Finding Potential in a Hidden Place

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What does it mean to transform a community?
For World Renew, this ministry involves not just working through local churches to carry out ministry, but also helping entire communities to identify and address the various issues they face and to experience God’s renewing power in all their relationships with God, neighbor, self, and creation.

Take the community of Opangul in Uganda, for example. Opangul is one of 10 communities supported by World Renew’s partner, the Church of Uganda (COU), in the diocese of Lango.
Snuggled in rural northern Uganda, Opangul is made up of four tiny villages.

At one point, along the winding dirt path that leads to the community, thick tall grass towers more than five feet high and starts to cover up the trail before the main village comes into view. That’s why the area is called Opangul—which means “hidden place” in the local language.

World Renew and COU began to work in Opangul in 2010. Their main objective was to help the people address the AIDS crisis in their midst. To properly fight AIDS, however, the community also had to address other concerns.

“For Opangul, being a hidden place has been their greatest disadvantage, affecting not only the possibility of getting health care but also limiting the community’s education opportunities,” explains World Renew staff member Edward Okiror.

Effective health care, especially when using modern medicine, involves the ability to read and understand prescriptions. In a community like Opangul, where nearly 90 percent of adults cannot read or write, a literacy project was of vital importance to the anti-AIDS endeavor.

“Because we are a community that is difficult to reach, many community members, especially the women, have never gone to school,” says David, a community church teacher who leads the literacy class.

“Our children walk about 10 kilometers a day to and from the nearest school, and we have no health facilities or proper roads. We are very poor.”

With the support of World Renew and COU, a small group of 15 committed adult learners began to meet regularly at a grass-thatched Anglican church to learn to read and write. That effort has now expanded to include a growing nursery and primary school.

“We did not want our children to suffer the effects of illiteracy the way we did,” says Siblina Anyao, one of the adult learners. “So we have donated over five acres of land to build a community school.”

In addition, World Renew and COU helped to start a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in the community. About 100 men and women meet weekly, not just to save and borrow money to expand their small businesses but also to discuss community issues and map out solutions to challenges they are facing.

Today more than 85 children attend Opangul’s primary school, and 70 adult learners have graduated from functional literacy training. The rates of HIV transmission have decreased; those already infected are living healthier, more productive lives.

“Through Christian community development, Opangul has come out of ‘a hidden place’ and into the outside world with new opportunities,” says Okiror. What’s more, the message of Christ’s salvation and his love in action through the local church has been strengthened by being at the forefront of this ministry.


A Man of Faith
Yan* is a wonderful example of what World Renew’s ministry is all about. Rather than sending staff to teach literacy classes or provide training in agriculture, World Renew equips local churches to carry out these ministries.

World Renew believes that God calls Christians everywhere to love their neighbors and to care for those in need. As many North Americans have discovered, when they respond to this call they are as blessed as those they serve. By working through local churches to equip Christians like Yan, they experience the blessing of serving others.

Yan grew up in West Africa in an animist family. “One day I read a booklet called ‘The Voice of God,’” he said. “In it, I found John 14:6. That verse touched me profoundly.”

He began to follow Jesus, and one year later he enrolled in a local Bible school. When he finished training to be a pastor, Yan was sent to a small village as an evangelist for three years, to another village for two years, and then served as a pastor for yet another church for two more years. That’s when he realized something was missing.

Yan believed that the gospel’s witness could be strengthened by helping people meet their physical as well as their spiritual needs. Deciding to pursue further training, he traveled to a neighboring country to attend an agricultural and Bible school for an additional four years.

To pay tuition, he sold his bull. When that money ran out, he collected grass to sell as feed for other people’s animals. His wife supported him by making and selling shea butter.

When he graduated in 2009, Yan returned to his village with a goal of teaching rural communities about modern agriculture. Little did he know that he would soon become the answer to several years of prayer.

Many years earlier, World Renew’s local partner denomination had had a vision of someone ministering in a remote community called Y-town. Denominational leaders visited several times and obtained the blessing of the chief to have a Christian presence there. A Christian government employee visited the community periodically and established good relationships with village leaders.

The ground was fertile for Christian ministry, but the denomination could not find someone willing to move to this remote region to serve as a pastor.

Nearly a decade later, Yan had the training and the passion to fill this need. World Renew and its local partner supported him in his move.

“My local church asked me to travel to one village, load all Yan’s family’s personal belongings onto the roof of the World Renew vehicle, and drop the family off at their new ministry location several hours away,” said Steve, a World Renew staff member. “As we traveled together, he shared his vision: to teach people about agriculture so they can have better harvests and tell them about Jesus.”

World Renew and the local denomination equipped Yan and encouraged him as he tried to live out the main values of World Renew’s ministry: to be deeply present in a community and live out your faith by caring for people’s physical and spiritual needs.

Fast-forward two years. Today Yan is well-known in the community. Thanks to his work, lives are improving.

“Yan is a valuable resource person on many fronts,” said Steve. “He organized a grain storage program. He offered to negotiate with in-laws after marital disputes separated households. He teaches about HIV/AIDS at the local clinic. He arranges for small gifts for the best students in local schools. And he loves to teach people more about how to grow food.”

“I teach people about agriculture and the environment, composting, improved cooking stoves, zai holes, seeds, fertilizer use, vegetable production, pest management, seed priming, post-harvest storage, and other things that help them know about Jesus,” explained Yan.
The evidence of this hard work is visible.

“I was shocked to see such beautiful vegetables in a place that from the nearby paved road looks so barren,” Steve said after a recent visit. “Yan had shown the villagers how to use local plants to fight destructive insects and taught them about composting. Some women also explained that Yan had encouraged them to use manure in their fields, which resulted in significantly larger harvests.”

What’s more, this ministry has also had a spiritual impact. The people in Y-town are predominantly Muslim and animist. Before Yan’s arrival, some religious leaders had used a village loudspeaker to publicly criticize the Bible and the Christian faith.

These days people go to Yan’s house every Sunday morning to learn more about Christianity. Some of the religious leaders who publicly defamed the Bible have asked for their own copies so that they can learn more.

Even those who don’t want to convert have a newfound respect for the Christian church. When a strong wind blew the roof off the village grain warehouse, for example, many villagers believed that sorcery was involved. But the widow of a former village chief came to encourage Yan. “Keep praying” she said. “If you didn’t have your God, there would be a lot more trouble here.”

Yan is just one of hundreds of men and women who work for World Renew’s 75 church partners around the world. Please keep all of these men and women in your prayers as they continue to witness in word and deed to those in need.

*Because of security risks in the region, the names of the community, the country, World Renew’s partner, and World Renew’s staff member have been withheld, and Yan’s name has been changed.

 

What Is Community Development?

Community (n): a number of people having common ties or interests and living in the same locality.
Development (n): becoming bigger, better, fuller, or more useful.
World Renew considers that a community is being developed when its members are increasingly able to embrace and live out their calling as human beings bearing the image of God, marred by sin but being restored in Christ Jesus, receiving and expressing justice, mercy, and peace as evidenced in healthy relationships with God, neighbor, self, and creation.

 

World Renew at a Glance

  • Over the past 51 years, World Renew—formerly the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC)—has responded on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church to disaster, poverty, and injustice in 87 countries.
  • Currently World Renew works in 35 countries, partnering with 78 local churches and community organizations to equip them for work in their own communities.
  • Last year World Renew reached 462,061 people in 3,755 communities with long-term programs. It provided immediate and long-term assistance to 767,475 disaster survivors in North America and around the world.
  • This work was assisted by 3,429 volunteers who contributed more than 288,876 hours of their time.
  • World Renew does not receive Ministry Shares and depends on the generosity of individuals as well as church offerings and government grants to support its work. To learn more, read prayer requests, volunteer, sign up for news updates, or make a donation, please visit worldrenew.net.
  • Look for this year’s World Hunger Campaign materials, “Think. Act. Fast,” in your church starting in mid-October. Please join thousands of others participating in World Hunger Sunday on November 3.

About the Author

Kristen deRoo VanderBerg was part of the World Renew Communications team from 1999-2016. She now serves as director of Communications & Marketing for the Christian Reformed Church.

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