Stories from Cherilyn Williams, Assistant Vice President for Marketing and Communications of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Illustrative photos of Cherilyn's trip can be viewed here:
It has been going on for some time – decades, actually. Missionaries are still sent out across the world and Global Ministries still assists in very tangible ways, but the mission is shifting toward accompaniment rather than evangelism or charity. This shift is illustrated in the work of Global Ministries in southern Africa.
This work is not unidirectional. The distance learning model of TEE similar to the one adopted by Lexington Theological Seminary and the Ordering of Ministry commissioned ministry track. The denominational leaders of southern Africa long to share theological insights with their northern sisters and brothers. And the shared concerns on both continents about youth bind us together.
From supporting Global Mission Intern Kristine Tsinger who manages distribution for Theological Education by Extension College (TEE) in Johannesburg, South Africa, to supporting arms amnesty programs in Maputo, Mozambique, education and partnership are key components of the work of Global Mission in the 21st century.
A meeting of the minds
During summer of 2011, several of the denominational executives from across Africa were attending General Assembly and General Synod and realized they rarely see each other except in the United States. In talking about their shared challenges and work, the group suggested a meeting in Africa and the general secretary of the United Congregational Church in Southern Africa, the Rev. Dr. Prince Dibeela agreed to host it.
In May 2012, co-executives Julia Brown Karimu and James Moos were invited to join Area Executive Sandra Gourdet and leaders in South Africa who had convened a gathering of denominational executives from 11 countries in Africa to talk about ways they can partner with each other independent of the “north”. All the partners present have a historic connection with the parent organizations of Global Ministries and included representatives from Angola, Botswana, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As a result of the conference, the leaders agreed to conference again within the next four years with a broader group of African Christians. In addition, a new pilot program with the Theological Education by Extension College the Kukhany’Okusha Zion Church in Swaziland, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa and Global Ministries was initiated. The African partners also want to make more opportunities to share African treasures of theology with counterparts in the United States and Canada as well as each other.
In the United Church of Christ in Mozambique headquartered in Beira, the Rev. Lucas Amosse speaks with pride of the work of the women in several of his congregations. The UCCM, supported in part by Global Ministries, has provided trainers for local groups in how to manage their own cooperative organizations.
Women in particular are encouraged to borrow small amounts of money for raw materials to sew clothing, raise chickens or provide other services. They pay back their loans into a central “bank” managed by their group. The trainers help the group members set rules and processes ranging from fines for being late to a meeting to where to direct the profits from the interest paid.
The trainers themselves are a dedicated lot. Mrs. Simango had to have her foot amputated for medical reasons, but she insisted on going back to work even before the doctors and her family wanted her to, traveling and training women. Her work was so important to her that her family got the money together for an artificial limb so she could get out and do her work.
The women in the Massange church near Beira have taken the profit from their group and financed the walls of their church to be built and are working on funding the roof. One of the women said, “Even if we are poor, we want you to see what we are beginning to do in Massange parish.” An elder echoed her, saying, “When you go back you must remember the Massange church is doing something.”
The women in the Manyari church are funding education opportunities in the community for babies and mothers as well as adult literacy. The head of their cooperative said, “Though we are in poverty, we are here. We have classes for women teaching family skills, crafting items to improve their living and also have bible study. Because of the money from these microprojects, we are able to do something.” The Manyari women are applying for government grants to provide even more classes and have started a dedicated classroom building.
Transformation of Arms into Tools (TAE)
When the Portuguese left their colony in 1975, they blew up bridges and poured concrete in wells. A socialist regime is ascendant until 1989. During the anti-apartheid period in South Africa, the war spilled over their borders into Mozambique. South Africa also provided arms for the civil strife in Mozambique. After more than 13 years of civil war that destroyed civil society and the infrastructure of churches, schools, homes, roads, the Christian Council of Mozambique joined with the local authorities to encourage disarmament of the general population. The arms amnesty program began while Rev. Lucas Amosse was general secretary of the council several years ago, but the program now is headed up by Bonaventua Zita and General Secretary Ephraim Macamo.
Many residents who had weapons were reticent to bring them to the police. Trust was damaged by war and there is no communal sense of action for the good of all. The Christian Council worked with the authorities to encourage people to turn in guns and receive building supplies such as cement and iron in return. Some of the weapons were recycled but others were given to the hands of artists like Kester who “brings the guns back to be born again”.
This kind of program becomes even more important as the country has more seismic shifts. Though the civil war ended, the remnants of repressive systems linger. Now a new source of tension is rising. Recent discoveries of rich mineral deposits in the north are bringing foreign mining companies into the country. This may seem like an economic driver, but the majority of the profits are being taken out of the country. Milk is the equivalent of $13 per gallon. Rents are rising to unaffordable levels for most Mozambicans who are not recipients of the mineral profits or even the mining jobs.
And yet, the congregations of Christians sing a favorite song, God is There.
Theological Education by Extension College reaches across borders
Megan Baxter’s enthusiasm is contagious. Get the CEO and director of Johannesburg’s Theological Education by Extension College (TEE) talking about her work and the words just bubble out. More than 3,000 students are served by the college during any given term. Five different programs of study are offered through a combination of materials distributed from TEE, local tutor-mentors, graders and 89 examination sites scattered across southern Africa.
The educational methodology started in Guatemala in 1963 with a team headed up by Ross Kinsler, a Presbyterian minister. The idea was to "take the seminary to the people" rather than uprooting the natural church leaders and their families and bringing them out of their context in order to train them. The South African college was founded in 1976 during the anti-apartheid struggle and, while there are many of these kinds of schools across the world, the Johannesburg college is the only one in Africa that has accreditation.
With a small staff of 13 in the Spartan offices, the staff provides more than 8,000 course offerings in five languages. In addition to the work managing distribution and marshaling tutors across such distances, the students bring their own challenges. The average age is 47, right in the demographic that was most hindered by the limited education opportunities of the apartheid era. Even though 1994 marked the end of the struggle, education is still unequal. For that reason, some of the programs offered are called awards so the students do not have to meet certain entrance requirements that may have been unavailable to them – like high school diplomas. Yet the drop-out rate is an enviable 17 percent, much less than residential universities.
And the effect of all that on-site learning and the associated projects is rippling throughout the continent. One of the requirements is “Doing Ministry for a Change”, a practical mission portfolio project. A decade ago a student, appropriately named Justice, put together a program to teach women economic skills and it turned into a refugee program. Other students have done training, AIDS awareness and a host of other projects.
Another set of ripples comes from graduate Rev. Jorga Gallant. She became a chaplain at St. Alban’s, a men’s maximum security prison. There she found a hunger for learning among the prisoners and in May 2012 two graduated from TEE and another nine are taking courses. Those men now serve more than 700 prisoners a week with bible studies, peer group counseling, pre-release counseling, and helping the social workers with reconciliation meetings between perpetrators and victims’ families. One of the leaders was moved to a medium security prison as a result of his work and he has started similar programs there. Another declined to move because he felt called to continue serving in the maximum security setting.
Poured out in ministry, TEE is bringing water to those thirsty for knowledge.