Flourishing business: the Mothers' Union shop in Morogoro is one example of the local diocese's proactive approach. Photo: Stephen Burgess/CMS
It's one of the biggest questions in the world: with so much aid and development work, why are so many still poor? Now African Christians are leading the way in a movement that seeks to change not just situations but mindsets
"Give someone a fish," starts the old maxim, "and they'll eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and they'll eat for a lifetime." Aid agencies have done their best for years to do the teaching. Yet we all wonder why so many still live in such dire poverty.
Now, a growing number of African communities are experiencing another kind of development. One that could perhaps be phrased, "Change someone's mindset, and they'll teach themselves how to fish."
Take the Anglican Diocese of Morogoro in Tanzania. It takes in large parts of a major game reserve and a national park. With just a handful of office staff under Bishop Godfrey Sehaba, 90 pastors are spread out over an area three times the size of Belgium.
"Many church people say, 'I am poor and I will die poor,'" Bishop Godfrey told CMS's Stephen Burgess on a recent visit. Yet now 100 women's groups meet regularly to decide who will get the next loan from the group, so that they can pay school fees, buy kitchen utensils, or develop a small business idea.
Other projects have sprung up too, to help orphans, to collect and distribute goods to people in need, or a local church organising a hospital visiting team.
Where did this energy come from? Not from a donation from a Western agency. Everything has been done with the resources the community has to hand. We need to look deeper.
The Samaritan Strategy
Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in reply to the question "Who is my neighbour?" The hearers were shocked into a different way of seeing the world – that a hated Samaritan could be a neighbour.
The Samaritan Strategy
is a way to do essentially the same thing. It is fast gaining in popularity across Africa and CMS Africa
acts as the host organisation, promoting it and galvanising training across the continent.
Its starts with a Vision conference, which asks church leaders that same question "Who is my neighbour?" Through the Samaritan Strategy process, they are encouraged to see everyone in their communities as a neighbour the church is called to serve. Then, as they examine what it means to see life from a truly biblical perspective, they are challenged to start 'seed actions' – such as the village community banks mentioned above – to put into practice a simple practical example of loving their community.
Crucially, they have to do this using their own resources, not applying for grants from agencies, just as the Good Samaritan paid for a room for the victim of a mugging with whatever he had in his pocket.
From small seeds
This doesn't happen entirely in isolation from international partners. One generous CMS supporter gave £1,000 to fund the first Vision conference in Morogoro Diocese in 2010. Yet from this seed much has grown.
The first conference had 73 participants. A second in 2011 had 100, from 19 denominations. Ten people from the first conference have now gone on to become trainers of trainers – teaching others how to deliver Vision conferences in other parts of Tanzania and even beyond the borders. The training books have been translated by the team into the local Kiswahili language to make it more accessible.
Stephen says that in itself is a sign of the Samaritan Strategy mindset change. People like Bishop Godfrey are releasing people like Johnson Chiyong’ole, the diocesan development officer, to become trainers for others, not just work in their own communities. Stephen met Johnson recently training church leaders at two vision conferences in Western Tanzania in the Dioceses of Ruaha and Lake Rukwa.
Today Bishop Godfrey talks excitedly about the Samaritan Strategy "because it teaches us to meet the needs we have from within."
"In the past my clergy would come to me and say, 'We need bicycles for our ministry, to visit our congregations.' I would make this known and a Western aid agency may offer 12 bicycles. I have 90 clergy. So I would have to wait till the next year to get 12 more bicycles. And another year for 12 more.
"Now the parishes are competing to buy not bicycles but motorbikes for their clergy."
Such is the acceleration of change the Samaritan Strategy makes possible.