Culture At Large

Witnessing through business in Malawi

Kristen deRoo Vanderberg

The lakeside community of Chipoka, Malawi, is more than just a thriving port town.It is home to about 5,000 people, many of whom make their living from one of the largest ports on Lake Malawi. It is also a site where the Christian church is having a strong impact on the mostly Muslim population - and business lies at the center of it.

“Chipoka is one of two communities that has started a village savings and loan initiative,” said Zakka Chomock, Southern Africa team leader for Christian relief, development and educational ministry working in the area. “It is impressive to see how organized the group is and how their initiatives promote the accountability and transparency that are essential for the function and cohesion of the group.”

Kazibwe Women’s Group is made up of 22 women and two men. The members meet regularly and each contribute part of their own savings to the group account. These savings are then used in two ways. The first is a social fund that is used to meet members’ needs when family obligations to pay for weddings, funerals and other events are too much for the members to pay on their own. The second is the share fund. In this fund, members can buy shares based on their financial ability and then take loans from the fund to engage in business activities. They pay back their loans at a low interest rate from their own business earnings. This, in turn, increases the amount of funds available for future loans.

“At every meeting, group members are called by name to deposit their contributions,” said Chomock. “Each member comes to the front of the room, dancing and joyfully making their deposit. The others smile and celebrate the contribution. When people take out a loan, the group expresses their hope for a good outcome from their investment. Because they are lending their own money, the group provides good management for the fund’s oversight. The ownership of the funds and process is much clearer than if (we) had provided ‘seed money’ to get it started.”

The group is also having another positive outcome. It is promoting peace and good relationships between groups of people from different religious and cultural backgrounds.

“Of the 22 people who make up the Kazibwe Women’s group, about 80 percent are Muslim,” said Chomock. “The social fund helps to create a bond within the group. The members are thankful to be able to support each other and be supported in this way as they mark events in their own families’ lives. In this way, the group is encouraging members to live together peacefully.”

Because the group is made up of mostly Muslims but is supported by Christian staff, it is also strengthening the Christian witness in this region.

“There is a strong working relationship between the church and this group,” said Chomock. “The opportunity for Muslims and Christians to work together has given Muslim group members a deeper understanding of Christianity and Christian faith.”

While the group’s aim is not to proselytize, some Muslims in the region have publicly confessed Jesus and accepted Him as Lord. The witness of this program has played a part in that.

“Please pray that we will continue to attract people to the Kingdom of God by what we do and how we help people so that they see the love of God from our work,” Chomock said.

Kristen deRoo Vanderberg is the communications coordinator for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, which originally featured this story.

(Photo courtesy of CRWRC.)

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