Growing an authentic training network in the Great Lakes region

BUILD is, in part, a network. But networks are notoriously hard to create and manage. And building a network in a context such as Africa’s Great Lakes region (comprised of Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC), can appear, to the outsider, a somewhat daunting task. Yet on the ground, networks and relationships already exist, and one of the ways in which BUILD has grown is through making sense of, and drawing on, these relational networks and the common context they are set in. Furthermore, we believe that BUILD is part of God’s mission to grow his church. He is at work in the various relationships and contextual factors, and we should not be surprised by signs of that. This story illustrates that.

In November we began to train a new cohort of trainers for the Great Lakes region, with representatives from Uganda and five of the surrounding countries coming to a central training event near Kampala, including two from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It was the first time anyone from that country had come and given the sheer size of the continent’s second largest country we would have been forgiven for being concerned about how the work would link in.

Providentially, one of the existing trainers in the programme, Joseph, came to the event simply to meet and greet some of the team. Joseph had once visited the DRC, three years previously, and had preached in the cathedral of Aru Diocese, not far from the border with northern Uganda, close to Joseph’s parish. He shared with us how he had run into problems at the border, but how someone from the diocese called Emmanuel had come to help him and then looked after him during his stay. And so there was great surprise when Joseph discovered that the very same Emmanuel was one of the two trainees who had come from DRC for the BUILD training in Kampala, and there was much joy when they were able to reconnect face-to-face. Joseph, who is training local leaders in the north of Uganda, quickly offered to visit Emmanuel in DRC and to help him spread the work of BUILD in his diocese.

While on its own this might seem like a small link it is a powerful illustration of the importance of relationships set in a common context; one in which God is at work. Who could have choreographed that connection and its outcomes?

And that common context is the backdrop that provides such fertile soil for these relationships and God’s work in them. BUILD is developing primarily in the Great Lakes region, an area characterised by its many linkages. Ethnic groups and kingdoms straddle national borders that were imposed, arbitrarily, by colonial powers; and languages are shared and inter-related. As a result, most people are multilingual, with their second or third language being regional rather than local, including Kiswahili, English and French.

The links are also ecclesiastical and spiritual. For example, prior to 1979 the Church of Uganda was part of the Province of the Church of Uganda, Ruanda-Urundi and Boga-Zaire, which reached across Rwanda and Burundi and into what is now the eastern DRC. It was only from 1979 that the Church of Uganda was created as a province with borders that corresponded to the country’s state borders.

And the gospel spread originally along cultural and linguistic pathways, spearheaded by the remarkable early Baganda evangelists, such as the famous Apolo Kivebulaya who took the gospel to the west of Uganda in 1895 and then went on to spend the rest of his life among the Mboga people of eastern Congo. Later the Revival of an increasingly nominal Church retraced similar relationships from the 1930s. Thus the soil for BUILD in the Anglican Church in the Great Lakes region is not only the tightly structured shape of the provinces, dioceses, archdeaconries, parishes, sub-parishes and local churches, but also the cultural and linguistic and economic networks.

All this, and more besides, holds out great promise for the development of a strong, sustainable BUILD training network: God at work; a rich network of relationships; and a common background in which it is very much at home.