‘You can’t teach a man with an empty stomach. First, you need to feed him,’ said Bishop Julius as our bus pulled into the parish of Gitwe. We had been travelling for about an hour through beautiful countryside to the south-west region of the diocese. The hills and woods are peppered with blue jacaranda trees and red flame trees. On either side of the road are tea plantations, banana trees and fields planted with coffee bushes. This is fertile land, but the community of Gitwe we were visiting is poor. Typically the women farm their smallholding (and for small read very small) and the men work as day labourers to earn money.
We were greeted by thirty women singing in Kikuyu and ululating. They led us in a dance of welcome to their tin church, marching in the light of God. Their story is one of transformation through their participation in the Umoja process. One after another of the women came forward to testify how their lives and that of their families have been transformed by the CCMP (Church and Community Mobilization Process). So much so, that they have enshrined those values they want to be the hallmarks of their life in Christ in a song which they performed for us. These people sing with their bodies as well as their voices, with the women forming a chorus to the lead singer or cantor at the front who walks to and fro. At one point the women all turned to one another in threes, placing their hands on one another shoulders and swaying in rhythm to the music. This action, Bishop Julius explained to us, was a traditional sign of partnership.
So what were the values they chose to sing about? Love, generosity, hard-work, blessing God for his mercies, and not turning up late for church! No slackers here. What values would we as a parish/mission community/diocese like to enshrine in song so that our souls sing the music of our vision? There is no doubt that once again the Umoja project has energised whole families and percolated out into the community. Women have learned how to grow food in bags or sacks in order to minimise water loss. The food they now grow has improved their diet and raised its nutritional content. They and their children are healthier and happier. It is the story of the feeding of the 5,000 translated into family and community life.
After lunch we travelled to Gakui parish which is twinned with Willand. Our visit focused on a scheme of micro-finance set up and run by the diocese for the local community. The commercial banks aren’t interested in small businesses or subsistence farmers who have virtually nothing. Similar to a Credit Union, the scheme provides banking facilities for local people with affordable rates. The involvement of the bishop has meant that people trust the bank, confident that their precious savings won’t be syphoned off to line someone else’s pocket. Loans are offered at very modest rates to provide start-ups for local businesses and to date the default on repayment of loans has been less than 5%, which is remarkable.
The scheme has been running for twelve years now and has empowered people economically, especially women. In the words of Bishop Julius, ‘It has transformed the culture of self-pity that bedevilled this community and has generated a sense of self-reliance and community pride.’ These people too are marching in the light of God.