For Further Reflection and Discussion
1. The Nakwamekwi Congregation ministers amid poverty and suffering. How does its experience challenge you and your congregation?
2. What poverty and suffering exists where your congregation ministers?
3. What compassionate ministries that “serve the poor and hungry and stop conditions that diminish the worth of persons” is your congregation involved in?
4. What is your congregation’s dream about the Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering?
5. What are you doing about it?
Abolish Poverty, End Suffering
by DAVID WARING, apostolic assistant
Herald, November 2012
In May 2009, when I began serving as apostolic assistant for the Africa and Haiti Mission Field, I accepted that for several years I occasionally would find myself outside my comfort zone. This became reality as I experienced life in many African countries and Haiti.
I have found great joy and seen great hardship. However, none of the journeys into cultures so different from my home in the United Kingdom prepared me for my visit to Lodwar, Kenya. In August 2011 I traveled there with Martha Owaga and Charles Kawuor (Kenya Mission Centre financial and leadership-development officers) to witness the hardship of life. I wanted to see how members of the Nakwamekwi Congregation were trying to live out Christ’s mission to Abolish Poverty, End Suffering while themselves amid poverty and suffering.
Lodwar, with a population of about 17,000, is the largest town in northwestern Kenya. Located west of Lake Turkana, it is in a region of harsh conditions and almost nonexistent facilities. The climate is hot and dusty all year with temperatures often rising above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The average rainfall is less than a few inches yearly. Droughts happen often. Currently Lodwar has had little rain since 2006.
In this economically deprived region, many people go hungry. Their lack of health and education opportunities is hard to grasp for those who take these as a normal way of life. Even facilities available elsewhere in Kenya and Africa are absent.
Although Lodwar residents may lack many material goods, they are mostly a hardworking and caring people who accept life as it comes. They share what little they have and take joy from nature and the company of one another. The ministry and teachings of Community of Christ captured the imaginations of this people in the mid-1980s with the planting of a congregation in Nakwamekwi, a village on the outskirts of this urban area.
Life is not easy in a place where hunger is a constant. Since the start of the current drought, life has become even more difficult. People can grow little fresh food and have little safe water. What food is available is of poor quality. Since its organization, the Nakwamekwi Congregation has played a valuable role in helping to ease hunger. It developed a farm that for over 10 years has helped to feed many of the town’s people.
Although the emphasis on the Mission Initiatives was identified in 2011, clearly this congregation has focused on Abolish Poverty, End Suffering for many years.
The news today from Lodwar, however, is not good. In 2006 disaster struck in two ways. First, it was the start of the drought. Annual rainfall since then has been zero in some years. Second, the River Turkwell burst from its bank, submerging the village and farm.
Lodwar sits on the bank of this river, which flows from Mount Elgon on the border between Uganda and Kenya to Lake Turkana. Heavy mountain rainfall in Uganda resulted in a catastrophe for the town. The rainfall was so fierce the river altered course, temporarily flooding the town and leaving the low-lying farm and six of seven wells permanently under water.
Devastated, but not despondent, the Nakwamekwi Congregation since has dreamed of creating a new farm on higher ground.
For these people Abolish Poverty, End Suffering is not an easy Mission Initiative. This congregation has continued to work hard to make a difference and has become a signal community that we all can learn from.
In visiting with the congregation and talking with its leaders, I have come to some small understanding of their struggles. I can testify that their dream has never died. Today, it is becoming a reality despite continuing struggles.
Early in 2011 they formed a committee to carry out strategic planning for developing the new farm. By June 2011 church-owned land had been identified. Clearing the dense forest began. But by August 2011, with only part of the land cleared, work stopped.
Pastor Ruth Arukudi explained why. She said congregation members had so little food and were so hungry that they physically had run out of energy.
In a spirit of support, Kenya Mission Centre leaders organized short-term aid to feed the congregation so work could continue. Close cooperation between the congregation and mission center leadership continued in applying for grants to complete the work, drill wells, buy generators to draw water from the river for irrigation, and buy seeds. In November 2011 World Hunger grants helped. Funding also enabled workers to erect a fence around the farm to protect the produce from theft and animals.
Today the dream to create this farm has not yet become total reality. Struggles continue. A problem with documented ownership of the church land has delayed things, but it is close to resolution. The harsh environment is an ongoing problem. The good news is that after further clearing, the congregation has achieved some planting and has started limited harvesting. The congregation sees any step forward as a blessing.
The dream has driven this congregation for years, and now it’s seeing results. This extremely difficult project has needed visionary congregational leaders and hardworking members. It has needed the support of skilled pastoral mission center leaders.
Nakwamekwi, with about 30 members, is not a large congregation. At 7½ acres, the farm is not large. But what’s remarkable is the congregation’s dream and its willingness to make it a reality in the harsh environment with few resources. The Mission Initiative of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering has been a real part of ministry through dreaming big and working hard.
The Nakwamekwi Congregation is a signal community. Members have not sat idle and waited for someone to come along. They have dreamed and worked. They have struggled, but they continue to be Christ’s hands and feet, reaching out through compassionate ministries to serve the poor and hungry and to improve conditions that diminish the worth of persons.