The UCZ is deeply committed to social ministry and has invested significantly in their capacity to minister to those in need by employing 150 highly-trained deacons and deaconesses to coordinate social ministry in the congregations and presbyteries to which they are assigned. These deacons and deaconesses complete three years of theological training at seminary as well as a full year of training in social work, allowing them to fuse word and deed as they serve the poor, needy, and most vulnerable in their communities.
In 2015, World Renew’s former Southern Africa Team Leader, Peter Timmerman and I introduced 15 of these diaconal workers to our “Church in Community” strategy. Church in Community encourages local congregations to see themselves as agents of positive change in their community, rather than simply beneficiaries of or spectators to development work. Church in Community introduces congregations to basic situational analyses, priority ranking, community organization, and program planning and management—tools that enable the congregation to harness their own assets to bring about transformational change in their community.
Our 2015 training was a pilot program and so I visited two of the trainees with excitement and trepidation this November to see what they had managed to achieve in their respective communities over the last 3 years. In the next edition I will share the story of Deaconess Phiri and the UCZ St. Philips congregation program educating young girls and single mothers in reproductive health in Kanyama Compound in Lusaka.
To say that I was both humbled and amazed is an understatement.
The Soloboni Ben Therapy Centre in Kafue.
Following the training, Deaconess Nchali Kaleo of Bethlehem Congregation in the compound of Soloboni in the town of Kafue brought a group of congregants and community members together to discuss the needs of the community and how the church could serve the needy and vulnerable. After discussing, analyzing, and ranking the needs of the community, the group decided that the most pressing need the church could meet was that of the large but neglected disabled population in their community. The church thought that they could provide a meal and a social gathering for this group on Tuesday mornings and decided to use every fourth Sunday’s offering and communion Sundays offerings toward this goal.
The Tuesday morning gathering quickly became popular as over 20 people, from children with cerebral palsy to adults who had suffered strokes, began attending with their caregivers to enjoy social time together. With the help of UCZ Community Development and Social Justice Secretary Deaconess Sichali, Deaconess Kaleo established a self-help savings group to support the caregivers in stretching their resources. At the same time, one of the caregivers spoke with the deaconess about a program offered by Dutch physical therapists in Lusaka who were providing a week of basic physical therapy and massage training to caregivers.
Deaconess Kaleo contacted the program and arranged for training for over 20 caregivers from her growing group. The Tuesday session has now become a physical therapy session with all those attending receiving simple strengthening and relaxation exercises and massage! Further, these newly-trained volunteer therapists also visit the homes of other disabled people twice a week to ensure their families and caregivers are supporting them with condition-specific exercises and general health and hygiene practices.
The Bethlehem congregation of around 200 people also raised around $1700 for the construction of handicapped-accessible bathing and toilet facilities and, as part of their therapy session on a Tuesday, the group members can now have a shower. World Renew has supported this incredible effort with a small matching grant program to help the congregation complete this project and continue to serve the disabled community of Soloboni.