Opportunity Africa

T he Church in Africa is growing. At the same time the challenges that face African Christians are also growing.

Natural disasters and weather extremes cause drought and floods… failed crops… hunger. So do diseases and pests, like the recent plague of locusts in East Africa.

War and anti-Christian violence are on the rise in many African countries. In parts of Nigeria, Christian lives and livelihoods are being destroyed by terrorists on a vast scale.

With God’s help and yours, Barnabas Aid is partnering with African Christian communities to help them become more resilient, self-sufficient and independent. We are calling this Opportunity Africa. It is a new initiative, but building on 30 years of Barnabas Aid’s experience supporting a wide variety of projects to help Christians in 36 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

The aim of Opportunity Africa is to transform suffering Christian communities in Africa through sustainability and human capacity development.

Opportunity Africa’s 12 main strands — somewhat overlapping — are outlined below. From small and simple beginnings, like the examples on these pages, the projects can be scaled up, God willing, to become much larger enterprises.

“We know that African Christians have the capacity, skills, determination, and resilience to turn their tragedies into opportunities and lamentations into praises,” says Barnabas Aid’s Africa Coordinator. “They only need a little assistance, a little encouragement, and a little funding to help them grow out of dependency.”

1. Food: innovative, long-term approaches to feeding

Hunger is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. A short-term solution is to provide food aid, and Barnabas does much of that. But how much better a long-term solution would be.

Food dehydration machines could enable communities to preserve food when there is abundance so that they have something to fall back on in emergencies. It also widens their opportunities for selling surplus food and thus making an income. Cold rooms and packing machines would facilitate a meat-processing business. Feeding initiatives like this need outside help only at the beginning; after that they become self-sustaining.

As a first step, we are enabling 20 Christian pig farmers in Nigeria to enlarge their farming capacities. These farmers lost everything when their homes and food stores were burnt down in anti-Christian attacks. They sought refuge in other Christian villages in a relatively safe area.

The farmers had already started small pig farms in their new locations, reckoning that pigs are safe from attack by Islamist militants who would not want to touch them. Now Barnabas has given them more piglets to rear.

The plan, God willing, is that the local churches will work together to develop a “meat market” with Christian butcheries. This will help the farming families sell their pork. With more animals to care for, the farmers can also employ farm hands, providing work for Christian youth in the area who struggle to get jobs. Thus the economic situation of the whole Christian community in the area will be improved.

£60 ($72; €66) could provide a piglet for a Nigerian Christian farmer displaced by violence.

2. Healthcare, medical needs and disabilities

There is a level of poverty at which a decent, simple lifestyle is sustainable while health is good. But when sickness or accident strikes, healthcare is out of reach – by reason of cost or distance or both. Also, as anti-Christian violence grows, there is an increasing number of injured or maimed Christians who need medical help.

Many poor and remote Christian communities in rural areas of Middle Belt Nigeria have no access to healthcare. Through our project partners on the ground, Barnabas Aid is providing backpacks filled with basic medical equipment for volunteers, who are also given some basic medical training. The trained volunteers then become “first responders” to general medical needs and after anti-Christian violence.

The first group of volunteers are pastors’ wives. One of them said, “This is removing the bitterness and hate and replacing it with hope and beauty.”

£88 ($106; €97) could provide a medical backpack, containing medical equipment, medicine and a minor-surgery kit, enabling trained volunteers to provide treatment whether for sickness or for wounds in the event of an attack.

The next stage is small clinics or mobile medical facilities to serve rural Christian communities including those with disabilities. There is a growing need for affordable prosthetic limbs for victims maimed in anti-Christian violence.

Trauma counselling for survivors of violent attack is another need, restoring them to long-term mental and emotional health. Barnabas has recently funded training for such counsellors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where violence has been ongoing for many years.

3. Economic empowerment, including for groups and churches

“We do not know you but through Christ, you have reached out to assist us… Barnabas Aid, we appreciate you so much.” These words from a Nigerian Christian widow in Kaduna State, Nigeria were followed by a chorus of “Amen!” from 59 other widows.

This was the moment when the 60 Christian widows each received either a corn-grinding machine or a sewing machine, funded by Barnabas Aid. Their husbands had been killed and their homes destroyed in anti-Christian violence, leaving them destitute. But now they have the means to earn a living and pay for basic needs and their children’s schooling.

“This sewing machine has been the only thing I have to care for my children after my husband was killed...”

“Agwaza tín nzit mami nsum danian nkyang na zi shyiat davwuo Barnabas Aid ani.” There are no words in English to truly express the thanks being given by another widow in the local language, Atyab. Loosely translated, it means “The Lord has removed our reproach and has given us comfort through our brothers at Barnabas Aid.”

One-off gifts of equipment to provide life-long livelihoods give the individual beneficiaries real hope for the future. But, by working with churches or other Christian groups, these small projects can also be linked together to create larger collectives. This makes possible organised marketing of the product and can help the widows’ small businesses in many ways.

£85 ($102; €93) could provide a sewing machine for a Christian widow in Nigeria.

£49 ($59; €54) could provide a corn-grinding machine for a Christian widow
in Nigeria.

Distribution of backpacks full of medical equipment to trained volunteers  in remote areas of Nigeria

4. Education: schools and vocational training

Poverty and persecution push many girls and boys out of schooling. In Zimbabwe, some children are too weak from hunger to walk to school, or too hungry to concentrate if they do get there. In starving Tigray, northern Ethiopia, children are skipping school to search for leaves and berries to eat. Emergency food aid, or nutrient-rich ePap supplements, are short-term interventions but they have long-term, life-changing benefits because they enable children to get an education – the ultimate key to the future.

In numerous African countries, children displaced by violence have no school to go to. Here again Barnabas can help. We have funded a new Christian school in DRC for needy Christian children affected by the conflict. Some pupils are displaced, some are war orphans and some had been forced to be child soldiers. 

Training in practical skills will open doors to earn a living for years to come. And the skills do not have to be traditional ones. With support from Barnabas, nearly 5,000 young Christians in central and north-eastern Nigeria are being trained in digital content creation. Courses include storytelling and writing, spoken poetry, short filmmaking, photography, and video editing. Students are also given entrepreneurial training. Their passion and enthusiasm are huge. “You would not believe they come from devastated villages,” said the project coordinator, marvelling at how their terrible ordeals had not dulled the young people’s passion to develop their talents.

Going forward, we hope to establish evening classes for adults, including adult literacy, apprenticeship schemes and teacher training projects.

5. Energy

Most African countries are rich in sunshine. But many poor African villages have no electricity. During the hours of darkness, it is difficult to do much. Children cannot do their homework, which hinders their education. Church congregations cannot gather for evening worship or prayer meetings, so the spiritual life of the church is curtailed.

A gift of solar panels will give power to remote Christian villages for their churches, schools and community buildings. Imagine how life transforming this is!

£60 ($72; €66) could provide one solar panel in Nigeria.

6. Digital connectivity

Barnabas Aid is providing solar-powered internet hubs for rural Christian communities in Africa. They will facilitate communications and give access to a plethora of online resources. Access to the internet opens up the possibility of online study of many kinds, including Bible and ministry studies (see 11. below) and human capacity development (see 12. below).

Many Africans have mobile phones, even if they are quite poor, and in some African countries, such as Kenya, phones are the main way of doing many everyday transactions including shopping.  These hubs will enable the phone-charging which can otherwise be a serious obstacle to overcome in remote communities.

Solar-powered internet hubs will also enhance many of Opportunity Africa’s initiatives, such as marketing for agricultural and food-processing endeavours. One hub is being used by the students of the digital content creation in Nigeria (see 4. above).

7. Water

Clean, safe drinking water is vital for the resilience of any community. Record-breaking droughts in parts of Africa make this a growing challenge. So too does anti-Christian violence. When a Christian village is destroyed, the survivors often flee en masse to another Christian village to seek refuge, which may double the amount of water needed there. That is why Barnabas funded the drilling of boreholes on church land in Chad, close to a camp of Christian refugees who had fled Islamist violence in Cameroon.

Filters, wells and storage tanks are other ways of providing health-giving clean water.

Water projects are particularly important to help women and girls, who usually have the task of fetching water. The further they have to walk to find clean water (or sometimes any water), the harder this is.

Malnutrition and “hidden hunger” in Zimbabwe sap the strength of children so much that they lose out on education. Deficiency diseases like pellagra can be fatal. But a daily supplement of ePap maize porridge, fortified with vitamins, minerals and soya protein, will restore them to full health and energy levels in two months. It gives them a future and a hope. In 2023 Barnabas provided  104 tonnes of ePap in Zimbabwe and Malawi — providing about 2.5 million servings for hungry Christians

8. Agriculture

More than half the people of sub-Saharan Africa are involved in agriculture. It is a precarious way of life for persecuted Christians in 21st century Africa, whose livestock and crops are often targeted by attackers. Weather extremes also make farming more difficult than for earlier generations. But there are many opportunities to create resilience, for example, providing livestock (such as the piglets in 1. above) or better crop varieties.

  • In Kasese district, Uganda, the staple foods of the Christian majority are cassava and matooke (plantain). But yields have become very low. Old varieties are still being grown, using old-fashioned methods, the soil is exhausted, and pests are a problem. More and more Christian families are struggling with hunger and malnutrition.

Earlier this year, Barnabas provided cuttings of new higher-yielding varieties to 14,000 Christian families. The families also received training in modern ways to farm. Later each family will share the skills they have learned with two more families and give them cuttings of the high-yielding varieties, grown from their own plants.

  • In Zimbabwe, we are distributing open-pollinated variety (OPV) maize seed to Christian subsistence farmers. These families grow their own food, usually just enough for their own needs. If there isn’t much extra to sell, the family doesn’t have much money. The hybrid varieties of maize normally grown do not breed true, so every year the farmers have to struggle to find money to buy expensive new seed to sow. This prevents them from being self-sufficient and can lead to hunger and dependence on food aid.

With OPV maize seed, which breeds true, the farmers can keep some of their harvest and sow it the following year. They no longer have to buy seed. God willing, one gift of this maize seed can, therefore, feed a family for years to come.

£2.75 ($3.25; €3) could provide one 4kg pack of OPV maize seed, making one Zimbabwean family independent.

£20 ($24; €22) could provide cuttings of cassava and matooke (plantain) and training for ten Ugandan Christian families to grow both crops efficiently.

What else can Opportunity Africa do to help poor Christian farmers?

  • Guidance on how to market what they are already growing
  • Guidance on how to bring their produce up to standard for marketing locally or for export
  • Coordinating and facilitating marketing through digital media
  • Start-up projects for new cash crops to sell, e.g. ginger, coffee, cashew nuts, tiger nuts
  • A tractor to share between a group of farmers
  • Training in new farming methods to suit new weather patterns
  • Start-up projects to grow crops such as sesame seeds, acha and groundnuts to fortify maize meal and make it more nutritious

9. Houses, churches, other community buildings

Many African Christians are homeless, especially in Nigeria where anti-Christian violence rages in parts of the North and Middle Belt and Christian villages are frequently burned down. But there are safer parts where Opportunity Africa can build simple affordable houses and create new villages for Christians displaced by violence.

Rebuilding gives the opportunity to build better. Building methods and materials can be chosen that are more resistant to attack and arson. Groups of houses can be laid out in squares for greater protection.

When a church is rebuilt, it can be a flexible, multipurpose building, serving as the village school on weekdays, with a clinic in a side-room.

10.Displaced Christians (internally) and refugees (across national borders)

Millions of African Christians – men, women and children – have been uprooted from their homes by war, anti-Christian violence or weather-linked catastrophes. They long for security and a way to feed themselves.

First they need humanitarian aid for their weary bodies – food, clothes, blankets, sleeping mats, shelter. They need pastoral care for their distressed minds and spirits. The may need medical care too. Then they need ways to earn a living. Their children need education and the healing power of a daily routine.

Where displacement is long term, camps have to be transformed into communities by providing infrastructure such as water, electric power, schools, clinics and churches.

All the Opportunity Africa strands described above and below are doubly needed by our brothers and sisters who have been displaced. Barnabas Aid has a long track record of helping Christians displaced in/from Cameroon, DRC, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and many more sub-Saharan countries. With your help we can do even more to bring displaced Christians the gift of stability and enable them to sustain themselves long term.

Nambam’s husband was killed in an anti-Christian attack in Nigeria in 2023. She cannot return to her old village, but Barnabas Aid has provided a simple three-room house for her and her children, with some land around it where Nambam can grow food. Now they can settle and re-start their lives. Nambam says, “After my husband was killed, I lost hope. I didn’t know that God will bring comfort and hope from our Christian family through Barnabas Aid.”

11.Bible training and spiritual development

We are providing theological and ministry training to build up the skills of church leaders, especially those at the grassroots.

Through The Shepherd’s Academy, Barnabas supports 15 study centres across Africa, supporting students from Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

This is holistic training, including personal spiritual formation as well as theological knowledge. One aim is to build integrity, trustworthiness and dependability.

12.Human capacity development

Just as important as practical development, through livestock and wells and solar panels, is human capacity development. This is closely linked to the practical and academic skills training described above (see 4.)

These skills will equip children, young people and others who feel useless and of no value with expertise that gives them confidence and opens doors to useful and fruitful lives.

For leadership in the Church and in Christian communities, it will be important to develop thinking skills; expertise in planning, organisation and administration; and an ethical framework embedded in a Biblical spirituality.

Opportunity Africa – your opportunity to create lasting change for Christians in Africa

“As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially the family of believers”
(Galatians 6:10).

This verse is core to Barnabas Aid’s calling, and we are inviting you to join us in Opportunity Africa. You can transform Christian communities facing poverty persecution in Africa, strengthening and sustaining them to face whatever the future may bring.

 

www.barnabasaid.org/opportunity-africa
Project reference: PR1700 (Opportunity Africa)

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