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More Churches or More Mobilization?

“We don’t need any more churches in Kenya.” “We don’t need any more churches in Zambia.” Talk about a shift of missions paradigm! I had to make sure I heard it right, and I did. And then I heard it several other times from our CBF missionaries. And I heard the same thing about Kenya and Zambia.

But I thought starting new congregations is the best missions strategy there is. Perhaps in the past, perhaps in other parts of the world, but in sub-Saharan <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Africa, that isn’t what I heard. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Here is what I heard: “What we need is water, food, housing, education, healthcare. When we talk to the village leaders and the church leaders, this is what they tell us.”
 
“What we need is to mobilize the existing churches to meet the practical needs of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa.”
 
Not really a new paradigm. Seems like I remember Jesus being involved in such things!
 
Kenya and Zambia are well-churched. There are congregations everywhere of every kind, a full denominational smorgasbord. Many Kenyans are named for someone in the Bible. Christianity is strong and growing in this part of the world. There do seem to be a lot of churches.
 
But poverty, disease, poor education and ecological disaster are even more prevalent than congregations. The forests are disappearing, and the desert is growing.
 
In Zambia more than 35 percent of the population is HIV positive, and more than 5 percent of its population are AIDS orphans.
 
Forty-two percent of the world’s children who die before they are five are in sub-Saharan Africa, and most of these deaths are from malnutrition and the lack of safe water and sanitation.
 
Impoverished families cannot afford the fees required to send their children to “public,” government-sponsored schools. Do we need more churches or more mobilization?
 
I’m glad that our CBF missionaries in this area are mobilizing and partnering with wonderful gospel ministries that are meeting the practical needs of the poor. I’m glad they are initiating new ministries that are bringing water, schools and resources to some of the poorest areas on earth.
 
One of my most vivid images from my first week in Africa is from our visit to the LongewanIntegratedChildDevelopmentCenter in Kenya. This is the first of CBF missionary Sam Harrell’s proposed seven centers for preschoolers in impoverished areas. The people of Langewan are perhaps the poorest people I have ever met.
 
Longewan is located between two rivers. But several major problems have turned their Eden between the rivers into a hellish desert.
 
Several years ago, one of the rivers changed course, and the other river only flows part of the year. A drought has dried up everything. Animals have died, water must be hauled from a great distance, and poverty increased.
 
Like many of Kenya’s poor, the people of Longewan are cutting down trees to make and sell charcoal, de-foresting and adding to the desertification of their home. Families live in mud hut enclaves with no electricity or water. Cacti mark the boundary lines and sticks form fences around garden spots and animal pens.
 
When we arrived at the ICDC, several men came to meet us. One, who barely looked 20 years old, told me he had three children who would profit from this school. He wore a t-shirt that was so torn it barely stayed on his shoulders. He is my image of the destitution of this area.
 
Does Longewan need more churches? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m glad my new friend there has a preschool for his children.
 
I’m excited that his family, crops and animals will have water (from a well we hope Sam will be able to drill).
 
I’m glad that my new friend and his neighbors are involved in caring for the building and garden and protecting the precious water supply in the cistern.
 
I’m glad that this desert is being re-planted with techniques shared by Sam. I’m glad that mobilization has come to this fallen Eden!  Maybe that is a new church in Longewan anyway!
 
Craig Sherouse, pastor of First Baptist Church, Griffin, Ga., was one of seven pastors to visit Africa May 1-15 on a “mission immersion” trip sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.