Bridging the gap

Published on 24th May 2005

Rev. Amwayi is a Pastor of Winners Celebration Centre in Soy Town. He runs a compassion program termed “Oasis of Love” that ministers to orphans and widows. The African Executive Staff talks to him on the role the church has contributed to underdevelopment.


Q. On a recent trip to South Africa, I encountered religious leaders who are tired of the great role the church has contributed to underdevelopment. They are exploring ways of changing this trend. What is your comment?

A. I agree that for a long time, Pentecostal churches have put a barrier between spiritual and physical concerns. They have addressed heavenly concerns at the expense of the physical. There is need to realise that the spiritual and physical are interwoven. People are human and they face real issues such as hunger, disease, pain, bereavement, homelessness, disillusionment and want. I have come across spiritual leaders who engage their congregations for over twelve hours yet expect them to contribute towards church programs. Where will such people get money if they have not worked? It is morally wrong to be heavenly useful but earthly useless!

Q What made you reach out to the orphans and widows?

A. As I mentioned, people are human and they have real concerns. My parents passed away and I know what it means to be an orphan. These orphans would attend my services but they had no one to go to at the end of the church service. Some lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS which is rampant in this area. Two are refugees from Rwanda who escaped ethnic cleansing. They were separated from their parents and to date they don’t know whether their parents are alive or dead. You can’t tell such people “Goodbye! God bless you!” On the other hand, I have two categories of widows in the church, the young and the old. Out of the six, three are past marriage age. They need love and care which I believe is the role of the church to provide.

Q. What are you doing with the orphans?

A. Apart from imparting Christian values to them, I set up a tailoring school where they acquire some skills. I would like them to learn trade and manage their own life. Self sufficiency and industry are essential values to help one acquire private property. Furthermore, virtue comes about by habit and we are habituated by being instructed and trained.

Q. Are they all able to master the same skill?

A. Not really. Some are not good at tailoring. I have plans to start classes on masonry, carpentry, computer and hair dressing. I will begin with these for I have members in the church who have those skills and will be willing to hire them out.

Q. Do you have any success story?

A. Yes! One lady qualified in tailoring and the church has employed her to teach the rest. Two ladies worked as casuals in some firms before they got married. We visit them and their husbands are really proud of their hard work.

Q. What about the widows?

A. We formed a fellowship of widows in the church specifically to address their needs. This fellowship interacts with similar fellowships in other churches and organisations. We often invite some widows who have succeeded in life to come and share their experiences and through such interactions; widows in my church have teamed up with other widows to raise income through development projects. You may not believe it but currently, a large percentage of the church’s income is a result of their entrepreneurial venture.

Q. What challenges are you experiencing?

A. Most orphans live in the church compound. Some live in my house whereas others stay with members of the congregation. I would like a situation whereby there is a dormitory to accommodate them. Feeding them is a big challenge especially during lean times. The government’s program of free primary school education has absorbed some. Some require only uniform. The sixteen orphans are between 16 to 27 years old. Guiding them through adolescence is challenging. The community thinks that I receive donations from abroad to maintain the orphans so it keeps on referring orphans to me. There is a pastor in Uganda who wrote and said that he was bringing two orphans to join this centre.

Q. It reminds me of the Rwandese. Are they legally here?

A. I talked to the administration. They were vetted and now have identity cards.

Q. Any other challenge?

A. Three of the six widows in the church are still young. I hope they will get married.

Q. How do you feed over sixteen orphans?

A. I have rented one acre of land. We cultivate it together and use the produce. We harvested 32 bags of maize last year, and one and a half sacks of beans.

Q. How much money did you spend to maintain the orphans last year?

A. Honestly, I have not yet quantified it.

Q. What principles should guide compassion?

A. Compassion should demand accountability. No social services or agency can replace neighbours fathers and esteemed figures of authority. No amount of money can buy community hence compassion should seek to reabsorb into the social lifes of those who have snapped the threads that bound them to the community. Compassion should not only foster relationships between those giving and receiving but should also build character in the recipients, imparting job skills and life skills needed to hold a job. To bring about a sense of ownership, we should work with people as opposed to working for them. This calls for great discernment aimed at making clients independent, full of self worth and God centred.

Q. What is your advice to philanthropists?

A. As Mathew Coffin puts it, compassion cannot be measured by the amount we spend on the poor. Dignity can’t be bought. Our response must emphasize economic values and their primacy. Effective compassion will be achieved through personal involvement. We must not act as citizens out of duty, but as human beings, out of love.

Thank you Sir. Well didn’t Lord Acton say that “The remedy for poverty is not in the material resources of the rich but in the moral resources of the poor. These, which are lulled and deadened by money gifts, can be raised and strengthened only by personal influence, sympathy and charity.”

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