by Faustin Ntamushobora
I would like to challenge African ministers of Christ to think about the possibilities for self-reliance in our churches and ministries, and to immediately move to action.
When I read the article by William Ardill, “Begging and Beggars: A Missionary’s Dilemma,” in EMQ, July 2000, my reaction was, “I am not happy because the beggars are my fellow Africans.” In my response (published in EMQ, July 2001) I described the programs in theological colleges in Africa as not being relevant to the needs of Africans and as a result, unable to equip the minister to face the challenges of the moment.
Often, Africans are referred to as beggars. If we Africans do not think about our situation and seek a way for self-support, we will continue to be called beggars. So will our children.
I would like to challenge African ministers of Christ to think about the possibilities for self-reliance in our churches and ministries, and to immediately move to action. People have spoken enough; it is time to act.
Definition of the Concept of Self-reliance
Self-reliance is relying on one’s own abilities and efforts, a sort of independence from others. However, it does not mean, “never appealing to others for funds;” after all, all the wealth belongs to God (Ps. 24:1). Rather, it is putting one’s dependence on God; having a vision for oneself instead of waiting for people to do things for you. Self-reliance begins with one’s initiative and, when necessary, others can be called in to assist.
For example, the original meaning of harambee (pulling together) in Kenya meant that the person seeking help was to give his share first and then call friends for mutual help. Others could then voluntarily give their offering with joy which enables the person to become independent.
Christians are all one family and therefore ought to share what the Lord has blessed them with. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9:13, speaks about liberal sharing when he is describing the generosity of the Corinthians in giving.
Why Do We Need to Be Self-reliant?
The first reason for us to be self-reliant is that God has gifted and equipped all of us to do so. We all have something to offer and have abilities that are useful to society in general and the kingdom of God in particular. We just need to realize our full potential and make use of it.
We also need to be self-reliant to enhance our self-esteem, dignity, identity and self-respect. In self-reliance, we are able to control our destiny and develop our vision in a way that fits the cultural context, so that proposed projects become relevant to the needs of the community. This allows the members of the local community to reap maximum benefits from the existing projects. Finally, the struggle for self-reliance leads to new exploration and increased knowledge and skills.
Is There Any Hope for Self-reliance in Africa?
Some African Christians believe that the African continent is cursed; they lack the understanding of the plagues of leadership crises, tribal conflicts, human rights abuse, poverty and displacement of refugees, etc. With this kind of attitude these people adopt a laissez-faire type of life that leads them into pessimism and laziness. Nonetheless, Africa is blessed.
God had Africa at heart when he created the earth. After God created Adam, he planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden, from there it was separated into four headwaters. One of the four streams—in fact the second in rank—was Gihon, which was winding through the entire land of Cush (Gen: 2:9-13). God has not forgotten Africa.
Although some parts of the continent suffer from famine and scarcity of food, it does not mean that God has forgotten Africa. He cannot forget the continent of hospitality, a precious gift Africa has always expressed. She welcomed the man of God, Abram, when he came down to Egypt because the famine was severe in his land (Gen. 12:10). Africa also welcomed Jacob and his sons when the famine was in the land of Canaan (Gen. 42-46).
Africa’s hospitality was extended even to the Son of God. As a child, the Son of God became a refugee in an African land. Jesus is Emmanuel; God with us (Africans) as well as the rest of humankind. He understands Africa in her situation of war in Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Angola, Sierra-Leone, Sudan and Liberia.
God created Africans to be a merciful and compassionate people. When the Son of Man was suffering under the weighty cross upon him, Simon from Cyrene (Africa) helped him with the load (Matt.27:32).
God cannot forget the continent of missions. God loves Africa and wants to use her for his purpose. It was not in vain that when the Spirit of God descended upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, Africa was represented in Jerusalem. God wanted to involve Africa in missions from the beginning (Acts 2:10).
Many of the Church Fathers were Africans. Clement of Alexandria, who directed the Catechetical School in Alexandria, the first theological school in the world, was an African. Origen, who was the leading scholar of the early church, was an African. Tertullian, the first theologian to articulate a doctrine of original sin that clarified how Adam’s sinful nature was transmitted, was an African. Athanasius and Augustine, who developed the theology of predestination, original sin, and grace, were Africans (Robert, Pierard and Yamauchi, 1993).
Believing that Africa is cursed is a pure lie from the devil. Africa is a blessed continent with all the potential necessary to develop to the highest heights. Let us Africans rise and shine for the Light has come. There is hope and a promising future.
Besides the belief that Africa is cursed, today some Africans accept modern values in exchange for good traditional values. This creates an imbalance in African society, therefore hindering development. In addition, some community values are a real hindrance to development, especially those that encourage dependence instead of challenging people to be responsible and accountable. The weight of extended family obligations that some families are facing is one of the examples that encourage dependency. Corruption and poor management also hinder development in Africa. Finally, the economic systems in Africa whereby banks exploit the population instead of encouraging soft loans hinder the economic growth of many African nations.
Otherwise, self-reliance is possible for African churches and ministries. God has blessed Africa with many natural resources that her people can use for their development. Failing to exploit them for self-reliance can be regarded as a sin of omission. Speaking about the need for African churches to strive to be self-reliant, Bishop Zablon Nthamburi states: “The African Church will not grow into maturity if it continues to be fed by Western partners. It will ever remain an infant who has not learned to walk on her own feet” (McQuilkin 1999, 58).
Speaking on the same issue, Nyerere writes: “People develop themselves by joining in free discussion of a new venture, and participating in the subsequent decision; they are not being developed if they are herded like animals into new ventures. Development of people can, in fact, only be effected by the people” (1973, 58).
Self-reliance is not only a possibility, it is a necessity and can be attained by good stewardship and leadership.
J.E. Dillard defines Christian stewardship as the acknowledgement of God’s ownership, the acceptance of our trusteeship of life and possession, and the administration of the same according to the will of God (1953, 11).
The African church will not come to self-reliance unless Christians here understand that everything they are and have belongs to God. Cecil Ray, speaking about stewardship, states: “…in sin, man is a problem; but in Christ, man becomes part of the solution. Man joins God’s plan when he experiences salvation. Saved man is the world’s only hope for a reversal in the destructive course of man against things…In Christ, man finds purpose for his possessions. This enables him to fulfill his role as steward” (1974,39).
Dillard and Ray’s thoughts call us to consider the following issues in stewardship:
Human resources. The best resource is the mind. We are challenged to teach our people to think for themselves. Self-reliance means deciding one’s destiny—not blindly following ideas from others, which are often-times inappropriate and/or inapplicable. Once you are in control of your own destiny, you can invite others to participate in helping you get where you want to go.
African Christians should understand that people are resources that cannot be replaced; human resources are more valuable than any other resource. The presence of born-again Christians is already a symbol of God’s resources that can be used for higher production. The African church needs to value individual gifts.
Unfortunately, many church leaders are not accessing the rich resource of gifts that are available within the church body. Some churches have engineers and doctors in many fields, but all of this potential is not applied for the benefit of the body of Christ and the development of the community.
Why should a pastor struggle to write a project proposal to present to donors for funding when there is a graduate in Community Development in the church? Why should a pastor struggle to know the attendance and frequency of people in the church when he has someone in the church with a second degree in Demography? We have resources that we are not using!
Stewardship of natural resources. There is a tendency today to consider money the only resource. In many churches, when the pastor speaks about giving, he and the members think about money. Money is only part of the resources—people can give the product of their shamba (garden), firewood, water, etc. The African church will come to self-reliance if African Christians value their own resources.
This is why we in the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) are encouraging people to give classrooms, government halls, food and firewood to cook as local contributions when we hold training sessions.
The major problem in the African continent at the church and national level is that of poor leadership. All leaders in our continent have sight but not many have vision. By vision I mean “a mental image of a possible and desirable future state of an organization” (Warren and Nanus 1985, 89). There are two major reasons why there are not many visionary leaders in our churches. On the one hand, there is ignorance. Some leaders may have the vision but lack the ability to communicate effectively what they have in mind. On the other hand, others are capable but not ready to pay a price. People who made a difference in the past never did so by mistake; they paid the price for it. So should any visionary leader of today.
Many churches are blessed with human, financial and natural resources, but majority leaders lack a way of transforming these resources into tangible actions. Some other leaders have the idea but not communication skills, or are not good at empowering the people and building teams for effective ministry. Visionary leaders are necessary to attain self-reliance.
Practical Suggestions towards Self-reliance in the Church
At the concept level.
• Let us pray that God will raise more godly visionary leaders in our churches and ministries who are capable of conceiving, communicating and motivating people to common predetermined goals and objectives.
• Let us pray that these visionary leaders will be able to teach and train African believers toward biblical stewardship—a stewardship not on the lips, but a practical one.
At the practical level
Suppose that you are a visionary leader and you want to lead your church or ministry into a self-reliant plan. What steps can help in your endeavor?
Here are some suggestions to get your church moving toward your vision:
1. Conduct research aimed at establishing the problem or the present need of your people. Make use of the human resources you have in your church and community. Delegate part of the required tasks to the talented believers in your church.
2. Form a small team that will organize the process of self-reliant action and make it work. Let us call this social entity “a nucleus.” The nucleus will come up with the steps to be taken, plan the actions and reflect upon events to learn from them. It should be a team characterized by an intimacy of association, warmth, mutual support and trust.
3. Use this influential team to be a catalyst to the rest of the church members and community by explaining the goodness of the project. The team must express commitment in their task, so as to serve as a model.
4. Call a meeting and, together with the nucleus, explain to the rest of the church and community the project that you intend to start.
5. Take time to educate the church concerning the management steps that will be undertaken, and let them know the implication of these steps regarding their commitment to the task.
6. Involve the members in the process. Let the nucleus help all the members know that everybody has something to contribute.
7. Mobilize people for action. Appeal to the will. Use interpersonal communication and spiritual power as opposed to position power.
8. Make sure the nucleus is able to evaluate progress. Be an encourager in the process.
9. Put in place a system of accountability and transparency for handling finances; have a reputable board or committee for accountability.
10. Do your best to raise funds locally to create ownership and responsibility towards the resources.
11. Share the joy of the result with the whole body. Challenge people to do the same in their own communities, home cells and/or homes. This is development.
Self-reliance is important and possible in the African church and ministry. If we do not work towards self-reliance, then we will lack the ability to maintain our independence and freedom, and will remain dependent and beggars. It is challenging, nevertheless possible. Where there is will there is power; and with God everything is possible.
Ardill, William. 2000. “Begging and Beggars: A Missionary’s Dilemma,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly. (July) p. 328.
Clouse G. Robert, R. V. Pierard and Edwin M. Yamouchi. 1993. Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the Ages. Chicago: Moody Press.
Dillard, J. E.1953. Good Stewards. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman.
Nennis, Warren and Burt. 1985. Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper and Row.
Ntamushobora, Faustin. 2001. “Response to Begging and Beggars: A Missionary’s Dilemma.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly. (July) p. 281.
Nthamburi, Zablon quoted in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July 2002.
Nyerere, Julius. 1970. Freedom and Development. Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press.
Ray, Cecil A. 1974. Living the Responsible Life. Texas: Carib Baptist Publications.
Faustin Ntamushobora is an ordained minister from Rwanda. Faustin was a lecturer at the Baptist Theological College, Kenya, since the year 2000. In April 2002 he joined the African Leadership and Reconciliaiton ministries (ALARM) as the Africa Regional Director. Faustin is a graduate of Daystar University (MA).
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 490-495. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ. For Reprint Permissions beyond personal use, please visit our STORE (here).