The 25th and 26th October marked two great milestones in the calendar of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches. In view of ensuring that the fight against poverty and repression become an everyday occurrence, OAIC held an anti-poverty seminar and worship service on the 25th and 26th respectively.
Member churches of the OAIC from 17 counties in Kenya congregated at the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi at J.J. McCarthy Prayer House Riverside drive. The seminar and worship service saw diverse ideas emerge from the well diversified congregation which brought forth important strategies that if utilized well will ensure that the fight is not in vain.
The Director for Just Communities, Rev Phyllis Byrd stated clearly that God’s expectation of each and every person in their own capacity was tremendous. “As a leader, a mother, son, bishop, God expects all of us to do everything in our capacity exceptionally well,” she stated. “The word from the book of Micah 6: 8 states what God requires of us in our every day pre-occupation. We need to pray, fast, as well as indulge God in whatsoever ways we choose to use to fight poverty. We all need to have a divine partnership with God who is calling us and not think that it is somebody else’s responsibility.” She stated.
That it was important for everyone to become God’s eyes, ears and feet in order to be part of a transformative ministry which will in turn become a transformative nation. “God is calling soldiers to make a difference in their various communities. When God called Jeremiah, he was stubborn and told God, “I will not go to those people because they are stubborn, corrupt and won’t listen.” But God told him, “I knew you when you were in your mother’s womb and I have called you.” “God is calling you and me today to bring some change in society,” stated Reverend Phyllis.
Charles Abugure from the United Nations Millenium Campaign Office urged the congregants to stand together in order for the fight against poverty to be fruitful as it is not an issue that can be dealt with single-handedly.
A senior lecturer from the School of Journalism and Media studies, Polycarp Ochilo gave a resounding presentation on the impact of poverty in Kenya. The fact that as early as 1963, the government had started putting up measures to mitigate poverty with a slogan on fighting disease, poverty and ignorance yet 48 years down the line nothing substantial had been done was a sad thing to note.
“Is money an end in itself?” posed Ochilo. “Kenyans and Africans need to be concerned about other aspects of poverty and not just the lack of money which seems to revolve around very many things. We should understand that when people suffer from poverty of the mind, they tend to worship money than anything else. The mind and the heart controls questions of beliefs and as Christians, we should not concentrate on earthly gains. We should work hard not just for the present gain but also for the future and not necessarily money and thus God’s will for all of us,” stated Ochilo.
The fact that Kenyans are divided along ethnic lines has been used by the leaders to divide them in order to rule them which could otherwise be used to unify the country by encouraging the different positive values in all ethnic communities. Negative ethnicity has become a source of poverty in the country as people tend to concentrate more on other’s tribes rather than what they can do for each other. Giving example of countries like Tanzania which are not divided along ethnic lines, they inter-marry and co-exist peacefully.
“We are all created in God’s image and we are all equal before God. We should all endeavour to think about others and not just about ourselves. When growing up we used to cook food and put under the tree and by 6 pm we would all gather there to eat. When neighbours passed by we would invite them to share with us the meal regardless of whether we ate to our fill. This showed that we were positively sensitive towards others. Nowadays everyone eats with their doors closed under the pretext of civilisation,” stated Ochilo.
The global greed is affecting the world today as people care less about others. The fact that people could store food in the fridge for over two weeks or a month and in the end throw it away yet they pass a street child every day on their way to work is a reflection of the level of greed in society and this infiltrates everywhere. The professor noted that studies have shown that a lot of food is thrown away yet there are very many people dying of hunger. The fact that some families have several cars, for the father, the mother and even a car for the children, seeking to show people that they have “arrived” is a sad thing.
By encouraging the discrimination of genders which is mostly justified by the cultural practices should be discouraged as it enhances poverty. The fact that women were beasts of burden and still are in some places largely due to cultural practices should be discouraged at all costs. Everyone in society needs to work together to emancipate the woman as it is against God’s will to enslave them in whatever way.
Sin, lack of humanity, being uncivil towards others, lack of fairness are some of the reasons that enhance poverty. The failure to respect God’s commands, poor leadership of nation states are also some causes of poverty that were looked into. That the fight against poverty should not be an issue left to the Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Societies and Members of Parliament but rather, it should be everyone’s responsibility.
“If you don’t take part in electoral processes, you have no business complaining about anything. That is one reason that contributes to poverty. This is because the few who vote elect into office bad leaders who impoverish the citizens. These leaders mismanage resources and the result is a poor society,” stated Ochilo.
Peace is very important as humans need to be at peace in order to have happiness which will result into good results in all sectors of society. It is very unlikely that people will plan if they are not certain of their future. And thus the lack of peace is a recipe for poverty.
Corruption, nepotism, negative inclusion, misunderstanding, unfairness all undermine dignity of people which will eventually result to poverty. The unfair competition in the world is also a reason to worry. Of the entire wealth in the world, 80 % is owned by the industrialised nations while 20% is shared by the rest of the world. The dictatorship that is rife especially in Africa denies people the rights to participate fully in the development of their nations. The recent killing of Libya’s president Muammar Gadhafi brought to light some of the billions of shillings he had stashed abroad. Gadhafi had 34billion dollars in the US reserves and over 600 billion dollars in Italy and these are some of the reasons that encourage poverty in Africa.
Saudi Arabia is a desert country which has used technology that has enabled them export their cheap rice to Kenya while Kenya’s Mwea rice is not able to move from the shelves as it is more expensive. People tend to buy the cheap Pakistani and Egyptian rice from the stores. The fact of the matter is that these countries offer subsidies to their farmers and thus it becomes an unfair market place for the local farmers and this is just a reason why Kenya farmers are not well off unlike other countries, the professor noted.
“Vietnam is the 2nd producer of the world’s best coffee after Brazil yet they never used to do coffee farming. Kenya used to produce some of the best coffee in the world but not anymore. The Vietnamese came to learn everything from Kenya on coffee and now they are on top of the game. The fact that there is no corruption in the processes ensures that these countries reap maximum benefits,” noted Ochilo.
The impacts of poverty is that it undermines human dignity and the level of competitiveness dwindles. Even culturally poor people are not respected or even heard. “Poverty kills happiness, confidence, levels of socialisation, creates unhappiness, negative tensions, amongst us. If everybody had enough to eat, we would not be fighting now. Kenya has everything it needs to avert some of the troubles we see as it is a very beautiful country. It is a sad reality that poverty makes people unaware of what they are capable of achieving. Enhanced greed and nepotism has enabled people to take more than they need and thus corruption thrives.
“Solutions to issues of poverty will require us as Christians to think anew of our mission on earth as God’s children and renew our faith and belief. We need to solidify the current useful Christian foundation through justice, faith, fairness and Sharing. There is need to promote democratic governance, equity and transparency as well as unity in diversity. Ethnicity is no crime as its God’s destiny. Promote positive culture to become national culture while deemphasizing the negative ones,” urged the professor.
The donors like the International Monetary Fund lends the developing nations money and for every dollar borrowed, the country repays 2 to 3 dollars as profit and this is poverty itself.
“Did poverty come after Jesus left?” posed one bishop during the seminar. Ochilo responded by stating that the fact that there were fewer people and less complications, earlier on poverty was not rife. The fact that also the people who took up leadership positions after independence were not able to be effective stewards of the resources then, lead to the few billionaires and millions of poor people.
“As a country we had a foundational problem. Before Kibaki’s tenure there was a lot of misallocation of resources, the political rationale then saw the total neglect of infrastructure which saw farmers who could not even take their produce to the market and this enhanced poverty. Currently the development happening in the country is being funded locally by the taxes paid and very minimal donor funding. This is a big improvement as we can see people generating wealth for themselves. We need to promote the culture of stewardship of resources and ensure that we never go back to the post election violence experiences in 2007,” stated the professor.
He also noted that in order to effectively tackle poverty, there must be structural planning, as well as ensuring that the rule of law is adhered to the latter and move the society forward. “The current Chief Justice may look soft but I know him to be firm and I am sure that people go to jail for all the atrocities they committed. Accountability is key if anything is to be achieved,” stated Ochilo.
He urged the church to be in the forefront when it comes to the civic education especially on devolution matters which would ensure that the National and county governments are accountable to all. The congregants discussed a lot of issues ranging from Justice, righting wrongs, analysis of oppression and means of changing unjust social structures among others.
From the groups discussions it emerged that some problems in society that tend to enhance poverty include: misconceptions about women in leadership, stereotypes, lack of transparency in leadership which in many instances led to the stealing of the Constituency Development Funds, (CDF), Tribalism, Nepotism, Poor government policies, drugs and drug abuse.
Unemployment, high illiteracy levels, unstable marriages, ignorance, uncaring society, customs and traditions, greed and selfishness and disunity in the church.
The solution to such problems would be to change the unjust social structures, sensitizing the different congregations on the roots of corruption and ways of dealing with it, the need to revisit Christian values, promote unity in the church, voting wisely, as well as holding the government accountable through various means to ensure that they develop good policies. They also noted that the church needed to take charge and be part of the constitutional implementation process if any headway is to be made with regards to justice and poverty.
The fact that God requires everyone to respond to poverty and injustice should motivate people to want to kill the self-centred nature in them, greed, unfair distribution of resources and instead search for the prophetic voice to guide the society.
On the second day of the workshop saw the climax of the event. The launch of the two “babies” was a milestone for OAIC. The launch of the comic book and the anti-poverty fact sheet that the organization has been working on was a big feat as they will endeavor to share some of the ways that the church can utilise with their congregants to tackle poverty.
Pastor Kenneth Ambani stated that a lot needed to be done by the churches as Christians in the country are over 70 % yet evil still persisted on the watch of Christians.
“We are the people experiencing the problems and we need to wake up and make things happen. We need first of all to change ourselves before we can reach out to the multitudes. I have learnt a lot from the two days that we have been here and I promise that I will mobilise my community and we will use the little resources in our hands to bring change in society,” he stated. “ We have seen women perform better in many places and it is a high time we ensure that more ladies are included in the executive posts for effective decision making processes,” he added.
The reading of the day came from the Book of Mather 9:9-13 spoke of Jesus and his disciples performing wondrous works. Jesus saw Mathew sitting in a tax collector’s both and he asked him to follow him which Mathew did willingly. We see instances of very many sinners, tax collectors, who came to sit with Jesus which displeased the Pharisees. They asked His disciples what he was doing sitting with the bad people and they replied “Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners”. Verses 18-26 speak of how Jesus raised up the dead daughter of a man , he healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.
Reverend Dr. Japheth Ndhlovu who was the main preacher gave a phenomenal sermon. The news of the miracles performed by Jesus spread all over the region and he had many people following him. The Reverend noted that Jesus performed many miracles that saw many lepers healed, straightening withered limbs, by just the touch of his hand the blind could see, the deaf and dumb could hear and speak, he was an exorcist who cast out demons as well as raising the dead.
“The gospel reflects on how the early church was. Jesus had power to heal, feed the hungry, comfort, make the blind see. The early church believed in that kind of Jesus. The fact that he preferentially opted to deliberately side with the poor, the oppressed and the forgotten in society speaks volumes about his ministry. All the miracles he did was not for his glory but for the glory of the kingdom of God. Jesus did not attract attention to himself but to God. Which tells us that there is need for a heart of conversion and acknowledgment that the rulership of God is in our lives. We should all thus follow the example and proclaim the love of God, love our neighbours, fight for justice and ensure that we are people of action. As Christians, we ought to continue Jesus’ work by committing to salvation and baptism and ensure that the cruelty happening in the world does not win over good,” stated Reverend Ndhlovu.
The reverend urged the congregants to turn their compassion to action and ensure that they speak up for the voiceless. “Jesus was very radical when calling for action. Take action, it might be painful but take it anyway. We need to respond with hope, compassion, action, humility and walk the talk which will see us uphold the cause for the poor and the needy,” he added.
During the launch of the new OAIC “babies”, Reverend Phyllis who has been the brainchild of the initiatives was excited that like the traditional African ceremonies when a child is born they are celebrated and take action. “The comic book and the fact sheet will enable people to personalise the millennium goals to their personal divine interventions and ensure that the fight against poverty becomes everyone’s daily responsibility. The fact guide book is an incisive look at the facts about poverty in Africa and presents them in an easy to read guide book. There are challenges to the reader to see if they can empathise and take action from thereon. When we came up with the idea of a fact book we did not just want to share the information only with the AIC churches but rather with also the main churches as it would ensure that as many people as possible are Aware, are able to Analyse the issues and Act(AAA),” stated Reverend Phyllis. We also considered the youth in our interventions on poverty and came up with the Vine and Braches comic book. Just like Jesus who was the Vine and his disciples the branches, it helps us to understand that we are connected to each other. Ethnicity should not scatter us. All branches are one, we are the part of the whole- vine- which means I cannot do without you even if I am of a small ethnic group,” stated the Reverend during the launch of the comic book and the fact guide book.
The launch was circumvented in a lot of song and dance from African tribes. November 11th will see the distribution of the two anti-poverty interventions.
The Chairman of OAIC Kenya Chapter Elisha Otieno thanked all the people who had ensured that the anti-poverty workshop and seminar was very successful.
“ Attending workshops and speaking with small voices is not encouraged. We all need to think afresh of our mission on earth and renew our faith and belief. We need to appreciate the critical role women, youth and children play in our society and thus the need to promote equity and fairness. It is high time we built capacity that would ensure we rediscover our voice as church and speak up and ensure that the governments are accountable. We should remember that we have been presented with tools that can be used at the grass roots so that our presence and participation can be felt,” he stated.
The General Secretary of OAIC Reverend Nicta Lubaale while closing the two day deliberations noted that it is an opportune time for Christians to change the world. The fact that there are people who are willing to influence others wrongly should be an encouragement enough for Christians to who are spirit- filled to intervene and change the world to be a better place for everyone.
“It’s possible for every child to go to school and receive quality education, decent housing, for pregnant mothers to give birth in decent hospitals and the children to survive and live to maturity. In Kenya alone we are targeting to have a million people on the move to ensure that the fight against poverty is an everyday responsibility. In Africa we intend to have over 10,000 congregations which will strive for the same cause,” stated Reverend Nicta.
“We will continue to do pastoral work and encompass the prophetic voice. We will keep the leadership accountable and ensure that they don’t take the citizens for granted. There is conference coming up in Durban that is going to tackle issues on climate change. It is a high time we said that enough is enough. An upcoming summit in Korea is going to look at the effectiveness of aid. We need to ask questions and urge for the disclosure of the grants and loans advanced to our countries. We are the people who will pay for the loans, why are they keeping it a secret? The church shall seek to ensure openness in aid in Africa,” noted the Reverend.
He urged the congregants to be on the move and take action rather that just lamenting and withdrawing while making passive prayers. “ Let’s all get into active prayer. We shall not stop acting as it is possible to change the world we live in,” he concluded.
By Fiona Imbali