular basis with the ten modules forming the core of the learning. That in itself means that self-funding can be broken down into ten smaller units, when compared with the typical tranches associated with four semesters or six terms. Each module is costed at 8,000 KES per student, which is approximately 80 USD or 60 GBP, meaning that the BUILD based Diploma in Bible, Theology & Leadership as a whole comes in at 80,000 KES or 800 USD or 600 GBP.

All students have been asked to raise their own funds. Some are raising support from within the churches they serve – but that is only for around 20% of the students who are serving in significant roles in their churches, and serving in churches that are able to support them. This needs to be addressed going forwards. When it comes to the other 80%, some individuals have their own savings from their small-scale businesses and/or from farming.

Not only is the diploma as a whole broken down into the ten units of the modules, they are able to pay in an even more micro and incremental manner, week by week, saving and contributing effectively 200 shillings per week per person. The system they have come up with a group is based on two local approaches: what they are calling ‘the merry-go-round’ and the Kenyan principle of ‘harambee.’

With the merry-go-round they pool small amounts together each week and credit that pot to just one member of the group – to more or less raise the total for one module’s training for that person. The following week they move onto the next. They are determined that no one should leave their class. What they bring together to put in the pot each week covers not only fees but can also help with other personal needs related to their studies, or relieving needs that would prevent their study. As the same observer put it, “This is based on a common philosophy here in Kenya called ‘harambee,’ which means pulling resources together for a common goal.”

The above account might appear to assume that all will contribute the exact same amount, but the reality on the ground is that those who have more are covering others, going out of their way to support their friends and co-workers: “students are making individual sacrifices to support each other.”

This might sound difficult for the institution itself. However, the funds are trickling in consistently over time, so there is no shortfall at the end of the year or semester, with the common scenario of students failing to pay at the end of the course and the painful threats around not being awarded their diploma.