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Geoff Holder

Download our July 2020 newsletter as a PDF

By Impetus

The interruptions are our work.

Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about interruptions as something other than a bother. He writes, “While visiting the University of Notre Dame, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. While we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, ‘You know… my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.’”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a major interruption to the work that APF had expected to be doing in 2020. Scaling-up the eVitabu app, training conferences, tree-planting, bike and Bible distributions and more… It has all been paused as various forms of lockdown, quarantine and curfew affect everyday life in Africa. Future planning and visits have been mothballed so, in addition to the anxiety and loss surrounding Covid-19, it has been a painful bother.

But in the space created by lockdown, APF has adapted. We’ve held regular Zoom conference calls connecting partners from across Africa for reflection, Bible study and prayer. Technology has been harnessed to bring UK supporters together too. Using social media, we set up a Covid-19 Relief Fund. Within two weeks of opening, your generous donations raised over £10,000 which we quickly passed to African partners who have set up local community-based responses to the triple threat of lockdown, locusts and landslides which have hit the region in recent months.

This edition of Impetus contains theological reflection on these calamities as understood by our partners in Africa and tells just a few of the stories of how the Covid-19 Relief Fund has been used to enable effective ministry in lockdown. APF’s plans have unquestionably been interrupted but the work continues: maybe we too have discovered that the interruptions are our work.

Thank you for your continued support.


Revd Dave Stedman
CEO

The View from Tanzania

By Covid-19, Tanzania

Unlike most African countries, the Tanzanian government did not announce a strict lockdown. Churches, mosques, and other religious buildings have remained open for worshippers, although schools, sports and other gatherings deemed unnecessary were closed until June. From Karagwe, a remote rural town in Kagera Region in the far north-west corner of Tanzania, Pastor Heavenlight Luoga shares his reflections on what God has been reminding him of during the crisis.

“This pandemic teaches us how God is in control of this wonderful and fragile world. During the crisis, there are both dangers and opportunities. Dangers because thousands and thousands of people have been infected and died. Also, there is the related economic crisis with people losing their jobs.

“Opportunities have come because many people are turning to God. We have seen, all over the East African countries, people crying and praying to God because of Covid-19. It is striking the world and all of us realise we are most certainly not in control, ‘we’ meaning humanity as a whole. The fragility of life is emphasised, the limitations of knowledge become plain and human capacity is challenged.
People here in Karagwe were in fear concerning the limitations of local health infrastructure. Our highly social lifestyle and overcrowded homes all created a huge fear of the virus. Many expected to see uncountable dead bodies on the streets. Thank God this has not yet come about in Tanzania. Our government recently announced that the situation here is not too bad. The number of people affected in hospitals is coming down. Our government prepared 1,000 beds at Saba Saba Exhibition Ground, but today all of them have been removed.

“We see wealthy countries investing millions of dollars for security purposes, on health insurance and social safety nets, but still many people in those countries are dying from coronavirus.

“It is a reminder to us that God is in control of the world and he can do whatever he wants to do, without any resistance. In response, we start looking up. As Deuteronomy 32:39 says:

‘Look now; I myself am he!
There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
I am the one who wounds and heals;
no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!'”

We will pick up where we left off…

By Farming, Malawi

One of APF’s projects that has been paused due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions on gatherings is the Growing Greener agriculture project run by New Life Christian Church in Malawi. Revd Lloyd Chizenga reports on how the church network was responding.

“What is happening in Malawi with Covid-19? As a church we are currently on a sensitisation tour, teaching the communities on how people can get the virus and how to avoid getting the virus. There is a lot of misinformation about, especially in the remote areas, and the government is being supported by NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] and churches like ours to keep people informed. We are busy bringing awareness messages to rural communities about Covid-19.

“Apparently, about 80 people have been found positive in Malawi. Twenty-four have recovered and three patients have died. The government tried to impose a national lockdown, but it did not work well because most of the people are poor. We live hand-to-mouth and there were no plans to help people financially so they could stay at home without starving. As you may be aware, around 85% of the population lives in the rural areas so they must continue farming, buying and selling food.

“Besides the impact of Covid-19 on our livelihoods, it has also affected us morally, physically and spiritually. We have a sense that some of our cultural tendencies have to be stopped. This includes having to follow social distancing guidelines and keeping at least a meter apart from others. We have been told we must avoid hand shaking and instead hand wash frequently with soap or sanitiser. There is also a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. All these are new things in the Malawian setting. We are used to meeting in our hundreds even in rural communities. Our government has been less strict than many others in Africa but they are now saying we should wear a mask.

“In terms of the ‘Growing Greener’ sustainable agriculture project we have been running with support from APF and Operation Agri, Covid-19 has had an impact. Since we can only meet with 50 people and not more than that, we have had to pause meetings and training sessions with project beneficiaries. Our community groups normally have around 120 people in them so training must be reduced.

“We will pick up where we left off as soon as we are able. One thing we can do is to divide the community groups into more but smaller groups to follow the guidance. In the long term, Covid-19 has not affected the operations of the project so much, it has just slowed it down this year.

“One of the tasks I have been doing is to provide hand washing buckets, soap, sanitiser, and face masks to over 35 communities in the Chikwawa area. This is so important to stop Covid-19 spreading through our communities. We have been supported by APF donors in the UK to do this but we need more assistance so we can purchase more.”

Please pray

Giving thanks for the long-standing partnership APF has with Revd Lloyd Chizenga and his team

Giving thanks for Lloyd’s faith and optimism about picking up where we left off with Growing Greener

That some training has been able to continue albeit with reduced numbers

For any negative unintended consequences of social distancing on cultural habits to be minimal but that soap, water and facemasks being provided by Lloyd have maximum impact, maintaining public health and protection from coronavirus in Chikwawa region

Lockdown, locust and landslide in Kenya

By Covid-19, Kenya

Western Kenya has faced a triple-hit in recent months. Besides the significant impacts of the lockdown on jobs, incomes and livelihoods, the area has been badly affected by locust swarms and landslides. Revd Shadrack Koma from the AIC North Rift Convention in Western Kenya shares his thoughts on the situation.

“In such time of suffering and adversity it is futile to imagine there is no God. Even in the darkest times God is present with us. There is no time when God is absent. According to Job 36, he is in control of the entire universe. He knows the weather patterns and what is happening in the world. Nothing happens without him knowing. God sometimes allows such events like the lockdown, locusts and the landslides to take place to demonstrate his sovereignty but amidst such events, God remains the creator and the sustainer of the universe. God is everywhere, even in the lockdown, locusts and landslides.

In this time, I see that God is teaching humanity about humility. He is preparing us for a greater blessing to come but for now, we have to endure this. God is teaching the church that there is value in suffering. Through suffering the church is strengthened. It is a wakeup call that adorns the church with the garment of glory (Romans 8:18). Suffering prepares the church for mission. It is important to note that God does allow suffering, pain and even death if they best serve his purposes but the suffering is for a short time. The pain that has been caused by the lockdown, locusts and landslides is for a short time compared to God’s eternity.

“This time of lockdown, locust and landslides can be our greatest motivation for spiritual growth or a deadly means of discouragement. The difference depends on our understanding of God’s purpose for allowing it to happen. We must remember that God is with us through these events. He is teaching humanity about humility. What God teaching the church now will help us serve him more diligently in the world as the threat of Covid-19 passes.”

Faith in action in Rwanda

By Covid-19, Rwanda

In Rwanda, heavy rain and landslides have made life even more challenging for rural communities already struggling through one of Africa’s stricter Covid-19 lockdowns. Revd Mutagoma Japhet from the small rural Eglise Evangélique de la Bonne Volonté au Rwanda (EEBVR) network of churches shares his experience of helping communities affected by both lockdown and landslide.

“The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has been a real challenge here in Rwanda. People have been suffering from hunger, the failure of their businesses and the loss of their jobs. Already we were seeing increasing malnutrition especially in younger children. This disastrous torrent has only worsened the situation.

“The Bible says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse reminds us that God remains faithful even in tough periods.

“This is our experience. With funding from APF, we donated significant grants that helped our communities fight against Covid-19. We provide soap and hygiene stations in four different communities.

“Using the bicycles we received from APF in 2018, we transported clean water from long distances to people living with disabilities during the lockdown.

“Following the flooding, we led displaced people to safety, sheltering them in churches and schools. We provided basic items like cooking pans, blankets, food and clothing. Overall, we supported 73 displaced families in two camps in Musanze District with 200 kg of maize, and also provided fruit and toys for 63 children. But the effects of the landslides have made worse the devastating impacts of the lockdown in one of the poorest parts of Rwanda where people live hand-to-mouth and face extremes of hunger and poverty.

“After receiving food for her children, one parent, who had lost her home to flooding, said she now understood that you cannot separate your faith from your deeds. One comes out from the other like the crops from the soil.”

Please pray

For marginalised communities in DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda that have seen crops, property and goods destroyed by torrential rain, floods and landslips

Give thanks for the local responses being initiated by APF partners that have received Covid-19 Relief Fund grants, especially Pastor Japhet Mutagoma, Revd Charles Munyamahoro and Revd Emmanuel Gatera, all in Rwanda

As the lockdown begins to ease in Rwanda, pray for life to normalise with churches being able to gather safely, training conferences resuming before long and communities to remember the help they received from Christian neighbours

For Pastor Victor, the new Legal Representative of Eglise Evangélique de la Bonne Volonté au Rwanda, as he combines teaching, ministry and academic study

Joy and generosity in Uganda

By Covid-19, Uganda

Revd Francis Esomu is principal of Atirir Bible School in rural Teso Region, east Uganda. His theological reflection on the impact of the coronavirus lockdown highlights how joy and generosity can overcome disaster.

Here in Uganda we have been overwhelmed by the chaos and difficulties caused by the desert locusts that invaded most parts of Teso, Karamoja, Acholi and Lango Regions. The locust destroys crops and green vegetation once it lands in the area.

As if that is not enough, Covid-19 has spread all over the world with breath-taking speed. It is stealing lives, bankrupting businesses, plunging economies into chaos, shuttering churches, distancing people, hurting people. It has taken our routines and has changed many of our most cherished patterns of life. It has presented a challenge unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. These things create fear among the people here in Uganda. They are wondering where is God in this situation? What is he telling us from his word?

As a pastor and leader here in Teso Region, I have told them that although Covid-19 is such a deadly and contagious disease that has claimed many lives, God is in control of everything that happens to his people. It is God’s reminder to me and everyone else that we do not control our lives and if anyone feels they are in control of everything they are denying that God is all knowing and powerful. We completely depend on God.
Jesus Christ knew that he was completely dependent on his Father as seen in Matthew 26:39: “Our Lord Jesus Christ cried and said, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”

In this time of uncertainty, two sides of the coin come into play. Sometimes we feel God should fix our afflictions as soon as possible. Then again, not as we will, but as God wills. Our Lord faced the same, but he realised the decision was not his. It belonged to his Father in heaven. Let God’s will be done!

The present circumstance is an opportunity for God to manifest the life of Christ in us. We need not rely on ourselves but on God who brings life out of death. The more we realise our dependence on God, the more we are changed into the image of his Son, Jesus.

A similar account is recorded by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 about some challenges that a newly planted church in Philippi faced:

“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

The Macedonian believers, despite their extreme poverty, found they were able to give out of the joy they found in the grace of God. Amidst affliction, their joy in the grace of the Lord turned their poverty into a wealth of generosity.

As we see many in our community in huge need, giving is the only thing we can do in this time of uncertainty, locusts and lockdown.

Please pray

Giving thanks that although the lockdown restrictions have exacerbated poverty in Uganda, to date there have been no Covid-19 fatalities and relatively few confirmed cases

Atirir Bible School offers Certificate level theological education to rural pastors from Baptist and other denominations. We pray for that Atirir Bible School becomes a regional centre for leadership development

For Francis as he combines many responsibilities and travels to other regions, including Kamuli and Karamoja, to train pastors and leaders

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.