Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Transforming Mission: Relationship

Encountering God in One Another
Foundations of Ministry

We so often take it for granted that "relationship" is the core of Christian missions: Connecting with people is what underlying our activities, projects and programs. It is at the centre of all the striving that makes up so much of what we do whether in Canada, Africa or where ever God might call his people. But what do we mean by relationship?

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once made a critical distinction when it came to how we relate to one another. In his 1923 book, I and Thou, he wrote about how people so often fall into relationships that treat other people, and the world, as a means to an end. He called this the experience of "I and It" relationships. How often do we go about our days and fall into this kind of pattern? We are so task orientated and goal driven that the people we experience become mere objects within our lives that we see, hear, enjoy and judge from a comfortable distance. 

Buber believed that we were all created for a much more profound way of living, which he called the "I and Thou" encounter. Basically, this is what happens when we connect with people and the world,   as being intrinsically valuable. In the "I and Thou Encounter", both the "I" and the "you" share a mutual bond and connection. It is like the experience of talking to someone and feeling like you and they are the only two people in the world in that moment. It is the experience of true human connection. It is what it really means to know and to be known, and to love and be loved.

This type of relationship changes us and changes the people with whom we connect. It is about living in relationships of listening, empathy, and solidarity with people. As Buber wrote "The task of each of us is to affirm for God's sake the world and ourselves, and by this very means to transform them both." 

Women's Self Help Group Meeting 
Kariobangi, Nairobi

Fostering deeper relationships is one of the purposes of the weekly circle meetings in the Canadian Baptist Ministries' self help group initiatives in Africa. Groups of people gathering in their homes, schools or churches to share authentic relationships, which are the foundation of trust and compassion that shapes and supports everything else the group will do. 

Typically groups are small, ten people is ideal, because this gives opportunity for everyone to share, for everyone to participate, and for everyone to experience belonging. Relationship requires vulnerability, as we become open to our own sense of wounded-ness and as we share in the experience of suffering within others. Healthy groups often cry together, laugh together, sing together, and pray together. We have also discovered how mature groups will break free of the initial structured pattern of meetings, and meet more frequently and often just for the experience of being together.

The ultimate "I and Thou" relationship is found in God. We believe that God created us to live in such a relationship of loving union. Buber, from the perspective of his Jewish faith, saw Jesus as examplifying such an "I and Thou" relationship. In fact, he wrote extensively about Jesus and Christianity because he recognized, in Jesus, a quality of life that was missing in so much of his society. 

As Christians, we see the importance of Jesus' example, but more than that, we believe that Jesus transforms our encounter with God. In Jesus, God is transformed from the distant and complete other to the intimate divine Father. Or in Buber's words, in God we encounter the ultimate "I/Thou" relationship. 

"For God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19a).

This is Easter week. For many of our Muslim friends it seems a strange thing, the idea that Christians would talk about a God that became human, suffered and died. And yet this is precisely the centre of the Christian faith: God came near, God became vulnerable, and in his life, death and resurrection God shattered the distance between us and him. In Jesus, there is rebirth, resurrection, the impossible becomes possible, and all things become new.

SHG Leaders and Members

Please join us in praying for the work of our friends and colleagues as they seek to model healthy relationships. We are so thankful for the amazing team of people whom we are serving with in Africa.  Please pray for their safety and peace within the communities where they serve.

To learn more about the work of Canadian Baptist Ministries in Africa and around the world, please see our website at

Alamu and Rob
Literacy teachers in Kariobangi and Haruma, Nairobi

"What do romance, doing good business, and working for world peace have in common?  All require true dialogue – between lovers, between colleagues and competitors, and between groups of people or countries. More than accomplishments or ends, more than being right or wrong, more than what we own, relationships are the most important thing in life, according to Martin Buber. 'When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.' As we strive to understand, reconcile, and preserve our world, we are grateful for Buber’s perspectives."

-- Margaret Wakeley

Saturday, March 21, 2015

March Break 2015

The beautiful forest escarpment overlooking 
Lake Naivasha, Kenya

The Hoving's Tree House Getaway 
Naivasha, Kenya 

This past week, we enjoyed March Break with our children in a rustic forest tree house a few hours outside of Nairobi. We have had a great time playing board games, cooking together, and watching monkeys from our giant yellow Acacia tree. 

Each morning we had a troop of Sykes monkeys scampering across our roof and peaking in the windows. It was wonderful to wake up each morning to the sound of these playful rascals and the bird song around us.

At night the forest takes on a different life, with tree frogs chirping, along with the cries of hyrax and bush babies. It was a great family adventure.

Not far from the treehouse are a set of cottages where two other families from Rosslyn Academy stayed during the past two days. It was great to enjoy meals and a bonfire with the Gilmers and Leonards, and for our children to have some time to hang out and explore the forest walks.

Ava certainly enjoyed having other kids to play with!

Caroline and Emma

Ava reading in our bedroom window seat

It was great to be off the grid for a week with no internet or mobile phone coverage. Ava learned how to finger-knit and Erica crochetted. We usually go camping in a place where we can have campfires, but a big open fire wasn't a wise option in our Acacia tree, so this vacation was filled with candle lit evenings. 

Hanging out on the deck

A friendly Colobus monkey

We hope that March is treating you well, especially our family and friends in Eastern Canada where Spring still seems to be a long way off this year. Thank you so much for keeping our family and the ministry of CBM in your prayers.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Transforming Mission: Adult Literacy

Working Together

Helping women and men learn to read and write is an integral part of the the work of Canadian Baptist Ministries and our partner churches in Africa. Adult literacy projects are having an impact upon the lives of individuals, their families and their communities.

According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 38 percent of African adults are illiterate, and two thirds of these are women. Africa is the only continent where more than half of the parents are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy. And yet African governments spent less than one percent of their annual education budgets on addressing adult illiteracy. 

Illiteracy closes doors: inhibiting people from improving their livelihood, increasing their income, protecting their health, and fully participating in their community. Illiteracy creates shame. It isolates and erodes human dignity.

Teacher Andrew speaking to his adult literacy class
in Kariobangi, Nairobi

Throughout Kenya and Rwanda, our partner churches are converting sanctuaries into classrooms during the weekdays and evenings in order to address the issue of illiteracy. These adult classes bring together people from outside of the churches and welcomes them into a learning community where everyone is valued. 

In the communities of Kariobangi and Haruma, two of our colleagues, Andrew and Alamu, lead afternoon and evening classes for people who never had the opportunity to finish school. "Many of our students didn't even know how to hold a pencil and write their names when they first came to register for the classes," shares Andrew. "But now with their determination to learn, they are doing so well."

Members of the adult literacy classes 
in Kariobangi, Nairobi

Last week, we had the joy of meeting many of the adult literacy students who have been studying at Andrew's church. They live in one of the poorest areas of Nairobi along the polluted Mathare Valley, and yet they were full of pride. Many shared how God was using this ministry to give them new hope for a future for them and for their community.

Erica, Alamu (literacy teacher) and Laura (project officer)
in Haruma Slum, Nairobi

Throughout our literacy projects, we are intentional with connecting students to other ministries that seek to strengthen individuals and families holistically. Self help groups, food security, livelihood enhancement, psychosocial support, improved sanitation, community health, child education, and pastoral care are all linked to literacy initiatives. Our team often says that literacy classes are the matatu platform (bus stop) where people gather and find a vehicle that will take them forward.

Please join us in praying for and supporting these important ministries. You can learn more about Canadian Baptists Ministries and our work in Africa and around the world at 

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” 
Kofi Annan

Monday, March 9, 2015

Transforming Mission: Livelihood Development

Canadian Baptist Ministries' project officer, William Wako, 
instructing a group of farmers on conservation agriculture 
techniques in Garissa District, Kenya.

Throughout this year, we will be highlighting different aspects of Integral Mission in the work of Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) and our partner churches in Africa. We believe that the redemptive work of Christ transforms every aspect of life. As Canadian Baptists we are committed to helping local churches bring hope and healing into the brokenness of their communities through living out the love and truth of Christ in word and in deed.

Livelihood Development

When we think of our rural initiatives, "food security" is often the first thing that comes to mind. Throughout every country where we are working in Africa, agricultural ministries are crucial. Together with our church partners, we are concerned with helping to improve food production through conservation agriculture. This is certainly an important aspect of helping a community ensure that households have access to affordable food that is produced in a sustainable and responsible way. 

But food security also looks at the bigger picture. What happens to a community when there is drought or crop failure? What other sources of income can be used to supplement the diet of families in a community that may produce a particular crop, but little else? What other service needs exist within a particular community? What other opportunities exist for people in a community to support themselves? These questions often lead our food security programs to consider the issue of sustainable livelihoods.

A group of women learning tailoring skills at the 
Redeemed Gospel Church training project in Garissa

Household livelihood improvement is an important aspect of many of the ministries that Canadian Baptists and our partner churches are engaged with throughout Africa.  In a place like North Eastern Province, having alternative sources of income generation can make the difference between a family getting through times of hardship and becoming completely destitution. Diversification of livelihoods is about helping people learn skills and leverage their resources to better support themselves and their families. 

Over the past nine years, we have had the pleasure of coming along side of churches and local community based organizations that are equipping people and small groups with support and training in entrepreneurship, small business creation, financial management, and skills training. We are seeing a diversity of income generating activities from getting delicate fruit to market, to the production and sale of tree seedlings, clothing, basketry, ceramics, floor coverings, soap, detergent, crafts, jewelry, prepared food items and catering services.

Beyond production, livelihood creation initiatives have also helped individuals start businesses as skilled trades people. One of our great surprises early on in our work in Dadaab, was the number of skilled trades women who were mechanics and welders working in local garages after having received vocational training from Canadian Baptist Ministries. Today we are seeing vulnerable communities becoming strengthened through beneficiaries that are becoming involved in the marketplace through training in computer technologies, wood working, hair dressing, trailoring, and retail.

In order to support the launch of micro enterprises, we have encouraged the formation of self help groups and farming cooperatives that save and loan funds for the start up of small businesses. In addition to the financial benefit of being a member of these groups, individuals also receive support, encouragement and accountability from their peers. The risk of starting a new income generating activity becomes shared by the group as they care for one another and seek to improve the lives of their children and community.

Canadian Baptist Ministries' project officer, Geoffrey Mwita, 
assisting a local church with their agriculture project in Garissa.

Finally, livelihood development ministries are about building relationships with people where the love and hope of Christ is demonstrated and shared. More than just projects, Integral Mission is about  helping the local church to participate in the work of God in the lives of our neighbours.  It is about being present and involved in the lives of people. In a world that is so often task orientated, we realize that the connections that happen between people of faith and their neighbours is where God moves and changes lives.