As we keep in touch with the Rooted in Jesus family, we have both encouraging and difficult news to share. We are very grateful for those who have sent us their news and prayer needs. Here is a summary to bring you up to date:
Creative solutions to difficult situations
Ven Hectorina Tsotetsi is the Rooted in Jesus coordinator for the Diocese of the Free State, South Africa, and a member of the national training team. She reports: “After the President of South Africa announced that the public gatherings of churches are allowed to operate, I decided to start RinJ small groups in the villages where people do not have access to the internet. As we are aware that not all of people are on social media, it seems like the church leadership has abandoned them. So far I have started new 4 adult RinJ small groups. Three RinJ small groups are operating physically and one is operating online. We make a point of observing covid-19 guidelines. We wear masks every time we are gathering, we sanitize our hands for 20 seconds and we practice social distancing all the time. On Monday and Friday we worship on the mountain because on the mountain there is enough open space for us to make a circle. People are happy because they did not understand prayer at home. We are doing it practically. People are growing spiritually. Even in this difficult time of pandemic of coronavirus they have hope and faith in God. Most of them testified that they did not understand the meaning of eternal life but they understood. They thought that they would have eternal life after death.”
A socially distant Rooted in Jesus groups meets in the Diocese of the Free State
Brian Keel, working with local Pentecostal networks in Kenya, tells how leaders there are responding to the local needs created by the coronavirus pandemic: “Having not been in their churches for some six months, they have been transitioning to smaller groupings in outdoor locations, and this has attracted people who had not been attending church. This has led to additional RinJ courses being facilitated. The news of this has reached the local government, who have asked the network of churches we work with in the Kisumu area to go to villages where they do not have a presence. RinJ and RinJ Junior were put to use, and people have been coming to faith. This course of response has now spread to the coast where there is a greater density of Muslims, but the churches are being asked to go into villages in order to run programmes for children and youth. A blessing is that many of the pastors are school teachers, so are not in school therefore are utilising their time in these outreach programmes.”
And Revd Alfred Mugisa, Mission Coordinator in the Diocese of South Rwenzori, Uganda, writes: “We thank you for the ministry you have supported within the Rooted in Jesus programme since 2008. The diocese by then had about 300 Churches and because of the Rooted in Jesus programme the Churches have increased nearly to 500. We had 51 parishes and now we have 79. We are grateful to God to God for the expansion of the Churches. In our last report we had 137 groups of Rooted in Jesus, 57 adult groups, 60 junior groups and number of children was 1220 who are reciting Bible verses and can be able to preach. Among these group members, most of them are leading prayer fellowships in families during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Looking to the future
However, across Africa the situation remains extremely challenging – not simply due to the number of cases of Covid19, which remain relatively low (for the current statistics in each country click here) – but because of the impact of the measures taken to prevent its spread. Those countries already suffering from political unrest, poverty and violence are the ones where the impact is likely to be particularly high, pushing many communities over the edge of resilience.
In Madagascar, there have to date been 15,000 cases and 200 deaths. The country is on full lockdown, with no social gatherings and no transportation, but even so the five main hospitals in the capital can no longer cope with the influx of people. Revd Pez Raobison reports from Antananarivo that it is a difficult time, as people struggle with poverty, famine, and illness; he fears that the long term effects of the virus will be devastating – even without a pandemic, the six Dioceses of Madagascar struggle structurally with poverty, illness, vulnerability, unemployment, and famine. Many people cannot afford soap, and have no ready access to water, Pez says; few can afford a stock of essential supplies, and most struggle to raise an income to buy food. If the virus continues to spread, the situation will become increasingly difficult.
The Women’s Centre, Diocese of Toliara, where over 22,000 face masks have now been made by local women
At the same time, we learn that people have not been slow to take advantage of the new opportunities which present themselves even in times such as these. Further south in the Diocese of Toliara, the women’s centre within the cathedral compound has been not only making masks but training others to do so too, with 22,000 sewn so far! And the clergy are embracing new technology, as Bishop Todd McGregor reports:
History was made today in the Diocese! We had our first zoom call with our clergy. This was a real victory and the clergy were so excited to see each other, to meet together and to pray even if via Zoom. Our meeting lasted 2 hours. They have all agreed to do this each month. I can’t believe how excited everyone was to see each other. It was truly a Christ like moment. Good is coming even out of this coronavirus pandemic! It is wonderful that Zoom is enabling clergy, who live and work so far apart, to meet with each other for prayer, support, encouragement and future planning. We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8: 28 )
In South Sudan, Bishop Moses Zungo writes to share the joys and trials of the Diocese of Maridi. He reports that life is returning to normal, that churches have now reopened (following heath guidelines), and that a week of witness is being held. But there are still many dangers:
“Despite the fact that people are returning to normal life in Maridi, still the communities are seen to be in danger as many people are not keeping the guidelines for Covid-19. Access to information in the rural areas is limited due to inadequate resources to reach them and the remoteness of the tropical areas. Most of our people are uneducated; they have no access to local media and live by their traditional and cultural aspects. There is a high level of ignorance and unbelief about the truth of the Coronavirus. People in the rural areas go on shaking hands and have not maintained social distancing.”
Bishop Moses draws our attention to the other factors which make daily life so difficult, and asks for our prayer:
Risk of famine : The conflict in South Sudan has damaged the country’s economy, contributing to soaring inflation, as a consequence, food prices continue to rise and many families in South Sudan go hungry.
Unsuccessful peace process : Despite a peace agreement, the population of South Sudan has yet to see an end of fighting. Conflict has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of people fleeing their homes and basic infrastructure such as health and education facilities have been destroyed.
Conflict is threatening civilian lives : Tens of thousands of people have been killed in South Sudan as a direct result of the current conflict and millions have been forced to flee. Civilians are the main victims of the fighting, looting and ambushes.
Meanwhile a different but equally traumatic situation prevails in northern Uganda. Revd John Onyao of the Diocese of Karamoja had recently returned from the village of Lopei expressing his joy to see that the church he planted there with the help of Rooted in Jesus has continued to grow even during his absence, with 110 families coming together to welcome John and Bishop Abura. But just a few weeks later, John writes of a resurgence of violence in the region:
The world is broken. Our situation in Karamoja is saddening every day. Last week in Lopei warriors killed 4 people, the following Sunday the locust invaded the villages and destroyed sorghum, sunflower and other crops, leaving the villages in tears. Last Saturday the warriors raided again, taking over 500 herds of cattle; about 300 were rescued, the rest the warriors managed to escape with. Last night in a place called Kangole the warriors shot 2 people of which one died and one has been rushed to hospital. We have been having peace but now things are changing.
And yet even in the midst of this John is able to share that “though we are going through this hard time and places of worship are still closed, the congregation that I am pastoring are meeting and sharing the word of God every time they meet. Testimonies are shared and they pray together. The numbers are being added and for the past 3 weeks I have been meeting with them and share with them the Joy of salvation. This Sunday will going to be with them it will be good time to to hear from them, smile and pray with them.”
Praying for our needs
We have included all these things in our regular programme of prayer, and long for the time when we may again come together to share our faith, comfort one another in our pain, thank God for the good things which are coming out of a bad situation, and pray together for our physical, mental and spiritual needs as we move into an uncertain future. In the meantime we remember that we can turn to God for comfort and help in the darkest of situations:
Behold, the eye of the Lord
is upon those who fear him,
on those who wait in hope for his steadfast love,
To deliver their soul from death
and to feed them in time of famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
from Psalm 33
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported by The Mathetes Trust, working with partners throughout the continent. In South Africa Rooted in Jesus is supported by Growing the Church, and in Tanzania by the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro. To find out more visit the Rooted in Jesus website; or follow us on Facebook.
Posted 14th September 2020.