People Coming to Jesus Because the Church is Reaching Out to Them

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Most people easily understand the relief part of what World Renew does; the green shirts, food distribution, and rebuilding of homes is pretty self explanatory. It's a bit more difficult to explain what we mean by "community development." I share this newsletter as a way of illustrating what this looks like.

In Tanzania, World Renew staff Chris Enns is working with the Africa Inland Church to increase their capacity to assist communities, families, and individuals in achieving a better way of life for the long-term. 

What does this look like? Permit me to share this recent newsletter from Enns:

When you've been working somewhere for two and a half years, as I have in Tanzania, you develop expectations for what you will see when you visit a community and what you will hear about their development efforts. However, a recent visit to the community of Wagete near Serengeti National Park a month or two ago completely blew away my expectations, and even those of the partner staff who have been working regularly with them. Here's what happened.

Over the last year, I have been working with one of our church partners, the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania’s Mara and Ukerewe Diocese (AICT MUD) to use funding from the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC) and ideas from World Renew and the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD-i) to help communities identify the main issues that keep them in poverty. We want to help them see how they can address these issues themselves without depending on us or others. In Wagete, male and female community members used seeds to vote on which of the identified issues, represented by pictures, were the most important to them. (For example, they could vote by placing five seeds on "clinic" and two seeds on "school.") Then we discussed the challenges to addressing the issues and what they wanted to do about them. The community members identified three main issues:

  • In health care: A medical dispensary had been built, but the doctor did not want to move to the village so people had to walk 12 km to get medical help
  • In education: There were too few teachers at the school, and it was too far away to walk to safely, putting girls especially at risk, as well as causing poor attendance
  • In agriculture: The increasingly unpredictable and insufficient rains have made it very hard for farmers to feed their families using existing agricultural practices.

Once the community identified these three priorities, we taught them better ways to plant their crops, gave them better quality cassava seeds, and helped them form community committees to work on solutions for their health and education problems. As my partners and I traveled to a follow up meeting with the community members, we intended to form an action plan for the year.

Imagine our surprise when they gave us their progress report: they had already completed most of the work themselves! They had spoken with the District Medical Officer, fixed up the house and dispensary, and consequently the doctor had just moved into the village. The Wagete community members built three houses to successfully attract permanent teachers to work at the local school, trained parents along with the teachers on the importance of good school attendance, and were finishing the girls' boarding house so students can stay at the school to avoid the long and dangerous two-hour walk each day.

The agricultural situation had also improved. Mr. Gorani (one of the elders and also an evangelist in the community) said, "Our agriculture practices are completely different than they were last year. Farmers used to just throw the seeds from their hip. Now they know how to plant with more skill, and the cassava plants from the better quality seeds are ready for harvest and for selling to others. We are seeing much better results than last year, thanks to AICT and World Renew."

In addition, the people reported that membership in the community church had grown from 30 to 150 people in the last three years because of the way that the church has reached out to help them. They say their lives have really been changed by the church. Many of the youth have turned away from alcoholism and are now involved in church Bible studies and singing in the youth choir.

We were overwhelmed by the ownership and initiative the community showed in tackling these problems and by the spiritual transformation in the community. “You helped us become aware of these problems, but we saw that it should be up to us to deal with them. They are our problems, not AICT's or World Renew's," said the head of the Health Committee, Mr. Kaswahili.

This is an inspiring demonstration of how our work transforms and empowers communities to take charge of the issues that keep people in poverty. They can step out from under the perception that they are powerless and need others to fix their problems. As this training is being given through the local church (AICT), people learn that God cares about their lives and that as their provider, He equips them to transform their community. People are coming to Jesus because the church is reaching out to them, and they recognize that God is the One in whom to put their faith. We want to spread this message to all the villages involved in our programs. 

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Good to see this community development and church growth coming together... praise God.