Growing African churches urged not to neglect anti-poverty struggle

By Ecumenical News International
23 Oct 2007

The leader of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev Mvume Dandala, has called on churches to renew their energy and resources to fight poverty, while expressing fears that the poor are being forgotten as Christianity grows on the continent -writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"The church has to find renewed energy to take this work it has been doing in isolated places and enhance it so that it reaches as many parishes and dioceses as possible," said Dandala, the general secretary of Africa’s largest church grouping.

He was speaking to Ecumenical News International in Nairobi during the marking of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty around the globe. "One of my greatest fears is that with the growth of Christianity we have seen a tendency to forget the poor," Dandala explained.

Reflecting on the theme of boosting resources for the poor, Dandala said that churches believed poverty eradication in Africa was closely linked to the re-affirmation of work, and he explained that slavery and colonialism had created a tendency in Africans to shun work. This was because work was perceived of as being done on the orders of a "master".

"We have a responsibility to re-sanctify work. We were never made to appreciate work: something that is blessed, something that God wants us to do," said Dandala.

The ecumenical leader, who is a Methodist from South Africa, warned that many churches in the continent were preaching "prosperity theology". This way of understanding faith often ends up with a message that says, "Just give money to God, and God will pay you back," Dandala said.

He warned, "This kind of approach has the potential danger of making people lethargic about work." At the same time, he urged churches to take a keen interest in ensuring that resources were available to people so that work paid dividends.

"Africa must start saying, 'Christ has come, there is no other Messiah who is going to come to redeem us from poverty'," Dandala asserted.

Earlier at the meeting attended by church leaders, non-governmental organizations and microfinance institutions, James Mwangi, the chief executive of a pro-poor financial institution in Kenya, known as Equity Bank, said churches could partner the microfinance operators.

Then, with the church providing "social guarantees" for the poor, who may not be able to provide the necessary security to obtain credit, the faithful would have access to suitable financial services, Mwangi explained.

"The church has a strong voice that can help to lobby the governments to create the enabling environment to ensure microfinance institutions thrive and sustain their services to economically empower the low income majority," said Mwangi.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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