We went to learn, not to help

In August 2018, a group of four people from the Winchester Diocese School of Mission travelled to Byumba, Rwanda. They had one objective: to learn from Africans in mission. Spoiler alert: it happened.


It might sound unusual to hear a member of the clergy say he’s not interested in helping people, but Mark Collinson, Canon Principal of the Diocese of Winchester and Winchester Cathedral, is clear that the point of taking a pilot group of four people to Byumba diocese, Rwanda, this summer was not about helping people:

“We went with an attitude of learning, not helping. Some visits to companion links are to help people, but that wasn’t the model we were following this time.”

The four travellers included Canon Mark, another Winchester Diocese School of Mission staff member, one ordinand and one curate.

Essential experience

“We want all people we are teaching in the School of Mission in Winchester to get experience of learning cross-culturally because we want all licensed ministers, both lay and ordained, to integrate cross-cultural partnership into their future leadership ministry,” Canon Mark explained, adding, “Experiencing the fullness of Christ happens when we discover how Christ is incarnate in other cultures. The story of salvation can never be complete until cultural boundaries are crossed.”

One woman and three men seated
Winchester's learning team: Faith Bailey, pastoral support coordinator at Winchester School of Mission, Canon Principal Mark Collinson, curate Matt Clayton and ordinand Johannes Radvan

Part of the two-week visit to Byumba included joining with clergy and lay leaders from Byumba diocese in receiving Samaritan Strategy training from CMS-Africa. Having travelled to Africa previously with Bishop Tim Dakin, former general secretary of Church Mission Society, Canon Mark was familiar with CMS-Africa’s training programmes.

The Samaritan Strategy training was provided by Kenyan, Rwandan and Burundian facilitators. The Winchester foursome joined a class of archdeacons, area deans and representatives from each deanery from the Mothers' Union, Fathers' Union and Youth Union – 58 people in total. All the details were arranged by Karobia Njogu, cross-cultural mission manager for CMS-Africa.

The Samaritan Strategy training begins with the question, “Who is my neighbour?” From there, it encourages, prepares and equips local churches to bring about real, whole-life transformation in their communities. This involves a notable mindset shift towards recognising that God has already provided resources to help make that change; part of the task is to identify those resources and use them to the greatest effect. During the training, churches are encouraged to start Seed Projects that are resourced from within the church – these should be small, repeatable and meet social, educational, physical and spiritual needs.

Seeds of change

Covering all four areas, even through multiple Seed Projects, is a very important aim. This, says Canon Mark, is a key learning point for UK Christians: “Some of our most popular, pioneering programmes in the Church of England tend to focus on one of those four needs and yet a community needs to know that Christ meets need in all four of those areas.” He can definitely see a place for Samaritan Strategy to be taught in the UK: “It provides a useful critique for the way we do things.”

The team from Winchester were inspired by Seed Projects they saw in action during their visit: “Micro-finance for social enterprise was endemic and life transforming. Some urban parishes have micro-finance at small group level. Investigating this would be an interesting way of helping Westerners to share what they have in common and release funds for social enterprise projects.”

In addition to being small, repeatable and resourced without external funding, Seed Projects must benefit people outside the church and be devoid of any kind of manipulation.

Samaritan Strategy training delivered by trainer Rev Meshack Okumu, a CMS local partner working with Carlile College's Urban Mission in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya

Matt, the curate in the Winchester group, said, “One of the stories we heard was that the average rural worker in Rwanda earns about 800–1,200 RWF [per day], while a decent meal costs around 500 RWF. This essentially means that many families go without eating proper meals. Members of the church community have been fasting one day a week and giving the food fasted to a family in need – giving one whole day’s income to another family. Imagine the impact we could have by having the same attitude to reach the marginalised.”

Beyond the learning itself, the context for learning proved especially compelling.

The post-genocide disciples

The impact of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda remains profound. “At our very first meeting [in Byumba] Bishop Emmanuel talked about the big question facing the church, namely how could a country where 80 per cent of the population claimed to be Christian see the 1994 genocide? The conclusion is that despite professing Christianity nominally, many people do not grow into being disciples. Discipleship is therefore a big thrust for the church.”

As the team observed, this is not without relevance to the UK. Johannes, an ordinand in Bournemouth, said, “In the UK, we have… perhaps let go of some of the justice and holiness of God. That’s a mistake, because those who have perpetrated heinous evil, or who have had evil perpetrated against them, can’t relate to a ‘nice’ God. A God like that simply cannot face and overcome the ugliness of evil that is done in this world.”

Hearing how the church in Rwanda has gone through a time of soul-searching and responded to people’s physical and spiritual needs following the genocide was moving and challenging. Johannes reported a story about a man named Damass: “We met Damass, who lost both legs and one eye to a machete attack [during the genocide] as a child. … the community has embraced him, and look after him. He is now married with two children, and the village take it in turns to wheel him about.

This taught me about real church family and community.” Matt concurred: “[Damass] clearly mourned over his loss and injuries but was so obviously filled with the Spirit and overflowing with love for Christ and [the] church. This is so rare to find in the average church in the UK.”

Ahead of the curve

Yet what was learned in Rwanda goes beyond a simple lesson that faith can triumph over adversity. In a summary statement about the trip, one participant said: “In the wider secular, progressive, postmodern, information age, [people in the UK] often feel like we want all the positive impacts of the kingdom of God (society founded on joy and relationship, life spent with purpose, great reforms in education, healthcare, infrastructure, social care, etc.), however we don’t want the king of the kingdom. We want to be able to turn the praise back to ourselves, or even believe that the concept of a providing God is outdated. In Rwanda, we’ve learned the opposite culture, that in wider Eastern Africa, everything in life is spiritual, but it appears that the spiritual side is not connected with deeds…. Much of the teaching we heard was aimed at combating this…. The African culture, of ‘spiritual awareness’ is becoming more dominant in the UK, with the rise of religious pluralism; it is vital to learn these lessons ahead of the curve. Christians in the UK need to make sure we’re equipped to allow every Christian to be ‘fully mature in Christ’ – loving the Lord with all their heart and neighbours as themselves with practical demonstrations of social transformation.”

The mutual learning between cultures that took place in Rwanda was described by the Winchester group as “invaluable”. When asked if they will repeat this venture, Canon Mark replied, “Definitely. In fact there is a trip to Shyogwe diocese planned for February 2019.”

The Diocese of Winchester particularly values taking part in this kind of intentional crosscultural learning from global voices in mission – and would definitely recommend it to others: “By being in another culture we become more aware of the cultural boundaries in our own cultures…. We observe the way our brothers and sisters overcome the linguistic, cultural, spiritual, institutional and organisational barriers that hinder the mission of God. This helps us reflect on our own context as we join in with God’s mission in the UK.”

The Call in Action: LEARN

Find out more about some of the local leaders partnering with CMS, be challenged by them and support them, using the link below.

Published 20 February 2019

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