Friday, October 17, 2008

Comment on the Church in Africa

A great commentary in the Guardian today about the Church's role in Africa.

As many world travelers and aid workers will tell you, despite being hungry, sick and destitute, the children are still happy. The women who have lost the spouses to AIDS and have to provide by themselves still have hope. The Church gives them that hope and joy.

Mark Frost is an executive at the relief agency Tearfund. And he gives some concrete examples in his commentary.

The church is one of the few movements that is both local and global. It draws from an impressive portfolio of highly professional church-based organisations and denominational structures robust enough to fill the gap when states fail in their duty to provide vital services for the marginalised and poorest in society. As an international network it also has the ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to lobby policy makers to take up their responsibilities to eliminate poverty and provide those basic rights and services for all.

For more than 20 years, Tearfund partner Kigezi diocese has been delivering water and sanitation to households in remote mountainous parts of south-west Uganda, several hundred metres above ground and surface water supplies. Since 2006, 23 voluntary women's groups have been trained in masonry and have now installed 4,000-litre rainwater catchment tanks for the benefit of the poorest households. Kigezi diocese is now influential in national policymaking on water.

Elsewhere in Africa, the Churches Health Association of Zambia, a network of church-owned hospitals and health centres, provides nearly a third of Zambia's healthcare, and half of its rural healthcare provision. Ethiopia's Kale Heywet Church – which fields 6,000 congregations and more than 5 million individual members - is the largest local provider of antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. A network of 1,000 local church leaders in Rwanda are now rolling out a three-year programme to train 2.5 million Rwandans on how to combat malaria and rebuild peace through reconciliation.

And, in the thick of Zimbabwe's political crisis, church leaders have played a key role in disseminating information about what is happening throughout the remote rural communities, and have been some of the loudest voices speaking out against injustice. In addition, the practical day to day relief comes when pastors with their sleeves rolled up are providing water from huge tanks in church compounds, or running food distribution centres.

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