When I first chose to go on a January class term to Uganda, I was a bit apprehensive. Not because I was nervous to fly across the ocean, face the mosquitoes, or ride down the (sometimes very) rough roads, but because I had no idea what to expect from the class we were going to be taking. I had taken enough development classes to know the disaster stories--the organizations that had hindered community development by doing everything themselves, the people that had stolen money meant for communities, the churches that had simply given handouts. These sorts of stories had, to be honest, made me quite pessimistic towards development work of the church. World Renew, an organization sponsored by both my home church and my school, holds a special place in my heart and I didn't want that to be tarnished by stories of their failed development projects.
I came back from Uganda changed, filled with the Spirit, ready again to do work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of that change and readiness come from observing and learning about World Renew and what it is doing in Uganda. The way this mission, along with several of their partnering organizations and churches, is doing work filled me with encouragement and hope for community development projects.
One of the most encouraging things I saw with World Renew was its selection of staff. Of course they are all passionate, excited about what they do, and have vision. So much more important, though, is the fact that many of the World Renew staff members in Uganda are Ugandan. And not only that, but many are working in their native regions. Edward Etanu, for example, works in his native Acholi district in the city of Gulu, a place heavily affected for the past twenty years by the Lord's Resistance Army. Because of the postwar status of this district, both development workers and projects are greatly needed right now, but not very many trained development workers could come in as equipped as Edward. Not only has he lived and worked alongside the people of Gulu, but he knows their language, knows their customs and traditions; he is one of them. Joseph Mutebi carries the same kind of credentials into the Arua district and Nebbi town. Because he is from this region of Uganda, he can effectively work for a relief and development organization there because he knows the needs of the people. By employing Ugandans native to the regions in which they work, World Renew is certainly benefitting the people of those regions.
Another way World Renew works well is by partnering with many local churches, mostly Anglican and Catholic. This brings people together and gives locals a voice in the discussion of what is needed in the community. It also assists the local churches in learning how to support their members, start community groups, as well as help fund them. During my visit to Uganda, my class visited many different community groups in Acholi and Arua districts, all of which were tied to both local churches and World Renew. Many of these groups were made up mostly of women, working together, farming crops and producing sellable goods like honey and sim-sim paste (something similar to peanut butter). Some of the groups have already become self-sufficient, and no longer need funding from the church, but those that are still receiving funds all recognize World Renew as a funder. While many organizations would forever be funding groups, causing them to be cripplingly dependent, World Renew and the local churches are obviously doing something right. They have made (or are making) these community groups reliant on no one but themselves, which in turn makes these women confident in themselves and in what they do. Unlike many organizations that would simply keep funneling money into community projects, World Renew has helped dozens of these projects stand on their own two feet.
I left Uganda encouraged by these things I saw World Renew doing, and ready to again support church-sponsored development. Much of my readiness certainly did come from World Renew and my opportunity to observe the work they are doing in Uganda. I am thankful to have learned about church development projects that have succeeded, and to have seen that success first hand. We drove down roads that were repaired by a road rehabilitation group, we received honey from a prospering community group, we pumped water at an agricultural group site. World Renew has effectively captured a restorative model of world relief and development.