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Grassroots Ministry: Energizing and Equipping in Uganda and Tanzania

By Marian Baker

Within a week of retiring, I had a deep sense that God was calling me to go encourage women in ministry in East Africa and not to be tied to any one institution. Since following that leading, I have been amazed at what God has done. It has been far more than I could have dreamed.

I travel in the traditional Quaker way, with a travel minute from my monthly meeting endorsed by my quarterly and yearly meeting. Following the advice of my support committee from the United States, I collected a committee of Kenyan women to advise me which of the places I felt led to go were most urgent and to assist me in finding suitable traveling companions. The Kenyan committee first chose Uganda. Pastor Eileen Malova from Kakamega YM also felt a calling to go to Uganda, but her duties as a pastor and head of a vocational college prohibited her to do so. She felt led to be a companion with me, but wasn’t sure how to travel or where to start. Together, we followed God.

We traveled as humble servants of Christ, willing to learn from those that need help. Throughout our journey we listened, provided encouragement, while we traveled by local means (crowded matatus, on the back of motorcycles, and on foot) to reach the Ugandan Friends.

These Friends were puzzled, since missionaries usually arrive in cars. If one uses an official vehicle, the visitors are welcomed like royalty, with songs and feasts. The people then share what they think the visitors want to hear and then ask for financial support. However by arriving through local means, the welcome is much different: one is treated as a friend and sometimes given the funds for the returning bus fare when the visit is over (an African custom).

Upon our arrival, Eileen told them the story of Peter and John who went to pray and a begging lame man. Peter said “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus of Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (Acts 3).” She then shared that we had come to help them find ways to stand up, and encourage them that they had the ability within to help themselves.

We were led to follow Christ’s advice to travel lightly and accept any hospitality they offered (Luke 9:2-5). By staying in homes, we learned more about them and their needs quickly. The women kept us up until late each evening asking for advice and prayers on things they are facing. Throughout our visits, real sister relationships were developed with these women.

When we began, we feared that the leadership of the yearly meetings (in Africa almost all leadership positions are held by males) would give us trouble for working with women. Yet, the majority of all church members are women. The male leaders said if we helped the women, who in turn would teach others; the whole church would be strengthened. Earlier when I went with Dorothy Selebwa and Jane Mutoro to Samburu, I learned the value of women to women visits. The women were full of questions for us and had many issues they wanted advice on that they could not share with men in their culture.

In Uganda, we first felt led to visit the meetings all around the country, taking the general secretary and two women leaders with us. It was the first time for some of the Ugandans to travel outside their home areas. We rejoiced as we found three new meetings in their first year growing rapidly with active, motivated women. In Lira, located in northern Uganda, we were shown the graves of two leaders whose deaths were the catalyst for the demise of their meeting. Uganda Yearly Meeting had not known of these changes and began to see the need for more visiting and having better communication with all meetings. With the help of USFW Kenya, we helped three women from the new and three from the older meetings attend the USFW Kenya Triennial in Kaimosi to see how women can organize and run a conference (over 800 women attended!).

In Uganda, we found that women tend to depend on men to provide leadership. The men chose the women leaders and planned out the women’s conferences. The first time we gathered with the women leaders, Eileen and Pastor Olivia Salano spent hours in counseling and prayer. The Ugandans invited Eileen to be the main speaker at the women’s conference last year. We found we needed to help our sisters learn how to run the conference, which kept us very busy. (Meanwhile Pastor Margaret Musalia went to be main speaker at Tanzania’s USFW Conference. She similarly found she was called upon to preach, teach, guide, counsel — doing four jobs at once.)

This year we first organized a leadership training seminar in Uganda and asked Judith Ngoya and the FUM leadership team to help. The FUM trainers were excited to realize how ready and eager the new leaders in Uganda were for training. In response to the training, five leaders of Uganda Yearly Meeting sat down and pledged to collect within one week the amount of money needed to get the Friends Church registered with the government. (Registration is required to own land, hold bank accounts, and conduct weddings and funerals.) What a change Eileen and I have witnessed from our first finding Ugandan Friends as beggars but who now host us, raise their own funds, and work on detailed plans for their future. Praise God!

Pastor Joseph Kafuka from southern Uganda attended last year’s women’s conference as he was challenged by Modesta Guloba’s (new USFW President) lesson on agriculture. She said, “Don’t complain fertilizer and pesticide are too expensive. Just combine cow urine with red peppers and ash from your cooking fire, to make a free pesticide and mix cow manure with banana leaves/vegetable scraps, for free fertilizer.”

In her workshop at the women’s conference, Eileen challenged all to use their fertile soil (one of the richest in the world) to grow something that would be needed and marketable as a means towards self-sustainability. Joseph Kafula’s home meeting had many acres with squatters encroaching. Joseph was able to get a Quaker Earthcare Witness Mini-grant for tree planting in Uganda. Eileen delivered the tree seedlings and indigenous tree seeds to him at Uganda Yearly Meeting sessions in August. By October, Friends had planted 25 acres by hand (using small mattocks). The trees were five feet high! Eileen was frugal and managed to also give passion fruit seeds to all the leaders at the training seminar and gave cabbage, kale, and wattle tree seeds to all the women who registered at the December women’s conference. Now Ugandan Friends from all over the country are busily planting seedbeds, beginning their way towards self-sustainability.

This year we took a team of Kenyan women to the Uganda USFW Conference.

Pastor Juliet Namono, the only trained Uganda woman Friends pastor, was the main speaker. Eileen plans to return in April to help the Ugandan women plan their own conference, choosing the topics they want. Two Ugandan women leaders gave reports about their visit to the Kakamega USFW Conference. They returned to Uganda with so much joy of Christ and full of ways to improve their own USFW they said they were “jumping like frogs.” The Kenyans left the conference energized and feeling the need to return or go to other others to help build up other women in the work of the Lord.
I also took a team of four Kenyan women to Tanzania USFW Conference, which was held in a church with no roof and it rained. A young FTC student gave a lesson about giving/tithing/stewardship. The Tanzanians were so moved they raised 45,000 Tanzanian shillings ($28) which we six from Kenya matched. When the church was first started they’d planted some trees, — now large trees. Now they’re sawing the trees to make a roof. One local Friend was so moved that he brought five new iron sheets the next day!

As we were helping the Tanzanian women form a nominating committee to choose new leaders, the male leaders visited us one late afternoon. They explained they’d had problems with a former group in Mwanza (partially between rural poor and urban richer Friends), but one woman’s humble gifts of helping them with meals and making friendships, caused the women elect her as their new women’s pastor for Tanzania Yearly Meeting! The male leadership has changed and are now all supporting the new leaders. A time of reconciliation!

Reconciliation, rejuvenation, new members, completion of a meetinghouse, wow! The conferences are energizing to all of us.

Eileen continues her ministry in Uganda and Margaret in Tanzania with the support of USFW Kenya. Thanks to those who’ve been praying for us. We encourage you all to lift up your eyes and be willing to spread the Good News to people outside your usual circles. It doesn’t have to take large funds for us all to work for our Lord.

Marian Baker is a recorded minister in New England Yearly Meeting. She worked for FUM in Kenya years ago, teaching in Friends girls high schools and training Kenyan women to take her place. She now does volunteer ministry in East Africa for three to six months each year as way opens.