Historic meeting of West African churches leads to post-Ebola mission strategy
Davidson Solanki, USPG International Programmes Manager, reports on the first meeting earlier this month of all Anglican Churches in the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA). Bishops and church leaders from Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone met to devise a five-year mission strategy in a post-Ebola context. Davidson writes…
The Ebola virus, which claimed over 11,000 lives, had a devastating impact throughout in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Now churches in the province are working together to devise a strategy to support communities affected by Ebola, and all communities affected by poverty.
Ebola had far-reaching effects in every part of the affected countries. With the work force drastically reduced, and no investment in infrastructure for three years, there was a break down in government services, healthcare provision, and the condition of roads and amenities; only now are local authorities starting to repair roads and bridges.
With fewer people to work in the fields, farms have become barren resulting in food shortages and inflated food prices. Families have lost income, children go hungry, and families are unable to meet basics needs.
There are many orphans. Some are now in government orphanages, where conditions are not ideal, while others have been taken into care by relatives who are themselves very poor.
Many children have stopped going to school because they have to work or stay at home to look after siblings. Girls and women have been forced into prostitution. There have been many teenage pregnancies, and these girls drop out of school because of the stigma they face.
The church was also hit. Congregations have been unable to increase their giving, and there is a shortage of clergy, so the church has been struggling to support the people.
However, the churches pledged earlier this month to work together to devise and implement a five-year strategy that will tackle the effects of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as supporting communities affected by poverty in Cameroon and Gambia.
In Sierra Leone, there is already support for children orphaned by Ebola, the church is building a school for girls who became pregnant, and vocational training is being offered to young people to help improve livelihoods and prevent unwelcome economic migration.
And there are more plans in the pipeline.
A meeting in Sierra Leone earlier this month was attended by the bishops and two key church leaders from all six dioceses in Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – these dioceses make up the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA).
Under the leadership of the Most Revd Jonathan Hart, who is the Archbishop of IPWA and the Bishop of Liberia, the aim was to devise a strategy that will help the province reach out to communities over the next five years.
The meeting, funded by USPG, was the first time leaders from all six dioceses had met in this way.
Participants agreed a vision statement – which was to establish a holistically developed province promoting justice, peace and progress for all.
A mission statement was also agreed: ‘IPWA is a unified Christ-centred church called to transform and empower its society through proclamation and demonstration of the gospel.’
And five guiding thematic priorities for the provincial strategy were set forward, namely:
- Better communication: To improve communication in order to work more closely, learning and sharing together.
- Targeted investment: To identify resources and prioritise those pieces of work that are more in need of greater investment.
- Better governance: To establish a provincial secretariat under the archbishop, with a view to holding the provinces first ever synod in April 2017.
- Post-Ebola recovery: To continue working to support affected communities.
- Improved livelihoods and food security: To support all communities, especially the marginalised, those in poverty and women, to support and strength earning capacity. This includes communities in all countries, not just those affected by Ebola.
From my perspective, the meeting was very inspiring and heartfelt.
I could see God’s hand at work. I was impressed how all participants came together with a determination to establish themselves as an independent and autonomous province. There was a real desire to work in collaboration, rather than to work separately in their own dioceses. It was a massive step.
The gathering has given everyone confidence and a direction for the future – the dioceses now have a clear vision for what resources they need and what they want to achieve.
USPG’s role in this ongoing journey is to accompany our partners throughout this process.