I must admit, I was quite tired. That is after spending five hours on the road in a minibus from Nairobi to Kericho in Kenya. I then had a few wonderful hours with the leaders of the Certificate in Theology and Sustainable Community Health and Development course at Kenya Highlands University.
Reverend Walter Rutto, Kenya Chairman of the Transformational Compassion Network and Director of the Africa Gospel Church’s Compassion Ministries Department, is the leader and founder of the course. He wanted to introduce me to one of his students. Since he was my host, I did not want to upset him. So we drove off down a dirt track.
We stopped in the dark in front of a plot of land. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. And then the owner of the plot arrived with his boots! Mud, I thought... with my shoes, not a good sign. But as we walked along rows of large cabbages, cut flowers and banana trees I realised that this was a special plot of land.
Bernard Kibet is the owner of the plot and he farms it. While showing us what he has planted, he shared how he sells seedlings, cut flowers and vegetables to generate income. As we sat inside his house, he told me he was just another farmer trying to make a living out of a small plot of land. He struggled to make ends meet, though, and saw farming as part of the struggle to put food on his family’s table.
So he decided to enrol in the Certificate in Theology and Sustainable Community Health and Development course. Yes, the course is not only for pastors – of the 153 students who graduated in September this year, 63 were not pastors.
The course emphasises that poverty is not a lack of material possessions, but a lack of ideas. Poverty, therefore, exists in the mind and not in what you have or own. That is what Paul says in Romans 12.2: ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
You do not hear it said very often by young people in Africa that they want to be like a farmer.
During the course, Bernard read 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12:
'And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you. So that you behave properly towards outsiders and not be in any need.'
This verse changed Bernard radically. He realised he needed to mind his own business and work hard to meet the needs of himself and his family. He had to become the best farmer in Kericho. As he began to care more for the farm and the environment his farm started producing more. His income grew and he was able to give more to Christian work. In short, his farm had been transformed.
But then he said something that I will never forget: ‘The young people now say that they want to be like Uncle Ben!' You do not hear it said very often by young people in Africa that they want to be like a farmer. Yet this is the sort of radical change that God wants to facilitate in lives in Africa – and it's Tearfund's goal too.
The visit to farmer Bernard reminded me again about the importance of the transformation of the mind to release people from spiritual and material poverty. Finding a new outlook on life is just as important as developmental techniques.