Friday, 15 May 2015

Can churches really change nations?  Let me tell you a story that gives me hope that they can.  Even really challenging nations like South Sudan where fighting has just displaced another 10,000 people.

Burning village painting at

It's the story of the community at Lozoh.  It's pretty remote.  We reached it by driving through the bush following just a wandering path.  And its history is a sad one.  In 1996 fighting swept through this village, the pastor was killed and everything was burned to the ground.  'There we no more tukuls (thatched huts), only trees'.

The people fled and stayed away until the year 2000 when they cautiously started to come back.  But how do you rebuild when everything's been destroyed?  And how do you develop when your own thinking is caught in reliance on others?  'Our vision was just waiting for the diocese to come and develop the area' says Pastor Noel, a tall man with a broad back and warm face.  We were cultivating 'small, small', just enough to eat but not enough to sell to cover other essential costs like school fees, salt or soap.  

However when Pastor Noel heard the ideas of church and community transformation he caught the vision.  One of the big challenges for Lozoh village was the quality of their school.  When they showed me 'here is the government school' I said 'where?'  You have to look hard to see it - it's just some benches under trees.  And even then the school teachers don't always show up.

The church decided it was time for change.  They shared their church building for the school to use and identified and sent 3 volunteer teachers for training.  They also worked out a system where 17 committed villagers work hard to grow additional food to support the teachers.   Now 80 children are benefiting and 'even this year more are coming'.  This type of change will last as there is no outside money involved.

Detailed community health data
This is just the start of change for this village.  On the next day the church and community were planning to meet to analyse the 22 flip chart sheets (!) of information that they have gathered to decide what next to change.  And their vision doesn't stop with their own community.  Pastor Noel wants to share this with 6 other communities nearby.  He didn't ask Tearfund to pay for this - he's just going to do it.

The Anglican denomination that Pastor Noel belongs want to spread church and community transformation across the whole of South Sudan. You can start to see how this troubled nation could be changed from the grassroots up. 

The international community contributes something like $560 million/ year into relief for South Sudan.  This provides key life-saving support but, given that it keeps being needed each year, this money doesn't seem to be fundamentally changing the country.  Maybe we need to look instead to ordinary people working with our extraordinary God for whom 'nothing is too hard' Jeremiah 32 v17.

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