St Paul’s Parish, Malela

Building the leadership capacity of scattered churches in rural Kenya

Until recently David Okoth helped lead St Paul’s Parish, Malela, in western Kenya. St Paul’s is set in the fertile region close to Lake Victoria and is typical in many ways. This means it is exemplary when it comes to BUILD’s work. St Paul’s nine congregations are spread around the villages and, for the parish staff, “the distance between these churches is simply not manageable and pastoral work is far from easy.”

However, those who can lead, teach and care for these congregations are already in place: the lay readers who are scattered around the parish and committed to their local churches. The first names of those twenty-two local part-time and volunteer workers might make the picture more concrete. We are talking about Annah, Caroline, Dishon, Edwin, Florence, George, Jael, James, James, Jane, Jared, Martin, Maurice, Mercy, Mildred, Peter, Richard, Robert, Salome, Sulman, Syprose and Tereza.

Because they are present but undertrained the simple act of gathering them together regularly in a local BUILD group has had a dramatic impact as they develop their skills in handling the Scriptures, reflecting on the gospel and growing as leaders: “The group has mastered skills of sermon preparation and they are now doing well in preaching, and their growth in confidence is being noticed as well as their spiritual growth. And this has all led to congregational growth as people are being truly converted to Christ.”

Furthermore the parish and diocese are encouraging the group to continue working their way through the BUILD training modules and there is local commitment “to mobilise funds for the sustainability of the programme and the participants’ contribution towards the programme is a positive indicator of that commitment: this has amounted to 50,000 KES [500 USD] together with donations in kind from the Christians.”

David’s work has been noticed: he has been moved to another parish where it is hoped that he will build the capacity of other scattered churches and their leaders that would otherwise be neglected.

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Striking gold at the grassroots in Kiryandongo

Those prospecting for mineral wealth might be able to narrow down a search area through existing maps and survey data from the comfort of their own laptops but sooner or later they have to get their hands dirty and take actual samples if they are to strike literal or metaphorical gold. Theological education is not dissimilar: it is only when training actually goes on at the grassroots that local discoveries are made, findings that are pure gold if they unlock potential for learning and opportunities for mission in a specific locale.

This is one benefit of BUILD, which encourages local, non-formal training as an integral part of its programme, over and against more centralised and traditional forms of training. Take the critical issue of language and learning in Kiryandongo in northern Uganda. Last month’s blog entry highlighted the work of BUILD in Masindi-Kitara Diocese and noted a group led by Robert Angopa. Robert is a bi-vocational lay-reader and head-teacher in Kiryandongo District some distance from the nearest town. What language might be most suitable for learning there?

One might expect the answer to be Lunyoro, the language of the Banyoro. Even the central cathedral in nearby Masindi-Kitara town speaks of that as “our local language” to quote the description of worship there. Or it could be English, as an option for the more educated who use that official language. Or it could be Luganda, in which trade is transacted across the country. Those from other member states of the East African Community might suggest Kiswahili, that other lingua franca; however, that is sometimes perceived as the language of the army and police from previous and best forgotten eras. So it might be a surprise to find that Kiswahili does provide a uniting, shared language in that specific location.

Despite its relatively remote location Kiryandongo feels a little like a Uganda within Uganda or an East Africa within Uganda; its fascinating history that has led to a high degree of ethnic diversity. In addition to the Banyoro, the immediate area is home to Acholi, Alur, Baganda, Bagisu, Banyankole, Bakyope, Banyore, Iteso, Karamojong, Langi, Lugbara and other groups. There have been ancient migrations as well as much more modern ones: the Bakyope, for example, are said to have moved to the area from what is now South Sudan in the 1950s and 60s. And more recently still Uganda has hosted refugees in the relatively open settlements of Kiryandongo, which are so central to the district’s life and economy.

It is no wonder then that typical small groups such as those Robert oversees have at least five first languages spoken within them and, in those groups, Kiswahili becomes a language of choice with over eighty percent of participants actively using the language. Quite apart from immediately influencing the language for learning this has a range of implications. For example, here is an area that offers the opportunity to demonstrate dramatically the very heart of the gospel of reconciliation and its power to break down barriers and walls of hostility. And here is an overlooked place that could provide a surprising platform for mission across boundaries within the district itself, beyond into neighbouring ones, and further afield. Overall, theological education needs to be done in ways that are locally researched and sensitive to the location if those who need it most but can afford it least are to be reached. And if it is, we may find ourselves hitting rich veins of spiritual wealth in some of the most unlikely of places.

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Masindi-Kitara, Uganda: A model BUILD diocese?

Masindi-Kitara Diocese is the home diocese of Archbishop Stanley Ntagali. Its current Bishop, George Kasangaki, recently thanked God that “the BUILD programme has come to the Diocese.” However, it was a local member of a BUILD group who shared that “we want to see BUILD in Masindi-Kitara as a model for other dioceses.” And there are many ways in which it could serve in that way, not least because it lies 220 kms north of Kampala, away from the perceived centre of resources.

First, there are acute training needs in its 36 parishes with their 320 daughter churches served by 52 clergy, and they recognise  the need to train those who care for local congregations, “the ones who spend most of the time with the people.” One of the parishes in which there is a BUILD group has one clergyman serving 26 daughter churches helped by seven elderly lay readers. The youngest of those seven is now 62 years old, most should have retired, and they have been waiting patiently for others to be trained up. And there are a wide variety of other needs across the diocese: for example, the need for teachers to be trained as lay chaplains in 150 or more primary schools.

Second, groups are developing and working effectively in very different settings. Wilfred Alinaitwe is equipping a group using St Matthew’s Cathedral as a base in the urban centre of Masindi town. There the group of 17 individuals is made up of two clergy and five lay readers, with 10 other lay leaders with a wide variety of responsibilities in their local churches. But Robert Angopa is leading a group in a very different, rural setting eight kilometres from the main road in Kiryandongo District, and Barnabas Balikagira heads up another in the Parish of Bweyale deep in the village.

Third, there is support not only from the top-down but also from the bottom-up. The support of Bishop George has been noted and his diocesan staff are behind the programme. But so are the local clergy who are supporting the training groups in the parishes. For example Rev Jackson Labejalola of Bweyale has been encouraging a group in his parish and taking pride in the work that is being done: “This is a God blessed programme that reveals God’s word and equips leaders in how to serve God’s people.”

Fourth, it is having an impact. For example, Rev Labejalola went on to share how his lay reader’s preaching has been transformed: “His preaching today in our church is far, far different to before, and the reports from the daughter churches are that their church teachers are also preaching better than before.”

Finally, local energy is going into mobilising groups for training: it has been good to see T-shirts with BUILD logos being produced locally by churches from their own resources and worn proudly in order to spread the word.

All the signs are that Masindi-Kitara will indeed be a model for other dioceses.

[Based on a report of a recent visit to Masindi-Kitara by Canon Stephen Kewaza, the Provincial BUILD Officer for the Church of Uganda.]

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BUILD on the edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo

No offence to the Welsh but “an area the size of Wales” is often used as a convenient measure to grasp. For example, when looking at environmental impacts – whether rates of forest destruction or the scale of ice loss – Wales, at around 20,000 square kms, is a user-friendly unit.

It was interesting, therefore, to walk across the Rusizi River, which separates Rwanda and the D R Congo, and to pass from a country a little larger than Wales, which has eleven Anglican dioceses within it (four of which are in partnership with BUILD), and into a single diocese that is over four times the size of Wales. Bukavu Diocese covers nearly 84,850 square kms of the DRC’s 2.345 million.

Walking into the DRC at that point is to also walk into Bukavu city, a city that has undergone population explosion recently. A city that is still listed as having perhaps 250,000 people now hosts far more. Early in 2014 estimates were of over one million inhabitants, but some now say they are being conservative when suggesting that it contains at least five times that number in its growing and increasingly informal expanse. That in turn is due to the continued and intractable insecurity of North Kivu province, much of which lies within Bukavu Diocese.

It was therefore encouraging if a little daunting to chat with Bishop Sylvestre Bahati and to hear that “for Congo we need a new strategy for such a big country” when it comes to building the leadership capacity of the Church. Bishop Bahati explained why he sees BUILD as an ideal solution in a country with a unique blend of scale, insecurity and transport issues, which mean that traditional forms of training are sub-optimal. The diocese has three local bible schools serving its eleven archdeaconries, 85 parishes, 121 clergy, 235 evangelists, 460 catechists and 97,860 Christians. And there “the priorities are evangelism, church planting and the training of leaders.”

BUILD is at a very early stage. I spent time with our Biblical Studies, Practical Theology and Leadership development student Jean-Pierre Mukambilwa Watuna, the evangelism coordinator for the diocese (pictured above). Jean-Pierre, using local resources, has begun training four different groups with a total of 54 members, which was beyond expectation given the logistics. But due to distances most of the groups are meeting occasionally and he is looking for ways to build on this without losing momentum.

The fifteen lay readers and leaders in his urban parish of Kadutu, Bukavu, meet regularly however. They are “very receptive, learning in Kiswahili and wanting to continue in their teachings – they simply did not know about the ministry and the word of God and how it applies to leadership positions, now they know what is required”. He has also met with a dozen pastors in Nyamilima Archdeaconry near Goma. He shared that they “were full of joy, receptive and asked for more, as they come from troubled and traumatised areas of North Kivu and for them to get together is rare. This has helped them to gather and to pray together”. Finally he has been meeting with fifteen church and departmental leaders in Kabanda Archdeaconry and a dozen others in Chai Parish. And he is looking forward to meeting with the eleven archdeacons to share the vision with them. Pray for him and for Josephat Musseo and Jean Paul Matabaro, young men in the youth and evangelism departments who are keen to come to Uganda for the block training.

North Kivu Diocese itself, northern neighbour of Bukavu, has recently ‘downsized’ with the new Kamango Diocese being carved out of it and its new Bishop Daniel Sabiti was recently consecrated. Canon Stephen Ssenyonjo Kewaza, BUILD Officer for the COU attended and Bishop Sabiti shared with him that, “we are determined to work with BUILD in the enabling of our church leaders in leadership and bible knowledge for an efficient ministry in this new diocese”. Pray for BUILD as it seeks to respond in the eastern DRC, one step at a time.

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A measure of success: “the number of trainees is increasing continuously”

This blog reported a year ago that “BUILD training is spreading steadily and successfully from diocese to diocese in Rwanda.” It gave qualitative impressions of that growth in the four dioceses in the south west quadrant of Rwanda – Shyogwe, Butare, Kigeme and Cyangugu. Those local reports and comments represented an encouraging measure of success, particularly when coupled with the analysis of the spread, which has been driven locally – BUILD is a resource in the hands of local church leadership rather than a programme of a parachurch NGO, reliant on external resources.

Near the end of the post Aimable Mutabaruka’s comment noted that, “those who have been trained are training others and as a result the number of trainees is increasing continuously”. But what are those numbers? Is that aspect of success being measured? Much or even most of the numerical impact is off the radar because of its informal nature. Those who have been trained non-formally have later reported that they shared the training informally; at one end of the spectrum one local evangelist claimed to have passed on basic aspects of the training to a hundred and seventy others. But it was helpful to hear last week that to date, across the four dioceses, 973 individuals have been recorded to have received non-formal training. In addition, a core team of seventeen have received more formal training as trainers and drive the process, which conveniently takes the number to 990 we know of.

In order to give a more granular feel to the 973 a breakdown in terms of numbers and locations is as follows. 75 have been trained non-formally as trainers in training teams for the four dioceses: Shyogwe 18, Butare 18, Kigeme 21 and Cyangugu 18. At an archdeaconry level 422 local-facilitators have been trained: Shyogwe 140 (20 each in these archdeaconries Shyogwe, Gitarama, Hanika, Nyamagana, Ndiza, Nyarugenge, Runda); Butare 164 (with this split: Bugina 35, Gikonko 26, Huye 20, Mpanda 21, Mutunda 20, Nyanza 24, Remera 18); and Kigeme 118 (Buyenzi-Nyaruguru 29, Kigeme 29, Mugombwa 28, Bunyambiriri 32). Cyangugu, the further and latest diocese to take up the programme is yet to take it to this level, and so there is considerable room for growth there.

And with growth in mind, almost half of the 973 are the 476 local level pastors and evangelists who have been trained at a parish level in Shyogwe, the original BUILD diocese. In Shyogwe these 476 are distributed as follows: Nyarugenge 80, Nyamagana 60, Gitarama 38, Ndiza 148 and Hanika 150. The plan is that the other dioceses will follow suit at this level, which could therefore lead to a three-fold increase in the overall figure for those trained non-formally in the near future.

All this is an encouraging measure of success. The measure of success is long-term transformation. We continue to pray for and work towards in partnership with these churches in various ways, including through a visit to all the dioceses next week, and to Cyangugu’s neighbouring diocese of Bukavu over the border in D R Congo, which is now picking up the vision.

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“BUILD has empowered me!” Fertile soil and growth in Uganda

At the beginning of any BUILD training-of-trainers course, participants are asked to write down and share a thumbnail of their vision for equipping others. Not surprisingly, these can vary dramatically. One participant from a course that started in 2014, David Kiryankusa, produced a sketch that combined simplicity, integrity and clarity. David is a ‘typical’ parish priest in many ways, serving in the Church of Uganda’s Mityana Diocese, in Uganda’s lush, fertile and productive Buganda region. This is what he wrote:

“I look after ten daughter churches with ten lay readers. I have the opportunity to train the lay readers in my parish. Those ten lay readers would start groups in their churches and train them also. I would also supervise the lay readers while these trainings take place and help them where necessary.”

Fifteen months later, not only has David met his target, but the impact has gone much further. The workshops he organised at regular intervals throughout last year were consistently attended by eighteen lay readers, and there have been a range of other outputs. For example, as he explained on the phone yesterday, “the Lord is great because we have now mobilised 78 children for Sunday school”. And last week he mobilised a youth conference to which 227 young people came. Of those, 67 gave their lives to Christ and 92 renewed their faith, an extraordinary response by any standards. And he has other plans for growth: “as Module 4 Unit 13 teaches about leading small groups, I am now expecting to start a number of Bible Study groups”.

Given his vision and his ability to implement it, it is no surprise that this month he was put in charge of overseeing more churches. As he reported, “Praise God, BUILD has empowered me! Surely the programme has improved my leadership skills; most especially in the areas of preaching, stewardship, counselling and strategic leadership, the building of God’s people. Because of BUILD’s prayers, encouragement and support my Bishop has considered me trustworthy and promoted me to be an Archdeacon. I have now moved from having one parish to overseeing six with about 75 congregations.”

And David longs for more of an impact asking for prayer and partnership “so that I may become God’s tool to do his will in this large ministry, and prayer is needed to get capable leaders for this great mission. Let us join together and build the body of Christ that is the Church.”

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Speaking into the heart

When designing its training, BUILD keeps this simple mnemonic in mind: ASK, which stands for three domains that need to be addressed in all-round training: attitudes, skills and knowledge (it is not simply a reminder that learning is a gift). The mnemonic puts attitudes first deliberately; skills and knowledge count for nothing if they are not coupled to the right attitudes of the heart.

BUILD’s sixth module of training takes the Psalms as its point of departure and has a special focus on wholehearted leadership. It recognises the struggles that leaders face and the attrition they experience, and teaches approaches to personal renewal. This testimony is therefore particularly heart-warming:

“I thank God for the training we have just completed because it has transformed my life drastically. I came frustrated and heartbroken. I was not sure of what the future would be. I only came because I wanted to complete the course but little did I know that God would speak to my broken heart. I was asking myself many questions, wondering whether there was any point in continuing in ministry. The Book of Psalms in Module Six was a source of inspiration to me and more so Psalm 73, a text we encountered in Unit 7. A realisation of God’s goodness in verses 23-26 gave me hope and now I can move on knowing that God is good. I have been reading the Book of Psalms over the years but in this training I have seen many things that I never saw in the Psalms, and I have loved the book more and more. Now when I preach the Psalms I will preach it more accurately by the grace of God. Once again I thank God for his great love. Thank you for allowing God to speak through the entire teaching staff into my heart.”

This experience was in the context of a block of training in a formal academic course, which functions as a training-of-trainers programme for BUILD. How encouraging to hear of training that brings the heart into the heart of theological education, and which equips leaders to then transform others from the inside out.

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Reflection matters. Why is it important and what is BUILD doing about it?

During BUILD’s research phase an informant explained that “the traditional theological method is to give information learners can recall in an exam; when they pass, they go.” They added: “We need approaches that require reflection.” Another observed that “different settings have different problems that are unique and that theological reflection must answer”.

As a result the BUILD curriculum is rooted in the Scriptures and in the situations church leaders in Africa’s Great Lakes Region face. And it teaches models of reflection that learners can then apply to the unique situations they encounter. BUILD believes this reflects Scripture’s own approach, making it more biblical than traditional methods rather than less.

BUILD builds those reflection skills incrementally. Module One provides a foundation in a sequence of learning units that runs as follows: Unit 4 encounters 2 Timothy 1:8-12, in which Paul presents vital aspects of his gospel and his gospel ministry; Unit 5 then explores the nature of that gracious gospel; Unit 6 builds on this and empowers leaders to share the gospel in practice; and Unit 7 goes on to look at 2 Timothy 2:1-7, where Paul encourages Timothy to train others for gospel ministry in the context of very real hardship. That passage ends with this word from Paul to Timothy: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this”.

For BUILD that is a natural invitation to then discuss the importance of gospel-guided reflection in the midst of ministry, and Unit 8 considers what that looks like. That initial unit about reflection begins with a simple three-step BUILD method of Christian reflection. A method that begins when learners encounter something in God’s world and God’s word with a desire for wisdom; it continues with reflection on those situations and Scriptures in order to gain wisdom; and it leads to action in God’s world with the wisdom that comes from God’s word. All in the context of dependence on the Lord who gives insight.

In English participants are encouraged to remember the process through the simple mnemonic, ‘era’: encounter, reflection, action. They discuss the fact that an era is a significant period of time; the term of office for a president or the reign of a king for example. They see that because Christ is King, this is his era, and we are called to wrestle with the situations we face in the light of the gospel for his sake, in order that his will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven”. His people are to point to his Kingdom, the new era he is bringing through Christ his King.

As the modules and units of the curriculum unfold the era model is applied in a range of ways. And importantly it gains biblical weight as different examples of encounter, reflection and action are traced: whether through Nehemiah in Module Four, where an aid for basic strategic planning is developed; or in Acts in Module Five as Luke’s thinking about mission is explored; or through Psalm 73 in Module Seven, where the model is given depth to consider the tensions of ministry in times of trouble.

No wonder participants make comments such as these: “The curriculum is centred in the Bible and clearly expounds how the word of God can be coherently taught and related to the day-to-day situation”; “The manual is in context and addresses the real issues of the current challenges for the church leaders from the Biblical point of view”.

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Educational or missional? BUILD in Butere, Kenya

In the Church of Uganda, the birthplace of BUILD, the programme operates under the Provincial Education Department and, at a diocesan level, education secretaries are often involved in the programme. But that is not exclusively the case in the Church of Uganda, or elsewhere in the region for that matter.

Ben Kibara leads the work in Butere Diocese in the West of Kenya, as the Executive Secretary for Mission in the Diocese. Jem Hovil asked Ben why he has been implementing and promoting the programme from that platform. Ben gave this reply:

“In 2013 the ACK Diocese of Butere celebrated 100 years since the coming of Christianity. Yet when one looks at the level of Christian maturity in terms of what people believe and practice, it leaves a lot to be desired. The majority of those in leadership, serving as priests, evangelists and lay readers have never had any formal theological training. This deficiency of well-trained gospel ministers has led to very little or no spiritual growth, despite the many years the church has been in existence.

“This situation led to the restructuring of the various departments in the diocese to encourage the church to do what God calls her to do: preparing and equipping the saints for the works of service. Thus, two main things define this core department: first, the proclamation of the gospel through preaching, teaching and evangelism, and, second, the need for a well thought through strategy for discipleship.

“This is where the BUILD curriculum comes in as an important tool, helping us to prepare the saints for the works of service. At the moment, attending the BUILD programme in the diocese, we have thirty-three students who are training as ordinands, thirty-five clergy who are already serving in parishes, and forty lay readers and evangelists. The plan is that this team of around a hundred gospel workers, both lay and ordained, will be thoroughly equipped through spending time around God’s word, one day every week. And as they continue going through the various modules, they will in turn equip other leaders who will in turn equip other leaders and we will eventually have a growing church that is firmly established under God’s word.

“As we read in Ephesians 4:11-13, Christ gave different gifts to different people in the church with one main purpose of equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. As a mission department, our main role is to train and equip leaders so that they can equip others to serve and build Christ’s church, to his praise and glory.”

This does not mean that BUILD should always and only be positioned in mission departments, education departments, too, serve the mission of the church. It does mean that as an initiative that is both missional and educational, there can be great flexibility over where it is located in the life of the church. BUILD can help to integrate the various aspects of that life, across different areas and departments, where the church as a whole is committed to its God given mission.

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BUILD in Luweero Diocese: reaching areas that are hard to reach

Daniel Muwanguzi Mukiibi reports. “Luweero Diocese in the Province of the Church of Uganda was at the epicentre of the liberation war in Uganda. It has many areas that are hard to reach. That is why the Rt. Rev. Eridard Nsubuga, the third bishop of Luweero diocese said this in his charge at his consecration on 17 June 2015:

“I will work to partner with the BUILD programme at the Provincial Secretariat, to train our grassroots Church ministers in order to develop Christ centred ministers in our thirsty local congregations”.

“By way of implementing his charge, the Bishop has formally invited the BUILD ministry to consider training leaders in the diocese for the next three years. Uniquely, beneficiaries will specifically come from those areas that are hard to reach. For example, that will mean including leaders from Kisaalizi in the north of Nakasongola Archdeaconry, bordering Lake Kyoga. Others are expected to come from the pastoral nomadic lands of Ngoma, north-east of Kiwoko Archdeaconry. Please pray that these BUILD workshops bear fruit for the Kingdom, remembering that most of the participants will not have had any formal theological education.

“By the grace of God, these folk are now in charge of large rural congregations. They often trek miles through savannah woodlands to their ministry stations. Their stories of pastoral ministry are dotted with encounters with wild animals; the crossing of cold, wet, soggy swamps; as well as having to share one Bible among many congregants. It is said that lions have occasionally met preachers and killed them. And in some areas buffalo, antelope, monkeys and other animals make life difficult for evangelists and other grassroots Church leaders as they try to settle and grow crops. Sadly, from time to time, crops are destroyed by these creatures. As a result it is difficult to get people from outside the area, hence the need for locally based Biblical training.

“BUILD has been always viewed as the first answer to this need. This training in Luweero diocese may seem like a Macedonian call to BUILD: a call to ground these precious and passionate grassroots leaders biblically. They will be trained in teams of 20 to 25 periodically during the course of the year. The BUILD ministry has over the past seven years empowered a number of leaders in Luweero diocese, who have gone on to impact others. Those who have benefited include Canon James Serugo, Rev. Musajja Tasula as well as the current bishop.

“On the formal side of things, the Ndejje University Council in Luweero Diocese has passed a resolution to start a faculty of Theology and Management. Enthusiastically, the faculty has approached BUILD, seeking permission to use the curriculum. BUILD will particularly encourage those people from the hard to reach areas of northern Luweero diocese to consider enrolling in this formal program. Kindly pray for these local BUILD programmes and other BUILD teams across Uganda to continue witnessing for Christ in their local communities, to the glory of God.”