WMA Glenn Schwartz Report

The following is a report on the Global Self-Reliance Network gathering in Karen – a suburb of Nairobi.  It was held on November 12-14, 2009.  Glenn Schwartz, World Mission Associates.

BEGINNING OF THE NAIROBI CONSULTATION

There were seventeen of us present  for this consultation:  nine from Uganda, one from Zambia, three from Kenya, one from Nepal and three from the USA\Cambodia.  Pastor Charagu conducted the preliminaries – including introductions of everyone.  I was then asked to give the opening address which in the program they referred to as a “pace-setter”.  I used scriptures which I felt would inspire, reminding them that overcoming unhealthy dependency is related to spiritual renewal.  We should not expect people who do not know the Lord to joyfully put money in the church collection.  I reminded them that overcoming unhealthy dependency is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end.  This is something that I have stressed before and have heard repeated back to me.  It would be easy to get sidetracked into thinking that dependency is the central issue, when mobilizing the Church for mission is what it is all about.

REPORTS FROM THE PARTICIPANTS

Thursday afternoon we began with reports from the participants.  The first was from Dr. Paul Mumo who helped to organize the meetings.  He also wrote an article a dozen years ago which has been on our website ever since.  The title of that article is What Role does Aid Play in Africa?

The final session of the first day was a presentation by Pastor Grace Kabuye of Uganda.  He enthusiastically shared some of what God is doing through their work in Uganda and the surrounding countries.  Pastor Grace and his colleagues have already done seminars in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Western and Northern Uganda, as well as in the region in and around Kampala.  They have seen remarkable things happen.  In two places where they conducted seminars local people subsequently took it upon themselves to raise enough funds to purchase a vehicle for their leaders.  In one place a bishop was given a car; in another area, a pastor was given a car from funds raised locally.  In the far north of Uganda – an area that has suffered so much from war – people thanked them for coming to tell them that they had self-worth and that they had something to give back to God!  By the time Pastor Grace finished speaking, everyone in the room knew why we were there and what the potential for such change in Africa could be.  He told them that he has invitations to conduct seminars in Tanzania, Congo, and as far away as Sierra Leone and Egypt.

I have a standing invitation to conduct a seminar in Zambia, but I have asked Pastor Grace to consider going there in my place.  He agreed to do so, but added, “Be sure those people are serious about wanting to overcome dependency.  We do not want to spend our time going there if they are not serious.”  With help like that on the horizon, you can see why I feel I can back off from some international travel.

Friday morning in the first session, time was given for four more reports from Uganda.  One outstanding presentation was given by Pastor Fred Kimbagaya.  He told how a development group in his area began a micro loan project funded by money from overseas.  The people did not repay their loans because they felt the money was a gift or grant.  Pastor Fred said that for lack of repayment of loans they had to close the program.  But not one to give up easily, Pastor Fred said they shifted to raising funds from the very people who wanted the loans.  They have since established thirty-five groups of villagers who put their own money into “the pot” from which loans are made.  There are now 850 families being helped with loans coming from local resources.

One of the more captivating presentations came from our friend and colleague from Zambia, Williams Phiri.  He traveled by bus overland from Zambia through Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya to get to this conference a journey of five days!  Someone in Zambia gave him enough for bus fare and a little money for food along the way.  He was very tired and hungry on arrival, but happy to be there.  What a blessing to have him in the consultation!  Williams is a single man in his early thirties who has planted churches on a virtual shoestring in Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana.  He said that some local people thought that if he has planted so many churches someone from overseas must support him.

Williams told how last May he and I went to Mozambique for a seminar and only a handful of people showed up – six or eight at most. One reason they gave for not attending is that the white man (me) had refused to provide the money for the meal that everyone would get at the seminar, something that is done all the time by visiting Americans and other outsiders.  They also made the assumption that I had given Williams money and that he kept it for himself rather than using it for meals at the seminar.  Then later on they discovered that I had not given Williams any money and that overcoming unhealthy dependency was a serious matter.

After I had long gone, they then got in touch with Williams and admitted that they were wrong in suspecting that he got money and kept it.  Then they asked him to come back and conduct a self-reliance seminar for them on his own.  Somehow the light came on.  Williams also told how he had built a house for himself; He built the walls but had no resources to put on the roof.  He took me to see the house when I was there last May.  It was an unfinished project because he did not have the funds to complete it.  He lived with his mother and sister in a rented house somewhere else.  I did not offer to provide the money for the roof; and in retrospect, I am so glad I didn’t do so.  According to Williams’ presentation, this is what resulted from my decision.

As I worked with Williams over the past several years I kept asking him if there were not pastors or business people who could get behind his ministry of church planting in those several countries.  Finally one day he gave me the names of four pastors and suggested that I should send them an e-mail asking them to support him.  One of them did not have an e-mail address, so I sent the e-mail to Williams and asked him to deliver it to Pastor B.  Williams delivered it and then suggested that I follow up with a phone call to him.  I did that, too, phoning Pastor B on a skype call  – a cheap method of making phone calls through the computer.

Pastor B was so impressed that a white man from America would phone him from overseas to ask support for a fellow Zambian pastor that he decided to get behind Williams’ ministry.  He has since been traveling with Williams to seminars in Malawi.  He then provided the funds for Williams to travel to Nairobi.  On top of that, Pastor B bought enough materials to put the roof on Williams’ house.  In addition, he hired several carpenters to put on the roof – all at Pastor B’s expense!

One interesting side benefit of this testimony is the effect it had on one white missionary attending the conference from Uganda.  He listened to all the talk about overcoming unhealthy dependency and then on the last morning spoke up.  He said he could not understand how “Glenn could look at William’s unfinished house and not provide the materials for the roof”.  Then he saw that what I did by contacting Pastor B and others was of more value than providing a roof.  He saw that I mobilized a local resource – from local pastors – that produced more than a roof.  He said for him that is what put credibility into the message we are promoting.  That white missionary came to me after the seminar and asked if I would consider speaking to the mission leaders of his denomination, a movement of churches in Southern California.  I said I would if I were given an official invitation.  In the meantime I suggested that he send them my book as a way to start.

Undoubtedly for me, the high point of the testimonies coming from those who attended came was a testimony given by Pastor James from Uganda. He gave this during an open time of sharing on Saturday morning as we were about to wrap up the consultation.  Together with a testimony by Pastor Elizabeth from Northern Uganda, it was an unforgettable part of the consultation for me.

Pastor James ministers among the villagers on the islands of Lake Victoria.  He has begun to conduct a series of self-reliance seminars designed to attract non-believers.  The topics include such things as problem solving, team building, and planning.  One interesting topic is called “needs and resources”.  In this session they divide the group in half and each part makes lists of needs as complete as they can.  Then they turn to look at resources that could be used to help meet those needs.  He said by the time they come back to share with the other half of the group they cannot believe their own creativity in discovering what resources they already have to meet those needs.

But these secular sounding topics are only part of what they offer.  They also include sessions on forgiveness and the Father-Heart of God.  Pastor James says that about one third of those who attend these seminars are Christians, another third are non-believing villagers, and the remainder are Muslims!  There is such interest in dependency as it affects Muslim people and those in the African family system that Pastor James says he has more interest among non-believers than he has among Christians.  One Muslim man has already become a believer through the seminars which they only started earlier this year.  One Muslim sheik borrowed my book from Pastor James and has already read it twice!

Pastor Elizabeth also shared passionately with the group.  She once worked in UN offices as far away as Geneva, Switzerland.  Now she is planting churches in Northern Uganda where things are nasty, to say the least, because of war being perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army.  But she has a serious burden for those who are affected by unhealthy dependency.  She has seen the prevalence of dependency in the traditional African village.  She feels that contemporary trends are drawing people away from the land – where they could be making a living – to the cities where they look for employment.  One woman in Zambia expressed it like this several years ago:  “The other day I went home and found thirteen people living in my house expecting me to feed them while they try to find employment in the urban area.  I cannot feed thirteen people on my single salary.”

Pastor Elizabeth feels that if we want to make an impact, we should consider conducting self-reliance seminars for African people living in traditional villages.  Her word is that people have left the land and no longer know how to “hold a hoe”.  Think for a moment about the awesome potential of taking self-reliance thinking to the general population – including lessons on forgiveness and the Father-Heart of God.  It is enough to blow one’s mind!

One further word on the subject of forgiveness is in order.  Pastor James explained the rationale for including that topic.  He said that because of promiscuity and adultery, men and women alike have been hurt deeply by unfaithfulness.  One woman was so hurt that she could not see any other way to solve her problem than to take her own life.  Through the seminar on breaking dependency – in the session on forgiveness she was presented with a choice – either she could forgive or she could let it destroy her.

I must say that I never dreamed that dealing with dependency would take African pastors in directions such as Muslim evangelism or speaking into situations where African traditional religion prevails.  In my limited way I thought of our efforts as relating to a mentality in the churches.  But this Nairobi seminar opened my eyes and has shown me that the sky could well be the limit as the Christian message is woven into seminars that have far broader implications.

CONCLUSION

I have not told all the stories we heard during this time in East Africa, but I trust I have shared enough to show that the efforts of the past twenty-six years of WMA ministry are paying off in ways that I did not imagine possible.

The experience at this seminar was most enriching.  It was made more so because we had a visit on Friday afternoon from the father of self-reliance in East Africa, Dr. John Gatu.  I have often told his story about bringing transformation to the Presbyterian Church in East Africa.  I can assure you that the participants will not soon forget that they got to meet him.  He is frail at age 84 and needs to be helped around, but he was there.  It was Dr. Gatu who years ago told me that he was not interested just in meetings about self-reliance; he was interested in seeing a movement of self-reliance across Africa.  I told him that the group before him at this consultation represented what could well be the beginning of that Africa-wide self-reliance movement.

Those present accepted an invitation from the Ugandan delegation to have the next annual meeting of the Global Self-Reliance Network in their country.  They are planning for it in November 2010.  Imagine the kind of stories that they might be able to tell a year from now if this small wildfire continues.

When I was hospitalized several weeks ago for vertigo, one of my concerns was that I might not be able to attend this meeting in Nairobi.  God graciously allowed me to be there, and I am grateful beyond measure.  I steadily overcame the symptoms, and my physician agreed that I could go.  But just to remind me of my humanity, as I changed planes in London on the way home, I experienced some of the symptoms – thankfully only slight – that had put me in the hospital in the first place.  Fortunately, they passed after about two hours.  It made me doubly grateful that I was able to go to Nairobi for that historic gathering.

Thanks also to those who prayed for and supported this effort financially.  I am thankful to each of you and to our Lord who confirms our needs in your hearts and minds.  To God be the glory!

Glenn Schwartz

Executive Director

World Mission Associates

November 16, 2009