All too often exclusion is a trait that can unfortunately define the church and community in rural Africa. Some people are “good enough” for the church community and some people, definitely are not. It is more than just moral exclusion; it can be vindictive. The elderly or the different can be labelled as witches and become outcasts in their own community. The presence of traditional religion, rather than bringing liberation so often leads to accusation and strife. All this does is create even more division and exclusion. Distrust can grow like a cancer at the heart of a community.
Exclusion can manifest itself in many ways but ultimately it is always about gaining power and influence over others. One particular expression of this is commonly seen when people try to manipulate others is when those claim they have rich or influential friends and make false promises about what they could do. They will bait and gain influence over people by the very promises that they give. This happened to Elijah and Charles and this is their story.
Elijah & Charles
Elijah and Charles both live in Kapwila, a place that lies 20km north of Nakonde, right next to the Tanzanian border. It is a rural province with little infrastructure and Nakonde, the main town, is often overrun by trucks waiting to pass over the border.
Both Elijah and Charles are rural farmers who heard about the Dignity movement via an acquaintance in Nakonde. When they were first approached and promised all kinds of items and even salaries, they were suspicious. With other NGO’s and organisations that work in Africa, if someone is too willing to connect, too willing to help, it is easy to suspect that someone is trying to exploit you.
A group from the community asked Elijah and Charles to go and find out the truth by meeting with the Dignity team that was visiting Nakonde. Despite their suspicions, Elijah and Charles met with Bernard and Jon and were surprised to hear the message they were sharing. It was not about what Dignity would give them nor did it include promises of salaries – their friend had lied to them. Instead they heard that they did not need the presence of a significant friend or sponsor on the outside; they had themselves, their relationships, their resources and their hands. But most importantly: they had God. As they listened Elijah and Charles began to understand that this was enough! When they returned to their village, they were so happy to share that someone believed in them and their God given ability to find life themselves.
Inclusion in place of exclusion
Elijah and Charles returned home and shared what they had learnt with those who sent them. Using Plant (one of Dignity’s training books) Elijah and Charles were able to explain what they had learnt to everyone in their community. They shared the belief that those who know God in a community can unite disparate parts of a village, teach it to have faith and begin to work together to forge solutions and life for itself. Through a combination of storytelling and profound theology, they helped illustrate this. Using the story of the Giant Turnip they shared on of the most powerful lessons that Dignity offers; that everyone has a place.
Everyone is needed to change community and everyone is needed by God.
Upon hearing this, those who had been excluded by the church pushed back against those who had excluded them and said, “Jesus wants us to come to him; he came for the sick not the well. You cannot tell us we are not good enough anymore!” They demanded to be let in to the life that Jesus offers.
It is not every day that those who do not know God demand to know about him. It is not every day that those pushed out of respectable society, rush back in because they are embraced and valued. These newly encouraged people have come together in 3 Life Groups, meetings of 15-30 people who meet to learn about Jesus and how to work together for the community.
We have seen foundational changes in the people of Kapwila because they have begun to embrace the message of God. This is what Dignity works for.
Kapwila could have stayed under the influence of those who hold power for themselves and exploited others. Instead, through the Dignity movement, God has placed life and transformation right at the heart of the community itself, through the people that live there.