In an area of western Ethiopia where people have been poor and dependent as long as they can remember, the village of Rafiso Alenga is tasting the heady wine of self-funded accomplishment. Eight years ago a few villagers heard about Jesus and forsook their witch doctors. Ecstatic at their new freedom from spiritual oppression, they told others. The church that resulted began to grow. Its leaders, trained by our co-workers, formed them into small groups which met in their huts during the week. There everyone had the chance to talk about their lives, discuss what the Bible had to say about their problems, pray for one another, and support each other practically. Before long they were packing out the little mud building in which they came together every Sunday. They needed a much bigger building. But they were poor farmers, way too poor to build a church building themselves.
Or were they?
Barsissa, one of the church leaders there, recounted to us what happened: For three weeks in a row, all 43 small groups in the church talked about the need for a new building. They prayed. They brain-stormed. They reached into their pockets. By the end of those three weeks, they had collected 21,000 Ethiopian birr (at that time about $1200). Someone also found adequate wood nearby that they could have for 2,500 birr, well below the market price. Then they started making assignments. Each small group would hand-carry a certain amount of wood from the cutting site to the construction site. Within 2 weeks, all of the wood had arrived there. Next, they hired a professional carpenter and scheduled each small group, in turn, to help him. Within 2 more weeks the wood frame of the building was complete. After that, hundreds of gallons of mud had to be made and pushed between the poles of the wood frame to keep the wind from blowing through. The leaders gave each small group a section of the wall to fill in with mud.
The rest of the money went to buy metal sheets for the roof. Before long the building was water-tight-except for the door frames. The leaders asked various individuals to help frame the doors. “No, we shouldn’t do that- please ask the small groups to take another round,” they said. Tired, the leaders just finished the doors themselves. But were they ever happy to tell us about the power of small groups to mobilize people not only for spiritual things but also for practical community development. They were thrilled that they had built this building themselves, without subsidy from anyone. This is not just about a building. It has boosted their confidence to tackle ignorance, poverty, disease, and the many other problems that cripple their community.
Give thanks with us for this terrific model in an area that has known nothing but hopelessness and dependency!