In what ways is the Church in Africa helping communities innovate to solve their problems?
Often when we think of innovation, we think of technology. But in the social space, the Church is innovating. Most African communities have a rite of passage when boys and girls become adults. Some of these have not been biblical, such as female genital mutilation. Our church partners have reinvented these to create biblically based rites of passage. That is social innovation where it didn’t exist before. And of course, rites of passages are core to identity formation, so these new rites of passages are helping create a new identity of what it means to be a Christian in an African context.
Another innovation is community savings and loan programs. Caregivers of Compassion beneficiaries form groups of up to 50 people. They receive training and hold each other accountable to save an agreed amount regularly. The pooled savings are available for lending to members at reasonable interest rates. This has enabled low-income households to mobilize savings, access affordable credit and improve their economic well-being. In addition, these groups have tremendous social and spiritual value — inclusion, psychosocial support and discipleship.
Young people are also being developed in their skills and knowledge. They are enabled to develop skills such as computing, they can attend technical vocational training, they can grow as leaders and they can learn entrepreneurship.
What do you want North American Christians to understand about the Church in Africa?
We need to have a balanced picture of what God is doing in Africa. Yes, there is need. Yes, there is poverty. Yes, there is suffering. But out of that, the Church is shining. Africa has one of the youngest populations, and we are unleashing a new generation of young people growing in the Church. The Church is relevant in Africa. It’s right in the midst of the African reality, so there’s a vibrancy that is in the Church and through the Church. Sometimes I liken the African Church to an African market. It’s a beehive of activity. Sometimes it might seem like bedlam, but there is a vibrancy and focus. That’s a story Compassion has helped to build — where the Church is light, it is salt, it is relevant, it is hope and it is creating a balanced narrative.