Monthly Archives

April 2020

African Christianity and the Environment

By Environment, Malawi, Uganda

APF’s Project Coordinator, Geoff Holder, describes some of the finding of his research project which formed part of an MSc in Sustainable Development at SOAS, London. The university has suggested publishing the finding.

Most charities, mission agencies and international development organisations now recognise that it is essential to account for environmental factors when designing projects and initiatives in Africa. At APF, we’re led by our African partners, aiming to strengthen and support the good things they are already doing. But what do grassroots African Christians believe about the world around them? What value do they place on ecosystems? Could charities and mission organisations like ours achieve more by working in partnership with the African church when it comes to environmental resources?

African Christian theologians describe a unique and distinctive approach to creation. By combining Christian biblical theology and traditional African cultural understandings, African theologians like Lauenti Magesa see a spiritual connectedness within creation. Obaji Agbiji views the African community as a “bondedness with each other and with nature”. For B. Bujo, the foundation of African ecological ethics is the “cosmic community” which includes all beings.

Diane Stinton describes how many African Christians view life as functioning through “participation with God within a hierarchy of belonging”. Because God is the source of life, water and soils, everything is viewed as intrinsically sacred. Kalemba Mwambazambi goes further to see God manifest in trees, rivers, mountains and animals. He equates separation from nature with separation from God. “The forest is as important as the skin of a human which, if removed, results in death,” he writes.

While these writers provide a fascinating and perceptive insight into how African theologians conceptualise the world around them, I was interested in exploring how widespread this sort of environmental theology was outside of academia. What do ‘normal’ African Christians believe, and what might this mean for mission and development organisations like APF?

To find out, I sent African church leaders from across the continent a questionnaire and held group interviews with Christians from rural communities in Uganda and Malawi. Their responses were revealing.

Firstly, it was clear that environmental concerns feature highly in the lives of African Christians. But issues like deforestation, drought and extinction are understood primarily through the lens of their faith. The Bible, for example, guides opinions around burning environmental issues like population pressure.

Droughts and floods are seen as signs of God’s displeasure in human behaviour. Healthy soils and reliable rainfall on the other hand are blessings direct from God. Secondly, by undermining traditional cultural practices that used to help protect the environment, the growth of Christianity has been a cause of environmental degradation in Africa.

Mountains, forests, rivers and trees were once believed to be sacred, the home of spirits and ancestors. As the wild places were no longer feared, they were no longer protected. One pastor explained: “Our ancestors believed that because there was a spirit there, they would keep the trees. Because we Christians do not believe there is a spirit there, we cut down the trees.”

Despite this, Christian faith is the most powerful motivator of environmental action in Africa. African Christians frequently view themselves as stewards of God’s creation, tasked to care for what God has made. “God gave us a mandate,” one pastor told me. “He took us and put us in a garden. Now, we have left our responsibility to take care of the garden.”

This helps to explain why so many African Christians are interested in environmental action like tree planting. It also explains why you might read so much about environmental issues in Impetus. Creation care is simply very important to the African church and environmental concern a direct consequence of Christian faith in action.

So, from camels helping pastoralists adapt to climate change in Kenya, to solar power in Tanzania and Rwanda; from sustainable agriculture in Malawi to tree planting in Uganda, exciting opportunities exist for those, like APF, who work alongside the African church.

eVitabu Expansion in Western Kenya

By eVitabu, Kenya

Daniel Odour Gwara coordinates Renewal Ministries, an ecumenical gathering of Christian leaders in western Kenya. Daniel attended the first eVitabu stakeholders conference and in 2018 became one of the pilot users. Since then, Daniel has become one of the most influential and strategic eVitabu trainers in Kenya.

Armed with eVitabu and an annual APF grant for travel and training, Daniel serves 18 teaching hubs for pastors and lay leaders around his region. We estimate his teaching ministry reaches at least 2,000 church and community leaders. Daniel told us:

“People in western Kenya are now happy because they can learn the word of God through eVitabu which is helping them to understand and apply the Bible well and illustrate it. Many pastors now come looking for me, requesting that I go to their churches to teach using eVitabu materials. In Kisumu, I have a group of widows that I train every month. Most recently we have been learning about prayer using the Prayer of Jabez and the Lord’s Prayer.

“We now have pastors who can prepare better sermons with good interpretation. Their church members are telling them that they have changed. I witnessed this one day when I was traveling. One pastor told me how people are happily receiving Christian teaching and are learning new things that deepen their understanding and maturity.

“The groups I serve vary from semi-literate marginalised groups, some of whom believe polygamy is a prerequisite of Christian leadership, to government officials.

“Good leadership training is wanted across all sectors. For example, a nursing officer asked for more information after listening to one of my community health training sessions prepared using resources from eVitabu. At another workshop, we used eVitabu to learn about God, the environment and farming. A government officer invited me to return this year and deliver further training sessions on this.

“I am so grateful to APF for eVitabu and the annual training grant which enables me to continue this important ministry.”

Please pray

Giving thanks for Daniel as he travels to meet, encourage and train diverse communities throughout western Kenya.

For Daniel’s predecessor, Edward Amwayi, who graciously handed over responsibility and resource to Daniel after being appointed to lead another denomination in Kenya.

For the pastors and leaders who gather for training to benefit richly from what is being shared.

For funding to be found to enable more Trainers of Trainers grants to be shared with African leaders like Daniel.

Piggery Project in Uganda

By Uganda

Pastor Silver Masiga is Senior Pastor at the House of Transformation Church in Entebbe, Uganda. House of Transformation is a network of independent African churches with congregations in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa as well as in Uganda. He writes:

“In May 2019, God, by His grace, connected us with African Pastors Fellowship. We heard about what APF do to support church leaders in many ways including finding out about eVitabu, a mobile app that contains volumes of electronic books, literature, videos and audio files. eVitabu has proved to be a valuable resource to us at the House of Transformation Church.

“At that time, we were looking for ways to help our youth leaders, many of whom are unemployed. Together, we designed a piggery project and sent an application to APF. We were so happy when APF said they would support this project.

“With APF’s funding we first rented and repaired an old, dilapidated structure to be the sty. Then, we purchased a big sow and got her inseminated. By mid-April she will have her first litter.

“These piglets will be reared, bred and sold and will bring a good income. We are so grateful to APF for their support of youth leaders and thank you to all who support APF with generous donations. You really are changing lives in Africa.”

Youth leader, Pastor Tom Patrick, with the pig purchased with funding from APF.

More than 75% of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. At 13.3% – the number of youth actively looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force – Uganda has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Please pray

For Pastor Silver overseeing numerous House of Transformation churches around Entebbe and throughout Uganda.

For Pastor Tom’s diligent use of eVitabu as a training tool for his peers.

For Pastor Daniel (Pastor Silver’s son) who uses eVitabu in Somalia where he chairs the Church Leaders Bible study within the Mogadishu International Airport green zone.

For the piggery project to both educate and resource the ministry to young people.

Refugees Returning Home

By South Sudan, Uganda

For many of the millions forced to flee their homes due to conflict, returning home concludes an often traumatic time in exile. But often, rebuilding lives and livelihoods is far from easy. Huge challenges await many returnees.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but life in the world’s youngest country has been marred by internecine warfare, atrocities against civilians, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence and the use of child soldiers. Since 2013, when President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup d’état, a conservative estimate places the number of people killed in the fighting at 400,000. The actual number may be considerably higher.

The conflict displaced over 4 million people with about 2 million fleeing to neighbouring countries, especially Uganda. Fighting in the southern agricultural heartland led to famine and 6 million facing starvation. According to the IMF, real income has halved since 2013 and inflation peaked at well over 300% per annum. In February 2020, Riek Machar was sworn in as first vice president of the new unity government by President Kiir, formally ending the civil war. For

Pastors Alex and Harriet Sokiri oversee New Nation Church, a small network of South Sudanese Pentecostal congregations. We were delighted to hear that earlier this year Alex and Harriet had been able to leave their refugee camp in northern Uganda and return to South Sudan. Rebuilding their lives, however, has not been without some serious challenges, as Alex explains:

“It was in 2016 when the war in South Sudan reached our area and we fled to Uganda. We lived in Morobi refugee camp for three years. An agreement was signed between pro-government forces and the rebel militias and some peace has now come to our country. So, we have left the camp and returned to South Sudan.

“But coming back to South Sudan has not been an easy thing for us. Last December, our child Josiah became sick. He was having seizures in the night. So, instead of going directly back to South Sudan, we first travelled to Uganda’s capital city Kampala to seek medical advice. APF gave us a pastoral care grant which helped us with the cost of travelling there and getting a good diagnosis. Josiah is now being treated for epilepsy.

“We finally reached South Sudan in January 2020. When I visited our church in the capital Juba, however, I saw that the building was badly damaged. The roof sheets and timbers had been stolen. We worked hard, raised some funds locally, and rebuilt the church structure.

“But soon after this work was completed, the owner of the land told us that he did not want our church on his land anymore. He gave us until the end of June to leave or buy the land from him. We are praying for a solution.”

New Nations Church has congregations in Juba, Kajo Keji, Yei and Wudu in South Sudan and Morobi in northern Uganda. Whilst many of South Sudan’s refugees are glad to be returning home after years living in camps, returnees like Alex and Harriet often find living outside the camps brings new problems.

Please pray

For Alex and Harriet readjusting to life and ministry in South Sudan.

For an accurate diagnosis and treatment for Josiah.

For practical needs, like church building and infrastructure to be resourced.

For other returning refugees recovering from trauma and starting afresh in South Sudan.

Giving thanks that the political situation in South Sudan has improved.

That the fragile peace would hold and a long term and sustainable political settlement would bring lasting peace.

Getting the Hump in Kenya

By Kenya

Rev Shadrack Koma is an APF partner serving in the Kenyan Africa Inland Church (AIC). He lives in Kapsabet, in west Kenya, with his wife and children. He told us about some of the challenges facing rural pastors in Amaya, Baringo County, a tribal area to the east of Kapsabet, and how he hopes to support them.

Dear friends and supporters of APF. I am so grateful for your tireless sacrifice to African pastors. I personally thank you for your assistance when I was doing my master’s degree in theology. I am so grateful for APF.

My big concern now is for pastors in Amaya. The pastors depend on their cattle since they are from a pastoralist community. In the last two years, however, they have been affected by the worst droughts which have killed most of their livestock. The pastors suffer in abject poverty. Women and children form the bigger part of their congregations and their small contributions cannot sustain the churches.

As the climate is changing and drought is now normal, we need to change our way of life. Cattle cannot continue here because of drought and overgrazing has made it so the land cannot sustain them anymore. Instead, I am leading pastors towards camels to take the place of cows. A pastor can support themselves, their family and their ministry through camel rearing. The camel is the only animal that can survive in this increasingly hostile environment.

Camels cost about 50,000 Kenyan shillings (about £390) each. This is a lot of money for anyone but there is a great demand for camel milk in local markets because it is highly nutritious. A camel produces over six litres per day and one litre goes for around 90 shillings. With a camel, the pastor will be free to put their ministry first and the rest will follow. Having trained in skills of how to teach, outreach and basic theology they will impact the community in amazing ways.

Building on a cultural tradition, where the eldest child receives a heifer and is expected to gift calves to each younger sibling until all are provided for, the firstborn calf from each pair of camels will be given away to another pastor. In this way, the project grows itself and becomes self-sustaining.

It is my sincere request that friends can help me to boost this mission in this marginalised and arid area so pastors are not suffering anymore, and the rural churches can grow.

In an attempt to adapt to longer and less predictable droughts caused by climate change, a growing number of Kenyans are keeping camels. There are now around three million camels in Kenya, three times as many as ten years ago. 

In cafés in downtown Nairobi, camel milk is catching on. It has a longer shelf life than cow’s milk and contains far more Vitamin C. It is rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins. In Kenya there is talk of a ‘camel rush’, as demand outstrips supply.

Please pray

For Revd Shadrack Koma overseeing multiple congregations and pastoral formation in the AIC North Rift Association.

For church planters in Amaya seeking to share the gospel and bring Pokot and Ilchamus communities together.

For funding to be found to enable APF to sponsor the camel project and enable four pairs to be bought. This will cost £4,000.

For communities in increasingly arid parts of Africa struggling to adapt to increased drought.