14 May 2009

AfriCom set to grow

If you had visited Hope Land base in Jinja, Uganda, over the past few weeks you would have noticed a buzz about the base, a cheerful intermingling of people from all over the world as old friends greeted one another and new friendships were formed. You might have noticed two guys huddled over a computer as one taught the other how to use Photoshop, or groups doing interviews to camera, as nearby someone clutched the new/old laptop they had just been given, hoping they could figure out how to use it!

It’s not a catchy name (Communication, Research & Information Technology) but for the past 6 years CRIT has been helping people to catch the vision for effective communication; communication that builds relationships in such a way as to help YWAM become stronger all over the world.

There is a tendency for us to think about communication as the things we do in order to communicate – the articles we write, the websites we run, the logos we design or the footage we capture. Of course, it is all those things, but at root it’s about building understanding among us, getting us connected to one another. It’s about who we are and what we value.

This reality was foremost in our minds as we converged on Hope Land base at the end of April. On the technical side, we had no idea if there would be power cuts during the showing of our video or Powerpoint presentations; we wondered if the speed of Internet access would allow any of us to stay in touch with loved ones or keep up with our emails. But most of all, we knew that we were to be a very multi-cultural group and in that context we were desperate to focus on connecting people to one another, not just to the Web.

CRIT has always been a very interactive event. It’s not a conference or a training time but a time for discussing together some of the communication challenges we face as a mission and together seeking creative solutions. There is a wonderful dynamic when people with less-developed communication skills, but lots of experience of the challenges, sit down with people who have been working in communication for a while. To walk around and observe CRIT working groups is to see a beautiful picture of our incredibly varied and diverse missionaries standing alongside one another, of being harnessed together with a common purpose. At the end of this year’s event Larry Wright, a pillar of YWAM’s International Communication Network, commented “We’ve taken some real practical steps to build the communication highways in YWAM, and we’ve done that together.” It was a highlight this year that there was a marked flow between our times of praise, prayer and devotion and the practical outcomes of the working groups. As Tim Heathcote, a member of AfriCom, enthused “We’ve talked about healing the nervous system, but here we’ve really seen that happening and it’s beautiful.”

For some participants the healing was also very personal. Jeanine is a Burundian YWAMer who works at the primary school on Hope Land base. Along with around 30 local and regional staff members, she took part in the week-long Basic Communication Workshop that preceded CRIT. Having been impacted by both the practical and values-based components of the workshop she decided to also attend CRIT, where she played a key role in the working group focused on developing Communication Teams. Jeanine’s comment touched us all: “I have received more healing over these 2 weeks than at any time in my life, even during my DTS.” When we value communication we value people, we respect them, we say, ‘I care about you, your contribution is important.’

Agnes Ichodu is one Ugandan YWAMer for whom CRIT will lead to some very real changes. She worked in the same working group as Jeanine, discussing with several others the communication challenges faced by YWAM in the region of East Africa. Together they decided that this region needs its own communication team and that they – with their newly acquired skills – could help get things started. Agnes, previously a primary school teacher, did her DTS last year in the north of Uganda and more recently completed the School of Field Journalism in South Africa. She says, “CRIT meant a lot to me because through it I came to know so many people who are working in communication, or who want to. In East Africa so many programs have failed because of poor communication and there are so many good things happening that we don’t hear about, for the same reason. A Communication Team brings hope to the region because so much more can be done when we communicate well.”

Communicating well is the overall goal of CRIT – whether on our bases, across regions or as a global missionary movement. And this year we all took another small step towards making that a reality.

By Miranda Heathcote

13 May 2009

Farming - a mission field

This year Sam Abuku will turn fifty. He can look back on over twenty-five years in full time ministry in Uganda, but knows that he must prepare carefully for his future. There are few grandparents in YWAM Africa, and Sam reflects on the reason - as people enter their forties the rising costs of children’s educations, weddings, and fears for the future forces many to leave the mission at this stage. “If we are to do all that God has put in our hearts we need to think and prepare. I have two hands and a head, I have to creatively think about how to sustain my family in the future, or I could become bitter at the Church if my support dries up. This is the biggest challenge facing us in YWAM Africa.”

Sam and his wife Agnes pastored churches in Soroti for twenty years. After years of partnering with YWAMers they did a CDTS in Harpenden in 2002. Upon their return to Uganda they spent six months in Soroti, processing with their church their desire to join YWAM. The church released them to help pioneer the YWAM Arua base, and has supported them financially ever since. With their years of experience, and having raised seven children, Sam and Agnes are now a backbone to the thriving Arua base. Their heart for leadership development and family ministries is seen in all that they do and teach.

The Abuku family have talked openly about the challenges of living long term in YWAM. Together they have come up with a family plan to build security for their future and influence other families. The financial support from the Soroti church covers the Abuku’s staff fees and children’s schooling. Any extra gifts have been used to slowly build the family home in Soroti town. “We have never been in a position to save money, but have chosen instead to invest in land and houses.” Now that the town house is nearing completion it can be rented out. The finances from this will start to fund the real family vision, which lies 40km out of town in the village.

Here Sam has bought over 60 acres of fertile land, and begun to build the family farm. They are calling it ‘Mairomu Kaga’ (Christ family concern programme). Five acres of maize have recently been planted, and this year they hope to plant three acres of pineapples, an acre of orange trees, and develop some beehives. In the town house the Abukus will stockpile maize bought in the village, later in the year when prices have risen they plan to sell at a profit to the UN. If all goes to plan several huts will be completed on the land to house workers.

Whilst Sam and Agnes continue to live and minister in Arua, their eldest sons, who have diplomas in Development Studies and Business Administration, will work at establishing the family farm. In the future they dream of poultry, a large fruit orchard, and a family home. The farm should provide a secure income for the family, a solid investment for the future, and be a model for how the extended family can live and work. Sam and Agnes have already run Holy Trinity Brompton’s ‘Marriage Course’ in Arua, and plan to use it on the farm. They envision the farm as a place where families and couples can stay, be discipled in marriage and family life, and learn about sustainable development within the rural African context. Outreach teams from Community Development schools could teach and invest in the lives of local leaders and rural farmers.

This holistic vision for the extended family to disciple other families within the home environment has come after years of discussion and prayer within the Abuku family. With hard work and God’s favour it has the potential to provide a YWAM family with long tern financial security, and be a rich source of blessing to others. Sam and Agnes will also have modeled how to wisely and intentionally grow into grandparents within YWAM Africa.

By Tim Heathcote

Breakfast in Uganda, lunch in Sudan, tea in the Congo…

We left the YWAM base early, and thumped along the bumpy dirt road to Koboko, close to the Sudanese border. Four people, shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of an old Peugeot, dust billowing around our faces, chickens, goats and cyclists scattering in every direction as we jolted past. Breakfast was a stand-up snack of hot chapattis, freshly cooked at a roadside stall.

Two hours later we had crossed into Sudan and reached the border-town of Kaya. Dozens of heavily loaded trucks lined the road, waiting for clearance to continue up to Juba, the main city of New Sudan, as the bottom half of Sudan is called. Pouring rain welcomed us, and the potholed red-dirt road quickly turned to a running stream. Our host Tijwog met us and took us for lunch in a small restaurant. Posters cut out of magazines lined the walls: Barack Obama surrounded by photos of ‘Africa’s strong Presidents’, with centre-stage given - to Pam’s delight - to Robert Mugabe. Lunch was a delicious feast of keserah – a dustbin-lid sized chapatti-style staple, made of maize flour – with five various sauces ranging from a Dinka-meat dish called sheiya, red and spicy, to an intestines and ochre sauce, green and slimy.

Tijwog took us on a tour of the ‘Prayer Mountain’ where he lives, showing us the primary school, small radio station, and various vocational training programmes he runs with Bedpiny, his wife. I first met Tijwog and Bedpiny three years ago, when they were students on Arua’s Crossroad’s Discipleship Training School. The Sudanese couple had lived for years in Cairo, pastoring in a large international church, before moving back to war-torn southern Sudan as missionaries to their own people. Now they own 60 acres of land, on a granite outcrop with spectacular views of the region, just outside Kaya. The visionary couple have sacrificially pioneered a range of projects, and are desperate for partnerships with others to help their work move to another level. Ironically, they find if far harder to raise finances now that the war is over, just when the rebuilding work is actually possible. People give to war zones, and whilst the Darfur refugee camps in the west capture the world’s attention, southern Sudan is being forgotten.

Having had breakfast in Uganda and lunch in Sudan, Tijwog jokingly announced that we needed to take tea in the Congo. So we drove in his Pajero deeper into Sudan, until we reached the Congolese border, just before a small town called Bazi. Tijwog lives in the south-westerly corner of Sudan, where the corners of Uganda and the DRC all meet. The Sudan-Uganda border was a bustling place, full of travellers and trucks. The Congolese border, by contrast, was a bush-affair: a simple metal boom across the mud track, the customs and immigration officials sitting in two small grass thatched mud huts. We greeted the officials, and were allowed to cross into the DRC briefly to chat with some soldiers. Arabic greetings switched to French as we introduced ourselves. Pam, the Zimbabwean, was once again greeted with delighted exclamations of ‘Robert Mugabe!’ and asked ‘so you are the one who chases away the whites?’

Driving along a little way, we stopped in Bazi. The houses on the east of the road lie in Sudan, those on the west in the Congo. So we turned left into the Congo, entered a tea-shop, and drank chai - black, hot and sweet as honey.

As darkness closed in on us later, high up on the peak of Tijwog’s granite mountain, we sat in his house listening to some of his story. The night was windy and very cool, so we all opted not to take a cold bucket bath, deciding instead to sleep covered in the red-dust of three different countries.

By Tim Heathcote

Journalism student reporting from Southern Sudan

I found myself on a mountaintop with the border of Uganda on the horizon, the Congo behind me and the vast canvas of Sudan to my right. The land was green and lush, satisfied with the evening rain. In the distance I could see the tin roof of the “Christ Ambassadors' School”, a school that has become a glimmer of hope to many young children. I knew this was a very strategic place, and to be able to be there was special in a unique way.

The mountain is known as the 'Prayer Mountain' and is owned by a former YWAMer who, together with his wife, had the vision to start a school there in the midst of war. Their heart is to educate children, teaching them biblical principles so that their generation can be transformed. This is the only Christian school in the district and has become well known for the excellent standard of education on offer. This has come at a cost for Tijwog and his wife Bedpiny, for this is not just a ministry but a lifestyle of service; they have invested time, money and their lives fully to see this work established. The school started out small when they began taking in children to stay in their own home. Some of the children are orphans; some of them are Muslim; they decided all are welcome. This ministry - that started from such a simple vision – is now giving 243 students, including 43 boarders, a Christian education.

Times are hard. Many rejoiced when the war ended in Southern Sudan in 2005, but this has resulted in donations from international aid organisations to the school stopping. Ironically it is harder to run the school in peace than in war. Tijwog and Bedpiny are unable to shoulder the costs of running the school themselves. In order to survive they have started charging school fees, thus limiting access to good education to those who can pay, preventing destitute children from attending school. And what future is there without an education in the world today? Tijwog and Bedpiny admit that if a child is sent away from school twice for lack of funds and still returns, compassion overwhelms them and they allow the child to return to school for free.

Alongside the chatter of happy children, another voice can be heard on this mountain of prayer. Tijwog had the idea to start a radio station, one that is able to broadcast beyond the borders of Sudan because of the elevation of the transmitter. Tijwog hopes that this solar-powered radio station will reach people from the district with the gospel, and with local news. He also hopes to use some of the finances raised through advertising to support the school. It is a good partnership, although there is a need for radio broadcasters with formal training, and equipment.

I felt privileged to get a glimpse into this unique work in Sudan, to see what can be accomplished when people persevere despite the odds. People like Tijwog and Bedpiny are the precious jewels of the Kingdom of God, whose worth and work cannot be measured.

By Lydia Smit

12 May 2009

On Air

“Newsroom, Marie speaking”
The words sound unreal, I’m actually working at a radio station!
Working with radio has always been an underlying passion inside of me. I had no knowledge or experience with it, but decided to give it a shot to gain an understanding. I got the opportunity to do an internship at the Christian radio station in Muizenberg, South Africa with Radio CCFM 107.5 after my lecture phase at the SOFJ. The environment was just as hectic as I thought. I was immediately placed in front of a computer in the newsroom. Fresh press releases were handed to me to rewrite in my own words to be read for the next news bulletin. I became responsible for news other people hadn’t even heard yet. My primary concern was that I had only written for print media. We had done a week in the school on Radio Broadcasting. The first thoughts I could remember from the radio week at this moment were “Write as I speak, Write as I speak.” I have now been a radio intern for 4 weeks and everyday consists of multiple recordings of interviews over the phone. I also edit the sound bite, rewriting news and practising my own voice to eventually be live on air. I believe my time here is going to equip me with the knowledge and experience I need for the future.

07 May 2009

Change of Perspective

Doing the journalism school here in South Africa changed my thinking and perspective. I learned many new things.
I am working with YWAM Kickoff, the team that is in charge of coordinating and mobilizing teams wishing to come to South Africa next year. The main attraction will not be the World Cup, but our main attractions are all South Africans and visitors who will be present here. We want to be in different cities, trying to cover the entire South Africa, through the different teams that are coming from different countries.
My job is to communicate with all these teams that are willing and have the desire to help in different areas. I am in charge of the whole Latin American area, making contacts, sending information and creating a network to stay connected. I am also working on the creation of an information pack for people to have fresh information on events and outreach objectives. I am designing the newsletter and I write some articles for it. I am thinking of ideas to help and improve the materials we have already and creating others.
The work is just starting, there is plenty to do. Because of this work, my plans have changed and I am going to stay another year here in South Africa.
The journalism school was only the beginning. Now it all depends on what I have learned and will continue learning.
For all of you, Cristian Urrutia from Muizenberg, South Africa.
Dedicated to my father on his birthday.