People are waiting eagerly for the rains. Last year they failed. In England we search the sky for a gap in the cloud cover which might permit the sun to break through for a spell and warm our faces. Here at this time of the year people scan the empty sky in search of rain clouds. The earth is dry. Everything is covered with a patina of brown-red dust: dust on the cars, dust on the leaves of the jacaranda trees whose lavender-blue flowers carpet the roadside, dust on your shoes and in your hair.
Driving to the so-called ‘dry areas’ of the diocese today took on the character of an expedition. Turning off the main tarmac road we careered onto dirt tracks that wind through the plantations of pineapples and papaya throwing up clouds of dust. Not once but twice the driver had to order everyone out of the bus because he couldn’t negotiate the huge ruts in the road with all of us on board. The sun burned down hot on the back of our necks as we prayed that the bus hadn’t got a puncture and we end up stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Our destination was a small rural community of Kianjugu where CCMP (Church and Community Mobilization Process) or Umoja has enabled the local church to grow in confidence and self-reliance. Umoja means ‘togetherness’, a concept deeper than solidarity and richer than teamwork. People discover energy for developing their community through meditating on Scripture and Jesus’ challenge to us to be salt and light in the world, bringing savour to what is bland, and light to situations of chaos and confusion. Rather than being dependent on hand-outs from the government with officials who tell them what they need, the local people work it out for themselves, and this process of ‘awakening’ begins with the worshipping community itself. Their life together embodies the African proverb to perfection: ‘I am because we are’. They are the antidote to Western individualism.
It was with a mixture of pride and profound humility to be thanked for our support of this initiative: pride because this pattern of community development is being sponsored by various parishes in Devon, and humility because they have so little and we so much. The local people have paid for and built themselves a brick church to replace their old mud church before it is finally devoured by the white ants.
Like the story of the widow’s mite in the Gospel, these people give sacrificially and do so with joy, knowing that God will honour their faithfulness. Neglected strips of land are being brought back into production. One family had bought avocado and mango seedlings and was busy cultivating them. Another lady boasted of the French beans she had grown. We met the new churchwarden, a young man called Francis aged 21. Would that the body of our hard-working churchwardens were energised by an injection of people in their 20s!
A similar experience of community transformation awaited us at Thungururu. On arrival we were greeted with a spectacular display of dancing and singing by the girls from the local primary school to the beat of African drums. Their energy was unbelievable. Local farmers brought their produce for Bishop Julius to bless: sugar cane, goats’ milk, gourd, beans and cassava. These were some of the fruits of ‘Farming God’s Way’, a project designed to address food security.
Farmers have been taught how to mulch the land to minimize the effect of evaporation and to harvest the water through water pans. We were taken to huge artificial pond they have created. Dug out by hand and lined with silt, it is the only water supply for the entire community. In Devon we have fresh water in abundance and easily take it for granted. Here they raise the roof singing to the God of the Harvest who gives us not only our daily bread but water to quench our thirst.