On Tuesday night I arrived back home after a 9 day trip to Zambia. I travelled out there with a small team from Kerith Community Church who have partnered with Tearfund as part of their response to the HIV/AIDs pandemic.
In essence, their 5 year project plans to support several rural communities in Zambia through micro farming projects, assisting with vulnerable children's school fees, improving education facilities and the training of pastors in HIV/AIDS awareness, leadership skills, etc. They are also trying to foster links with organisations in Bracknell with those in Serenje (schools, hospitals etc).
In many ways in was a typical African experience: way too hot, very friendly people living in dire poverty, little or ageing infrastructure, entrepreneurship abounded and enormous amounts of time was spent greeting one another.
Yet this trip was different. It was seeped in the power of a God given 'Vision' to do something. A vision of one local church to pour in £500,000 over 5 years into a community of people in a far off land. A vision to respond to the worldwide HIV/AIDS pandemic over the long haul (not just a one off offering). A vision to support a village who were predominantly Jehovah Witnesses and who's children are equally vulnerable, hungry & illiterate as the predominantly Christians village next to them. The vision to 'risk' partnering with local pastors, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and Tearfund.
And this vision is already touching people - people who probably don't have a passport or ever need one. I met children whose situation was miserable but they now had an advocate and meal security. I shook hands with a widowed dad as he held his young child (himself suffering from AIDS) and wondered if he would survive this year yet grateful his pastor was now able to help him. I walked away from many joyful, hope filled Christians who loved Jesus and they sang and sang without needing SongPro. I walked away from pastors who really cared about the people in their district and had a God given vision to do something.
In many ways I came back with more questions than answers. As a pastor I wondered about what sort of foundations the churches were built on; I wondered about how they were guarding against nepotism in the allocation & distribution of help; I wondered what does God's timeless truth look like as expressed in their culture. These however, were all peripheral concerns when compared to the obvious relief being demonstrated.
But one thing was very clear. One church can be a huge force for good, an agent for change, a vehicle for hope. Simon Benham, who leads the Kerith Church, mentioned that he wants to be like an investment banker church, to invest in risky start-ups for the glory of God. From what I have seen after 9 days there, there is going to be huge returns on this investment.